For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that Ring of Honor would never make it on a major scale. Many of the same people have been telling me that New Japan Pro Wrestling would never gain a viable audience in the United States.
The main reason they presented that I agreed with was, the fact that neither ROH or NJPW was particularly great when it came to character development. NJPW had the language barrier while ROH lacked a consistent roster & name recognition. Each promotion typically draws crowds based on the workrate. While fans like us love fantastic wrestling matches & moves whether there’s a story involved or not, the casual fan needs a stronger connection. They need a story. They need characters that they care about. Without either of those, any wrestling promotion is going to have a tough time competing for the American wrestling fan’s dollar.
It seems the tide is turning. ROH is drawing more fans than they ever have in their sixteen-year history that’s produced some of WWE’s biggest stars. New Japan just drew over 4,000 fans in Long Beach, California, and hope to draw even more than that when they run the Cow Palace in the Bay Area in July. I would bet Greg DeMarco’s house that they will.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that WWE is in trouble anytime soon. I am saying that both ROH & NJPW are stronger than they’ve ever been, and stronger than most people thought they ever would be. From where I sit, there is one person to credit for it. It’s not Okada. It isn’t Omega. It’s not even Dalton Castle, as much as I love that man & his Boys.
It’s the American Nightmare.
That suggestion, of course, is kryptonite to many. My colleagues on multiple websites would vigorously disagree with this assessment. My best friend of multiple decades isn’t particularly high on his in-ring work. Everybody will line up to tell me that Cody isn’t the greatest wrestler of all time. He doesn’t do the most flips. He doesn’t do the most submission moves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him throw a lariat. I can tell you one thing he does better than anybody else I see in professional wrestling right now. He can make people hate him.
My main criticism of Bullet Club ever since it debuted is the fact that they want to be cool heels so they can sell t-shirts & make money. I understand why, as professional wrestling is a business. It just makes for a less enjoyable product from my point of view. I like my heels to have no redeemable values. I want them to be complete assholes that you really can’t get behind unless you’re just an evil person. Heels will always have some crowd support. It’s the ones that can even manage to piss off those fans that really stand out.
Everybody that gets released from WWE will soon after talk about how the handcuffs are taken off. They’ll claim that WWE held them back from achieving their full potential. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many of these people prove to be liars. I also think that fans tend to misinterpret what wrestlers mean when they say the handcuffs are taken off. Even the wrestlers themselves fail to fully take advantage when those proverbial handcuffs are removed.
To be fair to those gentlemen, they don’t know the business as well as Cody does. Their father wasn’t one of the greatest characters & bookers in the history of professional wrestling. When Cody got out of WWE, it wasn’t to have longer matches and do cooler moves & win more championships. The main reason Cody left was because he was held back creatively. He knew that WWE saw him in a certain light, and he was never going to reach his full potential unless he got out. He wasn’t going to break out on his own & become a legendary figure like his father was as long as he was under the WWE umbrella.
Ever since leaving WWE, Cody has embraced the darker side of his personality. There was a period of time where he had to be a good guy because indy fans will cheer ex-WWE guys right out of the box no matter what. After that passed, he became a total freaking asshole. Outside of his wife Brandi, he hasn’t been able to foster too many long-term friendships.
Cody’s cool. Cody’s a heel. Cody isn’t a cool heel.
The peak of Cody’s assholishness has been the breaking up of Bullet Club. Everything was fine with Kenny Omega as leader. The problems started when they took Cody into the group. He isn’t at the point where he wants to take a back seat to anybody. The whole point of leaving WWE was the fact that he didn’t want to be a background player. If he was going to join a stable, he was going to be the leader.
Which was fine, except for the fact that people preferred Omega in the role. Cody’s managed to get the other members of the Elite on his side, but the split between Kenny & Cody has extended to dissension between the rest of the Club as well. For their part, the Guerrillas of Destiny don’t seem interested in taking either side.
The drama between Cody, Kenny, Kota Ibushi, the Young Bucks & other people crossing their paths has made for some dramatic television & YouTube videos. Go check out the Being The Elite YouTube channel if you haven’t already. The knock against New Japan all these years has been lack of storylines, but I’d put this up against anything WWE’s presenting right now. That’s not me taking a shot against WWE, they’ve got some pretty good storylines going on. I just don’t think they’re as dramatic as this one. Cody’s ability to be a tremendous asshole takes it to another level, and takes the companies he works for to another level.
Ring of Honor has had some quality bad guys on top of their cards. Men like Christopher Daniels, Bryan Danielson & Nigel McGuinness could all get some good heat. CM Punk was a master at getting fans to hate him. ROH fans, who by & large cared about workrate more than any other attribute a wrestler possessed, still respected these men at the end of the day.
New Japan has had a bevy of talented top stars. Okada & Tanahashi’s feud will go down in the history books forever. The problem Japanese stars face with American audiences is that it’s tough for them to get heat without playing the stereotypical Japanese heel role. Even doing that, there’s only so much heat that can draw. Taijiri was a great heel but he was never a main eventer. Yokozuna didn’t exactly set box office records. Great Muta was in WCW so he was probably screwed either way.
Casual fans are inclined not to care about wrestlers that don’t speak English. Hardcore fans typically love Japanese wrestlers regardless of face/heel alignment. Put those two factors together, and you see how it’s tough for New Japan to make a dent in this market.
Unless, of course, they find themselves an American Nightmare.
Cody might not have the best matches on the card. Dave Meltzer might not be giving him six snowflakes anytime soon. He’s better than anybody else in New Japan or ROH at making the people care about his match or anything else he’s involved in. If you want to include WWE, there’s only one person in the business that gets a better heel response than Cody, and that’s Roman Reigns.
The worse Cody gets, the better he is.