AEW / NJPW Relationship Has Changed...For The Better... Heres Why!
A year ago it was reported that NJPW wanted nothing to do with a working relationship with AEW as they had their focus set on the historic G1 Supercard Of Honor with ROH at Madison Square Garden. Since then, however, things have changed with ROH as the company has seen all-time lows in attendance at live events, very low pay-per-view buys, and perhaps lower Honor Club subscriptions for the company.
NJPW, however, has seen increases in attendance all throughout Japan and has expanded to the United States with the L.A. Dojo and NJPW Of America. AEW came into 2019 with fire behind them, selling out show after show and changing the landscape of professional wrestling in the United States, so much so, that WWE, who viewed the company as a competitor due to its production value of their shows, the sell-out arenas and the rave reviews the shows received, had to get strategic with its talent and not let anyone go from their roster, sign talent to longer deals and use the monies the company received from FOX, USA, and Saudi Arabia as a way to sign talent to bigger money deals.
With all this happening, the question of "could we see NJPW and AEW work together? was still alive and well. Throughout the months it would seem as though we saw some clues of a working relationship happening. We saw that Jericho worked with Japan and worked a match with Kazuchika Okada at Dominion and on January 5th, The Pain Maker is back to face the ACE of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, with a stipulation that if Tanahashi beats Jericho, he would get a future title match for the AEW Heavyweight title. We've seen a video package back on Halloween night during Kenny Omega's entrance which made mention to Kota Ibushi no longer being his friend. In an interview with Dave Meltzer, Kota Ibushi, when asked about Kenny Omega's documentary film "Omega Man", Ibushi brushed off the question of whether or not he saw the movie itself. In a match with Jon Moxley, Omega seemingly lost the match after a failed Phoenix Splash, a move that the Golden Lovers would use quite often.
With all this said, what could have changed?
Chris Jericho was supposed to be scheduled for AEW Dynamite this week, however, he is in Japan and rumors are swirling that Tony Khan is in Japan as well. NJPW had to approve of Tanahashi's proposal for a match at the AEW title during his interview with Tokyo Sports, and with NJPW making the stipulation public through its social media and website, this can easily be considered a positive for the two promotions.
Harold Meji, the President of NJPW also made some interesting comments during a recent interview with Fox Sports and would state the following regarding a working relationship with AEW: "We're very open to working with anyone, we don't exclude anyone," Meij said. "But it does take time to create that trust between companies. And right now AEW is still in the exploratory phase; they're trying to establish themselves as a brand, what is that brand? They're about one year in, and we're starting to see what their brand is all about. Then we'll have to see if that brand fits our brand of course. At this stage, they still have different styles than we do, and that's the only thing. We're looking at what their brand positioning is and whether it complements ours."
"No. It's a business, at the end of the day," Meij responded. "The wrestlers we hire, we work with on a contractual basis for a certain period of time. Obviously, we would've loved to have kept having them here but I can understand that if there's in their minds a bigger and better opportunity, well then that's just a natural way for competition to move forward. It's a natural thing. I do also believe the likes of AEW is good for the industry, because it puts a lot of new money into the industry, and a lot of people might be getting more interested in pro wrestling - people who might not have been interested if AEW hadn't been established. So it can only be good for the industry."
Perhaps looking at the bigger picture in all of this, however, is the fact that New Japan recently announced its working relationship with AXS TV was done. AXS TV was NJPW's United States distribution. The relationship seemed to be a very healthy one so much so that the promotions bigger shows were able to air on delay the same day, a cost that was significant. However, things fell apart for the two entities once Anthem came into the picture and purchased AXS TV. IMPACT Wrestling, being Anthems home pro wrestling promotion, was easily going to be the flagship wrestling show. Soon after, AXS TV was back to airing older episodes of NJPW.
Could AEW with its United States distribution through TNT be the key to the relationship between the two promotions? With NJPW Of America now around, a distribution deal in the states would make sense for the brand, however, with AXS TV not being the answer, it would seem that strategically speaking, the AEW/NJPW relationship would make sense.