Despite the fact that wrestling fits more in the theater genre than an actual sport, the majority of hardcore fans want promotions to treat it as such. After all, wrestling is supposed to suspense people's disbelief; fans want to believe what they are seeing is as authentic as possible, no different from a movie, TV show, or play.
Realism is an essential key of theater. No matter how zany a plot might be, people can still believe it if it fits the context. It only becomes hokey and/or unspontaneous when it leaves its confront zone. When something fits into the context, it comes off as plausible. Even as unrealistic as it is, a simple Irish Whip never minimizes the realism of a match. Some things are so ingrained in history that they just make sense. And as Jerry Jarrett once said, "if the fans believe A and B can happen, they will believe C can happen, too."
When kayfabe was still breathing, the worst type of match wrestlers could have had was an overly choreographed one - because they exposed the business as being fake. Back then, wrestling fans were much like adolescents who believe in Santa: it is not that they do believe; it is that they want to believe. And promoters hated anytime someone exposed the business and made one of their secrets evident.
Faux looking wrestling can still be very counterproductive. Besides, a match with an unconnected series of spots will never have the ability to cause the fans to become emotionally invested. Spot-fests lack a story, which causes fans to be unable to sink their teeth into the match. Furthermore, the illusion of wrestling perishes when wrestlers are blatantly working together (opposed to making it seem like they are trying to beat each other).
Wrestling psychology will never lose its importance. Psychology is the secret ingredient that causes everything to work. It makes the match dramatic and authentic, makes the characters more relatable and makes the story believable. And since we have established that fake looking matches are the worst, then that, obviously, means ultra-realistic have to be the best. And past or present, no country has better ultra-realistic matches than Japan does.
Japan's most common style is strong-style. The style is an authentic and convincing style of wrestling, which consists of both mix-martial art moves and shoot-holds with both ultra-stiff and dangerous moves. It relies on quick transitions between the wrestlers and displays a lot of back-and-forth sequences, counters-of-counters, strike exchanges and fighting spirit. There is no central story building to the crescendo. Instead, the moves, pacing and intensity just keep amplifying to the climax.
In the 1990s, though, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) invented a more sophisticated style called King's Road. The style possessed most of the features Strong-Style did, but what made it unique was its layered storytelling and its attention to detail. Its best trait was its long-developing storytelling, which would go on for years. Wrestlers, for example, would lose a match because they did something wrong and they would remember what they did wrong in the rematch. Or, a wrestler would do something that worked in the first match and so would apply the same method.
AJPW's wrestler were not only building the match's storytelling. They were also building their character's story. It was all about wrestlers using different strategies and game plans, which varied based on whom they wrestled. The company's matches were a chess-match throughout the contest, and then it became a battle of perseverance towards the end. By virtue of mastering this intricate style - wrestlers, such as Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue - solidified themselves as the greatest in-ring workers ever.
The only true imperfection of AJPW was its language barrier. It was overwhelmingly challenging to follow the product without understanding Japanese. After all, announcers are an integral piece to any match. They add interesting facts that help sell the story, tell the audience important things about the characters' history, and enhance the drama. They also explain the psychology by pointing out the purposes behind why something is happening; explain the wrestler's game plans and the story in the match. Wrestlers design a portrait and then the announcers paint it. And without announcers explaining those things, matches start to blend together.
To put it in perspective: let us use Wrestlemania 30 as an example. Shorn of being mindful of the stories, the PPV would have not been very good. But, with the entire context, it is one of the greatest ones of all time.
After a long journey of pain and agony, Daniel Bryan finally overcame the tyrannical authority, who was resilient on keeping him down, and Brock Lesnar did something no one thought he would do: he broke Undertaker's seemingly immortal streak. Thus, WWE paid off Bryan's 6-month quest and Lesnar ended a streak that was building for 22 years. Without knowing that information, neither of those matches seemed important when they truly were.
Although New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is currently making steps to improve the language barrier problem, they have not entirely fixed the issue yet. And it is unfortunate, too, because NJPW is the closest product to AJPW, and there is a market for it beyond Japan. After all, a handful of hardcore American wrestling fans are seeking an alternative, due to their displeasure of the American promotion. For most of them, NJPW is the alternative they are searching for, yet the language barrier disallows them recognize that.
Everything that occurs in NJPW has one purpose: to seem real. The best comparison to describe how NJPW's stories work would be Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe's buildup for their Lockdown 2008 match. It is a no-nonsense, ultra-serious contest between two great wrestlers, who are training hard, both mentally and physically, to win. In reality, it is not much different from the ways boxing or UFC publicizes its big matches.
Wrestle Kingdom 9 was proof that there is a market for the company in America. Both Matt Striker and Jim Ross teamed up to provide the first American commentary for the company. And regardless of being on 2am eastern time and ending at 6am, it reported that the show did 12,000-15,000 buyrates in America. That was without much promotion and a high asking cost of 34.99 to boot.
Jeff Jarrett's promotion, Global Force Wrestling (GFW) was the reason it all happened. They teamed up with NJPW and agreed to provide their own presentation. Their presentation, to be honest, was far from flawless. It did not have its own camera team or logo and it did not even provide subtitles for the video packages. But, just by having American commentary, it made the show so much better. It was not close to NJPW's best show ever, but many American fans have called it the best show they have seen in years. That is a testament to how valuable announcers can be.
Poor production values turn off many fans as they refuse to watch anything not close to WWE's values. Indy fans believe this is nonsense, although wrestling seems more important when it looks professional. The good news is NJPW's production values are just as good as WWE's - if not better. Besides, they do not do the shaky camera nonsense, do not make their wrestlers hit their biggest moves facing the main camera and do not shoot their wrestling as if it is a movie. Instead, they shoot it as if it was a sporting event and that helps with the product's realism.
Moreover, the company has some of the best wrestlers and matches on the planet. Tanashashi, for example, is establishing himself as one of the best wrestlers ever. He is the wrestler who paved the way for the company's new and improved era. Unlike WWE's figurehead, the promotion does not make him smile or tell corny jokes. They treat him as if he is the king of kings. He is highly revered and respected, as the fans just love him.
As a worker, he is one of the best. He can lay out match and read a crowd like no other. His timing and pacing are just unparalleled. He is always in the right position, and he knows what to do and why to do it. He can also adapt and narrate a unique story with any other wrestler. Truthfully, he is more multifaceted than Strong-Style; he is instead one of the very few who has come close in perfecting the King Road's style.
For every Batman, there is a Joker. Okada is the Tanashashi's joker, as he is his perfect foil. He is a wealthy, self-confident wrestler who runs his mouth but backs it up. His finishing move, the Rainmaker, is one of the best-built moves in wrestling. He is an awesome wrestler and one of the best ones in this era. He possesses all the characteristics Tanashashi has in the ring, although one could argue he is a better seller.
Then, there are wrestlers like AJ Styles - who were amazing in the States but often unable to display their full virtuosities because of their former company's idiocies. Styles has rejuvenated his career in spite of rehabilitating his ring style, to be more suited as a heel and take less of a physical beating. He was one of the best high-flyers, but he is proving now that he is a masterful technician as well. He has had some magnum opuses already, and many believe he was the best in-ring wrestler of 2014.
The company ultimately provides everyone with something or someone they can find to like, as everything is virtually stacked from head to toe.
Not only did the promotion provide American commentary for Wk9, they also now have an American based television show. The show is on AXS television for an hour and shows classical NJPW matches from the past. Both Josh Barnett and Mauro Ranallo do an excellent job announcing the product. They provide needed information, such as the wrestlers' motives, history, accomplishments, reasoning behind moves, strategies etc.
They also provide an abundance of enthusiasm and passion to the product. Their excitement level really sells the drama, and it is evident that their sentiments towards the product are not artificial. They have an uncanny passion for what they are watching. As good as Jim Ross and Matt Striker were, these two together are on a different level. And they would be a perfect fit for the full-time announcers if NJPW would provide alternative commentary.
Without a doubt, NJPW is the best wrestling company today. But is now time for everyone in America to see that. Scratch that, it is time for everyone in the world to see that. NJPW needs to not only providing alternative commentary but also tour the world. There is something for everyone in this company, and it is time for them and everyone else to realize that.