Hiromu Takahashi is officially no longer the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. In what was hardly a shocking turn of events, New Japan announced that since Takahashi, who suffered a broken neck during the G1 Climax Special in the US, would be unable to defend his championship within the next six months the title would have to be vacated. This is due to an apparent ruling that IWGP champions must defend their titles at least once within a six month period (Which on another note, theoretically means we should be seeing IWGP Intercontinental champion Chris Jericho defend his belt at least once before the Dome). As a result of the vacancy, a four man tournament featuring Kushida, Bushi, Ospreay and Marty Scrull was announced to crown a new champion, with the two semi’s taking place at Destruction in Kobe and Fighting Spirit Unleashed and the final taking place at King Of Pro-Wrestling. With that in mind here’s a quick look at the four potential champions…
A five time IWGP JR. Heavyweight champion, two time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, Super-J Cup winner and two time BOSJ winner, Kushida has been something of a Junior ace for New Japan in recent years, and may well be seen as a safe pair of hands for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belt. The 35 year old Kushida, is not exactly what you’d call over the hill, but he has found himself slipping down the card somewhat in recent times, with the likes of Ospreay and Takahashi seemingly surpassing him as the divisions top guys. With Takahashi gone it may be Kushida’s time to once again steer the ship for the Junior Division.
Under any other circumstance, Bushi would have to be seen as the biggest underdog in this tournament. Bar a very short forty-nine day reign as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion back in 2016, Bushi has never been truly seen as a top tier Junior on the level of any of the other competitors in this tournament. Being part of LIJ with Takahashi, means Bushi is often overshadowed as a Junior, and his main role there is often to eat pins for his better protected faction members. However, that link to Takahashi means there’s a lot of intrigue around how Bushi does here, and he may well be the dark horse to win the belt. On one hand Bushi could be seen almost as Takahashi’s representative in the tournament, fighting in honour of his fallen brethren in what could potentially be a heart-warming moment. On the other hand Takahashi’s absence presents an opportunities for Bushi to once again position himself as LIJ’s top Junior representative, leading to some interesting scenario’s for when Takahashi does return.
On paper Will Ospreay is the heavy favourite to become the next IWGP JR. Heavyweight champion. Bar his loss to Takahashi at Dominion, Ospreay has had an incredible year, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title in a fatal four way at Wrestle Kingdom, getting huge singles victories over both Marty Scrull and Kushida and taking Kazuchika Okada to the limit back at New Japan’s anniversary show. Oh, and he even started his own promotion back in the UK. Then you also have to add in the fact that Ospreay is twenty five year’s old, and its clear Ospreay is going to be a huge part of New Japan for year’s to come. The question however, is how much longer is that future is going to take place in the Junior division? Ospreay has alluded to wanting to move up to the heavyweights for some time now (often drawing the ire of Scrull in the process), and his losing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship to Takahashi almost seemed to open up the door for him to make that move. Whether that move was ever planned for anytime soon, or if Takahashi’s absence delays it is unknown, but either way it will certainly be interesting to see how Ospreay does in this tournament.
Marty Scrull certainly has an interesting September lined up, starting the month with a David vs Goliath battle against Kazuchika Okada in front of ten thousand fans at All-In, and ending with a match-up against rival Will Ospreay at Fighting Spirit Unleashed. On top of that, Marty has also found himself embroiled in a Bullet Club civil war with the Bullet club OG’s alongside the Bullet Club ‘Elite’. If everything falls into place for Scrull, he could potentially find himself as the new IWGP Junior heavyweight champion with wins over his biggest rival, Ospreay, and the top ranked wrestler in the world, Okada, all in the space of about 38 days. That outcome seems to be a heck of a stretch, but Scrull certainly stands a fighting chance at making some of those possibilities a reality.