Over the course of the last two decades a number of similarities have emerged between New Japan Pro Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment. In both cases the companies seek global exposure, in order to promote economic growth.
While expansion is often the key to any company’s development, it is the talent that get fans coming back for more, and thus are key to the growth in exposure and revenue. Throughout their time, these companies between them have been home to the biggest names in wrestling today. Some have achieved success in NJPW and pursued interests west, while others felt they weren’t being granted opportunities and decided to compete out east. They are two companies that are very different, and yet have the same affinity for talent regardless of the culture or nationality.
During his time in New Japan Pro Wrestling, there was no denying the impact Nakamura made. Over the fourteen years he competed in Japan, Nakamura achieved all there was for him to do. Whether it was IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental, Tag Team, or U-30, Nakamura was a noted champion. When he decided to pursue new opportunities in the United States, WWE was more than ready to welcome the Japanese star into the fold. Over the two years that have passed since he joined the company, Nakamura has been a two time NXT champion and a two-time United States Champion. He remains one of the most successful Japanese stars to come to WWE.
Another name that has become a household name during his time in WWE is ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles. Styles was a prominent star in TNA/Impact Wrestling for many years, but what he did after leaving there stands to have made the biggest difference in his career. After joining NJPW and the Bullet Club, Styles captured the IWGP Heavyweight championship when he defeated ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada. When he got a second championship opportunity, Styles defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to recapture the title. His brief time with the company helped to springboard him to new heights, which he has built upon since he joined WWE.
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallow
These two former Bullet Club members and good brothers gained a great deal of success during their time competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling. While Gallows had previously been in WWE with little to no success before joining NJPW, it was when he was paired with ‘Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson in Japan that he, along with Anderson, made his mark. The duo was part of the original incarnation of the Bullet Club, and proved that two gaijin wrestlers could come in and make a difference in the company. They have since returned to North America, and continue to showcase their skills as a team in WWE. The duo has had championship success, having previously been the Raw tag team champions.
During his time in WWE, Robinson competed under the moniker of CJ Parker. There was no denying how talented he was in the ring, and at the time he portrayed a character that is not unlike how Daniel Bryan is today in some ways. He was a part of WWE’s roster for almost four years, strictly in its developmental territories. During his time in Florida Championship Wrestling, Robinson captured the tag team championship on two separate occasions. Today, Robinson has emerged as a star in NJPW after joining the company in 2015. He is the current IWGP United States champion, having recently begun his second reign with the belt. The future appears bright for Juice.
One of the most accomplished gaijin wrestlers to perform in Japan was Fergal ‘Prince’ DeVitt. A three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion, DeVitt earned high praise during his eight years with NJPW. He was the founding father and original leader of the Bullet Club. However, North America came calling and so did the opportunity for him to compete closer to home, and embrace a name that combines two figures from Irish mythology. It was then that Finn Balor was born. A former NXT and Universal champion, Balor has tasted success in the company, but appears to be only scratching the surface of what he could achieve in WWE.
Fans of ‘The Beast’ will recall that his greatest successes came with UFC and WWE. What they may forget is that after leaving WWE in 2004, he competed for NJPW. In fact, Lesnar captured the IWGP Heavyweight championship in his debut match with the company. His time with the company although brief was notable. Lesnar was stripped of the title because he couldn’t defend it due to reported visa issues. It was ironically the next man on our list who defeated Lesnar for the title, unifying it with the IWGP Third Belt Championship.
Angle defeated Lesnar to unify the IWGP championships, and once again brought about balance in NJPW. His time in NJPW was brief and sporadic, but certainly memorable. He teamed with and fought against Yuiji Nagata. Eventually, he lost the heavyweight championship to Shinsuke Nakamura. During his time in NJPW he formed alliances with Nakamura and Masahiro Chono to defeat AJ Styles, among others. There is no question that Angle’s time in WWE is legendary. He is a Hall of Famer and multi-time champion. However, Angle’s time in NJPW only added to his resume of accomplishments and showed his depth as a performer.
Chris Jericho & Kenny Omega
While both men are no longer with either NJPW or WWE, their time in both companies were memorable. The two Canadians captured championships and got reactions from crowds as big as anyone in either promotion. Omega competed as part of WWE’s developmental system Deep South Wrestling for a short time. He took that knowledge and experience and brought it to NJPW, where he achieved immense success. Jericho was a multi-time in WWE, and more recently he had the distinction of capturing the IWGP Intercontinental championship.
As a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.