This article is a follow-up to a piece published in November 2018. Titled NZ Strong Style – An Ally, Not A Colony, it discussed how the New Zealand and Australian wrestling scenes would potentially flourish as allies of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, as opposed to the scenario of being colonies of World Wrestling Entertainment’s NXT development system. The piece was in response to the reports that WWE had offered talent from the NXT UK brand new contracts that would not allow them to wrestle for neighbouring, though non-affiliated promotions that also offered no direct threat to the WWE due to their small size. Although the new deals came with pay rises to compensate for those closed avenues, there were concerns that the exclusivity would hurt the U.K. wrestling scene.
The article presented a scenario that explored how this system would not work in the New Zealand and Australian scenes; being a ‘colony’ of the NXT system. This new piece looks at some of the growth that has taken place throughout 2019 with respect to Fale Dojo and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s expansion across the western world.
U.K. Wrestling Scene:
It has been over two years since the reports surfaced about WWE’s presence in the United Kingdom. This came with a cost as several independent promotions have since closed and the landscape had begun struggling financially. Nonetheless, the arrival of New Japan Pro-Wrestling for their first U.K. event Royal Quest on the 31st of August 2019 was a resounding success. Although there is no television coverage of New Japan available in the United Kingdom, the event drew a near sell-out crowd of over 6,000 at the Copper Box Arena in London, England.
Unlike the U.K. wrestling landscape which does not have a branch of the NJPW training system, Fale Dojo / NJPW New Zealand Dojo, located in Auckland, New Zealand is one of three official Dojo’s of the NJPW regime and covers the whole Southern Hemisphere. The Southern Showdown tour of Australia in 2019 showcased Fale Dojo as a driving force that featured graduates and trainers from the Dojo as well as local talent. Southern Showdow demonstrated that the Southern Hemisphere could produce the kind of wrestling talent calibre that can be appreciated and enjoyed by fans around the world. It can provide a strong platform for future generations to think of professional wrestling as a career.
It should be noted however that NXT UK does provide potential opportunities for people to wrestle in the United States by moving to the WWE’s Performance Center, where they will receive further training before wrestling on NXT and an opportunity to move onto the main roster. However, this is not always a guarantee of success. Furthermore, there is the potential risk of having one’s individualism and culture drained out of them in the process of being retooled through the Performance Center to make it to NXT. The Dojo’s of NJPW are more organic and allows people to maintain more of their own personality, while far greater emphasis is put on being immersed in strong style.
Due to the sporting culture Down Under where New Zealanders and Australians have been playing the game of rugby for generations, the physical contact would allow players from any level to transition their skills to the Fale Dojo training philosophy which will prepare them for NJPW’s strong style. Fale Dojo’s Toks ‘Bad Luck’ Fale, ‘Switchblade’ Jay White, and Toa Henare are examples of this cross-over, all having had previous rugby experience. Although rugby has a limited career span at the top level, a career in professional wrestling could potentially last for decades.
More importantly, an association with NJPW would allow New Zealanders and Australians to maintain their cultural identities both locally and globally. For example, the cases of Fale, Henare, and White, whose different Kiwi accents are uncompromised in Japan. The diverse cultures that exist in New Zealand also highlight the authenticity of NZ’s rich and multi-layered identity.
The addition of Australia’s Gino Gambino to NJPW’s English commentary has furthered New Japan’s international appeal and given New Zealand and Australian viewers a ‘voice’ they can relate to. These voices are important to New Japan Pro-Wrestling as they endeavour to reach out to more English-speaking viewers.
The New Zealand accent is ever-present with the rise of Jay White as New Japan’s top antagonist. As the first New Zealander to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Title, White’s prominence in addition to the status of Fale and Henare, as well as the arrival of Michael Richards from the Fale Dojo and NJPW Dojo system has made the New Zealand contingent an integral part of New Japan. It also exemplifies NJPW’s commitment and integrity not to implement a quota of how many wrestlers of the same nationality and culture they should have to compete on the roster. Rather, its system rewards those who excel with passion and determination.
Toks Fale / Fale Dojo/NJPW New Zealand Dojo:
The purpose of becoming an ally to New Japan Pro-Wrestling is so that we do not lose touch with our national identity and have control of how New Zealanders should be portrayed throughout the wrestling world. In addition, as an ally, NZ wrestling would not be governed by an outsider, rather the benchmark has already been established by NZ’s own Toks Fale, a respected member of the international wrestling community and the first foreigner to graduate from the New Japan Dojo. Fale showed good intuition early on as he was influential in endorsing White, Henare, and Sho Tanaka to the NJPW Dojo, and such world-class leadership and hands-on experience are readily available to New Zealanders who are serious to pursue formal training at Fale Dojo.
Toks Fale‘s vision for creating Fale Dojo in 2016 was born out of his loyalty to New Japan and his desire to give back to his South Auckland community. The creation of Fale Dojo provides an opportunity for people to train as professional wrestlers and a path to help turn people’s goals into a foreseeable reality.
Throughout all of this, there are strong and connected similarities between the Japanese culture and the Pacific and Maori cultures. These cultures are based on ideals of strong family values and a sense of community. The idea that you should be proud of your heritage; never feeling that you were at a disadvantage because of it. It could be argued that it is not the case in other wrestling organisations.
Going back to NZ being an ally versus a colony, partnership assures equal status. Unlike a colony, it does not risk inciting individualism, greed, and a ‘know-it-all’ culture, but being an ally embraces the belief of collectiveness and thinking as one for the common cause; in this case, what is best for professional wrestling and how best to provide people with the opportunity to achieve their goals.
There is a common misconception among a vast majority of wrestling fans in the west that WWE is the only place where wrestlers can ‘make it.’ However, when we look at New Japan Pro-Wrestling, we realise that this is not the case. New Japan was founded in 1972 by Antonio Inoki, and over the course of time many wrestlers have gone on to be considered greats, examples such as Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Kotetsu Yamamoto, and Yuji Nagata.
Presently, there are key wrestlers in both the WWE and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) promotions that built their reputations in NJPW. They were major stars and were providing world-class matches that put them on the radar of the major US promotions. Nonetheless, some opted to stay in Japan and wrestle strong style as that is their preferred style, proving that not all wrestlers see being successful in the States as the be-all and end-all of their careers. They know if they are good enough, they will gain recognition by being successful in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
10 years ago, there was a need for NZ talent to go overseas to make it as a professional wrestler. Wrestlers like Jay White travelled this path. Now with Fale Dojo / NJPW New Zealand Dojo in place, there is less need to go overseas due to the opportunities that now present themselves in New Zealand. People have less need to try and ‘make it’ in a certain part of the industry where they will highly likely be in a ‘supporting role,’ whereas the better chance of success is in New Japan. The sub-headings within this article demonstrate that New Japan Pro Wrestling aligns with who you are both as a person and as an athlete. Perhaps it pays to be smart and take the opportunities that are right in front of you rather than pursue a form of entertainment that was never built for you.