With the changing landscape of American wrestling on television, two Japanese promotions are taking notice and are taking advantage of the recent changes in two different ways. With WWE programming shrinking to only five hours a week on TV, there is a lot less wrestling available for wrestling fans in the States. Even more significant, for the first time in four years WWE has something resembling competition from TNA and UFC. While it is not the same as WWF/WCW back in the day, it is better then no competition at all. So how do these changes impact Japanese wrestling?
The company that is trying to take the most advantage of the WWE’s problems is New Japan. New Japan recently got a new leader in Simon Inoki (the 31 year old son-in-law of Antonio Inoki), and his plans to expand globally have already begun. First, Inoki secured a deal with CMLL, and the two have already exchanged talent. Now though, New Japan has an agreement with TNA to exchange talent as well. We have not seen yet the full effects of the agreement; all we know thus far is that Jushin Thunder Liger will be wrestling on TNA’s next PPV. But the possibilities are endless for where this union can take the promotions. Let’s face it, the average American wrestling fan couldn’t tell the difference between Yoshie, Tenzan, and Chono. But what if they all make appearances on TNA PPVs (or even Impacts)? Even if they are only in supporting roles, the exposure would be tremendous. This exposure will not only help DVD sales, but will help Inoki in his next major project: American PPVs.
With the amount of junk programming that makes it on PPV (Hot Body XIX, anybody?), it does not seem unrealistic that New Japan could have a PPV on American television. They would have to wait until they have a little exposure from NWA:TNA and keep the price down (no more then 20 dollars), but if they have a big name that American fans recognize (like Brock Lesnar) then the event will get some buys. Inoki has already worked out a deal to be shown in England, and he has proven that he is committed to making New Japan a global company. They even just introduced a shiny new belt (a beautiful belt), and Lesnar is fighting in the main event next weekend. Will Inoki accomplish his goal? Only time will tell, but it is an exciting time for New Japan as these new possibilities present themselves.
New Japan is not the only promotion that is trying to take advantage of the WWE’s shortcomings. All Japan has picked up many of the victims of the WWE roster cuts over the years, including (but not limited to) Jamal, Buchanan, Rico, A-Train, Chuck Palumbo, and Johnny Stamboli. While these are not big names here in the States, they all are being given another change in Japan and have gotten over more with the Japanese crowd then many expected. Jamal has even challenged for the Triple Crown championship (even though he lost) and A-Train has a title shot later this month. While All Japan isn’t going global, they are reaping the benefits of the roster cuts that were in part brought on when WWE lost programming and advertising money when they switched back to the USA Network.
One promotion that I did not bring up was NOAH, and even though they have not displayed any interest in globalizing their product, that is not to say that they will not down the road. One of the biggest stars, Kenta Kobashi, is currently in America wrestling for Ring of Honor. Also, over the few years a handful of other Japanese wrestlers have made the journey to Ring of Honor, which is more exposure for the wrestlers and the promotions that they represent. While ROH is not at the same level as NWA:TNA, any and all contact that the American fans have with Japanese wrestlers will only help Inoki’s ultimate plan of being fully recognized in America.
Right now, many of the positive scenarios are purely hypothetical. But the scene has been set for Japanese wrestling to finally make an impact here in the United States if the chips fall right. If New Japan wrestlers do appear on TNA PPVs regularly, if Brock Lesnar does stay with New Japan for an extended period of time, and if New Japan does get clearance for American PPVs, then in a year’s time the wrestling scene in America might change dramatically. And as wrestling fans, we should all hope and pray that happens, for nothing brings the best wrestling out of promotions more then a little competition.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a comment about the column or want to talk about puroresu in general.