Back in May of this year, we wrote a piece entitled “The Silent War Between WWE and New Japan”. In it, we chronicled WWE’s slow signing of Japanese stars in 2014, like Prince Devitt, El Generico and KENTA, the rehiring of Matt Bloom (NJPW veteran Giant Bernard), through the signing of the New Japan 4 (AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows) this past January. But if recent events are any indication, New Japan is about to take the fight to the WWE in a global way.
Part of the reason why the WWF overtook the other promotions like the AWA, NWA and WCCW in the early 80’s, was Vince McMahon’s ability to get in with ground level television technology, the closed circuit television and later PPVs, while the others were still gloating about regional cable deals. Once McMahon took off, everyone scrambled to try and get their promotion in the same gear. But instead of working together on a common solution to benefit all, they splintered, and the Big Bad Vince picked them off one by one.
This time around, the indie promotions are working on and with the latest in streaming services. And instead of isolating themselves from each other like 15 separate horses in a race, they are slowly becoming more like fifteen horses in a stable. There is a cohesiveness in the global indie circuit right night, where kayfabe storylines and characters are crossing over into wrestling cultures from Toronto, Canada to London, England to New York City to Berlin. Tommy End in wXw is the same Tommy End you saw in Ring of Honor. That kind of freedom of character benefits all promotions in the age of online streaming. If a Sami Callihan fan in Chicago wants to watch more matches and can watch cards from London or Germany, it can only help those other international promotions to expand its global brand. And thus, the stock of the wrestler and the brand goes up.
Over the past few years, WWE has been strengthening its brand, both domestically – with the introduction of the WWE Network, the rise of NXT – and internationally – the Cruiserweight Classic and now UK Championship. They are no longer being content being the American company that dips into the world. They want to be the global company that the world dips into. And while it seemingly seemed like the rest of the world of professional wrestling was just sitting back as this juggernaut slowly crept its dark shadow across the globe, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) made headlines for weeks recently with comments made from some key figures in New Japan Wrestling in regards to the WWE’s recent expansion – following the announcement of the UK Championship in London a few weeks back. New Japan was not going to publicly say they were leading a war against the WWE and its financial muscle, but instead were going to show the world that their guts, tenacity and performance were going to at least keep the spirit of the independent promotion and international cultural styles, were going to remain healthy for generations to come.
It started on December 16, 2016, when Takaaki Kidani, President of Bushiroad in Japan (parent company of NJPW), suddenly Tweeted a long series of comments on the state of the WWE’s emerging presence in the global wrestling market.
Japanese Audio Wrestling‘s Chris Charlton translated it, and the full series read as such:
“WWE World Strategy 1. It seems that WWE will raise about 20 billion yen (How can you be like a convertible bond?) Within the framework of professional wrestling, it will be a leverage of the WWE network and a local territory with WWE linkages around the world. The birth of British throne is part of it. Japanese organizations may also be subject to acquisition.
“WWE World Strategy 2. I will explain why WWE network leverage and global territory construction. First of all, the revenue structure of WWE in recent years has increased the royalty of TV broadcasting rights. This is due to the benefits of the sports content bubble caused by the US net distribution and tug of the cable TV station
“WWE world strategy 3. The composition of this tug of war has greatly collapsed in 3 to 5 years due to exhaustion of the cable TV station side, and it is highly profitable system to sell programs to the TV stations all over the world, while obtaining the expensive broadcasting fee in the US as in the past Can not be maintained. We can only supplement this with the WWE network, and it is an urgent matter to take network leverage
“WWE World Strategy 4. Multiple reasons to build a global territory. Part 1 Cost reduction It is very costly to move each group on a world scale. Also, if local enterprise of WWE in each region only has twice a year the entertainment, it is unnecessary. If you only make local affiliates and send players, the cost will be cheap
“WWE World Strategy 5. In fact, I think that there are only three countries where the WWE is making a surplus, the United States, Canada, and the UK. Just because we sell programs to TV stations all over the world, we need to do a world tour to some extent and also implies the promotion of the network. We will build local subsidiaries, affiliates, partnership organizations according to the characteristics of the area
“WWE World Strategy 6. Part 2 Discover and nurture players. WWE’s next generation star shortage is serious. Part 3 If you distribute content creation in the local territory, named globalization called localization, and box office where a lot of local wrestlers will participate in the WWE network, the possibility that people in the country will join the network will increase
“WWE world strategy 7. I think WWE got a big bet. However, this bet also entails considerable danger. That it was against a huge IT company. I’d like to make a presentation at a later date, including the strategy of the New Japan Wrestling, although it is not enough. I think that the pro-wrestling world will be the era of the global WWE coalition v anti-WWE alliance.
“The strategy of WWE mutated today can be confirmed by published materials, settlement materials, etc. If you are interested please check it.”
“…will be the Era of the Global WWE Coalition vs. Anti-WWE Alliance.”
In many ways, that path has been underway for a few years now. NJPW has working agreements with Ring of Honor, Ring of Honor has one with PWG, and they all interact with such UK groups as Progress. Streaming services like the FITE App, FloSlam, and SmashTV are creating micro versions of the WWE Network by having multiple smaller promotions available at one central hub. We are living in an era where we can watch more promotions than ever and with greater access. And just days before this Tweet barrage, Kidani announced NJPW’s first foray into solo operations on US soil by holding 2017 G-1 Climax Qualifiers in California.
Was Kidani merely prophesying or was he giving a not so subtle State of the Union rallying cry to the rest of the world?
He’s been arguably the world’s greatest success story of 2016, including any WWE wrestler. The first Gaijin to win the coveted NJPW G-1 Climax, multiple championships, headlining mega shows around the world. Amidst a flurry of rumours that Omega was going to jump to the WWE in early 2017 when his contract with NJPW was up, it was reported he’d sign a new 2-year deal with NJPW. In an interview with Uproxx this past week, Kenny Omega said this in regards to WWE’s international expansion.
It seems as though we’re headed towards a monopoly, if I were to speak honestly. WWE is hiring people just to hire them. That’s fine, and I’m happy for whoever’s happy to collect a paycheck from them. A lot of my good friends are now receiving work and receiving money. But sadly, a lot of those people are signing with WWE just to ride the pine. You can’t put all these guys on TV. On one end, you have these mom-and-pop indy superstars getting TV time, and people all around the world are able to see the art of what they do. And in a lot of cases, they’re enjoying it, which is fantastic. I’m really happy about that.
But as everyone gets picked up, as all these independent promotions have to shut down and close their doors because of WWE scooping everyone up, everyone’s going to lose an option. And that guy you saw for that one tournament, you’re not going to see him anymore. You can’t put him on TV, there’s only so much time. So eventually, people are going to run out of options. I want to be one of the options for people. You want to go eat a McDonald’s hamburger? That’s cool. McDonald’s can be good. Do I like them every day? Do I want to eat McDonald’s seven days a week for every meal? Probably not. Eventually, I’m going to want to go someplace for a triple-A grade steak. I may not necessarily have the traffic flow of McDonald’s, but guess what? The quality is there, and it’s for the distinguished wrestling viewer. People who are wanting something more out of their programming. That’s what I want to provide for people in 2017.” Kenny omega, uproxx, december 27, 2016
If Kidani is the General in charge of the war, then Omega is his drill sergeant. He was rallying the troops on the indie fronts that they were ready to showcase their product to the world.
The Young Bucks
Just weeks prior, Omega’s partners in the Bullet Club‘s trio, The Elite, announced their own two year re-signing with Ring of Honor and NJPW, ending any speculation that they may jump ship to the WWE this next year either. And this week they were named Tag Team of the Year by Sports Illustrated, and interviewed on their career paths and strategies about rejecting the WWE and staying independent:
“We’ve proven to many fans and wrestlers you don’t need to go to the WWE to be successful in this day and age, and it’s cool to be your own boss and do things on our own. We set out goals and we hit those goals, so 2016 will never be forgotten. We have the best most loyal fans in the world and they keep pushing us to become better wrestlers and, more importantly, better people. We’ve held the PWG, ROH and IWGP Jr tag titles all at the same time for the second time ever and we were the first guys to do that. I don’t think it’ll ever happen again and that’s something I’m most proud of.” Nick Jackson, Sports Illustrated, December 28, 2016
“2016 was the most money we’ve ever made in wrestling. We feel like we had the most quality matches we’ve ever had in our careers, and we did a lot to push both The Elite and Young Bucks brand. Our ‘Being The Elite’ series is getting more popular. We feel like we’ve gotten more eyeballs on Ring of Honor and New Japan.” Matt Jackson, Sports Illustrated, December 28, 2016
The Young Bucks added their own voice to the New Japan battle cry, directing the attention to the respect and freedom – both financial and creative – you can acquire in the pro wrestling world if you work hard (and smart) in the independent world. And love them or hate them, there’s no arguing that there are few more successful or lucrative gimmicks in the world of professional wrestling today.
While clearly, New Japan is not at the level to take on WWE on it’s own. While it still dominates Asia and parts of Europe over the WWE in fan base (the parts that WWE is eyeing next), it is lacking visibility to the mainstream wrestling audience elsewhere. But it’s own streaming service, New Japan World, is gaining steam and NJPW is easily at it’s highest peak of popularity and awareness abroad. Thanks largely in part to Omega, the Bucks and their worldwide Bullet Club.
As partnerships begin to take sides – such as WNN – the house of Evolve, Shine, Full Impact Pro – siding with House McMahon, and Ring of Honor and PWG with House Kinadi – the armies are beginning to build. The war may not be this year. But it’s coming. But it won’t be a bloody war. It will be a great day for the wrestling world, industry and fan alike.
Because just as exposure brings out the best in the independents, competition brings out the best in the WWE. And they could use a good fight again.
Only this time, it won’t be a Monday Night War. It’ll be a World War.
Main Photo: twitter.com/KennyOmegamanX