Q&A: College Football’s NWO of 2018; NJPW at Madison Square Garden

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Friday, Friday, gotta Q&A on Friday.

We are NOT going to the archives for this week’s edition of reader Q&A. Oh, no. Your boy made time in his schedule to produce this week’s Q&A session, which answers the challenge Scott Hall laid down on WCW Nitro 22 years ago when he demanded Billionaire Ted get three of his very best.

If you have topics for The Open Man Q&A, email kyle@theopenman.com, or tweet @kensing45 and @the_open_man.

To counter the original incarnation of the nWo, you need to assemble a team with attributes to either match or counter each man. With Hulk Hogan, you have the charismatic front-man; in effect, the quarterback of the group. I need one of the best quarterbacks in FBS in 2018 to contend with Hulk, so I’m going with Khalil Tate. The Arizona quarterback built a case for Heisman Trophy contention before suffering some late-season injuries, and I suspect he won’t miss a beat in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

Kevin Nash functioned as the big man of the nWo, the intimidating presence who watched Hogan’s blind side — sort of like a standout left tackle. Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt was already one of the premier left tackles in the nation in 2017, but with his decision to hold off on the NFL draft for a year, the anchor for the three-time defending ACC champion Tigers provides the big body for my trio.

Scott Hall’s debut on WCW Monday Nitro made an impact that changed the course of professional wrestling in the United States forever. As the debuting member of the nWo, The Bad Guy served as the architect of the group.

In the ring, Hall combined size, strength and athleticism — in all phases, the group’s middle linebacker.

To counter Hall, I am taking USC captain and linebacker Cam Smith. While you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a personality any more different than Hall’s, Smith is the perfect cornerstone for my 2018 FBS triad.

It’s quite remarkable how quickly New Japan Pro Wrestling’s grown into a legitimate No. 2 promotion in the United States. I looked around at the packed Walter Pyramid in Long Beach at Strong Style Evolved, which was ostensibly a house show save for the Golden Lovers vs. Young Bucks main event, and was awestruck. Those 7,500 (give or take) tickets were sold out in an hour. I don’t doubt had NJPW run at one of Los Angeles’ larger venues, Pauley Pavilion or The Forum, the venue would have sold out.

My belief will either be confirmed or refuted in July when the G1 Special heads to the 13,000-seat Cow Palace in San Francisco. I suspect NJPW will put together a more exciting lineup — I’m predicting a healthy Rey Misterio against one of either Will Ospreay, Marty Scurl or Jushin Liger — as well as the teased Chris Jericho-Tetsuya Naito encounter. Add Cody either claiming or defending the IWGP United States Championship, and an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match, and the G1 Special lineup could be quite stacked.

Now, if G1 Special fills the Cow Palace, then I say the sky is the limit for a Wrestlemania weekend show in New York come Spring 2019. G1 Special is the sole wrestling attraction in San Francisco that weekend (barring any local indies running satellite shows). Thus, if it draws 13,000 on its own, that suggests NJPW would have no difficulty filling one of the New York area’s arenas on a weekend when tens of thousands of wrestling fans are already in the area.

Though it hasn’t been announced, I anticipate the TakeOver show at Wrestlemania weekend 2019 will run at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Barclays has hosted every TakeOver over Summerslam weekend, as well as Summerslam itself each year since 2015. The new building’s been more synonymous with modern-day WWE than Madison Square Garden has been. Should that be the case, Madison Square Garden would be open.

An IWGP Heavyweight Championship bout between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada, whether No. 4 in their series or Part 5, is a strong enough main event on its own to sell several thousand tickets. After all, while Bullet Club and the availability of Wrestle Kingdoms 9 and 10 on U.S. pay-per-view played roles, I credit Okada-Omega I to the meteoric rise in American fans’ attention on NJPW.

Gedo’s proven to be a fantastic booker, and is willing to add surprises, so outside of a hypothetical Omega-Okada bout, there’s no guessing what NJPW might be running in 2019. Odds are good whatever angles it has going would be enticing for a healthy portion of the fans in New York for Mania weekend.

While the cross-section of fans who love NJPW and are also consumers of WWE are most likely to from be the NXT audience, Mania weekend’s grown into such a huge event that I believe both shows could run at the same time, and both in front of sold-out audiences.

Still, NJPW running in Madison Square Garden specifically opposite TakeOver would set off a fight New Japan couldn’t possibly win.

NJPW is currently the closest WWE has had to a rival competition since WCW closed its doors — which isn’t to say NJPW is a threat to WWE’s dominance in the same way WCW became. WCW, flush with money from Ted Turner, capitalized in a downturn in business modern-day will never again face. I would add the caveat of barring another series of scandals in the vein of the 1990s steroid trials, but the fallout from the Benoit murders suggest otherwise.

What’s more, a foreign promotion will never challenge the WWE’s hold on the American wrestling market. WWE is king and will remain as much. NJPW is just growing into a strong and reliable alternative, which should be a net positive for the entire industry. I posit the primary reason wrestling’s never been quite as popular since the end of the WWF Attitude Era is specifically because the lack of a viable No. 2; a considerable portion of fans from WCW’s heyday did not embrace WWE, and the lack of competition allowed WWE to be creatively lazy.

As it stands now, NJPW is enough of a viable alternative to satiate different tastes, while also elevating WWE. I contend NXT, which is fresh off running its best card ever in New Orleans, is a creative byproduct of NJPW and Ring of Honor gaining in popularity. But NXT is still ultimately WWE’s AAA league.

While it could be bigger than NXT (if it’s not already), NJPW doesn’t stand to gain anything from angering the parent-giant it’s never going to overtake.

So the same set of circumstances that have necessitated archived features running here on The Open Man, I’ve had to watch the various Wrestlemania weekend shows incrementally. With Mania 34 running 5:12 (not including the pre-show!), I suspect I’ll have watched the whole thing by Summerslam.

Nevertheless, because I wanted to include this topic in Q&A, I skipped ahead to the main event! And let me tell you: I am not a fan.

In my ranking of all 33 Wrestlemania main events prior to last week, I lavished praise on Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns from Mania 31. It was a hard-hitting match featuring two of the better big men in wrestling, both bringing their A-game. Perhaps my enjoyment stems from, or is enhanced by, the middling expectations I had ahead of time.

If that’s the case, then expecting, or at least hoping for, another great match this year negatively impacted my assessment. Lesnar seems to have only two gears: Either he shows up motivated and delivers a classic (Royal Rumble 2015, Summerslam 2017, Wrestlemania 31 & 33) or he’s there just to go over and collect a fat paycheck (Wrestlemania 32, Great Balls of Fire, No Mercy 2017).

Roman Reigns is a terrific in-ring performer — just last year, he dragged a well-past-his-prime Undertaker to an least adequate match — but this was just slow, boring in long stretches, and grotesque at the conclusion.

I am not inherently bothered by blood in wrestling. In certain instances, like Steve Austin bleeding while locked in the Sharpshooter at Wrestlemania 13, it heightens the drama of a match. Hell, one of my favorite matches of all-time is Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard in a Steel Cage I Quit. I’m also not necessarily queasy about hard-way bleeding, seeing as Hirooki Goto’s bottom lip is seemingly busted every time out. And while Will Ospreay’s gash sustained in his match at Sakura Genesis against Marty Scurll concerned me, based on the way he fell, the cut and subsequent bleeding didn’t detract from the bout.

Lesnar’s apparent penchant for livening up a bland match by bashing his elbows against his opponent’s forehead, however, nauseates me. I watch MMA and a fighter bleeding jars me, but doesn’t sicken me. I love and report on football, a sport that’s built on violence. But those are sports, not a show. I view gigging as I would gruesome special effects in a horror movie. I see Brock delivering elbows to Randy Orton or Roman Reigns and busting them open in a manner that gushes blood akin to if Ash vs. Evil Dead were to create its gore scenes with animal parts.

I’m slotting Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar around No. 26, in the neighborhood of the Reigns-Triple H match from Wrestlemania 32.