On Monday evening Jay White did something that if you had merely suggested it to New Japan fans a year ago, would have resulted in you being scoffed out the building. After a thirty minute match, in which he dominated the majority of the action, he pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi to claim the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
To win any promotion’s top title is a big deal, but to win the IWGP Title? That’s special. Including White, the last ten years have seen only nine names hold it. In the past five, it’s only five. In comparison, the WWE Title has had eighteen different wrestlers win it in the previous ten and twelve in the last five. (Only one man has held both in that time, AJ Styles). New Japan does not put their belt on you unless you have proven yourself at the top of the card. You ain’t getting no Jinder Mahal carrying that sexy piece of bling around.
Which raises the question, how did White get here? For just over a year ago he returned from his excursion to wrestle Tanahashi at the Dome and was widely considered to have shit the bed. While the match was nowhere near as bad as some made out (including me), it wasn’t great. If it aired (cheap WWE dig incoming) on Raw everyone would have talked about it for a couple of days and then forgot it ever happened. At that point, White did not look like a man destined to be considered among New Japan’s top tier talent.
Yet, for all Gedo’s many faults (and they are there) you can never accuse him of backing away from a project. One slip-up was not enough for him to give up on White and over the past year he has set about establishing Knife Pervert as a star. If you want proof of how far he has gone in doing so, you need only look at the bodies he’s left in his wake. CHAOS is all but dead, its members scattered across the roster teaming with old foes and allies alike, The Bullet Club is unrecognisable from where it was a year ago while Tanahashi and Okada have been beaten with relative ease. Jay White sits in the centre of this wreckage with a grin on his face, a COLD beer in his hands and the IWGP Title around his waist.
During all this, we’ve seen White grow too. When he first came in, he looked unsure in his new role. Awkward and uncomfortable with his heel persona. However, over the last year, he’s slowly adjusted, taking it and making it his own. He’s now cold, calculated and yet unhinged. For all his success as the master manipulator, White is prone to outbursts of temper. To a sullen teenage streak when he doesn’t get his own way. He’s more Kylo Ren than Darth Vader, and you suspect that when he does fall, it will be as much his own shortcomings as the strength of the men that stand against him.
Right now, that day seems far away. I’ve no idea how long White will hold this title. While New Japan is not prone to flipping it from body to body too often, recent history has shown a wrestler’s first reign is often short. Okada’s initial run lasted to the second defence while Naito’s only stint as champ to date made it to the first. It is usually in their second dally with the gold that they find their feet which mean there’s every chance White loses at MSG or Dominion. If he does, it won’t matter. Tanahashi has lost it, Okada has lost it, Naito has lost it, and they are all still stars. It’s time to bow down to the Switchblade, baby. He’s here to stay.