If I told you the Bella sisters were pro wrestlers, it might not grab your attention. Of course, if I tell you they are extremely hot 26-year-olds, you might perk up. And if I tell you they are twins, your thoughts might start straying into fantasy. Or, if you’re normal, you might just go on YouTube and watch them in the flesh, so to speak.
So why are the Bella Twins relevant? Well, apart from being hot (and that’s qualification enough) and the only certified practitioners of the “Bella Sandwich” (and that’s certainly qualification enough), they’ll be among the main attractions at the upcoming WWE RAW Summer Slam Tour at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
They won’t be alone. Joining them on the bill are some of pro wrestling’s biggest superstars, including John Cena, Randy Orton, Sheamus, The Miz, Chris Jericho, John Morrison, Tyson Kidd, Rey Mysterio and four other wrestling “Divas.” And the biggest fight of the weekend, in the literal sense, will be when Big Show (billed as “the largest athlete in the world,” at 214 cm and 220 kg) takes on “the world’s strongest man,” Mark Henry (186 cm, 178 kg).
“The Bella Twins, and all the WWE Divas, personify what is great about WWE and Sports Entertainment,” gushes Ed Wells, vice president and general manager of WWE East Asia. “They are not only sexy and beautiful, but also superb athletes and entertainers. Divas are always a highlight at our live events, and the crowd at this year’s Summer Slam Tour is going to go absolutely wild when they see six WWE Divas in action at one time.”
The Bella Twins will team up with the equally gorgeous Eve to take on Maryse, Alicia Fox and Jillian on both days of the Ryogoku event. Eve, like the Bellas, has a Latina background, and she’s also a dancer/model who holds a college degree in industrial and systems engineering.
The Bella Twins swung through Tokyo recently to promote the August event, and we tracked them down in Odaiba, where they were fighting over whose chair was higher. Parity restored, Brie says wrestling’s Divas are coming into their own in what has traditionally been a very testosterone-flavored genre.
“I think it’s changing now, with us divas becoming a bigger part of the show. We’re not only managers or valets; now, we’re getting into the ring and we’re having our own storylines with each other. I definitely think the women are coming up. Divas are the icing on the cake.”
Nikki is a little more blunt about the kind of show the girls put on. “We’re Broadway with body slams,” she says, while flirting provocatively with me and my tag-team partner, Kamasami Kong of Metropolis Metpod fame. “We’re like a great soap opera—and we could be a fantasy and a dream.” For those following the fantasy storyline, Nikki is single, Brie is taken. Brie says Nikki wants to be wined and dined; Nikki says she just likes to laugh. Both think that Japanese men have a different kind of appeal.
“They are very mysterious,” Nikki says. “They are very hard to read, but when I walked into Abercrombie and Fitch, I liked the men very much.”
“They didn’t have their shirts on,” Brie explains, adding, “The men here have great style; I really love that. I love a man that can dress.”
And Japanese fans will be pleased to know that the twins think that size doesn’t matter—at least when it comes to wrestling.
“If you go out there believing you’re 6 foot, then you’re 6 foot,” Brie explains. “If you’re tough, you’re tough, and that’s how Nikki and I are. We know we’re strong and we’re skilled.”
The twins—who were both keen soccer players growing up—started out modeling and acting and were first signed to developmental contracts by WWE in 2007. They made their name by doing the old “twins switch” in their early bouts (one of them diving under the ring covers, another coming out), before teaming up properly and becoming a double-act.
“We definitely have a special bond that no one else has,” Brie says. “We’re not psychic, but we know what we’re feeling.” They’re both feeling good about Japan, where they love the sushi, the “energy” of Tokyo and their many fans.
“I can’t wait to perform in front of them,” Brie says, before rising from her chair along with her sister and forcing me to be the filling in a Bella Sandwich. How did it feel?
Bella! Bella! And then some. (Fred Varcoe)
Summer Slam Tour 2010. Aug 20-21, 6 p.m. 3,000 yen-20,000 yen. Ryogoku Kokugikan. Tel: 03-3498-9999.
A beginners guide to 'puroresu'
The WWE may be a big draw in Japan, but the homegrown wrestling scene remains hugely popular.
As in the US, "puroresu" is a staged performance rather than a competitive sport. Winners and losers are predetermined, and the “competitors” collaborate to put on a dazzling athletic display. However, "puroresu" differs in terms of presentation and its place in mainstream culture. Stripped of many of the more outrageous soap-opera elements that mark American wrestling, the Japanese version is presented as a serious sport between professional combatants.
Wrestlers usually perform under their own names and give interviews and press conferences “in-character,” playing along with the pretense that the sport is real. This serious attitude is shared by the popular media, which, despite knowing the bouts are staged, regularly feature "puroresu" in the sports pages and treat it with a respect akin to other sports.
Sometimes referred to as “strong style,” the technique displayed in "puroresu" also differs from the U.S. Spectators accustomed to WWE will be quick to notice how hard Japanese competitors seem to hit each other. The impact of the strikes echoes around the arena, and a wrestler’s skin is often red by the end of a match.
Most Japanese wrestlers have a grounding in martial arts, and some stars, like Yoshihiro Takayama, have crossed over to MMA. While former WWE star Brock Lesnar had to struggle to gain acceptance by UFC fans due to his “fake fighting” background, the Japanese MMA audience is much more ready to accept pro wrestlers as legitimate competitors in real fights.
This "puroresu" style has had a huge influence on today’s WWE superstars. Many toured Japan in their early careers to enrich their technique, including Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio and CM Punk. Young foreign wrestlers can still be found on tour with Japanese promotions, some of whom may become big stars in the future.
Women’s wrestling is also treated very differently in Japan. WWE tries to portray its Divas as serious combatants while also showcasing their looks, but female wrestlers in Japan are generally presented in a non-sexualized way. Rather than being integrated into the male fight cards, women’s wrestling tends to take place in female-only promotions where the action can be as high-impact as in the male promotions.
The major promotions
After 35 years in operation, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is both the biggest and longest-running organization in Japan; its annual show at Tokyo Dome is the highlight of the "puroresu" calendar. The group was founded by the legendary Antonio Inoki, who did much to establish "puroresu" as a legitimate sport, frequently engaging in MMA fights (most famously in a 15-round draw against Muhammad Ali in 1976). While boasting a roster of revered older wrestlers like Masahiro Chono and Jushin Thunder Liger, NJPW also has a lot of younger talent, including top star Hiroshi Tanahashi. Given its size and reputation, NJPW has had working agreements with big U.S. wrestling promotions over the years. Its current tie-up with TNA Wrestling has seen U.S. stars like Kurt Angle and the Dudley Boys appear at its big shows.
Although it has fallen in stature since its ’70s heyday, All Japan Pro Wrestling is still one of the country’s top promotions. AJPW is said to be heavily influenced by North American-style wrestling, and its current president and biggest star, Keiji Mutoh (aka the Great Muta), is probably Japan’s most popular active wrestler.
Pro Wrestling Noah was formed by mega-popular fighter Mitsuharu Misawa and his loyalists after they split from AJPW. During its ten-year existence, it has carved out a strong reputation for quality in-ring action. Its innovative promotion of lightweight wrestlers has made big stars out of KENTA and Naomichi Marufuji, alongside established heavyweights like Kenta Kobashi. The group has struggled to fill the gap left by Misawa’s death last year, but remains the darling of wrestling enthusiasts.
Upstart organization Dragon Gate has made a big splash in its short lifetime. Since 2004, the group has offered fans slick presentation and spectacular high-flying acrobatics. Its young and motivated roster includes rising stars Shingo Takagi, CIMA, Dragon Kid and Masato Yoshino. Already enjoying a cult following in the U.S., Dragon Gate recently established an American branch to put on monthly shows overseas.
Where to see 'puroresu'
The top promotions perform regularly all over Japan, though each tour generally begins and ends with its biggest shows in Tokyo. Korakuen Hall near Tokyo Dome is considered the spiritual home of "puroresu." (Fintan Monaghan).
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today