In recent years, New Japan has really taken off internationally. Gone are the days of Japan being the place tape traders and real hardcore fans, nowadays, Japan is as close to an alternative to WWE as we’ve had in many years. It has become the talk of the wrestling world whenever it’s newest event rolls round, especially after the yearly Wrestle Kingdom spectacular, which gets bigger and more popular year after year.
At the centre of this revolution of sorts has been New Japan’s varied and extremely talented pool of wrestlers, featuring a great mix of ‘gajin’ and home grown talent. At the top of cards they’ve had names such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, the ‘Ace’ of New Japan for the last half a decade, after him there’s Kazuchika Okada, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The top of NJPW’s cards are consistent as they are varied, with names like: AJ Styles, Tomohiro Ishii, Katsoyuri Shibata and Naomichi Marufuji all at one time main eventing New Japan’s big events gunning for the biggest prize in Japan.
Not only has NJPW been a revolution for in-ring performance, but also for the wrestlers themselves. For the longest time we’ve heard that WWE is ‘the place to be’ and seen as the place where wrestlers can make careers, however in recent times, this has all changed.
With the growth of New Japan and to a lesser extent Ring of Honor, talents have been able to make careers for themselves and make themselves stars in the wrestling world without WWE. Of course, for most wrestlers, WWE is still the big place they want to be, and nothing will change that, WWE is, after all, the biggest dance in town, but what has changed is the ability to make money and make a name for yourself outside of Titan Towers’ grip. This has been made easier with NJPW’s growth in popularity over the last few years.
Let’s take as a first example, AJ Styles. Yes, of course he is currently the WWE Champion, and very much main eventing in the big time, but for the longest time he made his name and his career away from WWE, the fact that he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world for the longest time, and didn’t join WWE until he was on the verge of his 40th birthday is a testament to the changing landscape of wrestling. After spending a decade in TNA, Styles went to New Japan, and somehow found another level of his talent, he was the toast of the wrestling world, was as popular as ever, all without the WWE machine behind him, by the time he arrived in WWE, they almost had no choice but to make him a main event player, and within 4 months, he was headlining PPVs.
A more recent example is Kenny Omega, who is at the moment of writing, one of, if not THE, talk of the wrestling world after his ‘six star’ match with Okada and twitter announcement that he was ‘stepping away from Japan to re-assess’ the wrestling internet have been beside themselves with excitement that he might show up in WWE. Of course it wasn’t just the one match that got him a reputation as one of the hottest acts in wrestling, after all he’s spent the past year as the leader of the always-hot Bullet Club stable, combine this with his G1 Climax win and he’s made himself a hot topic in wrestling, and the way his one tweet sent the internet into raptures this month, does more to prove my point than anything I could type.
Of course I don’t doubt that if Omega, or his stable-mates The Young Bucks, themselves a great example, went to WWE they would no doubt get more eyes on them, it has been a curse of the WWE to get wrestlers who were stars elsewhere and stifle them creatively, in this way it’s a lottery as to whether they would be bigger names in WWE, or whether an extended stay in Japan, becoming such revered greats that WWE had no choice but to make big deals out of them would benefit them more, and speaking completely selfishly, I really wanna see an Omega-Okada rematch, and I think I’m not alone..