Please Don't Go!
For the vast majority of wrestling fans out there, professional wrestling begins and ends with Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment. For more than half a century, WWE (at first known as WWWF and then later WWF) has been the one constant presence in wrestling, first as a major wrestling territory in Northeastern America and eventually as a global powerhouse it is today. Regardless of how you feel about WWE's current quality or lack thereof, there's no doubt they deserve their place in the hierarchy of wrestling. What they perhaps don't deserve however, is the reputation that they, and they alone, are professional wrestling. They believe it. Many fans out there truly do believe this. Hell, for a time in my life, I believed it. But while the WWE may be the biggest, most notable entity in wrestling, it's easier to believe that their monopoly of the business has hurt professional wrestling more than it's helped.
Why do I bring this up? Because in case you've been living under a rock recently, the WWE is in Japan this weekend for a set of house shows, most notably one tomorrow that will be broadcast on the WWE Network. More important than the show potentially is the fact that WWE will be holding tryouts, no small deal as Japan is crawling with pro wrestling talent, thanks to promotions like New Japan, All Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH among others. And rumor has it that two of Japan's biggest wrestling stars, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada, are both on WWE's radar. To say this is big news would be the biggest understatement of all time. Okada is 27 year old superstar in the making who just headlined the critically and commercially successful Wrestle Kingdom 9 for New Japan back in January, while Nakamura, a cross between Daniel Bryan, Freddie Mercury and a Mountain Dew addict, might be the most charismatic wrestler on planet Earth. This is no small deal we're talking about here, and certainly, the signings of Nakamura and Okada to WWE would not only be a potentially huge coup for the company, but a decision that would receive widespread acclaim from wrestling fans ever. It would certainly be a splash. It would presumably be good for WWE.
But would it be good for wrestling?
That's where this whole situation gets tricky for me. My opinions of WWE recently are, how should I put this, not the kindest, and even bringing in talented guys like Nakamura and Okada into the fold wouldn't do a thing to bring me back into the fold. Frankly, the only way that would happen at this point is if CM Punk returned or the WWE vastly improved their onscreen product. That said, I cannot fault either man if they ultimately choose to join up with Vince McMahon and co. Anyone, from the most diehard WWE critic to their biggest fan, will tell you that the greatest chance for recognition in wrestling is with them, not to mention the financial and outside the ring pursuits that come with success. To fault either man for taking the opportunity of a lifetime would be both stupid and pointless. If they are fortunate enough to impress the WWE with their tryouts in the next few days, they shouldn't hesitate to sign with the company. Any one in their right mind would. But mother of sweet things, do I hope they by some chance refuse.
Which brings us back to that question; is Nakamura and Okada signing with WWE the best thing for wrestling? And frankly, the answer is no. In fact, it's hell no. Now I can feel the breeze of numerous fans shaking their heads at me, followed by vast arguments about how awesome it would be to see these guys on the biggest stage. And sure, it would be. But there's more to it than that. You see, for the first time since WCW and ECW were around, professional wrestling isn't just more than WWE, it actually feels like more than WWE. Look around you wrestling fans, you'll see it. New Japan, thanks largely in part to Nakamura and Okada, is bigger than ever globally and is starting to make inroads into the states. Lucha Underground, the promotion that saved my love for the business, is perhaps the most consistent and critically acclaimed wrestling promotion on the planet right now. Ring of Honor finally has it's long overdue TV deal and has just hitched their wagon to an amazing overall talent in Jay Lethal. Jeff Jarrett's GFW is coming right around the corner with some momentum. And hell, even TNA, bad reputation and all, is still around and still with a decent amount of talent. The industry may still be WWE dominated, but there are options now for the disenfranchised fan and wrestler. There's growth. Or, to put it more bluntly, there's hope.
So why, oh why, would it be a good thing for Nakamura and Okada to leave New Japan for WWE? Or for someone like Lethal to ditch ROH for them (which was rumored just a week ago)? Shouldn't we be hoping instead that these individuals stay in their promotions and continue to build momentum for them? To me, that's what's best for wrestling overall. Certainly, these wrestlers in WWE would be a sight to behold, and the potential dream matches are limitless. But how does taking them away from their respective companies not set them back? And furthermore, what guarantee is there that guys like Nakamura, Okada, Lethal or any other wouldn't get lost in the shuffle? Let's face facts; WWE's talent pool is the deepest it's ever been right now, which is both a blessing and a curse. Is there a realistic chance that both Okada and Nakamura both become massive stars when there's so much talent ahead of them (not to mention the WWE's poor track record of booking Japanese stars)? Can we really expect Jay Lethal to become the next Seth Rollins? Again, the risk is worth the reward if you're those guys, and I certainly am not trying to say that ROH, New Japan or any other of these companies would die just because they lost a few guys. But they certainly would be hurt, and the last thing professional wrestling needs right now is the growth of several on the rise promotions hindered so WWE can add two more faces to the crowd.
What professional wrestling needs, in my humble opinion, is Okada and Nakamura to stay where they are in New Japan, continue to have great matches with the talent there and grow the company into a global alternate/competitor for WWE. Am I crazy for thinking that? I don't believe so. All I know is that the most successful, the most fun, period of my wrestling fandom (before Lucha Underground came along at least), was the Monday Night War. That time period may not have been as excellent as some people remember, but there were at least effort put into making the shows the best they could be. What caused that effort; competition and more opportunity for talent to get a chance. I'm not saying that Nakamura and Okada staying in New Japan will make them the modern day WCW to WWE. But it won't hurt. And again, I'd much rather watch those two continue to grow their current promotion than potentially get lost in the shuffle in WWE. They're better than that. They deserve better than that. And we wrestling fans deserve a better wrestling world than the one we've been living in since WCW and ECW closed their doors. That isn't to say WWE has been bad that entire time, because it most certainly hasn't. But the lack of real options for disgruntled fans over the years has caused both WWE and wrestling to become stagnant. Okada and Nakamura joining WWE will continue that, even if it's in the tiniest way possible.
And for that, I pull out the old chant used for Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero's final ECW match; please don't go! Please don't go! Please don't go!