Who doesn’t love a return? Wayne Rooney to Everton, Thierry Henry to Arsenal, and Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United are just the tip of the iceberg for football. But in wrestling, it’s a less common event. In wrestling, we often see comebacks. They do say that a wrestling retirement is never final (hello, Ric Flair), but we don’t usually see wrestlers returning to their previous homes. On June 21st, inside the famous walls of Korakuen Hall, KUSHIDA did just that, making his return to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
An enchanted crowd had just witnessed a breath-taking IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship match, as Taiji Ishimori successfully defended his title against Hiromu Takahashi. They watched as El Desperado rose from the commentary desk as seemingly the next challenger to Ishimori’s throne, but they were instantly shocked as KUSHIDA’s entrance music sounded.
The Time Splitter didn’t look a single bit different from when he last appeared under the Lion Mark, in 2019. The Korakuen crowd momentarily forewent COVID-19 restrictions on shouting to usher KUSHIA back into NJPW, as Ishimori looked on as if he was watching a ghost walk to the ring.
KUSHIDA: The Return of the Time Splitter
A Welcomed Return
KUSHIDA spent a mostly unnoteworthy two years in WW. With only a stint as Cruiserweight Champion, a few good singles matches, and a reunion with Alex Shelley worth a passing mention, KUSHIDA is destined for a return to prominence in the NJPW Junior Heavyweight division.
As soon as the news broke that he had left WWE, it was firmly expected that the Time Splitter would jump ship back to Japan’s premier promotion. We had to wait for the eventual return, but it was greeted gleefully once it finally came.
KUSHIDA has slotted seamlessly back into the junior ranks, heading for the top prize straight off the bat. He has his sights firmly set on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. If he claims the title again, KUSHIDA would become the second most decorated Junior Heavyweight Champion. Overtaking Tiger Mask who he is currently tied with. If he took the title from Ishimori. only Jushin Thunder Liger’s monstrous eleven reigns would be ahead of him.
This is certainly possible in the near future. Seeing KUSHIDA return and subsequently win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship would please fans, both domestically and internationally.
With the G1 Climax returning to its summer spot in the calendar, the title match between KUSHIDA and Taiji Ishimori may have to wait. Though, when it does eventually happen I would be surprised if KUSHIDA didn’t walk away a seven-time champion.
Always the Junior, Never the Heavyweight
Some thought that KUSHIDA would return and go into the heavyweight division. KUSHIDA, however, will always be a more natural fit in the Junior Heavyweight division. It can seem like being in the Junior Heavyweight division is akin to the adage “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, but I think that undersells the potential of the Junior Heavyweight division.
For some wrestlers, it would make sense to transfer into the heavyweight scene, particularly El Desperado. For KUSHIDA a home in the junior division makes complete sense. The obvious size factor of a wrestler being more suited for the junior division is there with KUSHIDA.
The main argument is that wrestlers not moving on from the juniors, into the heavyweights, is creating a stagnant and repetitive product. Given the freshness of a returning KUSHIDA, this wouldn’t be the case. Since he left in 2019 a host of new wrestlers have come into the division and there has been a reshuffling of the deck. Which means there are plenty of exciting and interesting programs for KUSHIDA to enter into.
It is without a doubt that there would be some great matches for KUSHIDA in the heavyweight division, but the junior division provides much of the same as well as a sense of continuity and logic. I hope KUSHIDA can lead a fusion of juniors and heavyweights around the NEVER Openweight title, which would create a much more energized division and link between the polarised juniors and heavyweights.
Time For the Time Spillter
After a time away that has seemed a lot longer than it actually was, KUSHIDA is wrestling once again under the famed Lion Mark. He hasn’t missed a beat. The joyous return and strong performances in the star-studded tag matches that followed have proved that KUSHIDA is well and truly home.
It might just be time for the Time Splitter to break more records, claim my championships, win more tournaments and firmly cement his name in the pantheons of New Japan Pro Wrestling junior heavyweights. This could be a return that goes down in the history books.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world. As well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can rewatch all 2021 NJPW events and plenty more tremendous wrestling content from New Japan Pro-Wrestling on NJPWWorld.com; The King of Sports Streaming.