On the day of Australia’s first gold medal victory in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, another Australian in that city was awarded with gold. Robbie Eagles, adorned in the green and gold colours of his country, defeated El Desperado inside the Tokyo Dome to become the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The first IWGP Championship to be won by an Australian no less. While others have found success in Japan – The Mighty Don’t Kneel winning tag gold in Pro Wrestling NOAH and Toni Storm winning several titles in Stardom – it was the first time someone from the Land Down Under had claimed a championship with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
To cap off his victory, he celebrated like only an Australian would. Surrounded by his confused and slightly disgusted CHAOS teammates, Robbie took off his shoe, poured in a Zima and proceeded to scull his drink in a time honoured tradition known as ‘The Shoey’.
Everything about this championship win exemplified the Aussie Battler spirit, an ideal worn with pride by those who represent the country. The odds were against him even before he landed in Japan because there was no guarantee he would even be able to fulfil the challenge he laid out to Desperado. Earlier in the year Robbie had been able to wrestle freely around the country, helping him prepare for a return to Japan. However as his next tour approached the Delta variant of Covid-19 began to spread through New South Wales and the rest of Australia, bringing with it a slew of lockdowns and restrictions that are still ongoing. It was touch and go if Robbie would even be able to leave his state, let alone go wrestle in another country.
Things didn’t ease up once he arrived either. Robbie Eagles limped into the Tokyo Dome rather than walking with pride. The night prior to their title match, El Desperado had crippled Eagles’ leg with a brutal chair assault. This not only left Eagles susceptible to the Numero Dos submission finisher, but also hindered 90% of Robbie’s offence. His high flying relies on strong legs and a solid base, both of which were now compromised. Any kicks and his Ron Miller submission finisher would rely on him enduring immense pain just to execute.
It was a smart strategy, albeit a devious one by a champion who was aware of how good the Sniper of the Skies was. Robbie was clearly not 100% as he stood opposite his masked opponent. As the referee patted him down, even that was enough to cause a grimace. Once the bell rang Desperado went to work, and kept Robbie’s knee the target.
There was no easy move for Robbie Eagles in this match. It all came at a physical cost, and it was only when he managed to weaken Desperado’s knee that he began to find his footing in the match. By the end, it was simply a question of whose knee would give in first. As Desperado’s third attempt to reach the ropes was thwarted, he could hold on no longer: he submitted to the Ron Miller Special, Robbie’s signature finisher named after a famous Australian wrestler of years gone by.
Everything Robbie did on Sunday was centred around pride. Pride in where he came from – in every sense of the term. In his post match interview (after downing the Shoey), Robbie spoke of the pride he has for Australia, as well as the Filipino heritage he hopes to honour more. He had the PWA initials on his wrist tape, honouring the company he first started his career with back in 2008. Though Eagles reserved his deepest respect for his father, a man who had passed away days after his Best of the Super Juniors stint last year.
That respect and pride is felt by his home country towards him. If you need any proof of how beloved he is in Australia, one just has to look at the outpouring of love that came from his peers back home:
An Australian making it big abroad is always a source of celebration, but it is important to note that they aren’t just celebrating the success, they’re celebrating the person. Robbie Eagles has done a lot for the local scene, and his genuine character has endeared him to many.
New Japan English commentator Kevin Kelly even commented on how nice of a guy he is during the broadcast, citing it as a potential detriment once the bell rang. Was he willing to do whatever it took to win the title? El Desperado had already stacked the deck against him by doing just that to gain an advantage.
Robbie Eagles had walked that road before. He set aside his morals in the pursuit of glory when he first joined New Japan Pro Wrestling, doing so under the black and white banner of Bullet Club. Paired with El Phantasmo he looked to take over the Junior division, but it was clear that he wasn’t as comfortable cheating to win like ELP. He couldn’t be himself there.
It all came to a head in Australia of all places. At the 2019 Southern Showdown event he faced off against Will Ospreay for the Junior Heavyweight Championship. It was Ospreay that first opened the door a year prior, offering him the Japanese flag off of his tights as an invitation to join him abroad. The fact Eagles had done so under Bullet Club and not CHAOS caused a lot of confusion and pain for Will, and he seemed determined to bring out the real Robbie.
Their match in Melbourne for the title was an absolute war, in front of an incredibly loud and passionate home crowd. Robbie came out draped in the green and gold, wearing a helmet inspired by Ned Kelly, one of the country’s biggest folk heroes. Ospreay, who in the years prior had endeared himself to the Australian fanbase by shining a spotlight on the local scene, was met with vitriol. How dare he stand between our guy and a championship while seemingly taking credit for the Australian wrestling boom?
Robbie could have won the title there. In such a tightly contested fight the difference between victory and failure could come down to one decision. A decision like refusing the help of El Phantasmo. If Eagles had accepted it, he likely would have left Melbourne the champion. But it wasn’t how he wanted to do it, nor was it how his fans wanted him to do it.
“No Robbie no! No Robbie No!” the crowd chanted as he contemplated cheating to win. That wasn’t really Robbie Eagles. He threw down the championship and chose to fight the battle honourably. On that night the championship was in his grasp but he fell painfully short. Ospreay hit the Stormbreaker and claimed the victory. The next night in Sydney, the stomping ground of PWA where it all began, Robbie left Bullet Club to join CHAOS. Now he could finally be himself.
It would take a little over two years until he would get another chance at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. He had to endure a global pandemic that would keep him away from Japan. He had to deal with the emotional pain of losing his father. He had to hobble to the ring on one leg. Yet when he got the chance to wrestle for the title again, Robbie Eagles wouldn’t let the oppourtunity slip through his fingers by being at odds with who he was.
With the IWGP Championship sitting proudly in front of him and microphone in hand, Robbie proclaimed that he had succeeded “as himself”. It had been a long road, one filled with roadbumps at every turn. However it all led to that moment, and Robbie couldn’t be prouder of how he went about it. As an honourable man with a country behind him.
And Australia couldn’t be prouder either.
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!
Robbie Robbie Robbie, Oi Oi Oi!