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    Wednesday, October 27, 2021

    Cafe Puro: Bobby 2 Belts

    We already love Robbie Eagles for representing Australia and the Philippines equally while wrestling for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. What we did not expect, however, was that he would be the holder of two titles in the company, and he's only been with NJPW for three years! Yesterday's Road to Power Struggle show brought an even bigger surprise when he won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Tiger Mask IV. Very few wrestlers can lay claim to being a double champion in one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world in just three years, and Kuya Robbie has joined that exclusive club. 

    Why Does The Flying Tiger's IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Title Win Matter?

    When it comes to wrestlers winning belts in NJPW, the company is much more selective with their champions. The habit of switching titles like a hot potato doesn't happen in the company unless you're in the Heavyweight Tag Division.

    The Second Fiddle

    Robbie Eagles and Will Ospreay from Royal Quest (Photo from NJPW1972)

    Robbie Eagles winning the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship is still unbelievable because he has had several unsuccessful attempts to win that title in the company. His first attempts at winning these titles came from Will Ospreay's time in Chaos. Together, they were known as the Birds of Prey. Even before that, Robbie was already going after these titles during his earlier run with the Bullet Club. 

    During the Birds of Prey run, it was clear that Robbie was playing second fiddle to Will Ospreay. So after Ospreay left Chaos and formed the United Empire, there was suddenly an open spot as Chaos needed a new designated Jr. Heavyweight singles star.

    New Year, New Focus

    The Sniper of The Skies spent much of the post-pandemic era without a tag partner, which was actually a blessing in disguise. Ospreay's departure finally gave Eagles the chance to shine as Chaos's solo Jr. Heavyweight, allowing him to take over the role left by his former tag partner. However, Eagles' solo run took a while to get going because of the pandemic. Thankfully, he began to build momentum during the 2020 Best of the Super Juniors tournament, where he had a solid 4-5 showing.

    Travel restrictions would keep Robbie in Australia for the next few months, and he was only able to fly back to Japan this past July, in time for the Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome show. Just before his return, he challenged then-IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion El Desperado for the belt via a video promo. Their eventual singles clash at the Tokyo Dome marked Robbie's first championship win in NJPW. No longer was he playing second fiddle to another Junior in Chaos. Robbie Eagles made history as the first Australian (and first Filipino) IWGP Champion, proving that he's here to stay.

    Tiger Mask's Long Road to Recovery

    Tiger Mask and Robbie Eagles kick Yoshinobu Kanemaru simultaneously (Photo from NJPW1972)

    Longtime NJPW fans are familiar with Tiger Mask because of the popular wrestling anime from the 1980s. The character also usually appears in smaller shows and preliminary matches for NJPW. Throughout the character's history, many wrestlers have portrayed Tiger Mask in real life: with the first wrestler to don the mask being Satoru Sayama. A few other wrestlers took the Tiger Mask name after him, including a modern version of the character, Tiger Mask W, portrayed by Kota Ibushi between 2016 and 2017.

    This current Tiger Mask is Tiger Mask IV, portrayed by Yoshihiro Yamazaki, the longest-tenured wrestler to wear the mantle. Yamazaki is a student of Sayama, with the latter officially endorsing him as a Tiger Mask. Yamazaki's well-decorated career in New Japan includes his run as a six-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and, now, a two-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion.

    Before this win, Tiger Mask last won a belt in New Japan in 2012, with Jushin Thunder Liger being his former tag partner. Aside from the length of time between title runs, it's also important to consider what Yamazaki has gone through in real life.

    Yamazaki disappeared from our screens in the middle of 2020 after NJPW announced he would be taking a break to undergo treatment for diverticulitis, a condition that affects a person's intestines. Tiger Mask IV would luckily return to the ring last December during the Road to Tokyo Dome shows.

    A Surprising Win

    Honestly, I thought the Road to Power Struggle tag team match would be your usual case of the defending champions winning since this was a preliminary show before the main Power Struggle event on November 6. There wasn't a lot of buildup to the title match either since the Junior Heavyweights were on break during the recently concluded G1 Climax tournament.

    The title switch came out of left field because it featured a veteran who had not won a belt for so long, plus a defending singles champion is now a double champion. I don't know what's next for this duo, but I'm so excited to see where Tiger Mask and Robbie Eagles go from here.

    The post-match interview featured a nice shout-out to Eagles' family in the Philippines. He reminded fans of his Filipino heritage, saying that even though his family was far away, he knew they were supporting him. That's why he had written "#PamilyaPuso" on his wrist tape. Eagles even put the Philippine wrestling scene over, speaking well about his experience here in February 2020. I loved the mention of the Philippines during his post-match interview, and this opens more doors for our local talent down the road.

    At a time when being a Filipino has been pretty difficult, Robbie Eagles has given us the kind of Pinoy Pride we like to see. Maraming salamat, Kuya Robbie! Congrats, Bobby 2 Belts!

    Images from NJPW1972

    Steven Tan (@steviesaidyup) works for an e-commerce company by day and operates The Geeky Juans podcast and blog by night. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, comic books, and the Moomin franchise. You can find more of his geeky thoughts on Twitter.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro: Bobby 2 Belts Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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