You can make your name in this world by way of the blood you drip onto the mat. You make your name through agony and injury, cervical damage, or forehead scars. Or else you can go the route of Fukigen Death, R-Truth, and Toru Yano – simply slip on a jester hat instead.
It feels like cheating, to succeed in this savage pseudo sport by circumventing its violent core. But maybe it’s just the genius move, to thrive in the wrestling circus as the clown.
The comic relief role seems to be the best gig in wrestling. You work less often. You work less hard. You sustain a longer career.
In Stardom, Fukigen Death is proof of that. We saw the brilliance of her chosen path when she took her polka-dotted clown pants and painted-on frown to a 5 Star Grand Prix show on September 4th. At the top of the card, Syuri and Utami Hayashishita went 20 minutes and wrecked each other with lariats, German suplexes, and forearm shots to the sternum.
Death, meanwhile, was doing her usual goofy stuff in the opening bout with far less of a physical tax to pay.
Her back hit the mat maybe seven times. Four of those were headlock takedowns. There was not a powerbomb or superplex in sight. As she does in most of her matches, she spent much of her ring time flashing the rock and roll hand sign and yelling “Death.” In there with the young Hanan, Death had her hands in her pockets during most of the action. The whole thing is far more slapstick than slobberknocker.
The bell rang after just six minutes and six seconds (per CageMatch.net) of action that never shifted out of first gear.
This is the routine for Death. Of her last 50 singles matches, five went 15 minutes or longer. 16 of them didn’t reach the five-minute mark. It’s not as if she can’t go, as we’ve seen with some of her older work or when she dons another alter-ego, it’s that she has found a less painful path to trek down.
R-Truth shares much of the same strategy.
The veteran WWE wrestler is no threat to the world champions and headliners. He is the guy that gets us to crack a smile in between all the blood feuds presented on screen.
For a stretch, his gimmick was that he was confused about what matches he was in. Other saps had to work the Money in the Bank ladder match. R-Truth, on the other hand, thought he was invited to the field, but wasn’t. And when he realized his mistake, he shuffled off to the back.
Being the punchline of a joke like that doesn’t wear on the body nearly as much as falling off a ladder.
Whether it is brilliance or dumb luck, his path has been rife with him avoiding confrontation in the ring. When he was the 24/7 champion, he did more hiding and scampering out of danger than taking bumps.
His workload is miles away from Roman Reigns territory.
R-Truth hasn’t wrestled 100 matches in a year since 2016, per CageMatch.net. In 2017, Reigns wrestled 49 more times than him. The next year, The Big Dog’s match total outdid Truth’s by 79.
Plus, R-Truth isn’t in the same type of hard-hitting battles as Reigns. He’s doing a few comedy spots and calling it a night.
Not counting a Battle Royal on Raw in June, R-Truth has had a total of 4 minutes and 55 seconds of ring time this year. Dude is getting paid a full salary to wrestle five minutes in nine months.
Reigns is getting a lot more bruised up to collect his checks. His life is one of 15, 20 minute matches every night, house shows, dark matches, headline bouts, taking on all the broken tables and cage collisions Vince McMahon can throw at him.
Reigns is richer and more famous. R-Truth, though, seems to be having a hell of a time out there, cracking people up and barely breaking a sweat.
He, like Toru Yano of New Japan, burns but a few calories in the ring.
Yano, the man famous for schoolboy pins, has long remained relevant in a promotion with a heavy focus on hard-hitting offense and long epic matches. His peers crash into the mat nightly, testing the tensile strength of their neck bones. He instead grins and shrugs and sprays sanitizer into the air.
New Japan recently announced the G1 Climax entrants and Yano will be there once again. This will be his 16th appearance in the tournament. That’s more than Tomohiro Ishii and SANADA combined.
While guys like Ishii are the bedrock of the in-ring quality of the G1, Yano plays the spoiler, the comedy palate cleanser. The tourney isn’t the grueling gauntlet for him that it is for others. He either scores a quick upset or gets beat in a hurry.
Only one of his nine G1 matches last year went over nine minutes. He was in there with EVIL for four and a half minutes. Hirooki Goto bested him in 18 seconds.
That’s the equivalent of clocking into work, signing into your computer and signing right back out. For full pay. Talk about working the system.
Short match times and limited physicality is a formula for a long career.
R-Truth has been wrestling for WWE since 2008. His schtick has kept him steadily employed for 13 freaking years with the same company, a company mind you that is not shy about firing people out of the blue.
He doesn’t make so much money (like a Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman) that WWE is going to cut him to shave costs. He may just stick around for another decade plus.
Yano’s New Japan career started way back in 2002. Here he is close to 20 years later, selling curry-focused cook-at-home meals, providing dumb humor, the jester among the jousters.
Fukigen Death started with Stardom in 2012, lasting nearly the full life of the promotion. In the world of joshi, where neck injuries and early retirements are the norm, that’s massive.
Death is 40. Truth is 49. Mr. Yano is 43. They all work a style that isn’t going to leave them needing knee replacement or neck fusion surgery. That trio could keep doing what they’re doing for another 10-15 years easy. Don’t bet on Tetsuya Naito lasting that long.
I have the greatest appreciation for wrestlers who go out there and murder their opponents for the sake of art, for our sadistic entertainment. But you have to tip your proverbial hat to those who have found themselves a comfy niche where they don’t have to take that same kind of punishment.
They are employed and healthy. They are the dodgers of violence, the gravediggers from Hamlet, the smartest people in this most insane of professions.