From nothing to everything, El Desperado has experienced a meteoric rise in the last week of February 2021 after winning the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles (alongside Yoshinobu Kanemaru) on the 25th, and the top Jr. Heavyweight prize three days later at the climax of the Castle Attack tour.
From a seemingly directionless station in the Jr. Heavyweight division, El Desperado has flown to the very pinnacle of the division in mere days. Unfortunate circumstances sometimes give way for a “making the best out of a bad situation” attitude, but I believe the culmination of Despy’s seven year journey to the top championship of NJPW’s Jr. Heavyweight division is at the very least on par with the plan, pre-Hiromu injury.
Hiromu Takahashi’s dreadfully ill-fated injury left a gaping hole in the Jr. roster, but El Desperado has filled it with blissful ease, halting my anxieties of a Hiromu-less division, and making them disappear just as quickly as they arrived.
No time was allowed for them to fester – not on Despy’s watch.
Mere hours after Hiromu vacated his IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship (on the February 25th Road to Castle Attack show), Despy could call himself a Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion once more. Not only that, but he could stake his claim to the title Takahashi vacated earlier that night. A 3-Way was set. BUSHI replaced Hiromu, fulfilling the departing champion’s wish, El Phantasmo licked his lips in anticipation as El Desperado unexpectedly surged into the title picture.
The 3-Way itself? Superb. A match which greatly overperformed expectations, was closed by Despy mockingly pinning El Phantasmo after a duo of Pinche Locos. The triumphant masked-man had to go through an inferno to claim victory in the match – surviving a Cradle Piledriver on the harsh wooden ramp, the graceless removal of his mask by ELP and multiple high-impact moves from Phantasmo in the closing stretch.
Seemingly Double Champions attract like opposite poles of a magnet, as Despy also featured at the very close of the show in Osaka Jo-Hall, challenging Kota Ibushi for the NJPW 49th Anniversary show.
While the semi-traditional Jr. Heavyweight vs Heavyweight match is conventionally a non-title affair, Desperado laid out a challenge for both of Ibushi’s titles instead. It was duly confirmed the following day that El Desperado vs Kota Ibushi will indeed be a title match – with the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Double Championship up for grabs.
Only New Japan could replace a dream match like Takahashi vs Ibushi with an equally exciting encounter, which fulfilled a seven year storyline simultaneously. The enforced last minute pivot from Hiromu to Despy has energised the New Japan fanbase (both globally and domestically, in Japan). Despite Dave Meltzer claiming that El Desperado facing Kota Ibushi proves “creatively bankrupt”, the overarching consensus is one which paints a picture of an enthused audience.
This signals that Despy is a very safe wrestler to put the weight of the Jr. division upon, as not only do the fans delight in seeing him in such a prominent role within the company, but the match quality is assured too. Desperado is one of the best Jr. Heavyweights in the world, if not one of the best wrestlers, period. With that comes the potential to be the stalwart of his division.
In Hiromu Takahashi’s absence, NJPW has the grand opportunity to build a star. They have already gone a long way in doing so in just the last week, but with the ‘Time Bomb’ expected to be out for around six months, Despy could be raised further still.
The future of the Jr. Heavyweight division is in incredibly capable hands, Despy has all the tools you could ask for in a wrestler – unbridled charisma, nice ring gear (THAT mask in particular), a great move-set, intriguing character and pure ability – Despy is truly phenomenal. He is the very wrestler New Japan will depend on, to keep their Jr. division thriving, whilst Hiromu is gone, and even when he returns.
The future is remarkably positive for the Jrs, because no longer can he be perceived as a “mid-level” junior, as after seven long years, El Desperado is finally the top Jr. Heavyweight. El Desperado is finally top of the world.
A ready-built feud with El Phantasmo is almost certainly in the champs new future, with its potential very high indeed. There are many challengers beyond that who could face Desperado, with the likes of BUSHI, SHO and Taiji Ishimori springing to mind instantly. I hope that Despy’s first New Japan singles title reign lasts until at least Hiromu’s return from injury, as that match is a surefire “box office” attraction.
It’s almost completely undeniable that the future is bright, the future is Despy.
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