It does seem like « Destino » is even more tranquilo than Naito himself, taking time to fulfill itself, right ?
The leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon didn’t manage to pull out the almost unthinkable as he couldn’t win his third G1 Climax in the last six editions. His future leading to Wrestle Kingdom 13 is not fully set up either, and this is the subject of today’s article. What is next for El Ingobernable ?
First of all, and this has been said by many people right after Naito lost to Zack Sabre Jr, which crushed his hopes of getting another chance to fulfill his destiny at the Tokyo Dome, let’s not forget that Naito’s story is not finished, and that pay-off will definitely come. The company passed on two great opportunities to put Naito at the top of New Japan, and decided to go with other big stories, which is absolutely logical and understandable, if you take everything that has been built so far into account.
Now, with Naito, we have to wonder WHEN that huge pay-off is going to come, and to be honest, no one can say it for sure, and as a Naito fan myself, I, just like all of his fans, can only hope it will come as soon as possible.
So, what’s next ?
We got a first indication right after Naito lost to ZSJ in the G1, as Naito declared that he would have his revenge on him. It is safe to say that, during the fall, we will get a third match between them, which will likely be won by Naito this time, as he would finally get his win back, and he will need some momentum before Wrestle Kingdom. Now that this is settled, we have to wonder what will be next after that, and therefore, what will be Naito’s story going into January 4th ?
One could assume there is not much, but it does seem like Naito will go back to his program with Chris Jericho, for the Intercontinental championship. I was the first to think this would only be a one-off, just like the Omega match and possibly future Jericho matches in New Japan, but this story as A LOT of potential, and my goal with this whole article is to explain why so.
We first need to go back, once again, to 2012 and 2013. Tetsuya Naito won his first G1 Climax, defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals, and was looking to defeat his rival from the New Japan dojo days, Kazuchika Okada, for the IWGP Heavyweight championship at Wrestle Kingdom 8. As you may know by now, that did not happen, but also, Naito and Okada lost the main event spot to Tanahashi and Nakamura, who were fighting for the IWGP Intercontinental championship, thanks to a fan vote. Most of you know that story, but it is important to go back to it since it is the catalyst to who Naito is today, and why he may once more go back to the title he used to hate. Let’s use the time machine again, and go to 2016, September 25th to be exact. Naito challenged then IC champion Michael Elgin for the title, and defeated him, which launched an almost nine months reign for Naito. As champion, Naito took his all of his past frustration on the title that cost him his dream in the first place, leaving it on the entrance ramp, throwing it around, and even went as far as trying to destroy the championship, which he almost did, as the title was in pieces when June came around, and Naito lost the title to Tanahashi at Dominion. Naito, who has been disrespecting championships and New Japan in general since his return as « El Ingobernable », truly despised what the IC championship represented to him, which explains why he went as far as he did.
Fast forward to Wrestling Hi No Kuni this year, where Naito was involved in a match with then IC champion Minoru Suzuki, where he, once more, claimed the championship. This win showed a slight evolution regarding Naito, as he still did not care for the championship, he never tried to destroy it, this time around, he would just leave it on the ramp while coming to the ring and leave it in the ring while going backstage.
This slight change in how Naito acts towards the Intercontinental championship is pretty important in my whole reasoning, and this leads me to the beginning of his program with Chris Jericho, after we got a first tease at New Year’s Dash on January 5th. This feud was never really about the title in the first place, it’s pretty much hate between two individuals, but the match the two had at Dominion this past June was still a title match, which as you know, Jericho won, and we never saw the championship ever since. As Jericho did care about winning the championship for his own accomplishments, Naito never seemed to care if he lost the title or not. After all, this is not his goal, so why should he care ?
But, Naito has been battered by Jericho during their feud in a way we probably never imagined, blood poured from his face and he got his ass handed to him. One would assume that, if the opportunity presents itself, Naito will desire to get his hands on Jericho to give him the same treatment.
Now, concerning the Intercontinental championship, this is where things get interesting. If we assume that the main reason anyone would want to go at Jericho for the title, it would be because he pretty much kept it hostage for months, preventing anyone to possibly challenge for the title after a potential win against the Intercontinental champion during the G1 Climax, as Jericho wasn’t part of it. So, the safest bets would be Tanahashi or Okada, but with how things shaped up, these two will likely have different things to do come January.
EVIL would also be an interesting case, as he’s climbing the ranks of New Japan and he was the one to prevent Jericho from continuing the assault on Naito after the Dominion match, which made us think about a possible title match down the line. But, is EVIL ready for such a big match at Wrestle Kingdom ? I don’t think so. If that match happened, I’d personally believe it would be at King of Pro Wrestling or Power Struggle, but both these shows don’t feel big enough for a star like Chris Jericho.
Which leaves us with Naito. If Naito were to challenge Jericho for the title, it would be a part of his redemption story, which has been one, if not the main focus of his character development since he came back in 2016. He faced guys like Shibata and Goto after his return, as both thought he was disrespectful, also faced Tanahashi numerous times for the same reason, and his relationship with the fans evolved to a point where he’s arguably the most popular wrestler in the company. So what is the next step ? Well, why not starting by treating the Intercontinental championship with a bit of respect, and bringing it back to Japan full-time ?
Since as we know, the championships are highly valued, there is that possibility that, if he wants to be able to touch the Heavyweight championship once more and fulfill his destiny, Naito has to show that he will care about the championships, enough to at the very least, take it from a guy who doesn’t even dare showing up to the biggest tournament in New Japan’s calendar. This doesn’t seem to have been discussed a lot, at least from what I have seen, but I find it shocking that the second most prestigious championship in New Japan wasn’t represented in the G1 Climax.
Therefore, the pitch is pretty simple. If Naito can pull that off on New Japan’s greatest stage, he will most likely start gaining back the trust of the company concerning the Heavyweight championship. As his view of the Intercontinenal championship changes, step by step, he might take care of it a bit more and stop throwing it around and leaving it on the ramp, which will only give him more favors and a better image. This third run as IC champion could be the final step towards a second chance as being the top guy, and this time, not only for two or three months. Naito already has the popularity, the rentability and the superstar aura, he may only lack that one thing, trust from the higher ups.
This is how I will now conclude this article. I truly want to know what you think about this whole explanation, as the plan of another Naito vs Jericho match is, if you think about it, more and more obvious. Also, if you know any Naito fan who is very worried and sad, show him what I wrote as well, it might cheer him or her up !
Naito fans, keep having faith.