Gone are the days of pro wrestling's biggest boom in the late 1990s when WWE, long the standard bearer in sports entertainment, faced legitimate opposition from rival WCW.
Westling has steadily evolved since those days and is currently in the midst of an entirely new renaissance of sorts. While WWE isn't in direct competition with one promotion from a financial standpoint, the quality of wrestling outside the walls of WWE is as critically strong as it has ever been in terms athleticism and performance.
It would seem one can look no further than New Japan Pro-Wrestling and its incredible month-long G1 Climax tournament (which wrapped last weekend with arguably its best showing in history) for WWE's best competitor from a critical standpoint. NJPW's hard-hitting and realistic style has rapidly gained fans in America, helped by July's "G1 Special in USA" card in Long Beach, California, the first independently promoted NJPW card in the United States.
But WWE executive and 14-time world champion Paul "Triple H" Levesque sings a much different tune. Appearing as a guest this week onLevesque had a much different idea about which competitor WWE's main roster needs to pay the most attention to.
"When you say, 'What's the No. 2 promotion?' and 'WWE doesn't have a promotion knocking on its door and pushing them,' Raw and SmackDown do," Levesque said. "Raw and SmackDown have a promotion right on their tail pushing them to do more. That promotion is going to run a show on Saturday night at the Barclays Center, and it's called NXT."
Levesque, 48, who has served as a patriarch for WWE's developmental third brand, was referring to Saturday's NXT TakeOver III card from Brooklyn, New York, one day before SummerSlam invades the Barclays Center for the third straight year.
"[NXT] is going to set a bar, and the main roster is going to have to step up to that bar. And trust me, those are all people that are coming from NXT, and now the kids here are pushing them to do the same thing that they pushed the people in front of them to do," he continued.
To illustrate his point, Levesque referenced a story from 2015 when Sasha Banks and Bayley put on a match-of-the-year contender during the first NXT TakeOver in Brooklyn and Seth Rollins, just 24 hours before his SummerSlam match with John Cena, watched from the front row.
"[Rollins] came backstage and said he had dust in his eyes -- and it wasn't dust, it was tears," Levesque said. "He looked at me and said, 'I'm going to be up all night trying to think how I surpass that. Oh my God. Like, I was totally relaxed about tomorrow and now I'm not going to sleep all night because I'm the main event on the main roster of SummerSlam and I've got to beat that.'
"If that's not the ultimate compliment of what takes place at NXT, I don't know what is. And if you're looking for the promotion that pushes WWE, it's NXT."
While Levesque's stance regarding NXT is understandable, it's easy to see the influence NJPW's rapidly growing success in recent years has had on the entire business. WWE has certainly taken notice and has made headlines by acquiring top NJPW stars like Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
Still, Levesque wouldn't go as far as saying that the success of NJPW or any other promotion has challenged or forced WWE's hand when it comes to adapting in any way.
"I don't think anyone forces anyone to make adjustments, I think it's just that the world changes," Levesque said. "What people will accept changes? What people will like changes?
"People's styles that I bring in, I'm not trying to change these performers, I'm trying to give them a platform and then take them on that platform and make the biggest, global star you can make. Whether that goes on to NXT and then on to SmackDown or Raw, whatever that is. A lot of these kids, I want them to be headlining WrestleMania."
When asked whether matches like the stiff and MMA-inspired NXT bout from two weeks between Aleister Black and NJPW alumni Kyle O'Reilly were specific examples of WWE actively adopting Japan's "strong style" and making it their own, Levesque saw it differently. It's not the influence of any competing promotion as much as its the influence of specific performers WWE has been able to acquire.
"I think in anything, the way games are played, it's the way talent change the game [by] the way they play it," Levesque said. "Because Kyle O'Reilly brings a different style, that's not a style he brought in from a promotion. That's Kyle. Aleister Black brings in a style from someplace else. That's not a promotional style, that's him. Even Nakamura, you can say 'strong style,' but to be quite honest, is there anything like Nakamura? Is there anyone else doing what Nakamura is going? No, it's Nakamura.
"I can look at 20 other people in that same organization or in many of those places and think, 'I really don't care about them.' It's not because they are not great it's just they don't bring that game to the table. Nakamura does, Kyle does, Aleister does, Drew McIntyre does. And the game changes based around the players. No different than in the 90s -- [Steve] Austin, myself, [The] Rock, [Under]taker, Shawn Michaels. All those players changed the game and changed what the style was."