I recently had the distinct pleasure and privilege of attending the New Japan Strong Autumn Attack show at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. The card was, frankly, incredible. With future and current stars littered up and down the order. I also was fortunate enough to attend the last show put on by New Japan Pro Wrestling in Texas when they kicked off the 2018 G1 Climax from the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
For those of you who are unaware, which I would expect to be most of you. The Curtis Culwell Center and the American Airlines Center are two vastly different venues. The AAC for example boasts a total attendance possibility of 20,000 where the Curtis Culwell Center tops out at just under seven thousand. The AAC regularly hosts both the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars as well as being a major destination for many varied musical acts from across the globe. The Curtis Culwell Center was advertising the Texas High School Girls Volleyball state championship tournament.
Why does the arena matter, if it does at all, when it comes to professional wrestling? I have a few theories.
First, when I attended the G1 Climax show in 2018. I couldn’t help but lookup. Look towards the large towering cube of LED screens that boasted the night’s match order and see the empty spaces. See the places that New Japan was hoping no one would notice.
When I spent my Sunday night with a friend who was new to wrestling but old to friendship. I didn’t notice the spaces. That’s not because they weren’t there. They were. Both nights of the Texas leg of the Autumn Attack tour sold just under 50% of their available tickets. Even with the prices being driven down just a week or so before the event. But because, unlike the G1, the guys in the ring kept my attention where it needed to be. On them.
The 2018 G1 Climax had one of the most star-studded rosters of talent in recent memory, and yet. I found myself checking my phone throughout the event or getting distracted by people I thought I recognized in the crowd. I could feel the hours tick by as I sat in the plastic stadium seating. The matches were great. No one will ever contest that. But still, I found myself distracted.
I am an indie wrestling fiend. I’m the first to admit that I find most indie wrestling more entertaining than just about anything put out by one of “The Big Guys” before the pandemic all but shut down the Texas wrestling scene I was spending nearly every weekend traveling to and attending Independent Wrestling events. That’s why I think I was so drawn to the Autumn Attack show. Not because it was New Japan, and not even because I saw in person the likes of Will Ospreay, Jay White, El Phantasmo, Lance Archer, or Minoru Suzuki.
I attended Autumn Attack to see guys like Clark Conners, Karl Fredericks, DKC, Ren Narita, and Will Allday. NJPW Strong both live and in person and on the NJPWWorld has a distinctly indie wrestling feel. One that we have not seen available weekly live since the early days of NXT when performers like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte Flair came into our homes every week from the internet to prove why they would be handed the keys to the kingdom in just a few short years.
That is exactly what is happening here.
We are getting a front-row seat as week by week Karl Fredericks learns to carve his own path without a faction at his back. As guys like Fred Yehi and Kevin Knight leap across the ring hoping to burn themselves into the brains of everyone watching and as older talents, nearing their twilight years, come back and lend their power, and their draw, to these young talents. Propelling them into the stratosphere.
The show does everything that indie wrestling snobs like myself used to compliment NXT on. It combines the flair of the main roster New Japan product with the grit and realness of a show that you paid $15 to see in a bar on a Friday night. While the pandemic has lent the program huge names in the world of New Japan. Juice Robinson, El Phantasmo, David Finlay, Toa Henare, Bone Soldier, and Jay White just to name a few.
Some may stick around. Most will return to Japan when the time comes. I am not worried, however, because every Saturday night for as long as they continue to air, I will get to see the next generation prove themselves, time and time again.