Despite Voices of Wrestling being described by many as a website of New Japan Pro Wrestling loyalists and defenders, we are as critical as any of NJPW stories or booking decision that don’t make sense or annoy us.
By the way, Harold, this month’s check is late. Please advise. Thanks -Rich (NJPWMecca.com).
This weekend on the second night of NJPW’s Wrestling Dontaku 2019 as Kazuchika Okada was celebrating his victory over SANADA, the lights in the Fukuoka International Center dimmed and a figure appeared on the big screen above the entrance way. In a few short seconds, we learned the identity of the shadowy figure: the returning Chris Jericho.
The mere sight of Jericho elicited a huge pop from the crowd who were seeing Jericho for the first time since January’s Wrestle Kingdom where he lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Tetsuya Naito. The video—which featured tremendous production quality meaning it had to have been done by WWE’s in-house product team—saw Jericho lean further into his demented clown/Clockwork Orange character that he’s developed over the last few years. In the video’s climax, Jericho challenged IWGP Heavyweight Champion Okada to a title match at NJPW’s upcoming Dominion show and declared to the crowd that HE was going to win.
As the lights in the arena were turned back on Okada grabbed a mic and accept Jericho’s challenged by saying, “let’s do it” and proclaiming that he was going to win and bring the title back to Fukuoka.
The segment, the video and the challenge couldn’t have come across better. The crowd was hot for Jericho’s unexpected return and Okada’s emphatic acceptance of the challenge had the crowd going nuts.
But let’s put on our critical pro wrestling pundit hats and ask why. Why is Chris Jericho getting a title shot? What did Chris Jericho do to deserve this shot?
I need to be fair and criticize booking that doesn’t make sense to me. And this doesn’t make sense. In a kayfabe sense, we can explain it easily: Jericho challenged Okada and Okada accepted. Boom. We’re good. That’s all we need. But if we peel back the curtain and look at the booking logic there are a lot of holes in Jericho of all people getting an IWGP Heavyweight Title shot at June’s Dominion.
For one, Jericho lost his last match in the company. As mentioned above, Jericho lost to Naito at Wrestle Kingdom and disappeared for five months. Now he’s back in the title picture? He lost the title, went away and moved up the ladder? There’s a logic gap there that I can’t ignore. Now, it’s not unheard of for a wrestler to lose a lesser title and move their way up the ladder. Several NJPW stars have “lost up” in recent years including the aforementioned Naito. During his run to the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event, Naito lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at Dominion, lost in the first round of the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship tournament and a few months later was in the main event of the biggest show in NJPW’s calendar year.
The big difference? That whole G1 Climax thing Naito won in-between.
There was no G1 Climax for Jericho. No New Japan Cup. No tournament. No token undercard tag win. There was nothing from Jericho. He made a challenge and now he has a title shot. In the pure “wins and losses matter” booking sense, the Jericho title shots makes none.
Still, I’m not mad.
We can strip away some of the logic and understand why this match is happening. Jericho is one of wrestling’s biggest stars and Dominion is taking place in the massive Osaka-jo Hall. Okada needs a worthy challenger that won’t spoil any future Wrestle Kingdom plans (Naito) while also drawing fans to the building. It’s far too soon to go back to Jay White vs. Okada so Jericho is a worthy stop-gap. The Japanese crowds have responded to Jericho throughout his run so they were certainly not disappointed seeing Jericho back into the fold. From an international standpoint, few wrestlers have the cache and the respect of casual and hardcore fans alike quite like Jericho. Inserting Jericho into the main event of Dominion guarantees a level of intrigue and press that a match between Okada and most other members of the NJPW roster wouldn’t. It’s just business. Jericho draws eyeballs internationally and domestically and best of all, he delivers in big spots. The match should be great, Okada will win and move onto the G1 Climax tournament as champion. It both makes no sense at all and makes all the sense in the world. Wrestling is funny that way.
From a pure fanboy perspective, it’s freaking Kazuchika Okada vs. Chris Jericho in the main event of Dominion. That’s a match you can’t see anywhere else and we most likely will never see it again. The first time these two titans of the pro wrestling business have ever been in the ring together. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the 31-year-old star Okada take on the legendary, seemingly ageless Jericho. A clash of the past, present and future. I’m excited as all hell even if I allow myself some healthy skepticism about the booking logic.