While 2018 saw everyone focused on the Young Bucks and their transition from the juniors to the heavyweight tag division, there was another wrestler within New Japan Pro Wrestling who was ready to shed his juniors label. And on January 4 at Wrestle Kingdom 13, Will Ospreay did just that as he defeated Kota Ibushi to win the NEVER Openweight Championship, in his first attempt.
It had been no secret that the 25-year-old Will Ospreay, now in his fourth year with NJPW, was looking to make the transition to the heavyweight division. In fact, in May of this past year, Ospreay took part in a Twitter Q&A where he expressed his aspirations and goals regarding wanting to main event the Tokyo Dome and knowing what it takes to get that opportunity.
“As much as I love the Jr Heavyweight Division because it’s inspired me as a wrestler but my dream is to one day walk out centre stage in the main event of the Tokyo Dome. To do that I gotta be a Heavyweight, and I’m not afraid of hard work,” Ospreay told Twitter user English Speaking Okada.
While that spot is probably still a ways away, a newly bulked-up Ospreay has already made some huge strides in his new division and could be primed to step into a bigger role with the company now that some big names are no longer around. It wouldn’t be surprising then to see the new NEVER champion, who expressed his desire to defend the belt at all of NJPW’s partners – Ring of Honor, Rev Pro and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (which would be Ospreay’s debut with the company) as well as Melbourne Championship Wrestling in Australia, possibly enter his first G1 Climax this year. There would really be no better or no bigger way to introduce himself on the heavyweight stage than that prestigious tournament.
But again, that’s looking a little bit ahead of things as the G1 is still months away. For now, Will Ospreay will be focused on defending his title and wrestling matches against some of NJPW’s top heavyweight competition. And if the A̶e̶r̶i̶a̶l̶ Assassin’s Twitter is any indication, he’ll be doing so with a slightly altered style and stiff strong style moveset that is more fitting of his new killer persona.
My reckless style has shortened not only my career but my life.
You all wanted change, so that I have a long career.
You’ve just shorten everyone else’s. pic.twitter.com/CCH4crEMcj
— “A̶e̶r̶i̶a̶l̶ Assassin” Will Ospreay (@WillOspreay) January 4, 2019
Ospreay’s run in the junior division was fantastic. In just over three years, he took part in Best of the Super Juniors three times, winning once and finishing as the runner-up in another. The BOSJ win in 2015 made Ospreay the youngest-ever and first British wrestler to win the tournament. He’s also a two-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, who first challenged for the title in his NJPW debut. As a junior, Ospreay defeated everyone in that division and did so more than once. He also put on classic matches, most notably with Ricochet as the two defied what one would have thought to be possible within a wrestling ring.
While he may not have reached his ceiling, as he could have continued to dominate the division and win even more titles, for the most part, the Assassin had done everything he could. But now, in the heavyweight division, Will Ospreay will face almost entirely new matchups and new challenges every time he comes to the ring, at least in terms of singles competition. As a member of CHAOS, Ospreay has wrestled tons of multi-man tags and has been in the ring with heavyweights. But he’s always done so with backup.
— “A̶e̶r̶i̶a̶l̶ Assassin” Will Ospreay (@WillOspreay) January 6, 2019
Now, as a member of the heavyweight division, Will Ospreay will have the opportunity to wrestle singles matches against first-time opponents in Minoru Suzuki, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Juice Robinson, Togi Makabe, EVIL and perhaps his own CHAOS teammates, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii. He could also wrestle Kazuchika Okada again. Those two have met just once, in a champion vs champion challenge at the 46th Anniversary Show, but it was a fantastic showcase of talent.
If there was ever any doubts that Will Ospreay could step up and make an impact in the junior division, that match should have put them to bed. But really, there shouldn’t have been doubts in the first place. It is true that Ospreay has been a junior for the entirety of his NJPW career, but outside of the company, he’s wrestled quite his fair share of heavyweight competition throughout the independent scene. This includes matches against Zack Gibson, Jay Lethal, Stixx, James Davis, Doug Williams, Tommy End (WWE’s Aleister Black), AJ Styles, John Morrison, Chris Ridgeway, Drew Galloway, Kenny Omega, Joe Coffey, Shane Strickland, Brian Cage, Chuck Cyrus, Matt Riddle, Jimmy Havoc, Cody Rhodes, Katsuyori Shibata, Penta El Zero M, Punishment Martinez, Gino Gambino, Mark Haskins, Slex and WALTER. And if Ospreay could survive WALTER, he can survive some of the tough tests he’ll face against guys like Suzuki or Ishii, should the two CHAOS mates ever meet one-on-one.
NJPW is entering its next chapter and while they will be doing so without several key players, the elevation of Will Ospreay to the heavyweight division could help to fill some of those voids. The 25-year-old has only scratched the surface on what he is capable of and when all is said and done, there is no reason why Ospreay can’t be one of NJPW’s best. He’ll certainly have his chance to prove it and to show that he’s more than just insane flips and acrobatic maneuvers. Will Ospreay can mix it up and go toe-to-toe with the best of them regardless of styles, regardless of size, and in 2019, as a newly christened heavyweight, he’ll have that chance in NJPW.