Will Ospreay found himself in no man’s land to start 2020. He had gone back and forth between divisions in 2019, starting the year as the NEVER Openweight champion and ending it as the Junior champion, with trips to the heavyweight New Japan Cup and G1 Climax tournaments in between. After a successful Junior Heavyweight title defense at NJPW Power Struggle, Ospreay asked who was left to challenge him in the Junior division. He wasn’t wrong. He had run through everyone in the division. Ospreay was a Junior champion who felt destined for full-time heavyweight competition, and soon.

January 4 vs. Hiromu Takahashi
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14

VOW Show Review

Walking into his fourth straight Wrestle Kingdom, Ospreay faced a returning Hiromu Takahashi. Ospreay had reason to be confident after winning his first two singles matches against Hiromu, but both men were coming off a challenging 2019, for different reasons. While Hiromu was recovering from his broken neck, Ospreay participated in almost every New Japan tournament. Minutes into the match, it was clear that the injury did not change Hiromu’s mindset as he hit Ospreay with a missile dropkick to the floor. Ospreay’s focus of attack was an obvious one: the neck. He controlled most of this match with strikes and neck-focused throws. Hiromu had scouted Ospreay well with counters to the OsCutter, Hidden Blade, and Stormbreaker. Ospreay was able to connect with the Hidden Blade on his third attempt, but the Stormbreaker was once again countered. Ospreay was able to kick out of the Time Bomb, but was defeated by Hiromu’s new finisher, Time Bomb II.

February 2 vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo 2020

VOW Show Review

If there is an oversight in the match selection of these columns, it is the lack of Zack Sabre Jr. Ospreay and Sabre have been linked since making their rises at the same time in the mid-2010s European boom. Going into this match, Ospreay had five wins to Sabre’s seven. Ospreay was again challenging for the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Title, which had eluded him in his accolade-rich career. ZSJ’s game plan is exactly as one would suspect, work the limbs of Ospreay to keep him grounded. Will keeps up pretty well during an initial grappling exchange and an early pinning sequence, but it’s hard for anyone to match Zack Sabre in a grappling contest for long. Ospreay did some limb work of his own in the middle of the match, targeting the leg of Sabre with strikes and a figure four. Ospreay gained the advantage later in the match when ZSJ ran out of counters to many of his signature moves. Unfortunately for Will, he didn’t run out of counters for Stormbreaker. After a counter to the Stormbreaker, Sabre scores a submission victory to go up.

February 14 vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
RevPro High Stakes 2020

VOW Show Review

Ospreay’s next match was another challenge for the British Heavyweight Championship, this time in England. Andy Quildan sums up the last match wonderfully on commentary. “Ospreay was able to provide a lot of answers to Zack Sabre Jr but wasn’t quite able to solve the puzzle”  This match is a different story than the last. Ospreay takes control early with strikes and can keep Sabre off his game until a missed moonsault leads to a neck crank from ZSJ. From there, ZSJ is in control. After Ospreay can halt Sabre’s momentum, this becomes a back-and-forth affair, with counter sequences that only two people who have wrestled each other this often can execute. A Sabre submission spoils every Ospreay comeback until Ospreay can break Zack’s grip on a triangle and execute a top rope powerbomb, leading to a Hidden Blade and Stormbreaker for the win.

October 16 vs. Kazuchika Okada
NJPW G1 Climax 30

VOW Show Review

Here we go again.

Since their last G1 contest, Ospreay had put on size and leaned even more on his striking. This match starts off quickly with Ospreay hitting the Sasuke Special nearly immediately and going for the Stormbreaker, which Okada avoids. This is the most Ospreay has controlled an Okada match. Okada is not only working for the Rainmaker in the match but the dreaded Money Clip as well. While Ospreay is in the Money Clip, Bea Priestley distracts the ref while Great O’Khan hits Okada with a chokeslam, leading to a Stormbreaker and the win from Ospreay. He finally got his win over Okada, but not in the way everyone wanted.

Say hello to the United Empire.

Say hello to the Kingpin.

January 4 vs. Kazuchika Okada
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15

VOW Show Review

Once again, it was Ospreay vs. Okada, this time in the Tokyo Dome. It has been said multiple times in this series, but now more than ever, Okada was facing a different Will Ospreay. Ospreay was no longer a member of CHAOS, with an attitude unrecognizable when compared to the Ospreay of old. The early portion of the match shows a change from matches past. When Ospreay gets sent to the floor, Okada hit him with a tope to the floor. When Ospreay sends Okada to the floor, he doesn’t follow with the Sasuke Special, but instead goes out to remove the protective mats from the floor. Ospreay’s intentions are more violent in this match, with attempts at the Stormbreaker and OsCutter on the apron. He slapped a defenseless Okada repeatedly, he stomped Okada’s face. This backfired and brought out a more violent side of the Rainmaker. While the strategy was different for Ospreay, the end of the match was all too familiar, Okada wins with the Rainmaker.

March 21 vs. Shingo Takagi
NJPW New Japan Cup 2021 Final

VOW Show Review

Ospreay looked for his first shot at IWGP Heavyweight gold as he entered the New Japan Cup again. After victories over Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Zack Sabre Jr., SANADA, and David Finlay, Ospreay found himself in the final across the bracket from Shingo Takagi. They were no strangers to each other, especially in tournaments. A victory from Shingo in G1 Climax 30 had evened the series at 1-1, and now the New Japan Cup final would be the tiebreaker. Early in the match, Shingo targeted the broken nose of Ospreay, and Ospreay responded by targeting the injured lower back of Takagi. Despite the numerous counters to Ospreay’s offense, Shingo wasn’t ready for the new behavior of Ospreay. Using Bea Priestley as a distraction and putting Shingo through the table may have been the deciding factor in this match. Ospreay wins after hitting Shingo with a Hidden Blade/Stormbreaker combo to win the New Japan Cup.

April 4 vs. Kota Ibushi
NJPW Sakura Genesis 2021

VOW Show Review

Five years after his New Japan debut, Will Ospreay was walking into his first shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The series between Ospreay and Ibushi was tied at one each, but Ospreay’s win ended a previous Ibushi title reign. Ibushi starts the match on the ground in an attempt to slow Ospreay’s pace. Before long, Ibushi began to target the shoulder Ospreay injured in the New Japan Cup. After taking back control with some forearms, Ospreay began to work the neck of Kota Ibushi. A set of Kawada kicks sends Ibushi into a trance, but before Ibushi can chain together many strikes, Will counters with a discus forearm to keep control. After an Ibushi deadlift german suplex, Ospreay could string together a Hidden Blade to Chelsea Grin combo, but the Stormbreaker was countered into a Kamigoye. When Ibushi went for a second to seal the victory, Ospreay countered with a roll-up.

After an Ibushi kick-out, Ospreay hits Ibushi with a V Trigger, followed by the Hidden Blade and the Stormbreaker for the win. Like Wrestle Kingdom in 2019, Ospreay ended Ibushi’s title reign. However, unlike last time, this victory was not another step up the mid card. Ospreay had reached the top.

After his victory, Ospreay called out Kazuchika Okada to avenge his Wrestle Kingdom loss.

After Okada got in the ring to accept the challenge, a vengeful Shingo Takagi interrupted and argued that because he defeated Okada in the New Japan Cup, Shingo should get the first shot with Okada facing the winner. Ospreay agreed, and his first title defense was set for Wrestling Dontaku.

May 4 vs. Shingo Takagi
NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2021

VOW Show Review

Shingo vs. Ospreay, round 4.

As it stood, Ospreay led the series two to one. While Shingo’s victory was important, Ospreay had won when the lights were brightest, defeating Shingo in the BoSJ and New Japan Cup finals, respectively. Early in this match, the story was familiar to Ospreay. Even though he had put on more size and muscle than ever before, Shingo would still have the power advantage. Shingo had also adapted to the new tactics of Ospreay, countering Ospreay’s attempt at a table attack with one of his own. After regaining the momentum, Ospreay turned his focus to the arm of Takagi, hoping to limit the effectiveness of Shingo’s signature offense. Ospreay turned to his old strategy of taking a former rival’s move by applying KUSHIDA’s Hoverboard Lock to the arm of the Dragon. In match four between these two, the familiarity was evident. Almost every move was met with a counter. An OsCutter attempt on the apron was reversed by Shingo, leading to a Made in Japan through the tables set up at ringside. Takagi reversed Ospreay’s attempt at a top rope OsCutter in a callback to the Best of the Super Junior final. After Shingo won a strike exchange with back-to-back headbutts, Ospreay hit the Chelsea Grin and a Rainmaker, which would signal the end. The Hidden Blade and Stormbreaker followed, and Ospreay was victorious in his first title defense.

Unfortunately, this would be Ospreay’s only defense, as it was announced on May 20 that Ospreay had sustained a neck injury and would be returning to the UK for treatment. Without a recovery time set, New Japan had no choice but to vacate the title.

Ospreay appeared on NJPW Resurgence in Los Angeles, claiming he was the real IWGP World Heavyweight champion. He would return to RevPro on August 21 and finish the year in New Japan Strong and various independents across the US and Europe. After a year where Ospreay missed months due to injury, he looked to get back on track in 2022, starting with proving he was the rightful IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 16.