Kevin Kelly: Commitment, Dedication and Love

When the world was opening presents on Christmas morning, Kevin Kelly was in solo quarantine in a hotel room in Japan, watching his family’s Christmas unfold over a Zoom video call. A choice likely made as both a fan and a worker, Kevin elected to miss Christmas at home so that he could be in Tokyo to call Wrestle Kingdom 15 live, and in person.

Often, we take for granted the things we grow accustomed to, and forget to appreciate them. Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to having Kevin Kelly in Japan for the vast majority of the NJPW schedule, providing stellar English commentary on a regular basis. He has very much become part of the New Japan family. It’s not until that family member is missing-in-action that you realise how good you truly had it. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the pandemic struck and Kevin was unable to provide in person commentary from Japan, we fans that relied so heavily on his excellent work, perhaps without even realising it, were left with an essential member of the New Japan family missing.

Rather than taking Kevin Kelly for granted, I want to highlight how lucky we are to have Kevin be the English voice of NJPW. We should be extremely thankful for his efforts during a normal year, but even more so in the current climate, during which Kevin has gone above and beyond continuously.

Along with many of us, Kevin Kelly spent the majority of 2020 working from home, providing commentary for 7 months remotely. Mostly it was done on a delay, Kevin watching the shows after they have finished, doing what he does best and it then being uploaded to NJPW World. For the bigger shows, through some tech-wizardry, he was able to call them live from his home, staying up until the early hours of the morning like many fans do across the globe (but not this London boy!). None of this would have been easy, and it definitely wouldn’t have been remotely as fun as being in the venue, shoulder to shoulder with his fellow commentators, banter flowing about Gino Gambino being in the Best of the Super Juniors. Although the safety from Minoru Suzuki must have been comforting.

Did Kevin have to do any of this? Perhaps. Maybe the NJPW powers-that-be threatened to send Jado and “that damn stick” to Kevin’s home if he didn’t agree to provide the commentary. I think it’s far more likely that Kevin understands the importance of his work for us English speaking fans, is aware of how much impact it has on us, and made the decision to still provide commentary for every show. There was a time when English commentary was a rarity, even for the larger shows, let alone getting commentary for every “Road To” show like we do today. Plus, as a fan, why would he not want to watch El Desperado vs Hiromu Takahashi live?!

One thing I’m fairly confident that he didn’t have to do, was put himself into quarantine over Christmas so that he could be inside the Tokyo Dome to call Wrestle Kingdom in person. Given that he has been able to call shows live from home, he could have done that again, but it would not have been the same. Not for us and not for him. (At this point I’d be remiss to not also recognise that many of the New Japan roster would have gone through the same – missing Christmas at home so they could be at Wrestle Kingdom.)

Why? Commitment. Dedication. Love.

What fan would pass up the opportunity to be at Wrestle Kingdom? Kevin even wore blue, white and gold to show his support for Ibushi and ended the second night with tears in his eyes! That appreciation and passion is something that cannot be feigned, Kevin’s authenticity is part of what makes him and his work so endearing and accessible.

Or maybe Kevin was in dire need of some Strong Zeros and simply had to get back into Japan to get his fill.

Beyond Wrestle Kingdom, Kevin has remained in Japan to call every night of the New Beginning tour, not heading home until at least February 12th, at which point he’ll have been in the country around 7 weeks. Given that others returned to Japan for Wrestle Kingdom and left the country shortly after, I’m sure that Kevin didn’t have to stay to keep providing live, and in person, commentary. Yet one month after Wrestle Kingdom, he is still in Japan providing live commentary. The real kicker is that he has had to do this mostly by himself, with the exception of El Phantasmo joining him on occasion.

Why? Commitment. Dedication. Love.

This doesn’t even begin to cover how tremendous a commentator Kevin truly is, and how essential he has been to New Japan’s Western expansion. The revolving door of commentators has seen many come and go, but the one constant has always been Kevin. Even when English commentary was first available, for a long time fans (including myself) still chose the Japanese alternative, their roaring voices never needing translating. It took time, but Kevin built trust among us and laid the foundations for the solid English commentary desk we have today – so much so that many chose to watch shows on a delay, rather than live, so they had the comfort of Kevin guiding them through the events.

Being a commentator can, at times, be a thankless task, and in a way that’s part of the deal. To take attention away from those athletes in the squared circle would be a disservice. A commentator’s difficult role requires them to bolster everything happening within the ring – they can be the catalyst in turning a match from good to great, from turning a memorable moment into an iconic moment.

This thank you should have been written a long time ago, and we should ensure thank yous become a regular occurrence, but it’s the present circumstances that make us aware of how lucky we are to have Kevin Kelly. My appreciation for Kevin began prior to the pandemic and it will continue long after. We should make an effort to reach out to those we take for granted more often, and say thank you. Who knows where we’d be without Kevin steering the commentary ship?! Gino would be forcing the audience to stand up and salute Bad Luck Fale. Rocky would be plugging his music and merch ( by the way). Although, maybe it would mean we could finally find out what keeps happening in a Toru Yano match, right when Kevin’s monitor always seems to go out?!

Thank you, Kevin Kelly!