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10 Questions We Have Heading Into New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Special in San Francisco

New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to the United States for the G1 Special in San Francisco on Saturday July 7. Like Strong Style Evolved earlier this year, the special will air on AXS TV, a channel owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The show is another step in New Japan’s global expansion. In 2018 alone NJPW increased their non-Japanese New Japan World subscriber base, toured Australia, held that aforementioned show in the U.S., expanded their merchandising brand to Hot Topic, teamed with the hotly-anticipated Fire Pro Wrestling video game, and have continued strong working relationships in the United States (w/Ring of Honor), Mexico (w/CMLL), and the U.K. (w/Revolution Pro).

However, coming off their mega-PPV Dominion, and heading into the G1 special, there’s a lot of questions we have about the ever-expanding company. Pop Break’s resident New Japan expert Murjani Rawls, and editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin have teamed up to ask, and potentially answer these questions.

New Japan has the bulk of their titles – IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Tag, NEVER 6-Man, U.S., and Intercontinental Titles on foreign talent. Do a moves like these devalue the homegrown Japanese talent on the roster?

Murjani Rawls: Not as much as people would think. NJPW is in a state of transition right now with a growing US presence sans Ring of Honor. You need a recognizable face of your company that’s universal. Kenny Omega is the perfect balance of talent and charisma. The Young Bucks completed their story in the quest for the Heavyweight titles. They are considered the best tag team in the world. Jericho is still performing at a very high level. When you have these pillars in place, it gets eyes from an audience that you wouldn’t normally have. Then they can see the Sukuzis, The Evils/Hiromu’s/Sanadas. They already see Kota Ibushi, Naito, and Okada.

Bill Bodkin: Gaijin talent in Japan has always been a staple in Japanese wrestling. One of their main purposes is to get over the homegrown, Japanese talent. For the purposes of expansion they need to use mega-popular talents like Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks as the “gateway drug” for American audiences to get to know the likes of Okada, Suzuki, Naito, Tanahashi, etc. The are names they might’ve heard of, but never had the chance to see in action.

Is NJPW relying on gaijin talent too much?

Murjani Rawls: There’s a good balance right now to where there isn’t an overflow and it it appears seamless. Guys like The Young Bucks, Zack Sabre Jr, Kenny Omega are the prototypical NJPW guys where they can wrestle that style.

Bill Bodkin: In the short term … no. From a global expansion perspective they’re using a lot of gaijin talent as a gateway to different audiences. However, if this becomes a long term situation, there’s some homegrown talent that will suffer. With WWE always on the prowl for talent (and their dislike of competition), NJPW needs to keep those prized talents as strong/relevant as humanly possibly. WWE is much more likely to give a ring to Kenny Omega or Tama Tonga or Zack Sabre Jr. than Goto, Taichi, or Roppongi 3.0. Relying too much on imports, could bite NJPW in the behind in the long run.

Should NJPW eliminate a title/titles, and if so which?

Murjani Rawls: The NEVER Openweight Six Man Titles. Whoever wins them doesn’t hold them for too long. They are the “hot potato” title of NJPW. The Young Bucks who won the heavyweight tag titles currently hold them. The six man titles don’t hold too much meaning and can be discarded.

Bill Bodkin: The Never Openweight Championship. According to Wikipedia, “NEVER was a series of professional wrestling events held by New Japan Pro-Wrestling between August 2010 and November 2012. On July 12, 2010, NJPW officially announced the NEVER project, which was to highlight younger up-and-coming talent and outside wrestlers not signed to the promotion.” So NEVER isn’t even a thing anymore, and right now this is a belt they keep on Hirooki Goto, who never seems to have anything to do. It’s a belt for belt’s sake.

What do you do with Okada now that he’s lost the belt?

Murjani Rawls: Okada is only 30 years of age and has many years of heavyweight championship title reigns ahead of him. The Okada/Naito dynamic isn’t done. There’s also the question of the power struggle of Chaos. Jay White has revealed himself as a usurper to the throne of Chaos. They could feud before he goes back in the title picture. There’s the Intercontinental title. It’s way too soon for an Okada/Omega V. He’s great enough where he can get into smaller feuds and them mean something without a title. Right now, he’s a man dejected because he’s beaten everybody and there’s one man that has the upper hand on him. Kenny Omega. There’s a long climb from that.

Bill Bodkin: I thought Okada might take a sabbatical after losing to Omega. However, Okada is now in the position to be a star maker. This is something he can do with great efficacy — see his match with Will Ospreay from earlier this year. Like Murjani said, Okada needs to elevate these future stars like Jay White (whose run as U.S. Champion has been uneventful) in order to grow the company. Maybe even having him battle with guys like Sanada, Evil, etc. can help these guys down the road. NJPW has a long memory with their booking and they will recall great matches. So anything with Okada and an undercard guy could work in the long run. Also…more Okada/Suzuki, thanks.

Naito loses at Wrestle Kingdom and then at Dominion…can he still be considered a top guy?

Murjani Rawls: If you go by crowd reaction, yes. Definitely on the recent LIJ tour in North America. Naito may not be a “top guy” per say because of his recent losses, but he’s going to make some noise in the G1. Also, the world championship run is on the horizon for him somewhere down the line once the Omega story line completes itself.

Bill Bodkin: Naito’s lose to Jericho makes sense. You can’t bring in a legend like Jericho and have him lose twice in a row. However, Naito’s loss at Wrestle Kingdom was a missed opportunity. I know they wanted the record for Okada … but Naito was red hot, and they needed to capitalize. Naito needs to be booked properly going forward — he can’t suffer too many more big money losses — in fact, I’d have him win the G1 again, and then defeat Omega at WK.

Where do you go with Kenny Omega from here?

Murjani Rawls: I feel that the logical progression would be him facing Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 13. From a singles standpoint, there is still unfinished business there. Kenny has never beaten Kota one-on-one. You can have Kota win the G1 and that be the story that carries you through the rest of the year,

Murjani Rawls: As I stated in my previous answer, Naito should be the man to eventually dethrone Omega. We don’t need another Okada/Omega any time soon. We need Naito/Omega and for them to build this feud with the same ferocity and ingenuity both men used in their programs with Jericho. I like the idea of an Ibushi/Omega feud…but not at WK. I don’t know if Ibushi is “the guy” to be the face of NJPW as Naito would be. And a big win at WK means, you’re the guy.

Chris Jericho will not wrestle for NJPW on U.S. soil. He holds one of the company’s top titles — what in the hell do you with this situation?

Murjani Rawls: Stay the course. He’s a special attraction. He shouldn’t be at every “Road To” show. That way the mystique and impact is still there when he does decide to come back.

Bill Bodkin: Dave Meltzer noted on Twitter that Jericho is prone to do the unexpected. However, Jericho is also a smart human being. He knows if he works for NJPW in the U.S. there could be serious repercussions with WWE…or would there? Again, Jericho is a smart human being. In an age where the fans “know” what’s going to happen, he’s constantly subverting our expectations. Once again, Murjani is right — he doesn’t need to be on every “Road To” show…but if he shows up on Saturday, the roof will explode off the Cow Palace.

Bullet Club – a mess, it’s fine, or it needs a direction?

Murjani Rawls: There are three different factions within the Bullet Club. There’s Bullet Club OG. Cody, and The Golden Elite. The Cody/Kenny story will probably come to a head at Strong Style Evolved and All In. Since their first match, the whole Bullet Club implosion has cooled down. There’s still something brewing with Marty and Cody over in ROH with their heavyweight title. Bullet Club as a brand still drives merchandise and is huge with brand recognition. It has the top champion in Kenny Omega and Cody as one of the best heels in the business.

Bill Bodkin: Bullet Club needs direction. It’s still an extremely viable name thanks to the Being the Elite series — but in NJPW it’s a mess. And that mess needs to be sorted. The steps to cleaning up the mess need to start at the G1 Special. Get a direction for this faction because there’s a lot of guys not named Cody, Omega, Marty or a Jackson who are kinda wading out there in the ether of “creative has nothing for you right now.”

Who is the most mis-used piece of talent on the NJPW roster?

Murjani Rawls: Naito and most of this is by proxy, unfortunately. Losing WK12 did hurt him. Especially, in a place where the crowd would have went crazy to finally have his moment in the main event. The Jericho booking is where he was caught between a rock and a hard place. In order for Jericho to continue to be a special attraction he had to win. He could not lose another match if you wanted to continue to bring him back and it mean something.

Bill Bodkin: Tama Tonga. He’s my second choice to win the G1. I’ve watched Tama for quite some time and he’s come a long way from being an underling in the Bullet Club to an absolute ace in the ring. If NJPW is looking for a fresh, edgy, and highly skilled top talent to run with the ball in 2018-2019 it should Tama. He’s absolutely killing it in the ring, and his wild promos could become a must-watch. Right now he’s mired in the BC debacle, and he needs to be the one to rise out of it.

Outside of California, will we see New Japan run another U.S. city in 2018?

Murjani Rawls: I think right now doing two California shows are the right move for this moment. A lot of people want rapid growth and that’s not the way to go. Not everybody can be or should be WWE. That’s an anomaly. I could see Chicago. I could see a New York show with ROH talent like a War of The Worlds show. Right now, NJ is going into markets that the WWE doesn’t have a stranglehold on. That should be the concentration. Then you start to widen your reach, little by little.

Bill Bodkin: Will Ospreay basically confirmed that there would be a NJPW in California (Los Angeles) at the end of September — it’s the reason he pulled out his high profile match with Jimmy Havoc at Wembley Arena for Progress. So, there’s that. This will probably be announced during Saturday’s show. At the September show I could see us getting the announcement of our first non-California show. If not then, then at Wrestle Kingdom. I know they were trying to get in on the ROH show at MSG during Mania weekend before it got shot down, so we’ll see if they have any alternate plans.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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