There have been alternative event options for wrestling fans during Mania Week for years now and while I’ve always enjoyed the scene outside of the WWE bubble, nothing has ever personally tempted me away from a WWE event on the occasions that I’ve made the trip across the Atlantic…. until this year.
When it was announced that Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling would be joining forces to run Madison Square Garden over Mania Week it sent shockwaves through the wrestling world for obvious reasons. This was a statement that made wrestling fans, talent and organisations sit up. It’s a well known fact that Madison Square Garden is considered to be the spiritual home of WWE and the company have had a tight grip on the venue for decades, one that even Billionaire Ted couldn’t pry loose. The Garden had not seen a wrestling show that wasn’t promoted by a McMahon since November 14, 1960 and that leads us to the first reason why the G1 Supercard was the best thing to happen in wrestling during this week’s festivities.
Madison Square Garden
As I’ve already mentioned, the “Worlds most famous arena” is synonymous with the McMahon empire but it’s not only that fact that makes booking this venue significant. The sheer size of the venue and therefore clear ambition from the promoters involved really says something about the state of professional wrestling in 2019. If the G1 Supercard had been booked at the Staples Center, Allstate Arena, Barclays Center, TD Garden or any other venue of similar significance or capacity then it would have been a huge accomplishment as well, but to have the first of it’s kind be at Madison Square Garden…that is what you call a huge added bonus.
The significance of MSG isn’t just it’s ties with WWE though, it’s the fact that it’s the “World’s most famous arena”, something that is ironically drilled into the brain of every wrestling fan because of WWE. When I attended WrestleMania 29 one of the main things that I was excited to do was to go to Madison Square Garden for an event. Thankfully WWE ran their Hall of Fame ceremony at MSG and I was able to see the legendary Bruno Sammartino live and in person at the arena that defined his career. One thing stayed with me though and that was “that was great, but I’d love to see an actual wrestling show there some day”. I never thought that it would be a non WWE event and I’m sure most of the wrestling world would tell you the same thing, the decision for WWE to use the Barclays Center for Raw, Smackdown, NXT and the Hall of Fame really backfired in my opinion. I can understand that the company have built a relationship with the newer venue in recent years with their Summerslam weekends but it’s come at the expense of arguably their most valuable venue relationship. I had never been to Barclays Center until this years festivities and while it was a good experience, it wasn’t great. Madison Square Garden was great. From the far superior seating and cleanliness to the much grander hallways and even better service at the bar that included simple things like happier staff, smarter food/drink containers such as lids on beers and closed popcorn boxes on a convenient tray rather than a pizza on a polystyrene dish instead of a secure box. When it comes to venue choice, the G1 Supercard won by a long shot.
All of this contributed to the incredible atmosphere in the venue on the night and we can not brush over the fact that the event sold out in an incredible amount of time with 60% of tickets going during the pre-sale and the rest selling out in just 16 minutes, another undeniable sign that the wrestling landscape is changing. We all knew that we were there witnessing something special, alternative and groundbreaking. Everything was set up for the talent to hit a home run. Production matched that of the arena size and we got to see special entrances, fantastic lighting effects and great audio throughout. Nothing felt out of place when it came to production from ROH and NJPW for this event.
Now, to be truthful… there were a lot of factors that helped secure the booking. Obviously when WWE are in town for the biggest wrestling event of the year it means the wrestling world are there as well. If the event ran in July then would it sell out? Would the event have worked if two organisations hadn’t co-promoted it, pulling their talent and resources together? Maybe not, but now that the show has been a roaring success and the scene continues to grow can they do it again or under different circumstances? Definitely.
That takes us to our next point.
“The WrestleMania of the independent scene”
When we spoke to Jay Lethal at the Festival of Honor, I described this event as the “WrestleMania of the independent scene” and Jay felt the same way as I described it as a better version of what the dying territories tried to combat WrestleMania with in the late 1980s with the infamous Superclash events. Without spending too much time focussing on what does and doesn’t qualify a promotion as an “indy promotion” it is worth mentioning that in truth, to lump these two co-promoters in with what is traditionally considered to be the independent scene is somewhat loose. Both companies defiantly and dominantly stand out on their own but share some values, stylistic approach and talent with the rest of the scene so therefore could be considered the standard and at the top of the hill when it comes to all promotions outside of the WWE bubble. Not only were ROH & NJPW being represented but we also were getting big names from CMLL and even a representation for the re-emerging British scene with Zack Sabre Jr defending his RevPro British Heavyweight Championship on the show as well.
I’ve always loved seeing championships being defended on cards that weren’t run by their respective home promotions, from the rarities of NWA titles being used in the WWF to the more recent examples like the ROH World Championship being defended at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11. I feel like it gives a sense of prestige to not only the championship but the event as it’s a reminder that the event and promotion you are watching is the place to be for the best in the world whilst also lifting that championship and therefore it’s promotion. The G1 Supercard captured this perfectly with phenomenal matches that saw defences of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, Women of Honor World Championship, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, ROH World Championship, IWGP Heavyweight Championship. We even got to witness two winner take all matches that saw Jeff Cobb retain his ROH World Television Championship whilst capturing the NEVER Openweight Championship from Will Ospreay in a match that opened the main portion of the event in an exciting way that set the tone for the rest of the evening and saw the IWGP Tag Team Champions Guerrillas of Destiny also come away with the gold from both promotions as they picked up the ROH Tag Team Championships and kept their original titles by defeating Villain Enterprises, The Briscoe Brothers and Los Ingobernables de Japon in an incredible four-way tag team match.
Dragon Lee defeated Taiji Ishimori and Bandido in an exciting high flying three way match for the previously mentioned IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship which gave the card that exciting international feel. Another honourable mention would be for the battle between the exciting Kota Ibushi and Tetsyua Naito who are both enjoying huge fandom at the moment and carry an incredible aura that definitely played a part in drawing in fans from around the globe who have yet to see either perform live but have followed their high profile work in recent years.
As mentioned previously we even got a RevPro title match, something that had also taken place at this years NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 but this time saw Zack Sabre Jr. face off against the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi in a match that did wonders for the British grapplers aura and credibility to continue his rise up the ranks of New Japan.
The Supercard of Honor has been the most significant non WWE event during Mania Week for years and while TNA/Impact Wrestling definitely were in for a shout when they were undoubtably the second biggest wrestling promotion in the States their decline over the years helped the ROH mega show stay on top. Not even a Impact Wrestling/Major League Wrestling supershow could get me to even look at the card they had on offer so they certainly weren’t the place to be this year and they themselves would benefit from a working relationship with ROH and NJPW when it comes to this new version of the Supercard of Honor to elevate their talent and championships like mentioned previously.
The ROH World Championship taking stage at MSG
Ring of Honor’s main prize was on the line in a really fun triple threat ladder match that showed just how strong the ROH roster still is with the beloved Marty Scurll facing off against Matt Taven and the man going into The Garden with a target on his back, Jay Lethal. It was an incredible moment to witness the ROH title take it’s place on a stage like that. The championship has been defended in a number of well known venues around the world but none more iconic than Madison Square Garden and this match would be the first appearance of a non WWE branded World Heavyweight Championship at the venue since NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Harley Race faced off against WWF World Heavyweight Champion Bob Backland in 1980.
The impromptu press conference given to the media the day before the event by ROH COO Joe Koff helped cement the sentimentality of this moment as the memory of his childhood experiences were still fresh in our minds. The match helped sustain a great level of fan interaction as chants continued and the ring filled with ladders the audience’s attention was held throughout in a spot on the card that is sometimes hard to pull off successfully on such a long event but the three men involved certainly were up to that challenge.
Another thing that I spoke to Jay Lethal about the day before was how this moment was not only one of company pride and significance to the wrestling world but also a personal one for the defending champion seeing as he had grown up a half an hour drive away in Elizabeth, New Jersey and therefore the historic venue was his local major arena. Jay Lethal may have entered as the hometown favourite but we will get onto the result of this match and it’s significance when we come to one of our later points.
Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White
Thankfully we were also gifted with the fact that this was a co-main event and that’s the next great reason this show stood out from the rest. It is without question that Kazuchika Okada is in the top 2 when it comes to wrestlers from around the world making a name for themselves outside WWE and while the recent resurgence in the non-WWE scene has brought plenty of that, I think it would be hard to find two more prominent stars than Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. One of those on the rise in recent years is Bullet Club leader Jay White. The Switchblade and the Rainmaker had an incredible match at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13 where we saw the New Zealand born White defeat the mega star that is Okada in what at the time felt like a shocking yet deserved step up for Jay White. This incredible moment was followed up shortly by the star capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from long time hero Tanahashi to really cement his arrival at the top of the mountain. With the stage being set and the backstory to build the hype this match was set up to be a show stealer and it certainly was. Throughout the bout it seemed like either man could walk away with the title and the match was the perfect advertisement for those who haven’t yet taken the leap to see what is outside of the conventional wrestling show that they may be used to.
Moments are what events aim to create and the night was jam packed with incredible action and moments to remember but perhaps none more than getting to witness Okada win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden. It was the perfect way to end an incredible night that will go down in wrestling history for it’s historical significance, fantastic performances and our next point…
Jaw dropping surprises
It wouldn’t be a good wrestling show without a surprise or two, or four or … I lost count. The pre-show set the tone when we not only got the shocking entries to the Honor Rumble from Jushin Liger and The Great Muta but a stand off between the two Puroresu legends as well. It would be the sneaky Kenny King that would “ruin” the moment for the two icons but realistically it was the best call, giving the fans that much more to boo him for whilst also having that glimmer of hope that one of the legends would leave The Garden victorious and having earned a future ROH World Championship shot.
The Women of Honor match between Kelly Klein and Mayu Iwatani also gave us a nice surprise when Klein became the first ever two-time Women of Honor Champion. The victory celebration didn’t last though as the new champion was subject to an attack from the former Beautiful People as Angelina Love and Velvet Sky would make their presence felt and just when it looked like Mandy Leone was going to even the odds we saw her join forces with the mean girls of wrestling to form a new group that we would soon find out to be called “The Allure”.
The biggest shock of the night though has to go to the always controversial duo formerly known as Enzo Amore and Big Cass (now nZo and CazXL) which took place at the end of the four-way tag title match. This was an angle that in my opinion was perfectly executed because it made everybody question if what they were seeing was really what they were seeing. At first all I noticed was a scuffle by the ringside barriers and watched Bully Ray run down the ramp and act as protector for the locker room. It started to dawn on me that he had no real storyline connection to anyone who was still around the ring from the tag match and then I started to notice that Jay and Mark Briscoe were fighting on the same side of the battle and it started to feel more and more real. It soon became apparent that the two men causing all the commotion were none other than wrestling’s hottest free agent tag team. Say what you want about the team of Enzo and Cass (and the crowd certainly didn’t hold back) but as a team they have a stellar track record of creating a buzz and getting themselves talked about. I really enjoyed their run in NXT and obvious comparisons were made between them and the New Age Outlaws so when a call up to the main WWE roster came along everything seemed set in stone. Things didn’t work out in the end though and ever since both men left the company there has been talk about what they would do next with both of them constantly being in the wrestling world’s news cycle for one reason or another.
Once the “f**k you Enzo” chants rang round The Garden it was starting to become clearer, the stiff punches from Bully Ray and the Briscoes started to look like they had more of a theatrical swing on them then first noticed because of the connecting blows that were to follow those swings. Another thing that started to send my thinking the other way was memories of what I’d seen Enzo say in a recent shoot interview about purposely trying not to disrespect those performing in the ring when he pulled his ringside stunt at WWE Survivor Series. I know that not everybody in the business is going to get along behind the scenes but the thought that the man behind Bully Ray was legit fighting with two men he had some what passed the torch to on the Raw after Mania a few years back just didn’t add up. But doubtful thoughts continued to creep in… maybe this means nothing though and it was strictly business and this really was Bully Ray being locker room protector. That’s what was so great about this moment, it blurred the lines and got me excited to question what I was seeing. Helped by the fact that the cameras fed to the jumbo-trons wouldn’t show what was going on at ringside and the timing of it (all be it a tag match that saw a tag team run in) made sure to keep the illusion going.
Whether you agree with Enzo and Cass being in ROH or not, you cannot deny the buzz they created here. A moment that I feel deserves a lot more credit but may be brushed under the carpet more than if it was another tag team or hadn’t unfortunately coincided with another big run in that night down the road. Who knows what’s in store for these two and ROH going forward and if there actually is a future between the parties but the fact is it worked on the night and would continue to bring new eyes to the growing promotion.
Other surprises would be some of the results that have already been mentioned. I did not expect to see Will Ospreay lose his title, I was even more shocked to see Marty Scurll miss out on becoming the new ROH World Champion and it was great seeing the returning Flip Gordon team up with Juice Robinson and Mark Haskins in the New York City Streetfight against Bully Ray, Silias Young and Shane Taylor. Perhaps one of the biggest shocks was actually the Dalton Castle situation, some may try their best to look at it as a squash for the former champion but I think it worked really well and didn’t harm him at all. Rush defeated a distracted Castle in under a minute which certainly shocked the crowd especially after Dalton Castle had entered with such focus and elaboration alongside The Boys. It would be The Boys who had the job of trying to calm down an embarrassed Castle but their efforts went unappreciated as the former champion snapped and took them out, it’s going to be interesting to see where things go from here.
What the G1 Supercard means for the future of Professional Wrestling
For me the G1 Supercard was everything that it needed to be. When it first got announced it sent shockwaves around the industry for all the right reasons. Some concern about selling out the venue may have always been there and the recent announcement and subsequent departure of talent to AEW certainly raised a few eyebrows considering both NJPW and ROH were home to many of the big names that would now be unavailable for this card. The strength of both rosters and buzz that the promotions had built themselves was enough to distract fans from those concerns though and that is something that most certainly showed on the night. I may have gone into the show with a slight hope that members of The Elite may show up for old times sake even if it was unrealistic, but once the show was in full swing and we were treated to other surprises and excellent matches I can’t even remember thinking about anything other than what was actually happening rather than that annoying wrestling fan feeling where you’re waiting for more even if you shouldn’t expect more. This is something that many big WWE events have struggled with in recent years to the fault of both the WWE themselves and fans allowing their expectations to be risen too highly because of previous events and knowledge of certain free agents and the wrestling rumour-mill.
I’m confident that next year a similar feat will be on minds of executives from both participating promotions and the Yuengling Center could be the perfect venue for them in Tampa with it’s 10,000 capacity. The former USF Sun Dome has it’s own wrestling heritage such as several Saturday Night’s Main Event cards and the 1995 Royal Rumble having taken place there and hosting the UFC in 2009. Another option would be the Amway Arena in Orlando seeing as many wrestling fans seem to be planning to visit Orlando when going to next years Mania Week but that may be a little riskier to guarantee a sell out even though it’s capacity is closer to that of MSG because of the long journey from Tampa for those who don’t decide to stay in Orlando.
It seemed like WWE were unusually caught off guard without a back up plan and I can’t see them taking such a delayed response next year. We can hear reasons that the Hall of Fame and NXT were moved until the cows come home but nothing will convince me that it didn’t at least have something to do with the MSG show. I was glad that WWE didn’t try and compete by being stern with the date of their most Indy fan pleasing event because I wanted to see both shows and I think WWE knew that about their NXT demographic.
Will WWE be cautious next year or will they become ruthless and revert back to some of their more harsh tactics when it comes to competition? I would imagine that next year there will be even more enticing alternatives to the conventional WWE Package experience with this years G1 Supercard being a roaring success and AEW being fully in the swing of live events by next April.
The WWE Hall of Fame took the brunt this year, with tickets going for as little as $10 on StubHub in the run up to the event and I struggled to give mine away even though they had originally cost me $75 per ticket via the package deal. A combination of fans giving up on the HOF in recent years due to its length and this years alternative that actually felt important for the wrestling scene rather than just another Mania Week niche event to compete with. New Japan Pro Wrestling will be taking their next step into the western wrestling world soon when they host their first ever UK show at London’s Copper Box Arena and the momentum behind the G1 Supercard is sure to help Ring of Honor bring more fans to it’s Honor Club and help them secure bigger buildings throughout the US going forward. As for ROH in the UK there isn’t any news on a follow up to their most recent Honor Re-United show at York Hall that we covered but I’m hoping that the travelling British fans to Mania Week will also be there to help secure that next step for Ring of Honor in the United Kingdom as well.
The G1 Supercard has changed wrestling forever. You might not see all of its effects just yet but WWE, Mania Week, MSG, ROH and NJPW won’t be the same going forward and that’s the best thing a wrestling fan could hope for.
Keep checking back to RebNoise.com for more Wrestling content and make sure you Subscribe to Rebellious Noise on YouTube to get our ROH Interviews first. Wrestling is also covered on the Talk and Beans podcast where we recently spoke to Sasha Banks on our WrestleMania 35 podcast and also went into the highlights from Mania Week as a whole including more thoughts on the G1 Supercard.