The not-so-well-known sport of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, a blend of theater, fighting and reality TV, will hold its first live event in Dallas at the American Airlines Center on July 6, thanks in part to Mark Cuban. Here's what it is and how it got here.
1. New Japan Pro-Wrestling is the biggest professional wrestling league in Japan.
Generations of athletes have competed in the circuit since its founding in 1972. Headquartered in Tokyo, the league hosts a variety of high-profile events each year. One of them, the annual Wrestle Kingdom show, regularly draws more than 40,000 fans to the legendary Tokyo Dome.
2. Mark Cuban is one of the sport's cult-followers.
In 2015, Cuban's TV network AXS became the first to broadcast New Japan Pro-Wrestling in America. After audiences grew, an AXS TV executive approached Cuban about bringing the sport here live. He's been a fan of the sport ever since Muhammad Ali famously squared off against Antonio Inoki in Tokyo in 1976. (Ali won but nearly lost his leg in the process.)
3. Its popularity is exploding in the U.S.
What started out as an underground obsession for a few American fans is now entering the mainstream. In April, New Japan sold out an event at New York's Madison Square Garden within minutes. Three months earlier, 6,000 international fans traveled to Tokyo for the leagues annual Tokyo Dome show. Although Cuban's AXS TV network doesn't officially share viewership numbers, insiders have estimated more than 200,000 fans tune into its New Japan programs from the States every week.
4. Yes, some of what happens is scripted. But that only adds to the drama.
Fighters play up their in-ring personas during matches, blending storytelling, psychology and physical technique to put on a show for the crowd.
5. Not all the competitors are Japanese. One is a Dallas native.
Lance Hoyt grew up in the metroplex. After a short stint in America's more mainstream wrestling circuit, WWE, he branded himself "The American Psycho," tweaked his name to Lance Archer and began competing in New Japan where he's been a breakout success. This weekend, he's hoping to ride his hometown advantage to a victory against "Aerial Assassin" Will Ospreay, a young British high-flyer who is widely predicted to be New Japan's next major star.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling presents G1 CLIMAX 29 at American Airlines Center Saturday, July 6 at 5 p.m. It will also air live on AXS TV. Tickets start at $35 at Ticketmaster. More details at njpw1972.com.