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  1. #1

    [KOTC:R1] Good Luck On Your Travels, Junior Prince

    January 29th 2019, KUSHIDA wrestled his final match for New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Ace of their Junior division for the majority of this decade, lay down in the ring before the match; his eyes closed, soaking it all in, listening to the Korakuen Hall crowd chant his name in unison one last time, ďKU-SHI-DA! KU-SHI-DA! KU-SHI-DA! KU-SHI-DA!Ē

    If anything tells you how respected he is within New Japan, his final match was in the main event, one-on-one against the IWGP Heavyweight Champion megastar Hiroshi Tanahashi. That kind of send-off only describes one word, you can bet your ass it's nothing but respect.

    The now former Junior Ace has accomplished everything he could in the division, the decision may not have been easy but heís announced itís time to move on. To take on a new challenge, a huge gamble and leave the safe roads of Japan for the uncertain shores of the United States, where who knows if heíll sink or swim? But heís betting on himself, for that and his loyalty to NJPW these past 8 years, the fans applaud him.

    With me personally, when I first started watching NJPW, the future 6 time IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion was opening Wrestle Kingdom in a four-team Junior Tag match. There are a lot of great teams that work well and elevate each other, but in that team it was KUSHIDA himself who really stood out. Alongside Alex Shelly as The TimeSplitters, he became a 2 time IWGP Jr Tag Team Champion and there was just something about him. The fans just organically got genuinely behind him, you couldn't help yourself, his natural good guy aura just sucked you in.

    It turns out, after that match at Wrestle Kingdom it was hard for those backstage at New Japan to not notice this rising star. This wrestler who, in a multi-man match with 7 other wrestlers, had gotten the Tokyo Dome chanting his name. Not chanting the name of the team, but his name. Long story short, by Wrestle Kingdom one year later KUSHIDA wouldnít be opening the show, heíd be wrestling Kenny Omega.

    Over 2015 KUSHIDA rose in the Junior division, trading the IWGP Jr Championship back and forth with the Bullet Clubís new exciting acquisition. The story of that man is a whole column series in itself, but itís fair to say KUSHIDA proved himself in his rivalry with the future IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Which all culminated at Wrestle Kingdom 10, January 4th 2016, the date this mega Back To The Future fan finally got to hold on to his championship and cement himself as the Ace of the Juniors.

    Aside from a short surprise reign from Los Ingobernables de Japonís BUSHI, KUSHIDA held onto that championship for the entire year. The Junior division became his division, he was unquestionably the top guy and within his matches that spirit more than shone through. In that time, if your wrestling promotion wanted somebody who embodied that New Japan fighting spirit, you booked KUSHIDA. He was your man, he seemed to bleed the wrestling values of NJPW.

    Perhaps it was that fighting spirit that made him stand out to me in that multi-team tag match, but it was clear that the Japanese fans were gravitating to him damn strongly. Just like in America there are certain crowds more likely to cheer the heels, but the majority of fans were sucked in by just how much of himself KUSHIDA put into every single match. A clean cut babyface, who just simply loves Back To The Future and wrestling, giving the fans everything in his performances.

    Kids in particular fell in love with the Junior Champion, at almost every show there was at least one kid on the front row in full KUSHIDA cosplay, absolutely losing it as their hero placed his shades onto their wee little noggins ala Bret Hart. He exuded everything New Japan would want in a role model: that never give up attitude, always keep fighting, fighting with honour.

    When ROHís working relationship with New Japan began to grow, KUSHIDA became a regular face for the US promotion and even captured their TV Championship. Britain also got to benefit from his travels, turning up in Rev Pro and Defiantís Wrestling World Cup. Thatís not including any minor NJPW tours themselves, KUSHIDA was right up there in the leagues of Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki as New Japan talent somewhat regularly wrestling in the West.

    Really itís just an example as to how popular the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion had become, not just with the awesome cosplay kids of Japan, but all over the world. As time went on, a new era started to spring up, with KUSHIDA the popular face at the top the Junior division was allowed to develop and grow.

    Heíd been the true Ace of the Division for 2 years straight, but come Wrestle Kingdom in 2018 the supporting cast had become equally as strong. With Will Ospreayís victory over LIJís Hiromu Takahashi, Bullet Clubís Marty Scurll and KUSHIDA himself, somewhat signifying a change of the guard. Like the US sitcom that starts about one main character and over time becomes equally about everyone in the group, New Japanís Junior division now had a whole array of strong wrestlers.

    In truth, maybe this was a sign, perhaps the division was ready to move on. As over 2018 KUSHIDA was still referred to as the Ace, even becoming champion again after Hiromuís unfortunate injury, but was he actually the face of the division? In reality, his opponents had started to get stronger and stronger reactions when up against him, were they ready to move on?

    Because when you look at it, KUSHIDA had accomplished everything he could in the Junior division. Unless he underwent a huge, dramatic alteration turning him into a completely new character, there was nothing new for him left to do. Yes fans still respected him, but they were ready for that new blood to take over. Will Ospreay had felt more the Junior face over 2018 than KUSHIDA did, Hiromu was arguably the most popular and Taiji Ishimori had debuted in June, immediately becoming the divisionís top heel.

    In a way, KUSHIDA had outgrown the division and maybe thatís what has led to where we are today. With one of the most respected wrestlers in New Japan, bowing in Korakuen Hall to cheers and applause as he gives his farewell. About to embark upon an adventure where who knows if heíll succeed? Itís a huge gamble for a smaller Japanese wrestler to try their luck at Big Vinceís Wrestle Circus, but the sheer fact heís doing so makes me respect him even more. Itís sad to see him leave the division that he helped lift to where it is today, but Iím equally as excited to see where his journey leads.

    Good luck on your travels, Junior Prince.

    Leaving the roads of Japan may be scary, but don't forget, ďWhere we're going, we don't need roads.Ē

  2. #2
    As I get to read more from you, I appreciate your ease to write the story of a character. It's not as easy as it may seems and you are doing it quite well. You also bring up a fascinating difference between two wrestling worlds, in the way they treat a wrestler who is leaving the company. The respect shown in Japan is something amazing to read about when you are not watching NJPW.

  3. #3
    I think you are terrific story teller. I don’t follow J-wrestling and this usually aren’t that into it: but your column is smooth, and a joy to read.

  4. #4
    You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I'm going to echo to you similar sentiments that I offered Sir Sam. I would like to see you clean up the writing quality. You write passionately and that engages me every time, no lie. The quality is something that I feel like I often have to overlook; your work reads like you did a talk to text in spurts. Minus that, this was one of the better columns of the tournament to me.
    Author of The WrestleMania Era book series, author of The Doctor's Orders columns on LOP since 2010, LOP Columns Hall of Famer, former host of The Doc Says podcast on LOP Radio (2013-2018), former LOP Raw and WWE PPV Reviewer (2006-2007), and former LOP Smackdown Reviewer (2004-2006)

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
    Is KUSHIDA going to WWE? If so then he really is a brave soul, especially after knowing how every Japanese wrestler except Asuka has been handled. But good luck to him though. I like how NJPW fans show respect to a wrestler who is leaving their company, especially one so beloeved. If it was in WWE, he would probably be shit on instead.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2018
    First thing that jumped out to me was the number of issues with commas. Too many times, you had a sentence where the comma needed one of the following to make it work grammatically: a) a preposition to go along with it or b) to become a semi-colon/period and a slight rewording. Take, for instance, “He was your man, he seemed to bleed the wrestling values of NJPW” This should either be, “He was your man; he seemed to bleed the wrestling values of NJPW” or “He was your man, as he seemed to bleed the wrestling values of NJPW”. Stylistically, I prefer the former. Either would work, though.

    Great use of images. Clichť thought it may be, a good picture does indeed speak a thousand words. I thought you employed some great images to speak volumes for you. That’s never to be underestimated, but particularly not in the context of a word restriction column. I know next to little about this guy, but your description was supplemented nicely by the pictures, and I feel like I now have a tenuous grasp on his story.

    I don’t think the column was as Wikipedia-ish as some of the ones I’ve read, in terms of recap to analysis ratio, but I don’t think it was as optimal as it could’ve been, either. I think you avoided the trap of sticking too much to the facts and the chalkboard recap of things, but even more analysis and depth could’ve pushed you to higher levels, in my opinion. Give me more things like the US sitcom analogy.

    Decent column overall. Nothing major that shoots it up my rankings nor sinks it down my rankings. The issues with commas does sink the score somewhat, mind.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2018
    So how does Imp luck out and get JAPAN as a topic and at the same time get so unlucky as to only have 1500 words? That's like getting a present all wrapped in a pretty bow but when you open it you find a dead fish.

    KUSHIDA is an interesting topic both historically and now future facing with his departure from NJPW. It's a real curiosity what happens next, because historically we've seen that Japanese wrestlers coming over to the WWE haven't fared all that well. Nakamura is floundering. KENTA is gone. Asuka is back on track but for a long time she wasn't on the Main Roster. It's almost like Vince sees the talent and wants to grab it but realizes he has no idea how to utilize it properly as the styles are so drastically different.

    I agree that there's nothing left for him in NJPW, but is there really anything for him in the WWE? That's what we'll find out soon enough.

    This was a very solid piece, but I honestly think you're in a tight contest with Zak who went into a wildly different direction. Good luck and congratulations on a really good read.

  8. #8
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I’m sad about KUSHIDA leaving New Japan, he was at times my favorite guy in the whole promotion. I still wish New Japan had invested in bumping him up to the heavies, I think he could have added huge value. I really liked the Time Splitters and I’m glad you mentioned them. You’ve become awesome at these career retrospective columns, bravo. The prevailing rumor seems to be he’ll be on 205 Live, where he’ll wrestle amazing matches that are seen by no one. Great use of pictures, very strong column.

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