Fan interest in New Japan Pro Wrestling is returning

KOBE, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 27: Kazuchika Okada enters the ring during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'G1 Climax 30' at the World Hall on September 27, 2020 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 27: Kazuchika Okada enters the ring during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'G1 Climax 30' at the World Hall on September 27, 2020 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

Even before the announcement of Forbidden Door, the joint show with AEW, interest in NJPW has been growing again. There have been a series of great shows featuring excellent matches that have made the promotion seem like it’s starting to hit its pre-pandemic stride.

2022 kicked off with Kazuchika Okada winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship on Day 1 of Wrestle Kingdom. It was only fitting that one of pro wrestling’s very best would win the title during NJPW’s 50th anniversary.

Los Ingobernables de Japon member, SANADA, won his first singles title when he won the IWGP United States Championship in February. Unfortunately, he had to vacate the title due to a fractured orbital bone.

The New Japan Cup kicked off in March with 48 participants, the largest field they’ve had. This tournament included a number of stand-out matches such as Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki. The semi-finals also had potential Match of the Year contenders in Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Shingo Takagi and Okada vs. Naito. To cap of the tournament, Naito vs. Sabre, Jr. had an excellent match.

At Wrestling Dontaku on May 1st, Naito vs. Okada will face off in a rubber match. Both have one win apiece over each other this year. It will be for Okada’s championship. Tanahashi will square off against Will Ospreay for the vacant IWGP US Championship. Several other title matches will be on the line as well. This show will likely spawn intriguing storylines heading into the Best of Super Juniors 29 tournament that will begin two weeks later.

U.S. of Jay

In the United States, Bullet Club leader, Jay White, has been wreaking havoc across IMPACT Wrestling, NJPW Strong, and even showed up in AEW. During his time in IMPACT, White added a new member to the famed stable, Chris Bey. He is one of wrestling’s brightest up-and-coming stars. The pair have been wrestling as a tag team dubbed “The Jay and Bey Connection”. White even gave “The Ultimate Finesser” a new moniker: “Your girl’s favorite wrestler.”

At No Surrender In February, former Bullet Club members, The Good Brothers faced current members G.o.D. White and Bey came down to ringside in what fans assumed were the usual shenanigans to assist G.o.D. in a win. Except they swerved everyone and turned on their fellow BC members. White kicked them out on the spot and reinstated The Good Brothers as members. G.o.D. have since returned to Japan where the rest of Bullet Club turned on them. Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa have aligned with the biggest babyface of all, Tanahashi. Bullet Club member, Jado, has also aligned himself with G.o.D. after his friend of over 30 years, Gedo, turned on him.

This has led to some friction between Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa’s baby brother, Hikuleo. Hikuleo has been competing in both IMPACT and NJPW Strong. A couple of weeks ago, he challenged his leader for the Mutiny taping.

NJPW Strong

NJPW Strong is the American branch of the company. They are based in Los Angeles but have shows in different US cities. Four episodes are taped at a time and air on Saturdays on NJPW World.

NJPW Strong regularly features members of the LA Dojo who train on the legendary Katsuyori Shibata. Clark Connors, Yuya Uemura, Gabriel Kidd, Karl Fredericks, and Alex Coughlin. When wrestlers from the main brand are in the US, they usually show up on Strong for a match or two. The show has also featured wrestlers like Blake Christian, Daniel Garcia, The Factory, and Wheeler Yuta.

“Filthy” Tom Lawlor just celebrated one year as the Strong Openweight Champion. This is the only title on the Strong brand. He won it after the inaugural New Japan Cup USA tournament.

Jay White has been having his “U.S. of Jay” open challenge. Some of his opponents have been talents like Chris Sabin, SW3RVE, “Speedball” Mike Bailey, and Shota Umino. Unsurprisingly, “Switchblade” hasn’t lost any of these challenges.

New Japan’s momentum

NJPW had a very successful show on April 16, Windy City Riot. The show featured Suzuki vs. ISHII, Lawlor vs. Yuji Nagata, and Jon Moxley vs. Ospreay.

The promotion is following up with a pair of shows, Collision in Philadelphia and Capital Collision on May 15 and 16. These shows will feature Tanahashi, Suzuki, ISHII, Moxley, Brody King, Ospreay, and Okada.

Mox and King have wrestled on Strong several times. Eddie Kingston will face ISHII at Capital Collision. AEW wrestlers on these shows will likely lead to matchups on Forbidden Door. 

With the relationship going strong, it is possible that AEW could send some of its wrestlers to NJPW’s prestigious G1 Climax tournament and maybe even its World Tag League tournament later in the year. The next step would be to have AEW talent return to Wrestle Kingdom in January.

Next. Five surprise names to see in the G1 Climax. dark

The promotion has expanded its reach to American audiences. Besides its subscription service, NJPW World, NJPW also has shows on AXS following IMPACT and The Roku Channel. NJPW has been working hard to lay a foundation in the US for the last few years. While it’s wrestlers have been on AEW programming, having a joint show between two of wrestling’s hottest brands is a big deal.

NJPW seems to firing on all cylinders and we’re only four months into the year. It’s an exciting time for NJPW fans and potential new ones.