New Japan’s Dominion event from Osaka is the talk of pro wrestling fans thanks in large part to the major headlining matches that took place. Chris Jericho took the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega won the IWGP Championship from Kazuchika Okada.
It was a moment in wrestling history that many fans will never forget. Dominion was perhaps the best example of what NJPW can deliver to those that want more from the business. But what does New Japan’s rise mean to WWE?
For many fans, there is no comparison. New Japan is all about the wrestling. It’s a vast departure from everything that WWE is and much more. NJPW focuses on the in-ring action. It’s not about the drama outside of the squared circle.
How many times has Monday Night Raw kicked off with a five minute promo? The old notion that a wrestling event should begin with a hot curtain jerk match to set the tone is apparently very old indeed. The primary goal now is to spell it out for the crowd. WWE lays the foundation for the following three hours by walking fans through it one word at a time.
If the long-winded promos only happened occasionally, fans would likely not mind. But when silly storylines are the norm and characters begin acting out of character, then frustrations rise. Add to that the constant need to book the McMahon family in main event spots and it just gets worse.
WWE doesn’t seem to listen, which is not helping. The company is so firmly connected to its audience through social media but that connection does not equal understanding. It’s not unheard of for the company to openly mock the fans on live TV. Triple H has in fact done it before yet somehow many seemed to miss the irony of it all.
Without the paying audience, WWE would not exist. Fans can be loud and emotional and even obnoxious, which distracts from the show. But much of the crowd don’t want to act out, they genuinely just want the product to be good. It’s no coincidence that the biggest pops of Raw or SmackDown Live tend to happen because of hard-fought pro wrestling matches. Despite all the hoopla and grandeur that accompany a WWE event, it’s the wrestling that fans respond to the most.
But WWE has existed in this form since The Monday Night Wars. Since the competition disappeared, Vince McMahon’s company has not been the same. The slick presentation and overproduced programs are ingrained into the company and WWE has been in the driver’s seat with no one legitimately threatening its position of power.
However there are some bright spots. Thanks to CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and a few others, WWE is much different now than it was in the years after WCW fell. NXT is a viable third brand and the company now features some of the best wrestlers in the world today. Perhaps WWE seems to have finally realized the importance of strengthening its game in the ring. Is that just a natural evolution or is it happening out of necessity?
The fact is that New Japan is redefining what professional wrestling is. WWE does not happen in a bubble; the world has opened up now. NJPW is the alternative that Impact Wrestling wants to be, but the two companies could not be more different. Anyone that has followed New Japan sees the heart and the effort on display every time the cameras go on. The men in New Japan’s locker room are hungry. They want more and they’re working hard to get it.
But as much as diehard fans love the company, the truth is that NJPW is not without its faults. Yes the men of New Japan are working hard but where are the women? The Women’s Revolution has leveled the playing field for WWE. Women are working main events on TV and pay-per-view. It’s only a matter of time until women main event WrestleMania. Will New Japan feature any female wrestlers by that point?
Then there’s the comedy routines. Though it’s not as prevalent as it once was, comedy does occasionally happen in a New Japan ring. It’s the same comedy that keeps Jim Cornette awake at night. Though many believe he obsesses too much over it, the fact is comedy does equal disrespect in the minds of many pro wrestling fans.
Then there are the matches themselves. No one can deny the amazing body of work that guys like Will Ospreay are delivering. But when that work includes multiple death-defying moves that no one should ever recover from, then the point gets lost. Pro wrestlers are not superhuman. They’re extremely mortal and it’s their humanity that connects them to the crowd.
When Strong Style replaces common sense, what’s left? If two guys stand face to face and physically destroy each other while never leaving their feet, then why should fans believe anymore? The crowd knows that wrestlers are not intentionally trying to cripple each other. But that doesn’t mean they should advertise the ineffectiveness of moves that could seemingly knock a guy out cold.
Both companies have their issues, that much is certain. The idea of sports entertainment consumes WWE. NJPW at times appears just as consumed with crafting five-star matches instead of just allowing it to happen organically. But for many fans, New Japan is the pro wrestling company and WWE is the company that happens to feature pro wrestling. There is a difference.
WWE has talent to rival New Japan. There is no arguing that point. If the governor was removed from the Superstars and they were allowed to tell the story in the ring instead of backstage, on the mic or on social media, then this would be an entirely different conversation. But Vince McMahon’s company is designed a certain way and that way appears to be working. It’s difficult to dismiss a billion dollar company that is firmly entrenched in pop culture.
But if guys like Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Shinsuke Nakamura had their way, then the silly storylines would probably end. Yes fans want pro wrestling to be fun and entertaining. But New Japan is turning the volume up and the sound is deafening right now. Fans can only wonder if WWE is really listening.