The hottest wrestling promotion on the planet is New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The champion is not only the best wrestler in the world, but due to a string of high caliber big show main events that has not been rivaled in years, has to now be seriously considered as potentially the greatest big match wrestler of all time.

On the business side of things, Dave Meltzer is reporting that the most recent iPPV offering, Saturday’s “New Beginning”, did roughly 90,000 buys, which means the B-level show retained nearly all of its audience from WrestleKingdom, the premier New Japan event which cracked the 100,000 buy barrier.

For some perspective, the initial New Japan iPPV attempts in 2012 broke all time wrestling iPPV records, finishing in the 50,000 range. While WWE offers iPPV for its traditional PPV events, and does a reported 10-30,000 buys per typical show, let’s put them aside for the sake of this discussion, because obviously this is not an apples to apples comparison as the bulk of their business is traditional cable/satellite PPV. That makes ROH the second biggest iPPV based company in the world, and a strong ROH show does roughly 2,000 buys. New Japan is now doing numbers that not only completely obliterate other iPPV companies like ROH, Chikara, and Dragon Gate USA/EVOLVE, but with numbers in the 100,000 neighborhood, they are right in the lower end of what the WWE does domestically for traditional PPV. The bulk of these iPPV orders are from Japan (WrestleKingdom supposedly did 1,000 or so international buys, which is only 1% of the total buys), so New Japan is rivaling the WWE in domestic PPV purchases in each promotions respective home territory. When you compare the populations of the United States (plus Canada, which figures into the WWE domestic numbers) to the population of Japan, New Japan is getting a much larger number of buys per capita than the WWE.

(Note – There is a fair amount of uncertainty concerning the New Japan iPPV numbers, but considering his reputation and the best & most reliable wrestling journalist of all time, I am going to stick with what Meltzer reports until I have extremely compelling evidence not to. I would feel far more confident in these numbers if Big Dave would reveal the source, something to my knowledge he has yet to do, but if anybody deserves the benefit of the doubt, it is Meltzer)

New Japan is growing, and on the verge of a potential boom period. And they have done it the old-fashioned way. By putting on tremendous shows, and creating new stars with outstanding booking.

Four major buzz points have driven the growth:

The Rise of Okada

Following a lackluster WrestleKingdom VI offering in 2012, last year’s “New Beginning” show looked to be a throw away B-show, with a non descript mid carder challenging Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Nobody gave Kuzchika Okada, who was coming off a failed excursion to TNA where he was barely used, and a terrible WrestleKingdom match against YOSHI-HASHI, a chance in hell to win the match. The decision to put Okada in a title match, even on a B-level big show, was roundly criticized almost universally. Nobody could have predicted that the match would be the catalyst for the amazing 12 months that would follow.

Okada won the match and ended the record-breaking title run of Tanahashi, but more importantly, the match was a match of the year contender and instant classic. Okada followed the title win up with another classic against Tetsuya Naito, which many felt was even better than the Tanahashi match.

With CHAOS stable mate Gedo (who is also the co-booker of the promotion, with his long time tag team partner Jado, who consistently book themselves to lose nearly every match they participate in) as his mouthpiece, a new playboy gimmick, and a devastating wrist clutch clothesline finisher that NOBODY kicks out of, “The Rainmaker”, the 24-year old Okada was injected with a heavy dose of superstar charisma and top level working ability seemingly overnight, and rose from mid card non entity to legitimate superstar in such a convincing manner that it’s hard to remember that the “old” Okada ever existed. And in his mid 20’s, he hasn’t even come close to peaking as a performer, which makes it hard to fathom how good he can eventually be.

King of Pro Wrestling

On paper, this did not look to be a great show. It ended up being the runaway choice for best wrestling show of 2012.

Having won the IWGP Heavyweight Title back from Okada in June, Hiroshi Tanahashi defended the belt in what once again looked to be a throwaway title defense, against Minoru Suzuki. On a show that already had as many as four other 4-star matches (including a fantastic Okada vs. Karl Anderson match), Tanahashi & Suzuki produced a classic main event, in what many called not only a 5-star match, but also one of the greatest matches in wrestling history. If nothing else, it was a clinic in wrestling psychology, and a match that should be on a loop in every wrestling school in the world.

WrestleKingdom VII

Three months after King of Pro Wrestling, New Japan topped themselves with WrestleKingdom VII, which drew immediate praise as perhaps the best top to bottom show in wrestling history.

With a paid attendance of 29,000 fans, five 4-star or better matches, and a reported 100,000 iPPV buys, WrestleKingdom VII was a business success as much as it was a critical one. Eleven months of strong shows culminated with New Japan’s biggest show, and the highly anticipated rubber match between Tanahashi & Okada.

And while Tanahashi & Okada delivered in the main event, you could make a solid argument that it was the third or even fourth best match on a card that featured two consensus 4-star matches before intermission (Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki, and a rare  New Japan three way for the IWGP Junior Title, with Prince Devitt vs. Low Ki vs. Kota Ibushi).

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazushi Sakuraba produced a sleeper match of the year contender in a stiff, MMA style semi main event, and the main event was your ho-hum typical Tanahashi 4-star effort to round out a show that I have run out of positive adjectives to describe.  The world was now on notice that New Japan was red hot.

New Beginning

The big question coming into New Beginning 2013 was how much business could a B-show iPPV do, coming off the massively successful WrestleKingdom, especially with Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson in the main event challenging Tanahashi for the title. Anderson had not won a major singles match since pinning Tanahashi during the G1 Climax Tournament over the summer, and was not considered a strong title challenger.

That question was answered when the iPPV numbers from WrestleKingdom were nearly matched this past Saturday. New Japan has now raised the bar to the point that their fan base views every major show as a must see.

Tanahashi once again produced an excellent main event title match, and it has gotten to the point that I can’t remember the last time he had a disappointing big show singles bout, covering roughly a three-year period and two IWGP Heavyweight Title runs. At this point, it is now fair to compare Tanahashi to the all time greats when it comes to major performances on big shows. His resume stacks up and compares favorably to anyone.

1. Tiger Mask, Jushin Liger, Tama Tonga, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata vs. Jado, YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Iishi, Toru Yano, Takashi Iizuka

Your typical New Japan multi man prelim. Liger played Ricky Morton early, hot tagging Tiger Mask, who generally looks disinterested at best, but actually worked hard here. The face team wins, with Nagata scoring the pin. A little better than the usual “get everybody on the card” opener. **3/4

2. IWGP Junior Tag Titles – Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA (c) vs Rocky Romero & Alex Kozlov

Kozlov sings the Russian national anthem as if he is Nikolai Volkoff circa 1986. Romero is a hidden gem who reminds me of Eddie Guerrero during that period when Guerrero figured out he had some charisma. The problem is Romero is a legit 5’4″ or so, as I saw him last year live at a lucha show where he was barely taller than the minis. These teams always have good matches, held back only by time. They got decent time here, and the action was good. Great double team moves from the Motor City Machine Guns playbook from Shelley & KUSHIDA. Lots of near falls. Champs retain. Next up, they face Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask. ***1/2

3. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title – Prince Devitt (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi

These men are regular tag team partners, and wrestled a clean match. The story here was Devitt being a step faster and a step better than his lower ranked partner, with some hope spots sprinkled in. Nobody was buying a Taguchi win, but the work was solid and the match was as good as you would expect given the place on the card. Devitt won with the Bloody Sunday DDT. The most notable thing to me was the physique of Devitt. He was ripped to shreds, like a slightly smaller version of the former PAC. Devitt pinned Tanahashi in a tag match and is in line for a heavyweight title shot. Is he beefing up for a long-term heavyweight run? ***3/4

4. IWGP Tag Team Titles – Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima 

These two teams face each other on nearly every show, and hopefully this was the last time. If so, they went out with a bang. I loved this. Kojima had Archer beat, but TAKA Michinoku yanked the ref out of the ring at the count of two. Because this type of stuff is done so infrequently here, it was effective because I didn’t see it coming. Kojima eventually was hit with the Killer Bomb for the pin. Archer gets better every time I see him, and is a throwback to the days of the monster gaijins who used to roam Japan. ****

5. Togi Makabe vs. Yujiro Takahashi

Makabe is a lot like Sheamus, in the sense that I never think I’m going to like his matches, but he always ends up winning me over. Not here. This average match did work for me. Nothing wrong with it, but ‘just a match’ and nothing you need to go out of your way to see. **

6. Wataru Inoue & Hirooku Goto vs. Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata

This was like two matches in one. It was FUCKING AWESOME when Shibata & Goto were in and downright terrible when Inoue & Sakuraba were together. Shibata & Goto were so good here, that I am super excited for the singles match that will no doubt be taking place. They showed unreal chemistry, with Goto doing some great selling for Shibata’s stiff strikes. Then Inoue & Saku would tag in, and suck the air out of the match. Fittingly, the match ended flat when Saku awkwardly cradled Inoue for the pin. It fit the gimmick of Saku not being a traditional pro wrestler, but it still came off flat and if a new viewer didn’t know better, it looked like a botch. **3/4 

7. IWGP Intercontinental Title – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kengo Mashimo

Most wrestlers would settle for a tenth of the charisma & presence of Nakamura, who is fantastic and unique. There is nobody like him in all of wrestling, and he stands out from the pack because of it. My only gripe is he is so good at what he does, that he comes off as a cool heel that the fans can’t help but cheer for. He gets a baby face pop every time he does his entrance and half the crowd roots for him. His movements and mannerisms are top notch. I can smell a face turn coming, with Okada kicking him out of CHAOS and assuming the top spot. Mashimo is a K-Dojo wrestler, and Nakamura Bom a Ye’d him right back to K-Dojo. A nothing match, more notable for the post match angle, which saw Lance Archer challenge Nakamura for his title. CHAOS is feuding with Suzukigun, explaining why a heel is challenging a heel. **

8. Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada

This was great. CHAOS vs. Suzukigun is on, as right at the start Suzuki decked Gedo, while Taichi choked Okada with his crutch (Taichi legit injured his knee in a car accident earlier in the week). A great spot early, as Okada offered a clean break in the ropes, and while the crowd applauded his sportsmanship, Suzuki kicked him in the gut to establish Okada as the de facto baby face. That’s typical Suzuki, and he’s the absolute best at being the dickhead heel. Suzuki mostly dominated the match, with the story being the veteran bully dominating the young upstart, with Okada scoring with the occasional reversal. I loved this match structure, which included Suzuki attacking the arm of Okada to ‘weaken’ his Rainmaker. Great, great stuff. Suzuki failed on two Gotch piledrivers early, but eventually nailed a third for the somewhat shocking pin. People being critical of the outcome are lost. This CHAOS vs. Suzukigun feud just started, and you can’t have Okada go over the opposing leader right off the bat. In addition, Okada’s first win over Suzuki should be saved, since beating Suzuki means something. Moreover, the loss won’t hurt Okada one bit, as the young wrestler losing to the high ranked veteran is nothing new in Japan. ****1/4

9. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Karl Anderson

They played a great hype video for Anderson before the match, showing his rise through the ranks, while Anderson explained how important winning the title is to him. It was at this show last year that nobody gave Okada a chance to beat Tanahashi, so people were buying Anderson’s near falls here. Great stuff, creative reversals, and your typical awesome Tanahashi main event. He is the best wrestler in the world today, and nobody consistently delivers in the big match environment. It’s to the point where you take his performances for granted, and when he has a “bad” **** match like the one he had with Okada last month, people are disappointed. The story was Anderson fighting valiantly but coming up short. This was the biggest match of his career, and time will tell if he elevated himself, but if not it won’t be a result of match quality because this was very good. Not the five star calibers I’ve been hearing tossed around, but still a very good main event title match, and probably the best match of Anderson’s career. ****1/4

This show was not even close to the level of WrestleKingdom or King of Pro Wrestling, but that should not be the standard as those cards were legendary and will go down as all time greats. It shows how high the bar has been set with New Japan that those comparisons are even being made on a show-by-show basis. Still, a very good show worth watching if you skipped it, with only the opener and the Makabe vs. Takahashi match being completely skippable. The rest ranges from watchable to very good. For comparison, this blew away Royal Rumble, and would probably end up being one of the two or three best WWE shows in a strong year, and possibly the best WWE show in an average or bad year.

If you still haven’t jumped on the New Japan bandwagon, you’ve missed a fantastic year. I wrote after WrestleKingdom that New Japan was in the midst of something special, on the verge of one of those sacred, defining eras of professional wrestling. After a full year, safe to say that it’s happening. Don’t miss it, and enjoy it while it lasts.