In the past week, I have stopped watching the WWE main roster product.
Whilst still sticking by the ever-faithful NXT; Monday Night RAW and Smackdown Live have made me bitter towards wrestling as a whole so I have decided to step back from the biggest game in town and am choosing to focus my time on other products that I love and have done for some time. With AEW on the rise but not able to pump out regular content until October, I turn to the Japanese Juggernaut; New Japan Pro Wrestling. I have been watching New Japan for three years full time now and felt I could think up a few things WWE could learn from the promotion in the far east and how it might improve their product. The five points are in no particular order as I feel they’re all as important as each other.
1. Camera work
This is a more of a minor point but massively makes a difference when comparing the two products. It’s no secret that for, I’d say, 80% of WWE content, the camera work is only…ok. The insane level of cuts (apparently, we can’t see one wrestler punch someone a few times without 85 cuts to 12 different cameras) means that you almost receive motion sickness when you’re just trying to watch a match.
New Japan on the other hand, for the most part, maintains static camera shots that showcase the stiff shots, intricate holds and grandiose set pieces that allow the audience to clearly follow along with the action without feeling they need to vomit every 10 minutes. And then, when the camera does react to something in the ring, it feels huge. Remember that Ospreay/Ibushi shot? That looked like an anime? You rarely get stuff like that in WWE (the most notable exception recently was Drew McIntyre rising behind The Undertaker) but it’s quite a common occurrence in New Japan. It’s fantastic and something that Kevin Dunn and the rest of the production team need to, at least, take into consideration.
2. No scripted promos
I want it. You want it. Wrestlers want it. Getting rid of scripted promos is one of the ‘years-long’ gripes wrestling fans have had with the WWE as every one of their ‘superstars’ sound like carbon copies of one another. No-one feels natural with the exception of Samoa Joe who properly stands out. In his interview with Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley discussed how much he hated the creative process internally within WWE and that it was the major reason he left the company.
You then look at literally every other promotion in the world and wrestlers being wrestlers is one of the biggest selling points of the character. Looking to the G1 right now; both Jon Moxley and Zack Sabre Jr. are making waves with their promo work. Moxley has basically adopted a young lion named Shota Umino and is creating some of the best comedy seen in wrestling this year and Zack’s entire character is about how involved he is with the British political system and has blamed his poor performance in the G1 tournament down to the fact Boris Johnson (BORIS JOHNSON!!) is the new Prime Minister.
It may sound silly but letting performers speak their own minds helps push their characters as they know them better than anyone. Guys like Roman Reigns, Anderson and Gallows, Becky Lynch and countless others under the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise sound so, so much better unscripted.
3. Make titles matter
On the most recent WWE PPV, Extreme Rules, the Intercontinental Championship was contested between current champion Finn Balor and challenger Shinsuke Nakamura. The match was built upon a week worth of story and was added to the card a mere 5 hours before the show itself began. It also did not feature on the main show and was relegated to the pre-show. One of the longest-running and most prestigious championships in wrestling history was entirely forgotten about and, still, doesn’t have a story around it. The same can be said for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships, until recently the United States Championship, both main women’s titles, the Universal Championship for a long amount of time and many, many more.
In comparison, the current landscape of New Japan is built around a tournament where twenty competitors all face each other over a month and, whoever wins over this time, gets a shot at the current IWGP Heavyweight Championship who himself is also in the tournament. As a new viewer, it cements the title as the most important aspect of the program. Which is unbelievably integral and, somehow, so simple.
And as we just spoke about, tournaments are awesome. They introduce dream matches that, usually, wrestling fans think will never actually happen without long, drawn-out, intricate stories. However, NOPE. HERE YOU GO. Your two favourite wrestlers get to have a near 25-minute match AND it has stakes. Amazing.
WWE used to do these as well. King of the Ring has produced some of the best moments in that company’s history- most notably, the birth of ‘Austin 3:16’; the most successful piece of merchandise in company history. But, for whatever reason, the main roster just stopped doing them. NXT still continues the tradition with the ‘Dusty Rhodes Classic Tag Team Tournament’ that, again, receives high praise every single year and AEW will be kicking off their television with a tag team tournament as well.
I just don’t understand why WWE stopped utilising a tournament model but they would absolutely benefit from bringing it back.
5. Enforce true characters
I think it’s clear that, throughout this article, the main thing WWE can learn from New Japan is to embrace the individual. In New Japan; you know the differences between Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito just by listening to them talk. They all have different motives, different ideals, different characters. Right now, in WWE, Bray Wyatt is the wrestler everyone is most invested because he provides something different. He’s unique. He’s not just…a wrestler. Like Seth Rollins, Apollo Crews, Roman Reigns, Andrade, Cesaro, Chad Gable, Carmella, Sasha Banks, Natalya, Alexa Bliss etc. They’re all interchangeable apart from their visible look.
The most popular superstars in WWF/E history were all characters. It’s incredibly rare for a ‘good wrestler’ to go mainstream just on the basis of being talented in the ring. They need that extra charm and nuance that separates them from the rest. And that’s the biggest lesson WWE can learn from New Japan. Embrace individuality.
You can find me on Twitter @McIverTheMark. Thanks for reading.