NJPW president Harold Meij talks G1 Supercard, Kenny Omega, New Japan’s global expansion

first_imgSecond is the whole global expansion. Having people from all over the world see our style of wrestling more. And when I say, what is our style, I talk a little bit about it. But it’s not just the body, or the moves and all that, but it’s also the soul. If you look at a wrestler like Shibata, for example, he is one of those epitomes of being body and soul? That’s what we want to portray even more.Third, we want to start doing more to recruit the next generation of fans. We already have done a lot with getting women to come and watch our shows. But I want to do much more, especially with kids, and I believe that they have a lot of potential to see what real wrestling is like.ROH & NJPW present G1 Supercard on Saturday, April 6 from sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York City. The historic event airs LIVE at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on traditional pay-per-view and streaming FREE for all HonorClub members. HonorClub content can be streamed via the ROH and FITE app and at ROHHonorClub.com. The landscape of professional wrestling in the United States has changed over the past decade as the WWE is no longer the only show in town. With social media and the Internet making pro wrestling more accessible than ever, fans are able to get a taste of promotions aside from the House that Vince McMahon built. One of those promotions is New Japan Pro Wrestling. Although founded in 1972 by the legendary Antonio Inoki, the promotion has seen a rise in attention from American audiences over the past decade with arguably it’s biggest year taking place in 2018 when Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada clashed in a trio of matches that will go down as arguably the best in the history of the business. That series, combined with NJPW’s G1 Specials in the United States and an ongoing working relationship with Ring of Honor has brought the promotion into prominence.  Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearOn April 6, New Japan and Ring of Honor will host their first event at the legendary Madison Square Garden during WrestleMania weekend with the G1 Supercard. The stacked card, which will air live at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on pay-per-view and will also stream for HonorClub members via the ROH and FITE.tv app, has drawn a great deal of attention from wrestling fans and is NJPW’s latest effort in global expansion. Leading the charge is Dutch businessman Harold “H.G.” Meij, who was appointed as the president of the promotion in May of 2018. With a background in business and former Senior Vice President of Coca-Cola Japan and the first foreigner to lead a first-section listed Japanese company as the former CEO of Tomy, Meij has a great deal of experience in global expansion. It also helps that he loves pro wrestling. In this exclusive conversation with Sporting News, Meij discusses his origins, taking NJPW global, how losing Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks affected the company, whether NJPW will ever have a women’s division and the meteoric rise of Jay White as IWGP Heavyweight champion. WRESTLEMANIA 35Match card | Schedule | Buy PPV & ticketsSN: What are your earliest memories of pro wrestling? I understand that it helped you in your language development as well.Harold Meij: I was born in Holland, and obviously, I am Dutch. I came to Japan, when I was eight years old, back in the early ’70s. And you have to realize that, if you think Japanese or people in Japan don’t speak English now, 40 years ago, nobody spoke English.And when I arrived in Japan, I went to International School, so everything was in English. Now, obviously, I didn’t speak a word of English or Japanese at that time. I remember watching TV in Japan with my father and we couldn’t understand any of the programs that we watched But there was only one program that we could understand, and that was pro wrestling, because frankly you don’t need a language understanding, to be able to watch and enjoy pro wrestling.SN Q&A: Rob Van Dam talks return to Impact Wrestling, Vince McMahon, moreWe didn’t have pro wrestling in Holland, so it was a very unique experience to see these men fighting each other in a ring. Also, it gave me the opportunity to watch with my father, so it was actually a bonding session.It was also a real introduction to Japan. I could see how the Japanese people loved pro wrestling.It did help my language ability, as well, because you tried to understand what’s going on. Not just in the fighting, but with some of the commentaries as well. That actually became part of my development.I’m lucky to say that I speak, read and write Japanese much better than even I speak English. And thanks, in part, of being exposed to pro wrestling at such a young age.SN: Your journey to NJPW is an interesting one that saw you come to the United States for college and then entered the world of international business. HG: After I graduated from university in United States, I thought I should go back into Japan because I spoke the language and understand the culture. I thought I could help the companies by becoming a bridge between Western and Eastern thinking.I joined Heineken here in Japan and did that for about three years. I then moved from Heineken to Unilever for more than 10 years before joining Sunstar, which is the largest oral care company in Japan, in an effort to help them globalize. From there, I was the head of marketing, and later, the head of sales for Coca Cola Japan before becoming the CEO of Tomy in 2014. I was the first foreigner ever to run a listed Japanese company.MORE: 10 great moments that define WrestleMania like no otherWhen it was time for me to move on, Mr. Kidani, the owner of New Japan Pro Wrestling called me. We already knew each other from being in the same industry and he knew that I was a big pro wrestling fan, so much so, that I remember that, during our annual strategy sessions with all the employees at Takara Tomy I would use pro wrestling entrance music when I came onstage. I thought Mr. Kidani was calling me because I had been using his music without permission. But it was the exact opposite. He was actually really happy how much I loved pro wrestling, and we started talking, and he said, “You know, we really wanted to win more with New Japan, and it would be awesome if you could run the company.”But frankly, when I was offered that position, I had second thoughts. The reason why is because I love it so much, once you love something this much, it’s a little different than just enjoying it as a consumer.But I also saw that New Japan had a lot of potential to grow and they could use my expertise in branding, risk management, PR, media, etc. , all these things that we didn’t really have, as just a company operating more or less in Japan, with most of the sales based on either ticket sales, and/or merchandising.SN: Give me some insight on your day to day. You’ve been there for almost a year now, but what does your day to day look like with New Japan, for those who don’t know?HG: One of the key things that I’ve been focusing on is to make sure that the fans, that I establish a bond with the fans. Because, at the end of the day, pro wrestling is all about being understood and loved by the fans. It’s been a shock that a foreigner is running New Japan despite me being here for almost 40 years. But I want everyone to know that I’m striving for the betterment of New Japan. I spend time doing media as well as a lot of behind the scenes work with branding, hiring and training. SN: There’s been a lot of talk about the expansion and we have seen those efforts over the past year with the G1 Specials in the United States. What’s next?  HG: We are trying to do more internationally. We’re going to more here in Japan, there’s going to be more PR, we’re going to be doing different business models, all kinds of things. And international expansion is certainly one of them. And to do that, one of the thins that I’m trying to invest in also is creating that emotional bound with fans on a global basis.if you look at a pro wrestling match, I always say it’s like watching the last 10 minutes of a movie, the climax scene. For example, if you watch the last 10 minutes of Star Wars, it’s about blowing up the Death Star. But an hour and 50 minutes before that battle scene, it’s all about how you create the emotional bond with the wrestlers, and this emotional bond is something that we’ve created in Japan, but we’re not being able to do so much overseas yet, because of the language barrier.Even though our wrestlers Tweet, it’s all in Japanese. So non-Japanese-speaking fans overseas don’t have that automatic emotional bond that they do here in Japan. That’s why we’re starting to invest into an International Department, which is predominantly English-speaking.MORE: Bully Ray on Ring of Honor’s MSG debut: A lot of guys are in for a good, rude awakening’SN: The G1 Supercard appears to be the most ambitious plan for expansion into the U.S. What does this moment mean for the company? HG: We thought that would be an ideal situation to give back even more to the fans. Because we wanted to make it a great fan enjoyable wrestling weekend. We’re very thankful for the reactions that we’ve gotten. And we are just as excited, if not more, than the fans globally. Madison Square Garden is such a prestigious venue and this is also great for our wrestlers. SN: Can you talk about working with NJPW booker Gedo and his ability to put storylines together?HG: We don’t discuss that portion of the business, I’m afraid.SN: Do you see yourselves as competition for the WWE or simply an alternative?HG: With WWE or any other promotion, we’re all trying to do the same thing. And that is to promote the wonderfulness of what wrestling is. Now we do it in different ways, because the different promotions have different styles, different traditions, history, and they are different. But we have worked with several promotions in our long 47-year history, and we like to coexist with everyone who wants to work with us. But it does have to do with whether the styles and traditions are similar to what we have.SN: I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Elite and the formation of All Elite Wrestling. Were you aware that they were starting their own promotion upon leaving NJPW?HG: There was quite a lot of rumors and buzz already going around, almost a year ago. Starting your own promotion in this industry, takes a lot. I commend them for doing that. And it can only be good for the industry. Now, I know you’re also wanting to ask if we are open to working with AEW. And as I’ve said, our history has always been working with different promotions, both in and out of Japan. It’s just that AEW is a new promotion. They haven’t had any matches yet. I don’t know what their philosophy or what their style is going to be.We need to see that before being able to say whether or not it matches our style or philosophy when it comes to the content of wrestling. We’re very welcoming. I just need to see that first.MORE: ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard matches, date, start time, location, rumorsSN: Kenny Omega’s departure was arguably one of the biggest stories in pro wrestling, how have you dealt with the loss? HG: Kenny was an integral part of this promotion. If he stayed, I think we really could have worked even closer with him.  We give our talent more creative freedom, I think. We work with the wrestlers to be able to use those creative outlets, and he’s had that within New Japan. And we thought we could do even more. So, yeah, it’s … in that sense, I’m very sad to see him go, to be honest. But, again, it’s part of the business.SN: Jay White is your new IWGP champion and his ascent has been astronomical in terms of how quickly he became the top guy. Do you see him as the future of New Japan?HG: Well, there’s many ways to look at the future stars, if you will, of New Japan. Because we have so many different types of talents, and I want to focus on three particular buckets, if you will. And the first one has to be the Young Lions, because it’s quite unique for our promotion, in that we have this dojo system, which is quite unique for a wrestling promotion. When we train the Young Lions, not just physically, but also mentally. We turn these guys into men. Jay White went through that system. Some Young Lions go on a more expedited career path. He’s gone places with speeds that have been unheard of. So yeah, we look very much forward to seeing how far he can take that.SN: What can you tell us about the Wrestle Kingdom being two shows at the Tokyo Dome next year?HG: Wrestle Kingdom is the epitome of our year. In other words, it’s the conclusion of whatever’s happened in that past year. And having two consecutive Tokyo Domes has never been done before in the company. We’re very fortunate in that, A, it’s a Saturday and a Sunday. B, that it’s the Olympic year, so there’s going to be a lot of focus on sports and Japan as a whole, and just like the G1 Supercard at MSG, it’s one of those moments in Japanese wrestling history that we want to make the best of. You’re going to be seeing some things there, that I don’t think we’ve seen before.SN: Has there been talk of having a women’s division in NJPW?HG: Yeah, there has been. It keeps coming up all the time and we don’t really know where to start. Because I don’t know, frankly, where the boundaries are. Once you start having a Women’s Division, what do you do with the men’s one? Do you mix them or not? Do you treat them as separate entities, but everybody knows it’s run by the same company, is that believable? It raises so many questions, that in, so far, we are not comfortable with.SN: What is the proverbial next level for NJPW?HG: One is that we’re going to make a lot of investments in technology. There’s going to be much more things done with languages and much more things done with lights and sound. We want to do much better with the viewer experience because not all fans can come to a show. So we have to be able to provide to them through our app, which has a lot of room for improvement. last_img

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