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New Japan should have seen WWE's talent raid coming

In this article, we look at the expected WWE signings of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows from New Japan's prespective, why they should have seen such a talent raid coming and how it may be a blessing in disguise.

Kota Ibushi: a safer bet to build around than AJ Styles?
Kota Ibushi: a safer bet to build around than AJ Styles?
Wikimedia Commons

The big story of the week so far has been the rumours that AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows have all given notice to New Japan Pro Wrestling in order to presumably sign with WWE.

Apparently New Japan's head booker Gedo was caught completely flatfooted by their decision to leave the company, only being notified by the talent shortly before the promotion's biggest show of the year Wrestle Kingdom 10 on Jan. 4th, forcing him to rethink many of his booking plans for the year ahead.

This talent raid of top New Japan talent is something that Gedo really should have seen coming, although maybe not quite on this scale.

Under Paul "Triple H" Levesque's guidance as Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative, WWE has shown a growing willingness in recent year's to sign the best talent the world has to offer, whereever they may be found. In particular, current main roster performer Neville and top NXT stars Finn Bálor, Hideo Itami and Apollo Crews all made their names in Japan. With their success, it was inevitable that one day WWE would look to the Land of the Rising Sun again for new prospects and New Japan, having the most marketable wrestlers in all the land, would be the likely victim.

Moreover, Triple H's closest confidants in NXT are retired wrestlers with a deep understanding of the Japanese wrestling scene. His head trainer at the WWE Performance Center Matt Bloom was one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's top foreign stars from January 2006 - January 2012 under the name Giant Bernard, before WWE lured him back for a disappointing run as monster heel Lord Tensai where he failed to get over despite a strong initial push where he pinned both John Cena and CM Punk on Monday Night Raw. Meanwhile, NXT's most influential talent scout William Regal worked several tours of New Japan in the mid-1990s as part of WCW's talent sharing agreement with the promotion.

That's why it was ridiculously naïve of New Japan to allow their legend Jushin "Thunder" Liger to work the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn special last August, which briefly jeopardised their mutually beneficial relationship with Ring Of Honor who were running a major house show head to head in the same market. Apart from keeping one of their performer's happy by allowing him to take a lucrative outside date, New Japan gained nothing in return from their favour to WWE. Any aspirations that they may have had that this courtesy could be spun into a similar talent sharing agreement to the ones they have with CMLL and ROH were foolhardy because Vince McMahon doesn't play well with others when he's top dog, especially a group that had just recently procured a television deal in his home market.

Lulled into a false sense of security, Gedo continued to run with a pat hand on top throughout 2015, failing to fully take advantage of opportunities to elevate fresh talent up the card, instead opting to build around the established headliners of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Nakamura and Styles, and keeping Anderson and Gallows as the company's dominant heavyweight tag team. By doing so he left New Japan ripe for the picking, particularly with their antiquated system of signing talent predominantly to twelve month contracts at the start of every year. This setup may have helped them to weather the storm of business slumps due to bad creative decisions and circumstances out of their control in the past, but is clearly outdated in today's environment where WWE views them as intruding on their territory and company loyalty is much harder to engender.

Ironically, although WWE have put New Japan in a very tight corner to start the year, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise, like when eyeglass magnate Hachiro Tanaka tossed ridiculous amounts of money to get the likes of Genichiro Tenryu, Yoshiaki Yatsu and Ashura Hara, amongst others, to quit All Japan Pro Wrestling in April 1990 and form a new wrestling company Super World of Sports (SWS). The ultra conservative All Japan promoter Giant Baba was forced to immediately elevate talented youngsters Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Kenta Kobashi up the cards, sparking a business boom that lasted for several years.

Although such a stunning transformation would be tough to replicate, in the likes of Katsuyori Shibata, Kota Ibushi (once he's healthy), Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto and Kenny Omega, New Japan has plenty of supremely talented individuals who could potentially pick up the slack caused by WWE gutting the heart of their roster provided they are booked correctly. They should follow WWE's lead scouring the planet for the best performers around and snap them up before Triple H can get their claws into them, whilst also making better use of the talent available to them through their symbiotic relationship with CMLL and ROH.

It was clear from stalling business in recent months that New Japan needed to be kicked out of their comfort zone and shaken up to rejuvenate interest in their product, which while still excellent from an in-ring perspective, had grown stale. WWE has provided the catalyst for such needed change. Whether New Japan sinks or swims is up to them.

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