Nakamura versus Mahal provides an insight into the changing priorities in WWE

Greater implications of the Mahal vs. Nakamura match at SummerSlam

For far too long, the Asian continent felt like the third wheel, in terms of being a viable market for professional wrestling promotions. While Japan boasts of rich history and culture in professional wrestling, and is home to one of the top global promotions, the Asian continent as a potential market for the promotions in the West has been peripheral, to say the least.

However, those priorities are quickly changing. The Asian countries together account for more than half of the global population. However, the North American and European markets have matured at a faster pace, mostly due to the westernisation of the wrestling industry.

That is not to say that the top promotions from North America have completely ignored the Asian countries. WWE quite often travels to countries like Singapore, Japan and China, while recently, Global Force Wrestling became the first ever global promotion to tape episodes in India.

In the clearest indication yet of the changing mindset within WWE, pertaining to the roles of the Asian countries, Jinder Mahal will defend the WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura at one of the top four PPVs in a calendar year for WWE, SummerSlam.

Japan has always been a massive market for professional wrestling, and combat sports in general. Dating back to the infamous Inoki – Muhammad Ali ‘fight’, Japan has seen a large influx of ‘gaijin’ to compete in AJPW and NJPW – two of the biggest promotions in the country.

Yet, the major hindrance has always been the awkward time difference between the Asian countries and the United States – the biggest market for professional wrestling in the world. Also, the fact that the PPV model varies significantly in different countries in Asia has also discouraged global promotions from doing PPVs, although Global Force Wrestling did try couple of years ago.

Impact on the Indian and Japanese markets

In the past couple of years, WWE has understood the importance of focusing more on the Indian market. From hosting a couple of live events, to actively pushing WWE’s product – whether it is through the WWE Network or directly reaching out to media houses, the global conglomerate has been actively pursuing different avenues to penetrate the market.

This has also resulted in WWE sending their scouts, along with William Regal, to find potential WWE Superstars from India.

However, the biggest indication to WWE’s long – term commitment came earlier this year, when Jinder Mahal won the WWE Championship. While the purists didn’t necessarily agree with WWE’s decision, it made good business sense to invest in Mahal – someone WWE looks at as a key component to unlocking the Indian market.

SummerSlam has always been one of the top four PPVs for WWE in a calendar year, along with Royal Rumble, Survivor Series and of course, WrestleMania. The fact that WWE decided to put two non – Americans in the main event – two Superstars that they look at as long term investment, provides an insight into the significance and the magnitude of their decision.

Nakamura was already a megastar before he came to WWE. In Japan, with the exception of Hiroshi Tanahashi, and, to a lesser extent, Kazuchika Okada, there is no-one else that can capture the imagination of the Japanese fans quite like Nakamura. WWE understands Nakamura’s appeal, and also understands that unlike previous WWE Superstars from the Land of the Rising Sun, Nakamura has the potential to become the face of WWE.

This has eased WWE’s efforts to a larger extent. While Hideo Itami hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations, Nakamura’s charisma has given the company a couple of options – a degree of freedom that they would undoubtedly welcome. But at SummerSlam, the promotion has the chance to turn over a new leaf, and create a product that is unique and to a greater extent, culturally inclusive and diverse.

How the WWE Network justifies this new direction

Before WWE Network replaced the PPV model for WWE, everyone, from the marketing and promotional department to the networks had kept close tabs on the PPV buys. This also forced WWE to take decisions that would ensure good numbers, and most of the times, that resulted in putting on a product that would appeal to the American audience.

However, with WWE Network now available in 185 countries, it takes a massive burden off the promotion’s shoulders. No longer are they bound by the confines and tight leash of the PPV model, where everything is assessed by how good or bad the numbers are for an event. With millions of subscribers from all over the world, it gives the company the flexibility to put on events that could appeal to a wider audience.

The SummerSlam match between Mahal and Nakamura goes beyond what appears to the naked eye. It can be envisioned or conceptualised as groundwork being laid by the promotion, to assess the market viability, not just in terms of existing and potential fans, but also the business opportunities that may open up in the near future.

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