The Road to WRESTLING DONTAKU 2018, has seen the build for two matches New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) expect to draw sizeable crowds. The highly anticipated Minoru Suzuki (c) against Tetsuya Naito IWGP Intercontinental Championship match on April 29th which saw Naito defeat Suzuki for the championship, and Kazuchika Okada‘s attempt to make a record-setting 12th (V12) defense of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi on May 4th.
However, the tour has also seen David Finlay and Juice Robinson elevate themselves in the eyes of NJPW fans, and probably the front office as well. The rising competitors were able to show enough fighting spirit in unsuccessful championship challenges to prove that they are legitimate title contenders.
On April 24th, Finlay was defeated by Jay White in 26:49 when he challenged for the IWGP United States Championship. Several days later on April 27th, Juice was defeated by Hirooki Goto in 26:36 in a match for Goto’s NEVER Openweight Championship.
While their title challenges on the tour parallel, the tag team partners came into the matches with different expectations. While Finlay has been 1/3 of a NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship team, he hasn’t been featured as a singles wrestler since graduating from the legendary NJPW Dojo in September 2016.
However, Juice has several opportunities at the NEVER Openweight Championship, the United States Championship, and even challenged Naito for the Intercontinental Championship on April 29, 2017. While Juice has been seen as more of a singles competitor, he has yet to win a championship in NJPW.
Finlay’s match against White was the longest singles match of his career in NJPW, allowing him to show to an international fanbase that he can thrive when given the opportunity. Despite Finlay showing more aggressiveness and fire, it’s likely he didn’t show the height of his abilities — which is a great sign for his future. Finlay is an accomplished amateur wrestler and those abilities could become a cornerstone in his singles matches in the future.
Juice has been a rising star in NJPW since his graduation from the Young Lion system. Fans in Japan and across the globe have grown to love his in-ring spirit and flamboyant personality. Many felt this would be his time to capture a championship, however, it is more likely that moment will be saved for a more prestigious championship or for the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom.
Finlay and Juice could also focus on capturing the IWG Tag Team Championship, despite the division being deeper than it has been in history. Golden Lovers, Young Bucks, Killer Elite Squad, Guerrillas of Destiny, and champions Evil & Sanada give the division a high degree of depth. The TenCozy and Great Bash Heel (GBH) teams are also around despite 1/2 of each team currently being injured.
While their direction isn’t clear, it has become quite obvious there are long-term plans for both individuals. NJPW has succeeded in building fan bases for wrestlers competing throughout the card. Established members of the roster have been willing to work with and help develop those recently graduating from the Young Lion system.
It should not surprise anyone to see Finlay and Juice capture several unexpected victories in the upcoming G1 Climax.