Right now, whenever I think of the shuffling of the upper card of NJPW, I can’t help but imagine Gedo like a mad scientist, garbed in a tattered lab coat and Kangol hat, wringing his hands together and mumbling gutturally as he assembles a new crop of top guys. He paces around a room filled with bubbling Erlenmeyer flasks and whiz-bang laboratory machinery, laying in the final plans for the surprising main event of NJPW Dominion 2023. Placing a newly anointed yet unproven world champion against a challenger literally returning from overseas excursion is an experiment worthy of him laughing maniacally to the sky, as lightning crashes and sparks all around him, should it pay off.
Between the Dominion main event and earmarking guys like Shota Umino, David Finlay, and El Phantasmo for great things, experimentation is indeed the key word of Gedo’s future vision for New Japan. As that mindset coalesces, I cannot help but think that this would be the perfect opportunity to revisit one of his most notorious modern experiments and give it another go.
It’s time to belt up EVIL again.
Everything Is Context
Among many (if not most) NJPW fans, the booking of EVIL since his split from Los Ingobernables de Japon has been a low point for the company. Even before the creation of House of Torture proper, the pairing of EVIL and Dick Togo established his house style (pun intended) for matches, one being marred with interference and ref bumps, and frustrating overbooking.
The idea of thrusting EVIL into the main event by effectively stealing the double titles off Tetsuya Naito in 2020 was certainly bold, and a decision I still can’t fault Gedo for wanting to try out. After canceling numerous shows and events, there was clearly a desire from the King of Pro-Wrestling’s head booker to get people talking about the product. Since live audiences couldn’t create the buzz, said buzz needed to be generated elsewhere.
What better than using a straight-up, old-fashioned, heel-wins-in-heel-fashion angle to blow up the world title scene?
Fans’ rejection of this decision was nigh-unanimous and was only further compounded as EVIL surrounded himself with BULLET CLUB’s resident sack of turnips Yujiro Takahashi while dragging down every puro fan’s favorite prospect SHO into his abyss of hogwash. House of Torture became reviled, a low point of every show they participated in.
Like with Gedo, I have trouble laying blame on the feet of fans who, like myself, saw no value in EVIL’s antics. It’s hard to pinpoint why, but I would wager that part of the outright rejection was a deep-seated need for the exciting, workrate-first style of NJPW to carry us through the monotony of the empty arena months. Perhaps fans sought the scintillating brilliance of a card filled with 4-star plus bouts to help us lose sight of the abhorrent torture of this nothing era. We needed energy and high-octane action to break the doldrums of the barren pandemic wrestling landscape. EVIL delivered the complete opposite of that.
The rejection was loud, passionate, and reverberating. Even Kevin Kelly openly opined on air that EVIL matches had the potential to drive away subscribers from NJPW World. “It will never work in front of a live crowd, they’ll reject it,” was echoed amidst the circles of the New Japan faithful.
Darkness Scorpion… King?
Fast forward to now, with venues filling back up and clap crowds now relegated to a time best forgotten, and EVIL hasn’t changed his ways (his evil ways… EVIL’s evil ways?). In fact, we are now seeing how the live crowds are reacting. His shenanigans, often abetted by his House of Torture accomplices, are getting loud, rousing reactions from the live crowds. EVIL cuts promos to jeers and vociferous displeasure of the live audience.
Yes, the disdain is loud, but it shouldn’t be confused with go-away heat, as his actions have the direct effect of helping the audience rally behind the babyface. When he shows up unannounced to beat up Lio Rush before a match, in a tournament where heavyweights are not welcome, mind you, and that attack immediately ignites the audience into full-court support for Rush, something right is happening here.
I can’t help but wonder if there had been a live crowd when EVIL turned on Naito? What if there had been a packed and vocal crowd in Osaka Jo-Hall to bear witness to EVIL’s backhanded championship victory?
It’s time to make an evil EVIL a world champion again.
Let’s settle the debates and put the questions to bed. If the heat was just disapproval or hand-waving by fans wanting him to leave, we wouldn’t even be wasting our time here, today. But his hijinks are lighting up live audiences to get behind the babyfaces; the very essence of an efficient heel.
Are EVIL’s antics propped up by House of Torture tiresome? Sure, they can be. But it’s legitimately what separates House of Torture from every other faction in New Japan at this current time.
BULLET CLUB has moved on from the interminable interference that would previously define its group’s matches. Suzuki-gun is no more. Even a faction like United Empire, whose heel-leaning membership would be privy to interfering right and left, doesn’t partake. It’s not like it’s overused in any other spot on the card. It’s EVIL’s (and his group’s) to claim.
Put EVIL in the top spot and let the babyface challengers build their crowd support. Firing him up against SANADA would be a good test of the new world champion’s appeal. Let Shota Umino and Yota Tsuji build their reputations off him. Consecrate El Phantasmo’s babyface turn with a program against him. The exit of Jay White from the company has unquestionably left a void in the “top heel” spot and Gedo has nothing to lose by resurrecting one of his boldest experiments into this brand new context, and clamor “it’s alive!” to the heavens should it work out.
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