He finally did it. 6 years after being shunned by the fans and sent back down by the card, Tetsuya Naito can now finally be considered the ‘Shuyaku’ (top star) of New Japan Pro Wrestling; with the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon capturing the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships on the grand stage of the Tokyo Dome, defeating Jay White on the 4th for the Intercontinental title and finally overcoming Kazuchika Okada for the Heavyweight Championship in a dome main event on his third attempt on the 5th.
While this offered a feel good moment for fans in the post match (that was, until KENTA ruined everything), there was also an excellent story told in the match itself. Everything was done with purpose. The moves performed were a foreshadowing of the later stages of the match, as well as calling back to previous encounters. It was storytelling at its finest and at a perfect pace.
First, let’s look at the first significant moment in the match, when Okada attempts his first rainmaker at around 15 minutes into the match. Naito uses a series of back elbows to the neck to prevent the move, before hitting an emphatic spinebuster. This offers foreshadowing to later in the match where Naito hits the Stardust Press before hitting Valencia and the Destino and the targeting of the neck and the torso showed Naito’s character development in the past 2 years and a sense of inner conflict – he could either go back and try to make the Stardust Genius Naito work, or follow the path that led him back to this moment, and stay true to the ideology of Los Ingobernables.
The attempt at Gloria (which was often used as the setup to the Stardust Press) also showed the conflict that Naito faced, and the fact that he couldn’t hit it solidifies the belief that the Stardust Genius could never get the job done against Okada.
Next we look at the arguable turning point of the match, where Okada begins working on the knee with brutal efficiency. It looked like Okada was actually going to win the match, after a nasty-looking slam on the announce table that attacked Naito’s knee – a limb not only targeted by Switchblade Jay White the night before, but many years ago – Naito was sidelined with a knee injury which was exploited by opponents heading into Wrestle Kingdom 8. This issue was also highlighted in Naito’s interview with NJPW before Wrestle Kingdom weekend, where he mentioned that he had had “bad knees for a while” which suggested opened him up for an attack on a weakened area.
Even a staple of Naito’s character, spitting in the face of his opponent in an act of defiance, can be considered as part of the longer story. Okada was spat on twice in this match, both at points where it looked like he was in total control. This showed Naito’s clear determination to win, the drive to not be defeated for a 3rd time at the Dome. The two instances can be considered symbolic, with 2 main event wins by Okada being disrespected, figuratively (and literally) being spat on by El Ingobernable.
The final 15 minutes is where everything hits 6th gear. Kickout after kickout, an exchange of strikes, Naito gets a near fall from a running Destino. Okada gets a near fall with the Rainmaker. We see Okada go back to the finishing sequence from 2 years before, hitting the spinning tombstone and rainmaker in the hopes of ending the match. But we once again see Naito’s resilience and development. That wasn’t going to be enough to finish it this time.
Even though he could finish the match whenever he wants to, Okada gets cocky. He hits a rainmaker and maintains wrist control before hitting another, but doesn’t go for the cover. He instead tries to go for one last exclamation point, which gives Naito a small window of opportunity to recover. This is eerily reminiscent of 2 years ago, but this time the tables are turned.
At Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito was intent on trying to emulate his past self, and instead of simply hitting the Destino which would surely have brought him victory, he preened to the crowd, leading Okada around the ring and trying to hype the crowd before hitting the move, which resulted in the champion halting Naito’s attempt, hitting a spinning tombstone piledriver and a final decisive Rainmaker to once again shatter Naito’s hopes and dreams of a win over him at the Tokyo Dome.
Heading into the final stretch, we once again see a callback to the Wrestle Kingdom main event from 2 years ago. Naito hits a powerslam, goes for broke (after all, this match was “Todo o Nada”) and finally hits the move he has tried to hit in both of his previous Dome matches. He remains calm and collected, and hits his chest with the LIJ fist pump (instead of trying to pose for the people in attendence) before hitting the Stardust Press to a thunderous reaction. But it still wasn’t enough – it is once again proven that the Stardust Genius of the past will never be good enough to beat Kazuchika Okada.
Even after what can be considered such a monumental moment, Naito manages to keep his foot on the pedal. He tries to go for the Destino, but is briefly blocked. He drops down and hits Valentia, dropping Okada onto his neck, before hitting a 3rd and final Destino in his 3rd IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at the Dome, defeating the man that denied him for so long.
In the post match, we see the continuity in the character of Naito. Back when he first returned from Mexico, he said that his allegiance didn’t lie with NJPW or the fans – he was aligned with Los Ingobernables. When he first beat Okada at Invasion Attack 2016, he made a point of this, putting his signature cap on before accepting the title, which he threw to the ground before dropkicking Red Shoes.
In this moment, he picks up his hat before first accepting any of the championships from Red Shoes. His attitude toward the Intercontinental Championship – the belt that had caused him so much heartbreak in the past – also changes, with him not looking at it in a negative way.
He realises how without it, he wouldn’t have made history. His history with the IC title led to him making history with the Heavyweight, and even if the title caused him so much outrage in the past, it offered him a path to the dome main event that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
This emphatic victory showed just how far Naito has come. He recognised that the Stardust Genius wasn’t needed anymore, and that the anti-hero, tranquilo, ungovernable Naito was the best incarnation – the one that could beat Tanahashi, the man who could beat Jay White, the man who could beat Kota Ibushi, and the man who could beat Kazuchika Okada on the biggest stage imaginable.
We now look ahead to what will surely be a long and successful road for Naito as a double champion. KENTA was defeated at the New Beginning and the champion has given permission for Okada, Ibushi and White to challenge while also teasing a contest with Hiroshi Tanahashi. We also have the G1 and New Japan cup winners, as well as the G1 itself, which could allow Naito to get to at least 5 or 6 victories as Heavyweight Champion, even after the COVID-19 pandemic that put things on hold for 110 days. He’s more than earned it.