On July 1 and 2, the Long Beach Convention Center will be hosting a show featuring the stars of wrestling company New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). While next weekend’s festivities may just seem like another wrestling show to an outsider looking in, it actually holds some serious historical significance, as well as potential for the future.
Let’s be honest in terms of the American “sports entertainment” market. When it comes to wrestling, there is pretty much one fish that owns a vast majority of the pond, and that is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
There is currently no company on American soil that can produce a show as consistently and on the scale of WWE. Despite other wrestling companies and shows such as Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor (ROH) and Anthem’s recently acquired Impact Wrestling, WWE might as well have monopolized the market, causing other groups to try and provide a passable alternative instead of directly competing.
It wasn’t always like that, however.
Back in the 1980’s is when American wrestling fans really started to see the beginning of what wrestling has become today. Two companies – WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) – drew their lines in the sand and went head to head to establish who would be the premiere wrestling brand.
Wrestling fans know this as the “Monday Night Wars,” and it spanned from the late 80’s to the early 2000’s. The conclusion of the war saw the defeat of WCW, which WWE eventually purchased and absorbed (along with Extreme Championship Wrestling).
With no real competition and to keep things fresh, last year WWE returned to a brand split, with two separate and exclusive rosters for its weekly Raw and Smackdown shows; instead of competing with other companies, WWE competes with itself with a varying amount of success.
This leaves fans who may not be entirely satisfied with the WWE product scrambling to get their fix in some other location.
Enter New Japan Pro Wrestling.
New Japan is a major wrestling promotion in, you guessed it, Japan.
While many wrestling fans may not know the company itself, many of New Japan’s former stars are now household names in the sports entertainment genre.
Well known current WWE superstars such as AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows, “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson, Brock Lesnar and Finn Balor have all had very successful and lucrative careers with New Japan; and they’re just the tip of the iceberg of the talent pool.
NJPW have competed here in the states through various avenues, yet this particular show is historic in the fact that it is the first of its kind for New Japan. The company is stepping into America, and potentially into a new whole new market.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, it’s important to acknowledge that WWE is very much still a giant compared to a David sized New Japan in comparison. This by no means is going to be an easy three count on the mat.
NJPW isn’t exactly the easiest thing to get onto our TV screens here at home. Many of the promotions fans here in the states have to rely on a paid subscription service through the company’s website.
Still, NJPW isn’t coming into this opportunity totally unprepared. Thanks to partnerships with ROH and other American promotions, there is a humble following of American New Japan fans.
Add in a clothing deal between Hot Topic and villainous group The Bullet Club – one of NJPW’s most popular stables – and you’d be hard pressed to deny that there’s a buzz.
So much of a buzz, in fact, that tickets for the event sold-out within hours of going on sale, and all without the luxury of an announced card to produce a draw at the time of release.
If all goes well in this endeavor, we could quite possibly see a new contender step up and establish itself as a new, credible face in the world of American mainstream media wrestling. We won't know until after the weekend, but seeing as NJPW will be crowning the first ever IWGP United States Champion, there seems to be a fair amount of faith that the company is here to stay.
Next Saturday and Sunday’s shows are so much more than a historical event in the wrestling industry; they will act as a way for NJPW to get their feet wet and test the waters in a predominantly WWE-centric atmosphere.