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Monday, June 30, 2014

Bullet Club: Taking NJPW to Another Level

This past Sunday, NJPW presented “KIZUNA ROAD 2014" to a sold-out crowd in Tokyo's legendary Korakuen Hall. The main event was Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yujiro Takahashi for the NEVER Openweight Championship, which resulted in Takahashi winning and becoming the new Champion. Not only is this an accomplishment for Takahashi, but it is also an accomplishment for the Bullet Club faction, as they now have control over all of NJPW's heavyweight titles: AJ Styles holds the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson are the IWGP Tag Team Champions, and Bad Luck Fale holds the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

While NJPW prides itself on sportsmanship, Bullet Club goes against everything that the company stands for, with the faction members interfering in each other's matches, keeping themselves at the top of NJPW. Many long-time NJPW fans say that Bullet Club has sabotaged the company, as they conduct themselves in a manner that NJPW fans are unaccustomed to. While that may be debatable, one thing is certain- Bullet Club is one of the best things that has ever happened to NJPW.

Bullet Club has a great amount of potential, with most of its members being talents who are very familiar to fans even if they are not necessarily very familiar with NJPW. The Bullet Club brand has even expanded into Mexico, where a sub-group (Bullet Club Latinoamerica) proudly represents the faction. With Bullet Club's current high standing in the pro-wrestling industry as a brand, their influence is helping NJPW gain more popularity not only in Japan, but outside of Japan as well. Fans are ordering NJPW iPPVs to see the best known Bullet Club members, which then leads to them being exposed to the Bullet Club members who they are not familiar with, along with the other members of the NJPW roster.

Bullet Club is frequently compared to the legendary NWO, especially since the Bullet Club members do poses and gestures that NWO members used to do. Bullet Club and the NWO are perfect examples of how even though wrestling and puroresu have different styles, they inspire each other- just as the Bullet Club was inspired by WCW's NWO, the NWO was inspired by a UWF invasion of NJPW that took place before the NWO made its debut. And along with the comparisons between Bullet Club and the NWO is the question of whether or not Bullet Club will ultimately have a positive impact financially on NJPW as the NWO did on WCW. The fact is, they already have begun to- Bullet Club Bone Soldier T-shirts are currently among the company's top-selling merchandise items.

With Bullet Club having a lot of momentum right now, the faction members should be utilized to their fullest potentials. Bullet Club already has all of the major titles in NJPW- they should go after the other titles in the company as well. The faction now setting their sights on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship would increase the value of these titles in the eyes of fans, which would benefit NJPW. Although Tama Tonga mainly has tag team matches in NJPW, he is talented enough to shine as a singles talent, and would be a good choice as the person to pursue the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for the faction. The Young Bucks held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship until they were recently defeated by Time Splitters, so it would make sense for them to once again represent Bullet Club in an attempt to bring the title back to the faction.

Lastly, I think Bullet Club should have its own website, as the NWO did. The NWO website was a place where the faction launched propaganda, drawing attention from both fans who liked and disliked them. The bottom line was that it drew visitors, which benefited WCW as a company. The same can be done for NJPW via a Bullet Club website. It could feature a Bullet Club mission statement, bios of each member, a merchandise page, a news page updating visitors on what the faction is up to, and pro-Bullet Club articles.

Bullet Club does not represent any of the traditional aspects of puroresu, and tradition is highly regarded in Japan. But instead of Bullet Club (and to an extent NJPW) being an alternative to traditional puroresu, what they really are is an aspect of puroresu/NJPW that makes it more interesting than it already was. NJPW has been one of the most successful pro-wrestling companies in Japan for 42 years, and Bullet Club has helped NJPW increase in popularity in the United States. If the faction is utilized to its fullest extent, Bullet Club will benefit NJPW in the long-term as the company's fan base grows and continues to expand into other countries.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Where Does GFW Potentially Stand in the Pro-Wrestling Industry?

Pro-wrestling companies based in the United States having working relationships with pro-wrestling companies based in other countries is nothing new. ROH works with NJPW, a Japan-based company that has existed for 42 years and is continuing to grow. TNA works with Wrestle-1, the newest major company in Japan. However, Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling has the potential to become the most international professional-wrestling company in the industry since WCW.

In the 1990's, WCW simultaneously had a working relationship with not only NJPW, but also AAA, one of the biggest pro-wrestling companies in Mexico (which will begin airing a weekly program on the El Rey network this fall, and will also be having PPV events). WCW and NJPW co-produced many PPV events, WCW took part in an NJPW-produced supercard in 1996, and the two companies traded talent on a regular basis. Meanwhile, WCW co-promoted a lucha libre PPV with AAA in 1994, and booked AAA talent for WCW events frequently in the mid-1990's. Out of all of the companies that defined themselves as being of worldwide status, WCW best represented that definition.

Now, Global Force Wrestling has positioned themselves where they can potentially be established in the same manner that WCW was as being a true GLOBAL company. GFW talent can appear on AAA-TV and PPVs, as well as NJPW iPPVs. Meanwhile, GFW could present American fans with talent from Mexico and Japan, names that they are familiar with as well as talent that they currently are unaware of but should know about. Not only would this legitimize GFW as a global company, but it would give AAA and NJPW increased exposure as well.

And the GFW's relationships with AAA and NJPW can go even further than that. With GFW still in its building stages, the company currently does not have a champion. This could set the stage for GFW to have a championship tournament of truly global proportions. If GFW were to have a championship tournament featuring talent from GFW, AAA, and NJPW, American fans would have the opportunity to see matches between top Mexican and Japanese talent. And a GFW Title tournament done in this fashion would provide the unpredictability that pro-wrestling fans enjoy, and opportunity that all pro-wrestlers desire.

The tournament could take place in either the United States, Mexico, or Japan. It could feature recognized talent from AAA (El Mesías, Cibernético), NJPW (Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi), as well as recognized American talent currently working for NJPW or AAA (AJ Styles, Jack Evans). Who would the first GFW champion be? Someone from the GFW roster? An AAA or NJPW star? It would be anyone's guess, in a tournament filled with drama and suspense. And most importantly, the GFW title could be considered a true world title.

GFW has the potential to bring a style of surprise and excitement that would be unique to the current pro-wrestling landscape, and one that would benefit the industry on an international level. And pro-wrestling fans are always open to something different for them to enjoy. If Jeff Jarrett and GFW gives the fans action that they want to see and deserve, gives opportunities to currently underutilized talent, along with has a proficient team of creatives behind all of it, GFW can become one of the top organizations in the industry.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

AJPW and the Jun Akiyama Era

During AJPW's existence of four decades, the company has experienced a number of regimes: Giant Baba, Mitsuharu Misawa, Keiji Mutoh, Masayuki Uchida, and Nobuo Shiraishi. On July 1, a new era will begin as Jun Akiyama becomes the new president of AJPW. Although it has yet to be confirmed what Akiyama's plans are, the main rumor is that AJPW will be presented as a new company. This reminds me of the relaunch plan that Eric Bischoff had for WCW as he and Fusient Media prepared to buy the company in 2001.

In fact, AJPW's current situation is very similar to what WCW's was in at that time. WCW's best years were 1996-1998. Eric Bischoff was firmly in control of the direction of the company, and ratings indicated that fans were pleased with the product. In 1999 however, he was replaced and the quality of the WCW product decreased to the point that WCW was a shell of its former self and was tarnished in the eyes of many fans. Laying low for a while and giving fans time to forget about the bad period of WCW before returning with a big relaunch is exactly what would have returned the company to its former glory. AJPW's image problems started as a result of leadership changes occurring often. Giant Baba ran AJPW for 27 years- he had established a run and created a style for the company that fans became familiar with. Mitsuharu Misawa was president of the company for less than one year. Keiji Mutoh ran AJPW for nine years, and was then replaced by Masayuki Uchida for almost two years. Uchida's replacement was Nobuo Shiraishi, a presidency which will have lasted a little over a year.

That's five leaderships in the past four decades, and only two of them lasted two years. And with every leadership change came a change in the style of the company. With so many style changes during AJPW's existence, the company no longer had an image, despite still having a talented roster. So the cosmetic change of presenting AJPW as a new company will help them, giving AJPW the opportunity to start fresh and create a new image for the company, without critics being able to say, "Oh here we go again- ANOTHER leadership change."

I'm looking forward to seeing what Jun Akiyama does with AJPW. He has been involved in the pro-wrestling industry for almost 22 years, and although Akiyama has never been involved in the business end of a wrestling company, he is very experienced with being aware of what fans want to see take place in the ring. Now that Akiyama will be president of the company, he will have more control over what the fans are presented with entertainment-wise, and that is what will impact the company the most financially.

And a rejuvenated AJPW couldn't happen at a better time for them. With Wrestle-1 having a working relationship with TNA, and NJPW having working relationships with ROH and Jeff Jarrett's GFW, the wrestling/puroresu scene is getting more attention than it has had in a while, so now is the perfect time for AJPW to reinvent itself as a company with an image that will make an impression on fans who will be exposed to AJPW for perhaps the first time. A successful AJPW would not only be beneficial to the company, but it would also potentially give more talent a new place to work, as well as provide a new source of entertainment for pro-wrestling fans.