New Japan’s New Beginning tour just came to an end as these lines are written, and it is safe to say that the ending of the tour, which saw Jay White becoming the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, is making people discuss and wonder what is now next in New Japan’s new era. With that said, let’s discuss the perspective of a very exciting year, for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
If you still were not convinced, there is indeed a new era in New Japan, starting fittingly during the New Beginning tour. In a similar, yet quite different fashion than how Kazuchika Okada began his rise as New Japan’s newest top star, Jay White has done just that. It was only a matter of time for White, whom looking at his first year since coming back, was being built as a potential threat around the company’s main event scene. Now that he is New Japan’s top champion, we can only wonder what the Switchblade’s reign will bring to the table, what impact it will have. None can say for sure, but to at least try to get an idea of what’s to come, we need to take a more global view of New Japan’s landscape. Some recent events can help us figuring things out.
One other big event to occur during this last New Beginning show was Kota ibushi’s return, which saw him announce to the crowd that he would be staying in New Japan. Ibushi also announced he would be taking part in the New Japan Cup. The big news here being that Ibushi seems to now be fully committed to New Japan, so we can now expect him to get to the level he seemed destined to reach, which is being an established main eventer. As much as everyone knows how good Ibushi is, can we really say he’s an established Heavyweight star so far ?
Sure, Ibushi won the New Japan Cup once, had great outings for the Heavyweight and IC championships over the years, as well as managing to claim the NEVER Openweight championship in December, but I think most people expect more at this point. Hiroshi Tanahashi has said himself that Ibushi has everything to be the future of New Japan, and with no storm inside of Bullet Club to be unwillingly apart of, there is nothing stopping Ibushi from getting to the spot he possibly should already be in. With the early ending to Tanahashi’s potential last reign as Heavyweight champion, there will be a spot to fill when the Ace starts stepping out of what we tend to call “New Japan’s big four”. This year should give us some answers if whether or not Ibushi will be the man to eventually take that spot.
Speaking of members of that “big four”, let’s now look at another big topic concerning New Japan’s main event scene. Since recapturing the Intercontinental championship, Tetsuya Naito has made his intentions clear. The leader of L.I.J wants to hold both the Heavyweight and Intercontinental championships, at the same time. As it surely looks like 2019 will be another big year for Naito’s group, it’s quite easy to expect the faction’s leader to get something more than a third IC championship run, as this chapter of his own story is reaching its end. Let’s not forget that this summer, Naito will not have been Heavyweight champion in three years, which is quite long even in New Japan standards, when you are one of the company’s top stars.
Making history has been a recent trend with New Japan, and another opportunity to do just that is presenting itself with Naito.
The point now is that New Japan needs to build up wrestlers for years to come, and it is not just be about Jay White becoming the Ace’s main foe. It is also about re-establishing guys who have been waiting for their opportunity to rise, which are long overdue by now. New era tends to mean new faces, and while I’ve been focusing on the main event scene so far, it doesn’t stop there.
Without even mentioning the constant waves of Young Lions coming in, New Japan has started establishing new faces throughout the divisions in the last few years. Hiromu Takahashi and Taiji Ishimori in the Jr division, Roppongi 3K in the Jr tag team division, EVIL & SANADA both as a team and as singles competitors. Let’s not forget about Zack Sabre Jr, Juice Robinson and Will Ospreay as Gaijins on the rise. The most recent example being Shingo Takagi, who will likely look further than being Jr Heavyweight Tag Team champion.