Here are some names for you.
Andre the Giant. Big John Studd. Hulk Hogan.
Now three more.
Killer Khan. Akira Maeda. Antonio Inoki.
What these six have in common is that in 1983, while they were respectively contracted to WWF, AWA and NJPW, they competed in the first ever IWGP championship tournament for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Although the lineage does not connect to the modern day IWGP title, the tournament Hulk Hogan won to claim the original IWGP championship is somewhat the spiritual ancestor to the modern G1 Climax tournaments held every year under the NJPW banner. This would continue over the years with Andre and Studd repeating tournament appearances, joined by wrestlers of the day and of tomorrow like King Kong Bundy, Scott Hall, Jimmy Snuka, Dick Murdoch, Vader, Adrian Adonis and Tatsumi Fujinami. All before adopting the modern format.
Another example. Well before WCW undercut its own agreement by being buffoons (and years before Impact did), WCW and NJPW had a working agreement that many may remember due to the nWo angle in the late ’90s that saw NJPW stars like The Great Muta, Masahiro Chono and Scott Norton all compete in WCW. Additionally, all were former IWGP champions.
Even before that though WCW actively took part in the 1992 G1 Climax, sending Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, Barry Windham, the Barbarian and Rick Rude to the Japanese-based tournament that also featured Jim Neidhart, Terry Taylor, Keiji Mutoh (a.k.a. The Great Muta), Chono, Kensuke Sasaki, Shinya Hashimoto, Norton and Bam Bam Bigelow. These appearances waned throughout the mid-to-late-90s, with Steven Regal, Buff Bagwell and Ric Flair all competing in respective years.
The G1 has always been a lightning rod for attention outside WWE, and it’s become far more insulated in the last decades featuring mostly NJPW contracted wrestlers, including Jon Moxley (who competed in 2019). Nonetheless the tournament has history through several of its forms (World League, MSG League, IWGP League, etc.) of featuring wrestlers from outside the promotion even predating the 1983 event Hogan took part in, with others like Pedro Morales and Dusty Rhodes participating in previous years.
IWGP stands for International Wrestling Grand Prix. It effectively means the intention was to create an international professional wrestling tournament featuring some of the best in the world. Not just a singular promotion, the world. It’s in the title. The tournament has operated this way for quite some time, even during the height of NJPW’s partnership with Ring of Honor, and it definitely shouldn’t completely open its doors to drown out its own roster, but adding a Moxley, Rhodes, MJF, Aldis, Swann and so on to the mix diversifies the field away from just being NJPW contracted wrestlers and exposes new people on the international stage. It’s causal — they might bring new viewers in to watch on NJPW World, and an effect is any given wrestler could expand their platform and increase their stock.
The G1 is still the best booked, best executed tournament in wrestling that functions like SummerSlam does to WWE’s WrestleMania. It’s also, however, very insulated and unless you watch NJPW you either don’t know much about it or don’t care. That’s easily amendable; Moxley taking part in the tournament two years ago hot off his WWE departure, AEW signing and Double or Nothing appearance, was genuinely exciting for the story itself but also the matches you got from it, including Jeff Cobb (ROH at the time), Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson, Shingo Takagi and… Yano.
We’re in a landscape that is much more open and fluid than it was a few years ago. That could change very quickly because we’re still dealing with groups of egos, but that risk is worth the effort if the object is to build brands, expand them, increases wrestlers’ stock outside and inside their own sandboxes, and as a byproduct create new global story opportunities and dream matches. The G1 and inevitably Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome are just two pieces of the cross-promotion framework. To lesser degrees the New Japan Cups, especially the New Japan Cup USA (NJPW of America), could be particularly beneficial to NJPW to help build up a North American base both on Strong, its Roku deal and any future deal it might still sign. Looking toward more North American-based organizations or brands, companies like Impact, NWA and again NJPW all hold or have held tournaments that possess real historical value to older and newer fans alike.
Wrestling Without Limits: Dial X for X-Division
“It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits.”
That was TNA’s tagline for its flagship division, which early on featured mostly lighter weight wrestlers like Jerry Lynn, Amazing Red, Low Ki, Sean Waltman and later standard-bearers like Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe as the division opened up and featured more heavyweights.
From the outset, Impact held a number of X-themed Cup tournaments including the Super X Cup, America’s X Cup, and World X Cup, showcasing talents from Impact, AAA, AJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH. For years though they were held infrequently and mostly from 2003 to 2008, before returning in 2017 and 2021. In the latter editions, Dezmond Xavier (now NXT’s Wes Lee), Sammy Guevara (now in AEW), ACH (now in NJPW), Taiji Ishimori (NJPW) and Blake Christian (recently signed to WWE) all took part.
Much like the G1, or even NJPW’s Best of Super Juniors, Super J Cup and New Japan Cups, they’re opportunities to not only further pre-existing stories, but especially if you look back on who took part in what tournaments, they are launching pads for young talents to allow them to showcase what they’re capable of on new, fresh or unique platforms — sometimes to new audiences, which creates crossover interest. They’re opportunities to learn, in this case, from junior heavyweight standouts like Ishimori. Look at indie talents like Blake Christian for example, who just signed with NXT. He’s spent much of the last year working NJPW Strong, competing in the Super J Cup (which also featured Impact’s Chris Bey) and the Super X Cup. He’s been wrestling under a year, has 94 matches and just signed with WWE. It maybe doesn’t happen as fast without these opportunities to get your name out, similarly to Ben Carter. To undercut or dismiss the value of cross-brand relations is intensely shortsighted, there’s intrinsic value across the board for the people and brands involved.
Back to the Future: The Crockett Cup
Tag Team wrestling is revered enough that when it’s mistreated as it is in WWE that people get upset, it’s almost indefensible at this point. While Impact has tried a loose team format in the X-Cup, and while NJPW does have its own World Tag League tournament, the latter doesn’t carry the same weight or history as the IWGP title and G1 Climax tournaments. However, in North America the Crockett Cup was introduced in 1986 and was held by Jim Crockett Promotions (WCW) and featured wrestlers from throughout the National Wrestling Alliance’s territories.
The tournament was held for three years annually from 1986 to 1988, and was won by the Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff and Dusty Rhodes, and Lex Luger and Sting (who defeated Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard in the finals). The Crockett Cup didn’t return again until 2019 when it was co-produced by the NWA and Ring of Honor and additionally featured teams from CMLL and NJPW. The 2019 Cup wasn’t nearly the star-studded event of past years, but it kept it alive spiritually by featuring a mix of young and old talents such as the Briscoes, Rock n’ Roll Express, Satoshi Kojima and Yuji Nagata, and eventual winners Villain Enterprises (PCO and Brody King).
With so much history behind it, there’s some value in not only reviving the Crockett Cup as it was planned for 2020, but featuring available teams from across AEW, NJPW, NWA, Impact, AAA, ROH and whomever else can be made available considering present circumstances. For example, a field of 16 could include FTR, Briscoes, Guerillas of Destiny, the Young Bucks, Fin Juice, Good Brothers, Motor City Machine Guns and Santana/Ortiz, just as a starting point.
The Crockett Cup is a showcase of tag team excellence, and so considering NWA doesn’t have nearly enough talent to fill out a field even as large as their thin-as-it-was 2019 tournament, never mind an event the size of JCP’s efforts in the ’80s, it would be sensible from a branding perspective to hold the 2021 event as they seemed poised to do, but “host” and “invite” teams from other promotions to compete in the renewed Crockett Cup. It benefits fans, the teams involved and presuming it’s on NWA PPV, the company itself in conjunction with any cross-promoting on other programming. It’s a pie-in-the-sky idea, but so was what’s in front of us today with companies sharing talent and content.
The Young Lions
The pandemic era of wrestling has been difficult for many companies to navigate without the means to run shows, and there have been so few success stories. WWE and AEW were able to hold empty arena shows in Florida throughout the early points of the pandemic, while other companies restarted as the year wore on such as Impact, ROH and NJPW. Considering the physicality of wrestling, it’s no small feat that more people (reportedly) haven’t tested positive. This is a small success amid the circumstances.
As a byproduct, small companies unable to financially run shows and pay talent have been frozen out, such as the NWA who hasn’t run new content aside from their wrestlers’ appearances on Dynamite and United Wrestling Network’s (UWN) Primetime Live shows (which have been uploaded to NWA’s YouTube channel). Never mind all the other legit indie promotions not run by multi-millionaire rock stars. That’s limited opportunities for young talent to break out.
Calling a spade a spade, WWE did little to help those young workers outright through 2020. They didn’t give them platforms to work like AEW did on Dynamite, Impact on their programming, NJPW on Strong or the UWN. Those latter companies kept people working throughout the year and gave platforms to fresh, young upstarts to get them experience and let them evolve under awful circumstances. And to their credit, WWE made fantastic signings in Blake Christian, Ben Carter, Cora Jade (f.k.a. Elayna Black) and Gigi Dolin (f.k.a. Priscilla Kelly) and Zoey Stark, in addition to MSK from Impact.
There’s room right now for companies to share their young talent to give them these types of opportunities to work, grow and expand their skillsets to work toward full time opportunities regardless of the destination. Summarily, when you look at the landscape, NJPW needs talent to showcase on Strong outside of the L.A. Dojo graduates and whomever is a NJPW regular and lives in the U.S. to increase their profile. NWA needs bodies, and Impact needs to restock its roster spots at this juncture. There are still many working some indie shows, in addition to the wealth of developing workers on AEW Dark who are on short-term deals that could benefit from working in other promotions, learning from more people and developing into who they’re to become on whichever platform they choose within the ecosystem.
“It’ll start with a spark, and a great fire will grow.”
To illustrate that point once more, look no further than recent WWE signing Blake Christian. He had his first match at the age of 22 last March in GCW, just as the world fell into a standstill. Over the last 12 months he got to work with Josh Alexander, Ethan Page, El Phantasmo, KENTA, MSK, Lio Rush, Chris Dickinson, Rey Horus, Karl Fredericks and Chris Bey, as well as new NXT mates Ben Carter and Christian Casanova. It’s a testament to his talent to have inked a WWE developmental deal at his age after one year working, and a huge part of his trajectory, as it is with most who ever break out, is having the platform and opportunity to thrive. Christian and others like him had the chances to work throughout the year and excel at an accelerated pace.
The net positive byproduct beyond mere dream matches is the foundation being laid for the future. Cross promotion in pro wrestling provides opportunities for the business we love to evolve; through that opportunity, industry growth can take root on an immeasurable scale.
Some may believe what’s in the past is antiquated, frivolous and not worthwhile; however within that history are hopeful snapshots of possibility, because it’s all been done before.