Imp’s NJPW Adventure
New Beginning in Osaka
The Era of the Switchblade Has Begun!
New Beginning in Osaka threatened to start a new era for New Japan Pro Wrestling, boy did it deliver. Today we officially saw the start of this new era for Bullet Club, a Cutthroat Era, The Era of the Switchblade. As Jay White called it, “My Era!”
Before I get into this cold February night that belonged to the Bullet Club, there was one huge piece of news announced half way through the show. When none other than Kota Ibushi walked out, the first time since Wrestle Kingdom, and declared that he would be staying with NJPW. With all of the AEW rumours flying about the wrestling world right now, this takes a lot of weight off of the shoulders of Japan’s biggest wrestling company.
He also announced he would be taking part in next month’s New Japan Cup – a knockout tournament where the winner gets to challenge for any title of their choosing – of which Tetsuya Naito had previously looked to be the out and out favourite. But then out came Ibushi and after the penultimate bout of the night, we were reminded about Okada’s gradual return to form. All of sudden, within the space of one night, the New Japan Cup became STACKED.
Retaining Ibushi is huge, perhaps Tanahashi’s wish for the Golden Star to become this generation’s third Musketeer may become true. If so, March could become a landmark month for the company. A true transition to the new era, however it may not be a smooth era as it’s one currently ruled by a certain club…
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
“Bone Soldier” Taiji Ishimori vs Rysuke Taguchi
Going in, I don’t think anyone was realistically betting on the veteran Rysuke Taguchi winning. Earlier in the night Chase Owens and the “Tokyo Pimp” Yujiro Takahashi defeated Tomoaki Honma and YOSHI-HASHI, followed by the Guerrillas of Destiny taking down former MVP’s Makabe & Yano. All signs and momentum were pointing towards this night belonging to Bullet Club, a sense was building that a potential clean sweep was upon the horizon.
So it was nice to see Taguchi using his veteran instincts (as bizarre as they may be sometimes… okay most times), as he came out with actual tactics to try and offset the champion. Dressed in full green overalls and dancing as a reference to a former “Sailor Boys” gimmick portrayed by the Bone Soldier, he tried to break the concentration of Bullet Club’s junior champion. It didn’t work, in fact Ishimori owned it and whipped out the dance as if still in his boogie prime.
A scenario Taguchi clearly hadn’t anticipated, Ishimori flat out wasn’t embarrassed and actually revelled in showing how the dance was really done. This completely shook Taguchi, the champion clearly had the edge both mentally and agility wise. From that moment on the challenger just didn’t have the pace to keep up. The Funky Weapon tried to show he could hang, in fact scoring some close pinfalls in the process, however it was never enough with Ishimori kicking out every single time.
In the end Taguchi resorted to trying to make the champion submit like he’d previously succeeded in doing in a NEVER 6-Man Championship match last month, trapping Ishimori in an ankle lock and working the knee to weaken his Tombstone into double knees finisher. Taguchi’s tactic became to force the champion to fight through some serious pain in order to retain his title, to test his mental strength.
The method worked for Taguchi for a short while, but in the end the Bone Soldier passed the test and showed he was able to perceiver. Ishimori showed the lengths of his mental strength, delivering his finisher and fighting through the pain with gritted teeth to get to that cover. The champion showed his resilience, perhaps this man is going to be a lot harder to take down than originally thought.
After the match the confidence was showing, as Ishimori grabbed a mic and challenged legend Jushin Thunder Liger. Perhaps looking to take down the Junior Divisions heroes of the past in order to make a name for himself, or maybe just overconfidence. Either way, the Bone Soldier’s next target has been set, however I get the feeling he needs to keep an eye on the present.
There’s a certain dragon building up steam in the Junior Tag scene, Bullet Club weren’t the only faction claiming their place on the NJPW hierarchy over this year’s New Beginning tour.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Jay White
“A hush has fallen over the Osaka crowd,” announced Kevin Kelly as the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion lifted his title high above his head. The 4th leader of the Bullet Club had told everyone he was going to do it, but no one believed he was actually going to win. Even though over the past year he’d beaten Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi himself; he’d been backing up his words for a full year and still they didn’t believe.
“You think I’m not ready? Well look right in front of you, if you had any fuckin’ stupid doubt before, that has to be gone now,” said Jay White in the immediate post show press interview, “I was ready a LONG time ago.”
Now Jay White stands tall, having beaten all of New Japan’s ‘heroes’ that have stood in front of him. As he said, how can there be any doubt now? Not only did he defeat The Ace, New Japan’s hero and defender for a full decade, but he defeated him clean. There were some messy interferences and distractions during the match, but that’s never been enough to keep Tanahashi down and Jay White knew that.
In the end, after all the damage inflicted by both men, The Ace tried to hit a Hi Fly Flow on a standing Jay White and the challenger caught him, reversing the move into a Blade Runner. 1, 2, 3, a new IWGP Heavyweight Champion! And the pin was clean, there was no fluke or trick to White’s victory. For every interfering Bullet Club moment, was a string of Tanahashi counters or Dragon Whips. Arguably the offence was equally shared, with the match turning in one single moment.
One catch and reversal brought Tanahashi’s reign to a quick and sudden stop. Because as I said, for a lot of the match both wrestlers got in their equal share. Highlighted by a similar moment of Okada vs White from this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, with both men constantly reversing each other in an ever increasing string of attempted offence countered by the other. Switchblade didn’t win out that mini battle, but the fact he matched The Ace so evenly spoke absolute volumes about the man’s talent.
Which was why I feel the way the match ended truly was Jay White’s crowning moment, not just in the sense of him becoming IWGP champion but in the evolution of his character. The debut loss to Tanahashi that set him back one year ago has been fully avenged, he didn’t just want to take away Tana’s title, he wanted to bring a full stop to the Era of the Ace.
Jay White had been promising throughout the entire build that he would bring an end to Tanahashi, even questioning whether we’d see the man again in New Japan after the match. But the new champion had made his motives perfectly clear, when he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship he would start a brand new era.
Which was the entire message behind his post-match speech to the crowd, this isn’t just a new era, this is his Era. We have no choice but to breath it in, New Japan is The Switchblade’s now.
Except there’s at least one man who doesn’t entirely agree. Shortly after the show IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito tweeted four simple words, “… I don’t think so.”
Toodles, Chaps. Assen na yo.
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Imp’s most recent NJPW columns:
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – A New Beginning, A New Era
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Is Kenny Omega Going To WWE or AEW?
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe
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