Understanding New Japan Wrestling via Hip-Hop


This Saturday, May 17th, the Hammerstein Ballroom will play host to an exciting historic night in professional wrestling. New Japan Pro Wrestling, the second biggest wrestling company on the planet, will be facing off against respected American wrestling promotion Ring of Honor for a rare cross-promotional international flavored internet pay-per-view, appropriately titled War of the Worlds.


For a lot of the Japanese talent, it’s their first time competing in the states. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese pro wrestling, known by fans stateside as “Puroresu,” the biggest difference can be seen in their “Strong Style” of combat (the emphasis on the “fight” elements of wrestling where they hit really, really hard) which Ring of Honor comes closest to of any American organization to emulating. Also notable from New Japan are the elaborate entrances from their colorful characters. To help familiarize you with the New Japan talent before Saturday’s event, which has been sold out for months but is still available on iPPV, we’ve matched the wrestlers with who their equivalent is in the hip-hop world. This is our hip-hop guide to War of the Worlds.

Shinsuke Nakamura
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Danny Brown
When we first saw Shinsuke Nakamura, our first thought was how much he resembled Detroit’s Danny Brown…down to the same haircut and mannerisms. The more we watched of the reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion, we realized his unorthodox style in the ring was comparable to Brown’s too–as eccentric as it is effective. While Nakamura is billed as “King of Strong Style,” fans have taken to calling him “Swagsuke,” as seen from the above must-see clip of his entrance. This Saturday, Nakamura will be taking on ROH fan-favorite and current indie “it”-wrestler Kevin Steen.

Jushin “Thunder” Liger
Hip-Hop Equivalent: E-40

Longtime wrestling fans may have seen Jushin Liger during his runs in North American promotions throughout the ’90s. His colorful attire and persona, originally based on an anime character, and his innovative moves in the ring make him one of the most influential professional wrestlers of all time. Sort of like how Bay Area legend E-40 has launched countless pieces of hip-hop slang over the years and set numerous trends. Liger’s famed shooting-star press maneuver perhaps the closest physical equivalent to E-40’s trademark flow. This weekend, Liger challenges ROH’s Adam Cole for his World Heavyweight Championship.

AJ Styles
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Macklemore

North American wrestling fans probably recognize AJ Styles for his decade on top of Spike TV’s TNA Wrestling promotion. Since parting ways from them last December, Styles has gone the independent route, making appearances wherever he wants for top companies around the world. Not unlike Macklemore making an impact for indie musicians by scoring a plethora of Grammys this year, Styles has taken home some gold of his own by winning New Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship last month, the first American to do so since Brock Lesnar. Styles is set to defend his belt against frequent rival “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin, who Styles has never vanquished in an ROH ring.

“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Rick Ross

One of the fastest rising stars in all of puroresu, Kazuchika Okada exemplifies evil excess. A former two-time champion, his status as “Rainmaker” comes from a creative English-to-Japanese-to-English-translation of the act of “making it rain,” as his ring entrance is accompanied by money falling from the sky. There’s plenty of rich lavishness in hip-hop, but only Rick Ross and his Maybach Music really does comparable justice to Okada’s cocky rich jerk persona. As seen in the above clip, Okada’s coming to the ring accompanied by a giant velociraptor and an absurdly oversized sword sounds like something right out of a Rick Ross lyric. Both are also the biggest bosses we’ve seen thus far, meaning whomever Okada is facing will have their work cut out for him. “Rainmaker” isn’t the only interesting English title of Japanese talent this Saturday, as we’ll also be seeing Russian/Cuban tag team “Forever Hooligans” and Kushida of the fast-paced Back to the Future-themed team “The Time Splitters.”

Bullet Club – “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Action Bronson & Smoke DZA

The wrestling obsessed Bronson had to make an appearance on this list somewhere and his brute force on the mic and chemistry with frequent collaborator Smoke DZA is just like that of Bullet Club’s “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Both heavy hitters, Anderson’s badass enough to get away with firing an imaginary machine-gun (complete with sound effects) after being announced and still come off intimidating. Gallows you may recognize from his stints in WWE/TNA or from the 2014 documentary The Wrestling Road Diaries 2. Combined, their sheer ruthlessness paints the type of violent imagery that Bronson and DZA lyrics are made of. The Bullet Club will defend their IWGP tag-team titles against Sandy Fork, Delaware’s favorite masters of Redneck Kung-Fu, The Briscoe Brothers.

The Young Bucks
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Odd Future

Young. Obnoxious. Brash. Crass. Any description you could put on vile hip-hop instigators Odd Future you could just as easily slap on Matt and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks. Known for being wildly disrespectful cocky punks in a promotion based on honor, they’ve mastered the art of getting a rise out of people with sheer chaos and perfect teamwork. Originally from California, the Bucks used to famously get a rise out of super-serious wrestling crowds by entering to Hanson’s “MMMBop,” eerily reminiscent of Tyler, the Creator’s obsession with Justin Bieber. While they prefer neon green tassels to Supreme hats, they also have gold around their waist in the form of the ROH tag team titles that they’ll be defending against the sarcastic and stiff team reDRagon.

Gedo & Jado
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Atmosphere

It seems for as long as the underground hip-hop world has had viable legs, there’s always been Atmosphere. The duo of rapper Slug and producer Ant, as well as their label Rhymesayers, have laid the foundation and blueprint for what it means to be a successful independent hip-hop entity, and have remained elder statesmen ever since. New Japan’s Gedo and Jado debuted with the company in 1989 and have been a constant driving force in their rankings for over a decade. Fittingly, the “World Class Tag Team” is squaring off with Roderick Strong and BJ Whitmer who, along with Jimmy Jacobs, comprise the stable of ROH’s own longtime loyalists, “The Decade.”

Hiroshi Tanahashi
Hip-Hop Equivalent: Kendrick Lamar

Just as Kendrick Lamar has rejuvenated the hip-hop world by showing all that could still be done on a rap record with 2011’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Hiroshi Tanahashi has lead the charge for New Japan’s new generation. Endlessly exciting, inspiring and popular with both casual fans for his sheer charisma and diehards for his multifaceted sheer talent, Tanahashi, like Lamar, seems to be the refreshing choice everyone can agree on. He’ll be exemplifying what makes New Japan so exciting against ROH’s Michael Bennett.

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