Why Fans Are Getting Into New Japan Pro Wrestling And What They’re Doing Better Than WWE

At this point, NJPW isn’t just an alternative, but the first choice for many.

For many years now, WWE has been suffering from a severe lack of quality. If there’s one thing WWE excels at, it’s pissing their fans off with certain booking decisions, i.e. Royal Rumble 2015. More often than not, fans are left incredibly dissatisfied after shows.

A huge reason why WWE continues to produce such dross is simply that there seemingly isn’t any competition. WWE literally bought off their competition on the turn of the millennium. During the 90s, WWE was engaged in the Monday Night Wars against WCW. For years, WCW blew WWE’s product out of the water, that is until WWE decided to add more of an edge to their product, embarking on the Attitude Era. From that point, WWE consistently beat WCW when it came to TV ratings, and soon after that, WCW folded and was eventually purchased by Vince McMahon in 2001.


Ever since that point, WWE has gone almost unopposed. TNA, now known as Impact Wrestling, had a great run in the mid to late 2000s, however, they never came close to causing WWE any problems. This lack of competition has made WWE complacent because they know that no matter how bad of a product they put on, people will still tune in every week.

In recent years, however, a new alternative has surfaced, and for many hardcore fans, that alternative is an undisputed first choice. That alternative? New Japan Pro Wrestling. NJPW was formed in 1972 by legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. NJPW was popular amongst hardcore fans in the 80s and 90s. In fact, legendary WWE wrestlers Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and WCW legend Sting made appearances for NJPW.

However, in the 2000s, NJPW had a down period. Inoki had completely lost touch with modern pro wrestling and wanted to take it towards a different direction. He hired a slew of MMA talents and wanted a more shoot-style based product. The term “shoot” refers to the real application of techniques, as opposed to a “work”, where moves are of an unrealistic nature. Now, having elements of shoot style is fine, however, Inoki’s vision was for the company to go 100% shoot, which is pretty much borderline MMA.

Needless to say, NJPW suffered as a result. Inoki soon stepped down, and the company was taken over by Bushiroad. They’ve only gone from strength to strength since that point. Today, NJPW are incredibly popular and are on the verge of a global expansion. Their product is also of a high quality, and if we’re being honest, WWE’s product doesn’t even come close. Today, I’ll be discussing on what NJPW does better than WWE and why it’s the undisputed first choice for many.

Characters are more nuanced and not one dimensional.

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Traditionally, wrestling is restricted to two main roles, heels and faces. Heels are defined as villainous characters. Faces are defined as heroic, protagonistic characters. Characters are very black and white. Heel characters are strictly restricted to dirty deeds and face characters are restricted to being squeaky clean, goody two shoes characters.

However, in real life, no one is 100% good or a 100% evil. We all have a degree of good and bad to us. Humans aren’t binary, humans aren’t black and white. Humans are complicated and nuanced. NJPW plays up to this, and as a result, NJPW does away with the traditional face-heel alignment.

Characters that are seemingly presented as protagonists do have antagonistic traits and seemingly villainous characters have redeeming qualities that humanise them. Each wrestler has their own different motivations that drive them. And it’s up to fans to decide who to cheer for or who to boo.

For example, the Ace of the company, Hiroshi Tanahashi is presented as a superhero-like protagonist. Despite that, Tanahashi is very prideful and has an arrogance about him. He sometimes belittles his lesser opponents. In WWE, someone like John Cena is a protagonist in every sense of the word, without a dash of villainous characteristics. Realistically, no one, as noble as they may be, is perfectly squeaky clean.

Another example of this is Tetsuya Naito. Naito is an anti-establishment rebellious character. He possesses heel traits, disrespecting his opponents by slapping and spitting at them. Whenever he’s champion, he disrespects the belt by throwing it around, stepping on it and dragging it to the ring like a slab of meat. However, his inner motivations are protagonistic. He wants to change for NJPW and he wants to change for the better. He also has a very unique relationship with the younger fans.

Having more nuanced characters does improve the quality of the product and is a breath of fresh air compared to the traditional face vs heel concept. It makes for more interesting interactions and it opens a world of avenues for the writers to explore. It also offers characters more freedom, as they’re not handcuffed to rigid roles.

Wins and losses DO matter.

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How many times have we seen a WWE match end with the loser eventually gaining more than the winner? *Cough cough* Roman Reigns. Plenty of times have we seen matches involving big names resulting in them losing, only for them to get a title opportunity almost immediately. So often do we see winners of matches eventually having zero direction, basically floundering around in obscurity. In the land of WWE, wins have as much meaning as a popularity award in the Oscars.

Just to paint a picture, in 2017, Dean Ambrose, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Seth Rollins led the way in terms of the number of victories, yet none of them held any of the main titles that year. Jinder Mahal had the most amount of losses in 2017, yet he was WWE Champion for a huge majority of the year.

In NJPW, wins and losses DO matter. NJPW runs a number of tournaments throughout the year, the most popular of which, the G1 Climax. The G1 Climax is held each August and is held as a round-robin, with winners from the two blocks wrestling in the final to decide that year’s winner. In its current format, the tournament lasts four weeks. The winner of each block is determined by a points system; two points for a victory, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The winner of the tournament goes on to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at NJPW’s biggest annual show, Wrestle Kingdom.  Each match in the G1 has a 30-minute time limit. Some matches end in a time limit draw. The G1 final, however, has no time limit.

There’s also the Best Of Super Juniors, which operates in the same manner as the G1, but it’s a tournament for junior heavyweights. The winner challenges for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at NJPW’s second biggest annual show, Dominion. Another tournament is the World Tag League, which also works the same way as the G1, but is for tag-teams. The winners challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom.

There’s also the New Japan Cup, which is an annual single-elimination tournament. The winner is given the right to choose whether to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, or the NEVER Openweight Championship.

The existence of these tournaments makes matches more interesting as there’s plenty at stake in each match. Matches aren’t pointless and don’t simply occur for the sake of it. As a result, fans are more engaged with the product.

The faction system.

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New Japan has a very large roster of wrestlers, and the sizeable amount of tag matches on a typical NJPW show is proof of that. The majority of these belong to a faction, and these tag matches follow strictly along faction lines. Factions are crucial in the organisation of NJPW’s roster and schedule. Not all wrestlers can be in their desired title scene all the time. Rather than having them twiddling their thumbs, New Japan has their competitors band together to fight for group supremacy. It allows them to add depth to their characters, forming not only a solo but also a group identity.

NJPW factions are bigger in size than in WWE and their allegiances are much tighter. The primacy of tag matches over singles matches as the bulk of New Japan cards solidify these faction bonds and make the matches more than just filler; they hype upcoming matches as well. Some of these groups have been more successful than others, either dominating the wrestling world or struggling to maintain relevance.

The most famous of these factions is Bullet Club, consisting of mostly foreigners. There’s currently a civil war happening within Bullet Club, separating the faction into Bullet Club Elite and Bullet Club OGs. Besides that, there’s my personal favourite faction, Los Ingobernables de Japon (The Ungovernables of Japan). There’s also CHAOS, Suzuki-Gun and Taguchi Japan. There are a rare few wrestlers who don’t belong in any factions, but they usually team up with other factionless wrestlers.

The best thing about New Japan’s faction system is simply that it is realistic. No one goes through life in isolation and yet WWE expects us to believe that unless one of their superstars is in a tag team or stable with its own name and t-shirt, they go backstage after they wrestle and get into a cupboard and speak to nobody.

Wrestlers have more creative freedom.

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One massive criticism towards WWE is that their product is heavily scripted to the t and very overchoreographed. As a result, wrestlers come off sounding unnatural, robotic and monotonous. Even movie actors are offered room for spontaneity, as this makes things more natural and adds realism. The heavily scripted nature also makes for some absolutely abysmal acting. Many talented wrestlers have become victims to this methodology, as a result, coming off as boring.

In NJPW, wrestlers are unscripted when they speak and they are afforded creative control over their characters. The unscripted nature makes for wrestlers sounding more natural and real and this does wonders for the product. This helps highlights wrestlers who are entertaining on the microphone. This also helps out wrestlers who aren’t as good on the microphone hide their weaknesses, as they don’t have to say much.

Going unscripted helps wrestlers illicit more emotion with their delivery. On top of that, NJPW isn’t very PG, allowing their wrestlers to swear. It can’t be stated enough how much more entertaining a product is with some level of profanity in it.

Having creative freedom over their characters is also a massive plus to wrestlers. Often times in WWE, wrestlers are handed undesirable gimmicks and are forced to run with it. Having creative freedom helps these wrestlers find themselves. To work for such a big company and have that much freedom, it’s unheard of. It simply brings out the best in these wrestlers, and they have a lot of fun while doing it. Chris Jericho is a prime example of this. Just compare his WWE character and his NJPW character. There’s a world of difference there.

The wrestling is much, much better.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We’re living in the golden age of wrestling. However, you wouldn’t know that if WWE is the only wrestling you watch. NJPW allows their wrestlers to have great matches without holding them back. There aren’t moves that are banned. Simply put, wrestlers are allowed to wrestle. NJPW’s less rigid schedule allows for this.

For those of you who don’t know, Dave Meltzer is an impressively hench, unseasonably-tanned 59-year-old wizard who inhales wrestling content and exhales perfectly-objective match ratings. He is the standard bearer for wrestling fandom worldwide and his word is gospel. The ‘Meltzer 5 Star Match’ is the perennial white whale for many wrestlers in the industry, and to fans, it gives an immediate starting point for anyone who wants to poke their nose out into the world beyond WWE.

I say ‘beyond WWE’ because according to Meltzer, WWE has only pulled off the wrestling masterpiece eight times since their inception. NJPW have pulled off such a feat eight times this year. NJPW has gone on to produce matches that have broken the 5-star scale, first with the 6-star classic between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega, followed by a 6.25-star classic between the same duo. The mad lads then went on to churn out a 7-star classic earlier this year.

Even on a scale more representative of the general consensus, the Cagematch ratings, akin to IMDB, where users submit their own ratings, NJPW matches simply blow WWE matches out of the water.

Be it the authentic ‘strong style’ that New Japan is known for, their straightforward yet engaging storytelling, or simply the technical, athletic, and creative superiority of their talent both in the ring and behind the scenes, many critics are in agreement that New Japan’s brand of wrestlin’ is the best the world has to offer. If you have the time, watch some of the barn burners at this year’s G1 or Wrestle Kingdom and let yourself bask in the almighty glory of Puroresu.

Final thoughts

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In 2018, there’s an overabundace of wrestling content out there. We’re spoilt for choice. If one company doesn’t do it for us, there are always other companies out there that are willing to go above and beyond to appease their fans.

So, instead of complaining about WWE’s erratic product every week, knowing that it’ll never change, give other companies a chance because you never know, it might be what you’ve always been looking for. You never know if you never give it a chance right?

NJPW is a prime example of this and their increase in popularity is a testament to how superior their product is. NJPW will continue to get better and continue to grow from strength to strength. Whether it will become a legitimate threat to the WWE machine, remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though, every show leaves fans satisfied with the product. NJPW adopts a simple strategy that WWE refuses to follow; listen to the fans. Who would’ve thought that such a strategy would be highly effective!