New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) held it’s G1 Special Press Conference today in San Francisco, the day before the upcoming G1 Special in San Francisco at the legendary Cow Palace. Per the norm, the bulk of the time was spent with NJPW wrestlers like IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, IWGP Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks, IWGP United States Champion “Switchblade” Jay White, Cody & Brandi Rhodes, EVIL & SANADA and Juice Robinson. But there was some serious business discussed too, featured in the dialogue when newly appointed NJPW President Harold Meij took the field. The Dutch businessman, who is a former Senior Vice President of Coca Cola Japan, executive with Heineken Japan, and then President & CEO for Tomy, one of Japan’s largest toy companies, the 54-year old marketing whiz was announced as the new President of NJPW on May 13, 2018.
JPW G1 Special Press Conference
Today, he told the media about what many were hoping for – although for some it may have been earlier than expected.
NJPW president Harold Meij announces that NJPW will return to Long Beach on September 30 for “Fighting Spirit Unleashed” and debut in Anaheim with a Young Lion-led “The Lions Break” show on November 10 and 11.
— Voices of Wrestling (@voiceswrestling) July 6, 2018
The announcement of three more New Japan dates in the US for 2018 – including two based around their Young Lions, their developmental brand – is a bold move for a company that has only just scratched the surface of their US expansion. Last year’s two night G1 Special in Long Beach was New Japan’s first solo produced event on US soil since the last date of their NJPW Invasion Tour in May of 2011. After that, New Japan avoided the west, most likely after a souring with TNA’s use of New Japan wrestlers such as Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito and Shinsuke Nakamura.
In 2014, New Japan opened their trust again, but this time turned to Ring of Honor. Together, the two began to create co-branded events in the US and Japan, War of the Worlds and Global Wars. Since then, ROH has become invaluable to integrating NJPW wrestling back into North American consumption, starting with the perfect entry demographic – the indie wrestling fan. They were the ones who would put more attention on the ring work than the characters, and the ROH fans ate it up. This lead to ROH stars appearing at Wrestle Kingdom in Japan, and New Japan stars showing up at ROH events.
But last year, after years of rebuilding New Japan back from near closure in the mid 2000s, NJPW was ready to take the next step in their legacy – international expansion. And not the leap frog kind, like through ROH in the US or Revolution Pro UK (RevPro) in the UK, but time to start standing on their own legs. Last July 1, they held the first NJPW event since May 13, 2011 in Philadelphia, with the G1 Special in Long Beach, where they sold out the 2300 seat venue for two nights. Main evented by Kenny Omega winning the inaugural IWGP US Championship in a finals match against Tomohiro Ishii, the weekend was a resounding success. They could have sold out a much bigger venue. In 2018, so far we’ve already had three NJPW events this year, with now three more this fall – that’s six events only a year after running your first weekend. We had Strong Style Evolved back in Long Beach this past March (with double the attendance), where The Golden Lovers (Omega & Kota Ibushi) defeated The Young Bucks in an absolute tag team classic in the main event, followed by their first Twitch special last week, when they produced an event at the CEO X NJPW event at the CEO Gaming Convention. The main event was The Golden Lovers facing Los Ingobernables de Japon duo, Tetsuya Naito and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takashi. And tomorrow’s G1 Special in San Francisco will feature newly crowned IWGP Champion Kenny Omega defending his title and honor as Bullet Club against Cody Rhodes. The US events are definitely thrusting Omega as the focal point, and is smart business to do so.
The next event will be back at Long Beach, but whether they return to The Pyramid (the site of this spring’s Strong Style Evolved) or try for something bigger is yet to be determined. They got a little bit of a scare when they didn’t sell out the Cow Palace as quickly as expected – in fact, with less than 24 hours left to go, there’s still plenty of tickets left for the 10,000 seat venue. But to be fair, it’s still a far bigger turn out again than Strong Style Evolved, so it’s not a bad thing. They still did better than the time before, so that’s still a victory. The date is Sunday September 30, which is ironically the same weekend that their running buddies Ring of Honor are close by – ROH is holding Death Before Dishonor XVI in Las Vegas on Friday September 28 and will most likely be doing tapings that Saturday as well. So there’s a good chance we could see a NJPW presence on Friday and a ROH one on Sunday.
But the intriguing part is the two night Young Lions-lead event on Saturday November 10 and Sunday November 11 in Anaheim, called Fighting Spirit Unleashed. For those unaware, the Young Lions are the graduating students from the NJPW Dojo, who work their way up from being the boys around the ring, to wrestling Young Lions events (such as the Lions Gate events), to going on their foreign excursion for international training. In laymen’s terms, Young Lions is like WWE’s NXT (the Performance Center recruitment aspect, as Young Lions are young students, not indie free agents). Seeing the emerging talent from NJPW (and future stars) is exciting to see, plus it may feature some of the trainees from the Los Angeles NJPW Dojo, which opened last summer.
NJPW is clearly going full speed ahead with their US expansion, with the blue prints set for a series of regular stops in the US for years to come. And with Mark Cuban‘s AXS TV looking to expand its NJPW content with more live specials, NJPW is on the fast track to become a vibrant part of the North American wrestling mainstream.
Cody Rhodes has gone back to being a brunette.
If Cody Rhodes is not going to have 80s villain blonde hair what is even the point? pic.twitter.com/QB4rZEKtVK
— Art M-T (@atebbel) July 7, 2018