One of the major stories this week was Jim Ross being announced as the play by play commentator for the upcoming New Japan (NJPW) “Wrestle Kingdom IX” event on Jan. 4 in Tokyo. Now I’m not the biggest fan of Japanese wrestling (puroesu) to say the least. I might have seen eight shows of this style in my entire life and the ones I’ve seen have only been decent. I certainly don’t hate it but it’s just not my thing. However, we’re going to look at what this announcement could mean for the product in America, which is a huge market for their style. Let’s get to it.
First and foremost, let’s look at what the play by play commentator is supposed to do. Above all else, it’s one thing: tell us what’s going on and why we should care. This is a major thing lacking from a lot of broadcasts today (including various American promotions): new viewers will have no idea why the match in front of them is going on or what the story is. That is something that should be explained in just a few seconds and is near the top of the priorities list.
Let’s flash back to April 19, 1997 for the first ECW pay per view, “Barely Legal”. One of the main events on the show was a major grudge match between Taz and Sabu. The two had a major feud dating back over a year due to Sabu walking out on an ECW commitment to head to Japan for more money. Taz wasn’t pleased and called out Sabu over and over, eventually setting up the showdown here.
Here’s the problem: I found out that story after seeing the show. None of that is mentioned on the broadcast in a show, either in a video package or by commentator Joey Styles. The story could be summed up in one sentence: “Taz is furious at Sabu for walking out on ECW over a year ago and tonight Sabu is here to answer Taz’s challenges.” That sentence takes less than ten seconds to read and sums up the story in a nutshell. Why is that so complicated?
Well for a show where all of the commentary is in a language that a lot of Americans don’t understand, it’s a major problem. Enter Jim Ross, an experienced wrestling commentator that almost every wrestling fan has heard at some point in their life. He’s a familiar voice and can tell you everything that you need to know about a match and its story in the span of a few seconds. Just that little idea is so important in building an audience for a show and eventually a company as a whole.
That’s where NJPW can benefit the most from this. If you read comments and reviews of their shows, the general consensus seems to be that it’s somewhere between excellent and the greatest thing in the history of this planet. However, a lot of American wrestling fans, myself included, simply aren’t going to watch the shows because we’re not familiar enough with what is on the screen.
That’s where Ross comes in. As fans, we may not be familiar with the people we’re seeing in the ring, but we’re familiar with that voice and the black hat on his head. A lot of wrestling fans grew up listening to that voice and it might do a lot of good to draw in some fans that might not watch otherwise. While Ross may not be shouting “STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD!” for four hours, he’ll be there to call the action as only he can and draw you in by telling you everything that you need to know.
I’m not suggesting that Ross appearing on one show for commentary is going to carry the organization to the top of the wrestling world in America. However, Ross on commentary is going to help with a lot of the main issues that are holding NJPW back from establishing a major foothold in this country. Now of course there’s the problem of whether or not the fans will like the product, but this is at least a major step in the right direction.
At the moment, a lot of fans are looking for an alternative to their current wrestling product. With TNA having a single episode of “Impact Wrestling” left to air and opinions on WWE not being so hot, this may be the best thing for a lot of fans. It’s something genuinely different that can give them something new to watch. NJPW may not set the wrestling world on fire, but if it gives the fans something else to care about and get into, that’s always a good thing for the wrestling business.
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