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INGOBERNABLE: TETSUYA NAITO'S RISE TO THE TOP OF NEW JAPAN

By Matthew Macklin on 2016-04-15 13:23:00

 

“He’s living in the world of my creation now”. Tetsuya Naito on Bushiroad (NJPW owners) president Takaaki Kidani

 

Tetsuya Naito is the talk of the wrestling world.  NJPW, in the midst of a transformation period crowned the Los Ingobernables de Japon leader the new IWGP Heavyweight champion at Invasion Attack to a huge response from fans in Sumo Hall.  It has been a long road for Naito to gain this acceptance as the once clean cut Stardust Genius has completed his own transformation into an uncontrollable, rebel outlaw.

 

 

After returning from a knee injury in 2013, Naito continued his ascent to the top of NJPW. It was clear that they had big plans for Naito.  As a babyface, Naito was easily comparable to Hiroshi Tanahashi.  He was a clean-cut guy, with an energetic and exciting entrance and moveset.  It looked as if NJPW had pegged Naito as the company's next top babyface star and maybe someone to eventually take over from Tanahashi.  However, something wasn’t right and things just weren’t clicking.  Naito won the 2013 G1 Climax when he defeated Tanahashi in a classic main event.  The Osaka crowd didn’t like it and boo’d Naito.  Naito told the crowd that if he did not win the IWGP heavyweight title that they could continue to boo him.  He did not win the title and the Osaka crowd stuck to their guns.  Naito continues to get a negative reaction in Osaka to this very day.

 

Naito would challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight championship at Wrestle Kingdom 8 on January 4th 2014.  This looked like it would be Naito’s coronation as the new top guy in NJPW, but it wasn’t to be.  Naito didn’t even get to main event the show.  A fan vote decided that the IWGP Intercontinental championship match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi would main event the show.  This snub is something that has been a catalyst for Naito’s turn and the chip on his shoulder.  It was clear that the NJPW fan base just didn’t have a connection with Naito, no matter how hard he worked in the ring. Okada would retain over Naito in a superb match.

 

Match quality and performance have never been a problem for Naito.  He has always been an elite in ring performer.  After losing to Okada, Naito would float around NJPW just a step below the top spot, having many incredible matches along the way.  NJPW had smartly listened to their audience and realised that Naito wasn’t going to be accepted as a top guy and changed their course of action.

 

It wasn’t until 2015 that we saw the transformation of Naito begin.  After competing in ROH at War of the World's, Naito would spend time in Mexico with CMLL where he would align himself with Los Ingobernables.  Translated to The Ungovernables, the heel group made up of La Sombra, Rush, La Mascara and Marco Corleone would set Naito on his current path.

 

Naito would return to NJPW in June a completely different man.  Completely uninterested, Naito would hang out on the apron during tag matches wearing a Los Ingobernables hat & shirt, he would walk off during matches where he was teaming with people he was once friends with, and generally didn’t care about anything.  Instantly, Naito was captivating.  He was already more interesting than he had ever been in NJPW.  It was impossible to take your eyes off him during his matches and he left lots of questions on the table.  This incredible character work from the once seemingly bland and one-dimensional Naito left everyone wondering what he would do next.

 

The unruly Naito became one of the highlights of the 2015 G1 Climax.  He picked up a big win over Hiroshi Tanahashi and began attacking referees and cameramen after his matches.  This is something that rarely happens in the respectful NJPW, especially from a Japanese competitor.  Naito had become a different wrestler.

 

Los Ingobernables de Japon was born on October 12th 2015 at King of Pro Wrestling.  Takaaki Watanabe would return to NJPW under the name EVIL and align with Naito during his match with Hiroshi Tanahashi.  Naito was building his own group that would follow in his unruly behaviour.  Soon to be joined by BUSHI, Naito and his group were gaining strength and were a highlight of every NJPW show.  With the mist of BUSHI, the group were becoming unstoppable and laid waste to just about everyone they came into contact with. Wrestlers, referees, cameramen, young boys, it didn’t matter.   

 

Los Ingobernables de Japon would fail in the finals of the World Tag League and Naito would lose to Hirooki Goto at Wrestle Kingdom 10.  Questions were asked and many wondered were NJPW squandering what they had with Naito.  Maybe they didn’t have the faith in him to go all the way in fear that he couldn’t cut it at the top of the card.  The loss to Goto was part of a bigger plan for Goto that would see Naito defeat Goto in the finals of the 2016 New Japan Cup.  NJPW were going all the way with Naito and they weren’t waiting.

 

In the lead up to Invasion Attack, news came out that Los Ingobernables de Japon merchandise had become a top seller in NJPW.  Fans were getting behind Naito, who started speaking out against NJPW and their “200 million” project, Okada.  Naito was holding nothing back and was speaking his mind on everyone from Okada to Goto to Ishii and even president Takaaki Kidani.  In the polite, respectful Japanese culture, this sort of behaviour is rare and fans were taking to it.  All of a sudden Naito was being looked at as a top guy and fans were clamouring for him to dethrone Okada. Ironically it took Naito turning on NJPW to get the fans behind him.  The same fans whose negativity towards him had set him on his current path.

 

When Naito made his entrance at Invasion Attack it became apparent that Naito had come full circle.  The chip on his shoulder and his real life gripes with the volume turned up had made him a star.  Naito had a good 80% of the Sumo Hall crowd behind him as he took the IWGP title for the first time in his career, with the help of newest LIJ member, SANADA.

 

It was a classic match with a big fight feel and thirty minutes of programming that turned NJPW upside down.  It felt like everything had changed in NJPW and that a new day had dawned.  After the loss of Nakamura, Styles, Anderson and Gallows, Naito had stepped up and he, along with others have made NJPW even more interesting and exciting than it was one year ago.  The loss of the now famous four was a blessing in disguise.

 

Naito would throw the prestigious IWGP title belt in the middle of the ring and leave without it in the ultimate show of disrespect to NJPW and everyone that has ever held that title.  In his words “I’m more important than this. I’m the guy… It’s wrestling me that’s the bigger privilege”. One thing meant so much and looks to have set the tone for Naito’s reign as champion.  There are a whole host of possibilities for NJPW with Naito and Los Ingobernables de Japon on top.  For five years, three men, Tanahashi, Okada and Styles have had a stranglehold on the title.  Now the cycle is broken as NJPW have proven that some well thought out booking, not sticking to their original, and willingness to take a risk can mean great things.  If only some other places would follow suit.

 

I can be found on Twitter @MatthewMacklin and RunningEnzuigiri.com (TweetEnzuigiri).

Translations by @reasonjp.

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