For the second time in his career, Tetsuya Naito has won the G1. He concluded this year’s tournament by winning 5 straight matches, including defeating Kenny Omega in the tournament final.
Naito first won the tournament in 2013, however, things didn’t go exactly as he planned afterward. Winning the G1 earned Naito a title shot against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 8, only the match would not take place in the main event.
That year NJPW held a fan vote to determine which title match should close out the show. Shinsuke Nakamura was also scheduled to defend the IWGP Intercontinental championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi. The fans voted for Nakamura vs. Tanahashi to close out the show, bumping Naito vs. Okada down to the semi-main event. This despite the fact that Naito had defeated Tanahashi in the G1 finals that year, and defended his title match contract on 3 occasions before the Tokyo Dome show. As much as it was a vote in favor of Nakamura and Tanahashi, it was also a vote against Naito.
Following the fan-vote things slid downhill fast for Naito. He lost to Kazuchika Okada in the Tokyo Dome. The next month he lost his NEVER Openweight championship to Tomohiro Ishii. In the 2014 G1 tournament he finished with a .500 record of 5-5 after having won the tournament the year before. One of his wins was over Okada, however, and that earned him a title shot at the King of Pro-Wrestling show in October, which he lost as well.
Something needed to change for Naito or else his career would continue to spiral downwards. Following the North American Global Wars tour with ROH in May of 2015, Naito opted not to return to Japan. He instead decided to go on tour with CMLL in Mexico. Naito had previously tagged with La Sombra (Andrade Almas) during NJPW’s World Tag League and was invited to join his “Los Ingobernables” stable while in Mexico.
Los Ingobernables of CMLL
In 2014, La Mascara, Rush, and La Sombra formed the heel group “Los InGobernables”, which loosely translates to “ungovernable” or basically “you can’t control these people” in CMLL.
The stable would add Marco Corleone as their 4th member. WCW and WWE fans will remember Corleone better as former Natural Born Thriller, Mark Jindrak.
Naito would wrestle alongside the group during his tour with CMLL and eventually announced plans to represent the group in NJPW upon his return to the promotion. He would return to Japan in time for the 2015 G1 tournament. A change in his demeanor was immediately present at press conferences to promote the event. Naito was seen sleeping and generally acting uninterested in answering questions or promoting the shows.
His matches also began to appear different. Naito would delay the start of matches while he slowly removed articles of clothing until he was only in his ring gear. He’d use the term “Tranquilo” when referees or opponents became frustrated with his stalling. Tranquilo loosely translates to quiet, but seems to be basically a way of saying “hey, calm down guy”.
What Is Tetsuya Naito All About?
Naito’s career in NJPW resembles his stablemate Rush’s in Mexico. Rush had been a top guy in CMLL that the fans supported, but not as much as the promotion probably wanted. Rush was portrayed as a top babyface, but the fans started to turn on him. Similarly, Naito had won the G1 but fans were so uninterested in seeing him challenge Okada, they voted for Nakamura and Tanahashi to close the show.
Rush turned rudo in 2014, and along with La Sombra and La Mascara became the founding members of Los InGobernables. When Naito joined up with them in CMLL, it only made sense for him to turn on the NJPW fans just as Rush did in CMLL. Naito’s new attitude would also win over a large percentage of those who had previously unsupported him.
What Naito made apparent upon his return to Japan in 2015 was that he was going to do everything on his terms. The referee couldn’t tell him when he needed to be ready to wrestle, he would throw the title in the air (or even badly damage it). He was ungovernable, or los ingobernable.
The whole idea was that he was doing things for him and his faction and nothing else mattered. That the root cause of Naito’s new attitude had been the fans slighting him after he won the G1 in 2013 is significant considering he has now won the tournament again in 2017. A lot has changed in those 4 years. Los InGobernables and Naito have become some of the hottest and most popular stars in the company.
IWGP Heavyweight Champion
In March of 2016, Naito won the New Japan Cup and earned a title shot at Invasion Attack 2016. Naito defeated Okada for the title after interference from the debuting Seiya Sanada. He then defended the title successfully against Tomohiro Ishii, before dropping the title back to Okada at Dominion in June.
There was no time for Naito to receive a rematch, as the G1 Climax 2016 tournament would start the next month. Kenny Omega defeated Naito on the final night of the round-robin before going on to win in the finals. In 2017, Naito would avenge the loss.
Intercontinental Championship Run
In September last year, Naito defeated Michael Elgin to win the Intercontinental Championship. He then proceeded to damage and attempt to break the belt. This was a notch above what he did while IWGP Heavyweight champion when he would regularly throw the belt in the air and leave it.
An eye injury would prevent Elgin from receiving his rematch, so Naito ended up defeating Jay Lethal to retain his title at Power Struggle. His next title defense would be against Tanahashi in the Tokyo Dome. Since Naito and Tanahashi would be the semi-main event that night, with Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada the main, there was the suggestion from some that there should be a fan vote to determine which match closed the show. Naito came out against this, however, stating that the IWGP Heavyweight championship match should always close the biggest show of the year. He successfully defended the title against Tanahashi that night, his first singles victory on a Wrestle Kingdom show.
Naito began to slowly destroy the championship belt. He finally declared that his title defense against Tanahashi at June’s Dominion show would be his last as champion; If he retained the title he planned to completely destroy the belt. Tanahashi defeated him for the title, seemingly saving the belt in the process.
G1 Climax 27
Naito started the tournament this year by defeating Kota Ibushi in the main event of Block A’s opening matches. After starting the tournament 3-2, Naito rallied out 5 straight victories over Hirooki Goto, Zack Sabre Jr. Togi Makabe, Tanahashi and finally Kenny Omega in the finals.
Tomohiro Ishii will be the first man to challenge Naito for the briefcase. He was also the first to challenge Naito during his brief IWGP heavyweight championship reign last year.
For Naito, Ishii is is just one more challenge on a journey to the Tokyo Dome main event that he has been on for 4 years.