New Japan Pro-Wrestling is one of the largest professional wrestling programs in the entire world. A storm of opinions circled Twitter recently, regarding whether or not women should be added to NJPW, which has traditionally included strictly men.
Founded in 1972 by Antonio Inoki, the company has changed management, finally landing in the hands of president Harold Meij in May.
As the second-largest promotion in the entire world, NJPW has had agreements with WWE, World Championship Wrestling, Impact Wrestling, and Ring of Honor; all of which feature female talent on their rosters.
With the women's evolution clearly picking up tremendous speed, naturally, the next conversation to take place is whether or not women should be added to the largest Japanese wrestling promotion. The conversation recently crowded Twitter, but there were some opinions glaringly absent; those of the women who have actually performed in joshi programs.
Fightful contributor and Diva Dirt Managing Editor Kristen Ashly reached out to a few women who have performed in various Japanese promotions throughout the years, to see what opinion they had to add to the controversial topic.
Chelsea Green is currently under the NXT umbrella, but prior to her addition, Green toured Japan twice with Stardom. During her second tour, Green teamed up with Santana Garret to compete in the 2016 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League. As a memorable Stardom roster inclusion, Green would rather fans focus on the women's promotions that already exist.
"Honestly, I don’t think NJPW needs women. I’d love for women to be everywhere, but we have our own female promotions in Japan," said Green.
Veda Scott had similar thoughts on women in NJPW. Scott spent time in Japan, including wrestling at Joshi for Hope IV, before settling in SHIMMER, where she now wrestles a wide array of different talent.
Scott adds that people who want to support Japanese wrestling programs, should start with their wallet.
"I really don’t think it is objective or balanced to push for a women’s division in NJPW unless you are already supporting existing joshi companies. And that means a financial commitment, not just liking gifs on Twitter. There are many accessible, inexpensive streaming services already available where you can watch, and if your concern is supporting joshi, that’s the right place to start - not an internet argument where maybe you don’t have the full picture of what the scene is already like," Scott stated.
Kylie Rae, independent circuit sweetheart, only spent a few weeks in Japan, but wants to return one day to train with some of the best companies in the world. Rae had her own views on the situation, pleading for fans and promotions to look at talent, and not gender.
"...as for NJPW, I understand both sides, but in my own personal opinion, I've always been a firm believer on looking at wrestlers as wrestlers, rather than a female or male wrestler. So don't just book someone because that company "needs" female wrestlers or "needs" male wrestlers. Look at their level of talent rather than their genitals."
Rae would add, "My opinion: if a wrestler is good enough to be on a show, then book them on the show, regardless of their gender."
Probably one of the biggest influencers of the discussion, would be that of Maria Kanellis, or the "First Lady of New Japan Pro Wrestling".
Kanellis managed Mike Bennett and Matt Taven during their run at NJPW as a team, later capturing the IWGP Tag Team Championships at Invasion Attack 2005.
The 205 Live staple also took part in the first women's match in NJPW at the time since 2002, teaming up with Bennett and Taven to compete against Amber Gallows, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson at Wrestling Dontaku 2015.
Kanellis had a fan-focused view on the debate.
"Whether or not women's wrestling should be in NJPW is a complicated one. We can’t assume that we understand a Japanese audience unless we are a part of The NJPW staff. Japan has all women’s promotions that have produced great talents as the US has all women’s promotions.
I would love to see great wrestling whether male or female in any promotion. I also love seeing great entertainers whether male or female. But, every company has a certain clientele ie. demographic and changing that demographic takes time. Wrestling is still a business. So, if you want (as a fan) to see women’s wrestling in NJPW or any promotions you have to ask for it and show up for it. Point being companies respond to markets."
Kanellis continued, "Is the female talent available, YES. Do I believe it will change, YES. But we have to be careful not to destroy another market by shaming it. Like all women’s promotions. I worry about going too far either way. I want to be sexy still. And STRONG. And a MOTHER. I don’t want to give up anything.
My time in NJPW was incredible. I was surrounded by some of the greatest talent in the world. I was treated like The First Lady because I was. I was the first female to work for the company over a couple years and complete longer tours. I had my own dressing room and my own T-shirts. They knew and I knew my audience. I was sexy. I was a female manager. I broke down a barrier with that. That has open doors for more. That is how change happens.
One step at a time."
Just like the wrestling fans on Twitter, the opinions of the women in wrestling come in various hues and intensities.
Realistically, the debate falls on those who wrestle within the promotions, and NJPW itself. Only time will tell what will happen for the future of the largest promotion in Japan.