Monday Night War I vs. II: the State of Pro Wrestling since 2001

MondayNightWar_WWE_WCW--e6675cabc0b9178470e8d8b15744b52a.pngA lot of things have changed since last publishing previous columns regarding to the first Monday Night War and Impact Wrestling, such as the resurgeance of New Japan Pro Wrestling and National Wrestling Alliance, the steady growth of Ring of Honor, and the re-emergences of Major League Wrestling and Impact Wrestling, as well as surging popularity in other wrestling promotions in the United Kingdom and other parts of thw world, it’s been a couple of banner years for the pro wrestling industry – even though WWE has maintained the stranglehold in popularity, in spite of difference of opinions between WWE loyalists and online wrestling community and journalists about just how WWE still maintains the moniker “be all and end all” after the recent slumps in televison ratings for two consecutive months, and other logistical issues known as their Saudi Arabia excursions in spite of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saud Arabian Consulate in Istabul, Turkey; and the advent of the latest wrestling promotion called All Elite Wrestling, thoughts of another Monday Night War like the ones occurred during the 1990s between World Championship Wrestling and WWE, seemingly becomes the focal point once again.  However, questions remain in whether the prospects of another rating wars are truly ripe to occur as epic disaster that occurred during the first night of Hogan/Bischoff regime in formerly TNA Wrestling still fresh in mind.  Since I have provided the rundown of the history of IMPACT wrestling and Ring of Honor in my last article, so the focus in this column will be geared towards the other wrestling  promotions that I have either briefly mentioned or yet to mentioned at all.

Rather than providing a laborious lecture on the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling, here’s a reading digest version of their history … prior to 2014, in which I’ll explain why I stop in that particular year:

Founded by Antonio Inoki in 1972 after departure from Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance, NJPW has been very active in the international wrestling scenes, often found themselves in partnership with, if not outright joining, National Wrestling Alliance in more than one occasions, as well as developing working relationship with the likes of WCW, WWE, & TNA/GFW in the past, once promoted with other Japanese promotions like All Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH, and currently having agreements with Ring of Honor, Mexico’s largest promotion CMLL, and UK’s Revolution Pro Wresting.  However, they weren’t immuned from competitions much like in the stateside, except it’s in the form of Pride Fighting Championship and the advent of mixed martial arts, from 1999 to 2006.  This new form of competition had caught NJPW off guard, and the term “Inoki-ism” was coined after attempts by Japanese wrestlers like current NJPW Los Angeles Dojo trainer Katsuyori Shibata, former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata, and current WWE superstar Shinsuke Nakamura to compete in MMA and MMA fighters such as Naoya Ogawa, Mark Coleman, Bob Sapp, Yoshihiro Takayama & Don Frye (with the latter two had competed in the most brutal MMA match of all time at Pride 21 on June 23, 2002.  However, most of Japanese pro wrestling communities didn’t sit well watching pro wrestlers exposed on national televison in MMA contests, and the shocking victory for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship by WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, who was in a legal dispute with WWE during his 2004 exit, and the abrupt departure in 2005 due to pay dispute, made matters worse, to the point that some had even accused Inoki of losing his touch, and was eventually sold his interest to Japanese video game company called Yuke’s in 2005 before selling to Bushiroad in 2012.  

NJPW logoIt was during that trying period that they co-promoted and developed with then-TNA since 2006 until 2011.  Notable highlight during their collaboration was the IWGP Heavyweight Champioship unification match between the holders of the second belt (Nakamura) and the “much-maligned” third belt that Lesnar “took the ball and went home” with before agreed to lose to then-recent-addition Kurt Angle in an Inoki-owned IGF event, in which Nakamura “unified” the championship after submitted Angle with crossed armbreaker.  However, that run ened abruptly after TNA officials unilaterally opted for the teag team Team 3D (Dudley Boyz) from defending the IWGP Tag Team Championships in Japan, and for future IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada to wrestle under “Green Hornet”-inspired character, which led to the termination of partnership with TNA in 2011.  At the same time, with the demise of Pride FC, the promotion slowly began its rebuilding process, and a host of new talents were brought up from the Young Lions’ program and other international promotions, from the likes of Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii, Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Prince Devitt (now known as Finn Balor in WWE), Karl Anderson and Hiroshi Tanashi, who have since become the standard flagbearer for the company for almost 2 decades. 

Before New Japan Pro Wrestling could even begin with their global expansion, particularly with the North American audience, they must first introduce themselves with their premier event on January 4th spectacular which is now known as Wrestle Kingdom, on their pay-per-view schedule.  In November ’14, two major announcements were made: On January 4th, 2015, Wrestle Kingdom 9 was broadcasted as a 4-hour event on PPV in the United States with recently-formed organization by TNA Wrestling Founder Jeff Jarrett, Global Force Wrestling (GFW), co-promoted it; in addition, selections of NJPW matches from TV Asahi, the broadcasting home of NJPW, Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, just to name a few, was acquired by AXS TV (formerly HD Net).  After drawer in average of 200,000 per episode, both sides signed a multi-year extension deal after considered the experiment as a success.  One month later, NJPW and TV Asahi announced the formation of their own streaming services called NJPW World.  All the while, they have been maintaining working relationship with Ring of Honor, Revolution Pro Wrestling, and CMLL, led to former’s co-branded PPV events like War of the Worlds, Honor Rising: Japan and Global Wars, with the latter’s Fantastica Mania event series, which have been bringing in more unseen matchups, and Global Wars (UK) with RPW.  In an effort of emulating the commercial success of WWE, they have also announced the formation of Lion’s Gate Project in 2015, announced a partnership with AMUSE talent agency in hopes of creating their own version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  As part of their “New IWGP Conception”, the announcements of creating promotion’s seventh active championships and the first in six-man tag team championship, NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championships in 2015, announcing the creation of IWGP US Heavyweight Championship on May 12,2017 by crowning its inaugual champion during their first official US-televised IWGP event called GI Special in USA in Long Beach.  4 days later plans to establish a subsidiary company that includes the re-establishment of its own dojo in Los Angeles by early 2018 with an office in late 2017 were also announced.  Two more events were held since – Strong Style Evolved on March 25, 2018, and G1 Special in San Francisco on July 7, 2018 – with another upcoming event now renamed as GI Supercard at the Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 6, 2019, and the first night of G1 Climax 29 will be held at the American Airlines Center, home of AXS TV & Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on July 6, 2019, exactly 3 months after G1 Supercard.  As for the wrestlers goes, longtime TNA mainstay A.J. Styles laid his claims to the IWGP Heavyweight Champion twice, and so had Omega after vanquishing his rival Okada at the Dominion event on June 9, 2018 in a best-of-three-falls with no-time-limit stipulation, whom also became the first foreigner to win the G1 Climax tournament in 2016 while also claimed IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champ in 2015, became the inauguarial IWGP US Heavyweight Champion in 2017.  Meanwhile, mixtures of returning talents from excursions and cross-promotions (Naito & L.I.J., Suzuki-gun) alongsides well established cohorts have made NJPW much more profitable and popularity since the 1990s.

Major_League_Wrestling_(logo).pngIn another corner, Major League Wrestling didn’t have the same success that Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and NJPW had enjoyed as their intial run lasted merely two years from 2002 to 2004, during which they first took three months of hiatus after being founded in Philadelphia by former WWE writer Court Bauer to New York as an alternative programming from his former employer.  Unfortunately, the similarity between the now-defunct ECW and MLW under the description of “the most violent, hard-hitting action mixed with cutting edge storylines” by imitating ECW and later ROH, the promotion ceased operation in 2004.  Seven years later, Bauer made his return to pro wrestling, but not as a promoter, instead he changed the business model via consolidating their efforts to produce digitial contents with the “pro wrestling” category exclusively.  The likes of former WCW Executive VP & WWE on-air character Eric Bischoff, former WWE creative/executive and once famously playing on-air manager Brother Love, Bruce Pritchard, former WCW wrestler/creative Kevin Sullivan, former WCW/TNA wrestler/manager Konnan, and former WCW/WWE announcer Tony Schiavone were brought in discussing their experiences during their employments with respective companies, while also addressing the myths and rumors about what really went on with various pro wrestling related subjects.  Eventually, the promotion would finally revive in 2018 after reaching an agreement with enbattled BeIN Sports, which has had its shares of issues during mid-August of that very year (see explanation below) and would be another story all by itself, via debuting their own television series called “MLW Fusion”, with Schiavone and former WWE commentator/wrestler Matt Striker as the announcing team.  In addition, FITE TV has also agreed to stream the show.  We shall see whether their efforts would finally be rewarding to both the audience and the promotion themselves.

National_Wrestling_Alliance_Main_logo.pngBefore addressing the titular topic, though, there is this one organization that I must mention before moving on, and that would be the oldest existing promotion called the National Wrestling Alliance.  Established in 1948 consisted of various regional promoters which, in an ironic twist, included WWE and AWA at one point, however, since the withdrawal of both New Japan Pro Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling in 1993 and the “deliberate” trashing of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship during the finals of the NWA World Title tournament at an ECW event in 1994, the organization has seen better days during that period as they have stayed in background for the latter half of the 1990s and again during the late 2000s when TNA parted ways with them in 2007.  While still attracting talents like the late Chris Candido & Shinya Hashimoto, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Dan Severn, former PRIDE FC & HUSTLE fighter Naoya Ogawa, NWA has lost much of its luster as it has since been defending in independent circuits for quite some time, albeit from a brief appearance on WWE television in 1996, and the 5-year run with TNA.   Memorable moments during included the controversial circumstances of how Severn won and lost the NWA titles twice, guest appearance of then-NWA President Bruce Tharpe as Rob Conway’s manager during New Japan’s January 4th Show at Tokyo Dome one year, Inoki’s transferring the rights of NWA membership to his Inoki Genome Federation (IGF), and the rivalry between Adam Pearce and Colt Cabana, whom once wrestled under “Scotty Goodman” in WWE for a short period.  Eventually, this franchise, along with the name, rights, trademarks, and championship belts, were bought by former Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan on October 1, 2017 after his public spat with IMPACT Wrestling and its then-President Dixie Carter due to the latter promotion’s financial plight from 2014 to 2017.  Since then, they have produced a YouTube series called “Ten Pounds of Gold”, featuring the journeys of the NWA Champions from Tim Storm to Cody (Rhodes) and their challengers around the world.

All_Elite_Wrestling_Logo.pngFinally, it’s time to address the elephant in the room known as All Elite Wrestling, and the prospect of the second coming of the legitimate Monday Night War.  Ever since the advent of yet another YouTube channel called “Being the Elite”, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, along with other fellow then-Bullet Club members Hangman Page, Cody Rhodes, and Marty Scurll, have become internet sensations since the show’s debut, though it later became the catalyst of the “Firing Squad” incident at G1 in San Francisco, thus launching the civil war within Bullet Club for almost 3 months.  However, with the success of The Elite’s own event called “All In” in early September 2018, that gave the trio, and whomever are being associated with, it may seem to be inevitable that they would eventually start their own promotion, which they have indeed announced in December 2018, though we wouldn’t know who actually would be their financial backer, and then the formal announcement was made during a high-profile rally on January 7, 2019 in Jacksonville, which they have announced that Chris Jericho, who had just lost his IWGP Intercontinental Championships days prior at Wrestle Kingdom 13, and the former NXT Champion and WWE Cruiserweight Champion PAC, better known as Neville in WWE, as well as their BTE co-horts SoCal Uncensored (Frank Kazarian, Christopher Daniels, and Scorpion Sky, who is also a part of NJPW LA Dojo trainer), have signed with AEW.  In addition, they have revealed that the owners of Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC, Shahid and Tony Khan, as their backers, along with their next event called “Double or Nothing” on May 25, 2019 in Las Vegas.  However, it remains to be seen if they would be able to land a television deal for their future programming

MondayNightWar II_WWE_IWP.pngBut with all that said, the major question that many pro wrestling fans may ponder if or when the second coming of “Monday Night War” may be reignited.   In my honest opinion, the original ratings war during the 1990s was in a perfect storm as regional promotions were absorbed by WWE and WCW, such consolidation made the competition between the two much more intense as professional jealousy between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner have gone on since 1984.  However, WCW own mismanagement, along with the mega mergers between Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner & AOL that led to dethroning of Turner’s chairmanship, gave WWE the opportunity to vanquish their rival by March 2001 after the shocked purchase.  Since then, the “McMahon Empire” has essentially reigned over the entire industry with little resistence as independent circuits slowly emerged from obscurity; however, the growth wasn’t growing in the same rate like it was.  Even though TNA had attempted a showdown back in 2010, the effort, however,  backfired spectacularly and hilariously as the rating for that particular episode of TNA Impact barely dented that of WWE Raw, much less Smackdown’s, and we all witness what happened in the years to come, to the point that a recent statement was made by ShowBuzzDaily.com concerning IMPACT’s viewership ratings, stating that they did not have ratings for the entire networks rating, much less IMPACT Wrestling.  MLW’s partnership with BeIN Sports was hampered by most of the major cable and satellite networks from Comcast to AT&T’s dual networks (U-verse & DirecTV) terminated their carriage agreement with the network by August 29, 2018, primarily due to US broadcasting rights to many of European football leagues such as La Liga and Serie A, which Comcast & AT&T fear such instability in carriages could affect revenue generated to both ends.  Even if you add the ratings from NJPW coverage on AXS TV in the last 3 years, the fact that ROH, NWA, and AEW are not on a major television or cable network, the probability of another MNW may never be possible in the foreseeable future, if not never ever happen at all, as much as certain people hopes for one more time.

Now that I’ve provided an overview, what’s yours? One word of caution, please comment with civility or you’ll be blocked forever.