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Are New Japan's split shows leading to self-'Destruction'?

It started in 2014. New Japan Pro Wrestling, a piping hot product and home to some of the world’s most talented wrestlers, began splitting certain major events into two shows. It ran its New Beginning show in Osaka and Okayama, and its Destruction event in Kobe and Okayama. At the time, it was a somewhat controversial call, at least to fans of the product. I assume NJPW felt their roster was deep enough and their product was popular enough that they could make some extra scratch by drawing two big crowds instead of one.

But for viewers at home like me, the reaction was mixed. While more New Japan isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there was an NJPW overload feeling brewing. And while the split shows were a good mix of major singles and tag matches and entertaining multi-mans, it’s hard not to imagine how much better a single show stacked with major matches and less filler would have been like.

Nonetheless, the decision to split the shows must have worked because in 2015, they again split New Beginning and Destruction into two shows. Once again, they were all solid, but it was hard not to feel like we were being robbed of really super single major shows: the kind of shows that drew me to NJPW in the first place.

That brings us to now where New Japan went a step further by splitting Destruction into THREE shows: Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kobe. This year, however, there was no doubt about that aforementioned feeling. None of the Destruction shows felt important, and were all filler with only one or two matches of importance. As a viewer, I was left disengaged and underwhelmed. My interest in the product was at an all-time low, but then the next month, King of Pro Wrestling happened and all was right in the world again.

Uing King of Pro Wrestling as a comparison, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the concept of splitting major shows in lieu of one big show and determine who really benefits in the end: New Japan, the fans, both, or neither?

The Numbers

In terms of attendance, Destruction looks like a flop on paper. The first one in Tokyo drew 2,803 which is not even close to a sellout. Hiroshima drew 2,801 fans which is a disappointing number as in previous years, they’ve drawn nearly double that in the same building. Kobe did better, drawing 5,432, about 700 off from a sellout. That sounds pretty good until you realise they’ve consistently sold out that building since 2012.

In total, the three Destruction shows spread across nine days collectively drew 11,036. In comparison, King of Pro Wrestling half a month later drew 9,671 to Sumo Hall. Not a huge difference, but I think it’s safe to assume the three Destruction gates combined was higher than KOPW. Destruction also has the advantage of being able to sell more of the expensive ringside seats. Then again, the costs involved in running three shows in three cities must have been higher than the singular KOPW.

So in the end, was the financial benefit of running three shows really significant? It’s tough to say without any hard numbers, but considering the small difference in attendance and other factors, it doesn’t appear to be a clear cut monetary win.

The Reception

Taking a purely subjective point of view, in terms of pure entertainment and viewer satisfaction, how did the three Destructions compare with King of Pro Wrestling? In this lowly writer’s opinion, the difference was night and day.  

None of the Destruction shows had that big show feeling that major NJPW events usually have...because they weren’t really big shows. They felt more like the “Road to” shows that build up to the big one rather than the big one itself. And in a way, that’s what they were, at least for the company’s major singles title.

At Destruction in Hiroshima, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada avenged their G1 losses over YOSHI-HASHI and Bad Luck Fale, respectively. That led to challenges for KOPW by Goto and Marufuji with Marufuji going after Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight title, and Goto looking to take Omega’s Tokyo Dome spot.
 

Personally, I was a thousand times more interested in Marufuji going after the title than Okada getting his obligatory win back over Fale. And while Omega and YOSHI-HASHI had an awesome G1 match, the result of the rematch, which was also very good, was somewhat obvious, thus slightly diminishing the excitement level.

Meanwhile, Goto vs. Omega in a G1 final rematch at KOPW was guaranteed to be awesome with the added layer of the result setting up the Tokyo Dome main event.

There were other title matches on the Destruction shows (KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI in the main event of the Tokyo show), but that match didn’t quite deliver in that spot. The tag title match in Hiroshima with The Briscoes defending against the Young Bucks had some good heat going in with idea that it might lead to an eventual merger of New Japan’s two tag titles, but that idea fizzled out with the Briscoes retaining.

While none of the other title matches were bad, there was nothing blow away or at the usually high NJPW standard. The main problem for me was the amount of unimportant six man, eight man, and regular tag matches that filled the Destruction cards. Destruction in Kobe, for example, only had one singles match: Naito vs. Elgin for the IC title in the show’s main event. The rest of the show was filled with two eight man matches, three six man matches (one was at least for the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Title), and three tag team matches. That’s a “Road to” card if I ever saw one.

Again, nothing on the Destruction shows was inherently bad, but so much was skippable which is a rare thing for a major NJPW show. I found myself tuning in to only a select few matches on each Destruction show and skipping the rest. Yes, I even missed the match of the year contender of Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. Captain New Japan & Yoshitatsu.

Now take a look at the King of Pro Wrestling card:

Dark Match
Red Death Mask vs. Tiger Mask W

Six Man Tag Team Match
BULLET CLUB (Adam Cole, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI)

Eight Man Tag Team Match
CHAOS (Beretta, Jado, Rocky Romero & Toru Yano) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma), Bobby Fish & Ryusuke Taguchi

Eight Man Tag Team Match
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima & Yuji Nagata vs. Go Shiozaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya & Maybach Taniguchi

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. David Finlay & Ricochet

IWGP Tag Team Title Match
Briscoe Brothers (Jay Briscoe & Mark Briscoe) (c) vs. Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)

Eight Man Tag Team Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jay Lethal, KUSHIDA & Michael Elgin vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)

NEVER Openweight Title Match
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Kyle O'Reilly

IWGP Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership Match
Hirooki Goto vs. Kenny Omega

IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Naomichi Marufuji

Now that’s the NJPW big show feel that I know and love.

Look at just the top three matches alone. On paper, they looked great, and in excution, they all delivered beyond expectations. Even the multi-man matches felt bigger with Los Ingobernables taking on the NJPW (& ROH) All Stars, and the NOAH vs. NJPW feud reigniting with a great eight man tag, and a post match Go Shiozaki NEVER Openweight challenge. And of course, the outcomes of the top two matches cemented the Wrestle Kingdom main event.

But most importantly, we got the debut of Tiger Mask W, who has clearly been trained by Kota Ibushi. The big crowd also helped make the show feel important and gave it that great, exciting Japanese wrestling atmosphere.

That was another issue with the Destruction shows. Hiroshima in particular suffered from a fairly dead crowd. The other shows were ok, but the crowd of 9,671 at Sumo Hall for KOPW blew them away. Crowd atmosphere can make or break a show for the viewer at home, and though it didn’t “destroy” Destruction, it didn’t do it any favours either.

Who Wins?

In terms of match quality, importance, and overall enjoyment, it was a no brainer. KOPW was on a completely different level from all three Destruction shows. And it’s a good thing too because after Destruction, my enthusiasm for New Japan took a bit of a hit.

So back to my original question: Who really benefits from splitting major shows?

I have to assume New Japan benefits financially. Otherwise, why do it? Destruction in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kobe made New Japan’s product feel diluted, and as a viewer, it turned me off. The whole concept has an air of greediness about it, but NJPW is a business and how they deem it fit to make money is up to them. But splitting shows certainly seems to be putting profits in front of the fans, and that is not an attractive notion.

But just when things started to look bleak, they follow the disappointing Destruction with the exceptional King of Pro Wrestling, and you forget why you were so salty in the first place. As a viewer and a NJPW fan, I hope Destruction was a failed experiment, and next year they go back to only splitting certain shows into two events, or not splitting them at all for that matter.

Splitting major shows without losing that big event feel is beyond even New Japan’s ability. Their roster is deep, but not that deep. It might increase profits, but is watering down your own product really worth the risk?