Could a WWE/NJPW Relationship Work?
On May 28th, the Wrestling Observer published a story saying that WWE's President and CRO Nick Khan had talks with with New Japan Pro Wrestling in Marc/April about WWE becoming "exclusive American partners" with NJPW. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer cites that "with Khan, the former isolationist attitude of WWE vs. everyone is changing with the idea WWE is part of the wrestling landscape and not separate from the pro wrestling landscape". Anyone can come up with their level of truth in any of these statements but the idea of two international powerhouse wrestling companies coming together does, at the very least, excite me and the entire wrestling fandom. On the surface, you can immediately imagine dream matches. Cesaro vs. Shingo. Roman in the G1 Climax. EVIL vs. FIEND. But when you start thinking about the business behind it all, you start to get a sense of maybe why talks didn't continue into May. Let's talk about every company and discuss wheter or not a WWE/NJPW partnership is a good idea.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling
Right off the bat, we have to acknowledge why these talks started in the first place. New Japan has been struggling. Band-aid ripped off. Like the Wrestling Observer notates, NJPW was the 3rd biggest wrestling company pre-pandemic. Because of it, they were forced to shut down for months, return at limited clapping capacity, and run a slew of more shows. New Japan's business strategy to make up for lost revenue is, look if we have half as many crowds, then we need to run double as many shows. Why do this in the first place? Well, New Japan has gone on record saying that the majority of their revenue comes from ticket sales. They don't have huge TV deals like WWE. They don't have huge streaming numbers like, well I guess Peacock now. Selling tickets are their bread and butter. Booking-aside, which I would argue is a huge part of it's decline in popularity, New Japan needs something to help them out.
A exclusive partnership deal with WWE could be that thing. I have no idea if there would be any sort of money incentive to make this partnership happen, but if it was on the table, New Japan would certainly think about it. Despite being a short-term band-aid however, would this actually solve anything for New Japan. Sure, Roman in the G1 would be cool, but would that sell anymore tickets. New Japan is already working with half to less capacity. With the current Japan lockdown, who knows if the G1 will even happen.
On top of that, what would partnering with WWE do more than New Japan already has with their current partners? New Japan is already getting television appearances on AEW, Impact, ROH, plus they have their own show in NJPW Strong in California. Having Roman would be cool, but right now you could also have Omega, Rush, plus other signings out there like Andrade, Joe, Bryan. Would Omega in the G1 not sell out the G1(if they could safely sell out)? There is no benefit for New Japan in the long term besides cool dream matchups. If they can get short term money somehow to help their company, they you hear those talks. If not, what's the point.
All Elite Wrestling
Yeah, I'm going to talk about all the other promotions too.
If WWE and NJPW partnered up and WWE became New Japan's exclusive North American partner, the forbidden door is closed for the foreseeable future. No more surprise KENTA appearances, no more IWGP US Title matches on Dynamite. In fact, Moxley would probably have to lose the IWGP US Title altogether. All that is gone. Honestly, would that be much of a bad thing? Wrestling is awesome with tons of crossover, but taking that off the table just mean more story slots for other people. Days ago, fans were talking about roster bloat and crossovers potentially being a bad thing. It's obviously good business, but if you have a Nagata match taking a slot for night and that's it, then you get a one night pop and no forward story. Trust me, I want New Japan stars on TNT. It's the business move to make. But having New Japan talent gone won't change much in terms of AEW's stories. They were great before KENTA showed up, they will be great afterwards.
The question however would be more about whether or not AEW would be able to work in New Japan. This supposed WWE/NJPW deal is about exclusive NA partnership, right? Depending on the terms of the deal, couldn't AEW still work in New Japan if they wanted? Look at Jon Moxley. For a very long time, despite being a champion and working the G1 Climax, Moxley was not allowed to work for New Japan shows happening in the United States. If WWE forces New Japan to no longer work with Moxley and AEW in the states, then that would presumably stay in the states, not Japan. A WWE/NJPW partnership would hurt AEW minimally stateside, but I can't see how that would stop AEW talent working in Japan, depending on the relationship contracting.
Ring of Honor, CMLL
Both Ring of Honor and CMLL have been long time partners with New Japan going back years, decades even. If New Japan partners with WWE exclusively, Ring of Honor and CMLL are out. These two promotions served as excursion destinations for New Japan's young lions. Now, Yota Tsuji is heading to NXT. Young Lions would now be receiving only the WWE style of wrestling and not an American/Mexican mix. But also, would this even happen? The deal states that they are trading top stars. Would Young Lions even go anywhere if this WWE deal happened? Surely, yes but where?
Additionally, whereas I can't speak fully on CMLL's level of business with New Japan stars visiting, Ring of Honor always got a pop from NJPW appearing. Look no further than Madison Square Garden. New Japan was the card. If you're an ROH fan, sure maybe you wanted to see PCO live, but everyone bought tickets for New Japan live and see Okada. New Japan's partnership with ROH alone helped ROH.
However, it's always weird to consider New Japan's loyalty to ROH and CMLL. Back at the beginning of AEW, many reports stated that AEW wanted to work with New Japan but were declined, citing loyalty to ROH and CMLL. If NJPW didn't give that up for the unknown AEW, would they give it up for billion dollar company WWE? This is all just business at the end of the day, but this WWE/NJPW partnership would hurt ROH and CMLL, I believe, most of all.
Speaking about just business, I don't think any wrestling fan would read the headline "Nick Khan in talks with New Japan about partnership" and not think this isn't about business. Khan is the President and Chief Revenue Officer for WWE. It is his job to make WWE money. Let's propose that this business move is not out to get other North American partners. Yes it appears that way with the term "exclusive" but let's remove the bad faith arguments. For years, fans have been aggravated at WWE's self-isolation, many even saying that WWE was leaving money on the table. Khan, being the man that he is, noticed that money and went for it. 100% always go for it. WWE is still running shows and PPVs. They are about to be on tour in July once again. Whereas, they are not really in the market of selling tickets anymore, making good TV to ensure a re-up on their TV deals, more stadium sell-outs with Okada, more merch, etc. etc., all leads to way more money. It IS the business move. There is no reason not to make the call.
On top of all the money WWE would make, they are taking options off the table for all their local North American competition. With Khan, everything is just business, so taking New Japan away from AEW, ROH, Impact, CMLL all might hurt them all a little bit but would help WWE way more. I don't watch weekly WWE television. Based on their decline in ratings, I imagine that more than likely, you reading this don't watch weekly WWE television. But would you not turn on the USA Channel to watch Hiroshi Tanahashi pop up to challenge John Cena? I know for a fact I would watch it on DVR, but it's a start!
Oh and look at Progress, WxW, etc, and come to the conclusion of the previously failed but now can work NXT Japan.
If I was Nick Khan and WWE, I would 100% make that call. It's the right business move. It would get me more money in ratings, ticket sales, etc. etc. It would hurt my competition in the wrestling marketspace. If I was New Japan, I would hear the call but I wouldn't take it unless it would give me a crazy amount of money from the jump. If I was AEW or Impact, my business would be pretty fine I think. I didn't go into Impact at all but yes, New Japan gone would hurt them, but they still have AEW. If I was ROH and CMLL, I would praying that nothing happens. Alternatively, if a WWE/NJPW partnership is formed, I am calling AEW immediately. However, as outline previously, I do not seeing any sort of WWE and New Japan alliance forming. It doesn't make sense for both parties. Of course, I'm not in the room. I don't know everything about the particulars of this possible partnership, but based on a month going by with no supposed talks, it seems like this move might be gone. But who knows, this is wrestling. Anything can happen.