It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan. Not a thing you’d think would be a common line being thrown around wrestling fans if your main exposure is with WWE’s main programming and their fans, but once you realize there’s a lot more out there than WWE and TNA you’re in for a treat. Almost constantly too, as there are so much more different directions you can go in than the companies selling themselves as Sports Entertainment and The One That Isn’t WWE.
I don’t want to be an annoying smark taking constant shots about the WWE, which is why I want to start by talking about them. Immediately adressing the mastodon in the room. WWE, in the state that it is in now, is legitimately depressing to watch. They have some of the most talented people in the world working for them. They have the highest production values in the business. Their developmental is qualitatively so high that most entire promotions couldn’t even begin to compete with it, including WWE themselves. Yet somehow they can’t stop themselves from fucking it all up.
There’s too much backstage politics, too many writers, too many rewrites all the way up to the moment of airing, too many jabs at the audience for wanting to enjoy something, too many Authority plotlines that end up going nowhere, too many people being pushed to positive crowd reactions before ultimately dissolving again, too many forced comedic segments, too many matches ending in a disqualification, too many main events ending in a disqualification, too many wrestlers selling attacks from regular celebrities for them to still come across as legitimately strong competitors, horrible commentary trying to downplay their own roster… The list goes on. It doesn’t even feel like the creative part of the company is even trying to appease the audience who supports them or the talent they are in control of deciding the direction of.
Not all of WWE is bad, they have some fantastic talent on their roster, they just seem to be blind as to what to do with them. Whether that is intentional for the sake of their chosen few or completely accidental is up for debate. It is very depressing to see people like Dolph Ziggler go up and down the card on a whim while the old guard stands at the top endlessly. Especially now that the roster has slimmed down as much as it has.
With that out of the way, let’s get positive with the entire rest of the industry. And to be fair to WWE, let’s start with their developmental.
Guys, NXT is good. It is so good. Seriously. If you took every negative out of the WWE that came with the way it’s overproduced, the result would be NXT. Less drama, less hokey storylines, more wrestling and a roster that has an amazing mix of indie veterans learning the WWE style and actual rookies with no experience in pro wrestling outside of the WWE. Together the groups create a high pressure environment of constant growth for everyone involved. Some of the absolute best matches being done right now come from the weekly NXT showings and occasional specials.
It’s also worth noting that the reputation of WWE’s women’s division being lackluster and bare is not the case with NXT. They have some fantastic women’s matches on there at a level you wouldn’t believe if you’ve ever sat down watching a Total Divas drama package to lead into a match on RAW while the commentary laughs at them as they try to do their best to have a decent match with the limited training they were given.
Finn Balor & Hideo Itami vs The Ascension (At the very least, watch Finn Balor’s entrance)
New Japan Pro Wrestling
It can’t be surprising that the company currently considered the second place in the world is the company that in almost every step of the way is the opposite of the WWE. I know that popularity isn’t indicative of quality, but when it comes to New Japan, where even the audience has respect for the company and intently pays attention to what is going on rather than reluctantly keep watching it “because there’s nothing else” you start to get why it’s important to note that they’ve reached that spot.
Not only is the NJPW audience much more focused on the actual matches, the shows themselves are much more focused on the matches themselves. New Japan Wrestling is still very much a wrestling show, meaning there are no overly long promo segments in between matches. There are no ad breaks in between them. There is no drama outside of the ring. At the bottom of the card a bunch of people get together in tag teams wanting to beat the other guys in the ring, and at the top of the card we get our grudge matches and one-on-one title matches. The stories are in the matches themselves. The stories are in the body language, in the succession of the moves, the selling of injuries, the build to the finish, before finally ending on a high note.
While New Japan Pro Wrestling still actually treats pro wrestling as an actual sport, they also still do some of the most unbelievably hype entrances right now during their bigger shows. A wrestler coming out with a giant sword and dinosaurs as a Monster Hunter promotion, a tag team known as the Timesplitters showing up with a DeLorean. In the meantime this is counterbalanced with things like Strongstyle and Shootstyle, which are incredibly stiff and painful looking wrestling styles that manage to come across as much more brutal than gimmick matches where a bunch of weapons are strewn around because it feels closer to reality than the absurdity of a ladder match. When New Japan goes all out, they really go all out. Even the A.V Club loves New Japan.
Then on the opposite side of scale of serious wrestling, we’ve got Chikara. An indie wrestling promotion that’s very comic book influenced doing shows named after James Bond movies that excels in storylines that its likely the best wrestling company to deliver on stories involving time travel.
Chikara is definitely not for everyone, as their storylines actually got so convoluted to the point they faked their own bankruptcy and had their talent show up at different indie shows to drop small hints at the continuation of the promotion. A storyline that slowly built up to a reboot of their franchise, not unlike any of the major DC event to reboot their respective universe.
It’s hard to describe Chikara properly, as it’s not one of the most nuanced or complex companies out there. It’s just incredibly fun and full of overly convoluted storylines just for the heck of it. It’s not a company to analyze too deeply in the ring, but can have fun thinking about in terms of lore to figure out where they’re going with this, as chances are that the more you overthink it, the closer you’ll actually get to what they’re going to do.
No, this isn’t really a company or a single promotion. I’m putting several promotions together because I can. That, and a lot of the Joshi promotions and their matches are often really hard to track down, as they’re not as largely celebrated as say, New Japan or WWE. That said, in terms of quality, Japanese women’s wrestling, or Joshi Puroresu, is one of the most amazing things out there and almost always high up there in terms of quality. If you thought the women in NXT were amazing, you really haven’t seen anything yet as Joshi matches tend to bring the level of stiffness you’d expect from some of the more brutal New Japan Pro Wrestling matches. If you even encounter anyone saying that women can’t wrestle, show them some clips of what’s been going on in Japan for decades now, because it is mindblowing.
Anyone else got any favorite indie wrestling companies out there they’d like to gush about? Feel free to do just that in the comments section down below. I do watch a lot of the smaller promotions lately, but they’ve all blurred together into a large melange of indie goodness as the talent pools are generally much more open and you typically see Colt Cobana show up everywhere anyway. It’s a very different experience watching wrestling in a country that typically doesn’t have that many showings out there, so all the shows I get to see have to be big enough to at least do an iPPV.