#NewJapanWeek: Gang Warfare ’18: Los Ingobernables De Japon

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Photo: NJPW

Coming into 2018,it looked like the popular Los Ingobernables De Japon would take over Japan.  Leader Tetsuya Naito was heavily favored to end Kazuchika Okada’s legendary title run, Hiromu Takahashi was the most popular Junior heavyweight in the company and breakout years were predicted for EVIL and SANADA.  The year of LIJ did not pan out as expected but the group still had highlights and a strong focus throughout the year.

Tetsuya Naito

Photo: NJPW

On the biggest night of his career, Naito could not get the job done, having finally made it to the main event of Wrestle Kingdom he failed to beat Okada as he let the emotion of the moment get to him.  The very next night at New Year Dash he was on the receiving end of an attack from Chris Jericho, a grudge that will be settled on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome.  A loss to Zack Sabre Junior in the New Japan Cup left the popular star relatively aimless heading into Sakura Genesis, one of the big 4 NJPW shows, it was here that the feud with Suzuki Gun began as Naito, EVIL and SANADA faced Minoru Suzuki and KillerElite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer).  After the match, Naito challenged Suzuki to a match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.  At the Hinokuni event in April Naito defeated Suzuki to win the Intercontinental title, a belt he hates and loathes in a match that was met with harsh criticism by fans and reviewers.  After months with little direction, Naito was thrust into the spotlight when Jericho came back to challenge Naito to an IC title match at Dominion 6.9, NJPW’s second biggest event of the year.

Photo: NJPW

In a surprising move, Jericho won the title leaving Naito with one clear path to greatness, win the G1 Climax. Despite the months of aimlessness, fans made it clear who they wanted to see win the tournament.  In a disappointing move, Naito finished fourth in the B Block, once again losing to Sabre, and losing to Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega in high profile matches.  Since then it has been back to fighting Suzuki Gun as he defeated Suzuki again during the Destruction tour and finally managed to defeat ZSJ at Power Struggle. Since the G1 Naito has won two high profile singles matches as NJPW are firing him up for his Wrestle Kingdom rematch with Jericho when the two collide for the Intercontinental Championship.  Overall, this has been a poor year for Naito and many LIJ fans have been left frustrated with his treatment but he still has a big match at the Tokyo Dome and is still the hottest act in the company.  2018 wasn’t what we expected but 2019 could be his year!

Hiromu Takahashi

Photo: NJPW

Takahashi came into this year as the most popular Junior heavyweight on the roster, and it wasn’t even close, despite failing to win the title at Wrestle Kingdom and New Beginnings, both matches were won by Will Ospreay fans were still clamoring to see the Ticking Time Bomb reclaim his title.  He spent a few months teaming with BUSHI chasing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.  Again he failed to emerge victoriously but hope was high heading into the Best Of The Super Juniors.  Takahashi had amazing matches as he won B Block ahead of Marty Scurll, KUSHIDA, Dragon Lee and Ryusuke Taguchi.  In the final against Taiji Ishimori Takahashi delivered a Match Of The Year Contender and won the prestigious BOSJ tournament.  At Dominion 6.9 Takahashi once again tore the house down with Will Ospreay as he finally reclaimed his beloved belt-san.  Takahashi’s year had an unfortunate end after a botched Phoenix Plex from his arch-rival Dragon Lee. The exact injury suffered by Takahashi is still unknown but we have not seen him in a ring since.  A sad end to the year for Takahashi who had been on a Wrestler Of The Year level run and was close to surpassing Naito in terms of popularity.

Shingo Takagi

Photo: NJPW

With Takahashi out injured LIJ was in need of another Junior heavyweight member.  On October 1st, Naito announced they would be adding a new “pareja” and that LIJ would move forward without Hiromu.  On October 8th “The Dragon” Shingo Takagi debuted as the new member of Los Ingobernables De Japon.  Since his debut, Takagi has been a great addition as he has made an immediate impact in the Junior Heavyweight division.  He teamed with Bushi for the Super Jr tag league as the team finished tied for first before losing the final.  Takagi has picked up the majority of the wins for the team and is a hot property heading into Wrestle Kingdom and his match for the Jr. Heavyweight tag team titles.  A dynamic power junior that has made an impact for LIJ

EVIL

Photo: NJPW

EVIL started the year on a high.  In 2018 he was the first man to defeat Kazuchika Okada in one on one competition, he had a good run in the G1 and a high profile title match with Okada leaving many to believe 2019 would be a big year for EVIL.  EVIL started it all right as he captured the IWGP tag team championships at Wrestle Kingdom with SANADA.  In February he had a good match with Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight championship as he continued to be put in big positions.  EVIL and SANADA would hold the titles until June when they lost to The Young Bucks at Dominion.  EVIL was in Block A in this years G1 and after last year’s upset against Okada it was going to be interesting to see how he would do this time around.  His biggest win of the tournament came against Jay White on the last day of block action, A Block went mostly ignored by fans as B Block was full of exciting names meaning EVIL’s G1 failed to capture the attention of most fans.  On the Destruction tour EVIL started a feud with Zack Sabre Junior which lead to Chris Jericho attacking EVIL before his match with Sabre could begin.  EVIL got a high profile IC title match against a big name like Chris Jericho, which shows they are still high on EVIL, as they main evented Power Struggle.  To close out his year EVIL won NJPW World Tag League with SANADA as he continues to be an Upper Midcard guy that can slot into a big spot when needed.  It wasn’t the rocket strapped year some people were expecting but there are little signs that NJPW is still high on EVIL.

SANADA

Photo: NJPW

SANADA started his year by winning the tag titles with EVIL.  At New Beginnings he got the chance to challenge Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship as they main evented in Osaka and drew a good crowd.  Feuding with CHAOS was the mission for a few months as SANADA got a rare singles match at NJPW’s 46th-anniversary show against YOSHI-HASHI.  SANADA made it to the Semi-Final of the New Japan Cup as he fell to Zack Sabre Junior, who should be nicknamed the LIJ killer.  After this SANADA feuded with Suzuki Gun in multi-man matches until June when he lost the Tag championships to The Young Bucks in a really good match.  Put into B Block SANADA was put into a stacked and hyped block for G1 meaning the spotlight would be on him, SANADA beat ZSJ and Ibushi but lost to Kenny Omega and LIJ leader Naito as he finished with 8 points in sixth place in the block.  Unlike his fellow stablemates, SANADA did not have a marquee singles match to end the year but he was the MVP of tag league, picking up a lot of wins to keep him looking strong as he won the tag league with EVIL.

BUSHI

Photo: NJPW

The masked Junior heavyweight spent much of the year in the Junior heavyweight tag team division.  First, alongside Hiromu Takahashi he was unsuccessful when challenging for the titles in three straight matches against Suzuki-gun.  He had a respectable Best Of The Super Juniors finishing Block A with 6 points and claiming the scalp of beating Will Ospreay.  With Takahashi injured he needed started to team with Shingo Takagi and the two instantly gelled.  They had a very good run in the Super Junior Tag league making it into the finals.  Going into 2019 he has a renewed purpose alongside Takagi and the often maligned BUSHI may be on the verge of a good year teaming with the powerful Junior star.

Los Ingobernables De Japon had a down year, injuries, mishandling and a lot of high profile losses left LIJ fans extremely frustrated.  The signs are there for a big 2019 for the group as Takahashi nears his return, Naito looks to get redemption and defeat Jericho, EVIL and SANADA are still in New Japan’s good books and Shingo Takagi looks like an absolute star.  2018 for LIJ might not have been perfect, but stay tranquilo – 2019 could be the year that LIJ and Naito finally reach the pinnacle of New Japan.

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