Will AEW & New Japan Work Together in 2021?

During night one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom event at the Tokyo Dome, Jon Moxley, the former All Elite Wrestling and current New Japan United States champion, was featured in a video inside the ring at the company’s LA dojo to explain that he would challenge the winner of the Kenta/Kojima match that took place in Japan. Moxley, who won the title during a really solid run in New Japan, last competed there early last year when he defended the title against the legendary Minoru Suzuki in a stellar match. When COVID shut down most international travel, any plans for him to return to defend the belt were delayed, and as the pandemic continued, many speculated about not only his reign, but the status of the title itself.

While I’ve discussed the expansion of New Japan into the North American market before, I have to say that I think their scaled-down approach with the dojo in California, even after the pandemic is done will probably be the best path for them. Despite suggestions by the now-former president of the organization, Harold Meji, I just don’t think it would be realistic to run a full-time spin off of New Japan in the United States, simply because the travel and time zone differences make the logistics very difficult. Outside of a few key events, which were used mostly effectively in recent years, the concept of two full-time touring schedules on two different continents isn’t realistic, especially when the nature of New Japan is a niche product in America. That’s not to say that New Japan can’t find itself a profitable niche in the United States, but a tour schedule that would essentially put it in competition with every major wrestling entity in the country probably isn’t the best option.

On the flip side, maybe the often discussed potential working agreement with an American group might be the key to further expansion for the Japanese league.

As we’ve seen at various times over the years, New Japan and Ring Of Honor worked together for a deal that benefited everyone. New Japan got more exposure in the United States, a key point in the success of establishing its New Japan World streaming service, and ROH drew some of its best attendance figures because the NJPW aspect was something unique to promote in America. As much as the formation of All Elite Wrestling in 2019 shifted the dynamic of New Japan with the departure of Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, and Cody, it shook the standing of ROH even more. Make no mistake about it, Oemga was a top star in New Japan and had he stayed with the promotion, the line-up for the Tokyo Dome show that just took place might’ve looked very different, but the company has a stacked roster of native stars that kept it stable. Tanahashi, Okada, Ibushi, and others maintained the depth of the organization. On the other hand, much of the buzz around ROH was built around the Bullet Club stable because of its hype in Japan. Specifically, when Cody, The Bucks, and Adam Page left, Ring of Honor saw its top drawing cards exit at the same time. The argument could be made that ROH still truly hasn’t solidified itself since that mass exodus. Thankfully, it appears that the promotion is heading in the right direction in terms of building some hype around its product again. That being said, the previously mentioned ROH/NJPW working agreement has been mostly up in the air since the G1 Super Card at Madison Square Garden last April. The co-promoted event is generally seen as one where the Japanese portion shined while the ROH contribution, including a worked shoot appearance by Enzo and Big Cass, floundered.

Considering that ROH has to attempt to reestablish itself and has invested much of its time into the CMLL partnership with Rush as the ROH champion, maybe the New Japan agreement quietly concluded?

If that’s true, New Japan could be looking to find itself another American partnership and with Harold Meji replaced as president, this Jon Moxley title defense might open the door for the AEW working agreement. Along with Moxley’s announcement of a title defense, New Japan aired a video to explain that the company would be coming to TV in the United States and the UK. This might be as simply as a return to AXS, where the promotion had a show that did reasonably well until it wasn’t renewed during the Anthem purchase of the network, a transaction that put Impact on the channel after it was only on Twitch when its prior TV contract in America expired. Chris Bey, a talented performer under contract to Impact, recently competed in the Super J Cup that was held at the LA dojo so at the very least it appears that it’s possible New Japan is willing to work with Impact. As we’ve all seen in recent weeks, Kenny Omega has appeared on the Impact TV show so they might be another way for the two sides to indirectly open some discussions, especially because Don Callis, still currently an Impact executive, could be somewhat of a middle man for the two groups. Previously, Moxley’s All Elite Wrestling contract kept him exclusive to AEW in the United States so he could only appear for New Japan in its native country, thus preventing him from being used on any American shows that might be positioned as some form of competition. With Moxley being allowed to defend the IWGP US belt at the LA dojo, that might be an indication that Tony Khan would listen to offers from the Japanese group.

Granted, this might be a one-off simply for Moxley to drop the title so it can be used in New Japan again and then this entire discussion is moot. Still, there’s intrigue and benefit for both sides to listen with an open mind. New Japan confirmed it will be back on television in the United States, a valuable tool to promote its streaming service, which I think is probably the most valuable commodity for its expansion because it allows North America fans to directly follow the product, and it becomes another revenue stream for the company. At the same time, an All Elite pay-per-view with a few key New Japan stars would probably draw the biggest buy rate in AEW history. A rematch of Moxley vs. Suzuki or another match against Kenta for the IWGP US belt are options. Possibly the biggest crossover match at this point would be a rubber match between Omega and Okada because that series generated much of the hype that made Omega a bigger name in the United States and was one of the factors in the formation of All Elite Wrestling. Obviously, most of this is just speculation, but the existence of AEW has already shifted the dynamic of the industry, and a potential working agreement with New Japan could change the entire landscape of the business.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta