Pondering with Plumtree is a column on the popular blog, TNAsylum, that is written by yours truly. The blog is focused towards being a fan site for TNA Wrestling fans where they can get news, rumors, opinions, and any and everything else, TNA Wrestling. Known as "The Haven for TNA Wrestling Fans", I'm hoping to bring some of my thoughts to an already impressive roster of columnist for as long as the site will have me. You can read the latest column here, or in the text below.
It's actually quite inconceivable to think in 2014, in a world of the internet, instant communication, vast connection, and unlimited availability to knowledge, that an idea as simple as a wrestling pay-per-view by an American company being held in Japan is considered new territory. While there have been some ventures in the past such as the WCW/NJPW Supershows in the early 90's and a few WWF/E events as well among others, none of them were of tremendous significance. Even with those previously held events, TNA's Bound For Glory emanating from Tokyo, Japan still feels like a concept with very little track record.
Regardless of previous history, the idea is essentially one that is innovative and uncharted enough to gain some steam in pro wrestling. After all, Japan is still a market that isn't heavily dominated by the industry leader, WWE. And as we know, especially when it comes to some sectors of wrestling fandom, if an area, region, show, or concept isn't branded with WWE, there is a level of controversy and intrigue tied to it. In a weird way, it's a twisted form of conditioning that makes us believe if the WWE hasn't done it, then the venture isn't or won't be a successful one.
Nonetheless, regardless of your conditioning, thoughts, opinions, and concerns about BFG in Tokyo, it's happening. And obviously, the driving vehicle behind this seems to be TNA's partnership with the Japanese-based Wrestle-1 promotion. We've seen connections and partnerships in the past in pro wrestling, and more so recently with ROH's successful run with New Japan Pro Wrestling for two fun shows. The Wrestle-1 partnership, at least for this fan, is something again, uncharted (as most partnerships are), but there is an unusual feeling of excitement as well.
While the initial fan in me is ready to rev my excitement up to 100mph with thoughts of future matches, joint events, talent swaps, and a wholesome degree of awesomeness about to occur, I had to pull the emergency break on all of it - ALL OF IT - based on one question - what is Wrestle-1?
I had no idea what the promotion was, is, or has plans to be other than; Keiji Mutoh aka The Great Muta operates it; it's Japanese (obviously); Sanada, who is pretty good, is originally from there; and it has a pretty cool name for a wrestling organization. I've seen a few clips here and there on YouTube, and it seems it has more of an "entertainment" style approach than most Japanese wrestling has, but that's about it. Really, that's all of it.
So of course, I ordered the One Night Only "Outbreak" pay-per-view and tuned in to gain some slight assurance within these cloudy waters in which I've oddly been excited about. What I pulled away from the event, despite tremendous matches of Austin Aries vs. Sanada and Kai vs. Magnus among some other good ones, is the following:
Wrestle-1 is Not New Japan Pro Wrestling
First, let me say, I'm a huge fan of New Japan Pro Wrestling. There are tremendous athletes over there that are very entertaining, athletic, and most of all, physical. And to be honest, the product is so vastly different than other major companies, that I can enjoy NJPW for variously different reasons than WWE, TNA, or ROH. I'll never understand why some want the American companies to be more like NJPW...different clientele, different culture. Heck, I'm not sure why some can't accept companies being different in what they offer. But that's for another column, for another day.
With that said, NJPW wrestlers are stars. They look it and feel it when they are presented. They are packaged like it and fans react accordingly. During those two ROH/NJPW shows, I felt most of NJPW's wrestlers and characters looked and felt more like stars than the ROH cast. Just my humbled opinion. You can direct the hate on that statement in the comments section below shortly.
NJPW is the big fish in Japan. It's their WWE. If you're expecting Wrestle-1 to be the very product you see in the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom, then you will be highly disappointed. It's important to remove this immediately from your expectations.
From watching the pay-per-view, it was very apparent much of the crowd in attendance seemed hesitant on reaction (which is on top of their usual and respectable quiet manner) during matches. Although, oddly, they were some who chanted "Au-stin-Ar-ies", which was pretty funny and unexpected, and does express there is some (as tiny as that may be) TNA awareness in the region. While fans of NJPW know who to expect when a certain theme hits, or the mannerisms of a certain wrestler/character, or what to chant in the right moment, Wrestle-1 isn't quite there. Not to say they never will be, but the road is a lot longer for them to this point than most. It's important we temper our excitement and expectation in accordance to this reality. Wrestle-1 is the Japanese version of TNA in 2002. Which brings me to...
There Are Many Commonalities Between TNA and Wrestle-1
Wrestle-1 is very much an upstart company at the bare bones, something I'm sure TNA representatives and fans can empathize with. To my knowledge, there isn't even a World Title, and there are only a couple of main stays to go along with the many freelancers within the company. From some minor research, Mutoh's vision is to present a company that has the traditional Japanese style with a blend of the American entertainment style to which he has coined, "fighting entertainment".
But, when you dig a bit deeper, you learn the story of Mutoh's catalyst for creating Wrestle-1. Resigning from his position as President of All Japan Pro Wrestling after being bought out and eventually seeing his right hand man in Masayuki Uchida let go, Mutoh lead an exodus from AJPW with many loyal wrestlers to now make up the roster of his new promotion. There is a genuine passion and vision there from Mutoh to create a new brand that is strong. Strong enough in which many wrestlers believed in it and decided to follow him on this venture. In the business of pro wrestling, that's no easy decision. For some, that's a sink or swim situation. But from that story, you can definitely pull away there is a burning passion and philosophy behind Wrestle-1 other than "just a new upstart promotion". There is an inspiration, there is a catalyst, there is a buy-in, and there is a chip-on-the-shoulder type of attitude that is carrying many of those behind Wrestle-1.
Wrestle-1 is looking to change the dynamic of pro wrestling in Japan for themselves by forcing and presenting an alternative to what the big machine is offering. Sound familiar?
Fresh off the heels of a new industry monopoly, TNA did the same in 2002 with names and talent that either wrestled elsewhere, or who just didn't get their big break. Both companies are fighting up hill battles and competitors who have decades of history, legacy, and brand awareness in the marketplace. Both, with a purpose, a will, and a desire for much more than just being.
Wrestle-1 Talent Pool is Impressive
Going into the Outbreak pay-per-view, I genuinely had zero knowledge of most of the talent on the card. Other than Renee Dupree and his run a long time ago in WWE, Kaz Hayashi and his time in WCW (Oh so long ago!), and Sanada, who we've come to appreciate as a part of the TNA roster, there really was a blank slate of judgment from myself for many of these guys.
Fortunately, what you can see from the pay-per-view is that Wrestle-1 has plenty of talent. There are in fact guys who could be useful to any company's roster. Again, doing my homework, you'll notice many of these guys are veterans, men who have already cut their teeth in perfecting their craft.
The Junior Stars, Koji Kanemoto and Minoru Tanaka are a great tag team along with the previously mentioned Hayashi and his partner in Shuji Kondo. Masakatsu Funaki was very impressive in his bout with Bobby Roode, and Kai and Magnus put on a great main event. Those are just some of the names from this event which jump out at you. I'm sure the roster has changed since that February taping. From their website, it seems a familiar face in the "Japanese Buzzsaw", Tajiri, is now a part of the company. I wouldn't be surprised to see become a face that pops up on IMPACT to help promote this partnership as well as easing the transitioning of what is to come for the future.
Which brings me to...
Opens Gate Way to Continents
What we have here are two companies, looking to carve out their piece of the wrestling industry pie, and looking to do so against mega-machines, all while pursuing an ambitious vision. And with a tough current to grow against, it seems like a great powermove, almost a natural one, for both TNA and Wrestle-1 to work together, to help build one another, and in some ways, to use one another towards their prospective visions and goals. It really feels like two underdogs joining together. It's the classic situation we all grow up with, the two purposeful and zealous kids teaming to take down the big bad bully on the block. Or at the very least, put up a fight.
Within this budding partnership, both will gain entry into the opposing market, a market entry that is tough for each party. This by far is the biggest advantage and has the most untapped potential in the relationship. As highly touted as Japanese wrestling is by die hards here in the States and elsewhere, whether it be Wrestle-1, NJPW, AJPW, or Pro Wrestling NOAH, much of the product barely, if ever, has a presence outside of Japan among the masses. The same goes for North American promotions such as WWE, TNA, and ROH in Japan. Yes, even the WWE. Shocking, huh? That kind of brand awareness and expansion has never been done successfully. Being in demand in North America and Japan is unheard of. Again, when it comes to these two marketplaces and fanbases, history has shown that success has been mutually exclusive. Which makes this venture exciting, yet, so cloudy, unsure, and cautious for fans. Will it work? Of course, time will tell.
Bound For Glory Is HUGE...But Not Make or Break
Ahhhh...Bound For Glory. TNA's premier pay-per-view of the year (and ninth edition!). I often feel Lockdown and Slammiversary have more moments synonymous with TNA for me, and in my opinion, carry a bit more prestige to them, but in the words of Taz, "I digress". But Bound For Glory in Japan, yes, that's big. That's huge!
For TNA, they are the road team here taking their product to the region where there might not be much interest in the product. They're leaning on the partnership with Wrestle-1 to not only help drum up interest, but to indeed sell tickets. Also, let's not overlook the venue, Korakuen Hall, which is a very notable venue in Japan. As trusty Wikipedia (obviously, just a bit less credible than dirt sheets, of course) claims, "many consider it the Madison Square Garden of purureso". That's a big deal. Huge!
While there are many questions regarding taping/airing logistics, introducing and connecting the wrestlers/characters of both companies to the other's audience, and of course, the overall card of the show, putting together an event with two companies of such vastly different entertainment styles for fans bound by passion, vision, and wanting an alternative, again, is the driving void in what is keeping this situation from being ground breaking.
Essentially, this all boils down to one question: How will this work?
Bound For Glory, whether many will want to deny it, will be something of notice among pro wrestling fans. It's the huddle in the corner of the room that everyone is keeping within their prereferal vision. Again, will this work? Who the heck knows? And if it does, what's next? Yearly Japan Tours? IMPACT tapings from Japan?
It's a gamble, certainly on TNA's part, but with a huge reward. Imagine, just imagine, if this event is a hit and TNA suddenly has an entry into Japan? Imagine, if Wrestle-1 gains notoriety among TNA fans, and becomes an "option" for pro wrestling fans outside of Japan. Imagine, if this budding relationship grows, and both are able to successfully pull this off. How will things change in pro wrestling? For Wrestle-1? For TNA? For NJPW? For WWE?
BFG is the launching pad for this. This won't make or break the relationship, but it is definitely an opportunity to make a statement. Bound For Glory in Japan is metaphorically a bases loaded, two outs, and your clean-up hitter at the plate type of situation. A chance to break things wide open, or simply gather your glove, minimize the expenses, and return the next inning with small singles to get after it again.
This event can help bridge the un-connectable, or so what is perceived to be as un-doable. A true "never has been done" in pro wrestling. But as always, TNA is attempting it, which will bring doubters, detractors, and naysayers. The company gets criticized (unjustly) for a lot of things, but taking risks should never be one of them. Wrestle-1 is proof, and hey, even the Bellator connection attempt is another example. Wrestling and MMA? Still a work in progress. Many have already declared the option an impossible one. Personally, I'm not ready to make that claim.
All in all, there is a lot to be excited about in this venture, yet, even more for TNA Wrestling fans to lower their expectations on because of the vast unknowns. However, in a world of megapowers in the sports and entertainment industry, taking risks, collaborating, and connecting in areas never tied together before could be the only way to see that purpose and vision they each hold so dearly become a reality.
After all, Teamwork makes the dream work.
Even though I attended the tapings, do you know how excited I was to see IMPACT on television from New York City?
And for my fellow New Yorkers, don't you have a sense of pride in how these shows will be viewed?
Am I the only one who finds the Vince Russo story to be blown out of proportion?
And is Vince Russo one of the most polarizing people in the history of wrestling or what?
Wasn't Sting on WWE TV weird? And how come no one ran the story as "TNA Hall of Famer Debuts on Raw?"
Speaking of Sting, remember when TNA's "biggest problem" was "pushing old guys"?
Fill me in, I'm currently out of the loop more than ever, what is TNA's "biggest problem" today? It changes daily, weekly, monthly, right?
For all of the ECW talk, isn't it weird that Bully and Devon have spent the longest portion of their careers in TNA?
How awesome is the "I disagree", "I'm very good" response to the "You Can't Wrestle" chants by EC3?
And when does TNA get credit for scouting the talent that is he?
Who else is excited to see the X-Division be the X-Division again?
And don't you hope it's not just for Destination X only?
How crazy is Jeff Hardy?
And doesn't he deserve much credit for turning his life around and consistently giving 100% to earn his way back?
Anyone else find Bobby Lashley more entertaining now than any other time he's ever been in pro wrestling?
Hasn't MVP been a big surprise in his efforts, and very good for TNA, busted knee and all?
Pound for pound, is Spud the most charismatic personality in wrestling right now, or what?