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Booking Backwards: Understanding Naito/Ibushi/White and Roman/Pearce/Nakamura

Greg DeMarco lends his booking expertise to recent storylines to help you understand what’s happening, and how to watch it moving forward.

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Roman Reigns Adam Pearce Shinsuka Nakamura WWE Royal Rumble Smackdown Jey Uso Paul Heyman

Greg DeMarco lends his booking expertise to recent storylines to help you understand what’s happening, and how to watch it moving forward.

Booking in pro wrestling is an often discussed topic among hardcore fans all over, much like play calling in the NFL. Every fan thinks they’re a better coach than the actual coach, and many wrestling fans feel the same way about the bookers around the world, especially WWE–and more increasingly, New Japan.

As someone with 17 years of experience inside the actual business, someone who is responsible for marketing, promoting, and yes booking local wrestling events–events that sell out in advance mind you–I feel qualified to share some perspective with you on just how this all works, and do so in hopes that you will be better equipped to understand what you are watching.

Or at least enjoy it, because jeez man–some of y’all already hate the product before even turning on the television! (Or computer.)

What “Booking Backwards” Means…

You have most likely heard the term “booking backwards,” but you might not fully understand it. Simply put, it’s knowing the point that you want to get to, and working to get there. Many mistake this for literally working backwards from a certain point–that’s not how it actually works.

What it does mean is knowing where you want to end up, and then writing to get there.

And before I go any further, let me clarify “writing” vs. “booking” for you. Booking is the overall direction, say “Steve Austin beats The Rock at WrestleMania to become champion.” Booking also provides the milestones for how you get there, say “Mankind beats The Rock for the WWF Championship on Raw, thanks to Austin, and Rock regains it at the Royal Rumble, Vince wins the Rumble but loses the title shot to Austin in a cage match at the February PPV, Mankind stays involved as the referee for the ‘Mania main event along the way.”

Writing is what you do between milestones, be it weekly as in WWE, or show-to-show as in New Japan.

It’s a different process for many, but it IS a process. And understanding the process will help you understand what you are watching. Just like understanding the philosophy behind play calling will help you understand your favorite NFL team–and realize that very few play calls live individually.

Understanding Wrestle Kingdom: Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, and Jay White

It was really easy to question the booking decision of having Jay White beat Kota Ibushi for New Japan’s G1 briefcase, then having Tetsuya Naito give Ibushi a title shot on Wrestle Kingdom Night 1 “just because.” It made little sense at the time, and even had me left wondering why you don’t have Ibushi challenge Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship on Night 1, and White challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on Night 2. In two nights, you separate the two championships, and “fix” the Intercontinental Championship that has been seemingly “hurt” since last year’s Double Dash concept for Wrestle Kingdom in 2020.

But again, in doing that, I assumed the end goal was to separate the titles, re-elevate the Intercontinental Championship, and keep the Heavyweight Championship on Naito. In reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Hindsight tells us what New Japan’s goal was here:

  • Crown Kota Ibushi as the new champion
  • Have a Heavyweight Championship match close each night of Wrestle Kingdom 2021
  • Effectively write Jay White out of storylines (either temporarily or permanently)
  • Fully merge the Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships
  • (Possible) bring more focus to the other singles titles like the NEVER Openweight Championship and the IWGP United States Championship

Now, assuming this is all true, let’s take a look at what happened:

  • Kota Ibushi won the G1 Climax, for the second year in a row, and is fully under contract to New Japan
  • Jay White beat Kota Ibushi for the G1 briefcase, something that has never happened in the history of said item
  • Tetsuya Naito, a two-time G1 Climax winner himself, wants to face the winner of the G1 at Wrestle Kingdom, so he gives Kota Ibushi the shot at Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom, Jay White (holding the briefcase) basically says “have it your way” and awaits the winner on Night 2
  • Koti Ibushi beats Tetsuya Naito to win both championships on Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom, and then goes on to successfully defend both titles against Jay White on Night 2 in a 48-minute classic

Congruently, see what else happened:

  • Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and the Guerillas of Destiny all won their respective matches on Night 1, leaving the spotlight for Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, Jeff Cobb, EVIL, and SANADA to all get the bigger spotlight on Night 2.
  • KENTA retained the United States Championship briefcase, and Jon Moxley (the reigning IWGP United States Champion, if you’d forgotten, and I wouldn’t blame you) challenged him to a title match.

It’s not obvious along the way, and it really shouldn’t be. It’s like watching a mini-series, you want the twists and turns along the way, and it’ll all make sense in the end. Whether or not it’s good, or you like how it turned out, is up to you! But evaluate the whole thing based on its overall merit.

Understanding SmackDown: Roman Reigns, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Adam Pearce

This Friday on SmackDown, Roman Reigns opened the show by basically cementing an issue between he and “WWE Official” Adam Pearce, one that we figured would get physical, but one we didn’t figure would end up with Adam Pearce vs. Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble.

But for the sake of this activity–and this one is smaller than New Japan’s above–let’s take Roman Reigns defending the Universal Championship against Adam Pearce at Royal Rumble as our end goal. It’s likely a milestone along the Road To WrestleMania (that’s another article altogether), but it still works.

Let’s see what happened:

  • WWE announced a Gauntlet Match for the January 8 edition of WWE SmackDown, with the winner getting a shot at Roman Reigns and the WWE Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view
  • Roman Reigns insinuated that the Gauntlet was done maliciously by WWE Official Adam Pearce (who had a hell of a year on television in 2021) and suggested that Pearce himself wanted the shot
  • Paul Heyman pulled some strings to get Adam Pearce added to said Gauntlet
  • Shinsuke Nakamura wins the “proper” portion of the Gauntlet, beating multiple opponents along the way, including Daniel Bryan, who gives him the babyface handshake to put him over
  • Roman Reigns and Jey Uso take out Nakamura and eventually Pearce, placing Pearce on top for the three count and basically booking Roman vs. Pearce for the Royal Rumble

Now it’s easy to see Shinsuke Nakamura as the loser here, because we were “supposed” to get Roman Reigns vs. Shinsuke Nakamura at the Royal Rumble, dammit! But you have to realize, that was NEVER the plan, the plan is to get to Roman vs. Pearce, and probably Roman vs. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. Shinsuke Nakamura likely gets his shot as a milestone in the story, and Adam Pearce probably gets some teeth as an authority figure.

Realizing that the plan was never Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble helps, and also know that Roman Reigns likely retains at WrestleMania, leaving Nakamura as a great program for the Tribal Chief down the road.

See The Full Picture First

It’s easy to complain about booking along the way, and it’s always easy to complain about writing. Sometimes, the complaints might be valid. But as I hope you can learn from this article, see the whole thing out before making up your mind. Wrestling fans online have a habit of driving themselves crazy. It’s not necessary, and with a little perspective you can go back to enjoying this thing as much as you used to.


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