With the rise of AEW, and the signing spree that WWE and NXT have been on, the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster has been in a bit of a recovery state. However NJPW have made things work for them, seeing this as a chance to build up younger talent that haven’t had the chance to shine with the likes of Kenny Omega, and Hiroshi Tanahashi at the top of the card. They have even taken the initiative to put the spotlight on some newer tag teams without taking the opportunity away from tenured teams on the roster. The goal with this article is to highlight some of this talent that has gotten a boost in the wake of the losses that NJPW has taken over the start of the year.
One of the more exciting (and confusing) parts of NJPW’s year last year was when Bullet Club announced that they were going to reintroduce Bone Soldier. Years prior this would’ve been met with groans and disapproval, but this was different, Tama Tonga introduced one of the most exhilarating Jr. Heavyweights in the world, Taiji Ishimori. Thankfully Bone soldier was more of a nickname than a gimmick, and with his introduction one of the most frantic, high-paced workers in the company and possibly the world was allowed to cut loose; and very quickly he made his presence felt in the Jr. Heavyweight division. Very shortly after he stepped foot in NJPW’s ranks he was feuding with Hiromu Takahashi for the title, and within a few months of his in ring debut with NJPW he already had a five star match with the Time Bomb at the finals of the 2018 Best of the Super Jrs. tournament. Ishimori has proven over the past year that he has improved far beyond where he was at when he first appeared in NJPW as a young lion, and time will ultimately further where he is at as far as being an in ring competitor.
NJPW has it’s own development system in the Young Lion system, which has pumped out multiple home runs, typically Young Lions are taken from about the ages 17-18 into the dojo. This was not the case for Juice Robinson (known better to NXT fans as CJ Parker), cast off from the NXT brand of WWE in April of 2015, with NJPW signing him in August of the same year it was announced that Robinson would become a Young Lion and learn from the greats that help train the newest additions to the New Japan roster. He very quickly endeared himself with the Japanese audiences and very quickly became a favorite worldwide, but was always treated as the lovable underdog that would never break through to the upper class of NJPW’s roster. That is until July of 2018 when Juice beat fellow former Young Lion in SwitchBlade Jay White for the IWGP U.S. Championship, now a few months later he would lose that belt in a excellent match to Cody Rhodes. 2019 has proven to be a great year for the Flamboyant One as he regained the IWGP U.S. Championship on January 4th at Wrestle Kingdom 13, only to turn around and a week later start his own stable in ROH with Lifeblood.
Another one of the top talents that the NJPW Dojo has produced is the SwitchBlade Jay White, much like Juice Robinson he found himself as a Young Lion but not through being established elsewhere, but by being pointed out to New Japan management by Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) and Bad Luck Fale. Jay White had an immediate impact upon his return from excursion to ROH and RPW, challenging the (at the time) IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi for his title at New Japan’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 12 in 2018. While unsuccessful it didn’t take long for the SwitchBlade to rebound with a challenge to one of the most high profile talent in the world in Kenny Omega for his newly minted IWGP U.S. championship. Just 24 days after losing his first match back in NJPW, Jay White went on to hit Kenny Omega with a Blade-Runner to capture the U.S title and become it’s second ever champion. Later on in 2018 Jay was entered into a feud with the ace of New Japan in Kazuchika Okada even getting the Rainmaker’s manager Gedo to turn on the champ, leading to the beginning of the “SwitchBlade Era” of New Japan. It was made very clear that Jay White would be taken as being a big deal as he was inserted as the leader of the Bullet Club shortly before challenging Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 13 where he delivered 2 Blade-Runners to the Rainmaker. Jay would soon take out the former ace to establish himself as the IWGP Heavyweight champion, and 2019 looks to continue the incredible 2 year run that he’s been on.
There was a lot of fear from fans when it was announced that AEW was starting up and taking some big talent that NJPW had used over the past few years. But in actuality it had proved why New Japan had every right to put faith in their Dojo and Young Lion system, in addition to some outside signings like Robbie Eagles, and Shingo Takagi. It also showed that when they have to New Japan are easily capable of promoting new or upcoming talent well, and giving them the proper spotlight needed to grow their popularity. By all means go out of your way to look up the names I’ve mentioned in this article and you’ll find a treasure trove of wonderful matches.