‘The King of Sports’, New Japan Pro Wrestling, has announced via one of their most popular stars, Kazuchika Okada, and via their website, that they will be adding an additional title to their championship ranks – the KOPW (presumably King of Pro Wrestling) title.
New Japan have made the following statement:
The provisional KOPW 2020 will be decided across two nights, on August 26 in Korakuen Hall, and on August 29 at Summer Struggle in Jingu Stadium. Eight wrestlers will wrestle in four singles matches on August 26. Each wrestler will bring their own desired match rules to the first round. Okada suggested that ‘there are all kinds of rules. Two out of three falls, ladder, steel cage matches, it could be anything’. Fans will vote on which wrestler’s rules the singles matches will be contested under. The winners of those singles matches will advance to a four-way match on August 29 under ‘regular’ four way rules. The winner of that match will be provisional KOPW2020. The KOPW title can be defended until the end of the year, with stipulations to be voted on by fans. The winner of the last KOPW2020 title match of the year will be presented with the KOPW trophy, and the process begins anew in 2021! Okada stated that this would provide action that is ‘completely different from what we’ve expected from IWGP titles, and from NJPW’ but represented a completely fresh approach.
It’s interesting news for sure, but I have some reservations. While I can understand that New Japan are trying to keep their product fresh during a difficult and unprecedented time for both wrestling and the world generally, it’s questionable whether this is the best time for New Japan to add another title their already well-stocked cabinet?
Between the Heavyweight, Openweight, Junior and Tag divisions they already have 8 championships. Yes, the KOPW title does not have a belt and has a distinct set of rules of its own, but will pulling wrestlers away from other divisions dilute the competition across the other championships? The roster is already depleted by virtue of a number of wrestlers being unable to get around current travel restrictions. Will this only stretch things thinner, or make it more exciting?
Outside of that, the biggest concern I have about the KOPW title is the references to stipulation matches. The risk with this is that it potentially takes away from what makes New Japan so special, their USP: they’re the King of Sports.
Outside of the occasional, unsuccessful foray (Atsushi Onita’s barbed wire matches, for instance), New Japan has never really gone in for gimmick matches until recently (Moxley’s Texas Death match with Lance Archer, for example). Yes, action in New Japan can spill to the floor and into the crowd; tables and weapons can occasionally come into play. But as a general rule of thumb, New Japan has always put forward a sports-like presentation.
Unlike a lot of their American counterparts, and some of their Japanese ones, who rely strongly on gimmicks (not a criticism, by the way), New Japan has never needed to bring ladders and cages into their matches to make them stand out. In fact, the opposite applies: the emphasis on strong, physical grappling and exceptional athleticism is what made, and makes, New Japan so special. Will the emphasis on gimmicks and stipulations take away from this, and make the New Japan product feel a little more generic?
There is a way, though, that New Japan could reconcile its Strong Style approach with stipulations, and that is by applying gimmicks that will complement the Strong Style approach. ‘I Quit’ and ‘Last Man Standing’ matches tie in nicely with wrestling as a kind of combat sport or Mixed Martial Art (MMA). These matches don’t have to be plunder-filled car crashes, they can be intense confrontations based on being the better grappler by making his opponent tap or submit, or making sure your opponent can’t continue.
Iron Man matches can answer the question of whether a single pinfall in a match can truly decide who the better competitor is. Cage matches could have more of a serious, UFC feel to them – again, that combat sport feel ties in better with New Japan’s Strong Style base than spot-filled ladder matches or street fights.
It’s this that interests me about the KOPW title the most; how will New Japan be able to reconcile their Strong Style approach with stipulation matches? If done right, it could be very exciting. If done wrong, they risk diluting their product. Time will tell, and I’ll be sure to be watching!
The inaugural KOPW champion will be crowned at NJPW Summer Struggle on August 29th.