Being a pro-wrestling fan can be god damn exhausting.
I’ve been watching wrestling my entire life, so 34 years in total. It was always a constant in my family and in my life growing up. I was born in 1983 right when the big 80’s wrestling boom was about to hit and with an older brother and sister who were already engrossed in all things WWF, I very quickly followed suit. Really, though, in those days it was a whole family affair. My parents were always there watching every Saturday Night’s Main Event and regardless of where we spent Thanksgiving we would fire up Survivor Series when the time came. As a kid I didn’t really find myself crazy into a lot of the other things kids my age were also into, or the things the friends I now have as an adult were into when they were young. Sure, I couldn’t resist the urge of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters, but I could never really get into comic books or a lot of other cartoons or shows that others were into as they grew up in that time period.
For me, it was always wrestling. I had buckets of wrestling figures – mostly WWF, but any wrestling figure was fair game scale be damned. Instead of reading comics, I was writing my own wrestling magazines using pictures cut out from the monthly WWF magazine, PWI, Inside Wrestling, The Wrestler, and whatever other random magazines were on the shelves of our local super market. Rather than being invested in a ton of other cartoons or series on TV, I was writing my own stories and acting them out with my wrestling figures in my bedroom. I was completely and totally engulfed by all things wrestling.
For a brief period in college I completely shut off from watching wrestling all together. For me, the final straw was Triple H defeating Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Title that did it for me. By this point I obviously knew that the outcomes weren’t real, but I was getting to the point where I was frustrated in seeing the same boring, predictable results week after week and seeing Jericho lose in the main event of the biggest show of the year was all I needed to go completely cold turkey. It would be several years before I actually sat down and started actively watching again.
Recently, though, I found myself having those same feelings again. Boring, predictable, sometimes downright embarrassing shows week after week with mind-numbing parity booking that leaves you feeling uncompelled to feel any attachment to any of the wrestlers. Truthfully, it had already been months (years?) since I’d bothered to watch an entire episode of Monday Night Raw. Ever since they moved to the three-hour format I found it far too exhausting to sit through an entire episode especially when the storylines are bad, the matches are generally short and forgettable, and the characters are wholly uninspired. Let’s not even get started on the terribly scripted promos leaving the men and women for whom they’re written sounding like idiots and goons as they try to make the drivel sound exciting.
While I was basically completely ignoring Raw, only reading write-ups of the results online and picking off individual matches or segments to watch later, I did find myself regularly watching Smackdown every week. From the onset of the brand split it seemed as though Smackdown was, again, establishing itself as the wrestling show without any of the played-out authority figure storylines that were endlessly plaguing Raw. Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan would come out at the start of the show, announce what was going to be happening, and then they’d politely fuck off to the back where we’d barely see them the rest of the show. Instead, in a novel twist for WWE, the show focused on the wrestling instead of what the McMahon figurehead of the show was doing. Of course, not all good things would last and we’d wind up with the nonsensical Shane/Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn storyline that went on way too long and tried to paint Shane as the babyface hero while, in reality, his character was acting like a complete jerk and making the lives of these two guys miserable.
After this year’s Wrestlemania I finally felt myself compelled to shut myself off once again. It’s not that Mania itself was really all that bad of a show either. Despite it being way too long every year, and seemingly only getting longer, there were some bright spots and enjoyable matches. Overall, though? It was just more of the same. This was even more apparent after the Greatest Royal Rumble where we saw Roman Reigns yet again lose to Brock Lesnar and then claim that he deserved another shot. Smackdown was feeling pretty dire, too. What was once the go-to wrestling show of the brand was now feeling as stale and boring as Raw. Even with Daniel Bryan back in the ring and with Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura on the same show I just can’t bring myself to sit through the slop each week.
All hope wasn’t lose for me, though. The pro-wrestling landscape is a lot different than it was in 2002 when I quit watching all wrestling. I knew that there were options out there for me to watch and enjoy wrestling (what a concept!) and the shining example of that was New Japan Pro Wrestling. I had previously subscribed to New Japan’s streaming service, NJPW World, when it launched in 2014. I stayed up late to watch Wrestle Kingdom 9 live with Japanese commentary and though I didn’t understand a damn thing anybody was saying, the excitement in the voice of the commentators was infectious. It was January 4 and I had already seen the best show I would see all year.
I wound up falling off of the NJPW wagon due to a whole bunch of things – moving, work, travel, and finding it hard to keep up with massive events like the annual G1 Climax. I didn’t want to half-ass it and only watch some of the shows and I felt that if I wasn’t watching every single show that went up on NJPW World that I was doing myself a disservice and should just not bother. I guess it’s the completist in me who wants to do everything all of the way instead of just catching the big shows and filling in the blanks. Earlier this year, though, when I started to feel the strain of WWE programming dragging me down I started to look at NJPW again, and I did it at just the right time.
I came back to NJPW World at the onset of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and didn’t miss a single show. I don’t remember if it’s any different now than it had been when I first signed up for NJPW World, but for the house shows in between larger events only the actual BOSJ matches were added to NJPW World. I found it way easier to follow along this way than having to try and make myself watch several 2+ hour shows each week. Plus, now that I understand the structure of NJPW shows in my second go-round at NJPW World I can generally safely assume that it’s okay to skip the first couple of matches unless I have a real yearning for watching young boy matches or a couple of eight-man tag team matches. Honestly, though, I haven’t found myself skipping any of that stuff yet and I’m happier for it – especially when Chris Jericho shows up to drop a profanity-laced promo on Testuya Naito.
The Best of the Super Juniors was one of the greatest events I’ve had the pleasure of watching in full and it all led up to NJPW Dominion where the winner of the tournament, Hiromu Takahashi, would challenge the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay. Not only did I get to lose my mind in the weeks leading up to this with matches that finally gave me a reason to care about El Desperado, had me falling in love with “Bone Soldier” Taiji Ishimori, and doubling-down on my apathy for flat-Earther Flip Gordon. As if the finals of the BOSJ, which saw Hiromu battle Taiji, weren’t great enough the semi-finals may have been even more dramatic. Dragon Lee and El Desperado had a mask-ripping instant classic that had me legitimately gasping as Despy’s mask was torn from his face. I was on the edge of my seat and feeling horribly conflicted as KUSHIDA faced Hiromu, and the drama of YOH versus Taiji was off the charts with Will Ospreay at ringside to try and cheer on his Chaos stablemate.
The BOSJ itself was an awakening for me and my love of professional wrestling, but it didn’t stop there. Dominion would also see Kazuchika Okada defend the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Kenny Omega in a two-out-of-three falls, no-time-limit main event. The story of Okada/Omega and the saga of the Golden Lovers is far too much to recap here, but this was all a culmination of several years of intricate storytelling taking place in NJPW and beyond. For me, it was a return to form with NJPW as I caught a few hours of sleep before waking myself up at 2am so I could watch Dominion live.
The entire show was, once again, fantastic but it was topped off by a legendary main event that went over an hour and was as emotionally straining for the viewer as it was physically straining for Okada and Omega. Alright, that may be a bit of a stretch, but when’s the last time you found yourself walking circles around your living room with your hands on your head in exasperation while watching a wrestling match? And was I the only one who teared up a little bit when Omega hit that final V-Trigger on Okada before closing out the match and finally capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Title?
It was with the BOSJ itself and Dominion as the icing on the cake that brought professional wrestling back into my heart. I always knew NJPW was there and doing incredible things, and I would catch one-off matches here and there if I heard about something amazing happening, but it wasn’t until I finally felt burned enough by the main roster WWE programming to turn it off completely that I was able to give NJPW the time it deserved. I’m now counting down the days until this year’s G1 Climax and am looking forward to catching every match and every show of the nearly month-long event.
It’s not just NJPW, though. A little over a year ago we moved to Austin, Texas and were fortunate enough to find ourselves attending Wrestle Circus shows almost every month. Unfortunately, Wrestle Circus is on a bit of a hiatus right now so we haven’t had the pleasure of crowding into a hot building in downtown Austin to enjoy several hours of live pro-wrestling. There are other options in Austin and the surrounding area but we just haven’t found ourselves out to any of them just yet.
I’ve also found myself committing time to Major League Wrestling who put up a new episode of their show on YouTube every week. Every week isn’t always a firecracker of a show but I’m into anything where I can see Pentagon and Fenix regularly (our current cut-the-cable subscription doesn’t offer El Rey in my area), plus guys like Shane Strickland, Sammy Guevara, and MJF who I’ve seen do some amazing and entertaining things thanks to Wrestle Circus.
And I’m not fully off the WWE train. I do watch NXT each week and enjoy it – it’s a bright spot in weekly WWE programming due largely in part, I’m sure, to Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn being kept far away from it. It’s an hour-long show focusing on wrestling and giving you reasons to care about the wrestlers and the titles they’re defending and challenging for which isn’t always something that you’ll find in the main roster WWE shows (anyone remember what the Universal Title looks like anymore?).
If that’s not enough there are also a ton of other streaming services out there as well as more and more indies every day streaming live on Twitch. Stardom World is out there making joshi puroresu available to the masses and Sendai Girls isn’t far behind. Powerbomb.tv offers a whole wealth of promotions for a single price to fit whatever itch you have at any time. DDT Universe is there for the weirdest of the weird and RevPro & Progress On Demand are there for the best of British wrestling. I’m currently just a subscriber to NJPW World and the WWE Network and finding it hard to not plop down the cash for at least a few of these other services each month, all of which are priced at or below $9.99.
So, if you’re like me and have found yourself struggling to enjoy this thing you’ve loved for however many years – don’t fret. There is still smart, exciting, interesting professional wrestling out there to be had if you sniff around for it. You might have to do some extra legwork like navigating a Japanese-language website to sign up for a service or plopping down $40 for an Amazon Fire Stick so you can more easily watch NJPW, but it all becomes so immediately worth it when you find yourself shouting at your television at 6am while the greatest match in professional wrestling history unfolds before your eyes.