Issue #20: Three Count Fall - Single Topic Edition
This is a truncated issue, with the next issue likely getting back to a more normal format and schedule. Thank you for your patience and understanding over the past month or so!
New Japan’s 2022 Business Presentation Reveals Return of Crowd Cheering, More
New Japan Pro-Wrestling held a presentation on Thursday to discuss 2022 business metrics, upcoming plans, and an outlook for the company’s health and direction moving forward.
From a financial standpoint, there were no significant surprises—in-arena revenue continues to be down from pre-pandemic levels, but has stabilized and shows signs of slowly increasing as arena capacity expands and fan interest begins to return.
The biggest question—when will cheering finally return—was partially answered, as NJPW announced a pair of post-G1 Climax events at Korakuen Hall for September 5th and 6th. These shows will be held at half-capacity, with special sections for fans who are comfortable with cheering. This is a similar setup to what CyberFight announced for upcoming TJPW, DDT, and Ganbare Pro shows at Ota Ward Gymnasium, beginning with TJPW’s major event at that building on July 9th.
By omission, this seemingly confirms what was already suspected—that the G1 Climax 32, which runs from July 16th to August 18th, will be held under clap-only crowd rules. While we have seen crowds more vocally respond to close nearfalls at major events, it is disappointing that this year’s G1 shows will not see the full cheering atmosphere of the tournament’s recent glory days.
For my money, the most interesting aspect of the presentation was the open admission by New Japan and BUSHIROAD leadership that they need to adapt with the times on multiple fronts.
The first is in terms of wrestler age—specifically, the need to debut wrestlers at a younger age and for them to make an impact at an earlier age than we see currently. Chairman Takaaki Kidani spoke about watching the ability and success of STARDOM standouts like Starlight Kid and AZM at such an early age. Curiously, he used their success (both debuted in their early teens) as an example of why NJPW should start taking on high-school age boys as trainees. This is curious, because STARDOM itself largely cut back on this practice after being purchased by BUSHIROAD—teenagers like Hanan, Rina, and Hina were “grandfathered” in, but since then recent rookies like Miyu Amasaki have been 18 years or older.
Kidani went on to say that Young Lions need to be put in more high-profile situations, main eventing smaller events and taking on characters earlier on in their careers. The latter is not surprising, as Kidani—for better or worse—has long been one of the proponents for more over the top characters like the Great O-Khan and Master Wato.
President Takami Ohbari similarly stressed the need to appeal to younger fans by having younger talent featured in New Japan, noting how much the roster has aged into their late 30s/early 40s without much of an infusion of high-end talent in their 20s. This is, in some ways, the same point I’ve been making over the course of the past year here and on the Adam and Mike Big Audio Nightmare podcast—there are no new stories being told right now. There is no new hero for fans to get behind—it is only the stars of the past decade+ (Tanahashi/Okada/Naito/etc) trying to once again achieve things (championships, tournament victories, etc.) that they have already accomplished.
As storied and productive as New Japan’s Young Lion system has been across the company’s 50-year history, there is a strong argument that changes at the margins of this system need to be made. The accepted age of entry can be moved up, the amount of time spent as a Young Lion should be compressed to a point where wrestlers aren’t spending their prime physical years as opening card acts, and younger stars can be made. From Ohbari’s comments on Thursday, it appears as New Japan may be moving toward some changes moving toward such a direction.
The other very interesting point that Ohbari stressed is that New Japan now recognizes the standards and norms of promoting overseas, and that includes having women’s matches as a regular part of New Japan Pro Wrestling of America events going forward. He indicated that STARDOM talent will be the primary source of women’s matches on NJPW of America shows—given how busy STARDOM’s domestic schedule is, one could easily imagine a scenario where Rocky Romero uses his AEW and Impact Wrestling contacts to book women from either of those promotion’s on NJPW’s U.S. shows as well.
While we are not on the verge of anything as dramatic as NJPW and STARDOM merging, or even a New Japan women’s division, I would surprised if we don’t see increasing instances of special STARDOM matches on major domestic New Japan events when schedules allow.
Other noteworthy announcements included the confirmation of a NJPW show in the UK in October, and the confirmation of several mixed tag team matches being on the format for the NJPWxSTARDOM supershow in Ariake Arena on November 20th.