Japan is too loaded with pro wrestling talent to go on forever without producing a WWE world champion.
Since WWE crowned its first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in 1963, fans have seen men from Iran, Canada, France, Mexico and Ireland win the title. Japan, a country with a long history of great wrestling, has no WWE world champ to its name.
With as interconnected as the world is today, and with as many fantastic athletes that come out of that country, one has to assume that it will happen eventually.
Japanese greats such as Ultimo Dragon and Antonio Inoki have competed for WWE, but they never saw the type of success that they saw at home.
Inoki should have been WWE's first world champ. He defeated Bob Backlund (h/t TheHistoryof WWE.com) in Takusima, Japan in 1979, but his reign is not recognized by the company. That leaves a major milestone up for grabs.
Some of the best wrestlers in the world have come from Japan, including Jumbo Tsuruta, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Jushin Liger. It's a country with a passionate fanbase and a seemingly unending stream of stars.
Why, then, have no Japanese stars been atop the WWE the way Americans like Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody became major stars over there? The language difference is an easy fix. Stick a guy with a manager or have him be a silent, brooding type.
The biggest barriers between Japanese wrestlers and WWE success have been WWE misusage, a difference in styles and a lack of reason for them to leave their homeland. Eventually, someone will break through all of these and raise a WWE World title above their head in victory.
Worlds Apart in Terms of Style
Their origin may be the same, but WWE and Japanese wrestling are strikingly dissimilar.
In many ways, the Japanese version of the product leans more toward authenticity. Wrestlers perform more dangerous moves and strike harder for the sake of realism.
Watch Toshiaki Kawada nail Mitsuharu Misawa with the Kawada Driver for cringe-worthy evidence of the former.
For men used to being allowed to dish out this kind of punishment, how difficult a transition must it be to go to a company that has banned the piledriver? The same can be said for the striking element of the sport.
Japanese wrestlers coming over to Vince McMahon's company are going to have to tone down their stiffness. WWE's violence is lot more controlled, a lot more restrained.
What may get a Japanese star past this barrier is how much time WWE wrestlers are working in Japan. Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, Tensai and NXT's Adrian Neville all spent significant time working in Japan. Should more up-and-comers follow suit, Japanese stars will have more guys who can work with them right away.
Watch Bryan's chemistry against KENTA. This would make for one heck of a future WWE World title match.
A History of Squandering
The list of Japanese stars who didn't pan out stateside is long.
Hakushi, Tiger Mask, Ultimo Dragon, Tajiri and many others have had disappointing WWE runs. Chalk it up partially to a lack of connection with American audiences but also to WWE just not knowing what to do with these guys.
For so long, WWE turned too quickly to ethnic stereotypes to provide gimmicks.
If a wrestler came from Japan, his gimmick was that he was Japanese. Playing some Japanese music and sticking a Japanese flag on a dude's tights is not character development. Where are the motivations and nuances that the American and Canadian wrestlers have?
How did WWE distinguish between Funaki, Tajiri, Taka Michinoku and Yoshi Tatsu? For the most part, they came off as the same guy despite how vastly different each of them are.
Recently, WWE has corrected this pattern with other nationalities. Wade Barrett's gimmick is not related to his English-ness. WWE certainly plays up Sheamus' Irish-ness, bu it has added much more to his persona. In the '80s and early '90s, Sheamus might have been called The Giant Leprechaun and carried a pot of gold to the ring.
Should WWE apply this same shift toward more developed characters to Japanese talent, then there will undoubtedly be a breakout star at some point.
Kazuchika Okada is a robe-wearing, bling-having destroyer of men. He's exactly the type of star who would translate to WWE audiences if the company doesn't stick him at the bottom rungs and have him flounder.
No Motivation to Leave
Japanese baseball players come to major league teams in the U.S. because of the bloated contracts and because MLB is a collection of the world's best players.
Japanese wrestlers don't have the same motivation. WWE is the biggest wrestling company in the world, but it's not necessarily the best. When one can choose from New Japan Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah, why would one bolt for WWE?
Guys toiling in the indies in America will happily leave a life of struggle for the brighter horizon that is WWE. Japan's best wrestlers aren't starving and aren't performing in high school gyms.
There is little motivation to leave the comfort of one's home country to go to a company that has historically been unable to make a star out of a Japanese wrestler. Personal connections and a long string of zeros can change that.
Should WWE see a talent it thinks will be a moneymaker for the company, it's easy to imagine Triple H heading over there to negotiate a deal. It's then logical to think that WWE would want that big star to be a top guy, perhaps one day challenging for a world title.
If it hasn't happened yet, it likely won't happen anytime soon, but there are firsts for everything.
There was a time when an African-American had never held a major championship. There was a time when someone as small as Shawn Michaels would never be considered for that spot. If someone told you 20 years ago that a vegan would be world champ for over three months, you would have laughed at them.
Japan is teeming with talent. Eventually, one of the country's stars is going to find himself in WWE with a fanbase behind him as he zeroes in on history.
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