Interest for Pro Wrestling in Japan was declining rapidly by the end of 2011 and with the new year approaching it looked as if 2012 was going to be a year of despair for New Japan Pro Wrestling. It could be argued that business had hit rock bottom in Japan and this was made evident with the sale of NJPW to Bushiroad Inc for merely $6.55 million in February of 2012.
The sale price at the time seemed shockingly low for a company with the reputation of NJPW. Bushiroad also had its many critics and detractors who questioned the company’s direction and intentions moving forward which made for an environment that proved challenging and full of speculation. The New Beginning in Osaka on February 12, 2012, was the beginning of many bold moves made by NJPW that would forever change the landscape of wrestling in Japan and bring it back into prominence once again.
The New Beginning was the first major event held under the Bushiroad banner. The main event featured Hiroshi Tanahashi looking to defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Kazuchika Okada. Tanahashi had been champion for 404 days leading up to the bout and was working on his fifth reign as champion when he stepped inside the ring that night in Osaka. The excitement for this match was very low and it had fans in Japan questioning Okada as a reputable challenger for a major championship. Okada was just coming back from an excursion in the United States and had spent over a year toiling around in a promotion that made him look like a joke and could never figure out how to utilize his potential. Okada came back to Japan with very little hype or fanfare as it seemed to many he had failed with his attempts in America. Okada came back to Japan with a new character and persona that was not received very well at first. It looked forced, uncomfortable and awkward. The Rain Maker came to Japan, but the people stayed thirsty.
It has since been claimed by many New Japan wrestling fans that one of the biggest upsets in the history of the company came on that night in February when Okada walked away with the championship and ended an epic title reign. The outcome came as a surprise to everyone and the immediate response from the people within the industry and especially the fans came fast and sharp. Questions would now arise about the future going forward and how this major change within creative direction would benefit the company. The pressure was now on to perform and deliver results with Okada as champion. They made the bold and risky move when making Okada champion and now they had to stay strong and patient when perfecting the plan to make him a star.
The match was received very well with Okada giving his best performance of his young career. The story of the match was Okada overcoming everything Tanahashi could throw at him and eventually becoming overwhelming for Tanahashi. At one point towards the finish of the match, Okada was forced to drag Tanahashi’s lifeless body from outside the ring so he could stop a sure count out victory. The match continued with Tanahashi making a small comeback but in the end, Okada was victorious. My impression was that Okada was far superior in this match and that Tanahashi made a very grave mistake by not taking him seriously as a contender. It cost him dearly, but it was a mistake he would never make again when he encountered Okada in the ring. This was only the start of the bold, gutsy and long-term decision making that continues to follow NJPW up until current day 2019.
The correlations and associations directly involved with the making of Jay White “The Switchblade” is hard to ignore when comparing them to that of Okada and “The Rainmaker”. Awkward. Clumsy. Forced. History seeming to repeat itself.
This time Jay White is at the helm and everything Okada once faced has now shifted to this newcomer who has been saddled with another drastic character change. The Switchblade is confusing and unexplained at this point just as Okada and The Rainmaker was seven years ago. The debut a little over a year ago has been challenging yet on all accounts very progressive and successful.
Patience is once again being shown and it’s producing a successful character and perhaps another megastar in the ranks of New Japan. Tanahashi rose from the ashes in 2018 and took back his place on top. It would not be out of the ordinary for someone like Jay White to swoop in and take the legs out before it has room to run. I think we can learn from Okada and his quick rise to the top and how this company is not gun shy and will quickly pull the trigger in the name of change.
Is a possible Jay White IWGP Heavyweight title reign coming sooner then we all might expect? It’s definitely not out of the realm of possibilities when you view the history. Another recent example of this is when AJ Styles was rushed into the top spot very quickly when people had not been expecting it. Styles knocks off Okada early in 2014 during his amazing second reign that lasted an impressive 391 days. Styles came in and shocked everyone with the win and became the top foreigner for the next two years. It was a quick sting and a sharp curve that changed the direction once again. If history should repeat itself, we shall see another dagger being plunged into the New Japan collective community very soon.
It would be wise to heed fair warning at this point when it comes to New Japan and the way things can be played out with the heroes. I am not convinced of a long term Tanahashi reign in 2019 and will be patiently watching in the shadows for Jay White and his cronies as they emerge to slowly plunge that blade into the hearts of Tanahashi fans and finally end the fantasy comeback tour once and for all. If you’re skeptical just read the writing on the wall and take the warning from the horse’s mouth itself. Everything Jay White says has come true and his most recent proclamation was that he would beat Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
A new beginning is traditionally viewed as a fresh start and looking forward to new and exciting things. A new beginning can also bring confusion and change to those who are not willing to accept it.