The pro wrestling scene in America is getting more and more stacked, almost on a weekly basis at this point. The WWE has gone through a major revamping of all their programming. AEW has launched to rave reviews from fans and pundits. IMPACT has a new TV deal as well as signing new talents like Joey Ryan in preparation for their launch. Plus, the indies have never been hotter than they are right now. But for companies stuck on the outside of this massive growth without a window into a major wrestling market, the view can be a little bleak.
Enter New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Founded in 1972, NJPW is one of the biggest wrestling promoters in the world. They’ve built a huge presence by featuring some of the most impressive Japanese talent available alongside some of the top international wrestlers around. It’s where Shinsuke Nakamura and Kushida made names for themselves before coming to the WWE. It’s also where The Bullet Club, one of the biggest factions of the last decade, was born. Without NJPW, there would be no AEW as many key players in the fledgling promotion built their reputations there.
NJPW has reached a level of popularity in Japan similar to WWE in America. They are the top promotion, the one wrestlers grow up dreaming of working for and being a champion in. NJPW has built a worldwide reputation for having the best wrestling around. But despite all of this, the company hasn’t gotten the attention in North America it deserves and that is only going to get harder for them.
Over the years, NJPW has hosted events and tours in the United States in an attempt to raise their profile. For the most part, they’ve been successful but building a consistent presence has been elusive. Until now.
NJPW recently announced the formation of a new division called NJPW of America. With operations based out of the LA Dojo, they will be expanding to the United States with an aggressive schedule of ongoing live events in key American markets.
What’s interesting about this plan is that it kind of turns the tables on the WWE. Part of their growth strategy was moving to the UK and developing a presence there via the popular NXT brand. NXT UK is still very much in its infancy but it is growing into its own entity, due in no small part to the swarm of local and European talent on the roster. NJPW is using the WWE’s tactics against them by expanding into WWE’s home turf, spreading their influence and, most likely, signing some of their talent.
Maybe NJPW management just got tired of WWE poaching their wrestlers and booking them poorly?
Many fans have cheered on AEW in hopes that they might loosen WWE’s grip on the American scene, similar to what WCW did in the 1990s. While AEW has shown a lot of potential, there’s still a long way to go before it’s a contender for the crown. NJPW, on the other hand, could prove to be a more immediate threat to the WWE’s dominance.
In Japan, NJPW is popular and respected. More importantly, they have been in the game since 1972. They’re not new and they know how to put on a consistently amazing show. Right now, their US TV deal is with AXS TV, the network owned by IMPACT’s parent company, but finding a network partner more mainstream could do wonders. Merchandising, which WWE is highly aggressive about, will be key as well. If they are remotely successful at building a brand in America, NJPW will without question take a bite out of WWE’s bottom line.
It’s not all upside for NJPW, though. While savvy American wrestling fans are aware of their success in Japan, many casual fans aren’t as invested in the brand right now. They may have heard of it and might even know a couple of the bigger WWE names who have worked for them, like AJ Styles or Brock Lesnar. Some might know that Shinsuke Nakamura came to the WWE from NJPW, though more might think he started as a wrestler in NXT. It comes down to many American wrestling fans simply not knowing NJPW that well, if they’re even aware it exists. NJPW of America presents those fans with a huge opportunity to get to know this company better.
Keeping in mind that NJPW has the money, experience and talent to back their new division up, NJPW of America could be the exact competition WWE needs to push them into getting their heads in the game. While there has been some improvements in their offerings, they’ve made some dumb mistakes recently, Hell in a Cell anyone? The most recent episode of Raw featured a variety of underused talent, something that hopefully continues. There’s nothing wrong with Seth Rollins, but fans want to see different names on the screen. One can’t help but wonder if pressure from new competition is pushing them to dig a little deeper.
WWE is at its best when the competition is right at its figurative heels. AEW provides some pressure but a game NJPW of America could do some real damage. Hopefully, it all pans out for them and the new network wrestling wars get even more tense.
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