Kenny Omega won the freshly minted IWGP US title in a wonderful two-night tournament in Long Beach last summer. Since then he has been nothing shy of a dominant champion, that is until Sunday when he was dethroned in a stunning result by CHAOS' latest member: 'Switchblade' Jay White.
We're not here to discuss the afters from Kenny Omega's loss though. We're here to answer the question of if it is simply too soon in White's career for him to be beating one of New Japan's 'big 4' and carrying a belt.
Who is Jay White?
Let's start by answering a question that not many people know. Where did Jay White come from!? He made his pro debut in February 2013 in Canada, and just a year later he was tagging with Prince Devitt (WWE's Finn Balor) in a match. It was Devitt who took White's name to New Japan and not to soon afterwards White was offered a place at the dojo as a young lion, a few months later.
White made his young lion debut in January 2015 and his talents were soon pretty obvious. As an in-ring performer White had plenty of athleticism and was a smooth worker very quickly. A year after his young lion debut he got a non-title match against Intercontinental champion Kenny Omega, in June 2016 he left on excursion and was soon putting on terrific matches in Ring of Honor in America, Revolution Pro Wrestling in the UK and even making an appearance in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
During his time away White put on some stellar matches with a lot of different opponents, displaying his impressive offense and consistently impressing live crowds. White returned to New Japan in November 2017 at 'King of Pro Wrestling' with the Switchblade gimmick, and now just a few short months later he has IWGP gold around his waist.
Is it too soon?
This isn't the first time a young lion returned from excursion and quickly won gold. Just last year Hiromu Takahashi came back and won the junior heavyweight title from Kushida. And it's not just young lions, in 2017 Zack Sabre Jr debuted and beat Katsuyori Shibata for the Rev Pro title at their anniversary show.
Sure, Sabre's win wasn't for an NJPW title, but it was still a debutant winning a title, and perhaps most importantly making his presence felt with a big win over an established star. In both his and Hiromu's case their talent was obvious and they have both been important players in their divisions and factions since arriving.
White has come in for far more criticism than either of those two though. He is very inexperienced compared to both of them, and his match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 against Hiroshi Tanahashi certainly fell short of expectations given the stage it was on.
While his bout against Omega was a good example of White fighting from underneath, at the moment he looks like a very weak champion, which is a problem for a new title that was used to main event shows. As part of CHAOS, albeit a heelish member of necessity, he is set up to avoid the big-hitters of Tomohiro Ishii or Hirooki Goto, but it means there is plenty of potential opponents in Bullet Club or Taguchi Japan.
CHAOS seems to be somewhat at war with Los Ingobernables de Japon right now, and maybe White will play a part in that. After all his Switchblade character does seem somewhat ungovernable.
At just 25 White is very young to be given just a bright spotlight, but as I said before his talent is clear. It will take him some time to connect with audiences. He doesn't have the show-stopping charisma of Hiromu or the ultimate heel status of Sabre Jr to establish his character, he has to do it with work in the ring and at press conferences. White can be a worthy champion, and a big player in New Japan's future, I believe he can do so soon if fans are willing to give him time. Thankfully this isn't WWE and title reigns aren't killed as soon as they begin by the audience.
Here is to switchblade being the kind of dangerous loner that New Japan's faction-heavy world needs.
Do you think Jay White is ready for a title run? Let us know in the comments below!