Even though Wrestle Kingdom 12 only happened a little over a week ago, it already seems like so much more time has passed since what was basically the biggest event in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s history. The in-house attendance at the Tokyo Dome jumped up significantly compared to Wrestle Kingdom 11 the year before, and it’s probably safe to say that there were definitely more people watching around the world. All of this was no accident either. New Japan is currently the number two company in professional wrestling behind WWE, and that’s without much reach outside of Japan. Just imagine what they could potentially do if they could just get more fans watching in the United States and elsewhere outside of Japan. Well that seems to be happening, and Wrestle Kingdom 12 was the biggest step towards that so far.
New Japan tested the waters state side almost a year ago now when they staged a couple of live shows in Long Beach, California. There’s no point trying to grow an American audience if there isn’t one there to begin with, right? Well turns out there was. NJPW ran a relatively small building presumably out of fear that the events wouldn’t draw. They did not need to be so cautious. They probably could have sold the building three or four times over and when they return this time they will likely be a little more daring.
So they knew the audience was there, now they needed a way of growing that. Wrestle Kingdom is their biggest show of the year, their equivalent to WrestleMania. They needed a way of making the event appealing to fans outside of Japan. Yes, it will always make news, the hardcore fans will always be watching, and it will undoubtedly be a terrific show; but those things alone are not enough. Your run-of-the-mill WWE fan doesn’t know or care who Tetsuya Naito or Kazuchika Okada is, so seeing their names advertised isn’t going to draw them in. Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega on the other hand, that will draw fans in.
While most fans, casual, hardcore or otherwise, have heard of Kenny Omega, make no mistake about it the inclusion of Chris Jericho was the big deal going into this one. Not only is Y2J a bonafide WWE guy, but many believed him to be still under contract with them when he began his angle with The Cleaner. As soon as he appeared on New Japan television to challenge Omega fans instantly knew that it was an extremely big deal. With that NJPW had found the key to coaxing in American fans, not by simply having two non-Japanese guys go head to head, but make it feel like WWE are involved with the whole thing in some way.
WWE were not involved with the Alpha versus Omega angle in any way of course and Jericho’s contract with Vince McMahon had actually come to an end. Fans didn’t need to know that though, and even though the match has now passed there are still murmurings that this is all part of a grand plan to bring Kenny Omega to WWE. That’s exactly why so many WWE fans tuned in to Wrestle Kingdom 12. They wanted to see one of their top guys go up against one of their top guys. Plus it’s common knowledge that Omega and Jericho are two of the best wrestlers on the planet right now. The build to the bout and the promise of it made it simply unmissable to most pro wrestling fans.
Wrestle Kingdom 12 wasn’t just Omega versus Jericho though obviously. To us here in the western hemisphere it may have felt that way but in actuality there was a card full of highly anticipated matches. For American and Canadian and British fans Alpha versus Omega was the hook. All New Japan wanted was for all those fans to tune in for that match, and by happenstance catch most if not all of the rest of the show. Thanks to that, so many fans’ eyes who had watched little-to-no New Japan action before were opened to exactly what they had been missing. The Junior Heavyweight fatal-four way, the main event between Naito and Okada, a whole world of wrestling with performers people may have never seen before all beyond the four walls of WWE. It’s hard to imagine that anyone watching Wrestle Kingdom last week came away thinking the show was anything less than incredible.
That was the biggest step forward for New Japan when it comes to becoming a household name outside of Japan, but their work is not done yet. They know that too. They have managed to convince Jericho to stick around for a little longer, will be coming back to Long Beach this year, continue to have a relationship with Ring of Honor, and let’s not forget the Bullet Club. NJPW has all of these new fans and now they need to keep them interested, something they seem fully prepared to do.
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