wrestling / Columns

Why WWE & NJPW Agreement Is Better Off Dead In The Water

June 3, 2021 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
WWE Vince McMahon, Samoa Joe WWE, MVP, NXT

Buried away in this past week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter, was a tidbit that WWE was supposedly in talks with New Japan to become their “sole American partner,” or words to that effect.

Of course, the Internet had a field day with that. Some posited dream cards for a joint WWE & New Japan show – much like we had back in the day when WCW had that deal. Others poked fun at the worst case scenario: a G1 Climax involving the Fiend. But at the end of it, there was one big question mark around this: just how in the hell would such an agreement play out?

The pandemic era of wrestling has seen walls fall down around traditional promotional borders. “Forbidden doors” opened, with wrestlers from New Japan appearing on Impact and AEW… while the arrival NJPW Strong made it a little more straightforward for wrestlers from other promotions to appear on their programming – although the first appearance of Jon Moxley on Strong was seen as a major paradigm shift regarding AEW talent. Pun intended.

So, with all of these crossovers, it’s perhaps understandable why WWE didn’t want “everyone but them” to team up for the greater good, but when push comes to shove, as long as Vince McMahon is in ultimate control, there’s absolutely no way partners with anyone, let alone on the same sort of level as them.

BUT….let’s assume that somehow this sneaks through. Maybe the agreement’s signed off without his knowledge. Maybe it’s painted to him as a developmental league – having NJPW Strong as the mooted “NXT: EVOLVE” show that seems to be languishing in the land of forgotten pilots. Maybe that would only ever be the limit – New Japan of America becoming developmental to NXT, but with it, also complicating and shutting down the ties that had been built in 2020 and 2021.

Cynically, you could argue that that was the whole purpose.

Kill multiple birds with one stone – stop anyone with a modicum of buzz from appearing on other shows, lest that be parlayed into anything. Gone would the likes of Tom Lawlor appearing on Strong, Rocky Romero on ROH and MLW, El Phantasmo, Kojima and FinJuice on Impact, and of course, Yuji Nagata on Dynamite. In their place….I dunno. Kona Reeves on NJPW Strong? Akira Tozawa in a Best of the Super Junior? Perhaps an insistence that some of the LA Dojo lads appear on NXT to “promote” the deal?

Having lived through similar partnerships in Europe, it’s fair to say that recent history is showing us that WWE pairing up with other promotions doesn’t really bode well. Even in pandemic times, when those partner promotions in Europe were running taped shows, with all sorts of health and safety protocols for covid in place, nobody with a contract appeared on shows that were produced and taped for the Network. You’d assume those restrictions would ease up when crowds start to come back, but those restrictions around contracted talent have always been, to an extent, loose.

Talk of “tiered” contracts, “friendly” promotions that would be allowed to have contracted wrestlers appear on their VOD releases and what have you would crop up on an almost annual basis as the number of outside promotions working with WWE-contracted wrestlers would shrink. Sure, EVOLVE had a marginally better deal, with regular appearances from NXT roster members helping to boost ticket sales, but EVOLVE would end up being one of the bigger names to go during the pandemic, shutting up shop and selling up to WWE….so we can’t really get a true handle on how well that tie-in worked.

Needless to say, even if this story had any kind of grounding in reality to begin with, recent history has shown that it wouldn’t have ended well. Even if we did get those dream matches, or the dream crossover show, all I can say is “remember WCW.” No, not the way WCW’s agreement with New Japan ended, but the way WWE handled WCW – a company they bought out.

Of course, if things change, say, if the long-mooted sale of WWE goes through, and we’re left with someone other than a McMahon in overall charge, then this becomes something that might be viable.

Until then, all this ever will be is a pipe dream. The stuff of fantasy booking, and perhaps, at most, some appearances in documentaries and promo packages.

article topics :

New Japan, WWE, Ian Hamilton