#NewJapanWeek Tetsuya Naito: Stardust Genius to Ingobernable

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Photo: NJPW

The main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12 (WK 12) is set to be New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) biggest drawing and best main event in a decade.  This match has been almost 4 years in the making and while most eyes have been on Kazuchika Okada this match is all about the story of the ungovernable anti-hero Tetsuya Naito and his transformation from Roman Reigns to The Rock.

Photo: NJPW

These two men were set to main event WK 8 in 2014 until a fan vote led to Shinsuke Nakamura vs Hiroshi Tanahashi overtaking it as main event.  This unprecedented move was due to the fans rejecting Naito as a fan favourite.  This led to Naito having a huge disdain of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.  The reason this happened is the New Japan fanbase were not ready to cheer a very generic and clean cut babyface like Tetsuya Naito and it lead to the crowd turning on him and New Japan calling an audible and allowing their fans to choose the main event.

Tetsuya Naito: Early Career

Photo: NJPW

Early in his career Naito was part of the tag team No Limits with Yujiro Takahashi.  The Junior Heavyweight team were very impressive in capturing the IWGP junior Heavyweight tag team championships.  In the process defeating the likes of Prince Devitt (Now WWE’s Finn Balor) and Minoru as well as the Motor City Machine Guns at Wrestle Kingdom 3.  After losing the junior titles, No Limits went on an excursion, featuring a stop in TNA but mostly saw them wrestle in Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) in a heel anti-mexican gimmick.  The youngsters caused havoc in Mexico winning two Lucha De Apuesta matches.  In their third and final hair vs hair match, No Limits were finally beaten and shaved completely bald.  The excursion ended in 2010 at Wrestle Kingdom 4.  Despite this, Naito continued to work in Mexico between New Japan tours.  Now Heavyweights, No Limit won the IWGP Tag Team Championship beating Bad Intentions and Team 3D, with some hard defenses before dropping the titles.  This lead to Tetsuya Naito breaking out in the 2010 G1 Climax.  He showed his first signs of stardom in this tournament by having great showings against various big names such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson.  Failed challenges for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship and the Junior tag titles led to Takahashi turning on Naito.  This set in motion his infamous babyface run.

Tetsuya Naito: Failed Babyface Run

Photo: NJPW

Naito proceeded to move into the Upper Midcard spending most of 2011 losing the big matches but generally having momentum.  The year 2012 saw him again mix it up with the likes of Okada, Tanahashi and Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta).  After another impressive G1 Climax Naito was out out of action by Takahashi.  This is where the problems began for Naito.  He proceeded to miss 9 months of action and when he came back he was pushed to the moon.  Over the summer Tetsuya Naito proceeded to take part in and win the G1 Climax defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi in the final.  The fan resentment for Naito came from the fact that his bland, generic look and fast paced babyface style that lacked any edge.  His winning the G1 Climax can only be likened to Roman Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble the hardcore fans resented the fact he was being pushed ahead of the likes of Devitt, Nakamura and Katsuyori Shibata.  After a very mild fan reaction to a confrontation between Naito and Okada led to fans voting for Shinsuke Nakamura vs Tanahashi over Naito and it was clear that Naito’s run had failed.

Photo: NJPW

Tetsuya Naito: The Ungovernable

Photo: NJPW

After an uneventful 2014 Naito went on a tour in CMLL once again where he again teamed with La Sombra as part of the original Los Ingobernables stable.  It was here that Naito learned the ways of Tranquilo and came up with his now signature taunt after a fan made a stereotypical joke about Naito’s eyes.  Upon his return to Japan, Naito had a new look and attitude.  He announced his intention to represent Los Ingobernables.  He returned to the G1 and picked up some huge wins early showing that he was still a main eventer.  Naito recruited Bushi and the returning EVIL to become Los Ingobernables De Japon an anti establishment group that did whatever they wanted whether the fans liked it or not.  Naito went on to win the New Japan Cup before finally capturing the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship from Okada thanks to help from his stablemates and newest recruit SANADA.  After only one defence Naito lost the belt back to Okada in a move that fans were very unhappy with.  Naito had officially arrived but fans wanted to see this cool anti-hero have a longer reign.  Naito further improved his reputation with fans by wowing crowds in the G1 and proceeding to have a Match Of The Year contender with Kenny Omega in the final.  The rebirth of Naito as the ungovernable has proven extremely successful and it is unbelievable to imagine that he is the same man that the crowd voted out of the main event in an unprecedented move.

Tetsuya Naito: Defining Title Reign

Photo: NJPW

At Power Struggle Naito defeated Michael Elgin to win the Intercontinental title.  From day one Naito made clear the disdain he held for the title that took away his main event opportunity.  He proceeded to have an amazing title reign where he trashed the title at every opportunity.  Often leaving it in the ring, dragging it along the ground, throwing it high in the air or walloping the title off the ring posts he destroyed the belt and made clear he didn’t care about this title and what it was supposed to represent.

In  Tokyo Sports voted Naito as their MVP of 2016 as he became the first man other than Okada or Tanahashi to win that award since 2010.  If it wasn’t already clear Naito was now a star this award was proof. Further proof was the fact that as champion Naito was the clear No.2 draw in the company, fans were in love with LIJ and Naito was given the opportunity to draw as IC champion for B shows.  In 2017 Naito put on a series of classics with Tanahashi, Elgin and Juice Robinson as he continued to  hold the IC title hostage with the fans loving his antics more and more whilst also making LIJ the new number one faction in Japan.  He went into the 2017 G1 Climax as favorite to win among the fans and pundits alike.  He won Block A with 14 points defeating the likes of Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Junior.  He then had another amazing match with Kenny Omega as the leaders of the two biggest factions squared off to earn the honor of facing Okada at Wrestle Kingdom.  Naito won and set up a rematch of Wrestle Kingdom 8.

Photo: NJPW

In conclusion, it is amazing how much things change in 4 Years.  Naito is now the hottest act in the company and Okada is in the midst of one of the greatest title reigns of all time.  Both men are now big stars and the biggest draws in Japan.  The hardcore fans are firmly behind Naito as Okada to them is corporate and too nice they much prefer the edge of Naito and have fully bought into the ways of tranquilo.  Tetsuya Naito has been on an unbelievable journey leading up to the biggest match of his career and on January 4th we may see the creation of a New Japan legend.

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