When NJPW’s long time Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi, was announced to be clashing with equal legend and so-called ‘Painmaker’ Chris Jericho at their Wrestle Kingdom 14 Supershow, occurring this weekend on January 4th and 5th, I can’t say I was honestly overwhelmed by the news. That’s not to say I didn’t think it would be a good match; I knew the quality of both performers would make it a sight worth seeing. Tanahashi is mostly as reliable as ever. And since his return as a gaijin heel at the end of 2017, Jericho’s Clockwork Orange-meets-Stan Hansen routine has been a riot. Knowing that he can’t wrestle the more athletic style of his youth, Jericho has transitioned into a Hansen/Bruiser Brody/Terry Funk-style brawler that actually suits him pretty well, works well with his current character and fits nicely into the tradition of the gaijin brawler that has played a big part in Japanese wrestling since the 70s and 80s.
So why was I indifferent when the match was announced?
Quite possibly the novelty of Jericho appearing out of the blue and attacking and challenging somebody has worn off. The surprise element has gone. AEW is his primary focus, as it should be as world champion. That means there was very little reason given to get invested in a Jericho-Tanahashi contest, outside of the vague motivation of Tanahashi coming to Okada’s aid when Jericho treated Okada to a post-match battering.
An interesting story could have been to play on the fact that both men are clearly in the last stretches of their careers. Tanahashi’s feud with Jay White has centred a lot on the fact Tanahashi is trying to prove he is still the ace of old, so this is nothing New Japan haven’t been pushing themselves.
Jericho however, as the figurehead for a burgeoning new promotion with mainstream media connections, perhaps cannot be seen to be on the verge of being past it. It’s one thing being the veteran, elevating new stars by giving them the rub in the ring. It’s another to be seen as taking one last ride in the sun before you’re taken back to the stables and shot. A pity, though, as it would have provided a solid motivation for the match.
The AEW factor, though, has made things interesting. Previously it has been said that AEW and NJPW had no plans to work together. The Young Bucks took it one step further and claimed that NJPW “never saw the value” in them. The evident bitterness, at least on the Bucks part, made the continued appearances of Jericho and the addition of Moxley to the New Japan an eyebrow-raiser.
So you can imagine the speculation and excitement that ensued when Tanahashi stated he would want a shot at the AEW title if he beat Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom. Had a peace treaty between the two companies been secretly brokered?
In reality, it seemed likely that New Japan were using the elephant in the room, Jericho’s AEW title, to garner some last-minute publicity for their big show. But then came Jericho’s response:
“You said if you can beat me that you would enter the forbidding portal and request a title shot for the AEW Championship. I thought it’s a great idea. So, ‘Le Champion’ asked the Chairman of the Board, the owner of AEW, Tony Khan, if it was okay to grant your request, and he said ‘yes.’ So, if you can beat me in the Tokyo Dome, I will give you a championship match for the AEW Title.”
It’s a very interesting reply in that, although consistent with Jericho’s heel spiel, it seems almost to give too much information; how he went to Tony Khan, how the AEW name was used several times. This has only added more fuel to the fire of speculation. But it also generated a LOT more interest in the match. Or rather, the finish.
Theoretically, the finish will confirm or deny whether there is some secret working agreement, if only for Jericho and Tanahashi, between NJPW and AEW. If Jericho wins, then the title match doesn’t have to play out, but then what does New Japan stand to gain from that? So let’s assume a Tanahashi win. If there is no working agreement, how do they get around that? Well, the likelihood is that Jericho would either find a loophole so he wouldn’t have to honour the agreement. But I can’t imagine AEW letting New Japan use their name without being a little more involved than that. So, candidate B: AEW and NJPW have agreed to a one-off return match for somewhere down the line.
Interestingly, AEW’s next pay-per-view, Revolution, is not too far away, being held on March 1st. New Japan also have a show that day, an anniversary event taking place over two days on March 1st and 2nd. If they were going to do a second match though, it makes more sense to do it on a big pay-per-view show for the company holding the title.
This is where things become a little unstuck: AEW has been clearly building via Dynamite to a Jericho-Moxley match. Revolution would surely be the place to do it. Any later than that might turn people off from being interested in their eventual clash. But there is a way that I think it could be done.
Moxley, we know, is wrestling at Wrestle Kingdom. He’s wrestling the day before Jericho, on the 4th of January. Assuming he doesn’t fly out on the 5th, nothing is stopping him coming to the ring and pointing the match towards Tanahashi’s favour, so to speak. A competitive Tanahashi win, with an assist from Moxley, could set things up nicely. The Jericho-Moxley feud can simmer nicely in the background, battle lines now having been established, while Tanahashi can cash in his title shot at Revolution. In the meantime, Tanahashi can appear on Dynamite to build up to the title match, even forming an alliance of sorts with Moxley to keep The Inner Circle on their toes.
While Tanahashi might not be a big household name in America, his name IS big enough in wrestling circles to win over NJPW fans who haven’t given AEW a chance yet or even those fans that did give AEW a chance and decided not to bother further. If they can strengthen other aspects of their product in the meantime, it might be an ideal opportunity to strengthen and increase their fan base. In turn, though less likely, AEW fans who haven’t seen NJPW might tune into New Japan shows too. Win-Win.
Jericho would vanquish Tanahashi at Revolution in a competitive match, meaning Tanahashi won’t lose much in defeat. This then frees up the build to Jericho-Moxley. Assuming AEW are running Double or Nothing again this year, a Jericho-Moxley title headliner might be just the thing to cap off the first-anniversary show of their first-ever event.
It works for me. How about you? Let me know your take in the comments.
Whatever the case, I will be now be watching Jericho vs Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom on January 5th with great interest! Surely that’s all any promotion wants?