World Japan History
written by Kevin Wilson
When considering all the independent wrestling promotions that did not last long and had little serious threat of ever becoming a permanent full time company, few promotions showed the unpredictably of puroresu like the creation of Fighting World of Japan Pro Wrestling in late 2002. While World Japan did not last long as a promotion, it showed how easy it is for smaller promotions to split from the larger promotions, something that very rarely happens in the United States. World Japan started because of one man, Riki Choshu, and his actions had a strong impact on his old home promotion New Japan that can still be felt to this day.
In the spring of 2002, Choshu and New Japan were at serious odds. Choshu had been the booker of New Japan, but his ways were considered by many old fashion and with the influx of MMA fighters the promotion was beginning to lose its popularity. Choshu retired soon thereafter, but made it clear that he was not finished with professional wrestling. In the fall of 2002 he briefly came back to New Japan, but that December he announced that he was starting a new wrestling promotion: Fighting World of Japan Pro Wrestling (usually just called World Japan). But who did Choshu have to wrestle in his new promotion? We would find out soon enough.
One of the quirks with New Japan is all their wrestlers are signed to one year contracts every January. This means that the promotion really can't tie anyone down long term and every year is at the risk of losing its biggest stars. That would happen in January of 2003, as many wrestlers were not happy with the direction that New Japan was taking. Some, like Mutoh and Kojima, left for All Japan. But others left for Riki Choshu's World Japan. Since he had been part of New Japan for a long time, Choshu had made close friends within the promotion that were willing to follow him. Amongst them were main eventer Kensuke Sasaki, Shiro Koshinaka, and New Japan's main referee Masao "Tiger" Hattori. Choshu also planned on using wrestlers from the smaller SPWF promotion to fill out his undercard and was counting on being able to sign freelancers (wrestlers not under contract with any promotion) for the big shows. With his foundation laid out, Choshu would have the first World Japan show on March 1st, 2003 in front of over 13,000 people. Here is what the card looked like:
- Tomohiro Ishii beat Takashi Uwano in 12:37
As you can see, Choshu spared no expense. Tenryu was one of the top freelancers available, as was Hase. Onita still had a lot of fans, Don Frye was still considered a legitimate contender, and the Road Warriors had major face value. For a first show, it was a success, but Choshu still had his work cut out for him to keep the promotion going.
Unlike most off-shoot independent promotion (remember that Choshu wanted this to be considered a legitimate promotion, not just an indy), World Japan had championship belts that were awarded within the upcoming months. On July 20th, 2003, Kensuke Sasaki was crowned the first ever WMG Heavyweight Championship. The tournament to crown the first champion was deep, and included Sasaki, Steve Williams, Riki Choshu, Genichiro Tenryu, and others. Choshu and Tenryu would team to become the first WMG Tag Team Champions. By having a pair of titles, the promotion seemed more legitimate and now they had a drawing card for their shows.
Also different from most smaller promotions, World Japan instantly began to tour. They actually had six shows within their first month, with three of the shows headlined by Tenryu versus Choshu and four of the shows having no rope barbed wire death matches. World Japan would continue touring throughout the year, and had four shows in five days in December of 2003. By that time, unfortunately, attendance had dropped to under 2,000 per show and Choshu was no longer able to pay the more expensive freelancers such as Tenryu, Vader, Road Warriors, Onita, and many others.
Through 2004, World Japan continued having cards, but it wasn't the same. Kensuke Sasaki (still the champion) would leave the promotion due to money issues, returning to New Japan in early 2004. The belt would be vacated and never used again. Choshu stopped hiring freelancers because he couldn't afford them any longer, and his shows became less frequent then in 2003. In the fall of 2004, Choshu returned to New Japan, but he was still running his own shows on the side. By this time though his promotion had changed its name to Riki Pro, and focused on independent wrestlers with himself was the main draw. The dream of World Japan had died an unofficial death, but it really had lasted less then a year as when Kensuke Sasaki left with the other major freelancers World Japan's threat of becoming a top promotion was gone.
So what went wrong with World Japan? Most argue that what Choshu was offering simply wasn't different enough then the established products. The high attendance at the first show demonstrates that fans were interested, but nothing hooked them in. Choshu wasn't a major draw at this stage in his career, and he had trouble getting affiliated wrestlers from other promotions to take part on his cards. Choshu used a lot of foreigners, but they were either past their prime (and thus had short drawing power) or were new to the area (and thus had no drawing power). Under that system the promotion was destined to fail, as the freelancers were expensive and the puroresu fans simply weren't interested in another wrestling promotion. Early in the promotions history they also had a problem with cards being changed at the last minute, which made them seem unreliable and they lost some of the crowd's trust.
As I said above, the main lesson that World Japan taught us is how quickly things can change in Japan, and particularly in New Japan. Every January this same thing could happen. If Chono decided tomorrow he wanted to start his own promotion, in January he could, and some wrestlers (such as Tenzan) would certainly go with him. While this is obviously something that New Japan is worried about, there is nothing they can do about it under their current system. The effect of World Japan can even be felt to this day. With Choshu back as booker of New Japan, Kensuke Sasaki has refused to work with them due to the problems that the two developed over financial issues in World Japan years ago. They will probably move past it at some point, but it shows that the past can always come back to bite you.
In terms of strong shows, World Japan had less then a year that they had the money and ability to put on consistently entertaining and drawing events. That isn't a long time, but Choshu's quick defection and attempt to take on New Japan head-on should not be overlooked or forgotten, because history does have a tendency to repeat itself.