Just a few days into 2018, New Japan Pro Wrestling made a statement of intent when it comes to their placement on the pro wrestling landscape versus WWE. Wrestle Kingdom 12 took place on January 4th and it was possibly the biggest event in the promotion's history, at least when it comes to fans outside of their native Japan. One of the main events on the show was the highly anticipated match between Canadian stars Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega. That matchup alone garnered a lot of attention from markets outside of Japan and once they had the attention of those fans they attempted to keep them hooked with all the other action they had planned that night.
One night in Tokyo is not all New Japan has done to try and break into the American market. For the second year running, the promotion will be putting on shows in Long Beach, California. They did it for the first time last year and it was an unmitigated success. That's why they will be returning in March to do it all again. Live shows once a year are all well and good but after the success of Wrestle Kingdom 12, then it's time for the next step: an established television deal.
New Japan currently has a place on US television on AXS TV. No offence to AXS but it is nothing to shout about. Yes they have Jim Ross performing commentary for the shows but it's on a channel that many fans don't have and if they do they often aren't even aware that they have it. Plus the shows aren't live and often air well after fans know all the results of the matches. There may be an alternative on the horizon though, possibly as soon as 2019.
While WWE currently air Raw and SmackDown Live on the USA Network every week that could be all about to change. The company's contract with NBC is up in September of 2019 and rumor has it that Vince McMahon's flagship shows may move network when that time comes. Nothing has been confirmed yet, of course, but the shows being up for grabs could start something of a bidding war. Fox are one of the apparent front runners to pick up WWE programming but Amazon, YouTube and even Facebook may all try to earn the right to have Raw and SmackDown Live refer to them as home.
What none of them seem to view this situation as though is the chance to bring back some of pro wrestling's glory days. During the second half of the 1990s, WWE and WCW went head to head every single Monday night as Raw and Nitro competed for ratings. If WWE chooses to stick with NBC then that doesn't necessarily mean no wrestling for Fox. The network clearly wants pro wrestling on their programming and New Japan needs a bigger and better platform for their show in the US. So, to us it seems like a perfect match.
Going head to head with WWE would certainly be a bold move but it would be just the latest in a series of statements of intent from NJPW. What the interest in Wrestle Kingdom 12 from fans living in the western hemisphere showed though is that there is a market for another wrestling company aside from WWE. What's more is that New Japan offers up something very different to WWE. The action on their shows is very much based on what's taking place inside the ring rather than the drama and the promos that WWE's universe revolves around. WCW on the other hand felt very similar to WWE. For a while that formula worked but ultimately they met their demise. A product that is still wrestling but very different to WWE could likely have some success airing on Monday nights.
A lot of fans are disillusioned with the WWE product right now. However they simply keep on watching because there is no real alternative. Yes there's Ring Of Honor and Impact Wrestling but they either don't measure up or don't currently put out enough content that would fill the void left by WWE. At the moment New Japan falls into the second of those categories but a big TV deal in the US could change all that. A weekly program featuring the likes of Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes, on paper, certainly sounds like a great alternative for those weeks when watching three plus hours of Raw feels more like a chore than an enjoyable evening of pro wrestling.