Imp’s NJPW Adventure
A New Beginning, A New Era
As the Emperor of Japan is set to step down, a new era for the nation is on the horizon. In the land of the rising sun, their eras are marked by their emperors, with The Hesei period reigning for a damn impressive 30 years. For New Japan Pro Wrestling, New Beginning in Osaka threatens to start their own new era, a Cutthroat Era, The Era of the Switchblade.
For the last 20 years of the Hesei Era there has been one constant within New Japan, ‘The Ace’ Hiroshi Tanahashi. This past weekend New Beginning in Sapporo marked a new chapter for the IWGP Champion, a chapter of legacy. Once again defending New Japan from a force he deems to be evil, a scenario Tanahashi has encountered countless times. But with each ‘new hot thing’ stepping up truly believing they are the future of the company, Tana gets more and more beaten. Injuries add up, making the champ more vulnerable to dissect, making Jay White especially dangerous.
The Switchblade’s offence may not be flashy, but it’s clinical, scientific. Cutting down his opponents with mind games and targeting their weak points without remorse. We saw this over the G1 Climax back in August, as he seemed to do everything he could to piss off his opponents, to get them riled up at his disrespect. That was when he would strike, even the brawling and chaos somewhat had a methodology.
His approach with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion appears no different on the surface. After the first night in Sapporo on Saturday, he targeted Tanahashi’s worn down knee with his new submission finisher that he later donned ‘TTO – Tanahashi Tapped Out’. Repeating the attack the next night, going after the knee and weakening the champion once again one week before their championship clash.
White truly believes he is smarter than everyone, that his methodical approach takes him to another level. His confidence is growing with each and every match, with Gedo by his side propping him up every step of the way. But the question is, is that actually confidence? Or is it cockiness? In fact, are his ruthless attacks on Tanahashi more fuelled by emotion than he’d want us to believe?
The truth is Tanahashi defeated Jay White in his NJPW debut, since then the leader of the Bullet Club has been merciless in his attempted dismantlings of the ace. Both physically and of his character. True, White earned a victory over the eventual G1 Climax winner, but when they next met at King of Pro Wrestling it was Tanahashi with his hand raised up high.
February 11th New Beginning in Osaka, we find out just how calm and methodical Jay White really is. Because that could be the very edge that separates him from those Tanahashi has successfully defended New Japan against in the past. Jay White’s rise has been phenomenal, however the question still looms whether that’s because of Gedo or the man himself. He passed the test against Okada on January 4th, next Monday he faces a true test of his character.
Expect Gedo to do everything he can to help out his new golden boy, Bullet Club interference, brawls, what have you. With that said, if history has taught us anything, it’s that to actually beat IWGP Champion Tanahashi it takes a hell of a lot more than cheap tricks and mind games. Tana will take Jay White to his limit, Gedo can only get him so far, next Monday it is all on him.
Gedo succeeded with ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada, will Jay White follow in his footsteps? Everything the Kiwi has said so far he has backed up and followed through on, in effect his words have become important, they have weight. Now it’s time for him to step up, there’s only one way the Cutthroat Era he talks about actually officially gets started.
But this era of New Japan isn’t just about the rise of The Switchblade, there’s a certain band of ungovernables already holding gold that started off 2019 with a bang.
2019, The Year of Los Ingobernables
If next weekend is about the story of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jay White and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, then this past one was focused on Tetsuya Naito and his band of Ingobernable men. As they took on heel faction Suzuki-Gun, in a repeat of last year’s feud with the roles flipped. Over 2018 LIJ had to pick themselves back up, rebuild and come back stronger. That exact moment happened January 4th in the Tokyo Dome, LIJ are back on their feet and now they’re the ones with control.
This year they hold all the titles, all the momentum, their rivals are now the ones chasing. Suzuki-Gun will never admit it, hence all the antics asserting dominance early on in their matches, but they no longer hold all the cards. New Beginning in Sapporo cemented that transition, LIJ have fought back, they have rebuilt and they are stronger than ever. Just like with CHAOS holding all the gold early on last year, rest assured LIJ are looking to make a statement over these coming months.
That statement started right here, in putting to bed the enemy they’ve struggled against for an entire year. BUSHI & Shingo put away the duo that had reigned over the Junior Tag division for months in Desperado & Kanemaru, EVIL & SANADA bested The King Minoru Suzuki & his protégé Zack Sabre Jr and Naito, without hesitation, hit a Piledriver on TAICHI off the apron and through a table.
In all three matches the Ingobernables men used what they’d learned over the past year and conquered Suzuki-Gun. In the main event, the group’s leader showed the most development overall, avoiding the majority of TAICHI’s cheeky tactics and knowing exactly when to show no remorse and just crack the bugger over the head.
Just like with Jericho last year, TAICHI also really doesn’t care about the Intercontinental Championship nor the opinions of the fans. However this time Naito was able to stand up to the task, requiring for the Suzuki-Gun stable to run out and cause havoc in order for momentum to swing. But it wasn’t enough, TAICHI couldn’t put him away and this new will of the Intercontinental Champion was shining through.
Every time the challenger looked to hit that killing blow, Naito would pull out something incredible and stop the Suzuki-Gun man right in his tracks. Not to take away from TAICHI, he came to make a point and it took 4 consecutive moves dropping him hard on his head to actually put him away. But it wasn’t to be his night, Los Ingobernables de Japon made a statement to the whole New Japan Roster in Sapporo: 2019 is going to be their year.
The 20th IWGP Intercontinental Champion’s reign continues, the championship that represented so much hatred for Naito in the past, now something he holds onto with pride. But that’s not all, Naito’s made his ambitions clear, he wants to be the first man to hold both the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight titles at the same time.
As for the group over the rest of the year, the only way is up. But to link this back to the start, this is a new era and LIJ aren’t the only ones ascending to the top. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be in for one mighty clash.
A new era brings around change, but which force will be the one to enact it?
Toodles, Chaps. Assen na yo.
Email Imp – [email protected]
Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday with Perfect 10 Wrestling! Last Thursday he was joined by JCool to review NXT TakeOver: Pheonix and the 2019 Royal Rumble!
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s WWE Adventure – The Road to the Main Event of WrestleMania: Straight Fire At The Rumble
Imp’s WWE Adventure – Who’s Winning The Women’s Royal Rumble?
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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