NJPW: Why coronating Evil as the top villain and double champion is a shrewd move

NJPW, EVIL (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
NJPW, EVIL (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

Over the weekend, Evil pulled off an unfathomable upset in NJPW to win the 2020 New Japan Cup.

After he betrayed his former compatriot, Evil walked into NJPW Dominion as the newest member of Bullet Club. Then, he did the unthinkable. He dethroned everyone’s favorite antihero and perennial underdog, Tetsuya Naito, to win the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship. Everything is indeed evil.

If Naito’s win at Wrestle Kingdom 14 was a storybook ending, then this was a nightmarish prologue that cast our hero back out into the cold. It seemingly rendered his 189 days as double champion meaningless for shock value. So why do this?

Why take arguably the least interesting member of Los Ingobernables de Japon and elevate him to the top spot?

There’s a lot to unpack here but this is either terribly shortsighted or deft storytelling that will pay off in the long run. Given New Japan’s usual longterm booking, it’s hard not to believe it will eventually work out. Whether you like it or not, it’s clear a good amount of thought went into this.

Now, of course, the elephant in the room is COVID-19. It’s hard to tell how much of the events that unfolded this weekend are the result of cancellations and the use of a limited roster. Nevertheless, New Japan made the best of a bad situation and gifted fans what will be one of the most talked-about moments of the year.

Although LIJ left Wrestle Kingdom draped in gold this year, their dynamic has grown a little stale. Naito and Hiromu Takahashi are still at the top of their game in terms of character work and Shingo Takagi is quickly becoming a fan favorite. However, Evil and SANADA appeared to be stuck in a perpetual chase for the tag titles. Now the tag division is improving, it was a good time to split them up.

SANADA is bound for success as a singles star. He hasn’t won a singles title with the company yet but he inevitably will. He’s too good and too marketable to languish in the mid-card. So, why not just turn him instead of Evil?

First and foremost, SANADA is too popular and he’s a great worker. He’s counterintuitive to what Tama Tonga and Jay White‘s Cutthroat Era represents. “Cold Skull” would’ve fit perfectly with a gang of cool heels like The Elite but the newest iteration of Bullet Club are more straightforward. That’s what makes Evil the better choice.

Moreover, “The King of Darkness” has a unique connection to Naito and Takahashi. He was the first member of Los Ingobernables de Japon and he’s been loyal for nearly five years. Hiromu and Evil trained together and debuted for NJPW at the same time. This is important because Naito doesn’t emote much. Their mutual friendship with Evil allows Hiromu to do the heavy lifting as we saw at the end of Dominion when he challenged the new champion.

More importantly, Evil is more interesting than he has been in a long time. It’s a shock to see him go from a decent worker with a very brief stint as Never Openweight Champion to top of the mountain. He needed something different though, and Bullet Club needed a leader to stand-in for the gaijin members like White. It’s a shrewd move that future positions the stable as the most hated heel faction in the company.

NJPW Dominion 2020 Results and Grades. dark. Next

Evil’s win sets up some stories to build on over the next few months and hopefully, cap off at Wrestle Kingdom 15. New Japan possibly could’ve got the same result without taking the titles off Naito, but this frees him up to work his way back by January. In the meantime, things will be much more unpredictable.