WWE‘s plan for the “global localization” of their sports entertainment product has picked up steam over the past few months. NXT UK contracts that once allowed performers to work for many independent promotions on the side became more exclusive, and the UK Performance Center opened up for business. Triple H spoke definitively about future PCs in India and the Middle East and brought up the option of one somewhere in Latin America. According to a report by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE officials are also looking at the possibility of an NXT Japan brand, with some traveling to Japan earlier this week in order to build relationships with some of the country’s existing wrestling promotions.
This comes at a time when several Japanese wrestling promotions are already making moves for themselves. New Japan Pro Wrestling, currently the country’s industry leader, is working to expand both within Japan and internationally, with the opening of their LA Dojo in 2018, more live shows overseas scheduled for 2019, and a plan to run the Tokyo Dome for two consecutive nights at the beginning of 2020. Tokyo Sports reports that All Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Wrestle-1 may be forming a coalition partly in response to NJPW’s financial success. Dragon Gate proper is not directly tied with All Elite Wrestling, but their Chinese branch, Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, is. Stardom and DDT (with stars from their Tokyo Joshi Pro sister brand as well) are both running their first shows in the U.S. during this year’s WrestleMania weekend.
Hideo Itami returning to NOAH for a match against Naomichi Marufuji seemed to signal the start of a working relationship between the two companies, but Itami has since asked for his release from WWE and no further news about this inter-promotional alliance has emerged. Although Stardom founder Rossy Ogawa attended last year’s WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and his company was mentioned by name during this year’s Mae Young Classic, Stardom is also already partners with Ring of Honor in the U.S. The announced participation of TJPW wrestler Yuka Sakazaki at Double or Nothing (as well as OWE’s existing relationship with DDT), makes it seem like a DDT-AEW relationship could also be possible. So far, Meiko Satomura‘s Sendai Girls seems like one of the most likely promotions to fall under an NXT Japan umbrella given Satomura’s participation in the 2019 MYC and the joshi promotion’s lack of ownership by a larger company.
WWE has several popular Japanese superstars (Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Akira Tozawa, Io Shirai, and the incoming Kushida) who could make up the beginning of an NXT Japan roster. However, it’s unknown so far if the company has been able to cultivate their desired inter-promotional relationships in the country or if there’s that much of a demand for a WWE-style wrestling product in Japan. But as WWE expands its presence on American television and with international ventures in 2019, their maneuvers in Japan will be something to watch.