Among the many rites of passage for young competitors in the sports-entertainment business, a tour of Japan has to sit atop the list. Long considered a badge of honor among the in-ring elite, a jaunt to The Land of the Rising Sun exposes WWE Superstars to a type of fan culture (as well as general culture) different from anything the U.S. or Europe has to offer. Freshly minted newcomers on WWE’s recent tour of Tokyo and Osaka were Big E and Paige, and it’s safe to say they were more than satisfied by the experience.
“I always wanted to go to Tokyo,” Big E told WWE.com. “Even when I was a kid, it was one destination I always wanted to go to. So it’s pretty cool to be able to live that dream and get an opportunity to see, to me, one of the coolest cities and cultures in the world.”
“This is a huge deal for me,” agreed Paige, who received her initial training in Europe and is familiar with international crowds.” I’ve always wanted to be here, I’ve always wanted to visit here, I’ve always wanted to wrestle here, so I’m very excited.”
Aside from taking some time to see the sights — Paige snapped some pics and Big E snagged a vintage “Lion Tamer” Chris Jericho WCW action figure from 1999 — the two up-and-comers also got a taste of the famous Japanese audience, known for its excessive politeness rather than relentless cheering.
“They definitely liked to see some signature stuff that we have, they really appreciated our moves,” said Paige moments after her first-ever match in Japan, a victory over Alicia Fox. “They really are just happy to see us, so on our entrance they’re quite loud, then they’ll sit and they’ll watch, and whatever they see they’ll clap to. So it’s kind of different, instead of cheering they’ll clap. So they’re the most polite crowd ever.”
“They were into everything that we did, they were loud and vocal,” said E, who tussled with Erick Rowan in a “strapping” big-man collision that went over quite well with the local crowd. “It was cool looking around and seeing the Big E signs people made, too. I think I saw a huge cutout of my face with some ridiculous expression as well, so that was cool.”
E acknowledged that the crowd was a bit more raucous on the second night of the tour, which featured an appearance by Hulk Hogan and the signing of Kenta, but for the most part, conceded that the Japanese and American tastes are somewhat different.
“We did some stuff we wouldn’t normally do in the U.S. and elsewhere, honestly, and they ate it up,” he said.
Speaking of eating it up, E also made the vaunted pilgrimage to Ribera’s Steakhouse, where he received the famous Ribera’s jacket that has become a badge of honor for wrestlers the world over.
“It’s something I always wanted ever since I started wrestling,” said E of his 4XL jacket. “You see the guys in the Ribera jackets and it’s really a rite of passage to be able to work in Japan, come over here and perform for the fans here, and then come over to Ribera Steakhouse and get that jacket.” (As a bonus, E snapped a picture with the steakhouse’s owner, who sported a pair of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Zubaz for the occasion.)
For all the quirks and differences in the Japanese atmosphere, though, it proved to be just those aspects that made the trip memorable for Big E and Paige.
“It’s so different from any other crowd, but they’re still awesome,” said Paige.”So yeah, I’m really happy.”
“And they love my submission.”
Some things transcend nations.