5 Reasons Why New Japan Pro Wrestling Needs To Break America
It's been making big waves lately, but New Japan Pro Wrestling really needs to make inroads in the US to compete with WWE.
On July 1st and 2nd, New Japan Pro Wrestling will put on their first solo shows in North America. Ever.
The world of North American wrestling is simmering right now, ready to boil over for the first time in 20 years. The UK scene is electric with the likes of Progress, RevPro and ICW. And for the first time, Japan’s top wrestling promotion is about to make inroads on North American soil. It’s not yet enough to make WWE sweat, but they seem to be doing so anyway.
Thing is, New Japan landing in North America is potentially great. It is a net positive for the wrestling industry. Here’s why.
1. WWE are Creatively Complacent
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Jinder Mahal has a match for the WWE Championship. This match will take place at what, for tradition’s sake, WWE still likes to call a Pay-Per-View. Given for how long Mahal’s been treated as a jobber by WWE, a lot of people are not enthralled by this decision. Happily for WWE, this state of affairs matters less to their bottom line than those CM Punk ice cream bars.
Exactly how the WWE Network has changed the company’s business priorities is a different article for a different day. Its effects on WWE’s creativity? More obvious than Becky Lynch being inevitably betrayed. I’m talking about out-of-the-blue pushes. An unwillingness to take risks with a new star who’s now firmly drifting from frustrating to simply boring. 50-50 booking and micromanaged promos. It all speaks to a place where inconsistency and lack of follow through will never harm the balance sheet.
But what if there were tangible consequences to creative lethargy? What if there was another wrestling product with the mainstream momentum and industry know-how to absorb disaffected fans? Impact aren’t the guys, and Ring of Honor seems comfy where it is. Only New Japan have the will and forward motion to pull it off.
2. Style Matters
From a business point of view, actual in-ring product matters little as long as it sells. WWE has its style, and it’s made Vince McMahon a media mogul. On the other hand, if all my local cinema shows is endless superhero flicks, I’m pretty sure eventually I’ll want some variety. Variety is the spice of life. Insert additional cliche here.
New Japan is different. This is one of the few things its fans and skeptics can both agree on. Its wrestlers hit harder. The TV direction feels stripped back. There’s no weekly show and one-on-one matches are saved for big cards. Hell, even the underlying reason wrestlers show up and fight each other is subtly different.
And hey, I’m not saying America doesn’t already have a supermarket shelf full of unique and interesting indie promotions. Besides those I’ve already mentioned, the discerning fan can turn to PWG, Chikara, Shimmer, Evolve, CZW and more to scratch whatever itch they have.
Still, it would be nice to see some variety in those wrestling promotions with most potential of attracting mainstream eyes. Vince McMahon alone shouldn’t be allowed to define what wrestling is to mainstream culture.
3. Another Place to Work
This one is obvious. Wrestling as a career path is fraught with risk to body and well-being, made worse by a lack of stable work places. Another big employer can only be good for the people who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment.
Less obvious, but no less essential? It provides a leverage for talent that’s been missing since the fall of WCW. No, I’m not advocating the kind of guaranteed contracts and creative control that drove WCW off a cliff. I am saying that quite a few old timers have accused current WWE stars of not taking risks, and part of this comes down to lack of leverage. Would DX have existed if it had been pitched in 2017? Would Steve Austin have been allowed to run with his edgy character without WWE having its back against the wall? The answer is CM Punk.
And while we’re at it, if Cesaro or Rusev can get a better push by threatening to go to New Japan, isn’t that worth something?
4. Mainstream Attention
We are afflicted, as wrestling fans, with a love for our weird hobby. We’ve all felt that twist of elation when our “normal” friends mention something vaguely wrasslin’ related, and then jumped headlong into steering the conversation further in this direction. If only wrestling were actually cool. And not cool in the sense that AJ Styles is the coolest dad on earth (which he is) but no one but us can see it (those poor misguided normals). No, I’m talking about when it was “cool” to raise your head above the psychological sandbags and admit you were a wrestling fan and, even if only briefly, people didn’t immediately try to hide their smirks.
I’ve talked a lot before about Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and with good reason. It was possibly the first time in decades a non-WWE wrestling moment caught the imagination of mainstream culture. In its aftermath the match found itself not only being covered by ESPN, but Fox Sports and even Vice. Bullet Club shirts have become ubiquitous. If New Japan decide to cast their net on America, and officially start a beef with WWE, sparks will fly. And sparks catch popular attention. At the movies right now, Marvel and DC can’t fail to make money, but without each other, half the buzz wouldn’t be there.
Let’s be honest: one of the reasons we long for the return of the Attitude Era is because it was the last time normals accepted wrestling might be pretty cool. NWO vs DX. Goldberg or Steve Austin. The Monday Night War. New Japan are no WCW, but at the very least they can be an injection of energy into mainstream western wrestling.
5. It’s Really Good
Oh, that’s the other thing about New Japan. It’s really freakin’ good. The stories are simple but consistent. The matches are at worst solidly fun and at best jaw dropping. The characters are always compelling, even if they nearly all talk in a language most of us don’t speak in the west. I don’t want to throw shade on anyone’s favourite indie promotion, but there really is only one place to go in wrestling right now for masterful storytelling which also feels epic.
New Japan makes Kazuchika Okada feel like a brash anime superhero (and he has the storytelling ability of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels). Omega looks like a ruthless 90s action movie villain and Naito is the coolest pretend gang leader in the world. And that’s just the heavyweights. Junior champ Hiromu Takahashi, aka the Ticking Time Bomb, seems to barf charisma involuntarily. His supporting cast in the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors tour is an Ocean’s Eleven of wrestling: Will Ospreay, Ricochet, KUSHIDA, Dragon Lee and Marty Scurll to name a few.
Oh, and while it’s more often starpower, not match quality, that draws a wider audience to pro-wrestling, I can’t help but be excited for more New Japan matches in my life. Whether it’s the juniors jumping about like super saiyans or Omega’s V-Trigger, when New Japan does big main events they go all in. Also, they made a wrist lock lariat into the most devastating move in all of wrestling. You can’t not shout “Raaaaaimaker!” every time you see it and, in a way, isn’t that what wrestling is all about?