Vince…don’t turn around. I don’t think you are going to like what you see.
It’s not so much that they’re coming at this point. Vince…they’re here!
Over the last couple of years the American popularity of New Japan Pro Wrestling has increased significantly. Before it was just a place for guys who couldn’t or wouldn’t make it in WWE. I mean come on, Albert was a big star there! I have a lot of respect for what he has done with the kids in NXT since…but ALBERT!
Recently though, interest has been growing. A lot of the growth can be attributed to some of the stars of New Japan that have made their way to WWE. Back in 2014 WWE had a run of signing major names – one being Kenta, now known as Hideo Itami. While Itami has been hammered by injuries since arriving, he is still a major draw in NXT.
Another one of those signings was Fergal Devitt, who the WWE Universe now knows as Finn Balor. Months after his debut, Balor captured the NXT Championship, won the Universal Championship on his first main roster pay-per-view and has quickly become one of the most popular names on Raw.
The biggest signings may have come last year though as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura made their way to WWE. Shortly after main eventing New Japan’s WrestleMania equivalent show, Wrestle Kingdom, Styles and Nakamura, along with Bullet Club members Karl Anderson and Doc (Luke) Gallows, made the jump over the Pacific.
With all of these signings, and the internet being something that seems to be catching on, uneducated fans wanted to know where these international stars had come from. A few quick clicks of a mouse led the information seekers to New Japan and maybe a YouTube video or two.
Still though, it didn’t really seem like there was anything current with New Japan that was making much headway with the American audience. Everything so far was based on those that had left New Japan and signed with WWE and drew fans to Raw, Smackdown or NXT.
That is, until this past January.
The Styles/Nakamura match at Wrestle Kingdom 10 was tagged as the best match of all time by many. It was obviously going to be hard to top. But with both stars immediately leaving for the US and WWE, New Japan needed to make sure that what they put on their biggest stage could do the unthinkable and outdo Styles and Nakamura.
In case you’re reading this and for some odd reason don’t know if they did or not…they did!
The main event of this past January’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 was IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada against the new leader of the Bullet Club Kenny Omega. What ensued was a match that experts in the business called the best they had ever seen. The biggest nod being Dave Meltzer, probably the most recognizable and respected wrestling writer, giving the match a six-star rating in his five-star system. That’s not a typo – SIX out of FIVE! It was a good match!
The rematch took place earlier this month. The 60 minute draw got people talking again and garnered a 6.5 star rating. Again, they had already one over the five-star norm, and they have kept going. The third installment is set to take place in August. If booked correctly, Omega should win the August match which would give them both one win, one loss, and one draw. The tie-breaking match could headline Wrestle Kingdom 12 with potential to be the most publicized match since Hulk vs Andre.
The most important part, though, was that people were now looking at New Japan rather than former New Japan stars in WWE. The success of the match has led to a TV deal with AXS TV which offers matches from the recent history of New Japan with commentating legend Jim Ross calling the action. Adding Ross to your broadcast add American legitimacy immediately.
This weekend will be the true test of New Japan’s new found American popularity. For the first time, New Japan will be running live shows in the US. With shows around the newly created United States Championship and a championship match between Okada and the new Ring of Honor Champion Cody Rhodes, New Japan will get a feel for just how popular they are here. I have a very strong feeling that they will be happy with what they see.
In the 90’s WCW caught up and passed WWF with the nWo, a rebel faction looking to take over the company. WWF countered with a rivalry that wrestling fans just could not get enough of – Austin vs McMahon. New Japan has both! With the popularity of the Bullet Club and the Okada/Omega matches, New Japan has both!
For his sake, I hope Vince realizes that there is a strong similarity between the rise of New Japan and the rise of WCW. It’s a rise that almost cost Vince his company. However, for the fans’ sake, let’s hope that he doesn’t…at least not yet.
The WCW that Eric Bischoff built gave us one of, if not THE most entertaining era in wrestling. We had two companies at the top of their game giving the fans exactly what they wanted week in and week out in hopes of gaining an extra point or two in the oh-so-crucial ratings.
The nWo, the cruiserweights, and everything is that Bischoff put on Monday Nitro provided the spark that McMahon needed. It took a year and a half of losing in the ratings to realize that a show full of garbage men, plumbers and clowns just wasn’t going to cut it anymore (ok, I liked Doink, and you probably did too…but still…). McMahon figured out that change needed to happen, and change we got!
Maybe this is what happens with the rise of New Japan. Maybe guys like Sami Zayn who are masters in the ring will get the push they deserve rather than guys getting top spots based on what international market WWE is looking to grow in. Perhaps we will actually get Nakamura vs Styles WrestleMania match instead of Goldberg walking into WrestleMania with a championship around his waist and Bray Wyatt making maggots appear in the ring.
That’s the view from Stamford, Connecticut – it is a much different story in Tokyo.
This all could not have come at a better time for New Japan and their American expansion hopes. To say that a majority of the knowledgeable wrestling fans are unhappy with the current WWE product would be an understatement. The exciting matchups like Lesnar vs Samoa Joe and AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens are few and far between. Instead, we get dancing bears in matches and the House of Horrors. Upset fans are looking for something new.
The new they are looking for is the “Strong Style” that New Japan provides. The matches shown on AXS TV showcase the non-stop action in a New Japan match. This is what most fans are looking for. If things keep going the way they have been, we may get a weekly live New Japan show.
This Saturday will be a big day in the wrestling world. The G1 Special could very well show New Japan what they probably already know; a bigger presence in the US is, to steal a phrase, best for business. Not just for New Japan, but potentially for WWE as well.
The Monday Night Wars gave us the most entertaining wrestling we have ever experienced. Perhaps we are in line for The Monday Night World War.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? CAN NEW JAPAN BE AS BIG AS WWE IN THE US? WILL VINCE GET THE MESSAGE? WILL YOU BE WATCHING THE GI SPECIAL SATURDAY? LIKE OUR NEW PAGE ON FACEBOOK AND FOLLOW US ON TWITTER @FROM_THETOPROPE AND LET US KNOW!