In the 1990s WCW had a partnership with New Japan where wrestlers such as The Great Muta and Jushin Thunder Liger would work both in the States and in their home countries.
After the formation of the nWo, WCW attempted to get a licensing deal in New Japan to sell their products. The nWo Japan was taking off over in New Japan and the wrestlers who were a part of that group wanted some of the profits of those sales. However, as Eric Bischoff told it, New Japan kept all of the money and didn't share any with the nWo Japan wrestlers.
"I'm going to lay down some s**t with you right now, and this is awesome. This is some inside, baseball s**t here on this very topic," Bischoff said on his podcast. "I just became aware of this last month when I was in Japan. Rather than trying to manage a licensing deal in a foreign country, in order to manage a licensing deal there has to be a process in place. It is not impossible and it was something that we were working towards, so some of the things that we did early on that were especially something like this that was so outside the norm we had to figure it out and make it work.
"Sonny Onoo was in the middle of this. What Sonny Ono did, because he is fluent in Japanese, and was working really closely with New Japan management, so we decided that the best way to handle nWo merchandise was for us to sell the merch directly and ship it to them with a markup. Very simple, not complicated... That way there is no accounting, there is no audits. We would know exactly how much stuff we are shipping, they know what they are getting."
Bischoff says that's all he knew about the nWo licensing in Japan for so long until he went to Japan recently and met with some people who worked in New Japan at this time.
"I heard this on my most recent trip to Japan when I was meeting with people who were formally in the office of New Japan, they are the ones who shared all of this with me. They were marking it up, but The Great Muta and Masahiro Chono were not getting a lick of it. They weren't making a dime. New Japan was keeping all of the money," revealed Bischoff.
"Now, this is what I just learned, and I don't want to incriminate people by name or I just interpreted it as 100 percent accurate. But my understanding is that Masawa Ohtori previously was negotiating those types of deals. He was based in the United States, lived in New York City I believe before I came along or Sonny Onoo came along as the deal breaker in WCW. Ohtori would do the same thing but he would pocket some of the money and stiff some of the talent."
When Bischoff and Onoo entered the picture with the markup for New Japan, that cut Ohtori out of the picture and he was no longer raking in millions of dollars.
"That is when, not that I understand the talent relationship with New Japan and how they handle licensing and merchandising so I'm not going to speak on it, but that is when I think Chono and Muta, but really driven by Chono, decided to try and come up with their own merchandise so that they can get a cut of it," stated Bischoff. "Chono was a really smart man by the way, his wife was in the clothing business. Chono now owns a store out in Ginza, Japan which is the most expensive real estate per square foot in the world. And now he has a clothing store selling nWo merchandise because he bought the licensing rights from the WWE."
Bischoff says this led to a transition away from nWo merchandise because the New Japan roster wasn't getting a cut of the profits.
"The talent thought that Sonny Onoo was pocketing the money, but Sonny wasn't pocketing any money," said Bischoff. "The checks that New Japan wrote did not go to Sonny Onoo and then to come to WCW. The invoice went from WCW to New Japan and the check came from New Japan to WCW. There was no middle man involved that was able to pocket any of the money, but it sure sounds like a great conspiracy theory. It got everyone wound up and caused serious issues because of it but that was because people weren't being transparent within their own company."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.