With the success of Wrestle Kingdom 12 and the hugely positive response to the jump of Chris Jericho to New Japan Pro Wrestling, many wrestling fans have become aware of NJPW. Most knew the Japanese promotion existed, but many in the WWE Universe would likely admit to rarely, if ever, watching it.
Understandably so, because NJPW was not readily available to the casual wrestling fan, the WWE Universe was not keenly aware of the ins and outs of the company. Even today the action of NJPW isn’t on major cable networks. But, despite not being regular programming in most of the living rooms around North America, thanks to the Internet, wrestling fans have become savvy enough to learn names like Finn Balor, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Antonio Inoki, Kazuchika Okada, Jushin Liger and Kenny Omega. Many learned these names before they became stars or were associated to the WWE.
What is it that has made NJPW so popular? Is it actually competition for the largest wrestling promotion in the world? WWE doesn’t appear to be worried, but perhaps they should be. Here’s why.
5. Better Wrestling
Already a hugely popular promotion internationally, in 2017, NJPW grew leaps and bounds largely in part because fans realized the caliber of wrestling being offered. NJPW gave wrestling the wrestler of the year on Okada, they had multiple four and five-star matches and YouTube videos went viral showing just how good the in-ring action was. For pure wrestling fans, the level of competition offered by NJPW was arguably unmatched.
4. Money and Digital Platforms
Unlike a number of other wrestling companies who try to offer an alternative to the WWE, NJPW is not broke. An already profitable company became even more profitable with successful shows like Wrestle Kingdom 12 and new fans finding their product on digital platforms.
Through partnerships with prominent people like Mark Cuban, NJPW took steps to reach more viewers outside of Asia and through the promotion of stars like Jericho, fans began to search ways to watch the product.
3. North American Outreach
NJPW is no longer just holding shows in Japan. In 2017, they shot their G1 Special in Long Beach, California and at that show, introduced the first-ever IWGP United States Champion. It was then announced NJPW was looking to expand its business operations, with a US office, a training dojo, and a live event tour. They also announced another show in Long Beach for 2018.
Basically, NJPW is no longer happy just doing business outside North America. They are coming to compete directly with the WWE and they have the money and some of the best wrestlers in the world to do so.
2. Speaking of Wrestlers
New Japan Pro-Wrestling was no longer a location you went when you couldn’t cut it as a WWE Superstar. Names like Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks declined WWE opportunities to stay and when regular WWE talents like Chris Jericho actually left the WWE to pursue better opportunities across the ocean, it cemented New Japan as another alternative.
Current WWE Superstars have been rumored to want out of their contracts in the hopes that they could establish themselves in Japan and former stars like Austin Aries and Cody Rhodes have publicly bragged about the financial success they are having now that they’ve moved on.
Since WCW folded, the only real game in town has been WWE. Sure, wrestlers have been able to stay on the scene in companies like TNA/Impact, but that well has run dry and for 99 percent of talent, the money is no longer an option as part of the Impact Zone. New Japan is where that money is and wrestlers have realized it.
One thing every wrestler wants is an opportunity. Whether that be a chance to show their in-ring skill in lengthy matches or become the focus of a company who doesn’t have a particular look or style of superstar in mind. New Japan often offers that opportunity.
Hugely popular star Daniel Bryan knows it too. Bryan is struggling with the WWE right now to get cleared to wrestle. Medically, WWE feels he’s not in shape to compete but he believes NJPW will give him an opportunity and is hoping to prove WWE wrong. He’s not the only one.
For whatever reason you like wrestling, NJPW has a lot to offer. They have some of the best wrestlers on the planet, they have the financial wherewithal to compete, they have a popular brand and most importantly, they have the buzz of the fans.
They may not be direct competition for WWE yet. That doesn’t mean WWE need not worry.
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