Tetsuya Naito wasn’t supposed to win.
He wasn’t even supposed to be there. The Double Gold Dash of Wrestle Kingdom 14 that would crown the first-ever double Heavyweight and Intercontinental IWGP champion featured a who’s who of decorated stars in the company: IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada; IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Jay White; G1 Climax 29 winner Kota Ibushi.
Naito had no gold. What was he even doing there?
His only slim claim to be in the mix was that he was the first man to dream the dream of being double champion one year ago. But this was a man who was a choke artist, a specialist in failure.
The Stardust Genius of yesteryear just wanted to be loved. But try as he might, he couldn’t win the fans’ affections. Voted out of the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8, and losing his title match against Okada anyway to add insult to injury.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) January 3, 2018
The fans rejected Naito, so he crafted the El Ingobernable character as a mask to hide his wounded pride. He pretended he didn’t care about the fans, because it hurt too much to admit that he secretly did.
Finally making his way to the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito froze under the bright lights of the Tokyo Dome, his persona torn between the Stardust Genius who craved the cheers of the crowd and the ungovernable rebel who couldn’t care less. This identity crisis tore Naito apart in the biggest match of his life.
At two crucial moments, he lost himself. With his momentum building and the roar of the fans in his ears, the mask of tranquilo Naito slips, and the boy who wanted the crowd to love him emerges. Forgoing his affected new attitude, Naito rolls back the years with the Gloria slam, a move the Stardust Genius used once upon a time.
All pretense of Ingobernable dropped, he throws his arms up to the crowd, desperate for their cheers, as if to ask them if they still love him, the real him, the Stardust Genius. And in that one moment of uncertainty, of pandering to the fans, Okada has already come to his senses. He rolls out the way as Naito’s ill-fated Stardust Press crashes and burns.
Well, if the Stardust Genius can’t win the match, maybe El Ingobernable can. In the climax of the match, Naito hits Okada with the Destino. The match, the gold and the glory are there for the taking. But instead of finishing off Okada while he has the chance, Naito showboats, horribly underestimating his opponent, almost taking a victory lap as he drags Okada around the ring, gesticulating wildly to the crowd.
Naito has no answer when Okada reverses the Destino into a spinning Tombstone piledriver. He is left to rue his mistakes as the final Rainmaker smashes his destino into pieces.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) January 4, 2018
As he hobbles away to lick his wounds, a gloating Okada asks him how he enjoyed the main event of the Tokyo Dome.
Tetsuya Naito has had two years to replay these agonizing moments in his head and reflect on them. Where did it all go wrong? The Stardust Genius wasn’t good enough to get the job done. Neither was El Ingobernable. So what now?
These two years may have been his lowest ebb. Not only did he lose himself, he repeatedly lost the Intercontinental title that kept finding its way back to him, most recently to Jay White. Perhaps now realizing his once-hated white belt was his best ticket to achieving his destino of becoming double champion, he challenged Jay White to a rematch on January 4, ultimately overcoming the man he had lost to twice, despite sustaining a debilitating knee injury in the process.
That brought him back full circle. Tokyo Dome, main event, Kazuchika Okada, IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the line. Naito had lost his previous two heavyweight title matches at the Dome. But he’d also won his last three Intercontinental title matches in the same venue. Who would turn up to this one – the Stardust Genius, El Ingobernable, or somebody else? Who even was Tetsuya Naito anymore?
But come January 5, something feels different.
As Naito steps out from behind the curtain, the mask has literally, and perhaps figuratively disappeared. Rather than hiding his nerves behind a fierce wolf mask, all that Naito is wearing on his face is a look of quiet determination. No more hiding. Win or lose, he is ready to face his destino head-on.
His entrance theme is called Stardust. His brilliant white robe says Los Ingobernables. His video flashes both across the screen. Maybe Naito is still torn between two conflicting identities. But as he purposefully strides to the ring, his eyes close and he takes a deep breath. A man in a panic, or a man at peace?
The bell rings. Naito toys with Okada, refusing to engage at first, a smirk on his lips. The foolish bravado of El Ingobernable, or the mind games of a veteran who knows that an angry Okada is an error-prone one?
The match begins with Okada dominating the opening few minutes. But Naito stays calm, knowing his chance will come. He’s been waiting 730 days for this, and has faced Okada nine times in the ring before. The look in his eyes suggests that he has wrestled this match in his mind a thousand times over. Don’t lose yourself. Keep tranquilo and carry on.
Naito lands a Combinacion Cabron and raises his fist to the sky with his signature eye taunt. The ungovernable Naito is ready to take control. He methodically works over Okada’s neck, knowing how much punishment it took the night before against Kota Ibushi. And throughout, his expression is calm and collected. He knows exactly what he’s doing this time.
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As Naito finds the momentum in his favor, looking down at his opponent who twice crushed his destino, he can’t help but spit disdainfully at this man who has tasted nothing but success. He might still envy him, but he’s not afraid of him anymore.
But Okada has seen it all before, and turns the tide in his favor with a handful of his signature moves. This is business as usual. Death, taxes, and beating Naito in the Tokyo Dome. His face wears an expression of almost boredom as he signals for the Rainmaker, ready to finish this one early.
Naito knows it’s coming. He’s ready for this, and fires back with some vicious elbows. He seems as though he’s thought through every possible scenario beforehand. The match ebbs and flows, with neither man being able to capitalize on their advantage, until Okada hits a dropkick to Naito, sending him tumbling to the floor.
Perhaps realizing that this is not the same Naito that he handily defeated in 2014 and 2018, Okada realizes that it’s time he stepped up his game. He drives Naito’s injured knee ruthlessly into the floor, and then onto the unforgiving wooden announce table. Wrestle Kingdom main event and star ratings be damned, he’ll take the countout victory if it means leaving with his title.
All of Naito’s careful planning looks about to fall apart as he struggles to even get to his feet, let alone make it back to the ring in time. Now he’s relying on pure guts, managing to drag his crippled body back into the ring, only to be on the receiving end of another punishing Okada beatdown.
Almost on instinct, Naito responds with a tornado DDT, catching Okada off guard. Then comes Gloria, followed by a little smirk, as if to let Okada know in no uncertain terms that the Stardust Genius isn’t dead. But there is no rush of blood to the head this time. Naito sticks to his game plan, drilling Okada’s injured neck to the mat with a nasty second-rope poison rana.
Sensing blood in the water, Naito goes for Destino. Okada wriggles free, flooring Naito with a dropkick. But Naito refuses to stay down, showing his newfound grit by popping back to his feet and hitting an unexpecting Okada with a running Destino. He goes for another Destino to seal the deal, but Okada escapes yet again and fires off another dropkick. The Rainmaker is now in survival mode, and will not go down easily.
Clutching each other by the hair, both men realize that they are in a war. Okada understands that Naito has changed. And Naito knows that he is going to have to throw everything he has to keep down Okada.
On their knees in the middle of the ring, the two gladiators exchange hard, but tired forearms. Okada grins, relishing the thrill of the fight. It’s been a long time since he’s been dragged into deep waters like this. It’s what makes him feel alive.
Naito begins to fade. Okada senses this and goes for a Rainmaker. Naito, perhaps playing possum, reverses into a Destino. But Okada grabs him halfway and drills him to the mat with a spinning Tombstone. The resulting Rainmaker is almost a formality, as the history of Wrestle Kingdom 12 prepares to repeat itself in heartbreaking fashion. Naito’s fans can barely bring themselves to watch the inevitable three count.
But this is not the same Naito that choked two years ago. Fuelled by 24 months of resentment and regret, Naito is able to kick out at two. He’s surviving by the skin of his teeth. Okada signals for the Fire Thunder Driver, lifting Naito up over his shoulder, but Naito, sensing his destino slipping away, thrashes around like a madman, with ten times the vigor and desperation he did at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Okada is not expecting this much resistance, dropping Naito in surprise.
Irritated by Naito’s refusal to die, Okada grabs Naito by the hair, dragging him to his feet to deliver the coup de grace. El Ingoberable appears as Naito defiantly spits in the face of the champion, and the naysayers. Okada raises his eyebrows, shrugging his shoulders, as if to say, “Well, you asked for it.” He picks up Naito’s injured knee, repeatedly driving it into the mat. The boos echo around the Tokyo Dome and Okada mockingly raises a hand to his ear. “Don’t take it personally, buddy. It’s just business,” his eyes seem to suggest, as he rams the knee into the canvas one more time.
One short-arm lariat. A second short-arm lariat. A roar from Okada as he readies himself to finish the job. He swings with the Rainmaker, but in a throwback to Invasion Attack 2016, Naito executes a textbook reversal and nails Okada with a Destino.
It should be enough to win, but as Naito lands on his injured knee, he writhes in pain, unable to make the cover. By the time he’s able to attempt the pin, Okada has recovered and kicks out at two.
The Naito from the past may have lost hope at this point. But today, he has some tricks left up his sleeve. With Okada still reeling, the time is right. A quick, functional scoop slam. And now it’s time for the Stardust Genius to shine.
This time, there is no pandering to the crowd. No uncertainty. No panic. Naito strides purposefully to the corner, thumping his chest in conviction, eyes fixed straight ahead, no second wasted. The crowd gasp in disbelief that Naito would try this again, but he proves them wrong as his Stardust Press is executed flawlessly, driving the wind out of Okada.
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_wrestling) January 5, 2020
Okada kicks out at two, but Naito has a Plan B, C and D. He staggers to his feet, signaling for the Destino. Okada, the last ounce of fight left in him, desperately grabs at Naito, attempting the Fire Thunder Driver. But Naito has one last trump card he’s been saving just for this moment. Valentia – courage – the aptly-named northern lights bomb that shows Naito’s evolution from the confused, unconfident failure of 2018 to the brave and savvy warrior of the new decade.
There is no excited, disbelieving gesticulating this time. Without wasting a second, Naito drags Okada to his feet, signals for the Destino, and lands it with aplomb. One, two, three. The bell rings. The fans cheer in ecstasy. Naito is the first-ever double IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight champion.
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_wrestling) January 5, 2020
As his beaten nemesis is helped to the back, Naito calls out to him. Remembering Okada’s mocking words two years ago, will Naito exact his revenge and rub salt in the wounds of his foe?
“Okada…winning the Tokyo Dome main event…It’s awesome, isn’t it? Someday, in the main event of the Tokyo Dome, let’s fight again.”
Magnanimous in victory, Naito is a man who has finally found peace within himself. Okada raises a fist to his triumphant rival.
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_wrestling) January 5, 2020
Tranquilo. His lessons learned, his mask dropped, his evolution complete, his destino is achieved. Now, the man standing in the ring is not the Stardust Genius, not El Ingobernable, but Tetsuya Naito.