With 2020’s first major wrestling event now in the books, New Japan Pro Wrestling has left us with more questions than answers when it comes to their developing partnership with All Elite Wrestling. With both Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley picking up huge victories over two of NJPW’s biggest stars, with the latter now claiming his second IWGP US Championship, all signs seem to be pointing towards New Japan being more willing to work alongside AEW to produce some of the hottest wrestling action outside of WWE.
At first, it seemed that New Japan were quite resentful towards AEW after losing some of their biggest draws in Kenny Omega, Cody and The Young Bucks. Naturally, The Elite felt betrayed by this sudden bitterness from a company they were more than happy to continue relations with, but this time as promoters rather than active competitors.
You’d think New Japan would have been a little more open to some of their most marketable success stories flying the coop and spreading the good word of independent wrestling in the States. It would have allowed for current and upcoming NJPW talent to get global exposure and more experience working in front of foreign audiences. It could have also done the same for indie stars from the West; Japan has forever remained one of the best places to hone your in-ring abilities and there are plenty of independent workers looking to diversify their skill-set. Whichever way you look at it, a partnership would do nothing but favours for both promotions.
There’s literally no excuse for the two biggest promotions outside of WWE to not form a coalition of sorts. In the past, NJPW has been a successful partner to some of the biggest competitors to the status quo of mainstream wrestling. WCW had a lucrative connection with NJPW back in the 1990s, allowing household international names such as Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami and even The Great Muta to appear on huge crossover events. This went a long way in establishing WCW as a contender in the eventual Monday Night Wars, while appealing to the minority of wrestling fanatics that were in-tune with the industry outside of the United States.
Even though things seemed to be reaching somewhat of a stalemate prior to Wrestle Kingdom 14, rumour has it that a relationship is starting to form between the two companies once again, and there are plenty of hints suggesting a future partnership between the two.
The current AEW World Champion, Chris Jericho, has been the biggest pot-stirrer in the recent weeks. It seems that ‘Le Champion’ laid the foundations for the partnership by adding an AEW title stipulation to his match with Hiroshi Tanahashi. Now, their match at Wrestle Kingdom wasn’t for Jericho’s title, but if ‘The Ace’ managed to pick up the win, then he’d be granted a shot at the AEW title later on in the year.
Unfortunately, Tana wasn’t quite able to secure his spot at a future AEW event, but the fact that the possibility of a crossover existed was enough to confirm that discussions are taking place between New Japan and All Elite Wrestling. Tanahashi could yet be the first of many huge special guests on an AEW pay-per-view, leading the way to the rest of NJPW’s top-tier wrestlers to make a similar jump overseas to compete in the infant promotion.
Of course one of the biggest acquisitions AEW could get for a pay-per-view event would be Kazuchika Okada. The now former IWGP World Champion, Okada is undoubtedly one of the greatest of his generation and has sent shockwaves across the wrestling world whenever he steps into a high-profile match. His quadrilogy with Kenny Omega stands out as some of the defining matches of the last decade, and the start of the monumental rise of New Japan Pro Wrestling and independent wrestling as a whole. Seeing Okada and Omega square off one more time would be massive, whether that takes place on American or Japanese soil.
With Okada now usurped by Tetsuya Naito, there’s plenty of opportunity for ‘The Rainmaker’ to start taking over other wrestling scenes. AEW would be a great place for Okada to continue building his legacy, putting on phenomenal wrestling matches with some of the best talent in the world today.
Although it wouldn’t just be the New Japan roster that benefit from this partnership, members of the AEW roster could find themselves rejuvenated by a trip to the land of the rising sun. One of the issues that AEW are currently facing is that there’s a distinctive gap between the undercard and the main eventers. It’s tough for anyone that isn’t one of the major attractions to become a big deal when surrounded by so many other wrestlers trying their best to get over.
Any of the mid-carders could easily start finding their niche with a short secondment to NJPW. A performer like Adam Page, Shawn Spears or even Kip Sabian could benefit massively in amongst the stars of New Japan, learning from the range of experienced performers as well as expanding their own portfolio of fantasy matches. It would allow fans to start caring about them more than they already do, especially if they were put over some of NJPW’s established stars. They could justifiably stand alongside Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega or PAC and not seem totally out of their depth.
Of course that isn’t to say that most of the AEW roster wouldn’t ever live up to the high expectations of wrestling fans without NJPW’s involvement. Once AEW exits their teething period, hopefully the card will feel slightly more structured and the vast roster of talented individuals can start finding their feet.
There are a handful of AEW vs NJPW dream matches that would sell out any given arena. Perhaps if they were to build to a huge event in the summer, or even to their annual trip back to the Sears Centre in Chicago, then AEW could have a year-defining card on their hands. Bringing in the aforementioned Kazuchika Okada, the Junior Heavyweight Division or even Minoru Suzuki to have his inevitable grudge match with Jon Moxley could bring hundreds of new eyes to both their and NJPW’s product.
The ‘forbidden door’ that Jericho has so openly alluded to should definitely be opened in 2020. With the first steps being taken at Wrestle Kingdom, it’s only a matter of time before either side confirms their intentions to partner-up.
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