New Japan Pro Wrestling is embarking on a summer that will continue to elevate their brand across the world.
In addition to crowning a winner of the G1 Climax, which stands alone as wrestling’s premiere tournament, this August in Tokyo, New Japan will also make a foray into the heart of Texas, two stops in Australia and finish off the summer in England.
Michael Craven, who is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s General Manager of the International Department, spoke with Sports Illustrated to detail their plans for global expansion, as well as address whether the company will consider any new working partners, specifically All Elite Wrestling.
“NJPW has a long and rich history with our international partners, including CMLL in Mexico, Ring of Honor in America, and RevPro in the United Kingdom,” said Craven. “Loyalty is a big virtue, especially in Japanese culture. Loyalty to our partners is of utmost importance to us as we continue to foster the premiere network of wrestling talent in the world.”
Following the announcement that Jon Moxley, a talent signed with AEW, will make his New Japan debut on June 5, Craven provided this statement to Sports Illustrated on May 27: “New Japan and Jon Moxley came to terms on an agreement some time ago, completely independently of All Elite. Our understanding is that he is free to wrestle in Japan. We wish AEW well, but have no working relationship as of now.”
Chris Jericho, another top AEW star, also returns to New Japan on June 9 to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of the Dominion show in Osaka.
“We wish everybody at All Elite Wrestling nothing but the best in their ongoing endeavors, though we must stress we have no working arrangement at this time,” said Craven. “Again, we think our partners seek and deserve loyalty and an appropriate amount of care. We want our relationships to be mutually beneficial over the long haul, rather than just thinking in the moment.”
Craven may not be familiar to the vast majority of New Japan fans because he is never on-camera, but his roles behind the scenes are vital. As New Japan’s first native English speaker in upper management, Craven is responsible for any projects that require English, which covers a broad spectrum.
“As a company on the forefront of the global stage, everything requires English,” said Craven. “My department handles original written content, video series like the Recount documentaries and Wire recaps, merchandising, creating events in countries such as Australia and England.
“I’m also the interface for all foreign talent. That involves a more human touch, helping to find the areas our wrestlers excel in and making the most out of their potential away from the ring as well as inside it. I have cheerfully supported multiple projects for talents already behind the scenes.”
While stories of WWE CEO Vince McMahon are certainly prevalent, and AEW top executive Tony Khan has already become a household name among wrestling fans, New Japan President Harold Meij—while extremely accomplished—is far less of a known commodity in the industry.
“Harold is brilliant,” said Craven. “The Japanese media have often referred to him having the ‘Steve Jobs effect’ for any company he works. One of the reasons I decided to work for NJPW was a chance to be mentored by Harold Meij. He is kind, intelligent, and very understanding of what it takes to make a Japanese brand global. He has concentrated on our home market, Japan, first, and as a result, he has been well received and accepted by our Japanese fans.
“As for Harold’s passion for wrestling, it dates back to when he was a child and first moved to Japan. He and his father would enjoy watching NJPW together on TV. Like myself, he is a lifelong fan of NJPW and has a deep respect and love for our product which dates back to the early ’70s.”
Along with Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff and general manager Greg Gilleland, Craven helped orchestrate the joint NJPW-ROH show at Madison Square Garden in April. This was a historic endeavor, and the show concluded with Okada winning the IWGP heavyweight championship—the first time the title changed hands outside of Japan. Craven addressed whether there are plans for New Japan to return to MSG for a standalone show.
“If there is a demand from the fans, I am sure we would be happy to return to MSG,” said Craven. “We are planning to be back in the USA on a regular basis, including an MSG-like event. All I can say is stay tuned and stay vocal.”
August 31 is set to be a landmark day in the world of wrestling, with WWE holding its NXT UK show in Cardiff, Wales, in addition to All Elite Wrestling delivering “All Out” near Chicago. New Japan has a show of its own, NJPW: Royal Quest, on the very same day at Copper Box Arena in London.
“We acknowledge that wrestling fans have a lot of choice at the moment, and that’s exciting,” said Craven. “We’re aware and we respect what other companies do, but we take our own path and have done so for almost 50 years.”
New Japan talent and executives strongly believe they offer the most elite brand of wrestling in the world, which is why the company is unrelenting in its goal of global expansion. This summer’s trips to America, Australia, and England are pointed efforts to grow the brand, beginning on June 29 in Melbourne.
“Shortly after I joined NJPW, I talked to one of our wrestlers, Bad Luck Fale, who operates the Fale Dojo in New Zealand,” said Craven. “He told me that I had to go to Australia because he felt that the fans would appreciate our product. I was blown away by the fans there and their love for professional wrestling. That prompted us to hold events on June 29 in Melbourne and a smaller more intimate show on June 30 in Sydney.
“The response has been really great, and we’re excited to bring them NJPW as is. We want the fans to see what they can usually only see streaming from Japan on NJPW World and bring this experience to Australia in person. That means bringing our top talent, such as Tanahashi, Okada, Jay White, and Will Ospreay, while our upcoming star Robbie Eagles is excited to perform in front of his home crowd. While I can’t reveal any secrets when it comes to the card right now, it is just before the G1 Climax so it’s really a key event. It is being broadcast live via FITE TV before an on-demand broadcast on our own service, so there will be a chance for fans all around the world to witness it as it happens.”
As for London and America, which includes the opening night of the G1 Climax, Craven confirmed that the goal is a huge event with a Japanese feel.
“We’ve already announced top stars such as Ibushi, Okada, Tanahashi, Zack Sabre Jr., and Ospreay for Royal Quest,” said Craven. “The event is nearly sold out and I encourage all fans in the UK not to miss out. Things really get exciting over the summer months in NJPW, and our fans around the world will be feeling that heat.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.