There is no doubt the WWE is the pro wrestling juggernaut of the United States market. With Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon at the helm, the company went from a New York-centric promotion to selling out stadiums every year for the annual WrestleMania event. Although the other two major promotions that are televised – Impact Wrestling and Ring or Honor – have their fans and supporters, neither are close to the production level and national-international recognition as World Wrestling Entertainment.
The only period of WWE having serious competition was during the Monday Night Wars, which lasted from 1995 until WCW’s demise in 2001. For over 80 weeks, Monday Nitro was able to maintain a streak of beating Raw in ratings. During this time, WCW surpassed WWE in popularity due to the advent of the nWo, along with legends competing from the company such as Sting, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Bret Hart.
In 2010, Impact Wrestling – led by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff – made a bold and severely premature move, by going head-to-head with Raw. From the very beginning, WWE pounced Impact Wrestling, averaging nearly 4 million more viewers and even more as time progressed. It only took two months after their official move on March 8 for Impact Wrestling to realize that it was a very poor decision, and they announced their move back to Thursday nights under the guise that “fans made it clear that they preferred the Thursday night time period.”
Now, there is another world-renowned promotion that could be giving WWE some competition. Not only has New Japan Pro Wrestling been one of the most popular promotions in Japan since its inception in 1972, it has also given many ex-WWE names an opportunity to shine in a promotion that is also soaring in popularity. While not maximizing their potential in WWE, largely due to the creative team failing to use them properly, names such as Juice Robinson (formerly CJ Parker), Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith, Jr., and Beretta have all revitalized themselves in New Japan.
Since 2014, AXS TV, owned by Mark Cuban, has been airing NJPW content. For most of this time, AXS would air a rerun of shows that occurred months before. Now, with AXS continuing to grow in popularity, the mission is to show more current NJPW shows.
“We’re looking to expand it on Friday nights. We want to do more live, as opposed to the delay, and we’re talking to them about special events,” Cuban told Sports Illustrated.
Cuban even paid a large amount of money to purchase the ability to air the three top matches – Kazachika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, and Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Championship – to air in the U.S. just a couple of days after the January 4 event.
Regarding whether Cuban thinks Vince McMahon views NJPW as competition, here is what the billionaire had to say.
“No, he thinks we’re just little sh**s. We’re not a threat because of the language. That’s the biggest challenge, the language. But if you’re a purist for wrestling, and you like the action, it’s the best promotion by far. People here aren’t going to connect as directly, but if you really love wrestling, then it’s a no-brainer.”
While Cuban admits that he is not a hardcore wrestling fan, he is significantly increasing his interest and investment in the New Japan product. With Cuban’s financial backing, and AXS TV as an outlet, WWE could be see a higher level of competition over the next several years. Especially, since New Japan is beginning to have independently-operated shows in the United States.