So let’s just get into it. I haven’t really posted here for two months, and that has been for a few reasons. For one, work has gotten very busy. For two, there’s been some personal stuff that I had to deal with that took priority. But for three, and I think this has been the most important part of the lack of writing here, WWE just hasn’t been that interesting.
The reason I say that’s the biggest factor is that I was still busy with work around Wrestlemania season. But I was so excited for the biggest show of the year that I rebranded this site, came up with new concepts for articles, and wrote something in the region of 15,000 words in roughly a week. I don’t have the exact figure to hand, I could sit and work it out, but around Wrestlemania this year I think I wrote more than I did in the entirety off 2015.
Because here’s the thing, when WWE is good, it forces it’s way into my life. No matter what else is going on, WWE becomes a priority. I will find the time to watch and write about it, even if that means surviving on less than 20 hours sleep in a week. Yes, I’ve done that.
But when Raw and SmackDown are bad or uninteresting, like the last few weeks… it really becomes difficult to care. I still follow it, I still watch NXT every week, but when you can go for an entire month without watching Raw or SmackDown and still feel like you missed nothing of note, then there’s something wrong.
And to be honest, it hasn’t changed. There’s still nothing about Raw or SmackDown that is enticing me back. So why am I here, writing this for the world two people to read?
Because life in wrestling outside WWE is so goddamn good right now.
Look, WWE is my home promotion. It will always be the company I’m most invested in, the company I know most about and the company I will be most likely to watch. But I can say with quite a lot of certainty that if it wasn’t for Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, I would not be spending my evening writing about wrestling again.
So let’s talk about them. I went to the Ring of Honor: Honor United show in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago now, and it was incredible. I’ve been to a good few shows now, from local promotions to WWE, and this was possibly the best of the lot.
I had never really seen Punishment Martinez before, but my first impression of him is that he is a star. He was definitely one of the guys I was left talking about afterwards. He has a presence, he has the look, his presentation was spot on, and I was impressed with him in the ring. He was the kind of guy that I just immediately bought into.
The Young Bucks are just stupidly over. The pop for their entrance was one of the loudest I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t dissipate at all during the match. And you know what, they were up against Nick Aldis and Mark Haskins, and Haskins in particular held his own. How he hasn’t become a bigger deal on the other side of the pond surprises me, maybe this was the kind of exposure he needed to get some eyes on him over there.
Silas Young defeated Joe Hendry. This was the biggest surprise of the night for me. I’d seen both guys in that same building before, but night one of Honor United was just something special. Hendry has been tweaking his character over the last couple of years on his way to becoming Prestigious, but we was well and truly Edinburgh’s Local Hero once again.
This wasn’t your traditional wrestling good guy vs bad guy reaction. This was a room full of people who knew how big this opportunity was for Hendry, willing one of their own to make the absolute most of his chance. This was a different level. This was real. I’m not sure I’ve ever bought into a match in person to the same level, and when it was all over, there was a legitimate and tangible disappointment that Hendry didn’t win. It was awesome.
It was a real treat to see Hiroshi Tanahashi in person. He wasn’t particularly in a featured spot being in a 6-man tag in the semi-main, but knowing what the man has done, it’s really cool to be able to say I’ve seen him in the flesh.
I’m a huge Hangman Page fan. Similarly to what I said about Martinez, he has everything. He has the look, the size, the agility, everything you’d want in a superstar. And crucially, he also has age on his side. He’s 26 years old. It’s crazy how good he seems to be so young. To me he looks like he can carry a company for a good decade, and he can still improve for a couple of years before that. Whether that’s in Ring of Honor, New Japan or WWE, he can be a superstar.
And he’s learning from someone who already is that in Cody. WWE fans always thought he had main event potential, but I’m not sure anybody could have predicted how good he could be. It’s the same story, he just screams superstar. Having Brandi by his side helps, don’t get me wrong. But he’s main eventing a New Japan show next month. He’s a guy that if he went back to WWE now – and I know he’s said he won’t go back – he would be a top guy.
And talking about New Japan, I have to talk about Dominion. It was a couple of days ago, I watched most of it live, it was a five hour show and it blew Wrestlemania away. How a show can be that long and not drag at any point is a testament to the booking, the quality on show and to the difference of treating it like a sporting event and not an entertainment spectacular.
So if you’ve never seen New Japan or watched a show, it’s the best wrestling product in the world. Hands. Down. The presentation is at a really high level, admittedly not WWE level, but their shows are ridiculous. The art form of wrestling is about storytelling, and New Japan have the best storytellers in the world.
In WWE, the match card is ordered, well, randomly. Really, there’s no logical explanation for why matches go where, other than that WWE knows that their crowds are conditioned to react better in certain spots. Think about it, why should a tag title match go on after a world title match? Why should one of the most prestigious belts in wrestling open the show?
In NJPW, matches become gradually more important throughout the night. For one, you’re left in no doubt as to who the main event is. For two, there is no down time in the card. In WWE, the match before the main event is the death spot, because usually it’s positioned between the two top matches, so it’s the bathroom break match that nobody can get invested in because they need the recuperation time. That doesn’t happen in New Japan, because no matter how invested you are in a match, there’s a bigger and better one coming until the show is over. It sounds so obvious, but it makes such a big difference.
Dominion was the perfect example of this. Let’s take the last five matches: The Young Bucks vs Los Ingobernables de Japon for the IWGP Tag Team Championship; Bullet Club (Cody, Hangman Page & Marty Scurll) vs Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Rey Mysterio and Hiroshi Tanahashi; Hiromu Takahashi vs Will Ospreay for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Chris Jericho vs Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada in a 2/3 falls, no time limit match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
In wrestling, regardless of style, era or culture, individuals are bigger stars than tag teams. That’s just pretty much how it’s always been forever. So the tag titles were in a spot where business starts picking up, and New Japan have the best tag team in the world in that spot. That is followed by a dream team, with the first ever New Japan appearance of Mysterio with two of the company’s biggest legends. They face off against Cody, who is one of the biggest names outside of WWE, Hangman who I’ve already gushed about, and Marty Scurll, who is also one of my favourites and an elite junior heavyweight.
Then we come on to the singles title matches. Ospreay has been on a mission to bring the Junior Heavyweight belt to the next level. As great and as legendary the belt is, there has always been a ceiling for the lighter wrestlers. It’s a graduation up to heavyweight, not a sideways move. But over the last couple of years, the division has been home to some of the best wrestlers in the world, putting on phenomenal matches. This was no different. Takahashi just oozes charisma, and Ospreay is top five in the world. This was a classic match.
And it was followed by an all out brawl. You couldn’t get a more different style of match, but it was still awesome. Chris Jericho in Japan is a different animal, so much edgier, so much more aggressive. In New Japan, he is unleashed. And the shocker was that Jericho beat Naito, and became the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion. For a guy who not that long ago said he would never wrestle for anyone other than Vince McMahon, for Y2J to be a title holder in Japan is nearly as cool as the match itself.
Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada. That pairing was already etched in history as one of the greatest trilogies ever, and then somehow they went and topped it all. They got to this point with a 1-1-1 record, with that last column being a 60-minute time limit draw. Okada broke every record possible, most title defences, most days in a single reign (720 days), most overall days as champion (1516 days). He headlined each of the last four Wrestle Kingdoms, has had more great title matches than anyone in a long time. His was the greatest title reign in the modern era.
And then there was Omega. The man who has come closest to beating Okada with the title on the line than anyone. The man who called Okada the best wrestler in the world, but not the best performer, and therefore not the best man to lead New Japan’s international expansion. The man that claimed he would simply outlast Okada. And the man that Okada wasn’t sure he was better than. Okada challenged Omega to this match, because the even record between the two bothered him so much. There’s a poetry in that, even without the drama in the match.
I may be rambling here. Let me bring this back to a bit of focus. Being at that Ring of Honor show, and watching Dominion, it reminded me what wrestling could be. It reminded me what was so great about the art form. It got me excited about wrestling at a time when WWE can’t do enough to turn me away from their product.
As I said earlier, WWE will always be my home promotion. I understand the sentiment that can be so prevalent on Twitter, with people asking when the likes of Omega or the Young Bucks will get to WWE. I was five years old when WWE bought ECW and WCW, and it is only now with NJPW that they have any real competition. For so long, WWE has been the be all and end all in wrestling. Things can be great outside, but WWE is where stars can make their name.
And we have seen many talents make that jump over the years. WWE’s roster now, throughout Raw, SmackDown and NXT, is a who’s who of former indie talent. But for the vast majority of them, they lose something when they join WWE. They lose a bit of that magic, that creativity, that thing that made them stand out in the first place.
With the exposure on world wrestling outside of WWE, there is now less reason than ever to go to WWE and risk losing that. There is more opportunity to make money than ever before. There is more opportunity to become a global star than in any other period.
And I think that is reflected in WWE’s own structure. The most exciting part of the company is the tertiary brands – NXT and the UK division. TakeOver continues to be the most consistent brand in terms of quality. The UK scene is the most interesting thing they have going, with so many new faces and so many people getting that exposure after working so hard for so long.
That’s the frustrating thing. The UK specials, TakeOver: Chicago II and Money In The Bank will probably be awesome. But having over five hours of TV every week to build to PPVs actually hurts the emotional investment in their shows, so the big events don’t mean as much as they do in New Japan.
So to wrap this up, yes, I will still watch WWE. But I’m also going to be watching more New Japan, Ring of Honor, Revolution Pro Wrestling and whatever else I can reasonably get my hands on. I’ve wanted to indulge in those other companies for a while, but I never had the time and means to all that easily. It’s part of the reason that when I rebranded, I kept things general in wrestling and not specifically WWE, I wanted to keep my options open.
Going forward, I think the weekly columns may be a bust, it’s just too much of a drag to force myself into it when things are as slow as they have been recently. I’ll be doing Spotlights for every PPV and TakeOver, and I want to get back into the fantasy booking more. But That Wrestling Fandom could be anything. There’s a lot of great wrestling in the world. Let’s revel in it.