It was only a matter of time before their influence started to creep into the United States. Tonight, New Japan Pro Wrestling descends on the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, CA to perform in front of an American audience for the second time in a year. They first came last summer, as they brought their ‘G1 Special’ to Long Beach and crowned their first ever United States Heavyweight Champion. The event was much more than just a showcase of NJPW talent though. It also served as the introduction of the potential second most powerful wrestling promotion in the world to a wider audience. A coming out party that showed they would no longer be ignored.
If you’ve watched or attended any WWE Live events lately, chances are you’ve already seen one of the biggest New Japan influences among the crowd. Floating among the sea of WWE merch lies T-Shirts from the most popular faction since the NWO. A New Japan original, Bullet Club shirt sales are among the highest in the entire industry. The faction itself is still the hottest act in New Japan, and its individual members are being showcased in several of the matches on the card for tonight’s ‘Strong Style Evolved’ event. More so than that, New Japan also houses some of the most incredible wrestling talent on the planet, and most of them are just now entering their primes.
Anchored by their Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, New Japan is the destination for great matches. Okada is currently enjoying a 640+ day reign as champ, their tag team division is as hot as ever, and the undercard continues to flourish. Perhaps the most interesting piece to the New Japan puzzle is the rate at which they put on absolutely stellar matches. Okada Vs Omega, was easily the biggest feud in New Japan over the last year, with each man firmly establishing a claim as the best in the business. Not too far behind them is another home-grown NJPW talent Tetsuya Naito, who perhaps had an equally stellar 2017. There’s also the Young Bucks who are easily the most exciting tag team in the business today. A Hirooki Goto, who is essentially a Japanese Arn Anderson, and a guy who is putting together a string of solid matches in Juice Robinson.
Robinson is a talent that came from the WWE developmental system, and was eventually released. In NXT he was known as CJ Parker, a modern-day hippie with a penchant for losing. Despite the fact that he was heavily featured on NXT programming, he never seemed to go any further than an enhancement talent. After his release, Robinson returned to the indies before finally landing in New Japan, finally getting a chance to prove exactly what he’s made of. That’s exactly what he’s done. He had an impressive showing in the company’s G1 Tournament, has racked up several wins as part of a tag team, and went toe-to-toe with a man considered to be New Japan’s greatest talent ever in Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tonight, Robinson is part of an undercard tag match, but with continued improvement with his in-ring work, it’s only a matter of time before he reaches the main event.
The Strong Style Evolved event will also feature another former WWE talent that has made one hell of a name for himself after departing the company. That man is none other than Cody Rhodes. In the two years since he’s left WWE, he has worked with a who’s who of established indy talent, signed the most lucrative contract in Ring Of Honor history, and is currently organizing what could be the largest indy show ever. All this in the name of love for the industry in which his father literally bled for many years ago.
Despite all of this, New Japan still has a mighty mountain to move to truly challenge the WWE. The pieces are definitely in place for New Japan to make some noise though, and I expect tonight to serve as a powerful reminder of that. New Japan has been waiting in the wings for their chance to shine, and tonight may very well be the time. Check out New Japan Pro Wrestling ‘Strong Style Evolved’ tonight starting at 8PM on AXS TV.