There’s no way to sugarcoat it: NJPW’s card announcements for their upcoming United States tour are an unmitigated disaster. Absent are any native Japanese talents—save for Great O-Kharn, who is currently on an excursion in the United Kingdom—and the cards feel more like a Ring of Honor house show rather than a New Japan proper show.
Before we talk about what happened last night, let’s look at how we got to this point.
In December, NJPW would be returning to the United States for a two-show tour with stops in Los Angeles and Charlotte. Nashville was later added to the tour making it a three-stop United States tour. People (myself included) were perplexed by the cities chosen (Charlotte and Nashville, most notably) as well as the size of the venues chosen.
NJPW had in prior years treated their United States expansion with kid gloves running mid-sized venues like Long Beach’s Walter Pyramid, often selling out quickly. Last year, New Japan expanded to San Francisco’s Cow Palace and while not an immediate sell-out, the show was enough of a success that the next logical step would be a major basketball/hockey arena in the United States. This became even more of a talking point when NJPW and Ring of Honor announced a co-promoted show during the upcoming WrestleMania weekend emanating from one of the world’s most famous arenas: Madison Square Garden. The tickets sold in an instant and expectations were reasonable that NJPW would take this momentum with them in their 2019 United States shows.
Instead, smaller venues were booked for the late January/early February tour. It seemed a step back from where NJPW was heading at the tail end of 2018. More interesting wasn’t simply the venue choices but the dates of the shows as they would be running directly against NJPW proper shows in Japan. In their initial press release, NJPW stated:
“THE NEW BEGINNING USA will overlap with “THE NEW BEGINNING in Sapporo” that will take place in Japan on February 2nd and 3rd. Wrestlers who are not part of the Japan matches will be heading out to the US matches. This is our first foray of the US expansion that is not determined by the schedule in Japan.”
This was a stark departure from previous NJPW USA shows which often featured various top stars from NJPW. Instead, this go-around it was made clear that Japan and The New Beginning in Sapporo cards would take precedent with only wrestlers not apart of that tour coming to America. NJPW’s aggressive approach with their LA Dojo provided an obvious backdrop for these shows (most notably the January 30 show from Los Angeles’ Globe Theater) as the press release also stated:
“In March 2018, we established the LA Dojo with Katsuyori Shibata as the head coach. Three young lions have debuted in the US so far. “THE NEW BEGINNING USA” is the third pillar of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s US expansion plan, along with big match production and new talent development.”
At this year’s annual NJPW New Year Dash, Yuji Nagata and Tomohiro Ishii as well as Hirooki Goto and Jeff Cobb exchanged words and shoves leading many to speculate future matchups between these four. When The New Beginning in Sapporo & Osaka cards were announced just a few days later and all four of those men were absent, the logical assumption was that these matches would be taking place on the tour book-ended by a Juice Robinson vs. Beretta match for the IWGP United States Championship.
While these wouldn’t be the show-stopping, star-studded NJPW in USA shows of year’s past, the shows still contained two prominent NJPW matches as well as the American return of veteran Nagata. Though not built for a particular match, the Roppongi 3k tandem of SHO & YOH were noticeably absent from the Sapporo & Osaka tour. Given Roppongi 3k’s relationship with Rocky Romero, it was yet another safe assumption that they too would make their way stateside for the tour. Other names missing from these tours included Jushin Thunder Liger—a mainstay of NJPW United States tours—and Satoshi Kojima. None of these men were confirmed to be appearing on these shows but the press release indicating that those not part of Japan matches heading to the United States would certainly indicate such.
This brings us to last night.
The NEW BEGINNING in USA – Full Card released!
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) January 24, 2019
NJPW announced full cards for their New Beginning in USA tour and SHO, YOH, Kojima, Liger, Ishii, Nagata, Goto were all absent. Cobb and all NJPW’s american/non-Japanese international talent was announced but outside of Great O-Kharn, anything “Japan” was absent of these New Japan card announcements.
People were, rightfully so, pissed.
#NJPW announced the cards for the New Beginning in USA shows and later addressed negative fan reaction by explaining visa issues had last-minute schedule changes: https://t.co/tOI01E4tur pic.twitter.com/7aPEWKQULU
— With Spandex UPROXX (@WithSpandex) January 24, 2019
When buying tickets to a New Japan show, you could reasonably expect, well, New Japan talent. Instead, these cards look and feel more like Ring of Honor cards than NJPW. Other than Juice Robinson vs. Beretta for the IWGP United States Championship, the authentic NJPW experience people bought tickets to… was simply not there.
Hours later, NJPW released an official statement indicating that “due to the ongoing 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown, we were unable to obtain visas for our Japanese talent who were looking forward to seeing our US fans at the New Beginning in USA.”
This confirmed a rumor that we had heard when the card announcements were made:
Have confirmed through a NJPW source that there was an external issue relating to the Japanese talent, which forced changes and last minute additions to the cards. Working rumor is government shutdown, although that wasn't explicitly stated to us.
— Voices of Wrestling (@voiceswrestling) January 24, 2019
Do we know for certain the shutdown is the reason those talents aren’t coming over? I don’t know enough about the visa process to say. We’ve had sources indicate that 100% this is the reason and others say the opposite that this cannot be the reason. We’ll go under the assumption and trust NJPW that the shutdown is indeed the reason.
Now the fun part — let’s play the blame game!
Obviously, if the government shutdown is indeed the reason Nagata, Goto, Ishii and others were unable to get clearance for these shows, we can blame the United States government. I really don’t want to get into a political discussion in this piece so I’ll leave it at that. They are the most simple and obvious party to blame. Had we not been experiencing the longest government shutdown in United States’ history, we aren’t having this discussion. They are number one.
Number two: NJPW. Yes, if the shutdown caused these issues then we are talking about circumstances beyond their control. I get that. But last night was a public relations disaster for NJPW. This is the type of story you have to get out ahead of, one that you need to have a press release ready for and one you need to control simply to displace anger. Had NJPW released a statement hours or days prior to the card announcement, the feelings among their fanbase and ticket-buying audience would be far different. An analogy I used earlier today when discussing this topic is a steakhouse, let’s call it “Harold’s Steakhouse.” Harold’s Steakhouse has an unfortunate issue with their steak (it didn’t get delivered, it all went bad, whatever) and, well, they are out of steak. John Doe walks into Harold’s Steakhouse and sits down for a meal. Would it be better to let John Doe know as he sits down that, unfortunately, Harold’s Steakhouse doesn’t have any steak today and that if he wants to continue eating he’ll have to order another menu option OR do you let John Doe sit down, order a steak and 10 minutes later come to his table and inform him that in fact there is no steak available tonight at Harold’s Steakhouse? Anyone with a background in PR, marketing or common sense would tell you the former. NJPW chose the later. Whether intentional or not, they let anger control their story and releasing a statement only after public outcry. While I’m not insinuating malice on NJPW’s end, the timing was not ideal. NJPW could have controlled the story and displaced anger immediately on the United States government. Instead, it looks like they are only reacting because people were upset.
Lastly: you and I. Us. The ticket-buying public. However you want to define this… we’re talking about people who bought tickets to these shows blindly. We’ve long talked on this site about the dangers of buying wrestling tickets blind. By selling a show out immediately the onus is no longer on the promoter to deliver a show that will draw. The draw is done. They’ve sold the tickets already. The argument could be made that without a great show the audience won’t return and yeah, that’s the strongest argument for sure. If you don’t have a great show, you lose trust. If you deliver poor cards after all the tickets have been sold, you eventually lose trust. I’ve bought blind tickets to numerous shows over the years. In today’s modern day if you want to go to a show and don’t want to pay through the nose on the secondary market, you have to buy blind. I bought ALL IN tickets the first second they were available. I had no idea what they were going to deliver but I wanted to go, so I bought. This WrestleMania weekend I have tickets to numerous shows that don’t even have announced wrestlers thus far but I have trust in those company’s to deliver. If they don’t, that’s on me. I made the decision to buy blind.
In this case, the public bought on the assumption that they would be getting NJPW talents on a NJPW tour and they should. This is a case of extenuating circumstances throwing a wrench in plans. Now would fans still be disappointed in these cards if they included Kojima, Liger, Roppongi 3k as well as Ishii vs. Nagata and Goto vs. Cobb? Maybe? Wrestling fans are hard to please. But we don’t know and we won’t know, because it didn’t happen. Instead, NJPW released a set of cards that look great as ROH House Shows but ultimately leave many underwhelmed as “NJPW” shows. This is probably not the best case for the dangers of buying blind but it’s yet another example we can use to warn people.
We’re all to blame in some ways.
And there’s plenty to go around.
NJPW needed to get out ahead of this story and control the narrative. They didn’t and came across as reactionary and at worst, fraudulent. I do not believe their intent was to get people to buy tickets then change around the cards to something substandard. They were dealt a terrible hand by the longest shutdown in United States history. It sucks. But they needed to control the situation better. They didn’t and here we are. The ticket-buying public needs to be more aware of the dangers of buying blind. We have the power. Don’t forget that. The biggest blame of all: the United States government. Let’s get back to work, alright?