Strong Style is coming to America. New Japan Pro Wrestling, the second-largest purveyor of choreographed grappling in the world — and, in the minds of many devoted fans, the best — airs its two-night G1 Special on AXS TV beginning July 1. Night 1 will be broadcast live, while the second airs on a five-day delay to corner that oh-so-sweet Friday-night audience.
An annual round-robin tournament, the G1 Climax determines who will receive a championship match in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, NJPW’s biggest show of the year. This event is different: It aims to crown the promotion’s first-ever United States Champion. That’s a major step toward westward expansion for a company that traditionally stays on its own turf.
This isn’t quite NJPW’s first excursion on this side of the Pacific — AXS TV already airs truncated versions of their major shows weeks or months after the fact, and the company sometimes holds joint events with Ring of Honor — but it is their most aggressive. Airing Night 1 of the event live suggests that New Japan wants as many American eyeballs on the G1 Special as possible, and the creation of a new title is similarly bold.
The message is clear: WWE may be the biggest show in town, but they aren’t the only show in town. “Monday Night Raw” has seen its ratings gradually decline in recent years, and vocal fans air their grievances about the company’s creative direction every single day on reddit, Twitter, and elsewhere. (Much of the criticism centers around Roman Reigns, who draws mixed reactions on a good night but is presented as the company’s top babyface — he has headlined WrestleMania three years in a row, and rumors abound that he’ll do the same in 2018 against Brock Lesnar.)
New Japan remains a distant second to WWE in terms of global exposure, but one needn’t be a direct competitor in order to be a viable alternative. They do that by presenting themselves not as a melodrama but as something closer to a legitimate sporting event; NJPW is the world’s foremost exporter of Strong Style, a pro-wrestling philosophy that’s just what it sounds like: dudes hitting each other so hard that the line between “real” and “fake” begins to blur.