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Zack Sabre Jr. and the NJPW World TV Title

1 year ago

Zack Sabre Jr. and the NJPW World TV Title

Crafting a Legacy for New Japan’s Newest Championship

By: Jeremy Peeples

New Japan Pro Wrestling started 2023 with a strong mix of the past, present and future: Keiji Muto’s final New Japan match at Wrestle Kingdom 17, and dedications to the late Antonio Inoki gave domestic and international fans alike reasons to break out the tissue boxes. And more than four years after turning on CHAOS, multi-time IWGP Champion Jay White was sent packing by foes Hikuleo and Eddie Kingston barely two months after losing NJPW’s top prize. But make no mistake about it – the present is something to be excited for, as illustrated by crowning of the inaugural NJPW World TV Champion in a fantastic match between Ren Narita and Zack Sabre Jr.

ZSJ had a strong 2022, including a killer run to take the New Japan Cup. But the dissolution of Suzuki-Gun left him adrift as TMDK’s former leader, JONAH, returned to WWE. Upon his TV title win, he not only joined TMDK; he also made himself the leader of the group in a very Minoru Suzuki-esque move.

Incredibly, his wrestling and charisma in 2023 have already topped his already-dominant peak form. Suzuki-gun was formed after Minoru Suzuki asserted his dominance over Kojima-gun, and the rest fell in line with him. We saw something similar here with ZSJ. Now, he has his own group with Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls, and their chemistry is fun to watch. They act as punks out to take over their respective divisions, and have fun in the ring too. While the split of Suzuki-gun was set up with everyone’s approval, it’s easy to envision a post-match promo where ZSJ brings up making TMDK better than Suzuki-gun ever was and better than Suzuki’s new Strong Style group is.

Predicting the Legacy of the NJPW World TV Title

The title’s 15-minute time limit is perfect for an event that has all of its matches available for free, and a huge amount of talent, both old and new, will shine within that framework. Hiroshi Tanahashi has spent the last few years getting runs at various belts in New Japan, which his star power has long since surpassed. Tanahashi entering competition for the TV Title would elevate it, while a title win down the road burnishes its legacy. Meanwhile, ZSJ is establishing the title’s early days with well-crafted matches that showcase his technical prowess, and working with legends like Tanahashi or even Yugi Nagata, along with youngsters such as Clark Connors. The limit also works in the favor of a faster-paced match no matter what — so if the older talent don’t quite have the stamina for a half-hour match at full throttle, but can do 15 minutes, then both wrestlers look better. This separates it from the brutal style of NEVER Openweight matches, and effectively forces competitors into a high workrate, technical competition.

Zack Sabre Jr as the first NJPW World TV champion. c/o @taigaPhoto_pw

Down the line, it’s easy to envision a returning Young Lion capturing the title. Doing a rematch too soon risks Narita’s reputation should he lose again. But right now, feuding with TMDK offers Narita a chance to be a champion and get some impressive wins with minimal stakes, all while maintaining his image as a championship-level wrestler. Sabre vs. Suzuki would be thrilling from a storyline perspective, but also a fantastic match that allows Suzuki to shine in a way that goes beyond his tried-and-true blend of serious and comedy act.

Suzuki’s MMA street cred and ability to work fast (and at a high level) at well over 50 years old has this battle of senpai vs. kohai written all over it. He’s still got a lot of explosiveness in things like his go-behinds and dropkicks, but the latter is more selective now. A match with Sabre for the TV Title would be a great way to show off what he can still do very well in a brief match.

Showing all TV Title matches for free allows for the kind of match that could draw new eyeballs on a Strong show or US-based PPV as well. Suzuki is always massively-over when he’s in America and gets a reaction befitting of an icon. He projects legit badassery – even when he was in the KOPW mix and trapped in a dog cage. It helps that he’s always done comedy-related work, including choking out a kaiju monster in a film, so it’s not inconsistent with his character to incorporate comedy into a match.

A Future Made for TV

As the NJPW World TV Title landscape progresses, ideally we’d continue to see a blend of young and established talent vying for the title, in the interest of maintaining the belief that anyone can be a contender with some momentum and recent wins. This is especially useful for the crop of young talent returning from excursion – for instance, you can have someone needing buildup like Clark Connors go to a time limit draw with ZSJ and not lose, while looking strong in the process. In a year or so, the importance of their Battle in the Valley match for the strap will have grown – especially if ZSJ is still the champ. Will ZSJ have beaten everyone in his path for this title, except one man?

He may very well dominate again in this year’s New Japan Cup, although a loss could lead to an interesting TV Title match against the eventual winner. Win or lose, ZSJ has a pathway not only to incredible matches, but high-profile ones – especially with Forbidden Door 2023 coming up with AEW giving fans the long-awaited Danielson vs. ZSJ match.

Sabre has been a force throughout his time in NJPW, and 2023 is set to be his best year yet now that he has a title, and a mission to keep it.

Written by:

A native of Virginia, I've written for Web for more than fifteen years, mostly in the video game space. My first print byline came in Hardcore Gamer Magazine, where I was published for five years until it went dormant in 2010. I currently write for a number of publications, including Monthly Puroresu, where I've done live event coverage and longform features since 2021.