David Finlay is one of my favorite wrestlers in NJPW. There’s something to be said for technical excellence and snug work, it’s a combination that is rare in modern wrestling. Finlay is consistent beyond his years, and everything he does looks crisp and mechanically sound. His work embodies an excellence that was easier to obtain 30 years ago when a crossbody counted as a high spot, and a lack of transparency that few wrestlers in the business today can offer to a match.
No matter the pace or opponent, David Finlay holds his own and then some while never faltering in the quality of his in-ring work.
Some would chalk this up to pedigree. David Finlay is, of course, just one of a long line of pro wrestlers. His father Fit was known for similar attributes, but the road to consistency is never a birthright.
When David Finlay first appeared in NJPW, I remember he was gangly and pale and looked like a child. He clearly knew some of the basics but looked like he lacked the requisite athleticism to really catch on in an NJPW ring. I thought after his first Best of the Super Juniors appearance, he would leave, and was shocked to see him become a Young Lion. Over the course of the next five years, David Finlay was granted sporadic opportunities to show what he could do and to his credit, he typically did very well while showing incremental progress throughout. Despite this, his placement on the card never seemed to change, and he would often be back to the cycle of losing a match, then treading water.
You know how this story normally ends if you’ve watched wrestling for long enough. It’s rare that a wrestler holds firm and commits on the road to consistent improvement without some form of positive reinforcement. David Finlay’s improvements were not rewarded with opportunities to shine. Yet, seemingly by virtue of perseverance, Finlay got his shot by teaming with the ever-eccentric Juice Robinson after treading water for nearly three years. The two made for a unique duo, providing for what the other lacked in ways that made the pairing a compelling watch. What Juice lacked in work, Finlay could manage in spades. What Finlay lacked in charisma, Juice could take care of easily. The two eventually won the tag team titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14 before being subsequently kneecapped by GOD while getting their legs under them.
No, I don’t mean how they lost the belts the next month. I mean their push was halted by the onset of COVID-19.
Unable to wrestle in Japan or even domestically, it seemed that Finlay’s push was never meant to be. COVID-19 provided many uncertainties, and for someone whose spot in the company always seemed tentative and less distinguished it was hard to truly see a path forward for him. In August 2020, we would get a taste of what modern Finlay had to offer on New Japan Strong before he found his way back to Japan for the World Tag League.
In this time, it seemed that he had begun experimenting with his look and attire, and his in-ring abilities seemed to carry a confidence they had lacked when he first came into the company. This, of course, culminated in another loss, a feud-ender with Guerillas of Destiny at the World Tag League finals that sent Finlay home until the New Japan Cup rolled around.
This was a story we’d seen before. David Finlay would be in the New Japan Cup to lose in a serviceable match before moving on with his life. Thankfully, this isn’t what happened at all. For the first time in his career, David Finlay seemed to be receiving a singles push that entailed a real, legitimate tournament arc rife with upsets and, more importantly, excellent matches. David Finlay went on a tear, defeating Chase Owens, YOSHI-HASHI, and most importantly, Jay White, a man positioned as his rival since his time as a Young Lion. In many ways, White served as the perfect antithesis to Finlay. Everything Finlay lacked intrinsically, White had in spades. White walked in the door great and was pushed to the moon because of it, whereas Finlay had to forge his own path where his opportunities had to be earned every step of the way.
Finlay’s New Japan Cup ended in a semifinal bout with Will Ospreay, an excellent match that served as a showcase for what he could do in-ring when given the opportunity. With all of this happening in the midst of a pandemic, it took a while for Finlay to get back in the spotlight.
Indeed he would need to bide his time, working tag matches in Impact until he was finally granted an opportunity for a singles match with Jay White at Resurgence. The match wasn’t a spectacle, but everything in it looked great, and looked intentional. The dynamic of White and Finlay provided excellent theater to those who tuned in and while White came out victorious, it seemed clear that Finlay was a genuine singles title challenger in the modern NJPW landscape. He had come a long way from where he started, yet it seemed that he had been sent back to the back of the proverbial line yet again, not given any direction worth noting until July of the next year.
When Finlay declared for the G1 Climax, I was oddly excited to see how he would perform. Finlay was given a Korakuen Hall main event in his first G1 Climax, facing off against his old tag partner Juice Robinson in a match that far exceeded my expectations. The crowd was into the match the whole way through, and the excitement at the end when Finlay got his hand raised was an exciting step forward for a guy who had struggled to form a connection with the crowd. Finlay would follow this victory up with two more major upsets, scoring one over Shingo Takagi and another over Will Ospreay in his second main event of the G1 Climax. The latter victory scored him a US title match, and yet another opportunity to show what he could do if given a spot to shine.
On September 25, it seemed that Finlay was finally given his opportunity to show what he could do in a main event spot on a big show. Finlay wrestled Will Ospreay in a breathtaking 28-minute barnburner and a match that may have been in my top five for the entire year. The work was crisp and full of venom, Finlay showed a level of speed and technical precision he had seldom been afforded the opportunity to display and, even in defeat, came out of the match with his stock seemingly raised. Finlay had taken Ospreay to his limit, and held his own in the ring with arguably the best wrestler on Earth.
I’d like to tell you this culminated in a sustained push, that Finlay had finally shown himself to be worthy of consideration for more consistent showings, but that was, of course, not the case. It had never come easy for Finlay, and while he did feature prominently in the eventual New Japan TV title tournament, he would ultimately lose to eventual winner Zack Sabre Jr. before disappearing to tag matches for the rest of the calendar year.
Even though it ended on a sour note, 2022 was a banner year for David Finlay and a testament to his steady climb as one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world.
He is a man whose work far outshines his placement on the card, and 2023 is shaping up to be a key year in his continued climb up the New Japan ladder. When David Finlay returns for the New Japan Cup next month, I’ll be watching not only to see how he performs in the tournament, but to see what comes next for him. I hope it’s a prominent singles push throughout the year, and maybe even a title. To stand out in a company with some of the greatest wrestlers in the world is a wonderful achievement, continued improvement is something worthy of celebration, and I hope that David Finlay can continue to ascend up the card in the year to come.
Insert a shillelagh here, please.
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