With New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returning to the United States and the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California on Sunday for Fighting Spirit Unleashed — it’s clear that the company has become a global entity. Over the past several years, NJPW has run venues in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Next year’s G1 Supercard in Madison Square Garden is already the largest wrestling gate in Canada and the United States for an event not promoted by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) since the fall of WCW.
There hasn’t been a point in company history when New Japan had this much popularity outside of Japan. While anyone can measure the growth by reviewing financial records, gate totals from individual shows, and measure social media chatter — nothing replaces speaking to fans on a personal level.
“I actually attended NJPW’s Strong Style Evolve UK show in Manchester. I bought tickets before the card was announced, so I can’t say the card made a difference in my purchase. I do think the cards matter, however, especially as New Japan makes more trips abroad,” stated Jonathan Ridgeway from The Black Country of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, when asked about his thoughts on NJPW’s expansion and the quality of cards. “I was very fortunate that I attended the Manchester show. I got to see Zack Sabre Jr. vs Okada and Suzuki vs Ishii live. There were also quite a few other great singles matches. Due to New Japan’s roster being split up across three different shows at the same time (CEOxNJPW, ROH Best in the World & SSE UK), I actually got to see a New Japan card padded with a lot of the midcard or undercard talent.”
Other fans commenting for this piece felt NJPW were “overloading USA shows with westerners,” despite the company commonly featuring non-Japanese talent during tours within their home base. Representative Director, Founder of Bushiroad, and Owner of NJPW Takaaki Kidani made the following remarks on May 16, 2017, in what is now an important date for the company regarding the issue:
In analysing NJPW’s prospects in the US, Kidani stated that the company’s unique strengths are ‘presenting the best in ring wrestling in the world, a long history, and an original product not available anywhere else.’ Kidani also stated a desire to sell American cable networks on NJPW content.
With this mindset, Kidani stated he wanted the New Japan product to be presented ‘as is’ to American fans, giving them a unique experience. In regards to developing new stars, he said that we live in an era where ‘stars can be born in an instant’. With the goal of growing American business, Kidani talked about working with American promotions in order to nurture new talent, and bringing a Japanese style of touring promotion to a US territory.
“I think for me, it’s a number of things all coming together. Logical booking that makes sense and doesn’t insult my intelligence,” Jonathan responded when asked what made him a fan of NJPW. He would continue:
An emphasis on having high-quality matches when it matters, rather than having gimmick finishes on PPV to prolong a feud. The nuanced storytelling in the matches, such as great callbacks to previous bouts between the two wrestlers which also relates to not insulting your intelligence and rewards the consistent viewer. Character development that happens not just during the promos but in the matches as well, the Chaos feud more recently with Jay White is a great example of this. Lastly and this is the main thing for me. The fact that they let their artists (the wrestlers) be the artists. Based on all the interviews I’ve read/heard, the wrestlers speak about constructing their matches themselves with very little direction. This allows each match to feel unique and provides each wrestler with a sense of identity when they wrestle due to them having an influence on the creative piece.
Jonathan, who has been a fan of the NJPW product since around 2006 when the company signed Fergal ‘Prince’ Devitt (known as Finn Balor in the WWE) agreed with others concerning the Fighting Spirit Unleashed card. The main event of Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada against The Golden Lovers (Kota Ibushi and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega) along with IWGP Junior Heavyweight tournament match of Will Ospreay against Marty Scurll are the matches most are looking forward to the most.
A common theme among those spoken to are a wish for NJPW to stick to the formula which led to their recent growth; while producing cards with larger headline matches when they travel overseas.