In recent years, Japanese wrestling has been gaining more and more traction with United States audiences. The days of the product being inaccessible to those people overseas have passed, and a variety of Japanese promotions can be viewed online, via DVD or Blu-ray releases, or even on standard television. Japan has always been a haven for some American wrestlers to hone their skills, restart their career, or accomplish new feats. And right now, it is arguably in vogue now more than it ever has been in the past.
Specifically, New Japan Pro Wrestling is not only one of the biggest promotions in the world, but has also been making waves in the States recently. It’s an attractive place to build a career, and we can observe numerous North American-based wrestlers doing just that at the moment, including Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, War Machine and most recently, Cody Rhodes, who has repositioned his career as “The American Nightmare”. There’s no telling who could make the move next.
Be it NJPW, or another Japanese promotion, there are undoubtedly many WWE wrestlers who would succeed in their ranks. Let’s take a look at which ones have the best chance of doing so.
Ranked below are 15 WWE wrestlers who would dominate overseas.
15. Apollo Crews
Still young in his career, it’s not imperative that Crews make the jump to Japan immediately, but it would still be a wise career move. It’s unlikely that he gets a significant push with WWE in the next year or so, and he could really boost his resume with an overseas run. He’s good enough in the ring, and his character would fit within the NJPW roster quite well at the moment.
Whether or not he captures a ton of titles in this supposed switch of promotions, it would re-solidify Crews as a name in the wrestling world. He could potentially go back to WWE with a gimmick change if needed, and begin to crack the edges of the main event scene there.
14. Sami Zayn
Zayn has the experience to make a big run in Japan, and many fans will likely be familiar with his work not only with WWE, but in ROH and PWG as El Generico. He’s established himself with the best of the American Indy promotions, but oddly enough, has never made a real run in a significant Japanese promotion. His only time overseas was a short run with DDT (Dramatic Dream Team), and that’s hardly the cream of the crop in terms of Japanese promotions.
There’s clearly a ceiling for Zayn in WWE, and he may have hit it already. He still has time to make a run in NJPW, where he would definitely fit in. Despite being a long-time veteran of the ring, he’s still only in his early-30s, so he could definitely make it happen. It would be a new look for Zayn, and another way to pad his resume.
The Japanese fanbase has always had a penchant for accepting muscle-bound American wrestlers as fan-favorites. Rusev may not be the best wrestler on the planet, but he has the look to go far in Japan. So far, he’s really only been prominent in WWE, and his current character is getting a bit stale there, so a switch of promotions may be exactly what he needs.
A stint in NJPW or Pro Wrestling NOAH would probably be the best move, as there are tons of powerhouse wrestlers for Rusev to do battle with. It would give his career another dimension, and ultimately be the right move for him right now. He has a better chance of succeeding with the strong style of Japanese wrestling than he does on the American Indy circuit.
12. The Usos
Given the Usos family legacy in the wrestling world, a trip to Japan seems like a logical course of action at some point. They’ve been good in WWE, but have the potential to take the next step in a puro environment, just like so many other tag teams have done before them. Among them, The Briscos, Young Bucks, British Bulldogs and Legion Of Doom have all found massive success in Japan, and it helped take their careers to the next level.
They would almost certainly find success. Tag teams always have a high success rate in Japan, and a veteran team like this would be no different. They’ve already captured the WWE Tag Titles on numerous occasions, and now it’s time for a different challenge. They would be immediately successful in NJPW right now, as the promotions continues to expand stateside.
11. Tony Nese
Nese is one of the most talented wrestlers on the WWE roster right now, and he’s still trying to make a name for himself. He hasn’t been set up with a noticeable character, which is the key to success in WWE’s ranks. There’s no sense hanging around a promotion that doesn’t put primary importance on in-ring ability, when that is your strong suit as a wrestler.
He’d be instantly a contender for the GHC Junior Heavyweight Title if he went to Pro Wrestling NOAH, and would be in the mix in NJPW. Nese wrestles in a technical high-flying style that would be perfect for the Japanese audience. The longer he toils without much popularity in WWE, the more time he’s spending not becoming the star that he’s destined to be. A few years spent in Japan, and then returning to WWE would make a world of difference for his career.
10. Bray Wyatt
Since Wyatt is a part of the Rotunda family of wrestlers, he’s always had easy access to WWE. In fact, he’s never wrestled for any other promotion, except for FCW and NXT, which, of course, are WWE affiliates. At the risk of his character becoming one-dimensional and stale, Wyatt should really consider going on an international run.
The American indy scene wouldn’t really be a good fit for him. He’s already too synonymous with WWE, too early in his career for that to be a viable option. NJPW would really give him a test, and if he succeeds there, he’ll put his career in better standing. The Japanese audience takes well to heavyweights with athleticism, and Wyatt would immediately find a fanbase there.
As a renowned luchador, Kalisto has found success in both the Mexican and American wrestling ranks. His two WWE United States Title reigns notwithstanding, he’s also been a notable figure in AAA, as well as indy promotions throughout the states. He could become one of the most well-traveled wrestlers in the world if he could make his way to Japan.
The best fit for him overseas would be in Dragon Gate, as it’s the promotion best suited to his overall high-flying style. He could succeed elsewhere, in more traditional Japanese promotions, but this would give him an opportunity to have some noteworthy matches right away. The learning curve would be minimal, and he would instantly be one of the best wrestlers on the roster.
8. Rich Swann
Swann is another certified high-flyer who will be able to have some great matches in Japan right away. Again, Dragon Gate is probably the best fit for him on a run in Japan. Swann has been prolific on the American Indy scene, but he’s never really been on the same level internationally. He would be accepted at the very least because of his style, and could turn into an absolute showstopper.
He’s already held the new WWE Cruiserweight Championship once, and in that WWE division, once you’ve held the belt, there’s not much left you can do. Swann should really consider going to Dragon Gate, or even NJPW sometime in the next year or so, where his career could really take off, instead of his talents being mitigated in the heavyweight-friendly WWE ranks.
7. Seth Rollins
Having conquered most of the American wrestling landscape as it stands now, Rollins is primed for a run in NJPW, where he could be an immediate IWGP Heavyweight Title contender. He’s already made the most of his time in WWE and ROH, winning most of the major titles in each promotions. It’s time for a new challenge, and one that could really see his career ascend to new heights.
A feud with Kenny Omega or Kazuchika Okada in NJPW would be one of the high points of any given year. It would give new credibility to Rollins’ career (though he doesn’t necessarily need it), and really shake up the landscape as it stands now. Rollins will always be on a main event level in WWE, but he has the opportunity to have some once in a lifetime feuds on the Japanese circuit.
6. Bo Dallas
Maybe this is an oddball selection, but Dallas has a legacy in the wrestling business, and along with his brother, the aforementioned Bray Wyatt, the pair could really do some damage in the Japanese ranks. Dallas hasn’t ascended up the WWE ranks that Wyatt has, but as a Rotunda, he still has the name recognition necessary to have a successful Japanese run.
It doesn’t seem like there is any incentive on WWE’s part to do anything exciting or notable with him in the near future. They’ve hindered him with bad gimmicks in the past, and the situation is beginning to look very Cody Rhodes-esque, albeit on a much smaller scale. Keep an eye on what Dallas does in the next year or so, as his days on the WWE roster may be waning as we speak.
5. Samoa Joe
True, Joe has gone to Japan for a few runs before in his illustrious career. He’s won a few titles in Pro Wrestling NOAH, and had some of the greatest matches of his career in their ranks. One promotion he hasn’t wrestled for is NJPW, the one that’s currently taking the wrestling world by storm.
Joe is in a very unique position to re-establish himself on the Japanese scene, in one of the best, immediately rising promotions on the planet. When Joe initially was in Japan, NJPW wasn’t nearly at the quality it is now, which is likely why he went to the NOAH confines instead. Now, he could have some his greatest matches, in the twilight of his career, if he decides to go to Japan one last time before hanging up the boots.
4. Braun Strowman
Obviously, Strowman’s entire wrestling career has been relegated to WWE, which some may believe puts him at a disadvantage in the Japanese wrestling world. Actually, he would have a great chance to succeed. Japanese audiences have a history of putting over muscle-bound wrestlers, and in some cases can turn them from a decent draw into a great one. Many careers of such wrestlers have been reignited from a stint in Japan, with Brock Lesnar and Scott Norton being notable examples.
Sure, it’s unlikely that Strowman would be putting on 5-star matches with ease, but that doesn’t mean that it would be a useless endeavor. He would prove that he has the ability to get over on the Japanese circuit, maybe winning a title along the way, which opens the door for him on the American Indy circuit if he ever chooses to go that route. A lot of reasons to consider a run in Japan over the next couple of years.
3. Kevin Owens
Having been one of WWE’s most unlikely stars in the past few years, Owens has a good present situation. He’s held three different titles with the company, and is the current United States Champion. Sooner or later, however, he’s going to have to make a tour of Japan, as it’s the biggest glaring omission on his career resume.
Owens would do well there. With his extensive experience on the American Indy scene (mainly wrestling as Kevin Steen), he will be equipped to handle the Japanese style, and have an idea of what to expect. Owens’ character is soon to be at a standstill in WWE, and this would be a great challenge to round out his career.
2. A.J. Styles
Everyone knows that Styles recently captured the IWGP Heavyweight Title on two separate occasions while wresting in NJPW, so he has tried the Japanese circuit before, and succeeded. However, given that he’s won just about every major title for every noteworthy American promotion since 2000, he has more territory to conquer in Japan than he does here.
Sure, he’s been very good in WWE, always putting on great matches and keeping things interesting. Still, he’s never traveled to the ranks of Pro Wrestling NOAH or Dragon Gate. There would be plenty of talent in either of those promotions for Styles to have some of the best matches of his career. Even another run in NJPW would be beneficial, considering how much the promotion has come into focus over the last year. Hell, even though AJPW has regressed in recent years, Styles holding a title as prestigious as the Triple Crown would help his resume as well. There are plenty of options for Styles in the later part of his career.
1. Randy Orton
Like a few others on this list, Orton is part of a great legacy. His father was “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and as a result he found his path to WWE a relatively easy one. But that doesn’t mean he squandered the opportunity. Orton was been one of the company’s biggest stars for the past 15 years now. In that time, he’s strictly wrestled for WWE, with no other promotions on his resume.
While having such a long, successful run with a single company has its benefits, you can’t help but wonder what he would be able to accomplish in Japan. One thing is for sure; if Orton went to NJPW, it would be the single biggest storyline that we’ve seen in wrestling over the past few years. It would cement Orton’s legacy as an all-around elite wrestler, not just one that was able to succeed in the comforts of WWE.
It remains to be seen, but if Orton really wanted to make waves, he’d sign with NJPW and shock the world in the next year or so.
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