New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fukuoka Kokusai Center (Fukuoka, Japan)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The post-match talk surrounding the AJ Styles IWGP Heavyweight title win has had less to do with the quality of the match (the consensus – which I agree with – is that it was “fine”) and more to do with the booking. Specifically, should have Styles won the match and is the Bullet Club interference/act getting old?
I’ll start with the second point first.
There is a school of thought that Japanese fans do not want interference finishes and that NJPW is demonstrating a misunderstanding of their audience by running them, particularly in the main event of a big show as part of a title switch. In the match, the Bullet Club interfered a bit during the early going before reappearing for the finish. For the finish, Karl Anderson distracted the ref, other Bullet Club members got involved, and finally Yujiro did a run in where he revealed his new allegiance with the Bullet Club and gave Okada is Tokyo Pimps finishing move. Styles hit a couple moves of his own to finish Okada shortly thereafter.
There is no doubt that it was a heavily gimmicked finish and one wrestling fans would question if it took place in nearly any promotion in any era. Of course, many promotions have run similar finishes either regularly or on occasion and the fans have accepted it just fine. As a general rule of thumb, non-clean finishes work fine as the occasional heat builder that is paid off in a timely fashion. I am not convinced that it would be any different for a NJPW audience (which has seen enough wacky-finishes throughout that promotion’s history), but I don’t know for sure. The million dollar question is just that: will the domestic New Japan fan base reject any interference even it is done the “right way” and for the “right” reasons?
I don’t know the answer to that and anyone – particularly those outside of Japan – who speak definitively on the subject one way or another are simply blowing smoke. It is far too early to tell. IF Styles and the Bullet Club garner legitimate heat for this and IF Styles get his comeuppance in a timely fashion, this will likely be looked back on as a non-event. It is one of those things that just needs to play out first.
Second, there are those that question Styles winning the match at all with or without interference. The talking point here is that the Japanese fans didn’t know AJ (or at least acted ambivalent towards him) so it was not the right time to make him the champion.
Bringing a guy in fresh and having him win the title is not a new phenomenon particularly for New Japan who did it most recently with Brock Lesnar in 2005. The risk in doing this is that New Japan is essentially putting the cart before the horse. The promotion is putting the title on a wrestler before he has proven to be over rather than the other way around. Sometimes the promotion bets right in these situations, other times it is a bit of a flop.
What we do know is that AJ Styles is a strong worker who should be able to get over in New Japan based on his work. May 3rd was not his best effort which is not a surprise necessarily – it usually takes time to get comfortable with a new promotion and slightly different style of working. I am relatively confident his ring work will be where it “needs” to be. New Japan fans are not all that different from contemporary WWE fans in that they get behind guys – heels or faces – based on ring work. It is not a a phenomenon exclusive to Japan. If the Japanese fans begin to view Styles as a top notch worker after a few main event matches, he will be fine in that facet.
The caveat is that he wasn’t made to look very strong in his title win and that could be a detriment. He is penciled in for a re-match versus Okada on May 25th and use a clean win to finish off a good match. If that happens, I doubt there will be a problem with Styles’ holding the championship. It is not surprising that he received a lukewarm reaction his first match in. New Japan was likely well aware of that. It is what happens going forward that will determine whether the decision to throw the title on him right away was the right or wrong one.
Japan Singles | Watch It | Title Switch & Quality