NJPW star Rocky Romero returned to The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast and sat down with Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman to chat about New Japan Pro Wrestling and their current endeavors in the United States. NJPW Strong has been airing on Friday nights featuring a wide-range of talents, and Romero talked about how NJPW pivoted to NJPW Strong due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I got to be honest, I feel really really good about it, really strong about the show. No pun intended but yeah, I think that everybody's working hard to kind of create a separate brand," Romero noted. "It didn't really necessarily, that wasn't the point in the beginning of it, but obviously, with the pandemic, we had to really think of other alternatives, really, of how to keep the U.S. brand going.
"Now, it's kind of taken its own course and that it's slightly different. There's much younger talent and newer talent being showcased as well and just kind of being its own thing having some crossover to the Japanese brand. Like I said, wasn't set out to be that way, but it's kind of turned that way, and I think it's kind of cool and it's different and still stays true to the New Japan Strong Style sense."
Romero noted that the original plan for NJPW was highlighted by Wrestle Dynasty at Madison Square Garden. The COVID-19 pandemic forced NJPW to postpone Wrestle Dynasty, and Romero also noted that NJPW is a live event company that had to try new things like a studio show in NJPW Strong.
"Well, I mean the original plan was to go August 22 to MSG. We were going to have a huge card there, and obviously, with the pandemic and New York being the major hotspot, especially in the beginning, that all got thrown to the wayside," Romero pointed out. "I had to come up and kind of change plans. In New Japan, in general, it's just like a live event company more than it is like an actual TV company. So it's very different from AEW or WWE in that sense. So obviously, being a live event company and not being able to do live events, hurts our business quite a bit. This is kind of maybe like a forced model change in a way.
"Not saying like, oh, it's going to be TV first, TV this but definitely gives us maybe room to try things that we wouldn't normally try, like a studio show shot in Los Angeles not too far from the dojo and being able to find new talent, which we're always looking to do and always trying to add to the roster and find new players, especially new young players because I feel like the one thing they New Japan is golden at is finding talent and creating stars."
Romero highlighted the Lion's Break Crown Tournament that will feature young talent that have impressed either himself or Shibata or impressed at the dojo tryouts. He talked about how the tournament coincides with the G1 Climax giving wrestling fans a lot to watch during the week.
"For us, that part comes really easy," Romero stated. "I think this upcoming Lion's Break Crown Tournament is going to be a great example of eight gentlemen that came through the doors of the dojo and were selected by Shibata or maybe somebody that I saw or just somebody who impressed at a tryout or at a camp in the last couple of years since we've been open, and now, they're getting an opportunity on Strong to really find their break. That's kind of what Lion's Break is all about which is cool.
"It kind of coincides with the G1. It's hard to watch both G1 and probably watch Strong and then you've got AEW, WWE. You've got so much wrestling during the week. So I think it's cool to have the spotlight on these younger guys, up-and-coming talent looking for a break, and I think this is a perfect opportunity right now."
Hausman asked Romero what the front office in Japan thinks of what is going on in the U.S. Romero talked about how the idea before the pandemic was to have a synergy between the U.S. talent and the Japanese talent to have simultaneous tours noting that NJPW were experimenting with that idea with The New Beginning tours.
"It's good question," Romero said. "I gotta say that eventually, there was probably, when they first thought of the concept of breaking into the U.S. market and the U.S. is so huge that eventually, they probably would have wanted some kind of brand split so to speak. Not saying like this person is exclusive to the U.S. [or] their exclusive to Japan.
"They would live in each other's world, of course and major stars would be going back and forth, but I think that of course, there's a hope that, probably a long-term, five-year, ten-year plan, to have be able to tour in the U.S. simultaneously touring in Japan as well. And we've tried that a couple times, like once a year, we do The New Beginning tour in the US while The New Beginning tour is going on in Japan."
Romero assured to fans that NJPW Strong will remain and will be a long-term commitment for NJPW. He pointed out that it is part of NJPW's style of building things from the ground up, and the goal will be to continue to make NJPW Strong a good show and to continue to develop and find new talent.
"Like I said, this is another kind of forced progression in that way to build a roster, and as far as I know, New Japan Strong is here to stay," Romero assured. "It's a long-term commitment and hoping to build the way that New Japan always builds, grassroots, build from the bottom [and] each step is important. It's not just to like run and jump and then gun be like, oh, let's just do it now.
"Capitalize on each moment and make each one of those bricks solid as opposed to having something just crumble so fast. For us, everything matters. Every little inch matters. So New Japan Strong, just continue on trying to make that show awesome, have the talent that we have [and] adding fresh faces was probably the most important piece to it."
Romero teased that if Wrestle Dynasty or a MSG-type show happens next year, the possibility of U.S. vs. Japanese talent still remains. He talked about how a lot has opened up for NJPW and the wrestlers hope to be part of the conversation.
"Imagine if there is an MSG next year, I don't know if there will be or not, I mean everything is so crazy right now, but if there is, like imagine, we could get Tom Lawlor vs. Minoru Suzuki. That would be crazy on a big show like that. So never say never, and I feel like the pandemic, for sure, has, like you said, opened up so many opportunities that probably wouldn't normally be opened up here in North America, and we're hoping to just be a part of that conversation as well, especially the wrestlers. They want to be a part of that conversation."
Rocky Romero can be seen every Friday night as part of NJPW Strong on NJPW World. You can follow Rocky on Twitter @azucarRoc. Rocky's full interview aired as part of today's episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.