What the NOAH Partnership Means for NJPW Fans in the U.S.

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It is very hard in 2021 for fans outside of Japan to care about New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s product. Whilst boasting a roster of some of the most talented individuals in wrestling, NJPW shows never feel quite as can’t miss as they used to. A large part of this is due to travel restrictions brought about from COVID-19, which made the influx of talent from the U.S. and Mexico (something that the company relied very much on in the past for fresh match-ups) impossible. Instead, New Japan had the unenviable task of trying to book interesting wrestling with a non-changing, non-rotating roster of the same people and the same matches. This has made the new partnership between NJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH all the more integral.

Needless to say, this made the last couple of years very rough for the company and hasn’t done much to help its popularity in the U.S. The company really has tried, changing everything they can about the product’s new championship belts as well as their booking philosophy (for better or worse). Recently though, NJPW and fellow Japanese promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH agreed, once again, to a partnership that would allow for a flow of new talent and new faces between the two, as well as fresh and exciting match-ups between different loyalists of their respective promotions. The partnership will begin with the annual 3 night New Japan event, Wrestle Kingdom 16. Kazuchika Okada vs Katsuhiko Nakajima, Keiji Mutoh vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kenoh vs Tetsuya Naito, and more are all possibilities now. Seemingly overnight, New Japan’s main issue for the last 2 years has been solved.

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The Partnership Between NOAH and NJPW

Finding Success where New Japan Couldn’t

NOAH, unlike New Japan, has actually done very well for itself during the pandemic. It hasn’t taken New Japan’s place, to be sure, but it has certainly gained quite a bit of momentum for itself, especially in the second half of 2021. Names like Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Masato Tanaka may not make the company more popular or well-known, but have certainly given it more momentum and have enabled it to become one of the hottest promotions outside of North America, growing their talent with the company as they went. Much like New Japan, they were forced to create change within their product due to the inability to cause any change in the talent roster and change they did.

On January 31, it was announced that the promotion would be going under a rebrand process, and everything about it visually would change. This came to fruition just a few weeks later in February, when the company returned with new logos, new rings, and even new cameras, making it truly feel like a fresh start for the company, and presented their plans to overtake NJPW as the top promotion in Japan. In rebranding successfully, NOAH had already proved they could do something in 2021 that New Japan could not; create interest outside of their home country by adapting their product.

New Japan attempted to create change but in the wrong areas. Did anybody really want a new, less-attractive version of the IWGP Heavyweight belt? Did anybody really want to see Will Ospreay, of all people, take the belt off of Kota Ibushi right after he’d won it? New Japan’s attempts at change were ultimately far too transparent and the fans saw right through them. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too. NOAH, however, went all-in on their makeover, which was risky, and once again fans saw that only this time they saw the authenticity of it. New Japan tried to get away with just a dip of the toe, but NOAH dived headfirst, and people appreciated that more.

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Turning Negatives into Positives

Earlier this year, I did an article on New Japan and the state of their current product. While it was somewhat harsh, it’s impossible to deny the hardships NJPW has faced in the North American market this year. As previously stated, the largest problem with NJPW this last year is the fact that the audience is forced to watch the same matches, with the same competitors, for the same championships at every event. However, this weakness may now become a strength. The same names have dominated NJPW’s cards for years now, even before the pandemic, and people have always cited it as one of their big gripes with the company, but now everything can be painted in a different light.

Instead of being workers trapped by a travel ban, NJPW workers can now be portrayed as loyal soldiers of the company, willing to risk their bodies to defeat their opponents and prove they’re the better company. Or, on the flip side, certain wrestlers could consider defecting as well. Workers like Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto, who many cite as prime examples of wrestlers New Japan dropped the ball on and never achieved their full potential, would have all the reason in the world to at least consider¬†defecting over to the NOAH side of things and see how they fare. The fact that New Japan workers have been stuck there for years has now become its strength instead of its weakness, as it will make every match between NOAH and NJPW seem that much more special and unique.

For an example of why such loyalty is important in these kinds of storylines, look at the latest Survivor Series, where WWE did another one of their annual “battles for brand supremacy.” They told us that RAW and SmackDown would be “going to war,” but it didn’t really feel like that at all. It felt instead like we were being convinced that it was a battle for brand supremacy¬†because none of the matches had any stakes, any meaning, or any drama. The reason for this? Nobody honestly believes anyone on that roster cares what show they’re on. How is anyone supposed to believe a wrestler is loyal to one show when they were just on the other one a little over a month ago? There’s no loyalty, no stakes, no drama. And so Survivor Series, for many this year, fell completely flat on its face as a show.

NJPW has an opportunity here to do it not only correctly, but authentically. This isn’t some forced brand split created by one mega-corporation, this is an actual competition between two of the biggest wrestling companies in Japan. It not only is a big deal, but it feels like one too, and that feeling is palpable even all the way over here in the U.S.

NJPW Pro Wrestling NOAH Partnership
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The Partnership Between NJPW And NOAH – In Conclusion

The NOAH partnership is going to be a very, very good thing for NJPW fans in the U.S. Wrestle Kingdom in January should end up being the most entertaining New Japan show in a very long time, and could very well end up being one of the best shows of next year. With travel bans easing up as well, it wouldn’t be shocking nor would it be unfortunate to see talent from the U.S and Mexico participating in Wrestle Kingdom as well. New times are upon us again it seems, and it may become fun to be a New Japan fan once again.