AXS TV will be going into its live airing of New Japan’s Strong Style Evolved later this month with some momentum.
Andrew Simon, the AXS TV Fights CEO, told CageSide Seats this week that the network’s broadcast of NJPW WrestleKingdom 12 in January had a “tremendous increase” over the airing of last year’s WrestleKingdom 11. And the match between Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega was the highest rated New Japan offering in AXS history, Simon said.
“We are a private company and do not disclose viewership numbers,” Simon said. “That said, I will say Chris Jericho’s appearance against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12 provided a tremendous increase in audience for AXS TV versus Wrestle Kingdom 11.”
Last month, TV Asahi, New Japan’s broadcast partner in Japan, announced that subscriptions for NJPW World — the wrestling promotion’s digital streaming service — increased 40 percent leading into WrestleKingdom 12. That’s including an 80-percent increase in foreign membership, 60 percent in the U.S.
Strong Style Evolved will be NJPW’s second trip to the U.S. in as many years. It will take place March 25 at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach and feature a main event between the Golden Lovers (Omega and Kota Ibushi) and the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson). Nearly 5,000 tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes. Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer reported this week that NJPW has a hold on another date and location in the United States for a show this year — July 7 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
Simon would not comment on future shows specifically, but said AXS TV would want to be a part of them. AXS broadcasted one of the two cards in the U.S. last year live and Strong Style Evolved will air on the network live. Most of AXS TV’s NJPW offerings come on tape delay weeks after the events air live.
“AXS TV plans to be involved with more New Japan events this year (versus last) and for years to come,” Simon said. “We believe in the product and want to support their U.S. expansion. New Japan is performing quite well for AXS TV compared to other programming on the network.”
Business is certainly on the upswing for NJPW in the U.S. and abroad. But Simon doesn’t think that means New Japan will be — or is even trying to be — a true competitor to WWE.
“I don’t think NJPW is looking to be a major competitor to WWE,” he said. “They are fulfilling a void in the US market for those fans that prefer ‘pro wrestling’ to ‘sports entertainment.’ Their multiple quick sellouts in Long Beach and tremendous merchandise sales are encouraging signs that NJPW will bring more events to the U.S. market.”
Simon is bullish on Omega’s ability as a performer and as a draw. The Strong Style Evolved main event is one of a string of matches in an ongoing storyline between Omega and his Bullet Club stable that has gotten huge buzz in the wrestling world.
“Kenny Omega is an incredible talent and one of the best wrestlers in the world today,” Simon said. “His matches with Okada and Jericho were off the charts and are being called the best in wrestling history. His match with Jericho was the highest rated match of New Japan on AXS TV.”
When asked if AXS TV, which is owned by Dallas Mavericks owner and tech billionaire Mark Cuban, would be interested in investing in NJPW itself, rather than just being a broadcast partner, Simon didn’t say no.
“Would depend on the deal,” he said.