NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13: Tokyo Dome extravaganza puts WWE on notice with decades of dominance under threat

  • Tokyo Dome show delivers again as Kenny Omega and Hiroshi Tanahashi put on a classic
  • NJPW and All Elite Wrestling making moves into WWE strongholds in 2019
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 3:28pm

As testament to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s growing popularity, you could look at Friday’s “Wrestle Kingdom 13” gate of 38,162 – the largest January 4 show attendance in 16 years. Or that next year, for the first time, there will be back-to-back Tokyo Dome shows on consecutive nights.

Or, like me, you could have tried to log in to your account on the “New Japan World” online subscription service only to see the servers had crashed for the first 90 minutes of Friday’s extravaganza because of the amount of new users trying to sign up.

NJPW’s largest annual show, Wrestle Kingdom has become something of a mecca for pro wrestling fans outside Japan, with thousands of foreigners now helping to pack out the arena and thousands more watching at home (when they could finally log in).

The company gave a gracious apology, as is the way in Japan, though any grievances will have been forgiven after the sheer brilliance that was served up once again.

Hiroshi Tanahashi turned back the clock to win his eighth IWGP heavyweight title in his 10th Tokyo Dome main event at the ripe old age of 42, beating Kenny Omega in an instant classic.

The co-main event saw WWE legend Chris Jericho continue his latest career reinvention with another spectacular bout against Tetsuya Naito, who claimed the IWGP intercontinental title in a “no disqualification” match.

Elsewhere, Britain’s Zack Sabre Jnr and Will Ospreay picked up wins in spectacular matches with Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi, respectively.

New Zealand’s Jay White got the biggest win of his career when he was put over clean by former IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, who had headlined five of the last six shows.

But it was a couple of announcements at the Tokyo Dome that were perhaps the most intriguing takeaway.

NJPW will return in April for their biggest ever show on American soil, the “G1 Supercard”, at Madison Square Garden, on the same weekend WWE will run “WrestleMania 35” out of New Jersey.

Such is the momentum of NJPW, WWE even moved its planned “NXT Takeover: New York” show at the Barclays Centre to the following day, perhaps fearing a clash could impact ticket sales.

Either way, New Japan are showing they are not afraid to go head-to-head with WWE, and are aggressively taking their brand overseas in 2019 with the first night of the annual “G1 Climax” at the 20,000-capacity American Airlines Centre in Dallas, Texas in July.

They will then enter another WWE stronghold, the United Kingdom, with a show at the Copper Box in London on August 31.

While WWE has been stagnating – many have been turned off by poor writing, nonsensical and illogical booking of matches and characters, and an unwillingness to give the fans what they want –

New Japan is the complete antithesis, and know that now is the time to strike.

On this day 20 years ago, 600,000 viewers in the US switched over from a broadcast of World Championship Wrestling’s “Nitro” to the-then World Wrestling Federation’s rival Monday night show, “Raw”, to watch Mick Foley win the WWF title, as the battle for supremacy continued to be waged.

Just under two years later, WCW went out of business when new owners AOL Time Warner refused to allow it to continue airing on its networks. WWF chairman Vince McMahon bought it, and in one fell swoop ended the “Monday Night Wars” to usher in nearly two decades of dominance, with its only real competitor vanquished.

But the pro wrestling landscape has dramatically changed in the last few years, in large part because of New Japan, with its new superstars like Omega, Naito and Okada attracting scores of new fans.

Jericho’s incredible match with Omega at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 was a significant moment, too – a bona fide WWE legend working somewhere outside WWE was unheard of.

The move signalled that WWE isn’t the only game in town. But it’s not just New Japan that is biting at WWE’s heels in their traditional markets, however.

Wrestle Kingdom 13 saw several “goodbyes” from some of NJPW’s top American stars, with Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks – Matt and Nick Jackson – likely stepping back after announcing their newly formed promotion, “All Elite Wrestling”.

The venture is being bankrolled by wrestling fanatic Tony Khan, the son of billionaire Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham Football Club owner Shad Khan.

Tony Khan is the co-owner of the NFL’s Jaguars, and has been named president of AEW, with Rhodes and the Young Bucks executive vice-presidents.

Reports claim that the contract offers being made to wrestlers are comparable to WWE, which would be a true game changer in terms of attracting the best talent.

Any stars frustrated with their lack of a push in WWE need just look at Rhodes – the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes – who left WWE in 2015 out of frustration at his lack of opportunities. He saw himself as a main event star, and went and proved it out on the independent circuit by becoming one of the hottest names in the industry, and is now leading a revolution.

Rhodes and the Young Bucks paved the way for AEW with last September’s groundbreaking “All In” event at the Sears Centre in Chicago. It was the first non-WWE or WCW event in the US to sell 10,000 tickets since 1993.

WWE will not exactly be quaking in their boots – in October they begin a new five-year, US$1 billion deal to broadcast “SmackDown Live” on Fox.

But WWE live attendances and ratings are down, with John Cena now off making films in Hollywood and no one to replace his star power.

The time is ripe for some new competition, and AEW and NJPW could be the ones to provide it, which in the long run can only help the business by giving talent options.

For so long, wrestling fans have had to put up with WWE’s declining standards, because the company has had no competition.

Wrestle Kingdom 13 proved those days may be numbered.