Whenever disenchanted wrestling fans ask me for an alternative to WWE’s product, I always recommend checking out Japanese wrestling – especially New Japan Pro Wrestling.
New Japan Pro Wrestling was founded in 1972 by Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki and is currently owned by Bushiroad. NJPW is currently the largest wrestling promotion in Japan and Asia and second largest in the world in terms of revenue and attendance.
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However, owing to the language barrier and a few other factors, New Japan has only just started making waves in the rest of the world, although hardcore fans have been raving about the promotion for years.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 10 things you need to know about New Japan Pro Wrestling.
10: No women
One thing you may be surprised to know is that New Japan Pro Wrestling has no women’s division. This is because Japanese wrestling traditionally has separate promotions for men and women. While New Japan may not have a Women's Division, there are plenty of women only promotions out there like Stardom and Sendai Girls.
However, two mainstays in Japanese women’s wrestling – AJW and GAEA Japan – closed down their doors in the mid 2000’s even though they were producing some of the best women’s matches in pro wrestling at the time. So it looks like women-exclusive promotions aren’t a profitable business model. In this aspect NJPW could look at what WWE has done in the last couple of years and have their own women’s revolution.
9: Strong Style
Pro wrestling in Japan is a completely different ballgame. Over there, pro wrestling is treated more like a legit sport than a form of entertainment. Many wrestlers incorporate mixed martial-arts, judo and jiu jitsu into their move-sets which brings forward a more hard-hitting style comprising of stiff strikes and kicks.
This style has become popularly known as Strong Style and is a signature of Japanese wrestling. Many wrestlers in Japan has a finishing move that’s a strike along with the normal grapple finishers we’re used to in the WWE. It’s not that Japanese wrestlers are better than WWE’s Superstars, they just hit each other much harder.
8: No weekly schedule
WWE Superstars have a brutal schedule where most of them have to work 5 days a week – that includes both television taping and house shows.
The culture in New Japan Pro Wrestling and Japanese wrestling as a whole is different. In Japan, shows take place in bi-weekly clusters in the form of tours which are followed by a couple of weeks off to recuperate. These tours usually lead to PPV’s.
7: The fans
New Japan Pro Wrestling fans fall straight into the Japanese fan culture. For fans of WWE, the fans over at NJPW will come as a complete shock.
In WWE, crowds are judged for how loud and vociferous they are. In Japan, the fans sit silently during the opening stages of matches as a sign of respect to the wrestlers in the ring. The fans slowly build up to a massive roar as the match builds up to the final stages.
Mainstream wrestling fans who are uninitiated to Japanese fan culture may think that a certain match is boring just because the crowd is silent, while in reality the fans are probably just enthralled at the action in front of them.
6: Long matches
Unlike every other episode of Raw or SmackDown, you’ll rarely see a 2-minute squash in New japan Pro Wrestling. Instead of the card being centered around a 20-minuted main event which is surrounded by shorter matches, the NJPW card usually consists of long matches up and down the card.
Also, matches in New Japan rarely end in a count out or disqualification unlike in the WWE where we see these inconclusive finishes every week. More on count outs to follow….
5: Matches have a 20 count instead of the 10 count favoured in the west
Speaking of count outs, a wrestler in New Japan won’t have to get back into the ring within a 10 count unlike in American wrestling. New Japan follows the 20-count system instead of the 10-count system that we’re all used to.
However, one thing that has to be noted is that the 20-count used in Japan lasts about the same time as the 10-count because the count is much faster than in the WWE and the west.
4: Wrestlers change weight class
In WWE, most wrestlers remain in the same weight class for their entire careers despite the level of skill they show. Although this culture is slowly changing with smaller wrestlers getting pushed to the top and famous exceptions such as Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho who have ascended to the top of the business.
Young wrestlers in Japan start off as part of the Junior Heavyweight division where they can garner a reaction from the crowd with more high-flying moves before graduating to the heavyweight division later. New Japan also has championships especially for Junior Heavyweights including the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag-Team Championships.
3: Partnership with Ring Of Honor and CMLL
Unlike WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling have no qualms about partnerships with other wrestling promotions. New Japan used to have a talent sharing deal with TNA some years ago but that was scrapped after TNA’s terrible treatment of Kazuchika Okada who has since gone on to become one of the top stars in Japan.
NJPW now has working partnerships with Ring Of Honor and Mexico’s CMLL which include talent sharing and joint PPV’s.
2: Championships have prestige
New Japan Pro Wrestling treats their titles with respect. You won’t see a jobber winning non-title matches over the incumbent champion (ala Ellsworth and Styles) unlike in the WWE.
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship are considered two of the most prestigious championships in pro wrestling with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship even shading the WWE World Championship in the eyes of some.
Apart from the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship’s having a rich history, wrestlers in Japan are judged based on the length of their title runs instead of the number of titles they win. Basically, a Japanese fan would laugh at Roman Reigns being a 3-time WWE world champion.
1: Wins and losses matter
One of the biggest criticisms that the WWE has faced from fans and critics alike over the last few years is the problem of 50-50 booking. It’s clear that wins and losses don’t matter in the WWE anymore and whoever Vince thinks deserves a title shot at that moment, gets the rub.
In New Japan, a potential star like Bray Wyatt wouldn’t eat pinfalls on a weekly basis and would be protected and nurtured to be a future star. Win/loss records are extremely important in New Japan and are used to determine the #1 contenders as well as the use of tournaments to determine #1 contenders. Prestigious tournaments like the Best Of Super Juniors and the G1 CLIMAX are used to determine who challenges for the top belts.
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