Okay, the title is a little bit of a misnomer as there were little to no crowds at the Olympics, but bear with us here.
At the world-famous Tokyo Dome, thousands of masked Japanese fans — buzzing with absolute excitement and giddy — neatly filtered into the stadium this past Sunday night as those who could not manage to get one of these coveted tickets could only mill about outside, soaking in the explosive atmosphere about to erupt in the Tokyo Dome.
Then, deafening pyrotechnics erupted, signalling the start of the festivities for the night. A booming voice thundered all across the stadium urging the crowd for a bigger and bigger response — and the attendees obliged with a passionate frenzy.
The hottest event in town was certainly off to a raucous start, but it wasn’t the Tokyo Olympics. No, it was a pro wrestling event that attracted the hottest crowd of the summer.
NJPW Grand Slam Trumps The Olympics As The Hottest Event of The Summer
Held before 5,000 enthralled fans at the 55,000-seat arena, the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) Grand Slam certainly offered one clear evidence of the strange duality of life in Tokyo during this time where the metropolis also simultaneously plays host to the world’s most prestigious sporting event. With infections on the uptick in the fifth wave of the pandemic, Olympic organisers had decided that the one-year delayed Summer Games would go on without any spectators present. Any sporting fan can tell you that the live crowd and audience are what brings any event to life. Of course, their precautions were understandable in this current climate.
But for the 14 million or so inhabitants of Tokyo, this meant that the Olympic games were an entity that was independent of their everyday lives — a separate bubble of reality if you will. Elsewhere, under the Tokyo state of emergency measures, live concerts and sporting events were permitted with attendance at 50% of the venue’s capacity up to 5,000 seats. NJPW certainly took full advantage of this measure.
At the Tokyo Dome, fans of all ages ranging from young children to adults to an elderly woman with a walking stick were decked out in T-shirts of their favourite wrestlers, towels, and the mandatory face masks — sitting on the edge of the seat as they watched the drama unfold in the squared circle.
Public address announcements repeatedly reminded fans in attendance that cheering out loud was banned due to pandemic precautions, and instead, they simply clapped with unceasing fervour throughout the night. During a particularly brutal headbutt exchange, the largely compliant crowd could not help but let out a collective gasp. But this was understandable as well.
On the flip side, Sunday night saw Japan’s rising football phenom, Takefusa Kubo score a goal just six minutes after the first whistle against Mexico — to some sparse but rather enthusiastic applause from a few dozen Olympic staff and volunteers scattered across one side of the 63,700-seat Saitama Stadium, the deafening silence of no crowds nearly palpable, to say the least. To their credit, Olympic organisers did try to mask the awkward silence by piping in recorded spectator noises for TV viewers but this was more of a band-aid than a solution to the problem.
Back in the Tokyo Dome, the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi defeated rival Hiroshi Tanahashi in a marvellous display of pro wrestling at its finest. After the match, “The Dragon” as he’s known by fans asked the crowd if they’d watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics.“But today, you all came to watch pro wrestling, didn’t you!” he roared, as the crowd applauded in approval.
Back in Saitama, Japan pulled ahead by two goals thanks to a penalty from Ritsu Doan a few minutes after Kubo’s first goal and Japan won 2-1 at the end of the match. The taped crowd noises abruptly ended as soon as the final whistle blew, even before the players had left the field. The Japanese players celebrated on the field as the half-dozen team officials nearby reciprocated as best as they could as hushed silence fell in the stadium. Then a few camera clicks could be heard. That was it. That was the end of the night for what could only be described as a drab affair for Olympic fans.