Joshi, NJPW, Integration And More: The Great Debate

Editor's note: Given the heated conversation in regards to the possibility of women in New Japan over the last weekend, Fightful Select subscriber JDM offered to submit a column based on his stance on the matter. I should reiterate, this is an editorial, and it isn't the job of the media to support any particular brand or product outside of the assignments or job outline provided. Fightful has made an effort to provide wide coverage across all three sports and entertainment fields we cover, while still maintaining financial responsibility necessary to keep the site operating and the staff employed. I will discuss the situation at length on Fightful Select's Fightful Report podcast this week, as well. We are always open to reader-submitted columns, and this one was provided with minimal editing to capitalization to maintain the direction of the column.

Thesis:
NJPW can serve as a conduit for female wrestlers to work larger venues, gain greater exposure, earn more money, and build a fan base that will eventually make women’s wrestling profitable enough for female wrestlers to work more, more consistently, and higher on cards whether in their own promotion or an existing one such as NJPW.

Reasoning:
NJPW is the second largest promotion in the world behind WWE, because it is now an international one. It runs events not just monthly in (or more) in Japan, but four in the US last year, 2 in the UK, and four in Australia.

It has forged business partnerships with promotions in other countries: Ring of Honor in America, Revolution Pro Wrestling in the UK, CMLL in Mexico, and a variety of Australia promotions. These companies co-promote events in these different countries, and share talent, at least on a part-time basis. In some cases, NJPW has featured the championship of another promotion on its biggest show, Wrestle Kingdom. In years past, the Ring of Honor championship has been defended there, and this year, the British Heavyweight Championship of Rev Pro will be defended there.

The NJPW “brand” has been sufficient to sell out venues of various sizes outside of Japan, even on its own. NJPW sold out 2,000 - 5,000 seat venues in Southern California the past 2 years (By Comparison, ROH’s largest events are typically held at the 2,200 seat Hammerstein Ballroom); it sold 2,500 and 3,000 seat venues in the UK across a two-night tour. (By comparison, Rev Pro’s largest events are held at the 1,200 seat York Hall). NJPW did not run a “solo” promoted show in Australia, but collaborative tour with different promotions there with four stops sold about 9,000 tickets. (Source: Observer)

In its home country of Japan, NJPW has sold out venues ahead of time consistently, its streaming subscriber is at an all-time high and it is on track for 4.8B yen revenue (fiscal year ending July 2018). Last year, revenue was 3.8B yen.

Issue:
Why not a division? Too much, too soon?
Some voices online have called for NJPW to create a women’s division; some of those voices complain that they should have had one by now.

While all can agree that that female wrestlers have much to offer and deserve greater opportunities, all must also acknowledge that creating an entire division is a step that should not be done haphazardly. ROH’s most recent attempt, with “Women of Honor” offers an example of how difficult it is.

To create a division, after all, is not enough. The goal should be to create a health division that is sustainable, which means that it must deserve space on the card regularly. It must be worth investing money, card space, and also promotional resources. Ring of Honor started with a promising roster that blended Japanese talent borrowed from Stardom with independent, unsigned female talent in America. Tenille Dashwood (formerly Emma) brought recognition as a recent departure from WWE; Karen Q and Deonna Purazzo had buzz from work on smaller promotions. Where Ring of Honor failed, however, was putting pretaped WOH matches on Youtube and the pre-show of PPVs. Very simply, it did not treat WOH as a commodity worth promoting, and unsurprisingly, it did not catch the attention of viewers. Moreover, it booked Sumie Sakai to be the winner and did not feature quality in-ring work in the lower rounds. It wasn’t a consistently good product, and the payoff was disappointing. WOH was also undoubtedly hurt by the inability to secure contractual commitments from Purazzo or Karen Q, who left for WWE later in the year. Poor promotion, poor booking, poor performances, and poor health from the favorite who held the greatest potential to lead a division, Dashwood, all lead to a flat outcome. Sumie Sakai, a past her prime performer with very little name value, was left with the prize, only recently dropping the title to Kelly Klein.

Additionally, the economic reality of women’s wrestling is, quite simply, modest at best. The biggest joshi promotion in Japan, Wonder Ring Stardom, sells hundreds, not thousands of tickets, running its biggest events monthly at Korakuen Hall, seldom reaching its peak of 1,700 seats. Female wrestling is not producing profits.

Bluntly, why commit heavily to a product that does not produce profits?

The answer requires a longer term view. If NJPW wants to maximize world wide appeal, it will need all the talent it can get, male OR female. There is already stiff competition from WWE to pluck the cream of the crop across all countries, and the lower tier of promotions (ROH, MLW, Impact, and perhaps the new AEW) are fighting tooth and nail for male talent. For NJPW to have the talent to fill cards across the world and appeal to the widest possible audience, an investment in the female talent base for use in the many, many events it wants to run across the globe and the many, many viewers it wants to capture online, you need every talent you can get, and every talent it can develop.

That last phrase if the key. It is not enough just to grab the most “over” wrestlers available - its a bidding war that gets expensive very quickly, and likely ends badly given WWE’s economic push. Getting a wrestler that hasn’t reached peak popularity and raising it up, reaping the benefits along the way? A much more feasible approach. Note, NJPW’s Young Lion system has legendary for building up young wrestlers that grow to become main event level stars . . . but those are all male wrestlers. You can’t create a dojo overnight, but thankfully, Stardom exists and has a fine dojo on its own. While it has not created a literal Rainmaker NJPW produced in Okada, or a merch monster like Naito, Stardom has still created world class talent that has gone on to success elsewhere. Kairi Sane (formerly Kairi Hojo) was a top talent produced by Stardom and became NXT Women’s champion). Io Shirai, the longtime face of Joshi, is on track to be heavily pushed in NXT as well. Talent that has worked in Stardom has been successful in WWE: Toni Storm, Shayna Bayzler, Dakota Kai, etc. Stardom trains and builds up female talent well; what it lacks is worldwide brand recognition and access to large world wide venues.

This is where an alliance (not a takeover) may bear fruit for NJPW and joshi together. New Japan has the buzz and the connections; Stardom has its roster and training system. Perhaps working hand in hand can create gradual growth in opportunities for joshi (and all female wrestlers) in an economically viable manner.

The Talent
Cooperative business arrangements sound great, but at the end of the day, you need talent that performs in ring, personalities that connect to crowds, and it doesn’t hurt if there’s some pre-existing recognition to start.

Fortunately, Stardom is a popular promotion among international female wrestlers to tour with, particularly with European talent. Former Revolution Pro’s Women’s champion Jaymie Hayter worked in Stardom’s 5-Star Grand Prix, a championship tournament; current champion Zoe Lucas has also worked. Bea Priestley, Chardonnay, Viper are all European wrestlers who work across the continent that have toured with Stardom in Japan; they have worked so much they have been made regular members of a top stable in Stardom called Queen’s Quest, which was formerly led by the aforementioned Io Shirai. This trio even works in Britain under the stable name Queen’s Quest UK. Additionally, NXT UK’s Xia Brookside and Candy Floss have multiple tours. Independent talent Session Moth Martina has also worked multiple and has been integrated into another popular stable, Oedo Tai.

Step One: Take the layup.

The first step might be the easiest. Stardom already uses a number of female british Wrestlers; NJPW already works with the second biggest Btitish promotion (Revolution Pro). Why not feature Stardom’s best on an NJPW show in England? It’s actually a smaller leap than doing so in Japan or America!

At a future NJPW show in UK, whether under the Revolution Pro co-branded the “Global Wars” banner or solo-branded “Strong Style UK” banner, feature the Revolution Pro women’s champion Zoe Lucas (or whoever is holding the strap) against a Stardom challenger. Heck, you can do a champion vs. champion match with Lucas facing one of Stardom’s belt holders (Kagetsu or Momo Watanabe). NJPW goes to the UK multiple times a year; partner with Stardom and insert a high level women’s match on these cards pitting UK talent against a Stardom talent. These two rosters have worked each other before, there should be chemistry and there is most definitely talent. These shows can be published on both Revolution Pro and New Japan (and Stardom’s) streaming services, which would be a step up from the exposure any female wrestler would get just working Rev Pro or just working Stardom. New Japan has 100,000 subscribers, after all.

Card space on UK shows should not be an issue. The Strong Style Evolved: UK featured Yoshi Hashi versus Chris Brookes and the debute of “The Great Oh-Kharn”. No one wants to see Yoshi Hashi. The Great Oh-Kharn is a guy with paper as a mask. Punt those matches.

Step Two: Get That WWE Rub

Asuka is the current WWE Smackdown champion; she had a two year undefeated streak and she’s the first female Royal Rumble Winner. WWE has been far from perfect with this world-class talent, but she’s reached undeniable heights with the company.

Kairi Sane won the NXT Women’s Championship and won the first Mae Young classic. She is a pushed commodity in NXT and appears to be a talent well-regarded by HHH, who one day (maybe in 20 more years) will run WWE.

Toni Storm won the second Mae Young Classic and has been featured on both NXT and NXT: UK; she’s destined to actually hold the UK belt eventually as the biggest female name in Europe. She is guaranteed to work Raw or Smackdown in the future

Shayna Bayzler is the current NXT champion.

Dakota Kai another well-liked talent that has worked across NXT and NXT: UK, she is featured regularly on televised shows.

Deonna Purazzo and Mia Yim are recent signees to NXT getting television time.

None of these talents are available to Stardom (or by extension), NJPW now, so why does it matter?

Because the name of the game these days is CONTENT. Whether you are WWE or NJPW or Stardom, what you want is more stuff to attract viewers.

ROH has started putting up past matches featuring Daniel Bryan (formerly Bryan danielson), CM Punk, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe on its youtube channel; its building up its archived content on its streaming channel as well.

What Stardom has is archived match and promotional footage featuring those WWE talents. Some of those matches are against each other; some of those matches are against its current roster. Surely one can see where this is going?

NJPW can feature Stardom talent and promote matches using recognizable names that WWE has handily made famous for them! Heck, I believe WWE is already using Stardom footage when introducing folks like Kairi Sane or Io Shirai; no sense letting all that great footage go to waste.

Current Wonder of Stardom champion Momo Watanabe earned her stripes under the tutelage of Io Shirai and took the strap off of Shirai in a brilliant championship match as Shirai was leaving the company. It’s a match that Stardom owns and could serve as an introduction for Momo on a greater stage.

Asuka has never worked Stardom . . . but she trained the heck out of a current Stardom wrestler named Konami, who unsurprisingly works an MMA-based style of smooth submissions and stiff strikes much like her colorful mentor.

Toni Storm has held the top championship (the World of Stardom belt) for Stardom and defended it against in brutal matches, INCLUDING against Meiko Satomura, who was featured in this year’s Mae Young Classic. If folks thought that semi-final was fun, they’ll love the Stardom matchup which was even more brutal. SHe’s also faced Io Shirai multiple times.

Stardom has this wonderful (sorry for the pun) archive but it doesn’t have the presence online or worldwide to really capitalize on it.

NJPW has New Japan World, its youtube channel, and worldwide partners with their own viewers. It is in a much better position to cash in on the cache of talent that has “migrated” to WWE by drawing eyes to current talent. Every bit of name recognition helps.

Step Three: Embrace the Japanesiness.
That’s not really a word.

Japanese culture is popular. Anime, food, video games. It’s all great. Wierd, but great.

Female japanese wrestling? Also great, and distinctly Japanese. To wit:

That is Oedo Tai, a stable in Stardom. They are like the Kenny Omega Bullet Club - “heels”, but they look cool and act goofy, so you have to love them. They dress like masked female ninjas, their name loosely translates into “Tokyo Samurai Corps”, they have a BANGER entrance theme, and their introduction features group choreography, shown in the video. They’re so cool, BRANDI RHODES joined them, so they even get a little rub from The ELITE!

They can also wrestle. Here’s one of the more famous matches, a 5 on 5 elimination match against Io Shirai’s Queen’s Quest (there’s that footage i mentioned):

Stardom isn’t flawless: the whole roster is uses ALOT of the same kicks, there’s alot of pointless crowd brawling, some of the arm strikes look really weak, the bottom of the roster is very young and inexperienced.

If you watch the highlight video above though, you can see that the talent is there; it shows why I want the talent to have greater opportunities. They work the Japanese strong style that NJPW is famous for and that has bled into so much of today’s wrestling; the talent is good looking; the effort is there. In the hands of WWE’s marketing machine, Kairi Sane was getting massive pops for her title win in front of over 10,000 fans in America.

It proves that if a company wants to handle the talent correctly, there is an audience you be access that will appreciate it. And with that audience will come money.

For now, the women can’t carry a promotion to the heights of NJPW, but they deserve a boost to get there. NJPW’s brand and business connections, combined with Stardom’s talent development, video archive, and roster can forge a path for female talent to reach the greater heights they deserve.

What will the future hold? Will Stardom be able to rise up on its own? Is the inevitable endpoint an NJPW takeover? Will WWE just smash everyone anyways? Maybe.

But the fight is worth fighting.

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