It is perhaps in an increasingly familiar fashion that New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) have once again busied themselves knocking another big show out of the park this week to send shockwaves rippling through an Internet Wrestling Community heavily unenthused about the world’s foremost wrestling promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), with Chris Jericho’s presence on the Dominion card peaking my interest in particular.
It’s been another quiet week on the WWE front, after all, with the promotion now in a holding pattern until they arrive at their next pay-per-view, Money in the Bank (MITB), this Sunday night; where they’ll probably breathe a sigh of relief before the cycle starts over, I imagine! It’s been a long old wait for this newly minted member of the now ‘Big Five’ and, sadly, it’s shown, with the bright side of WWE’s television product being particularly difficult to unearth this week.
As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art View of the week.
Though it is coyly that Kevin Owens claims his mind games over recent weeks have been an indication of ‘motivating’ Balor, there is a dangerous irony to be found in that the Ordinary Man Capable of Extraordinary Things may have done just that to Owens himself courtesy of their post-match shenanigans on the last episode of Monday Night Raw (MNR).
Cruelty is never far from Owens’ core motivation, as demonstrated in the indignity pulsing at the heart of his contest with Bálor last Monday. It’s easy to forget, because of the Prizefighter’s predilection for humour-infused sarcasm, that he is capable of truly hateful acts of brutality, both mental and physical. Ask Sami Zayn, or Daniel Bryan, or Chris Jericho, or even the McMahon family. All it takes is for his blood to be up for that heinous side to emerge. In that sense, in the midst of a Ladders Match and in the wrong kind of mood, he could be just as much of a threat as Strowman himself.
Bálor may have just catalysed such a situation, adding Owens to his personal list of enemies whose enmity he has gained thanks to his recent rebellious antics – a list started by Braun Strowman.
Bálor embarrassed Owens at the end of their contest this last week. Firstly, thanks to a disqualification, Bálor defeated Owens in the record books. Secondly, where Owens climbed down from a ladder after momentarily seeking to symbolically grab a briefcase and deliver a devastating diving blow to his downed opponent, Bálor went to the very top and did exactly what Owens seemingly feared to do. Bálor did grab the briefcase and Bálor did land a move from up on high. In simpler terms, Bálor did what Owens tried to, and better.
For an individual obsessed with viability, of branding and image and their means as a pathway to providing more money for his immediate family, such embarrassment is liable to enrage Owens and set him on a straight line towards Bálor who has already made an enemy out of one brutal monster in Braun Strowman. Expect repercussions on the part of KO, if not tomorrow night then certainly on this coming Sunday when ladders so keenly come to replace morals.
At this point, Bálor has made himself a marked man inviting the aggression of his peers on pay-per-view night, and he needs to be careful. He already has two monsters – one of size, one of vice – now targeting him specifically and, with one more week to go before the big event, there’s time yet for his daredevil side to do just the same with Bobby Roode too.
If he does, he might not have much of a chance at MITB. After all, even a man capable of the Extraordinary Things Bálor is supposedly capable of it will find it nigh impossible to fend off three motivated opponents of the level of Strowman, Owens and Roode.
Hungry, driven and proud are all terms used to describe this last week’s 205 Live main event competitors, being the last two challengers for Cedric Alexander’s Cruiserweight Championship – Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy.
We’ve seen their story before, of course, and this time was no different. Their latest encounter was as short-tempered as ever, with the so-called Juggernaut of 205 Live, Murphy, seeking to assert his will over the Heart of the show, Ali. So too was it as immersive as ever, as Ali used his remarkable creative athleticism to stay in the fight much longer than a bookmaker might have otherwise expected.
The two jostled for leverage on their roster and to gain the attention of their General Manager Drake Maverick in order to lay claim to the next opportunity at the Alexander’s silver. With this their ‘rubber match,’ it is little surprise their earliest exchanges move at lightning speed even in spite of the heavily stylised nature of the action, and the entire first act of their contest watches like a walk on a knife edge, one big mistake waiting to unfurl at any second to lend one well-read opponent an advantage. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Murphy who emerges from that waltz with fate’s favour.
From there, Ali fights nobly from his knees up – familiar territory for him at this stage. His heart remains fulsome, holding on long enough so as to edge his way ever closer to another miraculous victory potentially facilitated by a breathtaking chance taken on the outside – a step-up the turnbuckle into a diving tornado DDT on the outside. From there, it seems only a matter of seconds before Ali hits his patented take on the 054 finisher; alas for him, and for an audience intoxicated by his latest plight, that a spectre of 205’s less well-lit haunts makes his presence felt in firm fashion to bring the contest to its malformed conclusion.
Hungry, driven and proud are all terms capable of describing Hideo Itami, though you wouldn’t know it if you asked Itami himself, who believes his forgotten status in the mind of Maverick insult enough to tarnish the recent cadre of title challengers in one statement-making assault. To Itami, the idea of a match wrestled between two men to determine the next challenger for the Cruiserweight Championship not featuring him is little more than disrespectful tunnel vision on the part of the match-making powers that be, and his attack on both Ali and Murphy together was the eye-widener he needed to catapult himself immediately to the forefront of the title contention queue.
These reasons combine to promise that a match between Ali and Itami is now inevitable, and the reason why, to me, that sits firmly in dream territory is simple: going on his actions in recent weeks, it is clear that Hideo Itami is anointing himself the Fist of 205 Live that will come to puncture the same show’s Heart and Soul in equal degree.
The corporate shackles are off Chris Jericho, said Don Callis on the English commentary team for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) Dominion event this last week, and that the entire roster of NJPW should be afraid. After all, there is more than one kind of monster, and the Jericho who turns up like the post-apocalyptic visage of an A Clockwork Orange moodge, as noted by Kevin Kelly, proves himself an absolute monster within mere minutes – as if his January encounter with Kenny Omega hadn’t already done just that.
Jericho’s blindside assault on a helpless NJPW Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito is conducted with a full bodied embrace of the self-styled Alpha’s basest, most feral instincts. Tables, barriers, referees and all manner of flotsam is left in the wake of the Alpha’s unhinged side being given free reign, as if years of suppressed frustration at copyright infringement artists pretending to be on his level – pretending to be a worthy Intercontinental Champion no less – finally erupt and take over.
Jericho’s personality, when unleashed far away from WWE’s Ludovico Technique, cracks, and through the schism leaks his most deranged self. This is a Jericho who styles himself as the kind of monster not defined by size or raw power but from simple misanthropy, of a lack of inhibition and a void sense of dignity that facilitates the same domination we might see from a man twice his size – a powerful testament to the reason why mankind imposes rules on itself to limit its wanton taste for destruction.
The irony is that as Jericho has Naito weeping with blood, Naito proves to be more than just a victim. Poisoned with the same malcontent as that of the Alpha, he plays Jericho at his own game, albeit with one difference worthy of this story’s de facto hero: he wears his savagery with a real bloodied scar that mars his vision, a far cry from the painted-on savagery of a posturing Jericho.
Their technical expertise prove evenly matched throughout the course of their purely violent encounter, though it is defending champion Naito who seems to absorb greater damage. That rings true for the stained conclusion, Jericho out-thinking his opponent with a well timed shove to the official, a deeply felt low blow and a rapid Codebreaker follow-up that betray his vastly greater experience in the same manner as the grey now flecking its way through his hair.
It’s a tremendous effort on both their parts, and a fable with a pertinent moral lesson at its heart. Let their malcontent-stained encounter stand as a powerful reminder that the amorality of those who sink lowest unfortunately allows them to rise high and proclaim themselves Alpha, but that their refusal to obey the norms of decent society should forever keep them limited to the realm of foreign invader – which is exactly what the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion is. And he seems, quite proudly, to relish the role.
With that in mind, if you have any thoughts about Chris Jericho’s second visit to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2018, or about any of the week’s happenings I’ve explored in this week’s Performance Art View, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!