Is Tony Khan setting up a major invasion angle with New Japan? Here’s the list of indications that this just might be happening

By Chris Lansdell, PWTorch contributor


Like its U.S. ally, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is colder than Minneapolis in March right now. The company lost its cornerstone star in Kazuchika Okada, and arguably the best wrestler in the world today in Will Ospreay, within a very short span. To rub salt in the wound, both men signed with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), ostensibly a promotion with whom they are supposed to be working. The suddenness of these massive departures caught NJPW with their proverbial pants down, as they had not finished building their next generation of stars.

But what if they didn’t actually lose them? What if Okada, Ospreay, and maybe even Jay White are “sleeper agents” who are still working in the best interests of NJPW? Their goal in AEW? Accumulate titles, make themselves the biggest stars in the company… and then take the next plane back to Tokyo. Is this a stretch? Yes. Am I speculating like crazy? Also yes. Am I going to look like a genius if this actually comes to pass?

I am far too humble to answer that. (Absolutely yes.)

To be clear, nothing I am about to say should be considered factual. I am not reporting that this is the plan. I have no inside information. I’m just a 35-plus-year wrestling fan who listens between the lines and is prone to flights of fancy.

This is not just idle speculation, though. There are nuggets of supporting evidence that lead me to think that there’s a larger invasion angle at play here. Let’s look at the evidence:

Tony Khan loves to revisit history

Invasion angles have been tried dozens of times in pro wrestling history. The only national-scale one that succeeded to any degree was the NWO “invasion” of WCW. We know that Tony Khan is a savant when it comes to wrestling history, dating back to his days on the RSPW newsgroups (Google it, kids). As a former denizen of that place myself, I know the kind of people who frequented it. Tony has shown that he loves his wrestling history, and that he loves to try to redo things that failed for others. I am comfortable saying that Tony Khan would greatly enjoy reading tweets praising him for being the first person to successfully book an invasion angle.

Tony Khan enjoys a long-term story

When AEW came about, Khan said he knew his first four world champions. We haven’t heard anything in a similar vein since then, but it would be naive to think he has not been trying to book something major for the long-term.

The first Forbidden Door happened in 2022. Since then, we have seen Jay White, Kazuchika Okada, Katsuyori Shibata, Kota Ibushi, Aussie Open, Mercedes Moné, and Will Ospreay sign with AEW. Ibushi and Shibata did not leave on the best of terms and can likely be left out of this discussion, but what if the others were being drizzled in slowly to establish a foothold in AEW? It would explain why each of them has seemed to chase a different title without really crossing paths with each other.

NJPW has unquestionably got the raw end of the deal so far

Compare the talent that has been exchanged. Okada, Ospreay, White, Tomohiro Ishii, Jeff Cobb, Shingo Takagi, Zack Sabre Jr, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Minoru Suzuki… all notable names from NJPW who have made the trip to the U.S. (or Canada) for Forbidden Door. An event which, mind you, has never taken place in Japan. Some of them have been over outside that event, too.

Meanwhile, the only notable names to go the other direction have been Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, and Bryan Danielson. At a stretch we could include Eddie Kingston (wrestled in the G1 but more as a favor to him than as a talent exchange) and Claudio Castagnoli (not really a big name, but arguably on a level with Ishii). Khan sent Wheeler Yuta and Blake Christian over for two separate Best of the Super Juniors tournaments, and Gates of Agony for World Tag League. Konosuke Takeshita will compete this year, but the scales still do not balance.

NJPW is a proud organization with wealthy and well-connected backers and a rich history. It seems remarkably unlikely that the company would accept a deal that is so heavily and blatantly lopsided. This is closely tied to the next point…

NJPW is aware of the perception and has commented on it

In a recent press conference to review the first six months of Tanahashi as president of the company, NJPW owner Takaaki Kidani had this to say:

Having said that, there is the perception that NJPW is treated as a sub brand or is looked down on by AEW. Some of that perception of NJPW being behind comes from the economics at the moment. But the truth of the matter is, AEW’s strengths and NJPW’s strengths are different. From development of talent from scratch, to a historical and traditional perspective, there’s a lot NJPW can offer that AEW cannot. So there’s a lot that we can do together and while much of it isn’t something we can discuss right now, there’s a lot we will do. But the idea that NJPW is the inferior partner is not correct. We are absolutely on an even footing, and that’s something we’ll prove in the near future.

That is some pretty clear foreshadowing, folks. Something is coming, and it will elevate the perception of New Japan as far as their relationship with AEW is concerned. Well, this theory would certainly do that.

It’s a massive swerve that would drive interest in both products

When you are behind, sometimes you have to consolidate your resources before making a big push. An angle that creates an alien faction within AEW that is rarely on TV (because they are in Japan) would, hopefully, make viewers seek out both promotions. The concept of a swerve has had a bad rap since Vince Russo started talking about them, but ultimately a good storyline twist is essential to keep people interested. I think this qualifies.

New Japan talent has been complaining about the IWGP Title situation on social media

A few months ago, Gabe Kidd cut a promo on a New Japan show that was distinctly anti-NJPW management. He complained loudly and with great passion (read: swearing and questionable allusions) about how AEW was taking NJPW to the cleaners. A few people said at the time that this would lead to a push for Kidd, with him leading the NJPW troops into battle at Forbidden Door.

Now that Moxley is the IWGP Champion, more and more wrestlers have rallied to the cause, with many taking to social media to complain about absentee champions and U.S. wrestlers getting title shots despite never having been to Japan, let alone working there.

NJPW is incredibly hierarchical. It’s so rare to see talent speaking out at all, let alone to this degree. Everything is tightly controlled, and that includes what the talent say and do outside of the ring. That control is heightened for younger talent. The likes of Shota Umino and Yota Tsuji talked about a champion being on every Japanese show. What better way to do that than by bringing extra gold home with them?

But is this actually likely?

Of course, there are plenty of reasons this won’t happen. Chief among them is the fear of people turning off AEW in droves because their titles are gone. It would require a level of cooperation and trust that we just have not seen in professional wrestling, and that at a time when WWE is working with TNA and Pro Wrestling Noah to some degree. NJPW has shown an almost petulant side when it comes to former talent, and it would be a big shift for them to work with people who signed contracts elsewhere.

There’s also the issue of timing. Forbidden Door would seem to be the perfect place to set this into motion, but that would lead to an ostensibly-heel Ospreay in Wembley Stadium. That will not work. You could start the invasion without Ospreay and add him later, or you can keep him out of it entirely, but he’s a champion and could be a double champion by Monday morning. He is the single-biggest fly in the ointment.

Ultimately I would put the chances of this happening somewhere around 40 percent. It would be entertaining, it would capture the attention of curious wrestling fans who have changed the channel from AEW, and it would instantly elevate the profile of NJPW in North America.

RECOMMENDED NEXT: AEW DYNAMITE RESULTS (6/26): Keller’s report on Jay White vs. Rey Fenix, Ospreay & Swerve vs. Gates of Agony, plus MJF, Mercedes, Garcia, Forbidden Door hype

OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: AEW media call report: Tony Khan speaks with the pro wrestling media ahead of Sunday’s AEW Forbidden Door pay-per-view

LISTEN (podcast) or WATCH (on YouTube) our AEW Dynamite post-show including an appearance by the author of this column, PWTorch’s Chris Lansdell who is the cohost of the new “Seven-Star Podcast” with Kelly Wells focused on New Japan Pro Wrestling.

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