Fans of New Japan Pro Wrestling are spoiled. Very spoiled. I consider myself especially lucky since I dove head first into the promotion at the perfect time back in 2015 when the current impeccable run cemented itself following the fantastic Wrestle Kingdom 9.
However, the consistently on-point booking — not to mention match quality — creates a unique problem fans digesting solely WWE fare need not concern themselves with. Enter logical booking. Storylines in New Japan play out logically most of the time; in a multi-man tag expect the Young Lion to take the pin and when a wrestler newly joins the ranks of heavyweight from the junior division expect them to falter before finding their footing. This type of booking satisfies our innate human desire for order to be created from chaos, but the flip side is that steadily logical booking can become predictable. As much as us wrestling fans love to fantasy book in our heads, deep down we don’t want to be right all the time.
This conundrum for New Japan viewers of an incredible, albeit sometimes predictable product, made the surprise reveal at the recent Power Struggle event something us fans will be talking about for the rest of this year, at the very least.
As I sat waiting for the triumphant return of former Young Lion Jay White, I nearly rolled off the couch when the face of WWE legend Chris Jericho emerged to challenge Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12. A million questions shot across my mind immediately, not least of which were questions concerning Jericho’s contract status which the jury is apparently still out on, but more than anything else I was just plain excited. After the fact, I began hearing that rumors of this match had already been circulating, but how many people really believed this was happening?
Now that it’s official, will it be successful? Answering this question depends on how you are going to measure it.
Essentially this issue comes down to two major questions; will the match be at the level it should be given it’s place on NJPW’s biggest show of the year and will it continue to help grow the promotion? Frankly, I’m shocked that some wrestling fans don’t think this match will deliver.
Chris Jericho is easily a top 20 wrestler of all time and you won’t find a big match performer better than Kenny Omega at this moment in time. Reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada may be just as good, but I can’t definitively say he is better.
“But Chris Jericho is 47 years old.”
Ok … and?
Jericho and Kevin Owens had the best match at WrestleMania 33 and he and AJ Styles put on a very good match at WrestleMania 32 the year before. Granted neither of those matches would have stood out amongst the classics at recent Wrestle Kingdoms, but I’ve seen more than enough from Jericho in recent years to make me confident this match won’t disappoint.
The question of this match providing NJPW with another boost, in popularity and NJPW World subscribers, is much more difficult to try to answer. It’s impossible to prove that whatever jump in numbers NJPW may experience after Wrestle Kingdom 12 is directly and solely related to the appearance of Chris Jericho. I assume many will attempt to place the credit at Jericho’s feet, but doing that requires far too many assumptions to be made. Nobody, not even New Japan itself sans some type of user polling data, would know if those new subscribers signed up simply to see this match then stuck around, or if they jumped on board due to the consistency of the promotion these past few years. If the long-term positive impact is perhaps impossible to ascertain, what one can be sure of is that this match is creating a ton of buzz.
Of course hardcore New Japan fans were talking about this nonstop, but what is significant is that websites like CBS Sports and podcasts like ESPN’s Cheap Heat entered the conversation too. While assigning credit for whatever gains this match may or may not lead to will be difficult, it’s hard to think that the mainstream exposure this showdown has already created is anything but positive for the company going forward.
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