The Independent Era

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The tickets for the All In event being held in Chicago on September 2nd sold out in less than 30 minutes and with it, possibly ushering a new era of wrestling.  The event itself is being put together by Cody Rhodes and Matt & Nick Jackson, who are known as the Young Bucks, without a major wrestling organization sponsoring it.  The event is featuring talent that is widely featured in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.  They’ve only announced talent and the only match that is even on the card at the moment is Cody vs whoever the NWA champ is (currently Nick Aldis).  Is it safe to say that we’re living in the “Independent Era” of wrestling?

I think ground zero for this current movement ironically begins with WWE starting the WWE Network.  Without its success other independent, and international, feds wouldn’t have tried switching to streaming instead sticking with the DVD/Blu-Ray model they had.  Some feds still use this model, PWG for instance, due to having talent that is currently under contract for other organizations that would not allow them to appear because they would be featured in a pay-per-view type event.  Being able to stream various matches and promotions makes it easier to find the next big thing, be it a new promotion or finding the next Daniel Bryan, and to see them evolve.  Another contribution from WWE has also been not listening to their fans as they continue to seem to push talent that the crowd is reluctant to get behind.  This has also led to people beginning to check out their local indys or check out other promotions that are streaming.

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In addition to independent bookings, merchandise is a major way for indy wrestlers to make money and connect with fans.  The launch of prowrestlingtees.com has helped make it easier to get merch from your favorite wrestler.  The Young Bucks have basically created a model for how to avoid having to do business with WWE and create your own path.  They’re consistently selling new t-shirts and this helped put them in a position to control their own destiny with regard of where they want to work.  Cody Rhodes may have taken a play from CM Punk’s playbook, but instead of walking away he asked for his release.  Upon getting booked on the indy scene Cody’s stock went up almost immediately and he’s become one of the best villains around.  He knew that given an opportunity he could make it work and so far it has.

The viral nature of gifs, YouTube videos, and social media has also helped any number of indy wrestlers gain exposure.  Joey Ryan’s YouPorn-Plex seems to go viral at least once a month.  The Japanese promotion, DDT Pro, also seems to have things go viral periodically.  Especially their weird match types (empty apartment, empty stadium, train, etc) or any match revolving around the Ironman Heavymetalweight championship that can be won by anyone or anything.  A ladder recently had a retirement ceremony.  The Young Bucks even have their own YouTube channel/show, Being the Elite, that not only features Cody, but many other indy superstars like Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, Adam Page, and others.  The show started as a sort of “on the road” type show but has turned into more than that and has been influencing wrestling angles in ROH and NJPW for a little while now.

I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets for this event.  I really believe that we’re at the beginning of a new era of wrestling and one that seems to be lacking in WWE’s active participation.  Sure they have NXT, 205 Live, and Seth Rollins helping to take care of the in-ring side of things, but they produce so much filler content a week that you don’t really need to watch Raw or Smackdown live anymore.  You can either wait until the PPV or catch clips on YouTube.  With the times changing and there no longer really being “appointment TV”, you can give something else a try.  I’m all in on seeing what this “Independent Era” has to offer.

The Inevitability of Zack Sabre Jr.

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There’s been a march taking place in March over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Zack Sabre Jr won the New Japan Cup by submitting a good portion of the NJPW main event scene. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Sanada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi all fell to Sabre in their quest to win the tournament. Because he won that tournament he now has his sights set on Kazuchika Okada and the IWGP heavyweight championship, but he faces some pretty long odds. Okada is in the middle of an all-time run as the champ. You can make the argument that it seems like Okada ALWAYS WINS, but when you’re the Ace of the company that’s how it’s supposed to be. Losses feel unique and if an Ace loses, they need to pick themselves back up and redeem themselves. The match itself should be interesting because Okada has only faced one opponent similar to Sabre and that would be Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki is the leader of Suzuki-Gun and a mentor to Sabre. Both men wrestle a submission based style and while Suzuki is much older and possibly more sadistic, Sabre is younger and inevitable.

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What do I mean by inevitable you ask? Sabre has won gold in just about every promotion he’s wrestled in: Evolve, Rev-Pro, PWG, just to name a few. His submission style isn’t necessarily to work on a limb until you’re forced to tap out. It’s to work on ALL of them and this causes opponents to wonder where he’s going to strike next. He’s composed and calculating and he WILL win eventually. If Okada is able to survive, which seems to be the popular consensus, NJPW has a new star to contend with and he will not stop until he gets gold. It may not be in the form of the heavyweight championship, but it will happen.

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I’d love to see Sabre win, if for no other reason than to just put one over on everyone who thinks that Okada always wins. However, I’m fine with Okada winning as well because I think he’s on a run that will be talked about for many years. Both potential outcomes could lead to interesting things as well. If Sabre wins, he’ll find himself at the top of the company and his mentor as the gatekeeper to get to him. Suzuki is also the current Intercontinental champion. The Intercontinental championship is the second biggest title in the heavyweight division. It could also lead to internal strife within Suzuki-Gun since Sabre would have surpassed his mentor. How long before Suzuki-Gun becomes Sabre-Gun? If Okada wins he’ll find himself closer to having broken another broken. He will be tied with longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi for successful title defenses in a single title reign at 11 defenses. If Okada wins, I think Tanahashi will come out and be the next challenger for IWGP heavyweight championship.  Either way I think the match is going to be a great one and will set the pace for what is already a jam-packed week of wrestling.

Alpha Vs Omega

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Like most wrestling fans, I am eagerly looking forward to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 taking place on January 4th.  The card is stacked with a main event several years in the making with the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada taking on longtime rival Tetsuya Naito.  While that match is the main event, one of the semi-main events has started to really heat up.  I am talking, of course, about Kenny Omega defending his United States championship against Chris Jericho.  Now this match definitely falls in the category of a dream match, but this all seemed very unlikely just a few short months ago.  Jericho has been perceived as a WWE guy for almost twenty years.  Just to have him step away from that and appear somewhere else is a big deal regardless of whom his opponent is.

Omega and Jericho had some interaction on Twitter.  The general feeling that it was to possibly hype a match that would be taking place on Jericho’s Rock ‘N Wrestling cruise that would be happening in late 2018.  This was their final interaction on Twitter before Jericho shocked the wrestling world.

After defending his United States championship against Baretta at Power Struggle on 11/05/17, Omega was interrupted while cutting a promo by a video from Jericho.  In the video Jericho challenged Omega to a match at Wrestle Kingdom and billed it as Alpha Vs Omega.  The reason for Jericho’s challenge is that Omega claims to be the best in the world, but so does Jericho since he claimed it first.  He used a similar reason to challenge CM Punk at Wrestlemania 28.  I think Jericho is one of the few wrestlers who remembers his own story so when he does something, it’s usually consistent with his character.  He also works much better as a heel and while the match was going to be something special, Jericho added something to it recently.

At a recent NJPW event Jericho ran another video after Omega’s matches, but this time when the lights came up he was standing behind Omega.  I figured Jericho wouldn’t actually be in Japan until Wrestle Kingdom, but I was mistaken like so many others.  Jericho laid a beat down on Omega that went on for several minutes.  Omega was bloody at the end of it and Jericho had even laid out one of his friends, Don Callis, who was an announcer who went into the ring to check on Omega.  The image of a bloodied and battered Omega changed the dynamic of the match.

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Photo Courtesy of WhatCulture.Com

It will no longer be a simple match of who the better person is, but a personal one.  Jericho being the clear heel and Omega being the scrappy face couldn’t be clearer than in the press conference that followed.  I strongly suggest watching the whole thing if you have time, but I have Jericho’s bit ready to go.

I love how the build of this is sort of a reversal of a similar angle Jericho was involved in 15 years ago.  In the build up to Wrestlemania 19 Jericho had called out a recently returning Shawn Michaels.  The two were very similar with their characters and in-ring style and it felt like Jericho was calling out the old man so he could put him down.  Ultimately Jericho lost that match and Michaels stayed around for several more years.  This time Jericho is the old man and he’s picking a fight with the younger version of himself, not someone who’s just making their comeback.  While Jericho is billed as the “Alpha” of the match, since he did all of the things Omega claims to do first, he’s really the “Omega”.  Jericho is probably nearing the end of his in-ring career while Omega hopefully has several years left in him.  I’m most curious if this will be a one-off for Jericho or will it lead to more appearances.  It’s also great to see Kenny Omega get rewarded with a marquee match that will help get more American eyes on the product.  He’s not the only person to help elevate NJPW, but he’s the one that most American audiences may know about.