I can’t pinpoint the moment my absolute dislike for Master Wato started, but I can tell you what I don’t like about him or why he hasn’t clicked with me. From a terrible gimmick to silly hair and gear that looks like it is out of a bad cartoon, something just doesn’t seem quite right.
Here I will try and explain by comparing Master Wato to his fellow Junior Heavyweights and demonstrating just exactly why his debut and subsequent run in New Japan Pro-Wrestling hasn’t been the hit they had hoped for.
Who Is Master Wato?
Master Wato was born Hirai Kawato on 13th March 1997 in Osaka, Japan, joining the New Japan Dojo in 2016. He trained under Hiroshi Tanahashi and Junji Hirata and appeared for NJPW as a Young Lion, working his way up and gaining experience alongside the likes of Ren Narita and Shota Umino, who have become some of the most popular Young Lions among fans.
Before heading off to Mexico and CMLL for the right of passage known as Excursion, Wato competed alongside KUSHIDA in the 2017 Super Junior Tag Tournament while also finishing second in the 2017 Young Lion Cup.
From The Debut of Master Wato to BOSJ 2020
I vaguely remember Wato from his Young Lion days in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, but he never made much of an impression on me, unlike Shota Umino and Ren Narita who instantly captured my heart and impressed me.
Umino and Narita are stars, with Shota impressing during the New Japan Cup in 2019 with a barn burner of a match against Hiroshi Tanahashi, soon following this up with a partnership with Jon Moxley that would make him the talk of the internet wrestling community. Ren Narita truly grew into his own during the Best of the Super Juniors 26 tournament, heightening the excitement for their pending excursion with each event. Even Yuya Uemura, who I didn’t think much of a few years ago, has blossomed and come into his own since Umino and Narita left for their excursions, battling against the likes of Yota Tsuji and Gabriel Kidd, two other standouts of the Young Lion System.
Wato’s matches, however, haven’t been out of this world, unlike other returning Young Lions who have gone on to reach the top of the card and are adored by fans the world over, such as Kazuchika Okada or Hiromu Takahashi. Yes, I understand that is a lot to live up to, but look at these new Young Lions and how hard they are working. Shota Umino has made waves in the UK, appearing at Royal Quest in August 2019 and appearing for RevPro at the start of 2020, inciting loud chants from the crowd in the process. All of this shows just how far behind Master Wato is compared to his contemporaries. He has a few flashy moves, but his in-ring psychology and storytelling do not seem to be there, and that may take time, but that’s what excursions are for; you either have it or you don’t and he just doesn’t have it.
El Desperado managed to get a good match out of him; this was in the main event of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, on 23rd November 2020. This match didn’t set the world on fire, despite Despy’s best efforts, and showed yet again that the main event should have belonged to higher quality matches put on by more reliable and consistent competitors like Hiromu Takahashi vs. DOUKI, SHO vs Taguchi, or even BUSHI vs Robbie Eagles. All this further highlights Master Wato’s lack of experience, which allowed for a dip in match quality compared to the other competitors within the division.
In contrast, Young Lion Yuya Uemara had better, more thrilling and demanding bouts during the BOSJ27, especially against Taiji Ishimori the same night Wato was in the main event. Unfortunately, the addition of Tenzan as his mentor hasn’t helped raise his profile or ability, even if New Japan Pro-Wrestling seems hell-bent on pushing Master Wato as the new face of the division.
Despite what the people in the office wanted, Mater Wato doesn’t have the charisma, ability, or likeability factor of past Aces of the division, including the likes of KUSHIDA, Will Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi, Dragon Lee, and Taiji Ishimori. On top of this, Master Wato also has a lot to contend with when it comes to legendary figures such as the recently retired Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Black Tiger, and Wild Pegasus to lead the division into this new era of New Japan and Junior Heavyweight wrestling. For someone so young and inexperienced, with the obvious shortfalls within his arsenal, we must conclude that Master Wato’s push was coming too soon, to the detriment of the rest of the division.
Has Master Wato Improved?
We say ‘was’ because, since the end of 2020, I can safely say that Master Wato has improved his in-ring skills yet still doesn’t possess that charisma and star power that is needed to become the Ace of the Junior Heavyweight Division. What looked like a big push coming his way at the start of 2021 seems to have faded away, allowing for more established stars to conquer the division. After the unfortunate injury to Hiromu Takahashi earlier this year, Master Wato could have pushed himself and tried to take on that spot, but he didn’t: there isn’t that spark. Yes, he is a good wrestler, but he needs something more.
And it seems the people in the back have soured on Master Wato too, with no clear direction for him in the immediate future. There was also the sudden yet expected turn of SHO on YOH, breaking up Roppongi 3K and making SHO a bigger star in the process. It seems any fans of Wato’s will have to wait for a good, juicy story to appear if they want to see former Young Lion truly become the Master of the division.