As part of my informal new year’s resolution to be more diverse with my wrestling watching, I’ve taken the plunge and have signed up for New Japan World – the NJPW version of the WWE Network, for the uninitiated. This past Monday saw New Japan’s version of WrestleMania – WrestleKingdom 10 – and with all of the buzz around WWE’s raid of New Japan, this was as good a time as any to start.
Although not as quite as featured as the WWE Network (for one, it’s a computer/mobile only experience, unless you have a Chromecast), New Japan World’s monthly subscription price of 999 Yen is not only not rammed down your throat at every turn, but works out quite nicely in the UK at just under £6. So, once Google Chrome has helpfully translated everything into not-quite-so-accurate English, accessing the on-demand version of WrestleKingdom 10 was pretty straightforward. Starting the stream over an hour into a six-hour file was daunting as you’d expect, but thankfully not all of the remaining 5 hours was action.
The stream started with the New Japan Rumble, which is your standard Royal Rumble, with the added twist of eliminations also being achieved via pinfall – perfect for those of you who played Oliver Copp’s TNM7 simulator and created these rumbles themselves! Whereas WWE’s pre-WrestleMania battle royals were treated as dumping grounds for everyone who isn’t booked, the New Japan Rumbles tend to throw in a few surprises and familiar faces from the past. This one was no different, with Ring of Honor cult favourite Cheeseburger being added to historic names like Yoshiaki Fujiwara, the Great Kabuki and Jushin “Thunder” Liger (yes, I know Liger is a regular in New Japan). In the end, Jado took the win – which for the uninitiated may look a little like a conflict of interest, since Jado is one of NJPW’s bookers.
Actually, before I move on, it’s worth throwing in that although this is the first full show I’ve ever seen from New Japan (as in top to bottom), it’s not my first foray into Japanese wrestling, having seen matches here and there. Indeed, I have vivid memories of watching Jado many years ago, although that’s probably the memories of the bright yellow outfits that he and Gedo (also a head booker in New Japan) used to compete in.
As with last year, New Japan hired English commentators for their WrestleKingdom event – albeit only for those paying for the traditional pay-per-view of it in the US. This year, however, the English commentary team was available on the New Japan World feed, but with a slight tweak, as the duo of Jim Ross made way for Ring of Honor’s Kevin Kelly to partner Matt Striker, alongside former WWE alumni (and currently-injured New Japan star) Yoshi Tatsu. By now, there’s plenty of reviews of the show, almost all of them written by people better placed than I, so here’s a few quick observations from the main show:
- Watching a foreign product is always enjoyable, especially when the cultures are markedly different. Nevertheless, I still have no idea what drugs the people who created the pre-show open with the anime-inspired characters.
- I know that almost everyone watching the English language version of this on New Japan World are smart to the business, and probably all possess a subscription to sites like the Observer… but last time I checked, Ricochet isn’t a member of the Lucha Underground roster!
- It’s really surreal seeing Kevin Kelly go from being the least-liked announcer in WWE in the late 90s, to being this year’s replacement for Jim Ross at WrestleKingdom… and not being a step out of line either.
- What was with all of the jump starts to the matches? Internet fans take aim when multiple matches in WWE and TNA have the same ending, or when distraction finishes are over-used, so New Japan should take the same criticism here also.
- On a similar vein, it was refreshing to see a major league event presented in much the same way as an old-styled show. By that, I mean that there was no “to the back!” or any backstage segments, with only the long ring entrances giving fans a chance to breathe between matches.
- Matt Striker is either an acquired taste, or suitable only in small doses. Whilst Striker is good at explaining holds and reasons behind moves, over tge four-hour show, he definitely had me reaching for the mute button on several occasions, particularly when he threatened to go all political at the start of the Ishii/Shibata match.
- Saying that, Striker was awfully prophetic at the end of Styles/Nakamura, saying how much the roster would suffer if either of these guys went down with injury. I guess jumping to another group is worse than most injuries for New Japan!
- Speaking of acquired tastes, can we put the Young Bucks into that list as well? There’s no doubting their talent, but there’s a fine line between being cocky heels, annoying heels, and the straight-up “go-away” heel that X-Pac used to be. Maybe when they’re no longer flavour of the month, that’ll become apparent, but right now, I just don’t see the appeal of the Young Bucks.
- At the other end of the spectrum, even though it was guilty of some of the same no-selling spots that the Bucks get criticised for, it was good to see some traditional Japanese strong style on the card, even if the stiffness of Ishii/Shibata isn’t likely to win any praise from Chris Nowinski any time soon!
- Having followed the results of New Japan shows going into this (and having a passing knowledge at best of the promotion), it’s impressive to see how much planning goes into these shows – with some matches having been built many months ago, rather than weeks ago (as can be the habit in the North American scene these days).
Of course, the long term planning was thrown out of the window the very next day, which just so happened to coincide with another New Japan show – “New Year’s Dash” – which is also available on New Japan World… and you can probably guess what’s next on my to-do list!
All in all, a very good show to kick off 2015; not just from New Japan, but for wrestling in general. One week down, 51 to go – let’s see if this can be topped!