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EXCLUSIVE: Update on AJPW-WWE Relationship Amidst Backstage Turmoil

4 months ago M. Ish | Monthly Puroresu

M. Ish | Monthly Puroresu

EXCLUSIVE: Update on AJPW-WWE Relationship Amidst Backstage Turmoil

Plus new insights on Katsuhiko Nakajima’s AJPW contract, signing from NOAH, and a potential expiry date

By: Max Everett

All Japan Pro Wrestling experienced a resurgence at the start of the year, making headlines by bringing in WWE NXT star Charlie Dempsey to challenge Katsuhiko Nakajima for the Triple Crown title. It’s a rarity to see a WWE-signed talent wrestle for an outside promotion, and the happenstance provoked further questions over the budding partnership between the companies. Monthly Puroresu previously learned from a higher-up in AJPW that the company – namely President Tsuyoki Fukuda – planned to continue its relationship with WWE and had taken steps to procure talent for the upcoming Champion Carnival.

Monthly Puroresu has since learned that agents involved in procuring talent had failed in that attempt and replacements were being finalized – one pending a visa application. However, President Fukuda is said to be hopeful that the relationship will continue in any case. For what it’s worth, Monthly Puroresu reached out to several within WWE and the NXT sub-brand and heard nothing back that would substantiate a continued working relationship on their end.

While AJPW carries an intrinsic historical value, it’s important to consider that the promotion currently runs a much smaller operation when compared to that of Pro Wrestling NOAH or New Japan Pro Wrestling. The company sought third-party consultancy, while it is disputed who was doing the consulting, and it has been consistently noted that the consultancy was central to dealings with WWE. Our source says that the consultant(s) have since seen a diminished influence over Fukuda, with failings in the NXT partnership cited, chief of which the lofty hopes of getting Katsuhiko Nakajima to represent the Triple Crown on an excursion to the developmental territory. Nakajima joined AJPW after departing Pro Wrestling NOAH in October last year. He defeated Yuma Aoyagi for the Triple Crown title on his in-ring debut for the promotion in November. It was claimed to Monthly Puroresu that Nakajima was approached by third-party consultants in September regarding the jump to AJPW. From what we’ve heard, the plan was to bring in Nakajima – first as a freelancer – with the expressed intent of putting the Triple Crown title on him to work with NXT, thus bringing greater exposure to the AJPW brand.

Charlie Dempsey’s challenge was a result of this plan although the bout failed to meet expectations, thus casting general doubt over the viability of the plan. The belief is WWE simply isn’t interested in Nakajima, even with a third party brokering the deal, and there is a strong chance that the feeling is the same as it pertains to AJPW as a whole – hence the lack of movement on that front – despite Fukuda’s hopes to sustain the deal. Per the original agreement, Nakajima was to be with AJPW until at least March. While it’s not clear how and why the deal was extended, Monthly Puroresu has learned that he is now under an exclusive contract with AJPW until December this year. Specifics weren’t divulged but we further learned he is paid a monthly salary. However, the deal can be impacted if the promise made to get Nakajima to NXT falls through. Again, specifically how it could be impacted was not disclosed.

The uncertainty surrounding AJPW’s relationship with WWE is unfortunately indicative of the promotion’s current backstage affairs. Monthly Puroresu has learned of backstage tensions between executives and staff surrounding the creative direction of AJPW in comparison to the brand’s core values instilled by founder Giant Baba. The situation has somewhat spilled into the public forum with the departures of Fumihito Kihara and Shuji Ishikawa, two tenured names with the company and both supposed to have been instrumental in the brand’s resurgence at the turn of the new year. The consultancy involved in bringing Nakajima to AJPW was said to be a particular source of contention, and we heard a rumor that financial details had been leaked after he was “poached” from NOAH, spurring a retaliation that resulted in the exodus of AJPW talent to NOAH in the new year. One departure was named to Monthly Puroresu as a potential suspect among executives. Likewise, there is a feeling that the lengths gone to procure the touch-and-go deal with WWE and NXT could have been better utilized to build AJPW’s brand to stand on its own two feet. That sentiment appears to be shared both backstage and by fans of the product, with the company objectively failing to deliver on the attention it had garnered from December to January. Circumstances can and inevitably do change, but it appears AJPW will have to get its own house in order to truly re-discover its historical success.

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