With A New American Brand, New Japan Is Ready To Rumble!
First, I need to be clear. New Japan Pro Wrestling is arguably the second largest wrestling company and has been WWE’s competition for decades. By saying that the American brand is proving New Japan’s status as a threat, I’m not trying to discredit the years of amazing work for the company. Just now more than ever, it feels like a big change is coming!
Like previously mentioned, the rise of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) didn’t happen overnight. Current WWE stars AJ Styles, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura was main event talent in NJPW only years ago. Industry pros like Brock Lesnar, Stan Hansen, Vader, and Hulk Hogan are also known for working with the company. The legendary Antonio Inoki founded NJPW in 1972. Since then, the company has grown to become Japan’s largest wrestling organization. New Japan is a wrestling organization that has been crafting the superstars of today for decades and produces “5-Star” matches almost monthly.
What makes this year special? The launch of the American subsidiary company and dojo!
Following this news is the IWGP Unites States Championship debuting at the G1 Special In USA shows. More so than ever before, New Japan is becoming a global brand. Not only is it dominating on the far east but moving into Vince McMahon’s backyard. This new American brand is the first massive wrestling shake up in quite some time. Usually, WWE’s attempts at mainstream appeal or the blunders of TNA/Impact dominate American wrestling, but NJPW is now another player in the mix.
The Face That Runs The Place:
Kazuchika Okada is a blessing to New Japan. Okada shows the face of a company doesn’t have to be a generic superhero or one-note villain. At 29 years of age, we are witnessing the birth of a Japanese wrestling legend. Since 2011, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer gave 20 matches a “five-star” rating. Out of 20, Okada has been in seven of them. Two of those matches with Kenny Omega even broke the system with each getting “six-stars”! Kazuchika Okada also found himself in four Wrestle Kingdom main events (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017). That’s the equivalent of four WWE Wrestlemania main events in five years!
Okada is one of the wrestlers right now proving that life can be good outside of WWE. Not only with being a huge industry name, but he’s also setting the bar financially. Reports earlier this year say Kazuchika Okada makes $2.2 million in a year. That’s just shy of John Cena’s reported $2.75 million in 2016. It used to be that making it to the “big league” meant WWE, but New Japan is proving otherwise.
Now the rumors of Okada going to WWE won’t go away. Those dirt sheet stories grow more when photos and videos came out showing Okada backstage at a WWE show. He said on multiple occasions that he has no interest in working for the company, but these rumors are evidence of his importance in the industry.
Bullet Club, The Top-Tier Brand
The Bullet Club is a force to be reckoned within pro wrestling. Not only because the collective group of elite wrestlers rules the ring, but it is also a part of pop culture. You will see a Bullet Club shirt at just about EVERY wrestling show from NJPW to WWE and even that local indie show down the street from you.
The Bullet Club contains great names like Bad Luck Fale, Marty Scurll, and Tama Tonga but the focus of this section is about four major stars. Those stars being Kenny Omega, The Youngbucks (Matt and Nick Jackson), and new member Cody Rhodes. Each of those men brings something to NJPW and wrestling that’s left a huge impression. Omega is putting on classic matches monthly. The Youngbucks are branding themselves with a Hot Topic deal and becoming an Internet sensation. Kenny Omega and The Youngbucks (collective known as The Elite) are showing that life is possible out of WWE.
That leaves us with Cody Rhodes. While he’s one of the newest Bullet Club members, the impact he’s making is felt through the entire industry. Cody Rhodes isn’t the most infamous WWE departure but what he did is undoubtedly a shocking power move. Asking for your release from the biggest companies in the world and being such a high-profile figure is a stupid concept for most. Why would anyone leave the perceived “best of the best” to work independents? The reason is Cody saw the chances around the world to make something more. That’s a refreshing idea for so many young stars to see that even Cody Rhodes is saying you can make it somewhere else than WWE. His former company even tried to strip him from his famous last name, but that still hasn’t stopped him from becoming a global star. Cody and The Bullet Club’s work is history in the making!
The Ring of Honor Connection:
“I got a deal with Hot Topic. I can’t lose on TV!”
-Matt Jackson of The Youngbucks
One of the best decisions New Japan Pro Wrestling has made in the past decade is a partnership with Ring of Honor. NJPW often collaborates with other companies, but nothing makes more sense than these two together.
What this partnership truly does is introduce the world to wrestlers they’d usually never see. NJPW fans most likely wouldn’t have seen wrestlers like Jay Lethal, tag team War Machine, and even The Youngbucks to an extent. On the other hand, ROH fans get a perfect introduction to current New Japan stars like Kushida and Tetsuya Naito. Even The Bullet Club gets the chance to expand with the inclusion of ROH stars like Marty Scurll.
On a business standpoint, NJPW and ROH both have a lot to gain from this. Brand exposure is becoming easier as they are so many crossovers. Some NJPW wrestlers are even winning Ring of Honor Championships giving more publicity on both shows. New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor are reliable companies on their own but together; they are creating a global force that seems unstoppable.
The Best Of The Rest:
– Tanahashi is the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion and a former seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He is the wrestler that many credits as the leading star during New Japan Pro Wrestling’s comeback years. Truly, he is a megastar!
– Ishii is a pure force. Not only because he’s a powerhouse, but he’s just magic to watch. The man quickly gained a cult following with his brutal style. Tomohiro Ishii brings some much-needed personality to strong-style wrestling.
– The upcoming G1 Climax will mark the New Japan return of Kota Ibushi. He just made an appearance in NJPW as Tiger Mask W, but this is the first time Ibushi gets billed in over two years. His work as a free agent only upped his value in the company.
Zack Sabre Jr.
– Zack Sabre Jr. is a global star. ZSJ works for multiple companies including PWG, Progress Wrestling, and even made a guest appearance in WWE. With no disrespect to those other companies, the work Zack Sabre Jr. does in NJPW is the best.
What do you think? Is New Japan Pro Wrestling on its way to becoming a prominent American brand? Let me know in the comments below!