As we reported recently, Tetsuya Naito was approached by WWE around the time of this year’s Dominion event. WWE approached Naito with a view to bringing the Japanese star Stateside. Naito, being the (astute?) business man he is turned down the offer and opted to stay with New Japan. The Los Ingobernables leader stated in a recent interview with Tokyo Sports that “I didn’t even give it thought. This New Japan ring is already the world’s No. 1 stage. The fans know this. That’s why I think we should focus on our home crowd before looking international.” There have since been humorous reports of how Naito left the restaurant and left WWE officials with the bill, but these are not yet confirmed.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter recently made some interesting comments on WWE’s current stance of NJPW talent. As well as Naito, WWE are reportedly looking at two other stars to bring over. There are no names given, but Dave Meltzer claims that “one would be a huge surprise and the other would be a great worker who I didn’t see flourishing in the WWE system. But [they] also probably wouldn’t have any reservations about moving to the U.S. like many of the Japanese might.”
Again, we have nothing concrete but the descriptions given lead to three names in my mind. When you look at the phrase “a great worker who I didn’t see flourishing in the WWE system” I instantly think of Tomohiro Ishii. Tomohiro is one of the most well respected and tenured stars in Japanese wrestling currently, a bastion of ‘strong style.’ It’s long since been part of the general consensus that whilst Ishii is a top star in Japan he probably wouldn’t be suited to a WWE schedule or in-ring style. Ishii is also no stranger to performing abroad however, the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Champion appears regularly for Rev Pro in the UK and OTT in Ireland.
Ishii in WWE?
Would and could Ishii move over to the US to perform for WWE? He has the credentials and legitimacy that would fit alongside the likes of Kassius Ohno, Keith Lee and Matt Riddle. Should Ishii move to WWE if the opportunity arose? In my opinion no. Ishii has a specific and ‘stiff’ style that has lit up New Japan over the past decade, the ‘Stone Pitbull’ is one of those performers who doesn’t sit at the top of the card but he can easily be brought up and used if the need arose, kind of like a ‘strong style’ Dolph Ziggler.
“One Huge Surprise”
When Meltzer claims that “one would be a huge surprise” I turn to Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi. These two men are New Japan through and through but would have very different motivations for leaving. Okada is only 31 years old, tall and has charisma in droves, if WWE aren’t looking at him as a potential signee down the road then there is something drastically wrong. The ‘Rainmaker’ however is as previously mentioned a full bore ‘company guy,’ his last stint in the United States for TNA Wrestling may well have left a sour taste in his mouth and could have skewed any potential move to North America. Should Okada go to WWE? Not yet…but if WWE are looking to truly expand globally with the likes of NXT UK and potentially NXT Germany taking off soon then for your Japanese based product you MUST have Okada.
The ‘Ace’ of WWE?
So, we move on to Hiroshi Tanahashi, the ‘Ace’ of New Japan. Tanahashi is 41 years old and has had a long, knee injury stricken career. If you look at WWE’s top tier main event talent then Tanahashi isn’t even that old, but could he cope with a WWE schedule including house shows? Possibly not. Again I look at the phrase “huge surprise” and can’t help but think of what the ‘Ace’ could bring to WWE…Shinsuke Nakamura has had an interesting stop-start career in NXT and WWE, but Nakamura has seen some incredible success; Royal Rumble winner, United States Champion and NXT Champion just part of his WWE resume. Should Tanahashi go to WWE? Yes, yes he should.
There are probably New Japan diehards reaching for their pitchforks right now. “Hiroshi Tanahashi in WWE!? They will misuse him! He’ll be jobbing in no time!” That might be the case, or WWE could position Tanahashi as a top tier main event star alongside the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan et al on Smackdown. Staying in Japan for your entire career is by no means a detriment, but if the biggest stage in the world is available to you and you have the charisma and starpower of Tanahashi why wouldn’t you take the chance? Nakamura took the chance and it worked, you can’t convince me otherwise.