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    Friday, December 31, 2021

    The Year That Was 2021: NJPW

    Shingo Takagi

    As the second-worst year in recent memory winds down in the next few days, we're continuing a new tradition we started last year. Once again, we take a quick look back at the promotions that have kept us sane through the pandemic. For the second time, we present The Year That Was.

    New Japan showed the lack of depth in its roster in 2021.

    To be honest, New Japan Pro-Wrestling did not have a good year. While the rest of the major Japanese promotions were thriving in 2021, NJPW showed they relied too much on foreigners to fill their roster. The company has just been so boring while Pro-Wrestling NOAH, DDT, TJPW and other promotions have been putting out bangers.

    January to March: The World Heavyweight Championship

    NJPW started the year off with one of the most confusing situations ever: they made a new World Heavyweight Championship to replace the beauty that was the IWGP Heavyweight Title and Intercontinental Title.

    For context, Kota Ibushi won the G1 Climax the year before and said that he wanted to become God. How was he going to achieve this? By ending the confusing double-belt situation that NJPW locked itself into because of COVID.

    Kota Ibushi wanted to surpass all the previous IWGP Champions and create his own legacy, thus becoming the first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. 

    He had a long road to become God and it all started with Jay White defeating him for the G1 briefcase

    The funny thing is that despite winning the briefcase, Kota Ibushi actually lost it to Jay White in Power Struggle 2020.  NJPW had to create some convoluted excuse as to why Ibushi could still challenge then-double champion Tetsuya Naito for the belts. Logic completely went out the window for the double belt situation, and Gedo likely had no choice with COVID-19 limiting the number of wrestlers they could bring in.

    In summary, Ibushi lost the briefcase to White, won the double belts, campaigned to unify the two belts and we got... the World Heavyweight Championship.

    I'm not even going to say much about the belt itself. That's whole different discussion.

    A number of fans got turned off from watching NJPW after this title kerfuffle. The company was clearly clueless with what to do next.

    On the US side, KENTA snuck into AEW and attacked Jon Moxley to properly feud for the IWGP US Heavyweight belt, managing to hype people more than what was happening in Japan. Everyone was hyped for the proverbial Forbidden Door to finally open and sadly, NJPW did not benefit from working with AEW...for now.

    April to June: COVID Unrest?

    After the dust settled and the World Heavyweight belt was declared the main title of NJPW, Kota Ibushi would lose his title to New Japan Cup winner Will Ospreay after a brief, three-month reign. 

    Ibushi's year would go from bad to worse in a little while. Meanwhile, Will Ospreay successfully defended the World Heavyweight title against Shingo Takagi in May at Wrestling Dontaku.

    Will Ospreay would be forced to vacate the belt a few weeks later due to a neck injury and leaving the much-anticipated Wrestle Grand Slam show in a very rough patch. To add to the madness, the Wrestle Grand Slam show was supposed to happen in June...until the Japanese government declared a State of Calamity.

    Due to the state of calamity, the majority of the NJPW roster was sent home. Wrestlers Jay White and David Finlay were supposed to go back home to the States until they contracted COVID. The two wrestlers were not the only wrestlers who suffered from this situation as rumors of the foreign NJPW roster supposedly concerned about the way Bushiroad, NJPW's parent company had been handling COVID. 

    However, rumors are just rumors. We don't know exactly what happened. All we know is that Jay White and many other wrestlers are not at Wrestle Kingdom 16

    July-September: A Glimmer of Hope

    While the Japanese roster was trying to get a grip of the situation they were given, the US roster of New Japan was quietly throwing out solid and pure wrestling matches on NJPW Strong

    And look! The IWGP US title is alive! No longer was the belt in the hands of Moxley. The Death Rider lost the belt to former champion, the Murderhawk Monster Lance Archer at AEW's Fyter Fest event.

    Archer would be challenged by the Ace of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi, at NJPW's first live US show since the pandemic at Resurgence. The match started off as your traditional good guy-bad guy match until after the match. Tanahashi thanked Archer for his many years of service to NJPW. Fans had the chance to watch a heartfelt moment between the two veterans before Tanahshi did his now-famous Air Guitar title celebration for American fans.

    Amidst the sea of CHAOS, in NJPW there was a bright spot when Robbie Eagles won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belt in Wrestle Grand Slam at MetLife Dome. It was a nice spot after COVID ruined Japan even more.

    October-December: Okada wins in a bittersweet way

    The G1 Climax tournament was once again moved to October because of the now-concluded Tokyo Olympics. We had a crazy number of matches to count and this might have been the most boring G1 in recent memory. 

    NJPW's lack of roster depth really started to show in this tournament as none of the usual foreign participants appeared. That means no Jay White, no Juice Robinson, and heck, no David Finlay who deserved to be in the tournament. 

    Kazuchika Okada would win the G1 Climax after Kota Ibushi had to forfeit the match due to injury. After all that time off, Kota Ibushi would suffer a bad landing and the referee was forced to stop the match. Kazuchika Okada won the G1 in a sad manner, and you can tell that nobody was prepared for that ending.

    Okada was regularly checking up on Ibushi after the bad landing and tried to be the Rainmaker but there was definitely concern after Ibushi's injury. The Golden Star had just recovered from aspiration pneumonia and now he was out. 

    2022: The Actual Forbidden Door opens

    NJPW and NOAH will face off on January 8, 2022 (NJPW1972)

    2022 marks the 50th anniversary of NJPW and many fans were surprised to see that a third day of Wrestle Kingdom 16 was to be held at Yokohoma Arena. 

    Many other NJPW fans were curious to see what would happen, and nobody expected Pro-Wrestling NOAH and NJPW to suddenly collaborate for this special show. NJPW and NOAH have had blood in recent years because of the way NOAH was treated during its last run, when NJPW steamrolled over the smaller company in every way possible. 

    NOAH would stop their partnership with NJPW and join the CyberAgent group to counter the growing threat. However, all things must pass and the feud is supposedly over. The rumor is that Dick Togo extended the olive branch and the two sides made peace. That would be great and just slightly redeem him for his terrible booking of EVIL and the rest of House of Torture.

    As for NJPW in 2021 overall, to put it simply: you're better off watching DDT, TJPW, Pro-Wrestling NOAH or even ChocoPro Wrestling for consistent storylines.

    Photo from NJPW

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    Item Reviewed: The Year That Was 2021: NJPW Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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