Japan is Jericho II

Missing in Action.

Fozzy’s Judas theme boomed across the Tokyo Dome, formally signalling the arrival of Chris Jericho. Alpha vs Omega, the match that many western wrestling fans were salivating over was finally here. After weeks of hype and months of speculation, the WWE stalwart was finally back in a New Japan ring, ready to compete in the promotion for the first time in two decades.

As previously covered, in last year’s Japan is Jericho article, this was a gamble by New Japan management. A further shot at McMahon-land. Although Jericho, was quick to play down this aspect stating Vince was “cool with it” it was still clear to most observers, that with this bout, New Japan had the Western audiences in their sights.

The match itself showcased a new vicious heel, Jericho. From a character standpoint, this was Y2J at his best. The humour of the List of Jericho faded into memory. The former undisputed champion, battered Kenny Omega from pillar to post. Jericho openly mocked the Japanese fans and their incessant chants for Kenny. Y2J also brutally despatched of the referee “Red Shoes” and brawled in a manner akin to the late Bruiser Brody.

The bout served as a modern take on the classic American style, brawl, it was reminiscent of the glory days of Funk vs Flair.

Kenny Omega would eventually go on to defeat his rival, but this was a match dominated by Jericho. Wrestle Kingdom 12 was a critical and commercial success, in no small part due to Omega vs Jericho.

Many fans, expected that the match at Wrestle Kingdom would be a wonderful one-shot deal, the next night would prove otherwise.

Wrestle Kingdom had been a strange night for Tetsuya Naito. Most Los Ingobernables de Japon (L.I.J) fans and wrestling pundits expected the Tranquilo leader to leave the Dome as the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion. However, Naito was defeated by the champion Kazuchika Okada in a stunning main event. The next night at New Year Dash!! Following an L.I.J victory over Chaos, Naito was viciously attacked by a raging Jericho.

Weeks turned into months, with no further appearances, or mention of Y2J in New Japan. People began to wonder if Jericho would ever return to Japan to feud with Naito. By April WWE had announced Jericho as a participant in the 50-man Royal Rumble match at the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia. It seemed like Jericho was likely done with Japan.

On May the 4th, Star Wars day no less, Jericho appeared in the crowd at Wrestling Dontaku, once again attacking Naito. By this time the stakes were even higher, Naito was now rocking hardware, in the form of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

The second brutal attack by Jericho would ultimately lead to a match between the two men at Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-jo Hall. It was expected by most that this would be booked as a redeeming victory story for Naito. It was thought that he would send his challenger back to Canada and raise the Intercontinental Championship to even greater heights.

In a gutsy move, New Japan management and Jericho shocked the world again. Y2J, defeated the red-hot Naito, for the Championship, in another classic brawl. Jericho became the first wrestler to have held both WWE’s and IWGP’s version of the Intercontinental Championship.

This was an interesting and bold move. Due to Jericho’s touring schedule with Fozzy, he would be unavailable for the G1 season. It had also long been rumoured that Jericho, would not appear in North America for New Japan. These restrictions meant that NJPW was without arguably its second-biggest championship, for both US shows and the entire Summer.

Jericho himself has become a brand. In music, wrestling, podcasts and even cruises, Y2J has his finger in several pies. Rumours are now surfacing that his relationship with Vince McMahon, may have soured over the summer, leading to speculation of a possible stop in the Don Callis run Impact Wrestling. Although, not a sure thing, this could happen, as Don Callis and Jericho’s friendship goes back several decades. It has even been suggested that Callis, brokered Jericho’s New Japan deal late last year.

Whilst, all this is exciting for Jericho , Callis and wrestling in general, the question has to be asked, what next for the Intercontinental Championship?

New Japan’s President Harold Meij, recently commented that titles must be defended every 6 months. If this rule applies to Jericho, we can expect a title defence by November. If however, Jericho has special dispensation it is likely a return date with Naito may have to wait until Wrestle Kingdom 13.

Whatever happens next, Japan is Jericho continues to be a fascinating ride.

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Cheers

Ian