It has been an eventful past-36 hours for EVIL.
The Los Ingornobles de Japon co-founder defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the New Japan Cup, betrayed his friend-turned-opponent Tetsuya Naito, joined Bullet Club, then proceeded to beat his former LIJ stablemate to become the new dual IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion.
If that sounds like an insane change of pace, that’s because it is.
New Japan Pro Wrestling is not a company known for making rash decisions. The consistency of the promotion is one of the many reasons they’ve gathered such a large audience, whether it be the in-ring excellence or the storylines surrounding the matches themselves. But the rollercoaster of change that EVIL has undergone over this past weekend is, to put it as simply as I can, interesting.
Not good, not bad, just very, very interesting.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and, with the coronavirus pandemic surely butchering any plans New Japan had for the next 10-12 months, changes were obviously in order. But the one thing I’m left asking myself after the Dominion main event is: Why EVIL?
Don’t get me wrong, I adore EVIL. He’s easily one of the most consistent wrestlers on the entire New Japan roster, and that’s saying something. If there is one objectively good thing that has come out of this, Its that EVIL is getting a run as the IWGP Heavyweight champion. Something that many fans of “The King of Darkness” thought they’d never see. This needs to be stated because my questioning of the events of this past weekend has nothing to do with the abilities of the man in question himself. It has everything to do with the fact that this situation just seems very……odd (or, as I said before, “Interesting”. If that goes down better).
Let’s start with the obvious abnormality in this situation: EVIL joining Bullet Club.
It was clear from the get-go that a major restructuring of Bullet Club was necessary upon New Japan’s resumption of their shows, given that the two heads of the faction, KENTA & “Switchblade” Jay White, weren’t going to be able to re-enter the country for the foreseeable future. Having a major member of a rival faction defect to become B.C’s new de-facto leader is a huge way to garner attention, but the addition of EVIL to the group (let alone as its new spearhead) just seems like New Japan trying to slam a square peg into a round hole. The glitzy petulance of Bullet Club doesn’t exactly mesh with the scythe-wielding former L.I.J mainstay (although he did ditch the scythe/cloak entrance for his first walkout as a member of the faction). So I’ll ask again: Why EVIL?
The most perplexing moment of this past weekend was not EVIL’s entanglement with Bullet Club, or even him winning the IWGP Heavyweight title. Its the fact that of all the members in L.I.J, he was the one chosen to double-cross Tetsuya Naito.
Now for anyone who has been following NJPW at all over the past few years, it’s been clear that an L.I.J defection could happen at any moment. It had been teased so much that it truly was a matter of “When” and not “If”. The timing isn’t confusing at all. Like I said: desperate times call for desperate measures. But I can’t help but scratch my head at the selection of EVIL to do the (dis)honors. The more I thought about it, the answer as to why I was so skeptical at this decision hit me like a ton of bricks.
Instead of asking “Why EVIL?” I began asking myself: “Why NOT Sanada?”
I’m a much bigger fan of EVIL than I am of his tag team partner, but if you were to tell me that a member of L.I.J would turn, join Bullet Club, and win both the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental titles from Naito, never in a million years would I expect that man to be anyone other than Sanada. Because when you think about it, Sanada being the man to make all of this happen just makes too much sense.
He fits in astronomically better with the “Too cool for rules” attitude of Bullet Club (he even walks to the ring in a mask shaped like a skull for crying out loud), he has much more a claim to being frustrated within the L.I.J ranks (especially with Naito winning the Heavyweight title since Sanda is 0-3 in matches for the belt since 2018), and he’s someone who doesn’t feel out of place in the main event scene. While EVIL’s talent is in no doubt at a main event level, his chances in that spotlight are few and far in-between, whereas Sanada is seen duking it out in singles matches with the best New Japan has to offer on a regular basis.
What makes this decision so interesting is that rarely do you see such a massive status shift for a New Japan competitor. To go from being arguably the fourth-highest profile member of your stable (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champ Hiromu Takahashi being 2nd or 3rd only to Sanada and Naito), to the leader of the most popular faction in all of wrestling and becoming the dual-holder of the two most prestigious titles in the company in the span of 24 hours has never been seen before. The only moment in New Japan’s modern era that even compares in scale is the Rainmaker Shock at New Beginning 2012. This kind of uncertainty is good. The word “predictable” may come off a bit too harsh but there is undoubtedly a method and system to the way New Japan creates and handles their stars but, after this weekend, that system has been flipped on its head. That is very exciting to see, and the massive shake-up that Bullet Club (and NJPW as a whole) has seen over the past few days is sure to get the eyes of the wrestling world on the promotion, but its also a very slippery slope. EVIL leading this company into the near future as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion & the new leader of Bullet Club is an “odd” and “Interesting” pick, especially since most assumed NJPW would play the initial months of the restart as safe as possible.
If this first big angle of the post-shutdown era ends up being a miss, it could be a very bad omen for the foreseeable future of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Follow Me on Twitter: @TrentOsborneFS