There is an excitement in the year about recent WWE signings of New Japan Pro Wrestling stars. A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows have already caused quite a stir, but will they meet expectations once they step into the WWE rings?
WWE’s signing of all four major NJPW stars can be seen as nothing less than the first raid of a competitor’s stars in years. Not since Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko signed as a group in 2000 can I remember the WWE taking a group of guys from a rival company in a mass signing. If nothing else, this story is certainly a throwback to those exciting signings during the Monday Night War.
I was talking with Brian Fritz about this story on his Between the Ropes podcast when I compared this current signing of NJPW stars to the signing of the Radicalz back during the Monday Night War. That could be a good thing or a bad thing if you want to compare notes, yet the similarities of the group are nothing short of striking. How successful will this new group of stars be? Let’s compare them with the Radicalz for some perspective.
A.J. Styles is almost identical to Chris Benoit in his pro wrestling talents and standing in the business when Benoit came over. Like Benoit, Styles has international experience and his regarded as arguably the best wrestler in the business today. Styles is also coming in with a chip on his shoulder, similar to the one Benoit had in relation to WCW. Styles’ chip is different in that he wants to prove his critics wrong, whereas Benoit felt he was being mishandled by WCW. Signing the best wrestler in the business in 2016 is nothing short of a major coup for the WWE. For better or worse, I can also see Styles’ career trajectory taking the same path as Benoit.
When Benoit came in, it was important for the company to show immediately that their wrestlers were better than him. Benoit’s first singles match was a loss to Triple H on SmackDown. Let that one sink in for a moment. It wasn’t until later that the company finally opened its eyes and gave Benoit the big push. Will that be the same for Styles?
I think the landscape is much different and fortunately for Styles, he is coming in at a time where the company is desperate for a new star. Injuries have opened up opportunities here that may not have come for Styles. I do think that Vince McMahon’s tendency is to bring someone in like Styles and put his top guys over immediately to prove point. Fortunately for fans, those top guys are hurt, thus he has to make this work. I think Styles does exceedingly well, gets to a top position almost immediately, and has a title run somewhere between his start and WrestleMania 33.
Shinsuke Nakamura is a lot like Eddie Guerrero. I remember many predicting Guerrero’s size would hold him back from succeeding in the WWE. Nakamura falls into that same space, although he is bigger than what Guerrero was at the time and the business has evolved. Unfortunately I don’t ever see a scenario where Nakamura has the push that Eddie eventually got. Vince McMahon has a horrible track record of pushing Japanese stars. The big and I mean big thing Nakamura has going for him is that the WWE just expanded the Network into Japan. This signing was probably more about that than anything else, thus they will need to keep him strong to use him for Network promotion in Japan.
Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson are probably a lot more like Perry Saturn than they are Dean Malenko. Gallows has already been in the company and did fairly well on his first tour of duty. Both are solid hands and could certainly enhance the tag team division. They should have some great matches with the Usos and New Day but after that, the division is really limited. If you remember, Malenko and Saturn had a good start when they came over and worked as a team. Once the good teams dried up they just floated around a bit. I could see that happening here, although again the timing here is such that the company needs new stars and maybe they get a better shot at it than Saturn and Malenko did.
Maybe it’s unfair or even ridiculous to compare these four to four guys who came in at a different time to a company with different needs and different priorities? The biggest upside here is that unlike in the past, there are spots open for the taking and all of these guys, especially Nakamura and Styles have plenty of talent and enough desire to grab those “brass rings.”