As Wrestle Kingdom 12 nears, one important aspect of the popularity of the event is tied to the relationship between Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In 2014, Ring of Honor celebrated it’s 12th Anniversary with a fan experience featuring Q&A and autograph segments. At the event, dubbed “Honorcon,” C.O.O Joe Koff, Head Booker Delirious, NJPW chairman Naoki Sugabayashi and referee Tiger Hattori revealed that the two companies entered a partnership that would allow NJPW talent to appear on ROH shows. The first show, entitled Global Wars, would emanate from Toronto, Ontario on May 10th of that year.
Global Wars 2014
The event was almost exactly split into two parts, an ROH card and a NJPW, which were run by the bookers of the respective companies, Delirious and Gedo. One interpromotional match was set, between ROH’s Michael Elgin and NJPW’s Takaaki Watanabe, but otherwise, the talent from the companies did not cross paths in the ring. NJPW stars like Kazuchika Okada, A.J. Styles, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Shinsuke Nakamura, represented NJPW in the event that drew a raucous crowd to the Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto, Canada.
War of the Worlds 2014
The second show, War of the Worlds, would take place a week later in New York City, NY at the Hammerstein Ballroom. While the first event kept the two rosters apart, this show featured the talent going up against each other for the first time. Five titles in all were on the line that night, but the only title change occurred when reDragon, the team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly defeated the Young Bucks. The Bucks often wrestled in NJPW, so although the team was representing the company, their time as regulars in ROH was a bit of a cheat in terms of the split between companies.
2015 saw the partnership continue, adding shows to the tours, as both Global Wars and War of the Worlds expanded to two night shows, continuing the theme of the two companies’ rosters clashing against one another. The shows became sellouts for the Ring of Honor, and helped draw more eyes to the product, but some were critical of the result of the joint booking that seemed to position NJPW as the stronger brand. The talent were presented as stars, at the expense of the homegrown Ring of Honor talent.
Honor Rising 2016
2016 saw the introduction of Honor Rising, a two day event to take place in Tokyo in February. During the shows, then ROH World Television champion Roderick Strong dropped the title to NJPW star Tomohiro Ishii, furthering the narrative that NJPW was being positioned as stronger. The companies would continue to periodically have members of the other roster win a title.The Briscoes won the NEVER 6-Man titles with Toru Yano, KUSHIDA won the ROH World Television title as well, and Marty Scurll currently is the NJPW IWGP Intercontinental Champion, just to name a few instances.
The Global Wars event featured the Young Bucks recruiting Adam Cole into the Bullet Club, essentially creating a US counterpart to the NJPW version. During the main event championship title match between Jay Lethal Colt Cabana, the Young Bucks, followed by Adam Cole, rendered the match a no contest. The event garnered derision for the end of the main event, as well as the NJPW stars seemingly appearing to outclass the ROH roster. Nevertheless, the two companies ran three more shows during the War of the World tour. More talent exchanges took place, with NJPW actually sending Young Lions to ROH on excursion. Hiromu Takahashi, Roppongi 3K and Jay White are all examples of wrestlers who cut their teeth in ROH and returned to NJPW and were presented as stars. The War of the Worlds show grew to three nights, all three which sold out.
2017 saw the return on all three tours, but also featured a new wrinkle. Despite their very public partnership, NJPW hosted an event in California, that featured ROH talent, but was not co-produced by both companies. The G1 Special featured a new IWGP United States title, decided in a tournament over two nights. Kenny Omega, who had previously not been on past joint ROH/NJPW shows due to visa issues, was the eventual winner. With travel apparently not holding back anymore, he appeared on the ROH Global Wars tour, four consecutive shows that sold out each night. The centerpiece of almost every night of the tour was Kenny Omega and the Bullet Club.
Overall, both companies have benefitted from this relationship. Despite the argument from some that NJPW has looked stronger, Ring of Honor shows featuring NJPW have drawn larger crowds. However, with the G1 Special being a success on all accounts, one has to wonder if moving forward the relationship will be a fruitful for NJPW if the company is able to create a stable foothold in the United States. Until then, the partnership benefits both sides and provides fans of both companies with the best wrestling possible.