On the surface, New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 9 pay-per-view on Sunday was a major home run. The card was jam packed with high quality matches. In particular, the double main event delivered in spades. The crazily charismatic Shinsuke Nakamura came off as arguably the hottest superstar in the whole world of wrestling during a brutal battle for respect with the stunning Kota Ibushi in what was clearly the match of the night. Few wrestlers could ever follow such an artistic pinnacle, but Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada managed to do so by adding a worthy chapter to their increasingly legendary feud.
Moreover, the whole presentation came awfully close to matching the spectacle of a WrestleMania, which should have impressed any American fans watching New Japan for the first time on pay-per-view. By all accounts, Jim Ross and Matt Striker did a tremendous job calling the action and putting over the competitors considering this was the first time that they had announced the product.
It was also a business success from a live gate standpoint, as the paid attendance of 36,000 fans was the largest for a New Japan Dome show in over a decade. So what is there to worry about?
Well, the number of tickets sold only being 1,000 higher than Wrestle Kingdom 8 has to be a bitter disappointment, given Dave Meltzer's report that this year's advance was 50% ahead of the same period last year in mid December. It's a sign that the company's recent popularity spurt is plateauing off and that they've reached a peak which will be hard to surpass without greater network television exposure in Japan.
That might be a slight problem, as New Japan has followed WWE's currently failing business strategy of undercutting themselves on Internet pay-per-view with their own cheaper, 999 yen per month subscription channel, New Japan World. Like WWE, New Japan are banking that the revenue lost from providing their biggest show of the year at less than a third of the usual price will be recouped by much greater subscriptions on months without such an extravaganza. Hopefully that works out better for them than it has done WWE so far.
It will also be tricky to hit their target of 10,000 buys on American pay-per-view too, due to many fans watching on New Japan World instead and the event falling on the same night as UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier, causing many cable companies not to air the show live, replaying the UFC PPV in the time slot instead.
In terms of booking, New Japan also runs the long term risk of sticking with a pat hand at the top of the card for too long. They've done a great job in a short span of time in turning Kazuchika Okada into a headliner who could feasibly carry the company long into the next decade, but there's no-one else new on the horizon looking to join him.
In the shorter term, Wrestle Kingdom 9 did little to hint at the direction of the promotion heading into the spring, other than AJ Styles's convincing defeat of Tetsuya Naito made him the favorite to be the next in line for a shot at Tanahashi's IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
However, answers to those questions were given on New Japan's version of the Raw after WrestleMania, a Korakuen Hall show the day after Wrestle Kingdom 9 called New Year Dash, results of which can be found on puroresulove.com. The key news stories from the show were:
1. Jushin Liger retained his NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Championship in the only title defense on the show by pinning Desperado with a brainbuster, despite having to overcome the repeated interference of Tiger Mask. Consequently, Liger chose his next title opponent to be Tiger Mask.
2. Kazuchika Okada's run of ill fortune continued as he was cleanly defeated by Bad Luck Fale in a tag team match after Fale hit his Bad Luck Fall finisher on Mr. Rainmaker. It looks like Okada is being siphoned off into a feud with Fale as he has to prove himself before getting another shot at Tanahashi's IWGP crown.
3. Yuji Nagata challenged Shinsuke Nakamura to an IWGP Intercontinental Championship match, which Nakamura immediately accepted.
4. Cody Hall (dressed up to look like his Dad during his Outsider days) was revealed as the Bullet Club's new young boy, but he must prove himself first before earning full membership to the band.
5. In the main event, The Bullet Club defeated Team Tanahashi when AJ Styles pinned Tanahashi with the Styles Clash, before Styles cut a promo about how Tanahashi had stole the IWGP title from him and he wanted it back.
That's your lot, Cagesiders! Are you excited or trepidatious about New Japan's future heading into the rest of the year?