Partly due to NXT’s success, these last few years a who’s who of indie wrestlers have been rumored to have the interest of WWE. Some names like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Hideo Itami and Apollo Crews ended up signing. For others, like Kota Ibushi, The Young bucks, AJ Styles and reDragon, those rumors proved to be just that. Rumors. With the announcement of WWE/NXT looking to increase their roster in the coming months, it is of course completely understandable that there is speculation about the possible WWE future of some of the top indie stars. ROH Champion Jay Lethal, for example, has been cited last week as the latest name on Triple H’s wish list. Given he’s had an excellent 2015 and with his ROH contract coming to an end very soon, I wouldn’t be that surprised if we indeed find Lethal on the NXT roster in February or March 2016. But then, another name surfaced.
To be honest, I usually dismiss all rumors of NJPW’s top stars going to WWE out of hand. The reason for that is very simple. I’ve said this before and I will say this again, NJPW isn’t your average indie promotion. Now I understand why some tend to under-estimate NJPW’s power. After all it isn’t big in the States so it’s perhaps easy to dismiss the Japanese promotion as “small time”. But, NJPW IS big in Japan, and with a population of 127 million, being big in Japan does mean something. Add to that the fact that Japan has an obviously easy access to the Asian market (which is pretty damn huge) and some of you might understand where I’m getting at. Furthermore, while it is true they do not have a weekly TV show like WWE, TNA or even ROH, NJPW’s events draw very well. To give an example, the last two Wrestle Kingdom shows each drew between 35.000 and 36.000 fans respectively. Other events regularly draw over 10.000 fans and PPV’s sales are quite healthy. On top of that, NJPW’s owner Takaaki Kidani, also president of BushiRoad, is quite wealthy and fully prepared to pump extra money in the promotion if needed. All that to make clear that NJPW is very healthy financially, has a very strong fan-base in Japan and while it’s clear there is still a huge gap between them and WWE, there is also a substantial gap between NJPW and, for example, TNA and ROH. In my book that makes them the number 2 promotion in the world (note, I didn’t say USA, I said the world).
Now, why is it so important for me to makes this clear for you all? Simply because what the NJPW top stars are making annually is probably more comparable to what WWE’s Dean Ambrose and Daniel Bryan are making than to what, say Jay Lethal is making in ROH. In late 2013, it was determined that Shinsuke Nakamura was making over 500.000 USD a year. That’s without counting all his other appearances (someone like Nakamura doesn’t appear for just 100 USD and a couple of pepsi’s) and his publicity deals and others. While I don’t have the exact numbers, it’s safe to assume that that number, considering the fact that business has been blooming for NJPW since then and that Nakamura has been instrumental in that, has increased substantially. I would say that Nakamura has probably made around 750.000 dollars (and that’s probably a conservative estimate) this year and that’s only counting his NJPW revenues.
In other words, I would be very surprised if Nakamura even considers any offer below the 800.000 USD. And bear in mind that any offer exceeding that will immediately be matched by Kidani who is not only willing but also able to go all the way to keep his top stars. In fact, Kitani has even been quoted as saying that for WWE to hire NJPW’s top stars, they would have to go into the seven figures.
This all to make clear that NJPW’s top stars are not in any rush to go look elsewhere when it comes to financial motivation. Why then would Nakamura even consider the move to WWE? Well, and this is the only reason why I’m even considering the possibility of this rumor actually being more than just a rumor, Nakamura has been been said to be somewhat dissatisfied with NJPW booking lately. He has quoted saying he wanted something “different”. That he wanted to try something new. That he wanted a “new challenge”. For someone of Nakamura’s level, who has indeed already done all he can do in Japan, that can only mean one thing, trying to “make it” in the States. Ans then, there is only one possibility, WWE, since they are the only one who can afford him. And if anyone says, what about TNA, I’ll let my cat loose on his ass because, this is supposed to be a serious article and therefore I won’t tolerate any comedy.
This launches another round of speculation. We’ve already established why Nakamura would be interested in WWE, we’ve also established how much (approximatively) WWE would have to pay in order to convince Nakamura to leave Japan and sign a contract with them. So the question becomes, why would WWE pay out such sums for a 36 year old Japanese wrestler?
Well there might actually be a few reasons. First, there is the fact that WWE has a serious problem with their current roster. The injuries of Orton, Rollins, Bryan and Cesaro (amongst others) combined with the fact that Undertaker is getting old, Lesnar only wants to do an handful appearances a year, Cena is more and more focusing on side projects like movies and TV shows and The Rock won’t be coming back anytime soon given he’s too busy filming blockbusters and you’ll see that WWE is getting short on star power. Of course that’s their own fault since they mostly neglected to create new ones. Could Nakamura fill that bill? Those who know him will probably respond with a bit, fat YES! Nakamura looks and behave like a rock-star, effortlessly connects with audiences all over the world and undeniably has that elusive “IT-Factor” WWE is always looking for. He can manipulate an audience like no other and is a proven draw. OK in Japan, but it isn’t given to just anyone to head-line events that draw 35.000 – 40.000 people. Outside of WWE, there are only an handful wrestlers who can claim they have done that. Nakamura is one of them. This might play in his favor. And to complete the picture, Nakamura speaks English quite fluently so that wouldn’t be an issue either.
Secondly, there is the fact that WWE has shown interest in the Asian, and more specifically Japanese, market recently. The Beast in the East show was clearly designed to specifically appeal to Japanese audiences, so much so that production values and in-ring styles where somewhat modified to batter fit what Japanese fans are used to. Then there was the appearance of Jushin “Thunder” Liger at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. After that there was the news that WWE reached out to NJPW because they wanted to feature NJPW shows on the WWE Network (a proposal that was quickly shot down by Kidani). Finally, WWE has their network subscription in Asia to consider. Now let me ask you, what better way to boost those number than hiring one of Japan’s top three stars? And beyond that, can you imagine what impact a WWE Tour in Japan headlined by Nakamura would have? This would undoubtedly be a major coup for the promotion.
Finally there is also the fact WWE has been openly wondering how to regain some of their lost RAW audience recently. When the rumor started, I amused myself with reading the general internet reactions to it. And I can tell you they can be summed up with: “we would happily sit through 2 hours and a half of Sheamus vs Reigns if it means we’re getting 15 minutes of Nakamura”. Also when Daniel Bryan said (earlier this year) that he would love to wrestle Nakamura one day, it created a major buzz overnight. And what would happen if they teased a Lesnar/Nakamura fight? Lesnar doesn’t have that much viable opponents left, while Nakamura does have MMA experience, is a “striker” type and would therefore pose a more than realistic challenge to “the grappler” Lesnar. In other words, Nakamura’s signing would have a major impact on the wrestling world in general and the wrestling fans in particular. And Nakamura has more than enough charisma to convince a more casual audience that he is indeed worth watching, so it would be win-win for WWE.
But there are drawbacks of course. WWE has an abysmal record when it comes to book stars that they didn’t create themselves, and that’s not even counting their habit of booking foreign wrestlers in very stereotypical ways. Also, while Nakamura is certainly tall enough for WWE’s roster (he is taller than Cena), he is not really the “muscular freak” type WWE loves to push. Finally, as things stand now, Nakamura would obviously fit much better in NXT than in WWE. But can WWE afford to put someone they have spend so much money on in NXT? Better yet, would WWE even consider to spending so much money on someone many in the WWE office are likely to consider as just another “indie wrestler”. And even if they did, wouldn’t they be forced to put him on RAW as soon as possible, so they can take maximal advantage of their investment? Of course they would, but that raises the biggest question of all, is WWE open-minded enough to push someone like Nakamura? In other words, is WWE ready to change course by pushing a “wrestler” to the moon? History would suggest that they are not. And no, Bryan doesn’t count, since Bryan more or less pushed himself.
To conclude, while some might get exited at the prospect of Nakamura wrestling for WWE, I deem the possibility of this actually happening very remote. Too much stars have to align for this to happen, especially in the WWE universe. And while Nakamura might be ready for WWE, I simply don’t think WWE is ready for Nakamura.
Oh and speaking of here is a treat for you all, as match of the Week, his match against Hiroshi Tanahashi during this year’s G1 Climax’s Finals. Enjoy!
Thats all from me.
Tags: njpw, shinsuke nakamura