wrestling / Columns

Cook Watched New Japan!

July 10, 2019 | Posted by Steve Cook
NJPW Will Ospreay

I don’t get to watch a lot of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

My schedule has a lot to do with it. Most New Japan shows start at a time where I’m at my shoot job that I wake up way too early for. I don’t subscribe to NJPW World because I already don’t watch enough stuff on the services I do subscribe to. There are only so many hours in a day, and so many hours to dedicate to the pro wrestling. I also need to watch critically acclaimed HBO series & random Netflix stuff, not to mention whatever might pop up on the hub.

So any time that I can get some New Japan action at a reasonable hour with a pretty good looking card, I’m pretty excited about it. Especially when it’s a night that’s part of the G1 Climax, the most awesome wrestling tournament in the history of wrestling tournaments. There’s two blocks. Ten guys are in each block. They all wrestle each other, then the winners of each block meet each other in the finals. It’s really quite amazing that an American promotion hasn’t ripped this off yet for an easy month of interest. TNA came close with the Bound For Glory Series, but like most things TNA it ended up way too convoluted with different matches & nonsense going on.

At this point in my life, I’m all about wrestling promotions holding shows on Saturday night. I know Sunday night is the golden goose for PPV and many wrestling fans are fine with not getting much sleep heading into Monday morning, but Saturday is better for me. We’re in the middle of a pretty good stretch of Saturday night shows…New Japan had this past Saturday night, AEW had the Saturday night prior, and AEW & EVOLVE will have this Saturday night. Saturday nights were made for fighting, so all of this makes sense to me. Let WWE have Sunday nights for their events. We all know they’re the big dog, so let them have that. If I’m AEW or somebody else trying to compete long-term, I’m giving WWE their nights and trying to make my bones on other nights.

If there’s been one theme of my writing since coming back to the scene, it’s a pretty simple one. I see a lot of wrestling fans out here, but I’m not sure what some of them are fans of. They seem to be fans of the professional wrestling business. They’re all about who’s a draw and the TV ratings, the attendance numbers and all of that stuff. I would say they’re more business-savvy, but I’m not really sure they’re all that savvy.

They’re definitely more interested in the business side of things. When they watch a show like New Japan’s G1 opener in Dallas, they’re more interested in looking at the seats than the ring. You could ask them what they think of a match, and they’d have no idea. Why would they watch a match for the wrestling aspect? They’d be all about telling you how empty the arena looked, and dunking on New Japan for drawing a crowd that didn’t fill an NBA arena. It’s one of my pet peeves.

Which makes me feel even more like a jerk when the first thing I notice is the crowd size.

To New Japan’s credit, the crowd was pretty loud all night & didn’t partake in traditional 2010s live wrestling crowd foolishness. Or maybe they did and I just didn’t notice. Once the show got going I was able to forget about the crowd size. That Will Ospreay kid had a better match with Lance Archer than anything I’ve seen Seth Rollins do this year. Just gonna throw some more fuel on that fire. Okada & Tanahashi had a fun little main event.

But the main things I saw people talking about afterward…the attendance & New Japan’s American arena booking strategy. Nobody was talking about KENTA’s big return to the squared circle, or Jeff Cobb & Big Tom Ishii beating the crap out of each other, or anything like that. I didn’t even see anybody complaining about Kevin Kelly or Rocky Romero on commentary. Heck, nobody even pointed out that there were no women anywhere on the show. It was all about crowd size & New Japan’s American strategy.

Why are these the things we care about the most?

To be honest, it isn’t like this is some new development that happened in the last few years with a new generation of wrestling fans that has different sensibilities than old farts like me. We were obsessing over TV ratings in the 1990s just like Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo and the other high-power players of the time were. Now we’re all about pictures of quarter-filled arenas, like they look any different than many of the venues major wrestling companies did TV tapings at back in the day.

Why don’t we either enjoy these shows for what they are, or complain about what we don’t like about them? Well, I know the answer to that question. We’re afraid of being labeled. If we like a show, we’re apologists for the people putting it on. If we don’t like a show, we’re whiners & crybabies. Having opinions on things is a lose-lose situation.

Did I have opinions on the show? Sure I did! Here are some of them.

-I can take or leave the Guerrillas of Destiny. They’re fine, but I don’t think they stand out as one of the best tag teams in the world or anything.

-When do Jeff Cobb & Tom Ishii have their singles match? I’m all about that.

-I assume Bullet Club still sells tons of t-shirts? Otherwise they need to retire the gimmick. The 2019 version is like the 2000 version of the nWo.

-I wish Jushin Liger was coming within reasonable traveling distance for me during his retirement tour.

-Loved the Archer/Ospreay match. Ospreay’s stuff with Ricochet was athletically pretty great but really annoying & not even resembling a wrestling match in my eyes. Wrestling big dudes like Archer that can’t flip around like goofs helps rein Ospreay in and work a sensible style. For the most part.

-I could go the rest of my life without seeing a Bad Luck Fale match and be ok.

-On the other side of things, Zack Sabre Jr. is totally awesome and should have all the titles even if he’s 150 pounds.

-It was fun to see KENTA again, and he didn’t try to kill Kota Ibushi with stupid apron moves. Good stuff there.

-Okada vs. Tanahashi wasn’t on the level of their Wrestle Kingdom meetings, and it didn’t need to be. Those matches were always a little too much for me, what with their Tombstones on ramps & other crazy stuff that should have resulted in stretcher jobs. This was a bit slower, and better for it in my eyes.

-The announcing didn’t really stand out either way for me, which is probably good.

I enjoyed the show. Was it enough to make me the kind of crazy person that would quit my job so I can watch the rest of the G1 Climax live? No. Was it enough to make New Japan stand out as the best wrestling promotion in the world? I don’t think any WWE stans are going to convert to NJPW Kool-Aid drinkers based off of one show. All Elite Wrestling has a better TV deal and is run by the stars that New Japan were hoping to use to generate interest in this country. Ring of Hon-ok I can’t even bring them up and keep a straight face.

The wrestling marketplace is pretty crowded in 2019. Can New Japan get a bigger part of it? People are going to wring their hands over this for the next few months. Me? I’m just hoping it produces some good wrestling.

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Steve Cook