While it does seem weird for WWE to get along with a company that has actively tried to compete with them over the years, it's not the first time that WWE has schmoozed with some strange bedfellows. While WWE seems to be an all-for-one juggernaut that snuffs out any and all potential rivals, they've also understood the value of strategic alliances, be it an international affiliate, or an American promotion that they stood to gain from.
The following list will look at various wrestling promotions that WWE has forged just such an alliance with, although that isn't to say that IMPACT Wrestling will ever be as chummy as any of the following entries. Some of the companies you'll see on this list may surprise you, but there have, in fact, been agreements in place between them and WWE. And there are certainly more than 10 promotions that have worked in lockstep with the McMahons, but these are the most notable.
10. New Japan Pro Wrestling (1970s-1985)
We begin with a combination that would send enormous shockwaves through the modern industry, were there to be a link-up today. Beginning in the late 1970s, up until Halloween 1985, WWE and New Japan would periodically exchange talent, with even World Champions like Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan appearing on New Japan cards. In fact, Backlund famously lost the WWE Championship to Antonio Inoki in the fall of 1979.
The likes of Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask, and others would also appear on WWE cards in the United States, with Inoki being awarded the oft-forgotten WWE World Martial Arts title in 1978, and Fujinami and Tiger Mask carrying another old relic in the WWE Junior Heavyweight belt. The partnership would dissolve in the midst of WWE's national expansion in the mid-eighties, though both companies seem to separately be doing just fine these days.
9. Super World Of Sports (1991-92)
In April of 1990, legendary All Japan Pro Wrestling star Genichiro Tenryu broke away from the company to serve as part of the foundation of a new company. Funded by eyeglasses manufacturer Megane Super, SWS attracted talents from All Japan and New Japan alike, and would even co-promote events with WWE. This would explain why Tenryu and sumo star Koji Kitao took part in WrestleMania VII in March 1991.
Together, WWE and SWS would run major events at the Tokyo Dome (including the well-known WrestleFest card one week after the aforementioned WrestleMania), and WWE would send over some regulars to fill out the smaller shows (the Jimmy Snukas, Hakus, Warlords, and Rick Martels of the world). SWS would run its final show in June 1992.
8. USWA (1992-97)
In August 1992, weeks before SummerSlam, WWE ran a Sunday night house show in Memphis that would see Jerry Lawler and Jeff Jarrett sitting front row ringside. The angle was that the Memphis favourites were miffed that WWE would run in their town, and Jarrett even issued an open challenge to any WWE star. Jarrett would end up working a house show run in October of that year, while Lawler officially came on board as an announcer/part-time wrestler shortly after.
Throughout 1993, WWE maintained a strong presence on USWA cards, with Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, and numerous others headed south to duke it out with The King and friends. Most famously, Vince McMahon performed as a heel for the first time, sending goading promos in to be aired on USWA TV, taunting Lawler and the "redneck" fans. Over the next several years, some WWE names would pop up, but less so than in the hot 1993 run, and USWA would go under in November 1997.
7. Wrestle Association R (1992-95)
The WAR promotion in Japan (which was once known for some reason as Wrestle And Romance) surfaced after SWS' demise, with Tenryu also heading up this endeavour. Through his previous connections with McMahon, Tenryu was able to secure some WWE names for an event in September 1992, including Ric Flair, Undertaker, and Road Warrior Animal. Tenryu would take part in the 1993 Royal Rumble match, and was even slated to work WrestleMania IX as part of a working agreement, though that part fell through.
Tenryu would take part in a WWE tour of Japan in May 1994 alongside WAR regulars Nobukazu Hirai and Masashi Aoyagi, while The 123 Kid and Yokozuna would perform at a WAR card the week before WrestleMania XI in 1995. This was the last real connection between the companies before WAR's closure in 2000.
6. Smoky Mountain Wrestling (1993-95)
It was extraordinarily rare a quarter century ago for WWE to ever acknowledge another wrestling promotion on air, but Smoky Mountain would be an exception. Owner Jim Cornette and his top heel tag team The Heavenly Bodies were brought in to work an angle with The Steiner Brothers, though Cornette feared that people might interpret his WWE appearances as him leaving SMW. So in a rare concession, WWE acknowledged the existence of Smoky Mountain on WWE programming.
Over the next couple of years, there would be more crossover. The likes of The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and even Randy Savage popped up in Cornette's rasslin' territory, while the likes of Brian Lee (fake Undertaker), Chris Candido (Skip), Tammy Sytch (Sunny), and a handful of others were cherry-picked by McMahon. Smoky Mountain would close up shop in late-1995, after which Cornette would join WWE's front office.
5. ECW (1996-97)
No, not the watered down ECW brand that limped along from 2006 to 2010, but rather the actual Philadelphia-based brand of alternative wrestling. McMahon allowed ECW talents like Paul Heyman, The Sandman, and Taz to stage disruptions at WWE shows in September 1996 as a means of generating buzz, but the following year would see more direct conflict.
Famously, Jerry Lawler insulted the ECW name and tenets on a Raw broadcast in February 1997, which led to an irate Paul Heyman calling into the show to rebut. Soon after, ECW and WWE stars would cross-pollinate, with Heyman's company getting national exposure for which to promote Barely Legal, while WWE turned some heads by putting some of ECW's core rowdiness on their shows (namely Rob Van Dam's brief push as a job-hopping heel). The Lawler/ECW feud continued in August 1997, at which time Tommy Dreamer vanquished Lawler and the WWE way.
4. AAA (1996-97)
It was Jake Roberts that brought WWE to the table with Antonio Pena's AAA promotion, and both sides needed a boost: WWE wanted desperately to match the excitement of WCW's new-fangled Cruiserweight division, and Pena needed a big connection after Konnan departed months earlier, with a number of AAA talents following him. The plan was to make the 1997 Royal Rumble in San Antonio's Alamodome a joint WWE/AAA production.
In addition to putting some AAA stars in the Rumble match (Pierroth, Cibernetico, Latin Lover, and the iconic Mil Mascaras), AAA ran a few dark matches on the show, as well as a six-man tag on the main card, in which Hector Garza emerged as the standout. The co-promotion limped along after the pay-per-view, with some luchadors appearing on weekend WWE programming until the union was quietly dissolved.
3. Michinoku Pro (1997)
Once the AAA deal fizzled out, WWE joined up with a company that had made a major impact on ECW's first pay-per-view, Barely Legal. That show was stolen by a six-man tag featuring Michinoku Pro regulars, namely The Great Sasuke. WWE would bring in the masked daredevil that summer, along with kayfabe nemesis Taka Michinoku, with the two dazzling flyers looking to be the cornerstones of the new Light Heavyweight division.
Sasuke wouldn't be long for the company, as he reportedly bragged to the Japanese press that once he (the presumed winner of the inaugural tournament) would only defend the belt in Japan, and WWE quickly dissolved the agreement, parting ways with Sasuke (a story that Bruce Prichard disputes). WWE retained Taka, making him the first champion, and little else came from the tenuous agreement - save for Undertaker wrestling one of Michinoku Pro's events in October 1997, defeating Hakushi.
2. EVOLVE (2015-present)
Well, that was quite a time snap, wasn't it? Here we were discussing the acrimony between WWE and Great Sasuke, and now we're suddenly up to WWE's partnership with Gabe Sapolsky's prolific indy venture. Kids were born *and* graduated from grade school in the time between the two working relationships, which says a lot about how WWE was truly a standalone entity wrestling-wise in that duration.
A few years ago, WWE and EVOLVE came together, with several EVOLVE talents being featured in articles on WWE.com. The promotion would hold qualifiers for the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, and it was noted that Triple H and William Regal attended EVOLVE 54 the night before the 2016 Royal Rumble match. The connection is still seen today, with Velveteen Dream appearing at a pair of EVOLVE events in September 2018.
1. PROGRESS (2016-present)
Getting to hang out at the ECW Arena during PROGRESS' US tour this past summer, it really did feel like an NXT UK event, with Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Toni Storm, and a handful of others manning merch tables in the Arena lobby. The roster for the UK brand is packed to the gills with PROGRESS talents, and recent indications from The Wrestling Observer have Jim Smallman and other PROGRESS officials ultimately running the new brand.
PROGRESS, like EVOLVE, had a hand in the early stages of the Cruiserweight Classic by holding qualifiers, and obviously had fingerprints all over the UK Championship Tournament in January 2017. The partnership continues on with the UK brand, as WWE clearly values having their finger on the pulse of the wrestling scene across the Atlantic.