As the 2020 G1 Climax approached, fans wondered how New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s annual heavyweight tournament would look in the time of a global pandemic. Travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19 had kept members of the NJPW roster who lived outside of Japan from entering the country for months, a factor in the company’s decision to start a new U.S.-based TV show. Those restrictions had been eased, but it was still unclear which, if any, international wrestlers New Japan would be able and willing to bring over for the G1. Maybe this year’s tournament would include lower status heavyweights and older wrestlers who wouldn’t have otherwise been included, or maybe it would feature junior heavyweights, NJPW’s solution to filling the depleted brackets for this summer’s New Japan Cup.
Halfway through the September 9 New Japan Road show, NJPW announced the G1 30 lineup, and in doing so revealed that they were able to get foreign talent into Japan – and that they would continue to ignore non-Japanese roster members’ involvement in incidents of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse.
Last month, as part of a review of the first episode of NJPW Strong, I wrote about New Japan’s response (or really, lack of it) to some of its wrestlers being implicated by the Speaking Out movement, the June 2020 Me Too-like airing of abuses, largely sexual and by men against women, in the professional wrestling industry. Speaking Out exposed fans to just how widespread these issues were in the past and remain in a time when women have main-evented WrestleMania, and the movement led to investigations, suspensions, firings, and continued controversy and debate over how companies, wrestlers, and fans respond to allegations of sexual misconduct.
Though Speaking Out was confined to the English-speaking wrestling world, NJPW showed signs they were aware of it. When they put out a request on social media for fans to submit questions for a Q&A with British wrestler Zack Sabre Jr. and the replies were inundated with inquiries about Speaking Out, the request was deleted, and the Q&A was quietly canceled.
Meanwhile, the two current NJPW wrestlers named during Speaking Out continued to be featured as if nothing happened. Chase Owens, accused by many of sexual misconduct with minors, main-evented NJPW Strong. Will Ospreay, accused of blacklisting a woman wrestler who came forward about being raped, was stuck in the UK and unable to perform, but NJPW continued to platform him as much as possible given the circumstances. The company released new Will Ospreay merch and featured him in an ad that ran during the intermission of all of their shows, and in a free match of the week.
Now that Ospreay has been announced as part of the G1 30 lineup, I want to explore what the way NJPW and other promotions have chosen to handle it means for NJPW’s relationship with its international talent and audience, for the G1, and for the legacy of Speaking Out.
Pollyanna, Scott Wainwright, and Will Ospreay
First, let’s go over how Ospreay came up during Speaking Out. He wasn’t accused of any sexual violence himself, but of using his influence in the UK wrestling scene to help an alleged perpetrator of sexual violence and to harm an alleged victim.
Note: This article contains several references to tweets by Will Ospreay. Ospreay deleted his Twitter account the day before the start of G1 Climax 30. Source links for his tweets have been changed to links to screenshots of them or to articles directly quoting these posts.
In 2017, UK wrestler Pollyanna said on social media that she had been sexually assault by a male wrestler. The male wrestler was not initially named but was later revealed to be Scott Wainwright. Wainwright was never particularly famous or successful, but he was a longtime friend of someone increasingly so in Will Ospreay. On November 17, 2017, Ospreay referenced Pollyanna’s allegations on Twitter, posting “Think it’s disgusting that people can use social media to accuse people of sexual assault. More than a handful of people know the real you. Trying to use your position to isolate and assault someone is pathetic.” Backlash to the tweet was quick. Ospreay deleted it and apologized, but that was far from the end of his involvement in the story.
After November 2017, Pollyanna’s bookings decreased, then stopped altogether. According to records on Cagematch, she only worked three matches after this incident, one in Germany and two in the UK. Rumors spread that she had been blacklisted. Meanwhile, Wainwright continued to wrestle and to be booked by Frontline, a promotion owned by Ospreay, until 2019. (Wainwright has since stopped wrestling and records of his career are harder to find than those of his peers because his Cagematch profile was removed at his request.)
For those aware of this story and these rumors, there was an ominous undertone when Ospreay took to Twitter in early 2019 to berate Sadie Gibbs for leaving a Stardom tour early after the death of a family member. However, whether this would have impacted her future in the UK and Japanese wrestling scenes is hypothetical; she was signed by All Elite Wrestling after Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks supported her after Ospreay’s tweets.
What had happened with Pollyanna, Wainwright, and Ospreay started getting attention again when Speaking Out began about a year and a half later in June 2020. Ospreay issued a statement (which he deleted sometime between September 14-18, before the rest of his account, but you can read in full here) in which he apologized for his “deleted tweet from 3 years ago” and insisted that he did not blacklist Pollyanna – and that she was a bully, and that he thought she had retired in 2016 anyway. Soon after, Pollyanna posted a screenshot of an email exchange between her and UK promotion International Wrestling League (IWL) showing that she had been removed from an IWL show in May 2018 and the company had told her that this was because her booking would make some people so unhappy that it could result in them losing their venue.
IWL quote-tweeted Pollyanna’s screenshot, confirming her story and adding new details. The promotion shared that they had been told by the venue, “Will’s our boy and feels uncomfortable with you booking Pollyanna.” IWL had initially responded that they wouldn’t pull Pollyanna from the show, but they also wouldn’t use her again in the future. However, “There wasn’t an option,” IWL tweeted, “The option was unbook Polly or lose the venue. (1st show there.)”
Screenshots and a confession from a promoter combined with the preexisting blacklisting rumors and Ospreay’s history with women on social media convinced many wrestling fans of the truth of Pollyanna’s story: that when Pollyanna had come forward about being raped by Ospreay’s friend, his response was not just to trust his friend, but to use his sway in the industry to help kill his friend’s accuser’s career.
Incentives against speaking out
This story also now had broader implications in the context of what was made public knowledge by Speaking Out, that sexual abuse was widespread in wrestling and the UK scene in particular, with few consequences for abusers or resources for victims. If this was how influential people reacted to allegations of sexual assault, no wonder this issue had gone unaddressed for so long. If wrestling was going to be less sexually exploitative in the future, this way of doing things would have to change.
Dealing with the blacklisting of Pollyanna is both about justice for her as an individual and about how the wrestling industry deals with these types of situations going forward. For Speaking Out to have any meaningful impact, there need to be repercussions not just for abuse, but for protecting abusers and punishing those who come forward about abuse.
These repercussions need to fit the wrongdoing, not the status or popularity of the person who has done wrong. However, the opposite is currently the norm. And if in tight-knit communities like wrestling scenes, powerful people not only can get away with basically anything, but are allowed to help their friends to the same, there are very strong incentives to stay quiet about abuse.
This isn’t just an analysis on my part, but an observation based on personal experience. I worked for or with a sexual predator for over two years until this person’s history of abusive, corrupt, and illegal actions was exposed. (Because this was at the wrestling section of a website, this went down during Speaking Out. Here‘s something I wrote about it, and you can search “Brandon Stroud” on Twitter for more information, though keep in mind the stories you’ll find are only a fraction of those shared during the investigation by Warner Music Group that led to Uproxx letting him go.)
As someone for whom this kind of career death was a Sword of Damocles for over two years and something I thought about on at least a weekly basis, I don’t see much of a difference on a macro level between the predators in entertainment/media and those who choose to enable them. Supporting a system in which blacklisting is the norm for dealing with people who come forward about abuse allows that kind of behavior to continue. With a culture like this, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope that, by some miracle, fewer creeps decide to get involved in an industry where there are no repercussions for them being creeps.
Consequences, learning, and the lack thereof
Now that we’ve talked about blacklisting in general, let’s get back to the Ospreay/Pollyanna incident, its fallout, and how so little of that fallout came from within the wrestling industry.
Among fans who believed that Ospreay had done something wrong, there are two basic schools of thought about what the repercussions should be. One is that Ospreay needs to show that he has learned and that he won’t do this kind of thing again. The other is that Ospreay needs to face some kind of professional consequences for his actions and be prevented from doing this kind of thing again. At this point, I’m not going to make case for one approach over the other, but I’m going to show that what neither group wants appears to have happened, and neither seems like it’s going to.
“No matter what I do I’m going to be criticized”
First, Ospreay appears to have faced zero professional consequences for the blacklisting of Pollyanna either in New Japan Pro Wrestling, his home promotion, or in Revolution Pro Wrestling (RevPro or RPW), where he holds the world title, making him arguably the default face of the company. Maybe it would be most natural for Ospreay to face repercussions in the British wrestling scene since that’s where what happened with Pollyanna took place, but so far he hasn’t and it doesn’t look like he will.
When RevPro taped a bunch of no-audience shows this summer (post-Speaking Out) they included Ospreay, and he teamed with Michael Oku in one of the two matches advertised on the poster for the company’s comeback show, Epic Encounters 1. On Epic Encounters 2, Ospreay wrestled a singles match with Callum Newman with a teacher vs. student theme, a story that presented Ospreay as a community leader and mentor to younger wrestlers. He’ll headline Epic Encounters 3, defending his British Heavyweight Championship.
In July, before these shows were released, RevPro founder and owner Andy Quildan talked about how Speaking Out impacted his company on the PWTorch podcast The Deep Dive. RevPro had worked with many abusive men throughout its eight-year history, and RevPro parted ways with those it was directly working with at the time of Speaking Out, including trainer and commentator Andy Simmonz and wrestler David Starr. In this interview, which was over four hours long, Quildan painted himself as someone concerned about abuse in wrestling. He also defended Ospreay, describing the RPW British Heavyweight Champion as a man sincerely trying to do better and to learn from the women with whom he works. Quildan noted that despite Ospreay being his company’s champion, he wasn’t really within his purview as far as discipline went since Ospreay had officially been NJPW’s guy since he signed a five-year contract with them in 2019.
The Deep Dive interview was where Quildan and RevPro’s acknowledgement of Speaking Out ended. Quildan told me (in the replies to his tweet about it, after ignoring DMs) that RevPro would release “a full, short breakdown of actions” that the company would take to curb abuse in the future, including an updated code of conduct. Two months later, RevPro has released nothing of the kind.
On how he chose to respond to Speaking Out, Quildan said that he’s “in a position where no matter what I do I’m going to be criticized. Believe me when I say it would be a lot easier for me to run from this situation. But I’m not going to.” A prominent figure in UK wrestling took issue with these claims and reached out to me about them, saying RevPro’s response to Speaking Out stopped where it did because Quildan “cares about his PR, but no, he doesn’t give a fuck about abuse. Or talent welfare in general. And certainly not fans. But he’s a GOOD BLOKE, apparently,” the insider added, referencing Quildan’s Twitter bio at the time.
“I am one of the good guys, I’m just severely uneducated”
With no professional consequences for Ospreay, not even a cosmetic/kayfabe one like stripping him of the British Heavyweight Championship, the issue of backlash towards those who come forward about abuse in the UK wrestling goes unaddressed in one of the scene’s biggest promotions. However, if Ospreay has convincingly grown and changed for the better and looks like he understands what he did wrong and what better ways to handle this kind of situation would be, maybe there could be hope for some kind of positive outcome from all this. But both Ospreay’s initial statement about Speaking Out and his later interactions with people reporting on his story make it seem like this has not happened.
Ospreay’s June 20 Notes app offering (“a statement regarding my deleted tweet from 3 years ago. More importantly my apology to Pollyanna.”) reads more like damage control than a sincere apology, and it was quickly contradicted by IWL’s testimony.
He begins by describing his response to Pollyanna’s allegations: “My crime is opening my mouth without having any knowledge of the situation and defending a childhood friend that I could never imagine performing this crime.” This fits the narrative that was popular, at least before Speaking Out, that Ospreay is just a dumb guy who occasionally runs his mouth off on Twitter, then gets yelled at and has to delete and apologize. However, the situation IWL describes with their venue in 2018 makes it seem like Ospreay opening his mouth in this case went far beyond just that deleted tweet.
Ospreay claims that he was never “part of any group trying to ‘blacklist’ anybody,” he thought Pollyanna had retired in 2016, and he never spoke “to any promoter about not having her on or around shows.” It’s also not totally implausible Ospreay thought Pollyanna retired in 2016 since she wrestled far fewer matches in 2017 than she did the previous year and they were all outside of England, including a GSW Ladies Championship win that March. However, all of these claims by Ospreay are again at odds with IWL’s testimony.
The British Heavyweight Champion spends most of the rest of the statement trying to drag down Pollyanna’s character while elevating his own and ends up further hurting his case. He says, “I won’t lie to people and say we got along because we didn’t, that’s normal in wrestling, some people will rub you the wrong way.” That’s fair, but then he proceeds to insinuate he disliked Pollyanna for much more significant and damning reasons, that she had bullied his partner Bea Priestly (Stardom, RevPro, formerly AEW, etc.) through things like belittling her during training and even hitting her with “stiff shots for no reason” during matches.
This is followed by multiple paragraphs about what a great guy, in contrast, Ospreay is. He says he “was welcomed with open arms by all the promotions and their locker room leaders in the UK because of how sincere I am and how much I care about everyone from the backstage to fans in attendance.” He lists some of the good things he’s done for the wrestling community: He ran an indie show with WrestleTalk that gave independent wrestlers in the UK “a big payday before the lockdown happened.” He runs training seminars, he’s “helped a number of people over in Japan,” and he’s “done appearances for children in cancer ward hospitals.”
In describing his positive influence in wrestling scenes on two different continents, he’s also allowing the reader to get an idea of how that amount of influence could be used negatively. And that’s even without mentioning that he can help male wrestlers get NJPW tryouts— when people have talked about LA Dojo tryouts to me, they’ve mentioned that they’ve included “some of Ospreay’s guys.”
The final paragraphs of the note describe how Ospreay himself suffered sexual abuse at the hands of an adult man when he was a minor. Ospreay has spoken about this in the past and I don’t want to question or belittle it. However, I think it should be clear that someone experiencing sexual violence does not mean that they will necessarily react appropriately or in good faith to a someone else experiencing sexual violence from an industry peer.
Since IWL contradicted Ospreay’s denial of blacklisting Pollyanna, most updates on this story have come from Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, who has downplayed IWL’s testimony because of the promotion’s small size and framed the issue as being about Ospreay suffering from depression and suicidal ideation after “something he was accused of years ago” was brought back up. Meltzer even compared Ospreay’s situation to that of Hana Kimura, who was inundated with hateful and sometimes racially-charged messages and comments online because of segments on the reality show Terrace House before she committed suicide in May of this year. Ospreay has been open about his depression for a years and depression is a serious illness that again, I’m not trying to downplay. However, in this case, it just means that someone involved in this story suffers from depression. Their depression really doesn’t change anything about Ospreay, IWL, or Pollyanna has said happened when she alleged that she had been raped by Scott Wainwright.
Meltzer was working with another journalist, Will Cooling of PWTorch (who was part of the previously mentioned podcast interview with Andy Quildan) on an investigation into this story, but according to Cooling, Meltzer seems to have stopped participating after information emerged that contradicted something he had previously believed. On an episode of his podcast The British Wrestling Report, Cooling talked about this experience with Meltzer, and his own interactions with Ospreay after Speaking Out.
After breaking down the Pollyanna story and why it’s significant whether or not Ospreay contributed to her blacklisting (“You can never accuse any male wrestler of abuse because you don’t know who their friends are” is a key observation), Cooling described how Ospreay had recently contacted him through Twitter DMs. This was the first time Cooling and Ospreay had ever communicated.
Ospreay said that Cooling (historically a fan of his) had been treating him unfairly and was against him, and claimed that he couldn’t get promoters not to book people. He said he’d learned his lesson about not using social media to tear people down, but then started badmouthing Pollyanna, including bringing up other people’s alleged experiences with her. Cooling pointed out to Ospreay that though he claimed to have never badmouthed Pollyanna, he was now doing just that to a reporter he didn’t know.
Cooling’s conclusion from his conversation with Ospreay was that he “does not seem like someone who is genuinely trying to learn from the female performers he works with, in contrast to what Quildan had claimed in their interview. “He just seems like a bully and a user who is trying to babyface himself to everybody backstage so he can keep being a wrestler.”
With credible (though not watertight) evidence that this blacklisting occurred, a lack of professional consequences or institutional change, and what looks like even an absence of learning or personal change it looks like UK wrestling, or at least some powerful figures in the scene, has not really committed to dealing with its abuse problem in a meaningful way beyond kicking out individual abusers, and that has major potential implications for the legacy of Speaking Out.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has entered the game
If we accept that there’s credible evidence that Pollyanna was blacklisted, that this issue has not been dealt with within major companies in the UK wrestling scene, and that addressing a culture of blacklisting those who come forward about abuse is important to curbing abuse in a community, what does it mean for NJPW to ignore when its international talent is implicated in sexual abuse scandals?
New Japan has a history of addressing when its Japanese roster members are involved in scandals (which I wrote about here), but not its foreign wrestlers. That’s worked out for them in the past, but now NJPW interacts with the same English-speaking audience that would be aware of Speaking Out more than ever before, and the company turning a blind eye to what their foreign talent does outside of Japan leaves a different impression.
In the past, you could guess that maybe NJPW didn’t really know what their non-Japanese talent was up to when they weren’t touring with the company, but that’s no longer credible now that New Japan has an English-language website, English-language social media, people who work for them in Japan and abroad who speak English, and an American branch of the company, New Japan Pro Wrestling of America, which has existed for about a year and is now creating its own original programming and contracting wrestlers in the U.S. And at least some people in NJPW besides English-speaking wrestlers know about Speaking Out— the company showed that in the case of the aforementioned ZSJ Q&A incident. Regarding specifically the issues with Ospreay and Owens, NJPW has been contacted by journalists and fans, not just via social media but through the Contact Us page on the NJPW website and other channels.
Another reason it was easier in the past to minimize how much sketchy foreign talent impacted your enjoyment of NJPW was because the company’s international workers were usually freelancers and/or signed to shorter deals. Without knowing when people’s contracts were up, you could just look at NJPW history and guess that if someone on the roster wasn’t Japanese, they probably weren’t going to be around all that long.
However, the roles and presentation of foreign talent in NJPW changed significantly in the 2010s, especially within the past five years as the company kicked its international expansion into gear. Kenny Omega became the first non-Japanese wrestler to win the G1 Climax in 2016, the U.S. title was established in 2017, the LA Dojo opened, and the company’s shows in America featured non-Japanese talent more heavily than shows in Japan. Now the company even as an American TV show in NJPW Strong and is even holding a tournament largely made up of American wrestlers who were introduced to the New Japan audience on that program.
Ospreay has become a very expansion-era, post-Omega type of foreign star in NJPW, especially over the past year and a half or so. The push Ospreay has received basically since Omega started on his way out of the company has made him impossible to overlook or even to react to in the same way concerned fans reacted to NJPW’s handling of Michael Elgin (whose history of misogyny finally caught up with him through Speaking Out.)
Ospreay was a top guy in the junior heavyweight division after the Pollyanna incident and as the blacklisting rumors began, but NJPW’s format makes it easier to skip or ignore juniors if you don’t like them for any reason. But when he entered the NEVER Openweight Championship scene in the fall of 2018, Ospreay began to be positioned as a possible future top foreign babyface.
He kicked off 2019 by winning the NEVER title at Wrestle Kingdom 13, participated in the New Japan Cup, and then his push turned into a megapush after he lost his belt at Madison Square Garden. Ospreay went on to win Best of the Super Juniors for the second time (ending Shingo Takagi’s eight-month undefeated streak in the process), beat Dragon Lee for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, demanded to be put in the G1 Climax directly afterward, began one of the few junior heavyweights to compete in the G1 in July and August, made it to the semi-finals of the U.S.-based Super J Cup later in August, throughout the summer took part in a storyline that included El Phantasmo turning heel and coming to NJPW specifically as a rival for Ospreay and Robbie Eagles leaving Bullet Club for Chaos after Ospreay beat him for the junior title at a show in his home country of Australia, teamed with Eagles for Super Junior Tag League in October and November, then entered a feud with the returning Hiromu Takahashi for the junior title and lost their title match at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
Ospreay did the most out of anyone in NJPW in 2019 and kicked off 2020 with another title win: beating Zack Sabre Jr. for the RevPro title in the second match of a series. His momentum only stopped because of the spread of COVID-19 and ensuing travel restrictions. According to Meltzer, part of the original plan for the G1 Climax 30 was meant to elevate Ospreay to the status of one of NJPW’s “top six” wrestlers, something that could easily still happen this fall.
NJPW refusing to acknowledge Speaking Out and continuing to push wrestlers involved in scandals as if nothing happened isn’t a neutral action. RevPro was already able to use Ospreay’s NJPW contract as a shield, as one of its multiple excuses for not dealing with Pollyanna’s blacklisting and the surrounding issues. For international talent, increased status and influence in NJPW leads to increased influence in wrestling scenes outside of Japan, especially as NJPW provides more opportunities for wrestlers in the U.S., UK, Australia, and New Zealand. And if these local scenes don’t take their own steps to prevent corruption and abuse, more power in wrestling comes with less accountability.
It’s not some kind of unreasonable, unrealistic purity test to want New Japan and other wrestling companies to do something when their roster members are involved in incidents of sexual violence or harassment. Sexual abuse seriously hurts real people, damaging their mental and physical health, their lives and their livelihoods. It also, along with other forms of discrimination, curbs diversity in the industry and nips careers in the bud before they get the chance to flourish, something that impacts who gets the largest platforms in the industry and what’s available for fans to watch.
So how can wrestling fans respond to NJPW’s handling of Ospreay and Owens in a way that might make a difference, and how are they responding already? I explore that in a follow-up post here.