This week, our very own Jordan Huie reported that WWE was interested in picking up Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Wild news because the best time for WWE to scoop up NOAH would’ve probably been between 2010 and 2014 when it was pretty much going through the motions. NOAH would’ve been rebranded as NXT Japan possibly.
Well, “going through the motions” isn’t exactly the best term. There was a period when NOAH just wasn’t at its best. NOAH still held shows, there were still some dope matches, and it still had its dedicated roster. It was coasting basically.
NOAH At Its Weakest
At that time, New Japan was expanding, All Japan was recovering and making a push to move forward, DDT became the hottest thing in men’s wrestling, Big Japan grew and resumed working with companies in the West, and Dragon Gate began to spread out and remained consistent.
NOAH was best in line with ZERO1, a company it had a close working relationship early on. After the death of Shinya Hashimoto, ZERO1 went into a state of coasting—and it’s still there. With the death of Mitsuharu Misawa, the reduced roles of Kenta Kobashi and eventually Akira Taue, things slowed down a bit for NOAH.
On one hand, this was the best time to scoop up NOAH. However, there was loyalty to Misawa and the product itself that it’s unlikely WWE would’ve captured the company. The next best thing was snagging one of its top stars in KENTA.
WWE’s Interest in STARDOM Dashed By New Japan
WWE apparently also showed interest in women’s promotion STARDOM. Depending on who you ask, they will say that STARDOM is the best women’s company in Japan while all will agree it’s the most accessible and has the strongest reach. WWE’s bid was already a no-go as STARDOM and New Japan’s parent company Bushiroad were already in talks and Japan’s biggest wrestling company just scooped STARDOM.
Japan’s Relationship With Money Wrestling
So, where does that leave the NXT Japan project? WWE could just establish a promotion in Japan but the wrestling scene there isn’t really receptive to “money wrestling.” Getting into The Overtimer time machine, it’s the same way promotions like Kensuke Office/Diamond Ring, HUSTLE, or World Japan/RIKI PRO’s momentum tends to run out after three years.
Then there’s that slow death where the promotion sticks around for years putting on a few shows here and there before the final show and the founder has to do the main event.
Going further back, Genichiro Tenryu’s Super World Sports was the definition of “money wrestling.” It had the backing of large glasses manufacturer and a working agreement with WWE in the 1990s. It’s pretty much why we saw Japanese heavyweights in the Royal Rumble in 1993 and 1994.
Japanese fans take more to promotions that grew from the ground up. If they come in hot with a ton of backing it’ll be treated as a novelty until there’s definite growth. Something they don’t even get the chance.
NXT Japan’s Future
Where can WWE go from here with NXT Japan? While NXT has a reputation as a brand that gives fans wrestling in the WWE Universe, companies like DDT or 2AW—formerly TAKA Michinoku’s Kaientai Dojo—seem like stronger picks to run with. I’m not particularly confident that DDT would sell to WWE. However, the entertainment focus is the selling point. It seems like it would give hypothetical NXT Japan call ups a smooth transition to the main roster.
Plus WWE has or had an in with Sanshiro Takagi, owner of DDT. A fan of the Attitude Era, he formed DDT as a parody of sports entertainment. He also worked as a commentator for WWE’s Japanese broadcasts.
As for 2AW, with its Kaientai Dojo roots, the product was a mix of an entertainment focus and wrestling. As a matter of fact, it was formed after TAKA Michinoku left WWE.
Japan has a ton of independent promotions to scout if the upper-tier indies—Dragon Gate, Big Japan, ZERO1, DDT—aren’t interested. It’ll take some digging to find one to serve as a base for NXT’s operations in Japan and there would be a search for agents, leadership, and so on.
That said, there’s a slight chance for WWE to stake an NXT flag in Japan.