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This Thursday will be the first time that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) face off at E3. It won’t be in a wrestling ring. It won’t be in a ladder match exhibition. Hell, it won’t even be inside a boiler room. It’s WWE vs. NJPW in Capcom’s booth for Street Fighter V. The combatants — WWE’s The New Day against New Japan’s The Golden Elite. The teams are captained by gaming gurus and superstar wrestlers, Xavier Woods and Kenny Omega.

It's the WWE vs. NJPW at E3 2018!

Round 1. Fight!

Both men grew up as avid gamers. In Woods’ case, he attributed his success to video games as they gave him the confidence needed to socialize, as well as to perform in front of live crowds. This led to starting his own YouTube channel, UpUpDownDown. It’s a platform for other wrestlers to dish out inside scoops about their personal lives all while playing games. Oh, and they do have their own mini-tournaments. Instead of playing for prize pools, they’re taking “punishments” like eating cinnamon or losing replicas of their championship belts.

UpUpDownDown is Woods’ love letter to gaming and it has become a successful venture with over 1.5 million subscribers. Where else can you find fan-favorite females such as Sasha Banks and Bayley squaring off in Injustice 2 — loser eats pepper and hot sauce? How about Randy Orton unboxing his OJO Projector for the Nintendo Switch? Or Big Show dishing out his thoughts on Destiny and his disdain for Titans? The channel isn’t all just clowning around; here’s Woods interviewing one of the greatest players in League of Legends history, “Misaya.”

WWE Superstar Sasha Banks

WWE Superstar Cesaro

The old days

Woods is right at the forefront of a new WWE, one which is “young,” “hip,” and “cool.” This is a far cry from the old days of the territories in the ’70s and ’80s or even the Attitude Era of the ’90s. In those days, pro wrestling was an extremely protected business. For many decades, the industry defined itself by its characters, storylines, and “good vs. evil / face vs. heel” alignments. Wrestlers were expected to stay in “kayfabe,” or play their onscreen characters even when off TV. This meant that the stylin’ and profilin’ Ric Flair went around in a limo and The Iron Shiek really hated everything that America stood for. Performers had to “live the gimmick,” lest viewers find out that wrestling is scripted.

Back then, the locker room was comprised of beefy men playing cards and smoking cigars. The drugs, sex, and alcohol made for a rock-and-roll lifestyle. Today’s locker room, however, it seems everyone is geeking out and playing video games. It’s not even surprising anymore to find wrestlers who own a Nintendo Switch; the handheld is the perfect companion for a life on the road.

We never heard of The Undertaker playing Dig Dug while digging graves in a cemetery. We never thought of Hulk Hogan or Sgt. Slaughter taking out bad guys in Contra. We never saw Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock play a First Blood match in WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw. But we’ve seen Cesaro eagerly playing Clash Royale and sharing his tips. We’ve watched AJ Styles get beaten and frustrated in Madden. And we’ve been amazed when MMA star Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson dropped by to nerd out for Dragon Ball FighterZ.

A new challenger approaches

Woods is challenging the status quo by completely revamping what being a WWE superstar means outside of the ring. With today’s technological means of connecting and socializing, he brings together wrestling’s superstars and their legions of fans. He’s also bridging the gap between the wrestling world and the gaming industry. For instance, he’s helped organize the “WWE x IGN” event for the UK’s MCV awards last year. The exhibition was WWE’s first official step in embracing esports, and it featured wrestlers teaming up or battling esports pros in exhibition matches for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite.

In delving into esports, Woods also ended up challenging Kenny Omega, New Japan’s gaijin, and former leader of The Bullet Club — perhaps the most famous pro wrestling stable in the present day. The two first faced off in CEO 2016’s Street Fighter V exhibition, with Omega trouncing Woods in front of a raucous crowd. The following year, Woods once again issued a challenge, this time during the Tekken 7 “Royal Rumble.” The friendship and rivalry between the two extended beyond competitive fighting games. They bickered and egged each other on even when they listed down their favorite games for our friends over at Giantbomb.

The collaboration reached new heights when Final Fight’s Cody was announced for Street Fighter V. Omega portrayed the character in the live action trailer, and Woods was the mysterious person speaking to him on the phone. The live crowd was completely surprised since no one expected wrestlers to be part of video game reveals.

Head-to-head at E3

This Thursday at E3 is not just going to be a 1v1 exhibition, oh no, it’s going to be a full-on 3v3 tag match. Xavier Woods will be teaming up with stablemates from The New Day — Big E and Kofi Kingston. This is already a major advantage for WWE as Kingston is one of the best gamers in the entire locker room.

Kenny Omega, meanwhile, will be flanked by none other than his friends Matt and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks, and part of The Golden Elite. Wrestling’s subreddit r/Squaredcircle has gone “bananas” with the announcement. It’s also a special treat since Omega just won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship last Saturday at NJPW’s Dominion event after a grueling 70-minute 2-out-of-3-falls match. The Young Bucks also captured the IWGP Tag Team Championship on the same night.

The WWE rarely does crossover events. If they were to do crossovers, it would be with smaller promotions in the independent scene. Larger promotions, though, were largely ignored or even scoffed at. New Japan Pro Wrestling, however, is different. The successes of WWE performers from the Japanese promotion are regularly cited on TV. Even the Omega v Woods saga is mentioned on the WWE’s official website, and fans are encouraged to tune in.

For reference, WWE’s latest article even has this particular paragraph:

Will Omega, the self-proclaimed “Best Bout Machine,” unleash the V-Trigger on his way to a six-star Street Fighter classic before saying goodbye and goodnight to his rivals? Will The Young Bucks make Ken and Ryu put on a virtual superkick party? Or will The New Day serve up a heaping helping of humble pancakes to their rivals and prove that though Omega & The Bucks may be elite in the ring, when it comes to Street Fighter, they’re just booty?

Keep it tight

I never thought I’d see the day when a world champion for a major wrestling promotion would be at E3, or that WWE would mention him by name. All of this to inform wrestling aficionados to tune in for a gaming exhibition match.

The teams will battle for Street Fighter V supremacy this Thursday at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT. You can catch the coverage from our sister site Destructoid, as well as on UpUpDownDown. If you need more reasons to get hyped, just watch Woods cut a promo to introduce The New Day as his squadmates for E3 and The Young Bucks’ subsequent reply to the challenge right below.

Woods will also be part of Fortnite’s Celebrity Pro-Am tournament, where he teams up with streamer CDNThe3rd. You can watch the event on Tuesday starting 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT via Twitch and other streaming services.

There’s nothing cooler than seeing wrestlers show how much they love video games. After all, who better to bridge the gap between traditional sports and esports than athletes themselves?

[Images courtesy of WWE.com and NJPWWorld.com]