50: New Japan Pro Wrestling Joins Half-Century Club of Wrestling Promotions’ Longevity

NJPW at 50

On January 13, 2022, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) officially celebrates its 50 year anniversary as a pro wrestling company, founded on that day in 1972 by legendary puroresu great, Antonio Inoki. Inoki, one of the star pupils of the father of puroresu, Rikidōzancreated NJPW after departing Rikidōzan’s Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA) in controversy the year before – Inoki was allegedly trying to take over JWA, which had fallen into disarray since Rikidōzan’s passing in 1963. With New Japan hitting the half-century mark of longevity, it now moves the Japanese promotion into rather distinguished company, as the 12th longest-running promotion in pro wrestling, and 5th longest-running promotion still active.

Here’s a look at the eleven (11) promotions that crossed the half-century marker and have been the promotions with the greatest longevity. (An asterisk (*) indicates the promotion is still active; the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) is not listed as from 1948 until 2017, it was a governing body for a collective of privately owned NWA affiliates. It wasn’t until Billy Corgan purchased the NWA trademarks on October 1, 2017, that the NWA officially became its own individual promotion).

1. 93 years, Verband der Berufsringer (Germany, 1912 to 2005)

The longest-running promotion in history (in 2021 at least) came from Europe, in particular, Germany. Verband der Berufsringer (VdB) was founded in Berlin in 1912 and for nearly 100 years promoted traditional Catch wrestling in Germany and Austria. By the 1990s, its impact was waning and it formed alliances with other local promotions, including Otto WanzCatch Wrestling Association (CWA), before finally folding completely in 2005.

2. *89 years+, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (Mexico, 1933 to present)

The oldest promotion in North America, and longest-running active promotion, is Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL). Originally started on September 21, 1933, as Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL), promoter Salvador Lutteroth González gave Mexico its first major wrestling promotion. Known as “The Father of Lucha Libre”, Lutteroth began a new era of pro wrestling in Mexico that gave birth to some of its earliest and biggest stars – El Santo, Gory Guerrero, Blue Demon, Octavio Gaona, Karlof Lagrande, and Mil Mascaras, all helped push EMLL as Mexico’s top promotion for decades and one of the top destinations for international wrestlers to test their skills or learn new ones. In 1953, EMLL joined the NWA as their sole Mexican territory, but following their departure from the NWA in the late 1980s, they re-branded to CMLL in 1991, which they still use to this day. With CMLL still heavily active in Mexico, it’s nearly a sure bet they’ll surpass VdB as the world’s oldest promotion of all-time in four years.

3. 72 years, Pacific Northwest Wrestling (United States, 1925 to 1997)

The Pacific Northwest Wrestling territory of the NWA ran for 72 years and was mostly run by the Owens family. It was started in 1925 by Herb Owen, who ran wrestling and boxing cards in Portland, Oregon. When Herb died in 1942, his son, Don Owen, took control of the promotion and, in 1948, Don was one of the founding promoters of the NWA. Its popular television program, Portland Wrestling, was a staple in the Pacific Northwest territory – so much so, that the promotion was often referred to by its TV show name. Throughout the years, Pacific Northwest Wrestling promoted throughout Oregon and Washington state (although Portland was its main hub), and even shared wrestlers and angles with the Vancouver, Canada promotion NWA Vancouver (run by Gene Kiniski). By 1992, Don Owens was forced to close down Portland Wrestling but soon sold the promotion to referee (and promoter) Sandy Barr. Barr renamed the promotion to Championship Wrestling USA, but, by then, the TV market was saturated with WWF programming and by 1997, Barr closed down the promotion for good – after a 72-year run as Oregon’s premier promotion and the United States’ longest running promotion.

3. 70 years, Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW (United States, 1931 to 2001)

In 1931, Jim Crockett started up Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in Charlotte, North Carolina, promoting pro wrestling in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. – the Carolinas and Virginias. In 1952, Crockett joined the NWA and, much like Pacific Northwest Wrestling and Portland Wrestling, his promotion was more often referred to by its TV program name, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, than Jim Crockett Promotions. Jim died in 1973, with ownership transferring to his son, Jim Crockett Jr. With the younger Crockett now in charge, the Mid-Atlantic territory exploded with new stars, turning rejects from other territories into Superstars (such as AWA cast-off Ric Flair).

Crockett Jr. became the single biggest rival to Vince McMahon Jr. in the 1980s – as McMahon was purchasing up NWA territories like Georgia Championship Wrestling, Maple Leaf Wrestling, and Stampede Wrestling, JCP absorbed territories like St. Louis Wrestling Club, NWA Central States, Championship Wrestling From Florida, and Mid-South Wrestling (by then Universal Wrestling Federation). But Crockett Jr. proved to be no match for McMahon’s WWF steamroller of the late 1980s, and in 1988 he sold JCP to billionaire media mogul Ted Turner. Shortly after buying the company, he rebranded it to World Championship Wrestling (WCW), ultimately withdrawing from the NWA in 1993. During the 1990s, with Turner’s financial backing, WCW became the biggest threat – and for 83 weeks its final victor – against the WWF. But Turner’s power began to diminish in 1996 following Turner Broadcasting’s merger with Time Warner, and by the time WWE purchased the assets of WCW in 2001, Turner was long out of the picture. While WWE retained some trademarks and talents from WCW, the promotion effectively founded in 1931 by Jim Crockett Sr. was no more.

5. *69 years+, WWE (United States, 1953 to present)

The company that would become WWE began on January 7, 1953, when New York City promoter Jess McMahon created Capitol Wrestling Corporation to take over the NYC wrestling territory, soon joined by fellow New York promoter Toots Mondt. Jess passed away in 1954, and his son, Vincent James McMahon, assumed control of the company, which became the New York territory for the NWA. In 1963, following a dispute over the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, McMahon seceded from the NWA and re-branded as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). In 1982, McMahon’s son, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, took over the company, now called World Wrestling Federation (WWF), who has owned the company ever since (re-branding once again to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002). The WWE is three years away from becoming the longest-running promotion in the United States.

6. *65 years+, Association Beauvaisienne de Catch et d’Athlétisme (France, 1956 to present)

The oldest operating promotion in Europe is no longer in Germany, but actually in France, with the Gringnon family’s Association Beauvaisienne de Catch et d’Athlétisme (ABCA). The third-generation run promotion is based out of the Northern France city of Beauvais, approximately 75 km (47 miles) north of Paris, has been home to the catch wrestling promotion since 1956, and continues to run shows to this day.

7. 60 years, Stampede Wrestling (Canada, 1948 to 2008)

The longest-running promotion in Canadian history was the one run by Stu Hart and his family out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, best known by the name Stampede Wrestling. Originally co-founded by Stu Hart and Stu Oeming in 1948 as Klondike Wrestling in Edmonton, Alberta, it was renamed in 1951 to Big Time Wrestling, adding Calgary to its territory and becoming the NWA’s Western Canada affiliate. Oeming got out of the business in 1959, with Stu taking over sole ownership, and in 1965 he renamed the promotion again, to Wildcat Wrestling. This name was also short-lived, and in 1967, he finally settled on Stampede Wrestling, the name it would remain for the remainder of its lifespan.

It became a Canadian institution in the early days of television wrestling and into the 1960s and 1970s, forming alliances with the likes of NJPW. In 1984, Hart sold Stampede to Vince McMahon, but a year later, the Hart family reacquired the promotion/territory from McMahon. This time, it was Bruce Hart who ran the promotion, but it failed to capture the glory years of the 1970s – although it did continue to produce world-class talents until it began to wind down in 1990. Over the next decade, Bruce Hart would stutter and stop with short runs of Stampede, continuing to train new stars, until 1999, when he teamed with brother Ross Hart in returning full time once again. In 2007, Bruce and Ross Hart sold Stampede to booker Bill Bell, but it ultimately closed its doors for the final time in 2008.

8. 58 years, American Wrestling Association (United States, 1933 to 1991)

In 1933, Anton “Tony” Stecher started the Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club and in 1948, became one of the charter members of the NWA. In 1952, he sold 1/3 of the ownership to his son, Dennis Stecher, and Wally Karbo, and following Tony Stecher’s death in 1954, the duo assumed full control of the promotion. Five years later, in 1959, Dennis Stecher left the business, selling his shares to rising star Verne Gagne, making Karbo and Gagne co-owners of the promotion. Following the NWA’s refusal to push Gagne as the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, the duo withdrew from the NWA in 1960 and re-branded as the American Wrestling Association (AWA). The AWA quickly expanded into multiple Midwest markets like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nebraska, out West with Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California, and even into Canada, with Manitoba. Arguably the NWA’s greatest rival in the 1960s and 1970s, by the time the juggernaut of Vince McMahon Jr. entered the picture in the early 1980s, the AWA had lost its steam, and ultimately folded in 1991.

9. 56 years, World Class Championship Wrestling (United States, 1935 to 1991)

The promotion that is best remembered as World Class Championship Wrestling, the Dallas-based promotion that was home to the legendary Von Erich family, got its start with promoter Burt Willoughby, who began booking pro wrestling at the newly constructed Sportatorium in downtown Dallas on December 9, 1935. Willoughby owned the lease of the Sportatorium and in 1940, he sold the booking office and lease to Ed McLemore. In 1966, McLemore brought in Fritz Von Erich as his new partner, with the promotion finally joining the NWA that year as NWA Big Time Wrestling. McLemore died in 1969, leaving Von Erich as the sole owner of the promotion. In 1982, in an effort to bring Big Time Wrestling to more of an international level, Fritz renamed the promotion to World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), and the bloody feuds of the Von Erich family and The Fabulous Freebirds made WCCW one of the hottest promotions in the South. But by 1986, Von Erich had grown tired of the NWA’s refusal to properly push one of his sons as the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion and seceded from the NWA, becoming the World Class Wrestling Association (WCWA) in the process (although their TV show retained the name World Class Championship Wrestling). Unfortunately, both the WWF and NWA (led primarily by JCP) were pulling too far ahead, and WCWA – like the AWA – folded in 1991, bringing an end to the Sporatorium promotion after 56-years (although the short-lived Global Wrestling Federation, founded by Joe Pedicino, would continue to run events there from 1991 to 1994).

10. 54 years, Maple Leaf Wrestling (Canada, 1930 to 1984)

Canada’s second entrant on the list is the Tunney family’s wrestling empire out of Toronto, Ontario, Maple Leaf Wrestling. Originally called Queensbury Athletic Club when it was founded by Jack Corcoran in 1930, in 1931 he secured the premier venue in the city, Maple Leaf Gardens, the new “modern” arena for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1939, Corcoran got out of the wrestling racket, selling the club to his two assistants, brothers John and Frank Tunney, who re-branded the company Maple Leaf Wrestling. Sadly, Jack passed away only months later, leaving Frank Tunney solely in charge. In 1948, Tunney joined the NWA, with Maple Leaf Wrestling becoming a stronghold for the NWA in Ontario. By 1978, Tunney had formed a strong partnership with Jim Crockett Jr., forming a strong talent share between the two strong regions.

In 1983, Frank Tunney died, with his son, Eddie Tunney, and nephew, Jack Tunney (son of John), taking over the ownership. In an about-face, the new Tunney duo withdrew from the NWA and allied themselves with Vince McMahon and the WWF instead. In 1984, they sold the territory rights to McMahon, ending Maple Leafs Wrestling’s 54-year control of the area. For several years after, WWF continued to name their Canadian syndicated TV program Maple Leaf Wrestling, with Jack Tunney joining the WWF as its first on-air authority figure and President, which he held until 1995. Following Tunney’s departure from WWF also came the exclusive rights to Maple Leaf Gardens, and WWF never returned to the venue (it closed down in 1999).

11. *52 years+, All Star Wrestling (England, 1970 to present)

The oldest promotion in the history of the United Kingdom is still going, in the form of Liverpool’s All Star Wrestling (ASW), founded by Brian Dixon in 1970 simply as Wrestling Enterprises. Giant Haystacks, “Exotic” Adrian Street, and Jackie Pallo were all stars that helped put Dixon’s promotion on the map, although it still fell short of the more successful Joint Promotions group who was getting television exposure on ITV’s World of Sport program. By the mid-80s, Joint Promotions was lagging and by the 1987 season, having renamed to All Star Wrestling in 1985, ASW was also getting featured on ITV, following a mass exodus of Joint stars like Johnny Saint, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco, and Tony St. Clair (along with their titles) jumping to ASW when World of Sport was canceled in 1985. ASW continues to this day in the United Kingdom, even after coming dangerously close to a “tribute” show in the late 90s/early 2000s, featuring many veterans and young stars of the UK indie scene.

While New Japan became the first Japanese promotion to make the list, it will soon be joined later this year by their historic rivals, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). While Inoki was creating New Japan, JWA’s other star (and another of Rikidōzan’s star pupils) Giant Baba was putting together his own promotion, launching AJPW on October 21, 1972. A third international promotion will join the half-century club next year on September 13, 2023, when Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council (WWC) – which owner Carlos Colón originally started as Capitol Sports Promotions until the change to WWC in 1995 – turns 50 years old (founded on September 13, 1973).

Quick comparison of other notable promotions:

  • Joint Promotions, England (1948 to 1995, 47 years)
  • Heart of America (NWA Central States), United States (1948 to 1989, 41 years)
  • International Wrestling Association (Montreal), Canada (1935 to 1975, 40 years)
  • Georgia Championship Wrestling, United States (1944 to 1984, 40 years)
  • Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (AGPW), Canada (1977 to 2017, 40 years)
  • Championship Wrestling From Florida, United States (1949 to 1987, 38 years)
  • St. Louis Wrestling Club, United States (1948 to 1985, 37 years)
  • Mid-South Wrestling (NWA Tri-States), United States (1950 to 1987, 37 years)
  • Western State Sports (NWA Amarillo), United States (1946 to 1981, 35 years)
  • All Japan Women’s Wrestling (AJW), Japan (1972 to 2005, 33 years)
  • *AAA Lucha Libre, Mexico (1992 to present, 30 years)
  • *DDT Pro, Japan (1997 to present, 25 years)
  • *Pro Wrestling NOAH, Japan (2000 to present, 22 years)
  • *IMPACT Wrestling, United States (2002 to present, 20 years)
  • *Ring of Honor, United States (2002 to present (?), 20 years)
  • *Dragon Gate, Japan (2004 to present, 18 years)
  • *SHIMMER, United States (2005 to present, 17 years)
  • ECW, United States (1992 to 2001, 9 years)
  • *Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), United States (2015 to present, 7 years)
  • *All Elite Wrestling, United States (2019 to present, 3 years)

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