On Thursday’s episode of NXT, we saw the beginnings of a feud between the War Raiders (Hanson & Rowe) and The Mighty (formerly TM61, Shane Thorne & Nick Miller) begin, in a match taped before a red hot Chicago audience prior to this past Saturday’s NXT Takeover: Chicago II. What may seem like a random feud to some, for those with a working knowledge and appreciation of Japanese wrestling, this is actually somewhat of a dream feud.
Prior to arriving in NXT in 2016, The Mighty were one of Japan’s greatest tag teams. Although the Australian tandem originally got there start with Explosive Pro Wrestling (EPW) in their native homeland in 2008, they’d spent the six years as one of the most dominant tag teams in Pro Wrestling NOAH history. While part of a full faction called The Mighty Don’t Kneel, the duo of Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste were the leaders and tag team that performed under the name (or TMDK for short) – other TMDK members include (or have included) current Aussie superstars Jonah Rock, Slex, Damian Slater, Marcius Pitt, Elliott Sexton, and Hartley Jackson. In many ways, TMDK was like Australia’s Four Horsemen, nWo and Bullet Club all rolled into one – in fact, TMDK predates Bullet Club’s formation by a few months in 2013. Sadly, the Australian scene wasn’t as internationally visible then, so their impact is hardly known in North America, but the TMDK duo of Nicholls and Haste became 2x GHC Tag Team Champions in NOAH and were EPW Tag Team Champions prior to their departure. In 2013, Tokyo Sports awarded TMDK as the best tag team in Japan for the year, beating out contenders like Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith & Vance Archer), Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima), Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov & Rocky Romero) and The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) – the first gaijin tag team to accomplish that honor since Stan Hansen & Vader in 1998. In 2014, they made their NJPW debut alongside Noamichi Marufuji and Toru Yano to defeat Suzuki-gun‘s squad of Killer Elite Squad, Shelton Benjamin and Takashi Iizuka at WrestleKingdom 9. Upon signing with NXT in 2016, Micky Nicholls was renamed Nick Miller and Shane Haste became Shane Thorne, and the duo took on the odd name of TM61 (both a reference to The Mighty with the TM and Australia’s international calling code of 61). A year of unfortunate injuries held TM61 back, just as they were picking up speed into their debut late in their debut year. They’ve just recently turned heel and moved closer to their original name, now called The Mighty.
Their opponents are also no strangers to Japan. Originally starting with Ring of Honor in 2014 as War Machine, the team of Hanson and Raymond Rowe have dominated wherever they’ve been. Primarily ROH loyalists for the first few years of their career, outside of the US they travelled to the UK to work with the likes of PROGRESS, IPW:UK, Defiant (WCPW), RevPro and Preston City Wrestling (PCW) and worked extensively in Japan, mostly with NJPW through their ROH connection. But in 2015, they briefly competed in Pro Wrestling NOAH as well, in a month long feud with Suzuki-gun (who were on loan to NOAH in an NJPW exile angle). They ultimately made NJPW their second home (and then primary home their last year before signing with NXT this year), winning the IWGP Tag Team Championships twice, to add to their reign as ROH World Tag Team Champions. During a strong run in the UK in 2017, they even captured the Defiant (WCPW) Tag Team titles. Their hard hitting style made them instant favourites in the land of Strong Style, reminiscent of such hard hitting gaijin teams as The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal), The Miracle Violence Connection (“Dr. Death” Steve Williams & Terry “Bam” Gordy), and Stan Hansen & Vader. But despite being in Japan around the same era, War Machine and The Mighty Don’t Kneel never crossed paths.
With the rumblings of a potential alliance growing between WWE and Pro Wrestling NOAH, these two promotions could become a significant part of that relationship. While most details still aren’t known, one thing that sources can agree on, is that WWE will be loaning back former GHC Heavyweight Champion and 3x GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Hideo Itami (better known as KENTA in Japan) to the promotion he ruled for the better part of the 2000’s. Now that WWE has NXT UK in order, the next region will most likely NXT Asia, which would include India, the Middle East, China and, of course, Japan. In order to get Japanese audiences to treat a regular WWE product fairly, apart from the occasional circus from the main roster once a year, they’ll need to treat the product with a bit more respect. Putting Itami/KENTA back into the Japanese wrestling eyes is a huge move with lots of dividends, and will be a great draw for the early stages of the brand (should he last that long). But having tag teams like War Raiders and The Mighty help the brand will help future Asian expansion and events, whether they’re still in NXT or on the main roster.
Regardless of the NOAH connection, the simple fact that we’re finally getting to see two of Japan’s most dominant tag teams of the past decade feud for the first time in NXT, it’s a dream come true for many puroresu fans. And with the way NXT has been loosening the reigns a little more with newer recruits like Aleister Black, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and especially Ricochet, it would be a thing of beauty if the same courtesy was extended to this feud.