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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Was this a Week of Competition in the World of Pro Wrestling? [CONTAINS SMACKDOWN LIVE SPOILERS]
By Samuel 'Plan
Nov 7, 2017 - 10:33:40 PM

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Just Business: Was this a Week of Competition in the World of Pro Wrestling?

As it stands, the card at Survivor Series 2017 has shifted from being lacklustre and disinteresting to being one of the most immediately exciting super-cards in WWE for a while (on paper at least). Where just 48 hours ago we were preparing ourselves for the mediocre disappointment of Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, now we are suddenly faced with the prospect of witnessing Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles and The Shield vs. The New Day on the same show. I get why that might still not excite some. It damn sure excites me though.

However, we need to ensure such excitement is contained with appropriate restraint, and most especially in the case of AJ Styles winning the WWE Championship for the second time in his already vaunted WWE career. There still remains one week to go before the big November show, and none of us should think twice about the chances of this being WWE pulling a simple week-long tease to generate a little feeling in a perhaps increasingly disengaging fan base. After all, there are plenty of Survivor Series promotional materials that have gone all in with the notion of Lesnar / Mahal, with John Cena as a Special Guest Referee. Plus this is WWE, and we should never put anything past the promotion; especially considering the hyperactive mood the majority of their writing has been in over the past 18 months.

That’s exactly why this is all rather worrying when it should be exciting. I cannot help but find my mind racing with doomsday scenarios. What if WWE just throw the title back at Jinder Mahal in a rematch next week, when they needn’t worry about providing a big moment for an audience who rarely get to attend television tapings? Worse yet, what if WWE put the title on Styles simply so the Phenomenal One can get decimated by Lesnar then drop the title to Mahal on the other side of 2017’s Big Fourth? Talk about priorities in all the wrong places if that one turns out to be true.

For now, though, I will dare to dream. At least for the next seven days, the reality is that Survivor Series 2017 is going to be headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, with a strong possibility that The Shield vs. The New Day will underpin the undercard. That’s exciting stuff. It’s all quite sudden stuff, too. If these matches do come to fruition, regardless of what the outcome on the other side may be, it’ll go down as another unique pay-per-view build in WWE’s history – and though I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist in the slightest, it is difficult not to take notice of the timing.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is by no means in a position to properly, truly compete with WWE. They have garnered a great deal of traction and an immense amount of success in the last couple of years, but ask Joe Bloggs on the street if he knows what NJPW is and he’ll probably tell you he’s never heard of it. Sometimes, in the daily midst of the IWC, we can lose sight of as simple a thing as that. Nonetheless, inside the pro wrestling world, there is no denying that this last week saw NJPW stepping up yet another level in quite deliberately noticeable fashion.

To put it fully in perspective, Chris Jericho hasn’t wrestled a match outside of a WWE ring since 1999; for eighteen years Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Now this is hardly a bitter divorce the likes of which we saw with men like Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart and CM Punk, but the sheer longevity involved makes it nonetheless something of an earth shuddering revelation; even if it is just Jericho making a fun and clever career move. The man brings name power, there’s no denying that, and though his booking on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card would have been noteworthy regardless, there is a sense that it happening on the back of his best run in WWE in a long time (if not ever) lends the surprise extra punching power.

It’s also worth remembering that this isn’t the only notable element of NJPW’s biggest event of the year either. I’m hardly an NJPW aficionado, but I’m aware enough to know that seeing IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada defend against Tetsuya Naito is a big deal. Cody vs. Kota Ibushi for the ROH World Championship isn’t to be sniffed at either, especially considering that both men now carry a certain main stream exposure after having both featured prominently in WWE; tenures in which both made sure a mass wrestling audience knows what they can do in the ring. It’s hard, even as someone who rarely gets the opportunity to check out alternative product, not to be excited by that tandem being matched up.

It doesn’t even stop with matches either. Kenny Omega may not have the mainstream fame that the absolute top WWE stars tend to come to possess, but once again he is perhaps one of, if not the hottest name in the wrestling world in 2017. From the universal critical acclaim of his matches opposite Okada earlier in the year right through to his being booked opposite Chris Jericho, Omega has proven waves can be made in a company not called WWE; to such a degree he’s topped his year off by having a dig at the entire WWE roster.

Some will make more of these turns of events than perhaps should be made. Others will inevitably not be willing to give them the credit as notable happenings that they deserve. What matters is that NJPW have treated their biggest show of the year with admirable due reverence, and have seemingly gone out of their way to try and top the outstanding reception the preceding years’ versions of the same event received. It is exactly the kind of way many wish WWE still ‘booked’ WrestleMania, and offers up a more optimistic, forward thinking and positive example of a similar big event mindset.

And here’s the rub: the reason why this is perhaps more important than it might otherwise have been is because it continues to further catalyse the growing atmosphere in the WWE locker room that viable alternatives are available. Cody has made giant strides towards earning himself a legacy away from WWE, even, we believe, offering advice to others wanting an out. Austin Aries left this year because of frustrations over opportunities and pay. Neville followed suit, in rather stunning fashion it has to be said. Rumours have swirled in recent weeks that there are several other unnamed individuals looking to do the same. The Rock, we are told, advised Nia Jax to walk out on Monday Night Raw (MNR) when she was unhappy with her role on the show. On top of all of this, now, a twenty year WWE veteran (who I presume is a locker room leader, and whose advice is sought out actively by up and coming talents) suddenly shows up in an alternative promotion in entirely unapologetic fashion, wrestling in a non-WWE ring for the first time in eighteen years?! That’s a hell of a signal, folks.

Aries and Neville have spread the word that good money can be earned away from WWE. Cody has proven success can be made for oneself away from WWE. Chris Jericho has now proven that loyalty and good career moves can sometimes very much be mutually exclusive. Now Daniel Bryan, undoubtedly the most popular star in WWE for a decade or more, is discussing wrestling in an NJPW ring when his contract expires too.

It’s easy to think of this all as being indicative of an atmosphere of competition that is still light-years away for NJPW, quite honestly (and that I remain unconvinced is a better option in this day and age than the cooperation seen on the British Indy circuit instead). What it should be taken as being indicative of, however, is a potentially serious shift in the industry now beginning to gain a little momentum as individuals with increasing degrees of visibility, prominence and, most importantly, influence continue to demonstrate that WWE is not the be all and end all for aspiring young professional wrestlers.

When this happens at a time when WWE fans are frustrated at the continued prominence of Brock Lesnar, the continued lack of faith in the newer contemporary generation of talent, the continued use of over-the-hill part time talent and the bizarre over-push of Jinder Mahal, you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm….

The most cynical part of me expects the status quo and old Survivor Series 2017 main event to be firmly back in place this time next week. I just find it interesting that, as NJPW’s busy weekend of big news and bigger bookings has unfolded and come to include a real top WWE veteran name, suddenly WWE have taken steps to apparently revitalise a card few fans were expressing real interest in and seemingly put a much stronger focus on the legitimately top talents of the contemporary generation.

But tell me folks, am I turning into a bit of a conspiracy theorist here, expecting too much from WWE who are so notorious for making bizarre decisions when staring something better in the face, or could there really be something in the timing (and hopefully longevity) of these changes, considering all the big news coming out of the Land of the Rising Sun this last weekend? Let me know in the comments below or over on social media!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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