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Destruction as a Fresh Start: Yota Tsuji, Will Ospreay and the Cursed Red Belt

9 months ago

Destruction as a Fresh Start: Yota Tsuji, Will Ospreay and the Cursed Red Belt

By M. Ish

“…I’ll surrender the IWGP US Title to challenge for the Intercontinental Title…”

Yota Tsuji made up his mind. He wants in Will Ospreay’s head – but not only that  – he wants to live inside of it, rent free. The IWGP Intercontinental Title has become one of the hottest of the topics surrounding NJPW’s Destruction tour right now, and the Gene Blast is ready to ride the hype wave to eventual victory.

The start of this feud has felt at once ruthless and personal, but the United Empire frontman has made Tsuji think about nothing but the gold – and what kind of blinding glory it would be for the LIJ leader-in-waiting to take it from the champ. It’s a great tactic and a distraction from the man who stands before Tsuji, an all-time great who has truly become elite.

“…If you’re as good as you say you are then you’re gonna want to take this belt from me and make it mean something…”

The Brit had zero humility after his match with Tsuji was announced as Destruction in Kobe’s main event, and in an interview on njpw1972.com Ospreay stated that the LIJ wunderkind was being lazy throughout his United Kingdom excursion as a Young Lion and that Tsuji didn’t really connect with British audience at all, blasting Tsuji for thinking that the UK scene was beneath him. Who’s right, who’s good, and what is just in this feud is a hairy topic to be sure.

It’s unclear if Ospreay is being honest or playing mind games or frankly just staying up too late in Roppongi on too many whiskey highballs. We can presume that Tsuji isn’t buying any of it. He knows Ospreay’s background, he knows how insecure Ospreay can be.

If you truly know you’re the best there’s no need in reminding everyone that you are.

“…As the champion, if you were a little more self-aware, you’d be far better off…”

September the 24th in Kobe marks another big singles title challenge for the Gene Blast, the biggest menace that the Reiwa Three Musketeers (R3M) has. A title reign for Tsuji may set the stage for R3M’s permanent rise to prominence, but the man who stands in his path is only an egomaniac who the even-keeled Naomichi Marufuji even crowned as the world’s very best. We all know Dave Meltzer’s opinion. And the AEW faithful have their popcorn ready.

What are the chances Tsuji could actually pull it off? The Kobe crowd will be hot, and rightfully so. This match also sets the stage for a potential Wrestle Dream storyline over in AEW – Ospreay is consistently rumored to be headed there as soon as his NJPW contract is finished. 

Will Ospreay hitting the Kamigoye on Kenny Omega at Forbidden Door in June 2023, credits to AEW's archive

Will Ospreay hitting the Kamigoye on Kenny Omega at Forbidden Door in June 2023, c/o All Elite Wrestling

En route to being elite, Ospreay has turned every hero of his teenage years into a rival – and beat them. Although the pretense for this IWGP title match is a bit muddy, the belt itself is more dubious than what meets the eye. Ospreay infamously renewed the title by remaking it as the IWGP “UK” Championship.

Tsuji is on the record as saying he wants the old (and beautiful) Intercontinental Title to be reinstated. Suppose that makes him the good guy in this feud? We really can’t tell, but that’s part of the fun eh?

The Curse of the IWGP Red Belt

Regardless, NJPW is set to put a new shine on a belt that’s felt ignored and underutilized in the time since Hiroshi Tanahashi lost it. This feud with Ospreay and Tsuji is a breath of fresh air. Let’s hope that by September 24 things get more clear. The championship itself has been vacated three times in six years – two of those in 2022 – and the champ never managed more than five defenses in a single reign. 2022 really was a cursed year for the neglected strap. The belt’s curse started when Tanahashi won at Wrestle Kingdom and injured KENTA in one of the most brutal Tokyo Dome battles in recent years which saw both men using weapons and insane ladders to their advantages.

Tanahashi then lost the title to SANADA after no other defenses, but the New Japan Cup represented a malediction in SANADA’s path as Will Ospreay injured him in a tournament singles match to advance. With a busted face, the Just 5 Guys frontman relinquished the belt and NJPW decided that Wrestling Dontaku was the right time to crown a new champion: Ospreay against Tanahashi.

As if this comedy couldn’t get any worse, the IWGP U.S. Title’s curse continued after Ospreay was pulled from the event after testing positive for COVID-19. Those misfortunes finally ended when Tomohiro Ishii (who else) came to save the belt from irrelevancy, as his match with Tanahashi revoked their nearly decade lasting rivalry in a battle that was a joy to watch for everyone in Fukuoka.

Tana won it again after kicking out of a vicious vertical spike brainbuster, but amazingly his title reign ended thirteen days later in Washington D.C. as Juice Robinson won the belt in a four-way match.

Then… the Red Belt curse came roaring back in the form of appendicitis. Bullet Club Gold’s Juice Robinson had to battle the grave illness, obviously, which made a Dominion title defense impossible. In Osaka we witnessed Ospreay against SANADA, as originally intended, but the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champ couldn’t match up with the Brit. Ospreay’s first IWGP US Title reign symbolized a light in the dark for this belt’s story, as he managed to defend it four times before Kenny Omega captured the title on January the 4th in the Dome in what has become an iconic match — one that perceivably furthered the relationship between AEW and New Japan.

However, Omega disappeared from Japan – much to the chagrin of the hungry domestic crowd and defended it just once across nearly six months… against Jeff Cobb, on Dynamite.

Ospreay would reclaim the belt at Forbidden Door in another incredible match vs. Omega before taking the Stars & Bars off the gold plates in favor of the Union Jack, potentially lifting the belt’s curse and inviting R3M’s Tsuji to challenge and potentially establish an entirely new lineage for it.

Written by:

A guy from Italy, Puroresu enjoyer and freelance artist. I'm currently making graphic and written content for Monthly Puroresu and The Shield Of Sports SRLS.