In 2005, New Japan Pro Wrestling ‘won’ Worst Promotion of the Year in the annual Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards, this represented a new low for the company whose star’s and product had dwindled away almost to nothing.
Fast forward to 2017, NJPW are going from strength to strength, having just completed their first solo show in the US, an incredibly well received couple of shows where Kenny Omega was crowned the inaugural IWGP United States Champion, and Company ‘Ace’ Kazuchika Okada defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Cody Rhodes.
So, how did they get from Worst Promotion in the World to putting out arguably the best wrestling on the planet on a weekly basis, well, there’s no definitive answer but a good place to start would be the talent they’ve built. Firstly, a change in personnel, mid-card junior heavyweight Gedo became booker along with partner Jado and the company has grown since then.
What has also helped is the in-ring talent they’ve had at their disposal, first it was Hiroshi Tanahashi spearheading the revolution and then his feud with Kazuchika Okada that put the company on the map even more, not to mention the evolution of Shinsuke Nakamura, the addition of gaijin stars such as: Prince Devitt, AJ Styles, and tag team The Young Bucks is just the icing on the cake.
Let’s focus on the talent mentioned, starting with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, two guys who never got a look in at TNA (at least Tanahashi got out without being lumped with a dumb gimmick) became two of Japan’s biggest stars, Okada is the most incredible, coming back from his badly-fated trip Stateside he came back and immediately challenged Tanahashi for the IWGP Title a match he shockingly won, kickstarting a run of all-time classics the two would have.
Okada would soon be joined by AJ Styles, long considered one of the best wrestlers on the planet, after leaving TNA he headed East and had an incredible run, which included winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his first match for the promotion and leading the worldwide wrestling phenomenon Bullet Club, he would become a two-time IWGP Champion, contesting classics with Okada, Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, before leaving for WWE and new challenges.
Not only did AJ Styles leave in early 2016, so did fellow Bullet Club Members Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson and New Japan mainstay Shinsuke Nakamura, with all four heading towards WWE, where they’ve all had mixed success. As for New Japan? They didn’t blink, Kenny Omega was installed as the new leader of Bullet Club, rocketed to the top of the card, and has contested two of the greatest wrestling matches of all time. They’ve built on every front, with Tetsuya Naito raising up the card into a spot once filled by Nakamura, all while leading the fiercely popular Los Ingorbanables De Japon. Tanahashi is still near the top of the card, currently reigning as Intercontinental champion. All this time, Kazuchika Okada has established himself as perhaps the best wrestler alive today.
It could be argued that New Japan has the best up and down wrestling shows around right now. Not only do they have the stellar talent at the top of the card, they have their Junior Heavyweights, led by KUSHIDA, and including such talents as Hiromu Takahashi, Ricochet, and Will Ospreay. If that isn’t your bag there’s the NEVER Openweight championship, contested by New Japan’s heavy-hitters like Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto and current champion Minoru Suzuki. Not only that they have veterans and new talent working side by side, as name’s like Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask and Manabu Nakanishi contest matches with graduates of New Japan’s dojo. Not to mention the clash of stables with their own distinct personalities that happen every show, NJPW have something for everyone.
Then, on July 1st and 2nd NJPW held their first solo show on US soil, making clear their intentions to expand worldwide, they even crowned a US Champion to celebrate their arrival Stateside, both shows were well received and plans are in full swing for NJPW to set up a full-time office and dojo in the US, the only way is up, not just for them, but for wrestling fans. If New Japan present a credible threat, it could launch a new golden age, where the competition would have to step up their game too, we can only hope.