RAW Deal: The magic of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12
If you’re a wrestling fan and you needed a good reason to get back into the game, I would highly recommend getting into New Japan Pro Wrestling.
I’ve mentioned it many times here in this column, but now is a great time to get into it, right after Wrestle Kingdom 12 this past Thursday, January 4—their WrestleMania, if you will. It may be tough to get into the Japanese wrestlers due to the language barrier, but the company’s doing a commendable job by maximizing their foreign talent.
The fact that NJPW treats pro wrestling like a real sport, and not sports entertainment, should be enough for wrestling fans to fall in love with their product. But I would understand if the issue is accessibility as almost everything is in Japanese. This is why the company’s been working hard to highlight gaijin (foreign talent). I mean, we’ve already seen WWE alum Cody Rhodes and one of the best wrestlers in the world right now in Kenny Omega, but the arrival of Chris Jericho should be enough to spark interest in fans who are only familiar with WWE.
The match of the night has to go to the IWGP United States Championship match between Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, arguably the match that drew the most eyes to the event. The NJPW style of wrestling is pretty much just a longer version of how WWE does its main events with its best guys (as evidenced by the work of people like AJ Styles). Jericho and Omega managed to switch things up and inject some Western flavor into it while still making it feel like an NJPW main event. The real main event is good too, but Jericho/Omega is a great entry point to the company if you can only watch one match.
While we’re on the topic of former WWE wrestlers, Rhodes also had the best match of his career so far against Cruiserweight Classic competitor Kota Ibushi. Rhodes had been somewhat underperforming in his main event run in the indies, due to an insistence to work a more basic style (except with some certain people). Ibushi, while being his usual reckless self, managed to bring out a compelling performance from Rhodes for the first time in what seems to be forever.
In many ways, Wrestle Kingdom 12 was first and foremost a show where NJPW was showcasing their art and style to the entire wrestling community. Hardcore, or at least more invested NJPW fans were waiting for new changes to the status quo, but the company decided that it would first show them the wrestlers they were really invested in—before they started to do anything with them. It’s evidenced in how major plot swerves happened in New Year’s Dash—the “RAW After WrestleMania” show instead of at Wrestle Kingdom itself.
This is why guys like Tetsuya Naito, the challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (a title once held by Brock Lesnar) and Kenny Omega (in the case of last year’s Wrestle Kingdom main event, at least) didn’t get to beat current champion Kazuchika Okada despite giving it their best shot.
A point of contention among more devoted fans who believed it was Naito’s time, the issue is just that the company had spent years building up Okada with a long storyline that saw him go down and rise back up as a hero. The current frustrations felt by these guys, we might not realize right away, is likely part of their own long-term stories toward redemption and success. That’s just the thing: even with the pace of storytelling in modern pro wrestling and the outcry for change, NJPW continues to tell long stories, and it’s something we’ll have to get used to.
The only good thing is that everyone in that spot deserves where they are right now, and it’s clear how deserving they are. You won’t see complaints about guys like Okada, Naito, and Omega the same way WWE fans complain about Roman Reigns or John Cena (in the past). If you must choose a major league promotion, it’s hard to go wrong with NJPW right now.
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On the first episode of 2018, the boys are joined by Smark Henry writer Anthony Cuello for a fresh post-Wrestle Kingdom 12 show! Listen to it here! – Rappler.com