No matter how hard Vince McMahon attempts to hawk his WWE Universe as the best darn sports entertainment in the world, select diehard professional wrestling fans have long believed there was a better alternative to his product. The only catch is that they had to go all the way to Japan in order to find it. Japanese wrestling is in many ways a different animal from the American style, yet that’s exactly why certain fans think it’s more fun to watch. There’s more focus on the ring work and the storytelling is significantly simpler, two qualities any critic of WWE can acknowledge are very good things.
Not only are fans noticing that Japanese wrestling is occasionally better than Vince McMahon’s version, but some wrestlers also seem to agree, choosing to move to the Land of the Rising Sun rather than deal with his approach to business. Recently, two major superstars made that decision in Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho, the latter in particular being noteworthy because apparently McMahon was apparently completely fine with his former World Champion wrestling a few matches for a global rival.
The implication here is obviously that McMahon might feel the same way in the future about other talent on his roster. It’s even been suggested that WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling might come to a working arrangement or talent exchange program, similar to what some Japanese promotions had with WCW during the Monday Night Wars. Should that come to pass, fans of both WWE and NJPW should be ecstatic with the unique results, presenting dream matches that literally seemed impossible until now. Assuming that’s the case, keep reading to learn about 15 WWE superstars who should follow Chris Jericho to Japan.
15 Jason Jordan
While most of the wrestlers on this list are examples of people who would immediately shine in a foreign country, there’s actually two reasons why WWE might want to send a wrestler to Japan. Before the idea of developmental territories became commonplace, it was actually a regular practice for territorial promotions to allow promising but incomplete wrestlers a few months of on-sight training by performing in a Japanese ring. The higher expectations from crowds and leadership of their opponents would then theoretically help them learn as they go and get better as a worker because of it. Jason Jordan comes into the picture as a man WWE clearly sees as a big star, but simply doesn’t have the it factor they want him to. Jordan’s not altogether bad, he just needs a little help putting the pieces together and becoming a complete superstar. A few months being forced to work his hardest might help him find that, and with better wrestling skills, people might even believe he’s really Kurt Angle’s son.
14 Braun Strowman
Notwithstanding the undying ramifications Godzilla brought to the country, Japanese wrestling fans have a borderline obsession with big destructive monsters, especially if they happen to be American. The fascination likely began in the 1980s with names like Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, and Terry Gordy, coming to an absolute fever pitch when Big Van Vader came to fame. Even lesser talents like Scott Norton could become stars simply by being big and American. More recently, the success of Brock Lesnar made it clear Japan is still interested in this sort of wrestler. In today’s wrestling landscape, there’s no bigger, scariest beast than Braun Strowman, who has been flipping over vehicles like they were nothing and treating his average opponent like a ragdoll. This behavior has rapidly turned Strowman into an immensely popular star in America, and it would do the exact same thing over in Japan without him having to change a thing.
13 The Usos
It took them some time to develop as a team, but The Usos are perhaps one of the most respected duos wrestling in WWE today. The twin sons of WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi are nothing like their father, moving quickly and fluidly through the ring, flying off the top ropes in tandem to tear down their enemies. Unfortunately, there’s not much competition for them on SmackDown Live the fans aren’t already bored with, which is why they’ve held on to the titles for so long. Over in Japan, there’s a number of highly respected tag teams already wowing audiences, such as the Killer Elite Squad and any two given members of the Bullet Club of one’s choosing. Considering the Usos ability to rapidly develop when given the right amount of spotlight, a few matches against Japan’s best tag teams might make them even better, and could reveal skills they’ve secretly been hiding all this time.
12 Seth Rollins
Despite having been a journeyman wrestling on the independent scene prior to getting discovered by WWE, the “Architect” Seth Rollins has somehow avoided wrestling in Japan up until this point. He has, however, appeared in the Land of the Rising Sun to compete on overseas WWE tours, always captivating the audience and winding up one of the biggest stars in the building. This is due to Seth’s mastery of wrestling mannerisms and his plethora of ways to wow inside the ring, which could make him a hit in any country, or in any language. Seth’s look and background would also make him an instant pick for a potential member of Bullet Club, the meanest and most important stable in Japanese wrestling today. Of course, if the whole Shield came along for the ride, they could be in line for a big showdown instead, which might be one of the craziest dream matches modern wrestling could have to offer.
11 The Rock
Truth be told, this is without a doubt the least likely entry on the list, what with The Rock not having wrestled a match in several years. The Great One is firmly entrenched in Hollywood now, and the best he could do in Japan is appear in a backstage segment or two that would be guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Of course, that’s all The Rock need do to make an audience go wild, especially a foreign one that has never seen him before. For all their focus on ring work, Japan also has a history of going absolutely wild for a superstar personality, key examples being Hulk Hogan, Shinsuke Nakamura, and former Chicago Bear Bob Sapp. Thanks to his movies, The Rock has more star presence today than all of them combined, and let’s not forget he able to shine in the ring under the right circumstances, as well. It’ll almost certainly never happen, but it’s fun to imagine just how electric The Rock could be laying the smacketh down in Japan.
10 Big E
To many fans, if any one member of The New Day was headed to Japan, it would probably be hoped the entire gang would be along for the ride. There’s a catch when it comes to this list, though, in that Xavier Woods has spent significant time in the Land of the Rising Sun wrestling as Consequences Creed, while his two partners have never had the pleasure. This is a shame, as both Big E and Kofi Kingston could do incredibly well for themselves wrestling for NJPW. For Big E, the key would be his monstrous look combined with his superstar personality, allowing him to become a modern day Bob Sapp instantly upon arrival. Of course, Big E is a better worker than Bob Sapp, so he could reach even greater heights. If nothing else, Big E would probably be back in the singles division for the first time in years, which would be an interesting switch that could do wonders for his career.
9 Kofi Kingston
At this point in his career, Kofi Kingston has wrestled exactly one match in Japan, and it lasted all of five minutes, with Brock Lesnar ripping him to shreds the entire time. Of course, this match took place under the WWE banner during a rare overseas tour, and things might go a whole lot differently if Kingston went to Japan for good, or at least longer than a single night. In addition to his immediate charisma and fun loving attitude, Kingston is arguably the most talented in ring performer of The New Day, jumping around the ring and inventing new moves the world had never before considered. With or without Xavier Woods and/or Big E at his side, Kingston could continue wrestling incredible matches in Japan, and many of his opponents would be more suited to his style over there than they are where he is now. Even if it was only for a short time, Kingston would probably return to American better than ever before.
Sometimes, all it takes for a wrestler to completely captivate an audience is the willingness to try something new. Because Bayley’s unbridled optimism and never say die persona are wholly unique to women’s wrestling in America, it should come as little surprise that the same essentially remains true in Japan. By and large, female Japanese wrestlers, no matter what they look like, are much more vicious, hard hitting, and destructive individuals than those in America. Even those who spend their free time as models aren’t afraid to bloody one another and break their own necks if it means entertaining a crowd, and a happy-go-lucky gal like Bayley would be such a fish out of water in this scenario it would be a thrill to watch her adapt. Once push came to shove, Bayley would surely also manage to impress inside the ring as she always does, which should be reason enough to give the idea a try.
7 Charlotte Flair
Most of the wrestlers on this list have yet to have the pleasure of wrestling in Japan, which is kind of the point, and Charlotte Flair is indeed one of them. However, her father, the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, is a different story entirely, having wrestled extensively in the Land of the Rising Sun for All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Super World of Sports, and several other organizations. That Flair was always a huge hit in Japan for his incredible performances and superstar presence, and as a worthy successor to his fame, it’s easy to imagine Charlotte having the same success. She might even have a leg up on her old man, in that Flair’s ring style, while iconic and truly top notch, was mostly limited to formula and mat wrestling, while Charlotte adds a lot more high flying to the mix. This fits into Japan’s sensibilities perfectly, and could definitely help the Nature Boy’s daughter coming ever closer to matching or eclipsing his legacy.
6 Sasha Banks
Unlike the average modern day American wrestler male or female, Sasha Banks has long been outspoken about the fact her first true heroes in the sport were actually wrestling for a different promotion called All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling. That’s really all that needs to be said about why The Boss could absolutely flourish in Japan, either wrestling for that company or any other female centric organization the country has to offer. In fact, given how much ground she’s broken in America, Banks could easily do the same overseas, forcing New Japan Pro Wrestling to heavily promote women for the first time in a very long while. Even if that didn’t happen, the case remains that Sasha’s fantastic performances risking her life flying through the ring would make her a huge hit with foreign audiences. Her flashy ring gear and colorful personality wouldn’t hurt, either.
5 Chad Gable
In recent years especially, WWE has been accused of failing to see obvious talents in certain superstars, squandering their potential by putting them in much lesser roles than they deserve. It’s still a little early to tell, but the warning signs are already present with Chad Gable. One of the most talented in-ring wrestlers on the roster, Gable shined in NXT as half of American Alpha, but has merely been stuck in an imitation of that same team since getting called up to the main roster. His skills in the ring also seem oddly toned down, and not in a way that compliments his new partner Shelton Benjamin. That said, if one or both of them went over to Japan to work out the kinks against stronger opponents in front of a crowd that demanded more from them, this problem could quickly go away. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Gable to head over to the Land of the Rising Sun on his own, either, as he could easily excel in any environment that respects amateur wrestling ability more than Vince McMahon does.
4 Kevin Owens
Never one to let his slightly larger than average size stop him from innovating inside the ring, Kevin Owens hits all the boxes that would make a “gaijin” wrestler a huge star in Japan. Add the fact his personality makes him an instantly recognizable mean bully in any language, and he might not be all too popular as a babyface, but everyone in Japan will hate him in just the right way as one of the country’s biggest heels. In this sense, Owens more so than almost anyone else could become the next Big Van Vader, decimating his opponents with his size advantage before bouncing around like a cruiserweight for his explosive finishing blows. On top of it all, his best friendship turned bitter enemy status with Chris Jericho could give Owens better reason than anyone else on this list to make the journey, with the potential to relive their whole relationship for an entirely new country, with even better matches.
3 John Cena
If the People’s Champion The Rock is too busy in Hollywood to ever make a trip to a Japanese wrestling ring, the next best thing would probably be the man he passed the torch to in the Face of WWE, John Cena. Despite his gradually diminishing place in sports entertainment, Cena is still more famous than any other wrestler in WWE today. When all cards are on the table, he can also deliver one heck of a hard fought wrestling match, which would surely entertain Japanese audiences whether they knew he was a superstar or not. It’s also worth noting that should Vince McMahon actually be considering a talent exchange with New Japan or any other company, there’s no greater message he could give about just how much he could help them than sending over his most popular star. In essence, that’s exactly what he did in the past with names like Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund, and he could easily do it again sometime soon.
2 The Undertaker
Believe it or not, The Undertaker is actually one of the few wrestlers on this list who has already wrestled in the Land of the Rising Sun, making a rare appearance outside of WWE to challenge Hakushi for Michinoku Pro Wrestling in the late 1990s. Of course, that very match is exactly why one can be certain the Dead Man would be an equally massive star in Japan as he is in America. Not only is the Phenom a gigantic monster in the vein of Vader or Stan Hansen, he’s also a mystical being with presumed superpowers, the sort of insanity that can captivate any faithful wrestling audience. Unfortunately, considering his advanced age and partial retirement, the Undertaker is amongst the least likely athletes on this list to make the trip overseas. Even if he did, it would probably just be for an appearance and not a full match. Then again, the aura is a big part of the picture, so maybe that would be more than enough.
1 Triple H
If WWE is actually going to form some sort of working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, the fastest way they could actually cement the fact they were serious is having none other than the COO of WWE himself, Triple H, be the first to head overseas and make his presence known. Even without his current status as one of the most powerful men in wrestling, Triple H is exactly the sort of performer who could be a huge star in Japan. He has both the physique of a monster and the skillset and reputation of an in-ring master, capable of pulling off some incredible performances against the right opponents and in the right setting. There’s also the potential Triple H could show up in D-Generation X gear, adding mainstream pop culture and nostalgia into the mix, two things for which Japanese audiences are known to go absolutely crazy. Throw in Triple H’s own ego and desire to be involved with every major movement in WWE, and it’s pretty much a lock that if anyone’s heading over to Japan in the near future, he’ll think about going along with them.