Will Ospreay’s 2015 and 2016 had been years that changed the course of his career. He won the top title in his home promotion, wrestled the man who inspired him to train, and he was now signed to New Japan Pro Wrestling. Throw in some hardware from Best of the Super Juniors and what else was there to prove? In New Japan, Ospreay found himself falling back into his old ways, impressing but falling just short of victory. He lost to KUSHIDA in his New Japan debut and while winning Best of the Super Juniors was a huge step, the high was short-lived after losing to KUSHIDA once again. Sure he had won the Ring of Honor Television Title, but he lost it two days later. Ospreay was young, and lost many matches to more experienced competition because he didn’t make adjustments. The mission for 2017 was simple: defeat KUSHIDA, become the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, and realize the potential that Okada saw when he invited Will into CHAOS.
2/11 vs. Katsuyori Shibata
The New Beginning in Osaka 2017
Despite Ospreay being in Japan, he was still involved in the UK scene. Entering The New Beginning he was the RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion, but he had his eyes set on the top prize in RevPro. In his way was the current British Heavyweight Champion, fellow NJPW wrestler Katsuyori Shibata. This match would be a brief change of pace for Ospreay as this would be his first singles match against a New Japan heavyweight since his match with Okada in 2015. Ospreay wrestled a good match against Shibata, but it was evident that he still had to develop more before he could consistently hang with the heavyweights. When Will was wrestling his style, he was successful. Will would lose momentum when he would change his offense, notably when he initiated striking exchanges with the hard-hitting Shibata. Ultimately, the cause of Ospreay’s loss was familiar. Shibata had scouted a counter for Will’s signature moves, but Will had no answer for the Sleeper Hold or Penalty Kick.
5/12 vs. Jay White
ROH War of the Worlds 2017
Will started his ROH run in late 2016, and after he won gold in his debut and lost it days later, he had spent most of his time in ROH doing multi-man matches and being on the Chaos side of multi-man tags. Ospreay was not the only young NJPW wrestler looking to prove himself in Ring of Honor. A pre-Switchblade Jay White awaited Ospreay at War of the Worlds. Perhaps Jay had learned some things about Ospreay when he was ringside for Ospreay’s NJPW debut the year before. This match was two younger talents abroad trying to impress New Japan management. Ospreay focused more on striking than many would expect, but White was getting the best of nearly every exchange. Will bucked the trend from his previous matches and the turning point in this match was a reversal of one of his opponent’s signature moves, leading to the OsCutter and the win. The only catch was that despite his youth, Ospreay was the more experienced wrestler in the match.
Could he translate it to a match against someone more experienced than himself?
6/3 vs. KUSHIDA
Best of the Super Juniors 24
For the second straight year, Ospreay found himself in the Best of the Super Juniors final. If he were able to win, he would be only the second person to win back-to-back Best of the Super Junior tournaments. Will and KUSHIDA’s journeys through the tournament were different from last year. This year Will was in the tougher block and even so, won the block outright without the need for a tiebreaker. KUSHIDA got off to a very slow start in the weaker block and got through to the final by winning a four-person tiebreaker. KUSHIDA’s 2017 had been disappointing thus far back-to-back losses to Hiromu Takahashi, one of those in less than two minutes. Could Ospreay take advantage of KUSHIDA’s sluggish first half of the year and overcome the Time Splitter? Ospreay wrestled this match differently than he had the previous two. He was more aggressive, and his striking improvement was evident as he stuck with KUSHIDA through several exchanges. Ospreay also took some of his offense to the apron, a more vicious strategy than he had used previously. Will had grown stronger, escaping an armbar by lifting KUSHIDA into a powerbomb.
Will had learned from previous matches and was able to escape the Hoverboard lock late in the match, but after nearly 30 minutes, Ospreay fell victim to KUSHIDA’s new finisher, Back to the Future.
10/9 vs. KUSHIDA
King of Pro Wrestling 2017
After KUSHIDA won Best of the Super Juniors, he challenged for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title at Dominion. Unlike Ospreay the year before, KUSHIDA converted his tournament win into a championship. To make matters worse for Ospreay, KUSHIDA has even beaten him in his home country of England in the final of What Culture Pro Wrestling’s Pro Wrestling World Cup.
After several successful defenses from KUSHIDA, the match was set for King of Pro Wrestling. Another title challenge for Ospreay, perhaps his last if he couldn’t get the job done. This match was wrestled at a faster pace than the Best of the Super Junior final, perhaps to be expected in the third match between these two in the last four months. KUSHIDA stepped up the aggression in this match, taking to the outside early and resorting to Danielson stomps late. In the closing sequence, Ospreay redeemed all of the previous defeats. He reversed the small package driver, he escaped the Hoverboard Lock, and he set KUSHIDA up for a counter into the OsCutter. After four unsuccessful attempts, Ospreay had finally defeated KUSHIDA, and he had brought the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title to CHAOS.
2/10 vs. Hiromu Takahashi
New Beginning in Osaka 2018
With KUSHIDA in the rearview for now, it seemed Ospreay was poised for a long reign at the top of the junior division. Unfortunately, this was not the case as perpetual thorn in the side Marty Scurll defeated Ospreay in his first defense. This set up a four-way at Wrestle Kingdom between the champion Scurll, Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi, and KUSHIDA. Ospreay won the match by pinning Scurll, returning the favor for the Ospreay title reigns that were put to an end by Scurll. With pinfall victories over Scurll and KUSHIDA within the past months, Takahashi was selected as Ospreay’s challenger for the New Beginning in Osaka. Takahashi was looking for revenge as Ospreay from Best of the Super Juniors last year when Ospreay defeated him to win the block and go on to the final. Hiromu started the match with what won him the title previously: taking the action to the outside. Ospreay’s confidence was evident. He had beaten both KUSHIDA and Scurll, and he already had a singles victory over Hiromu. Takahashi targeted Ospreay’s neck, even hitting his signature sunset flip powerbomb to the floor. Ospreay avoided the Timebomb from Hiromu, but almost lost the match after attempting it himself. Ospreay’s aggression proved to be the deciding factor, removing his elbow pad and hitting Takahashi with an elbow to the back of the head, before hitting a third and final attempt at the OsCutter.
3/6 vs. Kazuchika Okada
NJPW 46th Anniversary
After winning their respective matches at the New Beginning, Okada and Ospreay kept the IWGP Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight titles in the CHAOS camp, but for the 46th Anniversary show, the stablemates would face each other in the main event. This confrontation would be their second, after their initial match that prompted Okada to invite Ospreay into CHAOS. As expected, the stablemates knew each other well, repeatedly countering each other’s signature moves. Ospreay was a different wrestler than the first meeting, he had put on mass and was a better striker than the kid Okada had faced in York Hall three years before. Ospreay proved a tougher opponent for Okada than in 2015, but he was still not on the same level as the Rainmaker.
6/9 vs. Hiromu Takahashi
After beating KUSHIDA in a title defense, Ospreay had the most momentum he had since winning the Best of the Super Junior in 2016. He looked to ride that momentum to another Best of the Super Junior victory, but instead found himself in a new situation. Ospreay was the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, but he had just watched the Best of the Super Junior finals from the sidelines as Hiromu Takahashi defeated Taiji Ishimori, the only man who bested Ospreay in the A Block. In the time between their last match and this one, Ospreay had developed a new finishing move. The Stormbreaker was a power finisher added to Ospreay’s arsenal as he grew stronger. Ospreay would hope to take advantage of Hiromu’s short rest between matches. Will himself wasn’t in perfect health, his neck covered in tape. Ospreay worked more viciously in this match, drawing boos from the crowd. Ospreay was unable to hit the Stormbreaker, attempting it three times. After successfully keeping the match in the ring for nearly the whole match, Ospreay finally fell victim to the sunset flip powerbomb to the concrete he had exposed earlier. This was the beginning of the end of Ospreay and he was later pinned by Hiromu after the Time Bomb.
Ospreay had been in the title mix for two years at this point, maybe it was time for a change of pace.
For the remainder of 2018, Ospreay spent much time in multi-man tags for New Japan and back on the European indies. Despite Ospreay putting on size and evolving his offense, he still fell short of the minimum weight for the Heavyweight division and would have to compete in the Openweight division to separate himself from the juniors. Outside of New Japan’s rigid division structure, Ospreay found himself wrestling heavyweights more frequently, looking to gain experience for his hopeful heavyweight future.
10/13/18 vs. WALTER
OTT Fourth Anniversary
After several New Japan tours, Ospreay was now a featured act on any show that he was a part of, finding himself near the top of the card more often than not. Ospreay returned to OTT in Ireland to challenge WALTER for the OTT Championship. If Ospreay wanted heavyweight experience, he was going to get all that and then some with the superheavyweight WALTER. Ospreay couldn’t match WALTER’s size or strength, so he had to revert to his old ways on offense. Instead of going for strikes, Ospreay opted for the high-risk moves that he was known for earlier in his career. While WALTER couldn’t keep up with Ospreay’s speed, the high flying offense became too predictable as WALTER countered a dive from Ospreay and won the match shortly after.
Returning to Japan once more, Ospreay was scheduled to face Taichi in a #1 contender’s match for the NEVER Openweight Title. Recovering from a rib injury, Ospreay couldn’t use his full repertoire, missing the signature explosivity in his offense.
Despite the disadvantage, Ospreay was victorious and had his match for NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13: a title match against Kota Ibushi.