Monday, April 13, 2015

Letter to WWE and NJPW: Give the Fans a Clash between Intercontinental Champions

No reason exists why Nakamura can't wrestle Bryan
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
WWE promotes its talent as independent contractors. They're not employees of the company; rather, they just happen to have a set of dates to fulfill. It's a fancy loophole that WWE manipulates in order to keep its talent under wraps without giving them certain benefits that full-time employees would also get. Being denied basic benefits like health insurance is the worst thing to come of this blatant abuse of the label, but from a strictly fan-service viewpoint, the restriction of dates of WWE wrestlers only to WWE or at the very most NXT is a killer. WWE employs some of the best wrestlers in the world, and while other big companies around the world can put their guards down and allow their wrestlers to visit elsewhere, the only way WWE fans will get to see exotic matches is if it picks up local indie wrestlers to act as enhancement talent for the recipient of this month's big push.

The exclusivity gives fans license to dream about dream matches that can only happen if someone gets signed or released from Titan, but protecting some bullshit sacred aura of artificial demand only goes so far once these matches tend to get booked. It's why when stuff like Daniel Bryan pitching a match against Shinsuke Nakamura happens (around the 3:45 mark in the below video), the reaction can be maddening:

Everyone knows that the answer, even if it isn't spoken aloud, is going to be "no" when such an idea gets pitched. But the firewall doesn't necessarily have to exist, even if certain partnership deals between New Japan Pro Wrestling and Global Force Wrestling would make things tricky. After all, anyone who is a wrestler is technically an independent contractor, and such a designation should allow for matches like these to happen. Aside from agreeing or disagreeing on bullshit things like "who's going to win the match?" literally no negatives exist to collaboration. But wrestling companies exist as if they're competitors on the market. In some respects, it's true that wrestling companies all compete for the same market share, but at the same time, the market is so limited that going for exclusivity seems short-sighted.

The market for pro wrestling is a lot smaller than it is for, say, cola or fast food burgers. Companies can try to shut everyone else out, or they can get together and cultivate a different environment, one where they can try and integrate fans from other cultures to consume their wrestling in addition to the stuff they already watch, or at least get a one-time spike by getting a combined audience. The craft beer industry has taken up this model to an extent. Brewmasters from various smaller companies get together and collaborate on projects all the time. Granted, New Japan and WWE are the two biggest companies in their field in the world. What benefit would they have working together?

Well, WWE is trying to get a foothold in Japan, as seen by its increased touring in the country and signing of native stars like KENTA/Hideo Itami and courtships of NJPW stars like Kazuchika Okada. NJPW wants to get into America as well, or else it wouldn't be doing the War of the Worlds/Global Wars series with Ring of Honor or partnering with GFW. Going in with each other and providing a premium matchup for taping on both companies' over-the-top services would be the best possible entrees into each others' home countries. That best premium bout would be the one between two of the best wrestlers on each roster, guys who know each other, would be comfortable with each other, and would know how to spread those peacock feathers in order to let the product fit the advertised bigness of the event.

It's not a matter of whether Bryan and Nakamura would hit the ball out of the park; the only question would be how far would the ball travel before it landed. A match like that would surely create buzz around the wrestling world, especially if it's promoted by both companies in their home nations. One Intercontinental Champion vs. the other would put some juice into WWE's version (NJPW's version is already the 1a title to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship's 1), and it would create a spectacle that has not been seen in a WWE ring since the Radicalz invaded RAW.

The reason why it won't happen is the same reason why wrestlers in WWE may have it best of any other wrestlers in the country if not the world but may still not have it objectively good. The independent contractor label given to WWE superstars at this point is a delusional mirage, and it keeps them pinned down. WWE might think it's for the company's own good, but imagine how much better it could be in other countries, or even in this country, if it worked as a collaborator and benefactor rather than an invading usurper. But imagine a world where WWE wasn't some greedy monolith and actually was a moving cog in a healthy ecosystem. The Bryan/Nakamura match would not only be booked for the WWE tour of Japan, but both companies would already be promoting the shit out of it. Maybe Vince McMahon should get the fuck off his throne inside of his ivory towers and be the change that he should have been when he bought WCW. Let this match happen, spread the WWE's wealth around the world, and make wrestling more of an art instead of a cold, shitty facsimile of large-scale capitalism that it seemingly is right now.