Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 2 1/5/21)

Match Reviews

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I don’t think I’ve ever been as blindsided by the reception to a match as I have with this one before. Being a Tokyo Dome main event, this was always going to have its fans. New Japan has cultivated a passionate fanbase that are just generally going to enjoy what they put out especially if you’re a big fan of their house style. There are others though that are a little more in the middle, recognizing the difficulties the company has faced since coming back from lockdown and also expressing general fatigue over the bloated nature of their main event epics.

So to see near unanimous praise for this match was baffling to me. This is a match that highlights every flawed aspect of the New Japan main event style of the late 2010s. That the praise gets directed at Jay White is even more baffling. One of the most divisive wrestlers in the company’s recent history, Jay White has never received the kind of blind faith good will that so many others on the roster have. He’s always been subject to doubt and criticism given that traditional heel tactics are a built in aspect of his character in a company that has styled itself as above such tricks. And yet, here in the Tokyo Dome when those same exact tricks were pulled from the very same match up that he wrestled exactly one year before, it’s suddenly a classic.

I don’t get it.

There’s a lot of flaws here. Most notably, of course, is the bloated runtime at 48 minutes–the longest Tokyo Dome match in the company’s history. A distinction this match seems to stumble into by obligation and choice instead of with any kind of narrative unity and meaning.

So while, we’re at it, let’s ask the important question. Why did this match have to go 48 minutes? The narrative reasons within the match itself are flimsy at best. The larger meta narrative reasons for it work even less. When I voiced my displeasure at this match’s runtime online when it wrapped up, conflicting readings of this match’s intentions were sent to me. The one that seemed to be agreed upon by most, however, is that the match demonstrates Jay White’s growth as a wrestler. He was taken out of his comfort zone as a scheming, mischievous heel, and was forced to go into the deep waters against God King Ibushi. After Jay’s incredible post-match promo, it seems that this might even be pointing to an eventual babyface turn for him.

Let’s assume for a moment that this babyface turn becomes a reality. Jay White toughed it out in the Dome to foreshadow his switch to the light side. I pose the question again of what necessitated 48 minutes? Is it the case that Jay White couldn’t prove himself to be tough in even 10 minutes less at 38 minutes? What exactly in this match needed so much narrative space that the only direction worth going in was breaking a new record?

What we have now, instead of an actual performance and emotionally driven change in gears for Jay in the ring is a very strong promo that tries to make sense of what is essentially a hollow match. Nothing about Jay or Ibushi actually changes in those 48 minutes. Jay starts the match off up to his usual tricks. He uses an early Gedo interference to get the advantage to work over Ibushi’s ribs. Ibushi makes his comeback which Jay again cuts off to instead go after Ibushi’s leg–a huge mistake on both a meta and narrative level. Ibushi pretends his leg hurts for about ten minutes before letting that narrative thread disappear almost entirely.

The closest Jay gets to victory is as a result of a late game low blow on Ibushi or even from a sudden Blade Runner as the result of a ref distraction. He doesn’t suddenly get tougher in this match either. When he steps up to Ibushi to trade strikes, as he always does, Ibushi absolutely demolishes him. Again, as he always does. Jay’s not any tougher than he was. He just wrestled a longer match because the booking sheet told him he had to break a record. He kicked out of the Kamigoye, sure. Not that impressive when he’d already done that in the perfect G1 final two years ago, and Naito did it twice last night. He didn’t even kick out of the Phoenix Splash, Gedo had to help him out there as he always has. Nothing’s changed.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this match is that there’s so much good in it. The first few segments are far better thought out and structured than the previous night’s main event. It’s all built around Jay’s clever targeted body work and the well-timed cheating spots that his whole persona’s been built around. It feels stretched thin and overlong and it doesn’t get to draw heat as he’s playing to a crowd that has been strictly instructed to not boo, but the work itself is fine. He’s funny and charismatic with his trash talk, perhaps my favorite moment being cursing Ibushi in the most primal way as he drives the champion’s midsection into the guardrails and ringpost. Jay’s a fun wrestler and a very clever one all things considered.

Unfortunately he’s wasted in a company that refuses to utilize his best strengths. He’s one of the greatest heels on the planet. Smarmy and cocky, arrogant and scheming. Anywhere else in the world, someone would be making him pay for his sins instead of trying to draw out a Classic Epic Title Match out of him.

Now it seems even that era of Jay White seems to be ending. The whispers of a babyface turn are out there already and the post-match promo definitely seems to be pointing in that direction. It’s a great promo and Jay has the skill set needed to make a babyface turn work. I just wish this match gave us anything to actually show for it.

Instead of having something in his performance signal this switch that the company seems to be set on making (maybe), all he has now is a hollow piece of trivia. On January 5th, 2021, Jay White wrestled and lost the longest match in Tokyo Dome history. A pretty statistic for a textbook or a Cagematch webpage, but empty in the end.

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