2020 was a strange year for professional wrestling, wasn’t it? The lack of crowds was the most obvious symptom of the industry having to adapt to survive in the wake of a global pandemic. But it goes a lot deeper than that – wrestlers, officials, and production companies having restrictions on travel had a major impact, especially in the independent wrestling scene. A lot of companies were unable to confidently provide a secure space for their workers, and others had their hand tipped by local laws and guidelines, meaning a lot of shows have been postponed or cancelled indefinitely. This was NJoA (New Japan of America) in 2020.
The major companies weren’t immune to the impact coronavirus had on the sport. Many found innovative ways to do overcome obstacles – say what you will about Wrestlemania 36, but it’s testament to WWE’s desire to the adage of “the show must go on” that they accomplished what they did. Some decided not to take the risk, and suspended activity.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) was one of those, taking a hiatus between the end of February and the middle of June. This was especially frustrating for many NJPW fans as 2020 was to see the launch of New Japan Pro-Wrestling of America (NJoA), announced in October 2019.
Despite this, NJoA had an eventful year with key tours and the debut of their flagship television show. If you missed any of it, don’t worry – here’s a recap of some of the key moments during NJoA 2020.
The New Beginning In USA 2020
NJPW kicked off the expansion with The New Beginning In USA tour. Broadcast on NJPW World, the five-show tour acted as an official introduction to the on/off 2020 that was NJoA, following the three-date 2019 NJPW tour.
The IWGP Tag Team Championships were the focal point of the tour. FinJuice (David Finlay and Juice Robinson) won the 2019 World Tag League and defeated Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) on night two of Wrestle Kingdom 14 to capture the titles.
Both teams featured in the main event of all five shows, even if it wasn’t planned – Tag 4 started as FinJuice against Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi but was re-started after a disqualification finish, becoming an eight-man tag with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Rocky Romero joining FinJuice against Owens, Takahashi, and G.O.D.
Bullet Club didn’t fare too well over the tour, losing every match they appeared in – until the main event of Tag 5 when G.O.D. (with Jado at ringside) defeated FinJuice to re-claim the IWGP Tag Team Championships.
The tour also saw action for legendary tag team The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson). The six-man tag match with Alex Zayne against Toru Yano, Colt Cabana, and Rocky Romero from Tag 3 is worth checking out.
Unfortunately, the planned appearance of Kota Ibushi on the tour was cancelled the day before the tour due to illness.
Lion’s Break Collision
The Lion’s Gate Project is NJPW’s “developmental” branch, aimed at providing a showcase for Dojo trainees and “outsider” wrestlers, as well as people returning from injuries. The Lion’s Break Project was announced as the NJoA version of this project, with a debut four-week series – recorded in June at what would become the home of NJPW Strong. the Oceanville Pavilion in California – airing weekly throughout July 2020 on NJPW World and Fite TV.
This gave an example of what to expect from NJoA in 2020, showcasing a mixture of “traditional” NJPW Puroresu with “American” pro-wrestling. Two of the Young Lions, Alex Coughlin, and Clark Connors, impressed in a ten-minute time-limit draw. Karl Fredericks graduated from Young Lion’s status after a heavy-hitting tag team match with TJP against Jeff Cobb and Rocky Romero. We also saw debuts for Rust Taylor, Danny Limelight, The DKC, and “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. The main standout matches are the tag match mentioned above, Tom Lawlor vs Rocky Romero, and Karl Fredericks vs Jeff Cobb.
A month after Lion’s Break Collision, on August 7, 2020, NJPW Strong, the new flagship television show of NJoA, debuted. The Lion’s Break Collision series had Chris Charlton and Gino Gambino joining Kevin Kelly on commentary. But for Strong, Alex Koslov replaced these two alongside Kelly. This not only helped set Strong’s identity apart from the English language commentary on other NJPW shows, but it also helped provide a more familiar setup for American audiences who are more used to having the same people calling the action regularly.
Despite only being five months old, Strong has already played host to several specials, including the New Japan Cup USA, Lion’s Break Crown, and the 2020 Super J Cup.