By Bayani Domingo, Columnist
*Spoiler Alert* If you don’t want to know what happened when Y2J took on “The Cleaner” in NJPW on January 4th then I suggest you skip down to the dick and subtly racist jokes in the “Column C” section. Ok, you’ve been warned.
The relationship between American wrestlers and Japan has been long and storied. From Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, the Steiner Brothers, and Vader to Pegasus Kid, the Youngbucks, AJ Styles, Giant Bernard, Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson, Luke Gallows, Will Ospreay, Ricochet, Chris Jericho, and now Kenny Omega. There have been stars that were household names before they stepped foot on Japanese soil (Hogan, Styles, Flair) and there were bit players on the American scene who suddenly became huge stars (Stan Hansen, Scott Norton, and Michael Elgin). Japan has always had a fascination with all things American and wrestling was no exception. But something has changed the dynamic over the past few years, the Jericho/Omega match has proven that.
What has been such a selling point for American wrestlers to spend time training and working the Puro scene has been their ability to learn and evolve their styles in a way that is different from the Indy or WWE scene. On top of that stars can draw healthy paydays and lower or mid-card guys can get a much-needed shot of adrenaline to their floundering or unfulfilled careers. We’ve seen careers be revitalized and names being made in a Japanese ring and it’s coming to the point that the reverse is also true, guys like Nakamura, KENTA, and ex-Joshi wrestlers like Kana (Asuka) and Kairi Hojo (Kairi Sane) get signed to deals in the WWE after starring in Japan. There is no animosity from their former companies and it would behoove them to leave on good terms with the door open for a return later in their careers since it makes good business sense on both ends.
But this surprise Jericho appearance at Wrestle Kingdom was different, special in a way. It’s not because the man is nearly 50 years old and still putting on matches that would make Dave Meltzer change his boxers 3 times before the final bell rang, but it’s because of the implications mean for future potential debuts. Jericho is basically a “Free Agent” of sorts, he doesn’t have a long-term WWE contract and while I’m fairly sure he must have run this by Vince or Hunter, he took his own initiative to get himself hooked up with a pretty sweet gig for only 2 weeks’ worth of work, which basically amounted to a free vacation and a nice paycheck. Not to say the man didn’t earn every cent after a fantastic build up to a what any considered a “Dream Match” with the leader of Bullet Club, and for ~40 mins it’s hard to argue that the payoff wasn’t worth the build. NJPW got to bring in a recognized superstar with ties to Japan in his early career, but got to essentially book a 2nd Main Event that included one of their biggest stars in Omega.
What this does though is create a potential pipeline for other aging stars, part-time wrestlers, or additional leverage for wrestlers during contract negotiations. But one thing that can’t be overlooked is that fact that the E is in bed with NJPW whether they know it or not. At this point, there has only been a one-sided relationship where Japanese wrestlers leave for the E when they feel the money or opportunity is right and NJPW takes whatever castoffs and “Future Endeavored’s” that they feel can still be of use or a draw. But in this sort of scenario why can’t a Brock Lesner use his leverage to book a main event or 2 with NJPW? Why couldn’t John Cena use some of his downtime between gigs to wrestle Okada or Naito? Even more shocking, what about the old “American Dragon” come out of forced retirement to shake off the ring rust at the Tokyo Dome? In fact, why can’t the opposite take place? Would it be pure fantasy to imagine a “One Night Only” invasion of Bullet Club or Tanahashi?
This is a game changer, POTENTIALLY, in so many ways. It’s just a matter of convincing Vince that the merits of cross promoting with NJPW would be better business than merely rehashing the same tired, played out feuds that the E has been regurgitating for months. Obviously, they’d have to be some collaboration as you would want to protect your wrestlers and wouldn’t want it to constantly be one side putting over the other, but there is money to be made. There is experience and training to be had by the wrestlers. There are “Wet Dream Matches” to be obsessed over by the fans. The blue print is there, the seal has been broken. Y2J may not have popped NJPW’s “Cherry”, but he certainly left his mark on its lower back and a $50 bill on the table on his way out. Although, based on reporting already been leaked, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jericho hasn’t put off blocking NJPW’s number and returned his copy of their house key. This might just come down to whether Hunter has Vince’s ear or not. Your move Meek Ma-Han!
- NJPW treats ice packs like they are some kind of magical charm from Hogwarts. Broken arm? Stinger? Torn ACL? Put some ice on that sonuvabitch! I’m surprised Glacier never got a run in Japan. The man would’ve been UNstoppable!!
- WWE’s Mixed Tag Challenge is underway with teams being announced on the regular. Braun and Bliss seem like an odd couple, but I assume Alexa is just going to ride around on Braun’s shoulder during the match like he’s “Big Daddy” from Bio Shock.
- James Storm is officially gone from IMPACT wrestling. Meaning he’s finally free to make good on his much-anticipated return to a place where he could really flourish. No, not NXT, dialysis.
- *Spoiler alert* I’m a big fan of Okada’s, but it was a bit disappointing to see that the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon miss his shot at the brass ring yet again. I guess…it just wasn’t his…Naito.
- Jimmy Jacobs looks to be out of commission for perhaps up to a year with an undisclosed injury. Considering he’s been calling himself the “Zombie Princess”, my guess is that it’s got to be either a head shot by a Colt .45, or a Katana through his cranium. Otherwise he really need to change his name if he can’t compete with a boo boo.
- Kairi San appeared at her former employer, STARDOM, for the retirement ceremony of Yoko Bito. In other news, Rhyno has appeared at his former employer, 24 Minute Fitness, for the retirement of his former nutritionist, Chipotle.
- Kalisto was recently inured at a show after a fan purposely hurled a full water bottle at his head. When asked to point out his attacker to security he was unable to provide a positive ID since he kept pointing to the ceiling with both hands screaming “Lucha, Lucha!!”
- Apparently, it was Kalisto’s wife who called out the culprit on social media. She is claiming that not only does he have to get an MRI, and may have a fractured jaw, but he has also been impossibly fidgety in his baby bjorn every time she takes him out as a result.
- I’ve officially put in my request to take off “Rusev Day” for “Religious reasons” …your move HR department!
- War Machine is rumored to be signed, sealed, and delivered to NXT in the next coming weeks. So, what do they have planned now for the tag team? Hook up with Insanity alongside distant cousin Killian Dane? Align with the Bludgeon Brothers?
- Become the newest members of the Wyatt Family? Oh, playing backstage security guards during a pull apart between Kane and Braun? Yeah, I knew that.
TBH, every time I hear “War Machine” now, all I can think is, “Oh God, somebody PLEASE confiscate his Twitter account!”
- It’s cool to see IMPACT really embrace their partnership with NOAH by giving Ishimori the X-Division title. This working relationship seems to be going well and the storylines are progressing well. I’m excited to see where they go with this NOAH arc…
- Not for nothing, but if OvE had beaten LAX and caused them to be thrown out of IMPACT they should have to change their tag team name to: I.C.E.