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Q&A with Chris Brookes, on life in Japan and wrestling inspiration

1 year ago

Q&A with Chris Brookes, on life in Japan and wrestling inspiration

By: Jeff Brown

Since joining DDT in 2019, the British-born wrestler has been living in Japan. Chris Brookes, never one to sit still, frequently makes appearances for companies such as Gatoh Move’s ChocoPro, where he is one half of the Asia Dream Tag Team Champions – the Calamari Drunken Kings.

In keeping with the spirit of ChocoPro, Brookes also promotes his own produce shows under the moniker Baka Gaijin + Friends. While they are also ringless competitions held only on a mat, they take place in a bar instead of the familiar classroom better known to fans as Ichigaya Chocolate Square.

In front of a sold-out and raucous crowd, Brookes delivers a variety show. A revolving and eclectic crew for each production begins with a ChocoPro-style tag match.

Afterwards, the experimentation begins as Brookes pits a fellow DDT roster member against the Death Worm, an interdimensional kaiju-like being. A very comedy-heavy performance follows, and while it may have elements of puroresu, the first show had Antonio Honda doing a solo acoustic guitar performance.

The main event starts and all bets are off; no area of the bar is safe, even the rooftop with its skylight being a surface to do battle on.

After his tag title defense in the main event of ChocoPro 300, Monthly Puroresu spoke with Brookes about creativity in wrestling and experimentation with his Baka Gaijin shows.

Monthly Puroresu: How did you end up living in Japan and also related, what was it like being in Japan when the pandemic started?

Chris Brookes: I ended living here because first, my life goal was to always come to Japan anyways – and then in January of 2019 Fight Club: PRO did one show at Korakuen Hall, Fight Club: PRO is an English company. They decided they were going to run a show at Korakuen Hall. God knows why the reason.

They were like, “Ok, it’s the beginning of the year, the Jan 4th Tokyo Dome show. There is always so much going on there it’ll be busy and full of tourists. If we do a show then it will probably get an audience”, so they ran a FC:P show at Korakuen. Meiko Satomura of Sendai Girls was champion at the time so she, through her connections, booked Jun Kasai, MAO and Daisuke Sekimoto. It kind of became like this little weird English indy wrestling festival where it was people from everywhere.

So we did that show and my old tag team partner Kid Lykos and [Sanshiro] Takagi from DDT came to the show because there was so much going on, it was such a weird thing to be happening, it attracted kind of the attention of everyone. Takagi came and shortly after that they offered us our first tour with DDT – Lykos got injured and so I went on my own. I did 6 weeks there in June 2019 to July and then they booked me again to come back in the winter and I came back in the winter and did October, November, December, January. After that they said: “Things are going really well. You’re doing really good here so far. Next year we want to move you to a situation where you’ll be in Japan for 3 months, go home for a month, come to Japan for 3 months, go home for a month”

I was like “That’s all well and good, but if we’re going to do something like that then I’d rather just come for 12 months” and I set out that it’s been my dream to be here anyway. Instead of constantly diving back and forth they said “Okay, we’ll try a year” and then the timing was so lucky that I flew over here with the intention of staying here for a year and then 2 weeks after the pandemic started.

Even when the first year came up – I think it was in February 2020 when I first came, so February 2020-February 2021; I was thinking: “Well, should I go back now?” Because the year we had agreed upon was finished, but the was no wrestling anymore. Everything was still shutdown from the pandemic and post-#SpeakingOut and things like that. There’s nothing going on back home, I might as well stay here. DDT said to me: “If you don’t want to go back then we’re happy if you’d like to stay here” and I was like “Oh, okay” and then every contract renewal meeting I have had since then have just been “If you want to stay longer, we’re happy if you stay”. I said “Okay, I’ll stay” and its been 3 years now that I’ve been wrestling for DDT.

Monthly Puroresu: What sparked the idea for the Baka Gaijin? Was it anything in particular or any wrestler that made you think to do your own produce show?

Chris Brookes: When I was in England around 2014, I used to run the recently-returned ATTACK! Pro Wrestling shows with Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews. We were running shows together in England and then I ran ATTACK for like 5 years until everyone kind of got busy and pulled in different directions.

At the time, I was in a group in Europe called SCHADENFREUDE with Kid Lykos, Kyle Fletcher, Mark Davis, WALTER and Timothy Thatcher. At some point we just thought to ourselves “Why don’t we just move to these other buildings and start running our own shows?” which is when we started the SCHADENFREUDE & Friends shows.

Then from that we moved to when I first came to DDT. They had me do a couple of produce shows for DDT – the three Chris Brookes Produce shows. By the third one, it kind of run its course and we had done that.

I think that just because I’ve had a creative input in running shows, I always had a desire to do it again. Then Drew Parker was on this show called Monster’s Party which runs in the same building we were in. That building’s not exclusive to one wrestling group  and there’s a bunch of them that run there. So Drew was doing that and the place in Shimokitazawa is where I live in Tokyo now, so I thought: “Oh, f*ck. It’s like four minutes away; I’ll just go and watch”.

I watched it and said to myself: “We could do our own unique thing in this building and I think it will work out well” – I’ve always had that desire to be creative, things alongside wrestling, not just being a wrestler. I get a lot of more creative output with running my own shows. For instance with Baka Gaijin. I design the match graphics, I make the matches, I book the dates, I make the t-shirts, I make the DVD covers – every aspect of it is me working on it. I find that stuff very important.

Monthly Puroresu: You’re out there hustling too on Twitter.

Chris Brookes: We’ve got a YouTube account, and for the first time in my life I’m focusing on promoting a YouTube account which is bizarre.

Monthly Puroresu: Do the limitations of doing no-ring matches lend themselves to extra creativity and experimentation?

Chris Brookes: I think when I first came to Gatoh Move, it did open me to this whole idea of “You can do so much more while doing things completely different from ring wrestling”, which I think is a lot of the Gatoh Move ethos and the direction.

Emi Sakura will do training sessions for people who don’t want to be wrestlers. Just any woman can come. Any age and any background, and try wrestling. And the focus then is the antithesis; not on bumps, it’s on rolls or holds, how you can make interesting wrestling and not make it detrimental to the performer because the mat is not as easy as a ring is.

But I made it contradictory to that when I started Baka Gaijin. I didn’t want it to feel like it was ChocoPro on another mat.

So I went another way with Baka Gaijin. If you watch me and Maya Yukihi’s match the other day, we were beating the sh*t out of each other on the mat and taking crazy bumps because I really love the ethos of Gatoh Move, but I don’t want to do the same thing. So my thing now in Baka Gaijin is that our mat is 1m or 2m by 1.5 m, I want to do as close to, or even more than, what you’d see in a ring to negate those naysayers being like “What? It’s only on the mat”. It’s only on the mat but we’ll do more than what we’d probably do in a ring.

I want to go the other way where like it’s going full throttle and not accepting the limitations of it, even in the sense of changing the creative direction. It’s like, “No – we’re gonna do the same and give you a ring quality match on a mat that’s really small”.

But I think then we have a good balance on the show. Because there’s always a Gatoh Move guest match. So they’ll be like a different flavor and then later in the show I’ll do this more full throttle going at it on a really small space.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ll do a Canadian destroyer on the bar-room floor.

Chris Brookes: I’ll take a Canadian destroyer on the glass roof. I don’t give a f**k.

Monthly Puroresu: You guys worried me going up on that skylight.

Chris Brookes: It worried Drew the first time we did it, we got up there and he was like “No I can’t!” and I said “don’t be a f***ing coward, come on!”

Monthly Puroresu: From your cover of Human Fly by Malhavoc to using Misfits stuff on your shows and with your ring gear – punk rock is just synonymous with Chris Brookes. What about punk rock do you find appealing and enough to weave it so much into your wrestling career?

Chris Brookes: It just boils down to like genuine things that I enjoy. In terms of wrestling and like how to be original, there’s a sad, not even a sad trend, it’s just like an unfortunate circumstance these days.

But most young wrestlers who are trying to figure out who they are, look at like other wrestlers and they’re like, “Well I like for example like a Will Ospreay, or a Ricochet. So I want to be like Will Ospreay or Ricochet.” So they get tights like Will Ospreay and Ricochet, they do like a handspring cutter like Will Ospreay and Ricochet.

It’s like, you’re not Will Ospreay or Ricochet. It’s fine to take influences from those places because those people are great, but you’re not gonna be as good as them. You’re constantly gonna be striving to be a second rate someone else. At first I did the same thing. I love Zack Sabre Jr. and I had little shorts like Zack Sabre Jr. I had more of a moppy haircut than I have now, like Zack Sabre Jr, and I wore a track jacket like Zack Sabre Jr. I was like, “I’m gonna be like Zack Sabre Jr.” Then anyone who watched me would be thinking: “Oh, he’s like a sh*t Zack Sabre Jr.” I was like “Ah, that kind of sucks”.

Then I thought to myself: “What other things do I like in life?” And I thought: I like Psychobillly and punk rock and stuff. I looked at it in the sense of those things are popular too and have their wide audiences, and if I enjoy those things it’s much better to try and take influences from there, where no one’s looking for influence then just copying wrestlers that I liked at the time and being like a second rate version, which I don’t think enough young people do.

Whether it’s like music or movies or whatever it is you can look for wrestling inspiration for your character and your presentation anywhere. You don’t have to just look at other wrestlers. So I was like, well I like Tarantino movies and I like f***ing horror movies, so when CCK (Calamari Catch Kings, with Kid Lykos) started, it was like an amalgamation of different ideas.

We liked DragonGate heel units and they would have face paint and they’d always have like a f*cking plastic tray or something, which is why Lykos ended up with a bacon tray and he had the body paint on and stuff. I was like looking at that and then From Dusk Till Dawn opens with the iconic “Dark. It’s a dark night”. I was listening to that and I was thinking: “That’s kind of like Cramps-y Psychobilly”. So if we take the Cramps entrance music and then we have like, and I was a big fan of the Misfits from the beginning, but I thought especially when they’re kind of going to like Famous Monsters with Michael Graves, they’ve got more of an over-the-top look.

It was very like genuine punk rock at the beginning. Then it was the face paint, and the jackets with the studs on and I was like, “No one’s doing that thing.” Like a lot of people in wrestling wear leather jackets, but if we get a bit of face paint or some paint somewhere, and some f*cking studs on our jacket and sh** and we have The Cramps, we’ll kind of niche ourselves into being this kind of dirty underground Psychobilly punk rock tag team.

Then just from that, that style worked for us and it got over and I was like, of course it got over because people like these bands, people like these movies. So if you base your wrestling character off these bands and movies, people will like it.

They’ll like it more than you trying to be Shinsuke Nakamura. And then as that worked out more I became more open and willing to just lean on influences outside of wrestling and let them affect like the wrestling persona.

Monthly Puroresu: In regards to your merchandise: It often uses imagery of horror films or it’s a tribute to acts like Nine Inch Nails. What goes into designing shirts? What’s your thought process going into?

Chris Brookes: Well it literally just comes into whatever I’m like vibing with at the time, whether it’s art, music, movies or whatever.

There’s a new Death by Roll-Up merchandise drop coming out in April; a new collection of things. And it was all inspired by me finding out about this artist – he’s passed away now – but he was a Japanese artist named Shūji Terayama, and he had this theater group Les enfants du paradis. Their name in Japanese was taken from a French movie from the fourties called The Children of Paradise.

His whole art style is like very much that kind of like Showa era, but like punk rock influence definitely bizarrely against the norm. Like kind of odd like erotic influence and stuff like that.

Photo: Shūji Terayama

Like whatever it is at the time I’ll just take whatever I’m enjoying and vibing with in the moment and think “Ah, I can kind of take ideas from that and make my own thing with it”. I remember even like five years ago, there’s one Death By Roll-Up thing I did where I was really listening to Rammstein at the time and I thought “I’ll take some influence from that or whatever”.

And then the Baka Gaijin shirt one time was a Nine Inch Nails parody thing just because I was vibing with it, and I was looking at like vintage Nine Inch Nails shirts and like they had the f**ing spiral design, the closeup thing and I was like, “Well they’re not selling it and haven’t sold it for 25 years now.” If I just parody it for our show, for starters no one in the audience even gets the reference. It’s not like you’re trying to leech off like that notoriety. Everyone just looked at it and was like, what the f**k is that shell thing?

But to me it’s like a cool, fun thing to do. So it’s just whatever I’m listening to, watching or paying attention to at the time usually kind of falls into like influencing whatever I do in merchandise. I think again that checks out so much more than making wrestling shirts because people don’t want wrestling shirts, which I found out really early on. I would never want to sell a shirt, which is I think why I started Death By Roll-Up. I didn’t want to put Chris Brookes on a shirt cause I don’t want a f***king sh***y wrestler’s name on a t-shirt.

To me if I give myself a brand where I never have to use my own name and I’ll never really use my own face. Like maybe it’s an illustration of like a skull and he kind of has the hair or the jacket, but like I don’t wanna be putting like sh***y pictures of me doing a suplex on a t-shirt and be like, f**k Chris Brookes merch – it’s rubbish, it’s not cool. I wouldn’t wear it. I don’t like making things I wouldn’t wear.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s a good plan.

Chris Brookes: I wish more people took that plan, I see things constantly on the internet and I’m like, what are you doing?

Monthly Puroresu: There are some ugly shirts out there without mentioning names.

Chris Brookes: Without mentioning names. Just…you’re right there’s a lot of terrible stuff.

Monthly Puroresu: You seem to never stop because when you’re not wrestling, for example you’re sitting in on English commentary for Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. How did that come about?

Chris Brookes: They just asked me one day because they’re kind of constantly conscious of trying to appeal to the overseas market and stuff and then they were like, “Well you’re English, you can do commentary.” And I was like, “I’ve never done it before.” And they responded “Ah, you’ll probably be able to do it.” And then I think it seems to have gone down pretty decently.

I mean there’s always some people who don’t like everything but like the general consensus of like the Tokyo Joshi commentary seems to be positive. I think we try and I think it’s important to have a balance. Like there’s times when I’ll listen to commentary and it’s clearly like not reading the room on what the content is and it’s like going way too far in a different direction.

I think when I do Tokyo Joshi commentary, I’m aware that maybe the first three or four matches of the show don’t require me to call it analytically. Like you’re watching the most convoluted pro-wrestling ever. But then when you get into like the semi main or the precursors of the main event, I’ll kind of change it more and go more into an analytical style. But I try to keep it loose because I think the feeling of listening to the commentary and feeling like you’re watching wrestling with your friend is like a nice way to watch it. Especially for a company like Tokyo Joshi. Rather than it being dead straight, like analytical pro wrestling. This is the breakdown of a Haruna Neko match.

Monthly Puroresu: When you’re calling a Neko match, you can’t really be doing Gordon Solie calls.

Chris Brookes: Yeah, exactly. I think there’s more like a balance with it. People seem to enjoy it. But then similarly like if, if people don’t enjoy it, because obviously there’s always some people like I prefer not to listen to it or whatever. It doesn’t offend me. I’m not a commentator like I just ended up doing this job, I have no qualifications. So if you like it good and if you think it’s terrible, that’s also fine.

Monthly Puroresu: My final question is: What’s planned for 2023 and beyond? Do you even like to look that far ahead?

Chris Brookes: I have sort of goals, but not like real goals and certainly not like a timeline on them. There’s a lot more that I wanna do with the Baka Gaijin brand now that we’re doing it. I’ve got a goals notes app on my phone. One of the things in there is when we come up to a year of doing Baka Gaijin shows – which will around  December – I’d like to do one ring show or a bigger venue thing to kind of have a one year anniversary celebration of that.

Beyond that really I just really wanna go to Southeast Asia and stuff more. I want go to places like Malaysia, Vietnam, we went to Singapore and Thailand last year and that was so fun because you kind of go into a place where pro-wrestling is still in it’s infancy. It’s not a thing and it doesn’t have any cynicism about it yet. It’s just like this thing that’s growing and everyone’s enthusiastic about it. And I want to go to more places where there’s things like that.

I’ve spent enough time wrestling in America, England and Europe and stuff like that. I’m not saying they’re like cynical places – it just feels like in terms of what I want to do at wrestling. Because I don’t want to go to WWE or anywhere like that. Like anyway. So on the independent level, I kind of feel like I’ve done those things. They feel kind of tipped off the bucket list.

Whereas like, I’d like to go to like I say Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, I wanna go to India, I wanna go to China. I just wanna go do wrestling in new places where wrestling’s not as prominent a thing yet.

And people are super excited to see it. Because I’m super excited to do wrestling, I don’t want to do the regular same old stuff. Like let’s broaden horizons. That’s why Gatoh Move started. It was Masa Takanashi and Emi Sakura going into Thailand and just being like, “Let’s make pro-wrestling in this country that doesn’t have it”, which is like such a cool thing. Then it’s not just even the fans that are enthusiastic about it, it’s like the wrestlers have this whole thing where everything is unexpected and new to them and that’s cool.

Monthly Puroresu: Every match stipulation or whatever has never been seen before.

Chris Brookes: Every time they see a move. It’s the first time they’ve seen it.

Monthly Puroresu: Even a headlock.

Chris Brookes: I just wanna go to more places and do more fun sh**. Which sounds cliché, but I have no great aspirations of wrestling. It’s like just keep doing it and enjoying it and having fun.

(Left) Baka Gaijin + Friends (Right) DDT Hanami Pro Wrestling 2023

Chris Brookes Produce #3 – Danger & Pleasure Tour ’96

(Left to Right) Violento Jack, Chris Brookes and Hartley Jackson at Prominence Kakki Enen

Gatoh Move ChocoPro