Find Part 1 of our Tetsuya Naito profile series here.
After returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling, Tetsuya Naito's partnership with Yujiro Takahashi dissolved, and thus it was only a matter of time before the two would face each other. Their grudge match took place at Dominion, with Naito on the losing end. What would he do next after failing to settle the score with someone who turned his back on him?
He traveled to Mexico and competed for CMLL for a few weeks. One might think that the time away would allow Naito to further develop his skill set and mindset, and therefore persevere against Takahashi when the duo squared off at the G1 Climax 2011 tournament.
Unfortunately, Naito was once again unsuccessful. That loss, however, wouldn't prove costly as he ended up winning his block and advanced to the tournament finals. Despite not winning the tournament, it represented the next step for Naito. At last, Naito would defeat Takahashi in the fall of 2011.
Naito’s Continued Success
He continued to compete against the best the promotion had to offer while being a part of the promotion's big events such as Wrestling Dontaku, Destruction, and Wrestle Kingdom along the way. While it took some time for him to develop and build steam around his character, Naito's popularity continued to grow.
Jump ahead a few years, and as the summer of 2015 was drawing to a close, Naito had an opportunity to face then Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Lethal for ROH's World Television championship, which Lethal also held. This took place at ROH's Global Wars event. This is an annual tour the two promotions do in collaboration, with shows taking place in Canada and the United States. It culminated in the last, and biggest, show on the tour. This particular match resulted in a loss for Naito, who did not capture the championship.
The Formation of Los Ingobernables de Japon
At this point, Naito was in need of a change. After the Ring of Honor events, all the New Japan talent returned home to Japan except for one. Naito decided he wanted to continue to compete in North America, but back in Mexico. During his time in Mexico, Naito worked alongside La Sombra (now Andrade 'Cien' Almas in WWE), who was an integral part of a notable Mexican stable known as, Los Ingobernables.
Together the duo attempted to capture the CMLL tag team championship. That tour with the Mexican promotion certainly left a lasting impression on Tetsuya Naito. When he returned from Mexico, he was very different from how he was before. The much more relaxed look and demeanor he presented suggested he didn't care, when in fact that couldn't be further from the truth. His return also came with an announcement that he was representing the Los Ingobernables faction in Japan as Los Ingobernables de Japon.
Within a few months of Naito's announcement, it would be revealed that Takaaki Watanabe, who had been absent doing a tour of the U.S. similar to Naito's Mexico tour, was Naito's new partner during the G1 Climax 2015. Watanabe underwent a transformation as well, and would soon be dubbed 'the King of Darkness' EVIL. This partnership was soon enhanced by the addition Bushi, making the duo into a trio.
With any faction, your chances of success are greatly affected by the number of people within your group. To that end, LIJ's numbers increased, and this addition wasn't just important because it made them a quartet, rather it played a role in a championship match for Naito. At Invasion Attack 2016, in an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against then-champion Kazuchika Okada, Naito captured the title with the help of EVIL, Bushi and the newest group member, Sanada. While his reign may have been short-lived, his quest for success wasn't. He would go on to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship a few months later.
Part of NJPW’s Elite
After ten years in active competition, Naito was recognized for his value to the promotion in the media. Japanese media outlet Tokyo Sports named Tetsuya Naito as the 2016 Most Valuable Player in the entire country. It was a remarkable accomplishment, and a distinction that for the previous five years had been bestowed upon either Okada or former IWGP World Heavyweight champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. Naito would follow up that distinction by winning the award once again in 2017, only the fifth professional wrestler to achieve that.
While he has held the IWGP Intercontinental championship on more than one occasion, it was his most recent run that got the most publicity, at least on a global scale. After some online bantering between himself and American wrestler Chris Jericho, Naito would ultimately feel Y2J’s wrath the day after Wrestle Kingdom 12. At the New Year Dash 2018 event, Jericho attacked an unsuspecting Naito from behind, leaving the champion battered and beaten in the ring.
For a while, though, it appeared as though nothing would necessarily come of it. However, after several months, Jericho again attacked Naito again while wearing a mask and dressed in black. This resulted in Jericho facing Naito for the championship at the 2018 Dominion event. The event was a success, but not for Naito who lost the championship.
Which leads us to today. Naito, known for his trademark widening of the eye known as the 'abre los ojos' (open your eyes) gesture, certainly sees clearly now. There is no confusion with how important Naito is to the current landscape of New Japan Pro Wrestling. With Los Ingobernables de Japon by his side, he will continue to be a pillar of strength in the company. He is one that other stars in the promotion can certainly lean on, someone that has faced adversity and ultimately succeeded.
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As a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.