WrestleKingdom 12 and the changing landscape of Pro Wrestling

During a time that Professional Wrestling has been said to be on a downward slope, a PPV like New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestlekingdom 12 comes along and reminds us of what is so special about Pro Wrestling. It also serves as a reminder that the landscape is changing and it is doing so rapidly.

The main draw of the Pay Per View was Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega. A dream match that many never thought was a possibility. For many Kenny Omega is considered the best Pro Wrestler in the world today and for him to wrestle one of the greatest of all time in Chris Jericho meant an instant classic that was can’t miss. The event for many eclipsed any other wrestling event(s). NJPW even called it the world’s premier pro wrestling event.

Now one might say what about WWE? The global leader in sports entertainment has been hit and miss when it comes to pro wrestling. WWE hasn’t been shy about saying that it’s all about sports entertainment while companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Ring of Honor (ROH) define themselves as Pro Wrestling companies.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE, THE GREAT KHALI

Johnny Knoxville at WWE Raw (c) The Associated Press 2008

WWE has tried to satiate too many masters by bringing in celebrities, making movies, remaining family friendly, and aiming tirelessly to cross over into the mainstream. That endless pursuit has alienated an audience of fans that clamor for Pro Wrestling.

ROH and NJPW have filled that void by being Pro Wrestling companies first and foremost, they are not looking for celebrity guest hosts, nor do they choose their top wrestler based on his crossover appeal…but on his wrestling abilities.

Roman Reigns

Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 32 (c) The Associated Press 2016

A big complaint of wrestling fans has been WWE force feeding the same types of performers as the next star. The prototypical big muscular guy with Hollywood good looks is always what cuts it to be the top guy in WWE. The next guy is Roman Reigns, he has everything that WWE wants in their top guy.

I remember being at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas Cowboys Stadium and hearing deafening boos that filled the stadium as Reigns wrestled. When he defeated HHH for the championship the boos intensified to such a degree that you could not talk over the boos. This rejection of the “top guy” and WWE’s endless pursuit of mainstream crossover has created a vacuum where NJPW and ROH have given fans what they want…Pro wrestling.

Wrestlekingdom 12 was not all about Jericho versus Omega, but Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and many other notable pro wrestlers. Wrestlers like Rhodes and the Young Bucks are not exclusively signed to NJPW but they are able to appear on their shows producing great matches with opponents all across the world.

This is an advantage that NJPW and other outside organizations have over WWE. They are able to put on great matches by bringing in outside talent. For a long time pro wrestlers viewed WWE as the promised land, the place that you want to go to if you wish to be successful. WrestleKingdom 12 showed that the landscape is changing and that wrestlers can make their name outside of WWE and be better off to a certain degree.

In these other companies, yes, looks matter, but not so much to the degree that they do in WWE. The Young Bucks are not the biggest guys but the quality of their matches is top notch. Cody Rhodes has reinvented himself after being given the Stardust gimmick that left him in limbo. Okada the IWGP Heavyweight Champion has consistently put on top tier matches in NJPW. Many people forget that he was in TNA and was horribly misused and given a gimmick inspired from the Green Hornet.

It’s a breath of fresh air for many pro wrestling fans to see great pro wrestling as the main selling point of a PPV. Many fans complain about how WWE programming seems aimed towards getting Roman Reigns over, the wrestling is a vehicle to achieve that…the wrestling will only be good if it serves the purpose of getting him over. It is as if the wrestling has taken a backseat in a wrestling company.

WWE has incredible depth in their roster with Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Bobby Roode, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, the list can go on and on…Yes, I include Reigns because his work is really good and has drastically improved, the issue has been how all of the show revolves around him and the other talents are booked haphazardly. If those other wrestlers were booked with the depth that Reigns was booked the WWE could put on amazing shows.

WrestleKingdom 12 illustrates a sort of pro wrestling meritocracy. Everyone booked on the show could wrestle a great match and was placed on the card due to how well they resonated with the crowd. This meritocracy makes it makes wrestlers re-think going to WWE where they risk being misused due to WWE’s pursuit of getting Reigns over at all cost and gaining mainstream exposure. Fans even bicker on online forums and among themselves that they fear wrestlers like Omega and Okada going to WWE. They worry over them being misused, underutilized, and the commentators saying “he has wrestled all over the world, but he’s never faced the big dog.”

All of these factors led to a new Phoenix rising, similar to how ECW was in the old days. NJPW, ROH, and other notable pro wrestling companies are filling the pro wrestling void and are producing great shows like WrestleKingdom 12. The landscape is changing and Pro Wrestling fans are loving it.

 

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