This week, the oldest operating wrestling promotion in the world, Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) – which was founded in 1933 as Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL) before rebranding to CMLL in 1991) – announced the end of its five-year alliance with Ring of Honor (ROH), which appears to have been a shock announcement to ROH themselves when announced on Social Media. In the age of “The Forbidden Door”, it was strange to see two members of the powerful IWGP Conception part ways, just as the rest of the wrestling world was seemingly uniting in a concerted stand against the overwhelming presence of WWE. The IWGP Conception was announced by New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 2015, uniting NJPW, CMLL, ROH, England’s Revolution Pro (RevPro), Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw), and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) governing body, allowing New Japan stars to work freely in these promotions (and vice versa, although wXw would quietly leave the alliance in 2018 and ally with WWE instead). The following year, CMLL and ROH formalized a deal with each other to share talents in the same way, forming the triple-headed foundation of the alliance. But somewhere along the way, the battle lines changed.
In 2017, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, who had previously worked for (then co-owned) IMPACT Wrestling, purchased the trademarks and catalog for the NWA, and turned the long-standing governing body of pro wrestling (founded in 1948) into its own full-fledged promotion for the first time in its sixty-nine year history. NWA soon found alliances with the likes of ROH as well as maintaining its strong connection to the global indies, working closely with Championship Wrestling From Hollywood. IMPACT Wrestling also renewed its partnership with Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan and AAA Lucha Libre in Mexico, while the rebooted Major League Wrestling (MLW) had alliances with IMPACT, AAA Lucha, Crash Lucha, and other indie promotions. And then on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 2019, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was born. And since then, the world of pro wrestling alliances has gotten even more complex (although altogether more united).
The WWE Universe
The WWE Universe is much more than its fans – its also the combined content of the WWE and its absorbed entities (such as WCW, ECW, AWA, and EVOLVE), its alternate brands (NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live), and it’s allied independent promotions (England’s PROGRESS Wrestling, Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW), and Germany’s wXw). WWE has been teasing expansion into three wrestling hotbeds for fans (India, Japan, and Mexico) with the seeming desire to create regional NXT brands there as they did with NXT UK in the United Kingdom. In India, it’s almost a lock that they’ll be partnering with recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee Great Khali‘s Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE), a school and promotion that has already added Kavita Davi to NXT’s roster. In Japan, it’s a little bit trickier. NJPW is part of its own congregation, while All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) is seemingly still happy being alone. Pro Wrestling NOAH is remaining loyal to IMPACT Wrestling, while DDT Pro is aligned with AEW. WWE has tried to purchase Stardom, arguably the top joshi (women’s) promotions in Japan, but lost in their bid to NJPW’s parent company, Bushiroad, in 2019, and will most likely ally with recent NXT UK debutant Meiko Satomura‘s Sendai Girls. On the male’s side, the hot rumor for a few years now has been WWE choosing Big Japan Wrestling (BJW) as its Japanese connection, with former BJW star and 2x BJW Strong World Heavyweight Champion Hideki Suzuki recently joining the WWE as a trainer. While he’s expected to start at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, it’s possible that he’s being groomed to lead the NXT Japan brand in the training department, probably aligned with Meiko Satomura and recently retired Kairi Sane, and possibly another rumored BJW veteran in 4x BJW Strong World Champion Daisuke Sekimoto. Those four names are a strong start in WWE’s developmental program in Japan if all the rumors align. Considering that BJW just narrowly staved off bankruptcy in the pandemic era of 2020, they may be the most eager to end on a financial high note.
Mexico was the most recently announced region of interest for the WWE expansion, and obviously, WWE will need a partner to enhance their presence, in a demographic market that WWE has failed to properly inspire since the glory days of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero. It was reported this past December that WWE executives were in the early stages of planning a Lucha Libre series under the NXT banner, with the rumor of former WWE Superstar Chavo Guerrero Jr. returning to the fold to work as a potential trainer/agent for the show. But with the recent releases of luchadors like Andrade and Kalisto, WWE isn’t exactly full of enough Lucha Libre performers to stock a full show. They’ll need partnerships for this. The longest-running company in the United States (since the 1950s as Capitol Sports) aligning with Mexico’s oldest promotion would be something that would be seen as a historic union to purists on both sides. Having some of CMLL’s top stars competing against WWE’s own contracted luchadors would be a great way to expand the presence (and show off the true potential) of these athletes to eyes on both sides of the border and beyond. The addition of Guerrero Jr. would also tie in nicely to the story, as his grandfather and patriarch of the Guerrero Family, Gory Guerrero, made his pro wrestling debut with EMLL in 1943, winning “Rookie of the Year”. Guerrero was a multi-time champion in EMLL, winning the Mexican National Middleweight, Mexican National Welterweight, World Middle Heavyweight, NWA World Light Heavyweight (twice), and NWA World Welterweight Championships during his tenure there. Gory departed EMLL in 1966 and became more active in the NWA in the United States. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Gory’s sons, Chavo, Hector, Mando, and Eddie, all performed regularly with EMLL/CMLL (although several did jump to AAA in the early 90s). The story is there for these two historic powerhouses to unite two of the longest-running wrestling promoting families in the world in the McMahons and the Lutteroths, around the Mexican-American legacy of the Guerreros. It would also give WWE a huge bump in presence almost immediately considering CMLL’s stature in the Mexican wrestling world.
TL;DR – WWE Universe: WWE, NXT, NXT UK, PROGRESS Wrestling, wXw, ICW
The Forbidden Door
“The Forbidden Door” has become the buzzword for the interaction between AEW and IMPACT Wrestling (and more recently NJPW), but it’s actually quite a fitting term. For years, WWE had drilled into fans’ heads that the prospect of major television companies crossing streams so speak was no longer a remote action. While WWE and WCW mentioned each other on camera during the Monday Night Wars, they never actually integrated matches until WWE purchased WCW in 2001. Sure, Vince had allowed both ECW and NWA to appear on his programming at times, but Vince saw neither as competition. They were merely his amusements for a couple of hours. And while the IWGP Conception was a big deal for fans of more underground television promotions, this union was never one that seriously posed any threat to WWE’s global dominance. Thus the Forbidden Door of a company on the scale of WWE working with outside promotions on any major scale appeared to be firmly shut forever (although IMPACT and ROH did work briefly together in the early 2000s while both were building their respective brands). But when newly crowned AEW World Champion Kenny Omega appeared on IMPACT television on December 8, 2020, suddenly all bets were off. And when New Japan’s KENTA showed up in AEW to attack Jon Moxley on February 3, 2021, it was official – not only was the Forbidden Door now open, it was blown out and sent for use in a Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) match. But the three big companies working together, it now expanded a huge web of international major promotions in a loose alliance, although it’s not as cut and dry as it would appear.
The Forbidden Door: All Elite Wrestling
Almost immediately after their announced creation, AEW revealed their first working agreement would be with Mexico’s AAA Lucha Libre, the same Mexican company aligned with IMPACT. During the company’s first year, there was an agreement for IMPACT and MLW contracted stars, like Penta El Zero Meido, Rey Fenix, MJF, and others, to work for all three promotions, although most just assumed it was due to shared contracts with both multiple companies. All of either IMPACT or MLW contracted stars stopped appearing for their other promotion as their deals with those companies expired, so it seemed more like a backdoor agreement than something on-screen. But the AEW-AAA alliance kicked off strong, with The Young Bucks actually capturing the AAA World Tag Team titles early on, as well as Kenny Omega capturing the AAA Mega Championship (which he still holds). Initially, their Japanese ally was not the expected NJPW, but DDT Pro, which saw stars like Michael Nakazawa arrive in AEW, while stars from DDT Pro’s sister promotion, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW), also found success in AEW, like Yuka Sakazaki, and Maki Itoh. They also worked with Emi Sakura‘s Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling, which has made Sakura a regular (and early AEW Women’s title contender), as well as her trainee Mei Suruga. While not many have taken the opportunities, several stars are also still permitted to work in the U.S. indies, particularly GCW, while YouTube shows like AEW Dark and AEW Dark Elevation have both utilized non-contracted indie stars in great opportunities since the pandemic hit. Last September, it also allied with the NWA, when NWA World’s Women Champion Thunder Rosa made her AEW debut with her title belt, with AEW’s own Sereena Deeb capturing the title – on an episode of United Wrestling Network (UWN) Primetime that October (UWN is the parent body that oversees Championship Wrestling From Florida). It’s a very open book approach for its entire lifespan, but at the turn of the year, it opened up even further, with its clear alliances with both IMPACT and NJPW.
TL;DR – AEW is allied with AAA, IMPACT Wrestling, NJPW, DDT Pro, Tokyo Joshi Pro, Gatoh Move Pro, NWA
The Forbidden Door: IMPACT Wrestling
IMPACT Wrestling has had a history of using alliances since its early days as Total Nonstop Action (TNA). Upon its formation in 2002, TNA was immediately allied with ROH (which formed that same year) in a talent share agreement, which saw stars like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe work both promotions earliest days. But following the controversy of ROH founder Rob Feinstein in 2004, TNA severed its relationships with ROH and wrestlers had to decide on a home promotion upon expiration of contracts. From 2007 to 2009, TNA was allied with CMLL in Mexico, but in recent years they found a new Mexican ally in AAA Lucha Libre and indie promotion The Crash Lucha (thanks to a direct connection through IMPACT regular Konnan). Thanks to their alliance with AAA, IMPACT also briefly had a partnership with the Lucha Underground brand, until the TV show shut down in 2019. In 2008, they formed a Japanese agreement with NJPW – New Japan’s first major U.S. alliance since WCW in the early 1990s. But after TNA’s misuse of stars like future 5x IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, NJPW ended the partnership in 2011. They briefly allied with WRESTLE-1 in Japan (from 2014 to 2015), and in 2017, they established a new Japanese connection with Pro Wrestling NOAH, which has remained in place ever since. Much like how AEW has used top indie prospects for AEW Dark and AEW Elevation, in recent years, IMPACT Wrestling has done the same for episodes of IMPACT Xplosion. In one of the most shocking alliances of the past few years, IMPACT re-ignited their partnership with New Japan after 10 years and constant insistence from pundits and fans alike it would never happen again, when NJPW tag team FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) not only appeared on IMPACT television but captured the IMPACT World Tag Team titles. George Iceman, the promoter for Toronto’s Destiny Wrestling who works with IMPACT, also recently teased that there is a third promotion entering the IMPACT alliance with AEW and NJPW, telling Total Nonstop Impact podcast that there are “(t)hree deals in place—we got AEW, we got New Japan, there’s a third one – that’s another scoop. Watch out. So there’s a lot that’s happening. Fasten your seatbelts. This is just the beginning.”
TL;DR – IMPACT is allied with AAA, AEW, NJPW, Pro Wrestling NOAH
The Forbidden Door: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Since its inception in 1972, New Japan has constantly sought outside allies to bring its vision to the rest of the world. At times working with the NWA, WWE, WCW, TNA, and multiple Japanese promotions, New Japan has had a shifting policy with acquiring friends outside of Asia. In 2015, it created the IWGP Conception as its own unified congregation, with itself at the head of the table, alongside ROH, CMLL, RevPro, and wXw. For years that situation served masterfully, as New Japan cemented itself as the top Japanese promotion globally, while ROH became a national television major and RevPro became one of the top UK indie promotions. It created a united front for all in four different countries on three continents. In 2018, wXw jumped ship to the WWE Universe, but its loss was small to the Conception’s overall impact. But recently, a decline in CMLL’s power coupled with a tough post-Elite transition from ROH, multiplied by the 2020 pandemic year that effectively shut down the UK wrestling scene, caused the entire Conception to lose some of its momentum of past years. But it was in the United States that New Japan saw the opportunity to grow its U.S. footprint even bigger and this time, instead of doing it with Japanese stars, it did it from within, with the launch of not only an American-based brand called New Japan USA but the launch of its U.S. program, NJPW STRONG, that would base around graduates of New Japan’s LA Dojo in Los Angeles, California. Over the course of the program’s first few months in 2020, it not only highlighted Young Lions and graduates of the LA Dojo, but added stars from ROH, CMLL, and non-Conception members like MLW, GCW, and other U.S. indies. Following an apparent break-up between the NWA and UWN, UWN shifted seamlessly into an NJPW alliance, as CWFH promoter (and former NWA announcer) David Marquez produced the weekly NJPW STRONG episodes, and more and more UWN stars began to appear on the program as well. New Japan just crowned its first-ever NJPW Strong Openweight Champion (the new secondary U.S. title) in MLW’s “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. While CMLL did severe ties with ROH, it does not yet appear to have affected its alliance with NJPW, which started back in 2008, which would make them the only member in the Forbidden Door not affiliated with AAA Lucha Libre in some degree. Takami Ohbari, the new President of NJPW, recently stated that the new alliance with AEW and IMPACT was about the stars of each company more than the companies themselves. “Well, I think that topic is something that doesn’t just apply to STRONG but NJPW at large,” he told the NJPW website. “For me to say ‘NJPW is doing business with company X, so you need to go over there and wrestle’, that’s backward to me. I will say this until I’m blue in the face: this is a star-driven business, and the wrestlers are the focus. So if our wrestlers say ‘I want to wrestle that guy’ ‘I want to test myself against that guy’ ‘I want to show that I’m better than that guy’. Then it becomes our job as a company to do what we can to back them, make it happen, and make it successful.”
TL;DR – NJPW is allied with ROH, CMLL, AEW, IMPACT, MLW, UWN, RevPro
The Forbidden Door: Ring of Honor
Ring of Honor has seen many alliances with many promotions since its formation in 2002, from TNA to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), but it wasn’t until they aligned with NJPW in 2014 that they began to properly utilize these connections. They continue to share talents and storylines with NJPW and RevPro, but now that they have been future endeavored by CMLL over Social Media, they may already have their next Mexican alliance in place – a brand new promotion called Federacion Wrestling. While its ownership is not public knowledge yet (rumored to be a wealthy Mexican concert promoter looking to break into his country’s unstable wrestling world), Federacion has announced multiple ROH-contracted luchadors in the past week for its inaugural show this coming June, including ROH World Champion Rush, Dragon Lee, La Bestia de la Ring, Bandido, and Rey Horus, as well as AEW’s Penta El Zero Meido and Rey Fenix. But according to reports, it was the announcement of former ROH World Champion Matt Taven (who was World Historic Welterweight Champion in CMLL for 126 days in 2018) that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Federacion Wrestling is reportedly looking to make a quick impact at the top of the tier in Mexico (similarly to how AEW landed in the U.S. market) and announcing so many top Mexican stars – who also happen to be top names in the U.S. as well – is a great way to draw names from both sides of the border quickly. According to top Lucha wrestling reporter Luchablog, another CMLL star, Diamante Azul, may also be jumping to Federacion and could possibly be doing what Vince McMahon once feared Bret Hart would do – leave as champion. Azul is the current reigning Mexican National Heavyweight Champion and while the titles have a history of being defended in CMLL/EMLL for nearly a century, the titles are not actually CMLL property and belong to the Mexican commission. It could be a great narrative to launch Federacion’s own World title. Considering CMLL’s seemingly lack of understanding of how to market ROH talents in its five-year allegiance, the Federacion show already seems like a foot in the better direction for ROH to make a footprint in Mexico. But with NJPW still allied with CMLL, it means that the IWGP Conception is now somewhat splintered. But we may actually be seeing some storylines underway for a pretty solid New Japan-ROH storyline crossover to re-ignite that alliance in 2021. GCW star Chris Dickinson debuted in New Japan in January on NJPW Strong as part of Lawlor’s Team Filthy stable, but then made his ROH debut this past March when he arrived at the ROH 19th Anniversary Show and joined Brody King‘s new stable, VLNC UNLTD. At first, it seemed odd he’d be in two different factions in two allied companies, but following Lawlor’s win of the NJPW Strong Openweight title recently, it was Dickinson who announced he was the first challenger. With King in NJPW Strong as well, we may be seeing the seeds of Dickinson’s allegiances now re-aligning. Of course, ROH still works with England’s RevPro as well through the Conception.
TL;DR – ROH is allied with NJPW, Federacion Wrestling
The Forbidden Door: Major League Wrestling
Much like IMPACT and ROH, MLW was a huge part of the indie renaissance of the early 2000s, following the collapse of both WCW and ECW. Founded in 2002 (the same year as TNA and ROH) by former WWE creative Court Bauer, MLW helped usher in many indie stars who became national stars and helped foster a new spirit of the scene. But while TNA and ROH became national companies years later, MLW folded in 2004. It wasn’t until 2017 that Bauer revived MLW and has since slowly built up the indie into one of the U.S.’s unlikely heroes of the majors. What was supposed to be a One-Shot revival show, turned into a full-on reboot, and by 2018, MLW had announced a partnership with AAA Lucha Libre. A month later, MLW joined national television when its flagship show, MLW Fusion, was picked up by cable company BeIN Sports. Since then, MLW has allowed their performers to continue working on the independent scene while securing backstage partnerships with IMPACT and AEW when their stars wanted to move on. On-screen, they allied with Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2019, and Japan’s DragonGate and Puerto Rico’s International Wrestling Association (IWA) in early 2020, and in late 2020, New Japan’s Rocky Romero began appearing on MLW programming, while MLW stars began to cross over into New Japan’s US program, NJPW Strong, a relationship that continues to this day. And while many promotions ascend the ladder as a major by jumping from TV outlet to TV outlet (looking at you, TNA/IMPACT), MLW has simply added new outlets without leaving prior ones. Still airing on BeIN Sports, they’ve since inked deals with DAZN Sports and VICE TV, with their content airing on all three. And while MLW may not have entered into on-screen partnerships with IMPACT or AEW, they have added one of the most wanted nostalgic storylines into its core in recent times, with the alluded Lucha Underground invasion under the Azteca Underground banner (thanks most likely to their AAA partnership). And just this past week, on Wednesday’s episode of MLW Fusion, MLW revealed yet another alliance, when they revealed their new MLW Championship Committee, which will set up international superfights, featured not only DragonGate promoter Toru Kido, but Andy Quildan, the promoter/owner of RevPro, giving MLW their first link to the United Kingdom. In an interesting development on Friday, it was reported that MLW was “in talks” with WWE about working on a partnership, that seems to be similar to the partnership WWE had with EVOLVE Wrestling prior to purchasing the company and acquiring its assets, in that lesser-used NXT talents would be able to work MLW television tapings (and potentially vice versa), but that’s a story still in progress with lots of variables that would be needed worked out.
TL;DR – MLW is allied with DragonGate, IWA, NJPW, RevPro, Pro Wrestling NOAH
While WWE’s alliance is an enforced stronghold, the Forbidden Door is a fluid agreement between multiple international televised promotions – which incorporates many streamed independents – that looks to give the world its first true international battle of the world versus the WWE. And while it’s still too early for the opposing side to usurp WWE’s pop culture status as the most well-known wrestling company in the world, it’s encouraging for those that simply desire an alternative over the sugar-coated, polished alternative that many “casual” fans have grown accustomed to. And much like mainstream music fans shifted from Bruce Springsteen to Nirvana, MC Hammer to Nas, and Backstreet Boys to BTS, the world is growing and no longer content with simply accepting the mainstream products placed in front of them like a grilled cheese from a sporadically encountered family member. Some people just like things different, edgier, more real, more inclusive, and while that may not sit with those who devour the status quo like Taco Bell at 3 am, it’s “unfortunately” been the impetus for change and the universal embrace of individuality. And while the WWE Universe will continuously outperform the rest like McDonald’s to your own BBQ cookout, the rise of a culture based on all-inclusivity, all representation, and literally no borders, will ultimately create a culture for wrestling fandom that not only creates the future narrative of fandom but maintains it.
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