Part of the fun of watching older New Japan Pro Wrestling matches is seeing if you can recognise the Young Lions at ringside who would later go on to become stars. For example: Watch Hiroshi Tanahashi’s G1 25 victory against Shinsuke Nakamura, and you’ll see a very familiar Kiwi at ringside cheering on the Ace and celebrating his success. It’s an image that is at complete odds with the Jay White we know now. After completing his time in the Dojo and subsequent excursion, Jay would return to NJPW at the end of 2017 a very changed man. Just like as a Young Lion, White had eyes for The Ace. Only this time, he wasn’t looking to cheer on Tanahashi, he was looking to break him.
From his return Jay was laying the seeds for a career long story between him and Tanahashi – a mentor/trainee dynamic that became perverted by White’s ambitious nature. If you want to make a name for yourself in New Japan, there’s no better opponent than The Ace.
Jay White is good at many, many things related to professional wrestling, but one of his greatest gifts is the ability to develop both his character and his stories. You can see it through that intertwined relationship with Tanahashi and how that has changed: as a Young Lion in his corner, as a cocky upstart trying to make his name off of the Ace’s back – to his equal as a main eventer comparing abs and trading wins.
At the core of Jay White’s story has been his pursuit of greatness, and treating New Japan Pro Wrestling like a chessboard. The rest of the roster are all pawns necessary for bringing King Switch to victory. Because Jay is a strategist first and foremost. Every move is calculated, every match crafted to ensure his success, and every target chosen for a reason. Tanahashi was his first opponent because he’s the standard bearer by which all NJPW wrestlers are compared, and White sensed a prime opportunity in an ageing star to make an impact on the biggest stage – Wrestle Kingdom.
The next step was linking up with the right people. Bullet Club would be his eventual home, but he couldn’t rush into the faction. He joined CHAOS instead and gained access to Gedo, a proven manager to help him not only join a faction, but take one over. All he had to do was wait for the right time, and White could make another big statement by betraying the CHAOS leader and New Japan’s other top star – Kazuchika Okada.
He bided his time, made the necessary connections and then swooped in to take over a rudderless Bullet Club after Kenny Omega left, avoiding the messy conflict that would have come with a hostile takeover. He had taken the top star’s long term friend and manager with him, giving him unparalleled information on how to beat the Rainmaker, as well as a manager who knew how to bring gold to his client.
Jay had everything he needed to take over the company, and it was all according to his plan.
It’s not just in the long term storytelling where we see this facet of his character come out. It’s in how Jay White approaches a match as well. He’s a meticulous strategist, and everything about his wrestling style is built around outsmarting his opponent.
Much of his offence is centred around counter-wrestling. The initial delay of match work by rolling outside, luring opponents into disadvantageous positions, trash talking opponents while they’re down and then sandbagging signature move oppourtunities. It’s all about showing he’s the smartest man in wrestling, and even Gedo’s actions line up there. Gedo’s interference is often quick, designed to throw off both referees and opponents rather than take over like how House of Torture operate.
Even his finisher, the Blade Runner, can be used as a counter to signature moves of many of the company’s top stars. Okada’s Rainmaker can be turned into a Blade Runner, Tanahashi’s Slingblade can turned into a Blade Runner. Ibushi’s Kamigoye can be turned into a Blade Runner. When you face Jay White, you’re constantly on the back foot because you are never truly safe. He can hit you with a move at any moment, and is constantly playing possum. Add to that the trash talking from both Switchblade and Gedo, and the end result is a wrestling match that is incredibly taxing on a wrestlers psyche. A battle fought both in the ring and in the mind.
The best part of all of the above is what happens when his best laid plans don’t work. Occasionally, Jay White will pull out every trick in the book but not be able to beat his opponent. Then, the normally cool, calm and collected Switchblade starts to panic. Desperation takes over and his movements get more frantic. The counter wrestling he normally excels at becomes telegraphed, and Gedo starts to get more physically involved rather than just flashes of influence.
The genius facade falls, and we’re left with a desperate man clinging to what hope he can find.
What this does is provide a tremendous boost for whoever stands opposite him. Even in defeat, they get the honour of winning the mental battle over one of New Japan’s best psychological wrestlers. It speaks volumes that they could rattle a top tier competitor at his own game.
Everything about Jay White’s in ring wrestling syncs up with the larger character narrative. The Switchblade character has been built up as a braggart who always has one eye on a grander vision. For all of the mind games he will play in a big match or during the build to one, everything is just a piece of the puzzle. When the pieces fit together as he guarantees they will, it leads to moments like White becoming the youngest foreigner to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
When those puzzles don’t come together though, the real weakness inside of his heart bubbles to the surface. All of the insecurities reveal themselves in his struggle. Never more clearly was this emphasised than in the aftermath of Wrestle Kingdom 15, when he delivered an absolute masterclass of a promo.
A battered, bruised and utterly broken Jay White limped to the interview, barely finding the strength to lift both himself and the microphone up off the table. In spite of all of his planning, he wasn’t able to best Kota Ibushi to become the double champion at the main event of the biggest stage in Japanese wrestling.
Throughout the promo he stresses all the hard work he’s put in: as a teenager who left his home to train at a dojo in a country eleven hours away where they don’t speak his language, and not seeing his family for eight and a half years. The spiel is all true and it’s all designed to make you feel sympathetic for him.
Which you do. It almost sounds like the beginning of a turn.
Yet at no point does he let you fully stand beside him. The narcissistic tendencies that makes him so easy to boo are never too far away. He acknowledges that his work entertains the fans, but stresses that he doesn’t do it for them, that it’s merely a byproduct. You want to feel for ‘Jamie’, but Jay is still so deluded in his own belief that you can’t help but feel a bit of satisfaction in seeing him miserable. Something he then calls the fans out on.
Jay White was never at fault. He did everything right. It was his time, his era and his Destino. Why didn’t he win? It doesn’t make sense to him.
The character mirrors the match. When the plan started to fail against Kota Ibushi, Jay began to unravel. Away from the ring Jay’s grand story was meant to have a happy ending, and to be proven wrong brings him on the brink of a breakdown from which he might never recover from.
The genius facade falls, and we’re left with a desperate man clinging to what hope he can find.
His final words are simple: “Will you fucking help me?”. An immediate cry for help from someone who just went through a war, but also of an individual who suddenly feels utterly lost and unsure of himself. The lady who comes to the aid of Switchblade is carrying a broken man with a broken dream.
Without a grand vision, White is just ok. The next night at New Year’s Dash, the man that walks out with Bullet Club seems but a pale imitation of the real Switchblade. He is rather unceremoniously defeated by Tomohiro Ishii. No big build up, no counter upon counter. Just soundly bested. It’d be the last we see of him for a month.
Of course, Jay White rebounded. He returned after a little sabbatical, refreshed and inspired once again. There were still road bumps – including a shock loss to David Finlay in the New Japan Cup Quarter Finals which would only further demonstrate the Switchblade’s fragile mastermind – but the real Jay was back. This was highlighted by his victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi to claim the NEVER Openweight Title, and with it become the first recognised Grand Slam champion. The man he first targeted would usher in an accomplishment only Jay could boast of…at least until Tana himself matched the feat by winning the IWGP U.S Championship in Los Angeles.
“In case you forgot, in case there were still any questions about it. It’s Still My Era!” – the first words out of his mouth upon his return echoed the momentary crisis of faith inside the Tokyo Dome. Was it still his era? Yes, yes it was. ‘Still My Era’ became the new slogan, a constant reminder to both the fans and himself that the failure inside the Tokyo Dome was just a miscalculation. The grand plan was still there, and as a result so was the best version of Jay White.
“For about ten minutes I doubted myself.” To him that was the biggest mistake of his life. When doubt creeps along, whether inside or outside the ring, that’s when things crumble.
The problem, according to White, was that the true plan that was laid out had been interrupted by Tomohiro Ishii, who cost Jay a spot in the G1 Finals by beating him on the final night. It didn’t stop Jay from reaching the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, but it caused a ripple through the original vision that ultimately led to him falling short of Kota Ibushi. One small change to the plan was seemingly all it took.
It might seem like an odd excuse, though it’s not entirely without truth. Ibushi wouldn’t have been in the title picture if Jay had reached the finals and won. Instead it likely would have just been him versus Tetsuya Naito for both championships, which is a matchup he currently leads 2-1.
The excuse only lends further credence to this idea that for as smart and calculating as Jay White is, all you have to do is throw a spanner into the works and everything comes crumbling down. His ‘Destino’ was to make it to the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, and he did that. But he fell short because the journey there meant he was facing Ibushi and not Naito. Yet in 2020 Jay had faced Ibushi three times and had defeated him three times. He had an even better record against The Golden Star than that against The Ingobernable One.
Ibushi had to wrestle Tetsuya Naito on night one just to find himself in a position to face Jay, and during that thirty plus minute match he sustained a foot injury after landing from a top rope frankensteiner. The odds were clearly in the favour of Jay White.
The plan was different, but the stars had aligned even better for Switchblade. Unfortunately for him, one of those stars was Golden. A slight change to the plan was all it took.
This fragility is central to Jay White’s story, and it was on display in the earlier mentioned battle against David Finlay. 10-1 was the head to head record between them heading into their New Japan Cup Quarter Final match, with nine straight wins for Jay over the course of six years. Yet when Gedo was removed from ringside, suddenly the plan fell apart. A familiar sense of panic set in and a seasoned foe knew how to handle all of Jay’s greatest hits.
10-1 became 10-2, and once again the master plan of a genius wrestler fell apart. It was a win that ate at him enough to demand Finlay be his first challenger to his newly won NEVER Openweight Championship. He had to get his win back. Just like when he had to put down the Stone Pitbull for costing him a spot in the G1 Final, payback was a necessary part of the plan. In Los Angeles, a Blade Runner ensured people knew Finlay’s win was a fluke.
There’s no denying that at just twenty eight years of age Jay White has proven himself one of the biggest long term assets in wrestling. A total package: The looks, the charisma, the mic work and the in ring ability. What truly sets him apart from the rest though is the synergy and complexity surrounding King Switch.
Only a handful of wrestlers meld their character and their in ring style together in such a way that it feels one and the same. Fewer still can provide a tragic weakness that is intertwined with their greatest strength. His self assured hubris leads to both the greatest triumphs and the hardest falls.
The Switchblade character entered New Japan and instantly laid the foundation for what to expect from him for years to come. That grew, building upon what was set in place. From handpicking The Ace as his first opponent, to disrupting CHAOS while he plotted his betrayal, to revitalising a directionless Bullet Club after The Elite left and winning their favour.
Yet the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. It’s something Jay White has had to learn the hard way, and still learns to this day. I’m sure his grand vision didn’t predict a global pandemic to limit the work he can do back in Japan. What’s worth noting however, is that he seems to be learning to adapt. If he can withstand the cracks in the road, if his biggest weakness gets fixed, then the true potential of this young star is frightening.
Then there will be no doubting that it is Still His Era.