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Is New Japan Pro Wrestling the new WWE?

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NJPW's presence in the U.S. grows

Being a fan of professional wrestling in the United States, you've got choices. Of course there is the biggest game in town in Vince McMahon's WWE, who have dominated the market practically  unopposed since 2001. Behind them you also have others wrestling programming like TNA's Impact Wrestling, Sinclair Broadcasting's Ring of Honor, and Lucha Underground, let alone all the other companies around the country that either are available on a local level or don't have a regular television outlet.

So while the WWE is the company to go to for wrestling (or "Sports Entertainment" as they like to refer to themselves), you have had plenty of choices if John Cena wasn't your thing.

 

Since the closure of both Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling and Paul Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling 15 years ago, TNA was viewed as the number 2 company, the "alternative" to the WWE.

Started by Jeff Jarrett and his father Jerry in 2002 and having been run by Dixie Carter and her family for nearly as long, TNA strived to set itself apart from the WWE for years. Notable concepts like the 6 sided ring, the X division, and the various concept matches they have created over the years were an attempt to set themselves apart from what Vince was producing.

But, try as they might, TNA never really made a dent. The company struggled to turn a profit since the beginning. They had some high profile departures within the last few years with long time cornerstone A.J. Styles leaving after TNA failed to agree to a new contract, along with stars like Chris Sabin, Frankie Kazarian, and Christopher Daniels. They lost their long time business partner in Spike TV and have settled on being aired on the much less carried Destination America channel, a move that has cost them up to 2/3rds of their regular audience they had beforehand. And although they have done some of their "special" events on Impact, their weekly show, they haven't aired a "live" pay per view show since last October (and that event itself was pre recorded from Japan).

Impact Wrestling has lost a lot of its visibility among wrestling fans since the beginning of the year. In my mind it's no longer the number 2 company in the United States, and it's not really as big an alternative anymore. If this is the case, then someone would need to step up and becoming the true alternative to the WWE's megalith. And New Japan Pro Wrestling is fast on its way to becoming it.

Granted, NJPW isn't there yet. However, They have many of the stones in place to build themselves to be. They've had their stars appear on shows for Ring of Honor. Sure, that isn't exactly headlining Wrestlemania, but it is a big start. Having Jeff Jarrett help bring over their biggest event of the year, WrestleKingdom, to American pay per view with Jim Ross doing English commentary was another huge step.

If you are going to show off your wares, then show them the absolute best show you produce. Jim Ross, along with Matt Striker, explained the context of every match, the importance of every title, and the magnitude of the event for English speaking fans in a way that made for a great introduction to the product.

Soon after NJPW made a big step in getting a weekly show on the AXS cable network. Although this wasn't a first run show like a Monday night RAW, it was a very well produced show highlighting the biggest matches of New Japan in the last few years. Host Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett blew me away with their commentary of these matches. They made the matches not only seem important, but they brought a level of credibility to the action more than anyone in the WWE or Impact have done in decades. The show did so well in its first season it has already been picked up for a second (That premieres at the end of May)

But the biggest thing going for NJPW that makes it a big alternative to the WWE is that it too has an online archive that rivals the WWE Network. This past January when #CancelWWEnetwork was trending on Twitter after the disaster that was their Royal Rumble event, who was the first to step up and tell people to spend their money on their service? NJPW.  NJPW World obviously isn't for everyone, but there is a sizable portion of wrestling fans that are increasingly cynical and resentful of what the WWE has done in their corporate atmosphere.

With American exposure, a weekly TV show to gives a informed spotlight to the action and its stars, and a 24/7 archive streaming service that isn't beaten over your head every two seconds, what's left for NJPW to become a true alternative? A first run show, even if it is on a slight delay, would probably ideal, but that might be a while off. Having AXS carry entire  NJPW special events might be closer to achievable.  

AXS does very well with its live MMA coverage and bringing that to NJPW wouldn't be that much of a transition. Also, carrying events on tape delay would bring in a sizable audience as well. Some well-placed ads on the USA network during RAW or other similar types of programming and you have a bigger audience than what currently follows the product.  Unlike Impact or Ring of Honor, NJPW has the funds and the influence to make things like this happen.

So with NJPW, the sky's the limit as to what else they can bring to American shores. They already have a great foundation, now is the time to build on it and give the WWE something to think about. WWE has grown complacent since there is no real threat to them here. Vince, and by extension the WWE, thrive better in a competitive atmosphere.  Any kind of challenge a big player like NJPW can bring would make the WWE stand up, take attention, and bring out the best in them as well. The past has shown us that when the WWE is on their game, the entire industry benefits. And right now, it sure could use it. NJPW brought back popularity of pro wrestling in Japan a decade ago, it's time for them to bring it to new heights in the U.S. and give the WWE a run for its money.

 

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Soul Tsukino
Soul TsukinoContributor   gamer profile

Soul Tsukino lives in the state of Maine. When not enveloping himself in a new fiction story he also comments on happenings in the animation and Otaku fan scene. A creative writer since he was yo... more + disclosures


 


 


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