The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
Last year, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling announced that they would be running a major show at Madison Square Garden during WrestleMania weekend. The implication was obvious, by running the venue that is historically associated with WWE, both NJPW and ROH were taking a bold step in attempting to pull their promotions up to the same level as WWE. The MSG show is easily the biggest show in ROH history, and it is also the biggest show NJPW has ever held in America.
The immediate question of whether or not the show would sell-out was answered 19 minutes after tickets went on sale, when it did sell out. At that point, the show immediately became a success, regardless of what would take place between that day in August and the show in April. Some people might say that scalpers bought a lot of the tickets, which even if it that is the case, is not unusual for a major event in New York.
However since the show sold out, NJPW's expansion in the US and ROH's growth as the second largest promotion in the country both stumbled across a major obstacle standing in their way: the formation of All-Elite Wrestling. Not only does AEW create another moneyed company competing for the same talent, the company was created by the former top stars in ROH and the leading foreign wrestlers in NJPW. The hype that originally was entirely in the corner of NJPW and ROH is now being shared by AEW, and with AEW running their first show in May, fans who may have thought about heading to New York this April may have decided to hold off on traveling and are now planning on heading to Las Vegas in May for Double or Nothing.
The fact that the main drawing cards for NJPW in the US, and ROH for major shows (Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes) are not going to be on the MSG show hangs over what should be one of the greatest nights in NJPW and ROH history. I'm sure the show will be very good and memorable, but there is no denying that The Elite played a major role in guiding that sell-out, and the fact that they are not going to be on the show is a bummer for a lot of fans who bought tickets.
More importantly though, while the MSG show was originally viewed as a major stepping stone for both NJPW and ROH in the wrestling hierarchy, with the show just a day away, there has to be some concern that the show is going to end up being the end of an era for both companies. It is unclear if either NJPW or ROH can draw a major audience in the US without The Elite. NJPW has already begun selling tickets for a major G1 show in Dallas this July, and so far ticket sales have been slow (the Observer reported approximately 3,000 tickets have been sold so far) without The Elite being a part of the company.
While they still have the attention of most fans, both NJPW and ROH are using the MSG show as a way to springboard new talent that will hopefully replace the members of The Elite. Jay White completed his push to the moon by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in February and will defend that title in the main event against Kazuchika Okada. White has performed well in his major matches since receiving his push, but whether it is charisma, his character not connecting or his suspect promos, he hasn't gotten over with American audiences very well. It is still early in his career, but its unclear if he will ever be able to sell tickets in America the way Omega, the man he is effectively replacing, could. He will have a great chance to make some fans believers though, working with Okada in the main event.
The top ROH match will include company stalwart Jay Lethal defending the ROH World Championship in a ladder match against Marty Scurll and Matt Taven. While Scurll is the last holdover from The Elite and probably the most popular wrestler in the company, Taven is a new comer to the main event scene and while some fans have tired of his act with The Kingdom, I think he is coming in with a ton of momentum having had a great 60-minute draw with Lethal in March at ROH's 17th Anniversary Show.
Other matches on the card are also being positioned to elevate newer talent. Taiji Ishimori will defend the IWGP World Junior Heavyweight Championship against Bandido and Dragon Lee, in what should be amazing, fast-paced match designed to highlight some of the more recent junior heavyweight additions in both companies. Dalton Castle will take on another Mexican import, Rush, who ROH has high hopes for after luring the CMLL star to ROH.
While I think it is reasonable to expect ROH and NJPW to have to go through a bit of a re-building phase following the loss of The Elite and the formation of AEW, both companies still have a terrific opportunity to continue to build their brand. Even without The Elite, all eyes are going to be on MSG this Saturday, and NJPW and ROH can still create new fans and get them invested in their new stars.
Must Watch Matches:
Jordan Devlin vs WALTER: **** - OTT ScrapperMania V