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Keiji Muto and Tetsuya Naito Discuss the Future of Japanese Pro Wrestling

5 months ago Masahiro Kubota | MP

Masahiro Kubota | MP

Keiji Muto and Tetsuya Naito Discuss the Future of Japanese Pro Wrestling

Keiji Muto and Tetsuya Naito discussed Japanese Wrestling after the departure of Kazuchika Okada, and what Naito has to do to rule 2024.

By: R. Faliani

The legendary Keiji Muto and the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito sat down with Tokyo Sports and discussed the future of Japanese Wrestling now that Kazuchika Okada will leave New Japan Pro Wrestling in January.

Naito and Muto started 2023 with a bang, as both had a historic match in the Tokyo Dome, as part of Muto’s retirement show, which saw a dream collaboration between many promotions in Japan, such as All Japan Pro Wrestling, DDT Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and of course, New Japan itself. When comparing the scene of 2023 with where it is now, it seems like things have taken a turn.

2024 started with many big news stories in Japanese wrestling, but the biggest one so far is Okada’s departure. Muto and Naito discussed the importance of the American market for Japanese wrestlers, and how the existence of All Elite Wrestling has motivated them to try new things and explore new ventures. Both Naito and Muto are no strangers to wrestling in America; Muto rocked the ’80s and the ’90s with both NWA and WCW as well as for TNA in the 2010’s. Naito also wrestled in America for New Japan, ticking off Madison Square Garden along the way, and appearing for AEW last year as part of AEWxNJPW: Forbidden Door.

Naito and Okada had their final singles match in the G1 Climax 33 finals, where Naito defeated “The Rainmaker” before going to Wrestle Kingdom 18 to achieve his definitive goal in the company. The reigning champion opened up about his thoughts on Okada leaving the company, and he was clear as water:

“I think his ambition to reach a new stage and a higher position is amazing. It’s definitely important to go to new places and take on new challenges, but I wanted Okada to stay in New Japan.”

When discussing the impact both AEW and WWE made in the Japanese industry these past few years, Muto spoke from experience and explained how it feels to be a Japanese wrestler in America, despite your years of career and your status:

“It’s crazy how the American market works. No matter how much of an “Okada” you are, it still makes you feel that you may not be able to adapt to the culture there.”

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Naito also reflected on the fact that Japanese wrestlers often want to take on new challenges. He also speaks from experience, because as a New Japan wrestler, he has seen many come and go to America to perfect their craft, and while some of them have not had the luck to shine, Naito still sees America as the door to being a global star:

“Of course, as a wrestler, I can understand your desire to be seen by as many people as possible. I’m not against wrestlers that go overseas, although I don’t think I have that option, even if I was younger.”

When talking about the young talent that could potentially go to WWE, or AEW shortly, both Muto and Naito agreed that there may come a time when the young Japanese wrestlers of today will grow and try to explore America. There have been many cases in the last few years, with the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Akira Tozawa, Konosuke Takeshita, Io Shirai, and KAIRI going to the United States.

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The Natural Born Master then asked Naito his opinion on what was next for New Japan, and the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon said he was going to take not only NJPW but Japanese wrestling to new heights in 2024 and take the fans on a ride. He also spoke about Tanahashi being NJPW’s new president, and how will that translate this year. Then, Muto jokingly said he needed to shake Tanahashi’s wallet a little bit:

“You idiot, you should shake Tanahashi. It’s more interesting that way, and the pay might go up as well. For now, just say, ‘I’ll work for Okada’ and get Okada’s salary as a bonus.”

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