Friday, July 31, 2015

Tetsuya Naito, Champion of My Heart

That Naito, he's so hot right now
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Before WrestleKingdom 9, I was only vaguely aware of Tetsuya Naito, in that I knew he won the 2013 G1 Climax and people weren't happy about it. His match against AJ Styles at that event left me nonplussed to say the least. Yeah, it was mostly because I didn't dig using the Styles Clash as a paralysis vehicle as a story for the match, and they both told that story as decently as possible, but you know how it is with bad first impressions.

But then he showed up as part of New Japan's visiting party for War of the Worlds, and he immediately won me over. I was skittish going into his match with Kyle O'Reilly, but he not only got the best singles performance out of O'Reilly I'd seen to that point, it was also the first singles match of O'Reilly's I'd honestly ever enjoyed. I don't want to throw too much shade at the younger half of reDRagon, because he did work his ass off in that match, but it was Naito who drew me in the most. I became a big fan of his, but not nearly as big a fan as I became this past week just on .gifs and videos alone.

NJPW's working relationship with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in Mexico has benefited no one more than Naito, especially now that he's joined the Los Ingobernables stable. Much like the translation of the group's name implies, they're a group of anarchic bros who don't follow no one's authority. Naito's inclusion in the group has brought out an outrageously rudo side of him that few knew he possessed with in him. He's attacked tag partners, assaulted referees, and, well, the below .gif demonstrates how he pinned Styles during their G1 Climax match:

.gif Credit: Alex Jones
Okay, first off, that pin is the natural evolution of cocky prick Chris Jericho's one-foot-on-the-chest C'MAWN BAYBAY flexing pin, so I naturally love it already. Secondly, he's pinning noted non-liker-of-gay-people AJ Styles with his crotch directly in the Bullet Club leader's face, which is delicious, delicious posturing. His troll game is definitely on point.

On one hand, it might seem silly to get excited for a dude without really watching the wrestling matches in context with the entire tournament. But honestly, what I've seen from Naito leaking across the Internet via exuberant postings makes me more psyched to see what he's done and what he can do going forward than nearly any other wrestler right now. Naito also is acting as another example of how fallacious the "NJPW is REAL WRESTLING for REAL WRESTLING FANS" talking point is bullshit. Some observers like to act as if NJPW is the second coming of RINGS, and it's just not true. When the top three characters are a dork who plays air guitar every chance he can, a Michael Jackson cosplayer, and that dude who tosses dollar bills in the air at the strip club, then that promotion is definitely imbued with pro wrestling's most special theatrical qualities.

That isn't to say that NJPW's in-ring content isn't better or more hard-hitting than other promotions; I haven't watched enough to say either way, but most people who watch it and many other promotions to be able to compare will give the company a nod. But to act all fucking Jim Ross-at-WrestleKingdom 9-describing-Shinsuke Nakamura on the promotion in comparison to the "cartoony" WWE/American scene is a flat-out lie, and hell, if wrestlers like Naito are going to populate that roster, nothing is wrong with embracing the radical, overtly peacocking character notes.

If you're like me and you like wrestling and Game of Thrones and you'd love to be able to rep Naito or your favorite NJPW wrestler with a Westerosi-style family sigil-and-slogan, then Twitter user @D_TaPla has the solution for you with an assortment banners that you can fly.

While Naito has caught my fancy as of late, I can't not represent my love of high-energy underdogs who also tend to do top rope headbutts to varying degrees of success.

Graphics Credit: @D_TaPla
YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT I'M REPPING TOMOAKI GODDAMN HONMA. Search the Twitter feed in order to find your house banner, sigil, and words.