“…the pro-wrestling world will be the Era of the Global WWE Coalition vs. Anti-WWE Alliance.”, Takaaki Kidani, President of Bushiroad (Parent Co. of NJPW), December 16, 2016
For almost a year, we’ve been mapping out the battle plans for The Great War. From WWE building up its contingent of Japanese stars – including Hideo Itami, Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka to gaijin stars like Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows – to the declaration of war from the NJPW head office, it’s become apparent that some of the world’s top promotions are pairing off in battle for the all mighty dollar when it comes to the wrestling landscape. With WWE securing partnerships with such indie promotions as EVOLVE, Progress and ICW, to NJPW’s alliance with ROH, CMLL and (thought ROH) PWG, a third faction, spearheaded by Impact Wrestling, emerged that also included Mexico’s AAA (and by virtue Lucha Underground) and the revived World of Sports in the UK. Now that the three War Cabinets have been established, the three factions have spent the better part of 2017 re-assembling their armies and fine tuning their battle plans. The War Drums for The Great War have sounded.
THE GREAT WAR, Part 5: ‘Assembling The Armies: WWE, Impact and NJPW/ROH Begin The War Drums’
So with their camps pretty much set, the warring factions have spent the past few months locking up some of the hottest free agents – either from each other or from the independents. Here’s a look at each factions “war cabinets” plus their allied indies, their 2017 acquisitions and who they lost on the front lines. (Note: anyone with an asterisk (*) beside their name is either rumoured to have signed a deal with the company or has given notice of leaving said promotion shortly when their deal expires)
War Cabinet: Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, William Regal, Gabe Sapolsky (WNN), Jim Smallman (Progress), Mark Dallas (ICW)
Allies: EVOLVE, Progress, ICW, OTT
Acquired: Aleister Black (Tommy End), Crazzy Steve, Crazy Mary Dobson, Drew McIntyre (Drew Galloway, Impact), Evie, The Hardy Boys (Matt & Jeff Hardy, Impact), Kairi Hojo (Stardom), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Kimber Lee (Chikara), Mark Andrews, Mary Kate (Andrea), Pete Dunne, Ruby Riot (Heidi Lovelace, Chikara), Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Wolfgang
Lost: Jack Swagger, Rosa Mendes, Simon Gotch, Tajiri
With the emergence of NXT as the company’s third brand, most of WWE’s indie signees start their WWE journeys there, so it’s no surprise that most of their acquisitions are either emerging on NXT or are just waiting for their spots to open up. Interestingly, Drew McIntyre chose to go to NXT rather than the main roster to maintain his indie persona with the third brand. A solid move as this year’s NXT class – from men to women – looks to be the best roster they’ve had in years once the WWE Universe acclimatizes itself to the new faces. With the impending debut of the WWE UK show on the WWE Network – speculated to be more of a 4th brand and set up like NXT Europe – watch for the WWE to make a concerted effort to sign more European indie talent, as well as Asian workers for their upcoming WWE Asia tournament. And, much like last year’s Cruiserweight Classic, expect many of the indie women signed for this summer’s Women’s Tournament to end up transitioning to more prominent roles in NXT.
War Cabinet: Ed Norholm (Anthem), Dorian Roldán Peña (AAA), Jeff Jarrett (Impact), Masayuki Uchida (NOAH), Konnan (The Crash), Scott D’Amore (Impact/BCW)
Allies: The Crash, World of Sports, Pro Wrestling NOAH, Lucha Underground, BCW
Acquired: Alberto El Patron (Alberto Del Rio, WWE), Christina Von Eerie, Dezmond Xavier, Idris Abraham (Smash/BCW), Kevin Matthews, Kongo Kong, Low Ki, Magnus, Matt Morgan, Matt Sydal (NJPW), Mayweather (Crimson), ODB, Reno Scum, Scott Steiner, Swoggle (Hornswoggle, WWE), Wilcox (Jax Dane, ROH)
Lost: Aron Rex (Damien Sandow), ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy, ‘Brother Nero’ Jeff Hardy, Crazzy Steve, Drew Galloway, Jade, Maria Kanellis, Marti Belle, Mike Bennett, Pentagon Jr., Fenix
Impact Wrestling seemingly came out of nowhere early this year, going from a promotion on life support, to becoming a strong faction on par with the NJPW-ROH alliance. With financial stability in the form of new owners Anthem Sports & Entertainment, paired with the minds of Jeff Jarrett and Scott D’Amore, Impact quickly merged GFW with Impact and formed partnerships with Mexico’s most popular promotion, AAA, and Japan’s current no. 2, Pro Wrestling NOAH, as well as indie deals with The Crash and D’Amore’s own BCW. Impact even formed an alliance with UK promoters to run the newly revived World of Sports program as a full fledged promotion (which will probably run similar to WCPW). The new ownership was quick to rebuild the bridges of narrative that the Dixie Carter regime tore down, bringing back several TNA Originals, like Low Ki, Crimson, Scott Steiner, Matt Morgan and LAX, while bringing in some strong indie talent (Sydal, Xavier, Von Eerie, Wilcox). They cleared house of a lot of Billy Corgan’s chosen ones in the process, as Aron Rex, Drew Galloway, Mike Bennett, Maria Kanellis, and the Hardys all left the promotion, but they brought in former WWE World Champion Alberto El Patron as a new main event soldier.
NJPW-Ring of Honor
War Cabinet: Takaaki Kidani (Bushiroad), Joe Koff (Sinclair), Hunter Johnson (Delirious, ROH), Shoji Akiyoshi (Jado, NJPW), Keiji Takayama (Gedo, NJPW), Daniel Lyon (Super Dragon, PWG)
Allies: PWG, CMLL
Acquired: Bully Ray (WWE), *Cody Rhodes
Lost: ACH, *Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly, Jax Dane, Keith Lee, *Lio Rush, *War Machine (Hanson & Rowe)
While it’s true that Ring of Honor saw many of it’s stars bolt the promotion in 2016, with more expected this year, but they also re-signed some essential members of their roster to multi-year deals, like The Young Bucks, Jay Lethal and the Briscoes. Although Cody has denied it, strong reports indicate Cody will be making ROH is official “home” for the next year or so (which would keep his options for NJPW and PWG still open). And despite ROH potentially losing War Machine, they may still remain part of the army – early reports suggest that NJPW may in fact be their new resting spot when their ROH deals expire. And while NJPW doesn’t appear to have brought in any new recruits (although many stars, like Suzuki-Gun returned after a two year exodus in NOAH), they still maintained one of their strongest rosters ever from 2016.
With all the protest from fans in forums around the world, from Reddit to Facebook, whenever an indie star moves on to the WWE or Impact, there’s no need for fear. There are so many amazing indie stars these days, spanning so many promotions, that the constant shuffling of indie stars to larger promotions is beneficial in the long term. Guys like Ricochet, Will Ospreay, or Matthew Riddle can’t wrestle in the indies forever (although the Young Bucks are definitely changing that precedent quickly) and in order for new stars on the indies to emerge, then those veterans must move up to other promotions.
The Great War has yet to officially begin (some point to NJPW’s first G-1 Climax series on US soil this summer as the first potential shot), but the armies are mobilizing. Last year proved to be one of the most exciting years in the history of professional wrestling on a global standpoint. And all indications point to 2017 following that same trend.