It wouldn’t be apt to compare wrestling or wrestling companies to major sports leagues in how they deal with those accused of domestic abuse or sexual assault, though the usual balloon-handed nature of it certainly looks similar. There are definite, top-level sports leagues that could enact any number of rules or protocols that would cause us to never hear from those players again. Wrestlers are independent contractors, and even if the biggest companies were to wash their hands of the worst, they could find a home somewhere. It’s much more like the entertainment world, where you can always find a stage or script (or Emmy, if you’re Louis CK).
But much like sports, how the biggest companies handle wrestlers accused of abuse and what they’ve been accused of or have done depends on how much they mean to them. That is definitely where the two differing arenas run parallel. If you’re Matt Riddle or Theory or Darby Allin, you’ll face no consequences whatsoever and will remain at the top of your respective company’s card. If you’re Zachary Green or Patrick Clark or Jimmy Havoc, you get fired. Clearly, there are varying levels of evidence or accusations to all of them, but their place on the roster or the company was a major factor as well. (Riddle, Theory, Allin, Green, Clark, and Havoc have all denied the allegations against them).
The world’s third-biggest company, New Japan Pro Wrestling, is no different in that it will keep employing wrestlers they think are important to them and their booking. But where they are different is that while AEW or WWE will try and just ignore the accusations that follow their talent or pretend they don’t exist (and dropping first names of certain talent to make it even harder to search for), NJPW seems to at best smile and wink at what makes some fans very uncomfortable about certain wrestlers or, at worst, rub those fans’ nose in the fact that they don’t care.
It all started back in the immediate aftermath of #SpeakingOut, wrestling’s version of #TimesUp that outed a raft of wrestlers and their alleged abuses and assaults and misdeeds. Will Ospreay was one of the biggest names to be widely mentioned. Here is an excellent breakdown of everything Ospreay was accused of on Fanfyte by Emily Pratt, though Ospreay has denied the allegations against him. To sum up, while Ospreay wasn’t accused of abuse or assault himself, he was accused of getting wrestler Pollyana blacklisted because she went public with accusations of assault from another wrestler, one who was close to Ospreay. Ospreay’s accused actions are yet another example of why so many are afraid to come forward about what they’ve suffered, as they risk a career and passion they’ve dedicated their lives to. Ospreay has denied blacklisting Pollyana or any other wrongdoing.
Certainly Ospreay’s name was heavily linked to #SpeakingOut, though most would have settled for him just being lower on the card or only temporarily held off NJPW shows for a while. Instead, Ospreay was vaulted to the top of the card during 2020s G1, forming and leading his own faction, which in NJPW essentially makes you a staple member of the very main part of the roster. And that was cemented weeks later by Ospreay putting his finisher on his real-life girlfriend Bea Priestley during a post-match promo, who had only recently begun appearing with Ospreay during his matches. While neither Ospreay or Priestley were strangers to intergender matches, and had in fact wrestled each other, that is not how this was presented and NJPW didn’t have a women’s division at all much less have intergender matches (it is debuting an NJPW title for Stardom this fall, its sister all-female promotion owned by the same company, BushiRoad). This was a surprise attack on a woman, meant to show just how “evil” former babyface Ospreay had become. It was basically “fridging” Priestley, which is a bad enough look on its own but certainly worse in the immediate aftermath of the accusations against Ospreay.
Perhaps NJPW’s bookers, led by Gedo, thought enough time had passed since #SpeakingOut to double-down on this kind of abhorrent storytelling this summer. Though that would admit that they were aware or cared about it in the first place, which is doing a lot of work. Chase Owens has a fair number of accusations (he’s denied them) in his wake from #SpeakingOut, and yet he’s become a bigger and bigger part of NJPW’s shows the past year. He’s not nearly as high up in the card as Ospreay, but was a part of this year’s G1 while appearing in several other shows as a major cog in Bullet Club, still the company’s most well-known faction.
And again, it was bad enough having Owens around at all, or even guesting on commentary as he did for the English coverage of one show. But during his match with Taichi, who is always accompanied to the ring by “devotee” Miho Abe (trying to explain Taichi’s character would require a few thousand more words), Owens spent a good portion of the match demanding a kiss from Abe outside the ring and threatening her if she did not comply. What the fuck kind of look is that? Again, to have any wrestler do it at all is gross, but to have the tires to make it Owens? It almost feels like NJPW was making a special point of how much they don’t care,or even celebrate the perception of Owens.
This was hot on the heels of El Phantasmo, in the aftermath of one of his matches and walking off with Yujiro Takahashi’s valet Peiter after defeating him, had this at best awkward exchange during a promo. While the promo is probably all EL-P’s choice and work, putting him next to Pieter would have been the company’s choice, and it’s just more gas on the fire.
Over the weekend, NJPW couldn’t seem to help itself. In its American Wing, NJPW Strong, Chris Dickinson was a surprise appearance. Dickinson has been accused by two women, one was fellow wrestler Christina von Eerie, of assault, and is currently following the Johnny Depp playbook of denying allegations made against him and suing the women who accused him for defamation. He also denies the allegations. He only filed his lawsuit one month ago. Again, these stories are fresh in the mind of the wrestling world, and NJPW seems only too happy to slather itself in the notoriety no matter how distasteful.
While you can’t excuse the company’s booking of Ospreay a couple years ago, you can wearily sigh and admit defeat to “that’s just how things work for those at the top” as we’ve seen so many other places. But considering it then involved the ambush of Priestley, and then the ensuing booking of Owens and Dickinson, what exactly is going on here? Not only does NJPW not care, which is hardly surprising, but it seems to want everyone to know that not only does it not care about what follows its wrestlers, it doesn’t seem to care about accusations of of sexual assault and abuse at all, which is galling.
Deadspin reached out to NJPW for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
While one can’t “understand” the use of any of these, with Ospreay you can see NJPW’s logic that despite whatever may shroud him, he’s big business with a host of classic matches on his resume that will draw eyes for a company looking to grow its worldwide imprint all the time, It’s a tired but familiar tale. But Owens and Dickinson, aren’t nearly the stars that Ospreay is. Why are they given such a platform? Not only is NJPW uncaring about #SpeakingOut and the causes it serves, it wants to act in complete defiance of it instead of just ignorance. It is most certainly the wrong kind of playbook.