Imp’s NJPW Adventure
After Wrestle Kingdom There Is A New Beginning
New Japan Pro Wrestling may just be embarking upon their biggest year yet. They’ve been a big deal in Japan for while, but they’ve arguably never been more relevant in the West than they are right now. With another US show planned this year and Bullet Club trying to prove they can fill a 10,000 arena with their ‘All In’ show this September, things appear to look bright for the New Japan brand in 2018.
One thing you can bet for sure though, NJPW have already started to build towards Wrestle Kingdom 13. Okada vs Naito January 4th 2018 set up Okada vs Naito January 4th 2019 perfectly, we began to see chinks in the armour of the champion, enough easily correctable mistakes by the challenger. It was the perfect match to kickstart the next phase of their character arcs.
In order to look into the future, I’ve hired a fellow columnist to summarise the past. To quickly explain where both Okada and Naito were at going into January 4th, before I jump in and explore where 2018 appears to be taking them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you one of the columnists who’s feedback helped shape the writer I am today. I present to you… MizFan!
MizFan: What can be said about Kazuchika Okada that hasn’t already been said? Some call him the greatest wrestler in the world today, and some call him the best of all time. These claims will always be subjective, but there can be no doubt if you love the New Japan style, Okada will be one of your top guys. A pro wrestler since the age of 17, Okada spent time working both in Mexico and the US as well as Japan as he honed his skill for many years.
5 years ago, after a brief stint in TNA, Okada walked into the New Japan scene by kicking the door down, initiating a multi-year arc which would eventually see him surpass Hiroshi Tanahashi as the face of the largest promotion in Japan today, and one of the top promotions in the world. He would be right at the forefront of an explosion of critical acclaim, and along with a strong roster around him helped elevate the promotion to some of their best business ever. He is the Rainmaker, dressed in gold and fine things and entering the arenas through a literal rain of money, he has won over the people regardless of his cocky attitude through incredible performances and a powerful charismatic aura.
The shining bright face of the system, a company man who walked straight to the top and was accepted by the fans immediately.
Imp: Which brings us to the aftermath of January 4th. I wouldn’t call the Wrestle Kingdom main event a ‘double turn’, but it did set both wrestlers down their next paths. In terms of Okada, WK12 created a shift. There is now a growing desire amongst fans wanting to see him lose the IWGP Heayweight Championship, that wasn’t there before. Heading into Wrestle Kingdom there were a lot of fans that wanted to see Tetsuya Naito’s redemption come full circle with a WK main event victory. However, can you honestly say that fans were desperate to see Okada lose? If anything Okada was too respected for Naito’s victory to feel like a true passing of the guard.
But that’s not the case anymore, look at the amount of fans criticising NJPW for keeping the belt on Okada. Maybe it was those funky disco trousers, but there’s now a passionate fanbase ready to see a change and I fully predict that New Japan will capitalise on that story over 2018. Creating more chinks in the armour, embedding that feeling that the champion can be beaten. Yet he clings on, maybe bends the rules a little as he does everything he can to keep his legendary reign running. All these incredible title defences have to take a toll on the champion, the cracks will begin to show.
Okada will still put on amazing performances, still feel like the ‘Ace’. But a Naito that has learnt from his mistakes at Wrestle Kingdom 12 will be waiting in the wings, ready for a worn down champion. And his fans will be dying to see their tranquilo one take down the champion. There is a difference between ‘wanting’ something and being ‘desperate’ for it, New Japan doesn’t wish their fans to just ‘want’ Naito to be champion.
MizFan: On the other side of the ring on January 4th was Tetsuya Naito, leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon. Having put in his time in Mexico and America as well, at one time it appeared as though Naito would be the chosen one to replace Tanahashi, but despite considerable skills he never quite managed to connect on the level of the previous ace. In fact, during Wrestle Kingdom 8, the fans voted to place a Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi match for the Intercontinental title to close the show. Despite Naito competing for the world title, he was still pushed down the card and unable to cement himself at the top level.
All of that changed when Naito’s attitude shifted, and he began showing apathy and disrespect towards all things New Japan. He allied himself with the original Los Ingobernables stable, a group of vicious rebels in the Mexican promotion CMLL, and radically revolutionized his character. He would spit at his former babyface friends, and founded LIJ, the Japanese branch of Los Ingobernables, gathering like-minded wrestlers looking to tear down the established system. Naito finally found his true potential during this change, and ironically despite his heelish attitude the crowds would come to accept him more than ever in his rebellious role.
He won several titles on the wave of this gimmick shift, but to reinforce his newfound nihilistic attitude, he would mistreat any title belt he got his hands on, throwing it up in the air, smashing it on the mat, generally abusing the belts until they were nearly falling apart. This level of disrespect only made the remaining top babyfaces resent him even more, and he has become the enemy of virtually everyone outside his stable.
The dark and despairing side of the coin, a rejected golden boy who now revels in despair and would just as soon burn the mountain down rather than rise to the top of it.
Imp: After Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito’s fans are more passionate than ever. If anything Okada’s victory has ignited the flames even more, the Los Ingobernables de Japon leader is more popular than ever. In other words, New Japan’s main event match worked perfectly. Fans now have a growing urge to see Okada lose the title, and those same fans are rabid for Naito to be the one that topples the ‘Ace’. A future Wrestle Kingdom match has already been set up, now all NJPW need to do is slowly build. Something the promotion has earned a reputation for being pretty damn good at.
I predict Naito to get more and more popular throughout 2018, maybe even peaking with another G1 Climax victory. Either way, the end goal for all of the character arcs this year should end in a third Okada vs Naito Tokyo Dome contest. As the cracks begin to show in Okada, Naito becomes stronger. Fans should want to see Naito win as much as they want Okada to lose, the perfect pairing, the perfect arc.
Then it all comes down to whether or not NJPW pull the trigger at Wrestle Kingdom 13 and give Naito the championship. Everything points to that indeed being the case, but you never know what twists and bumps in the road might appear. In Naito’s case, that first bump appears to be non other than Chris Jericho. But that’s not happening quite yet, because first, New Japan starts down the new road of 2018.
New Beginning in Osaka
The night after Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan Pro Wrestling have their annual New Year’s Dash show in the famous Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Look at it as their version of the RAW after WrestleMania. It sets up feuds for 2018 and immediately gets the ball rolling towards their New Beginning shows towards the end of January/start of February.
Last year Okada headlined the first show in Sapporo as Heavyweight Champion, whilst Naito headlined the Osaka show as Intercontinental Champion. This year, however, they’re both on the Osaka card. With Kenny Omega and Hiroshi Tanahashi headlining two nights in Sapporo against Jay White and Minoru Suzuki respectively. Meaning that all the main matches on February 10th in Osaka will be between CHOAS and Los Ingobernables de Japon faction members.
The champion Kazuchika Okada will be defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship agaist LIJ’s SANADA. At New Year’s Dash in a 10 man tag between CHOAS and Los Ingobernables de Japon, amongst the mayhem SANADA picked up the victory be pinning a damaged and bruised Kazuchika Okada. Lesson #1 when watching New Japan, wins matter. Off the back of this, the extremely promising SANADA has earned himself a Heavyweight Championship opportunity.
Whilst Tetsuya Naito faces… YOSHI-HASHI. That YOSHI-HASHI? A member of CHAOS who came onto the scene around the same time as Okada, but has been completely overshadowed since day one. He’s a close ally of Okada, but never really wins those important matches. If anything, this feels like Naito building himself back up to have the momentum to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once again.
But the great thing about these faction bouts is that you can keep the feud alive without having to feature the same two people in the same ring all the time (*cough cough* WWE *cough cough*). LIJ members Hiromu, EVIL and SANADA all have title matches against CHAOS members, with the latter being against Okada himself. The feud continues yet it feels fresh, with new matchups giving great opportunities for those further down the card. SANADA won’t win, but it’ll be great for his career just like it was for EVIL after a good showing against Okada last year.
And don’t forget, Kenny Omega is still there. He may be IWGP United States Champion, but don’t let that cloud the fact that he beat Okada the last time they faced in the G1 last year. That 4th match in the 6 star trilogy is coming. And I have no idea how that will effect this captivating narrative between New Japan’s two biggest stars.
And that’s it! Thank you to MizFan for contributing his words what he wrote. The future of the feud between Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito looks like it’s on the right path, but it is a long road to January 4th 2019. A story of respect, a company champion and a man carving his own path. Wrestle Kingdom isn’t the end, it’s a New Beginning.
– Will we see a HUGE twist in the tale come New Beginning?
– Will Okada hold onto the IWGP Heavyweight Championship all the way to January 4th 2019?
– Will Naito get his crowning moment come Wrestle Kingdom 13?