The highly-anticipated Wrestle Kingdom 9 show from New Japan Pro Wrestling finally happened this weekend, and the great show raised even more questions about if NJPW could make in-roads in the United States.
For those who haven't had a chance to see it, go find it if you have 3 ½ hours to kill. If nothing else, make sure to watch the final two matches. The Intercontinental title match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi was one of the best matches I've seen in a while, and earned five stars from Dave Meltzer.
The main event title match between Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi was also excellent. For the first time, the show was broadcast on pay per view in America, with an English broadcast, so the question after such a good show is can NJPW do more in the U.S.?
First, we have to look at the good. NJPW has earned its reputation with consistently excellent shows over the past few years. The question was how the show would translate for the American viewers who weren't overly familiar with the product.
The English broadcast team of Jim Ross and Matt Striker did a very good job with the broadcast, making the show more accessible for the new viewers. There are certainly quibbles with Striker, as he at times became overzealous, but overall the two did a good job of explaining some of the Japanese traditions, and making comparisons to American wrestlers that more viewers would know.
There were also enough American wrestlers, whether they are part of the Bullet Club, or involved in other matches, that even a fan who has no knowledge of NJPW would be familiar with many of the wrestlers. AJ Styles, Shelton Benjamin, Luke Gallows, Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr. all wrestled for WWE or TNA, and if you add in those who have competed for ROH, like ReDragon and the Young Bucks, and there was a lot of familiarity there.
With all that being said, the show also raised some concerns about how well the product could do in the U.S. There will always be a niche following of it amongst American fans, there's no doubt about that. With the ability to watch online, and the quality of the shows, there will always be a slight presence there. The problems I see are if New Japan starts wanting to air consistent PPVs, and even try for a weekly show.
The biggest problem, of course, is the language barrier. While there was an English commentary team, everything else about the show was taken directly from the Japanese broadcast. This included prematch videos which were done entirely in Japanese, and postmatch promos. With all four competitors involved in the last two matches being Japanese, that raised some problems when trying to understand the story being told. If they make a conscious decision to grow in America, that would have to change.
The question is how would they handle it? Would they add subtitles to the bottom? Would they dub over wrestlers talking? Both have negatives associated with it, which could limit the growth in the US. There's also the question of how much would a common wrestling fan get behind a company that would, at best, tour sporadically in the US, and would have Japanese wrestlers make up most of the company?
While AJ Styles is in the title picture, Okada is the true face of the company. How would that affect the possible growth? All of these are questions that would have to be answered.
Wrestle Kingdom 9 has to be considered a success, and we'll see if the buyrates match. With a vacuum in the US landscape after WWE, every wrestling fan wants another company to step up. We'll see if NJPW could be that company.
Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comment section, email me, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster.