Imp’s NJPW Adventure
Dominion: The Most Monumental Show of the Decade
This past Saturday New Japan Pro Wrestling made a statement. From their new Dutch President running down to the ring on the pre-show brimming from ear to ear, to it’s climax with Kenny Omega lifted victoriously into the air as the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion. NJPW have tested the temperature of the water for long enough, it’s time to dive right in and sail with force towards their Western expansion. It’s time for a new era.
With the ambition of providing more content for their English speaking viewers, the belief that New Japan has all the tools to truly become something massive and with the new President appointment, the Western influence in NJPW has never been greater. Saturday felt like an official embrace, the start of a new era, where NJPW can be greater than just the biggest wrestling promotion in Japan. Sailing out with the belief that they could become one of the greatest in the world.
As Kenny Omega said in his post-Dominion press conference, “This belt doesn’t just mean I’m the champion of New Japan Pro Wrestling, this kind of means I represent pro wrestling.” The mission for the wrestlers themselves is greater than simply growing NJPW, they’re trying to revolutionise the professional wrestling industry. Showcase their vision for the future of wrestling, the potential this sport has and the incredible stories it could tell. This isn’t sports entertainment, it’s wrestling. However the characters, the storytelling and the rivalries are all still at the forefront of what they do.
Dominion showcased every element of that vision to perfection. From Hiromu Takahashi’s road to becoming a beloved Junior champion, to Omega’s crowning jubilation; the arcs of these characters drive everything forward. That was the question everyone was asking during Okada’s reign, not, “Who will Okada beat next?” but, “Who is Okada being built up for?” Where was this legendary, all-time great reign leading us to? The rise of ‘Tranquilo’ Naito? The crowning of Omega? Or someone new/unexpected that comes out of left field in an echo of Okada’s own story?
On Saturday we got our answer, which immediately set us off down a new, ambitious, arguably greater story. One with a huge amount of risk, but the reward could cement them as a vital player in the history of pro wrestling. I say ‘could’ because the chance for the venture to not quite work out is obviously still there, but when you truly believe in yourself why let that ‘if’ bring you down? No risk, no reward. NJPW have been cautiously hovering over the Western market long enough, the time for ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ is no more.
Harold Meij looked so excited for the future, with a product so full of talent is there really that much risk at all?
The President’s Precedent
Before Dominion kicked off, NJPW’s new President Harold Meij came out and set a… well, precedent. As I said earlier, Dominion this past Saturday felt like a full embrace of the Western aspects of the promotion. All but two of the six titles left Dominion around the waists of gaijin talent, that’s a whole lot of trust to put in your foreign talent. Can you imagine WWE doing something similar? Putting all their trust in an incredibly talented crop of foreign wrestlers? Hell, they’ve not even had a British cham-… scratch that, they’ve only ever had one champion with African American heritage (the same number as NJPW and they’re flipping JAPANESE!) so that scenario feels so far away it’s not even worth hypothesising.
I went a bit off topic into a WWE rant there, but the point is still intact. NJPW, a Japanese promotion, have set a precedent by putting a whole lot of faith in their outstanding foreign talent. A statement of intent, they’re not just a ‘Japanese’ wrestling promotion anymore. They’re after that first ‘W’ in WWE, to become a ‘World’ wrestling promotion.
Kenny Omega beating Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship will be looked at as a historic moment for New Japan. Not just because of what it meant for The Best Bout Machine’s character, but for NJPW as whole that win was momentous. What it does for the prestige of the title, how it elevates the legacy of Okada’s reign and what it means for NJPW going forward. One of the most popular Western wrestlers in recent memory now holds their most prestigious championship, just think about what that means for their Western expansion.
Okada’s reign was special, iconic even, but in true NJPW fashion all of that now feeds into fuelling what comes next. Omega can take the insane amount of momentum from beating The Rainmaker and try to take New Japan to even greater heights, to revolutionise the industry. Omega has stated numerous times, that he has a vision of what wrestling could be, what it could mean, represent. Being at the top of NJPW gives him the chance to promote that very idea, a platform to showcase his vision.
Comic Books and Graphic Novels
In the late 90s NJPW was seen more as the promotion for the spectacle, whilst AJPW had a reputation for providing the incredible wrestling. 20 years later, you could say we’re at a very similar juncture, this time on a global scale. WWE nails the spectacle, every year WrestleMania is ever the grand show it promises to be. Whilst with NJPW, they now hold high the very standards their past rival once held so dear. This is not sports entertainment, this is wrestling. You want to see the best wrestling in the world? What is now all 7 stars of it? You go to New Japan.
For me NJPW works because it is different, it’s nothing like WWE. No weekly show, cards structured more like a boxing event with a very apparent undercard and most importantly the bulk of the tale of their storylines happen inside the ring. The only time you see two rival wrestlers facing off inside a ring with a mic in their hand, is when they are announcing that big matchup for the next event. A challenge is issued, the bout is set, we move on. A very different approach to the show structures stateside.
To me that’s why they have succeeded where TNA didn’t, they’re different enough that I can get an entirely separate kick out of it. Even at WWE’s greatest hype peaks of the calendar year, I’ll still be logging in to New Japan World with a great big smile on my face. And that’s why I get so hyped about their potential, NJPW feels different to WWE, a true alternative.
As stated in my last column comparing my WWE burnout to my superhero movie fatigue, the two are so different that there’s not really much point in comparing the two. One commenter queried (sorry, I can’t remember your name, so shout out to ‘Person’) that if anything, TNA were the DC trying to emulate WWE’s success as the Marvel on top raking in all that dollar. Which if you only analysed that current eras of both the wrestling and superhero worlds, would be one fine comparison. And that’s why NJPW works so damn well to me as an alternative, out here comparing fun comic books to a damn graphic novel.
The statement of intent was made, NJPW are cashing in on their Western talent. Hoping that’ll help them get one big foot in the door of the US market, if anything WWE are holding it open for them with the state of their current product. Their Japanese competitors are still some way off of even being considered that, a ‘competitor’. But does that even matter if they’re so different? Is The Walking Dead a competitor to Game of Thrones? (Thanks for that comparison upgrade @WWERDream)
New Japan Pro Wrestling are once again the talk of the town in the wresting world after Dominion left fans in awe, their reputation is increasing every single year. I said that the ideology of building to the next thing is in everything and I don’t just mean the wrestling. It’s in their business philosophy as well, building the fan’s trust and reward those for investing over time. It’s about looking forwards, that’s what excites me the most about Kenny Omega becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The moment itself will go down in wrestling history as a defining moment, but surprisingly the question of what comes next excites me even more.
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