An absolute blockbuster of a story hit social media last week when The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer reported that WWE executive, Nick Khan was in talks with New Japan Pro Wrestling about a potential exclusive working agreement between the two organizations. The Vince McMahon philosophy for the vast majority of his tenure as the owner of the Titan Sports brand for the past 40 years was to focus on the WWE without much acknowledgement of any other competitors. Of course, the winners write the history books, and after those previous competitors are out of business, McMahon will not only recognize, but also market the legacy associated with it. The prime example being the WWE Network, the streaming platform that just sold its right to Peacock in for a five-year deal worth an estimated $1 billion dollars, a contract that the previously mentioned Khan helped get done.
Of course, there are many ways to look at this potential partnership. One is the most obvious, there were brief discussions between Nick Khan and someone from the New Japan office, but it didn’t materialize into anything beyond that so any speculation is completely moot. If I had to guess, I’d say this is probably the direction that all of this goes, and maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see Vince McMahon willing to showcase or spotlight another promotion’s talent. Sure, a few decades ago, McMahon had a working agreement with NJPW, but most of that was during a time when the WWF was primarily a north east promotion, not a national or international brand the way it is now.
Granted, while I don’t think any of this will develop into anything meaningful, the possibilities are definitely intriguing for an industry that has needed to break new ground.
Along the same lines of the “WWE first” mindset, this entire scenario could simply be a way for WWE to block All Elite Wrestling’s working agreement with the Japanese league. I think it’s fair to say that even if WWE and NJPW find a way to work together, it’s very doubtful that would translate to Okada on Raw or Roman Reigns at the Tokyo Dome. More realistically, you might see Finn Balor or AJ Styles, two New Japan alumni make their return to Japan for a few select appearances. Another example might be one of the “young lions” from NJPW Strong or prehaps an established veteran show up for a stint on NXT. On the other hand, you know if the current AEW/New Japan agreement continues to develop, there’s much more of a possibility that the top stars from the Japanese league show up on American pay-per-view. Let’s be honest here, it makes sense that Vince wants to preserve and protect his product so the options for what New Japan does in WWE or what WWE does in Japan are much more limited than with the AEW scenario.
As much as Triple H downplayed it on conference calls, make no mistake about, the initial goal for NXT’s move to traditional television was to attempt to prevent All Elite Wrestling from getting off the ground. While NXT’s move to Tuesday was based on USA’s acquisition of NHL broadcast rights, the point remains that WWE brass saw the potential of AEW as an entity. That potential has been realized in some ways, as the group’s TV contracts with TNT and TBS have allowed it to become a profitable venture, which is the entire point of any business project. The fact that AEW makes a profit makes them a legitimate player in the sports entertainment industry, and as we’ve seen, some former WWE stars have the option to be better utilized under the All Elite banner. Does that mean that AEW will surpass WWE? Of course not, but it does take away at least some of the perception that the McMahon empire is completely dominate within the genre.
None of this is to say that All Elite is perfect, and nobody should expect it to be, but one of the reasons the promotion found success is, they have found a way to differentiate themselves from the WWE. It has critics, but at the very least, the AEW presentation brings something to the table that viewers won’t see on Raw or Smackdown. For example, and specific to this scenario, the fact that New Japan belts were defended on Dynamite gives the audience something unique. If top-notch New Japan talent are booked for All Elite pay-per-views, it’s another selling point in the modern era, which is much more difficult to attempt to market traditional pay-per-view.
At the same time, there are definitely reasons for New Japan to listen to Nick Khan’s offers. In some respects, if New Japan can get on the WWE radar, even to a small degree with a role on NXT, it lends more credibility to the Japanese league with an American audience because of its association with the WWE brand. The NJPW expansion into the North American market in recent years has really helped boost its profile outside of Japan with the goal to establish itself as more of a global brand. A way for New Japan to further its standing as a potential global entity is a possible associations with the biggest sports entertainment company in the world.
As far as what WWE gets from the deal, and you’d think they hold more of the cards in the negotiation because they are already an international brand, it could be expansive or something as simply as a way to add depth to the roster. At one point several years ago, there were rumblings that there were talks among WWE management to set up more international groups under the NXT moniker, but the UK spinoff is the only one that was actually launched. I’ve always said that such a plan is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t work in application because other countries have different styles so to run a full-time promotion there with the WWE style wouldn’t automatically translate to success. A few years ago, there were rumors that WWE inquired about buying Pro Wrestling Noah before it was sold to a different company so it appears that the promotion wanted to get something established in Japan. Not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist, but you have to wonder would the New Japan talks be a way for the WWE to possibly test the waters for an NXT Japan in the future?
More realistically, if the deal gets done, I think the ability to block AEW from the use of New Japan talent would be the main reason for it. Along with that, I think the chance to use some of the New Japan young lions on NXT television as a way to freshen up the brand would be the main use of NJPW wrestlers within the WWE. For the New Japan side, it would allow for wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura to return to the company for a few major matches so from that prospective, it benefits everyone involved in the deal. Again, I doubt any of this gets beyond preliminary discussions, but it will definitely be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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