wrestling / Columns

What’s the Best Pro-Wrestling Promotion in the World Today? WWE vs. NJPW vs. LU

June 18, 2017 | Posted by Jake Chambers
WWE - Rich Bocchini

This week I’m starting the 3-Way Dance BIG 3 series, where I will tackle some astronomical topics, and does it ever get any bigger than debating which pro-wrestling promotion is the best? Oh, it will… but let’s start here this week.

Is liking a wrestling promotion equivalent to having a favorite sports team? I think so. There was undoubtedly a violent split in the hardcore fan bases of WWF, ECW and WCW during the 90s, where you only really hate-watched the two companies you didn’t support. The WWE emerged from that era as the Yankees, Manchester United, New England Patriots and Golden State Warriors all rolled up into one behemoth super team.

Yet today there are so many small promotions worldwide that you can follow regularly and it’s impossibly irrational to want them ALL to succeed. There’s only so much time in the day to watch all this stuff. And make no mistake, each one of these promotions wants to #1 (or at least #2), so I think you’ve gotta draw the line in the sand, rank ’em up and pick a side, because you just can’t be a WWE fan and also cheer for ROH, TNA, AAA, Progress or Dragon Gate as well anymore.

This is all a big competition now, and we need to know who is producing the best form of pro-wrestling in the world and why? Where do you want to invest your time, and what do you hope do get as a return on that fan investment? Well, there are many opinions on this issue, but only one legitimate correct answer, and you’re gonna learn that here today.

The 411mania Wrestling 3-Way Dance matches up three opponents in an intellectual battle every week. The biggest advantages and disadvantages of each contender will be highlighted before a final ranking will declare the ultimate winner. This week’s 3-Way Dance:

Which is the Best Pro-Wrestling Promotion in the World Today?

WWE vs. New Japan vs. Lucha Underground

Reason why this promotion is the best…

WWE = The Google of wrestling.

Sure, there’d be an internet without Google, but the internet as most people in North America know it, if not around the world, is shaped by that omniscient G. Well, the WWE is the same kind of frame that holds the global pro-wrestling picture in place. More than just a show for spandex-ed hot people to concuss each other, the WWE is amazingly a multi-faceted multimedia corporation based on pro-wrestling entertainment with branches that reach out to everything from charities to cup-holder merchandizing and government lobbying. There has never been a wrestling company like this, and there will never be anything that reaches its level in our lifetime.

To say they’re the most powerful professional wrestling company is a monumental understatement, when in fact they’re probably one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world. You might even compare it to – oh, I don’t know – the merging of religion and business, a “corporate ministry”, if you will.

Lucha Underground = Seasons.

For so many years I’ve heard fans and critics crying out for “seasons” in pro-wrestling, something that would give performers a chance to rest their bodies so they could go out and give their best in every single match. This is in contrast to the hurricane-like schedule of the WWE, where the lack of break from television or touring seems to have a detrimental effect on the bodies and psyches of so many wrestlers. Plus it all leads to such homogenized wrestling and empty storylines, as no one involved from producers to crew get a chance to re-charge those damn batteries.

Lucha Underground uses the traditional serialized TV format to present careful, clear, and satisfying programming, while the schedule also allows their wrestlers to economize the strain on their bodies and put on incredible performances during that taping schedule, making the main event of each episode pretty damn epic.

And compared to what companies like ROH or TNA do with their taping schedule, since LU has a long term season-spanning narrative planned, no episode ever feels like filler or wheel-spinning for pay-off matches later on.

New Japan = Clear format.

Obviously NJPW has committed to producing just excellent wrestling matches, and this is seemingly possible because of the strict formatting they adhere to. Unlike the WWE, where great matches and shows occur so randomly, the New Japan calendar and style for individual shows, specific tours, and annual big events makes being a fan so stress-free and fulfilling.

While WWE’s Wrestlemania is this big mega-event, you never know what you’re going to get at this show, and the size of it makes the rest of the year filled with confusingly spotty moments of quality. New Japan, on the other hand, hits very specific and meaningful checkpoints each year – Wrestle Kingdom, the New Japan Cup, Best of the Super Juniors, G1 Climax, Tag League. And inside each of these shows is a strict big event format that builds from beginning to end in the same way, allowing for creative content in the matches linked to this escalating position on the card.

Outside of the obvious language barriers, this consistent performance format is very easy to understand. It’s like watching the UFC, NBA or NFL, only with guaranteed action and excitement. It really is everything that pro-wrestling should be, symbolically, rather than the erratic variety show that is the WWE.

Reason why this promotion might NOT be the best…

WWE = The TV shows and PPVs are generally horrible.

The shit is bad, dude, B-A-D bad… and only seems to get worse by the week.

As big and influential as the WWE is as a company, business, corporation and cultural presence, the actual wrestling programming is pretty awful and has been for a long while now. There are definitely good things from time to time, but no reasonable, educated fan of professional wrestling is going to look at the WWE’s recent output and argue that it’s excellent wrestling. It’s a “product” as so many fans like to dub it, and that’s absolutely true. It’s not about art or performance or telling stories, it’s about analyzing data in order to use the minimal amount of effort to create a product that pleases the most amount of people. It’s a business about generating ad revenue, selling merchandise and now garnering subscriptions.

Some of us want to think of the WWE like it’s the Metropolitan Opera when in fact it’s the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. WWE is not a non-profit organization attempting to preserve and cultivate the art-form of pro-wrestling, they are a carny act that is about tricky you out of your money. One of the ways they do this is buying out all the great performers in the world and then never letting them do anything cool in order to string super-fans along. And another way is by dazzling the young and dumb with colourful, jacked-up caricatures and making them do irrationally violent and stupidly mean things to each other. But never fool yourselves, the WWE is NOT in the business of presenting consistent excellent professional wrestling.

Lucha Underground = The show is so small time.

No one really watches this show, and for the select few who do probably not all of them appreciate why it’s so good. Thus is the fate of great art.

Having the old seasons on Netflix is one thing (although I don’t think it led to any kind of uptick in fandom), but being on the El Rey Network is hardly going to help them break through to new fans. And no new fans likely means no new episodes eventually. I think a lot of people are even willing to abandon them now rather than get too invested in something that might not be around much longer. Shame on them!

New Japan = Western influence.

Part of me just wishes that NJPW would be only Japanese wrestlers. And this is knowing full well the long-standing tradition of foreigners competing in high profile positions in Japanese wrestling promotions; however, New Japan feels just so thirsty sometimes for any kind of western exposure that they’ll take anyone.

The Bullet Club has been a long-standing stain on the excellence of New Japan for years now, and sure, while guys like Devitt, Styles and Omega are fantastic, it’s these other hangers-on that just bring the show down and get way too much undue attention, in my opinion.

For every feel-good success like Juice Robinson, there’s an unnecessary push for Cody Rhodes. For every Timesplitters or Apollo 55 mixed-race team there’s another Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice match to sit through. And let’s not even discuss the cringe-worthy crossovers with ROH or the NWA.

And with the upcoming shows in Los Angeles, you just gotta worry that the atmosphere is going to be so grossly different. I really believe that the audience of polite yet passionate, well-dressed, mature adult men and women being replaced by a snorting, chanting horde of drunken, stupid t-shirt clad, young partially-employed men could be the Jump the Shark moment for New Japan that nobody wants to see.

Okay, so these are all reasonable options, but what promotion is REALLY the best in the world today?

#3 = WWE

Tough to even want to rank the WWE at all, as there are so many great promotions out there from Evolve to CWF Mid-Atlantic, DDT, All Japan, CMLL, and Beyond Wrestling, which are likely producing better wrestling on a regular basis than WWE, but there’s still that fact that WWE is WWE.

And that statement – WWE is WWE – will never escape any of us as wrestling fans. As long as this company exists as the professional pinnacle in our capitalist society, we will always need to measure the entire art form by whatever crap this corporation wants to pull. If it means luring KENTA and Chris Hero away from the amazing things they’re doing for big money pay checks, or promising geographically specific content they never deliver, the WWE will always be the nucleus of all conversations on wrestling.

#2 = New Japan

New Japan is so resoundingly the better big event pro-wrestling company than the WWE right now that it would be like debating why blockbusters don’t get nominated for Academy Awards to even entertain a discussion comparing the two.

However, why aren’t they #1?

They continue to put on just incredible main event matches, the likes of which we are not seeing anywhere else on the planet. And this is where the influence of the WWE is going to come into play, because the conditioning many of us have for what professional wrestling should be comes from the model WWE perfected that they just don’t do well anymore. What I mean here is, the mix of wrestling and dramatic/exciting/funny storylines, and this is not really New Japan’s strength.

As the WWE gets more ridiculous, the easier it is to defend it as just a show and not a sport. However, the representation of “real sport” is the one aspect of pro-wrestling NJPW does such a phenomenal job of re-creating but could also be their one (albeit minor) flaw. The hyper-real, in-the-moment acknowledgement of this being a well-acted faux-sport plays well into the mindset of the post-modern fan, but this reading of pro-wrestling ultimately can be unsatisfying if you really want to measure your enjoyment by how deeply you lose yourself in the art.

And that’s why the true best promotion in the world today is…

#1 = Lucha Underground

For almost three seasons now, LU has been thrilling, logical, funny, athletic, scary, shocking and strange. Each episode has a clear format, not unlike a New Japan show, while every season builds towards a clear and exciting climax. There is also a hint that an even larger mega-narrative linking all the seasons, while WWE wants you to forget what happened last week so they can boggle you with more nonsense today.

Most interestingly, Lucha Underground exists as a fictional “underground fighting league” that produces a television program, which we are watching as an audience but NOT as participants. Unlike the necessity of unpredictable fan involvement in all other wrestling promotions, LU is a scripted mythological universe in the same way Marvel, House of Cards, or Friday the 13th exist in pop culture.

“The Believers” inside the Lucha Underground Temple are just as much characters in the show as Dario Cueto, Melissa Santos or Councilman Delgado. As viewers at home there is really nothing we can do that will affect the narrative, and ultimately that’s a good thing.

The WWE and New Japan, and all other pro-wrestling, invite us to be a part of this fake performance art but never provide any reason or explanation as to why we’re there. Are we supposed to be invested in the unknown outcomes, laughing at the jokes, appreciating this as an artistic performance? If it’s all supposed to be a sport then there should be some logic that overrules the whims of producers, and if it’s just supposed to be entertainment then it should actually be something fun and entertaining. Pro-wrestling promotions so often uses its status on the fence between sport and entertainment to excuse their faults, and never having to make the risky commitment of giving the audience something fresh and creative. Lucha Underground, however, has taken the risk and it is paying off.

So congratulations Lucha Underground, you are the 411mania 3-Way Dance official Best Pro-Wrestling Promotion in the World Today! Stay tuned for part 2 of the BIG 3 series, where things get even more profound!

article topics :

Lucha Underground, NJPW, WWE, Jake Chambers