New Japan Pro Wrestling has returned, folks ! At Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall, the 2020 New Japan Cup Winner, and newest Bullet Club member EVIL faced Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental championships.
After betraying the man who welcomed him as Los Ingobernables de Japon’s first Pareja following his tournament win, EVIL went further and became the second double IWGP champion, dethroning Naito.
With that said, let’s cut straight to the chase and discuss what just happened. There is a lot to dive into.
So… We have a new IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental champion. Also, Dick Togo is now in New Japan, but right now we won’t be focusing on that. EVIL defeated Tetsuya Naito, not in the cleanest fashion ever as you would expect from the man who had this mean streak throughout the New Japan Cup, and who is now part of Bullet Club.Speaking of the faction EVIL joined on the 11th, let’s start there. As most of you realized by now, Bullet Club had none of their potential top Heavyweights available for the tournament. Jay White, KENTA, even the G.O.D brothers weren’t in Japan and therefore couldn’t compete. The solution our favourite short-sized bearded booker found was to take the most heelish member of L.I.J and put him in Bullet Club instead, in order to keep some kind of strong BC presence while the actual top guys in that group aren’t there. That part makes some sense, in more ways than just that, actually. A full-fledged heel EVIL, who overcame Okada and won his first singles tournament absolutely set him up as a relatively credible threat to his former leader and comrade.
Now, as you may have guessed, where it all becomes weird is once you take that same EVIL who, remember, has not been a prominent figure within the Heavyweight division until the last few days, and have him beat Naito. After only being used as an opponent to vanquish for champions and G1 briefcase holders alike before heading to the Tokyo Dome (Okada, Jericho, Ibushi). His only singles championship win happened in November 2016, where he defeated Katsuyori Shibata to win the NEVER Openweight title, which he only held for 10 days before that same Shibata won the belt back. Facing, and sometimes beating top names helps elevating the wrestler facing these top names, but at some you have to give something tangible to this wrestler, in order for him, in the long run, to be credible once the big win happens.
Therefore, I have one question to ask : Even after winning the New Japan Cup, is this same wrestler truly feeling like someone who should be holding the main two titles in the promotion ?
Ask yourself that question. EVIL isn’t a bad wrestler by any means, the point is that in terms of build, and not just his own, this decision does not make sense. I just gave you a quick resume of EVIL’s singles career in New Japan, but then, think about the double champion concept, think about Naito.
The double champion concept was meant to be historical, it was meant to elevate Tetsuya Naito to a sphere of his own, which only the best of the best within New Japan could have hoped to reach as well, in a similar fashion to how the Heavyweight title itself is so hard to reach. The likes of Okada, Ibushi, White, who all took part in January’s Double Gold Dash. The point here is, this was and technically still is a very big deal for anyone to accomplish add his name to the list of double IWGP champions.
EVIL is nowhere near the three guys’ level I mentioned, even though he does have one G1 Climax win over all of them, and a NJC win over Okada. He doesn’t come close in terms of status within the company. Yet, he is the one getting the huge rub of ending Naito’s historical reign. We all know pretty well than winning the top titles in any company is supposed to elevate the wrestler who does it. The thing is, how much will this elevate EVIL, given his poor performances against the two January 5th main eventers ?
Speaking of Wrestle Kingdom main eventers, let’s look at Naito himself, the now former champion. Do I have to remind you the whole story here ? As satisfying as his win at the Dome was, this and the following title defence against KENTA were not the end of the road.
The idea that your most popular wrestler, in what possibly was his last chance at getting the title run to solidify his status once and for all as the current top guy, isn’t getting that run is… Weird, to say the least. Truly unexplainable. Now, thankfully, there still is a possibility to give Naito the Heavyweight title back between now and January, which in reality, is the only title he really needs. His run as double champion wasn’t meant to last, but don’t think his run as Heavyweight champion also was. At the very least, it shouldn’t have been, but it’s close to impossible to guess any of the upcoming plans now. Also, leaving EVIL as the Intercontinental champion sounds like a rather good compromise. EVIL gets to have a run with a highly valued championship, without receiving the same exact kind of exposition and need to perform as the Heavyweight champion does.
One last thing. You could even push the idea that Naito should have been the only New Japan wrestler to add the double IWGP champion accomplishment to his resume, in order to make him stand out once we look at New Japan’s history books in 20 years, with or without a good title run at the end of the day.
Now, before ending this piece, let me say that, of course, until this story featuring EVIL unfolds, nobody is in a good spot to say it was a bad decision just yet. Keep in mind though, that me saying such thing is in regard to the geist of the story : EVIL leaving L.I.J for Bullet Club after winning the New Japan Cup, and thus being elevated as a credible threat to Naito.
As this article shows, what followed is something different, and while we also need to see what comes out of this EVIL title run, this does not look like a good decision, as interesting and intriguing as the story is.