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WWE signs Japanese wrestler Yamamoto as part of building Japanese business
TOKYO (AP) — World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. has signed Japanese wrestler Naofumi Yamamoto as part of a push to build its business in Japan.
The U.S. sports and entertainment company concluded a multiyear contract with the former New Japan Pro-Wrestling star, and his visa was recently approved, WWE Japan executive Ed Wells said Tuesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The signing is part of the WWE’s tradition of having a Japanese wrestler on its roster, Wells said. WWE already has one Japanese wrestler, 40-year-old Shoichi Funaki.
Yamamoto begins training as early as this month at Florida Championship Wrestling, a facility for developing WWE wrestlers, with Steve Keirn, Tom Prichard and other former pro wrestlers turned trainers.
Yamamoto’s deal is a “development contract,” Wells said and it is when he will make his debut on a WWE show.
WWE checks monitor his progress to decide when he is ready and where he fits in the WWE, which produces the TV shows Raw, SmackDown and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling).
“We are thrilled about adding another Japanese talent to our developmental roster and look forward to his speedy and successful development,” Wells said.
WWE’s blend athleticism and acting with soap-opera story-lines commands a largely niche following in Japan, which has long had its own version of professional wrestling.
WWE, based in Stamford, Connecticut, opened its Japan office this year — its only overseas office devoted to a single nation — to spearhead a major marketing campaign in what it says is a critical market.
Earlier this month, it held a SummerSlam Festival in Tokyo, a pay-per-view event that also included opportunities to take snapshots with guest wrestlers and buy WWE memorabilia.