Momentum and Threats
June 15, 2018
By: Lou Pickney
Coming off of one of the best pro wrestling shows in recent memory, Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-jo Hall, New Japan Pro Wrestling has tremendous momentum going into Fighting Spirit Unleashed and the start of the G1 Climax 28 tournament. But NJPW also faces a considerable threat from WWE, a company now with deeper pockets than ever before thanks to Saudi oil money and lucrative new domestic television deals, which has a clear willingness to spend big money to undercut any would-be competitors.
In what many are calling the greatest match they have ever seen, including me, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega managed to somehow eclipse their all-time great 2017 trilogy with a 2/3 falls no time limit battle that lasted more than an hour. Dave Meltzer gave it an unprecedented seven stars in the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and understandably so. Even in an era with one incredibly good match after another, the Okada vs. Omega match at Dominion 2018 stood out as being something truly special.
On the flip side for New Japan, the company seems to have hit the wall as far as ticket sales go for the aforementioned Fighting Spirit Unleashed show at the World Famous Cow Palace in Daly City, CA, just outside of San Francisco. NJPW has been slow-rolling the card announcement, with only four matches announced as of this writing. Despite clearly having wrestlers already booked for the show, for whatever reason New Japan has been hesitant to release too much "Scheduled to Appear" info ahead of time.
It says something about the expectations involved that New Japan Pro Wrestling could sell thousands of tickets for a show in a brand new city without television exposure (aside from the Friday night AXS TV show), yet have it come across as a disappointment because perhaps they overestimated the fly-in demand. Here's hoping that they fill the place up, but clearly it will take more work than word-of-mouth to get the massive building near capacity.
I've already seen Cody vs. Omega once, at the Ring of Honor show in New Orleans over WM34 weekend. It was a disappointment, to be sure. And I still can't believe I picked that over the NXT Takeover show that ended up being so amazing, but live and learn I suppose. Hopefully Cody vs. Omega 2, this time in a New Japan ring, will end up being a more satisfactory match.
Unfortunately for New Japan, having many of the same wrestlers on top for Fighting Spirit Unleashed who are also working the big Labor Day weekend ALL IN show in Chicago seems to have forced some fans to make a choice -- and a large number clearly opted for ALL IN.
The match I had wanted to see the most, Minoru Suzuki vs. Tomohiro Ishii, will end up happening on the Revolution Pro/NJPW co-promoted shows in the UK. Hopefully it will end up on New Japan World soon after taking place. But between that, the Omega/video game show in Daytona show with a bunch of New Japan wrestlers, and Fighting Spirit Unleashed, it's a full slate for New Japan going into the G1.
New Japan has a large volume of wrestlers under contract, and while that comes with complications trying to get everyone booked, it makes split-squad tours and "New Japan and friends" type shows more viable. There may be some bruised egos to go with booking snubs and wrestlers who end up snubbed (especially if they miss the cut and a goof like YOSHI-HASHI makes it), but of course there is value to having the Senior Circuit (Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Liger, etc.) to fill undercards with familiar names.
There is also the benefit of the wily veterans working with the young lions, providing invaluable experience in the process. And, to that end, having a large roster is a boost, providing greater variety for the trainees to work with as New Japan does its best to build for the future.
As Dave Meltzer wrote in the June 18, 2018 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, there are "[l]ots of rumblings about WWE making moves on opening communication with talent in New Japan as well as those announced for All In." It wouldn't be the first time WWE raided talent from NJPW, and it will be interesting to see just how much money WWE is willing to spend to sign away key talent.
Speaking of WWE, it's a big weekend for the company in Chicago between NXT Takeover tomorrow night and Money in the Bank on Sunday evening. I haven't regularly watched WWE weekly television in some time, which is too bad since there is so much talent in that company. But I find the main roster product off-putting and intelligence-insulting, even by usual pro wrestling standards. And, as long as Vince McMahon remains in power, I doubt that will change.
See any mistakes, omissions, or needed corrections? Please let me know: @LouPickney