The End Of His Era: The Sharpening Of Switchblade Jay White In New Japan

Photo Courtesy: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

The End Of His Era: The Sharpening Of Switchblade Jay White In New Japan

By: Bruce Lord

An IWGP World Heavyweight Championship loss to Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome. A “loser leaves Japan” loss to Hikuleo in Osaka. A “loser leaves New Japan” loss to Eddie Kingston in San Jose, followed by an attack from the former dojo-mate who was always in his shadow. The apparent departure of Switchblade Jay White from New Japan Pro Wrestling has been marked by a string of ignominious defeats this year. While these moments run counter to some modern fans’ expectations, with White being given no last moment of glory or even a shred of dignity in defeat, they’re absolutely in keeping with long-standing pro wrestling tradition: a wrestler’s exit from a territory or promotion should be fully exploited in order to build up those who remain as much as possible. In looking back at White’s eight-year tenure with New Japan, the throughlines of traditions like that become apparent, with White working to develop the greasily conniving Switchblade persona in and out of the ring for the larger benefit of New Japan booking and business.

With only a year’s worth of UK indie experience under his belt before parlaying a meeting with Prince Devitt into a spot in the New Japan dojo in late 2014, White has effectively been tied to New Japan since most fans would have been aware of the New Zealand native (despite his own professed ignorance of New Japan history and the dojo system prior to his arrival). While his tenure as a Young Lion overlapped with those of SHO, YOH, Master Wato, and Teruaki Kanemitsu, White’s early days in New Japan were inextricable from those of fellow import David Finlay. White might not have arrived at the New Japan dojo with the same lineage as his fellow kohei, but a spate of singles matches immediately linked the two. Suffering a loss to Finlay in the first match of a 2015 Road To Destruction show, White would go on to best the fourth-generation wrestler in each of the eight subsequent matches they would have as Young Lions. It would take Finlay five years to avenge even one of those losses. A combination of White’s year-long excursion to Ring Of Honor and Finlay’s injuries and forestalled booking sent the career arcs of the two in perpendicular directions, which would intersect only briefly for the next seven years.

When word began to circulate that the mysterious Switchblade vignettes which began to appear on New Japan shows in 2017 were tied to White, initial anticipation was high, based both on White’s extant work and New Japan’s comparatively prominent placement of foreign talent at the time. That White, after indeed revealing himself to be the Switchblade, immediately set his sights on no less prominent a star than Hiroshi Tanahashi, only raised the stakes further.

The Switchblade incarnation of White was not an immediate success, however. White’s challenge of Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 12 in 2018 did not only fail to net White championship gold in the form of the IWGP Intercontinental belt, but it failed to immediately interest fans in White’s new persona. The lowest-rated singles match on the card on both Grappl and Cagematch, contemporary reviews of the match bemoaned White’s lack of charisma, the slow pace, the lack of crowd heat, and a pro forma performance from Tanahashi.

While I can’t call the match an overlooked classic in rewatching it for the purposes of this piece, it’s notable for seeing the nascent form of the Switchblade character which White had yet to fully grow into. Early indicators of what White would become are there (the mid-match trash talk, the wide-eyed, mouth-agape stare), albeit in rough and not yet entirely natural form. More importantly, though, it’s the layout and the booking of the match which presaged how White would go on to distinguish himself from each of the preceding leaders of Bullet Club. It is a match constructed in service of Tanahashi nobly enduring and surpassing White’s grinding, methodical targeting of the knee, and using what brought him to the dance (Slingblades, Twist And Shouts, and High Fly Flows) to ultimately prevail. Unlike the “Rainmaker Shock” of six years previous, the purpose here was not to introduce a flashy and charismatic main event heel destined to win crowds over with thrilling matches and an undeniable spirit. White’s purpose was to play an unlikable, detestable heel in the most classic sense of the term; nothing more, nothing less.

After that awkward start, the storytelling route leading to White’s ascent within New Japan felt a bit convoluted throughout 2018, involving aligning with Chaos in order to pick away at the foundation of the Bullet Club and leave it vulnerable to his eventual takeover of the foreign heel faction. Despite ultimately ousting Kenny Omega from the Bullet Club, going on to have well-received high-profile matches with Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi over the years, and having his run with the promotion bookended by clashes with Finlay, it’s White’s regularly renewed feud with Kazuchika Okada which ultimately defined his New Japan run. Even before Gedo betrayed Okada, aligning with White in September at Destruction in Kobe, there was White’s bizarre manipulation of Okada, convincing him to let the Switchblade join Chaos despite his constant threats towards Okada and even his leadership of the faction. All this ensured that the two would always have history to draw upon whenever they renewed hostilities.

While he might have taken a circuitous path, by the time White arrived at Wrestle Kingdom in 2019 a year after his debut to face Okada in a grudge match, he had learned to fully embrace and embody the slimy and sneering persona the Switchblade was always meant to be. Rather than a debuting Switchblade looking somewhat lost within the floodlights of the Tokyo Dome opposite a veteran legend, this year it was Okada who looked a step behind, smarting from Gedo’s betrayal and having spent the preceding months mucking about with balloons, working the Money Clip to little avail, and sporting the now-infamous long boys.

In this match, White looks far more fluid and smooth than he did with Tanahashi, timing sneak attacks with precision and crispness. The reactive, counter-based style that White would continue to hone and refine for the next four years is in full effect (certainly aided in part by a less battle-damaged opponent). And yet the larger mission remains the same, and would for the remainder of White’s New Japan tenure; embodying a villainous foil against which a beloved New Japan hero must measure themselves. White’s smirking cockiness is designed to give Okada, struggling to rebuild and reclaim the identity of the Rainmaker, something tangibly repugnant to fight against. The abruptness of White’s delivery of the Blade Runner after an elegant and fast-moving counter-driven finishing sequence, immediately silencing a crowd hoping to see Okada return to his old glory, ensured that the rematch later that year in New York where Okada would repay the loss, felt incredibly heated.

From that Wrestle Kingdom match onward, White would remain dialed in as the Switchblade, and whether reveling in victory or delivering paranoid ranting after a loss, he never wavered in his commitment to the role. The common beats of a White main event might be predictable, but they’re effective: constant trash talk of his opponent, berating the ref, collapsing prone to avoid the Rainmaker or other strikes (MJF’s use of this motif this past weekend perhaps put the lie to his purported avoidance of New Japan), Gedo demanding from ringside that White hit the Kiwi Crusher (despite never earning a pinfall with it outside of Ring of Honor as far as I can recall). Later, White took to taunting crowds during the COVID clap era for their reticence to vocally cheer for whichever face he was facing.

Despite their roots in some of the most overt and longstanding tricks in the heel playbook, for my money, neither White’s promos nor his strictly controlled in-ring style ever led toward “go away” heel heat a la The House Of Torture. To this day, I’ve never been at a show where a crowd booed a heel as vociferously and honestly as Long Beach did while White mocked a prone Tanahashi whom White had just KO’d with brass knuckles. No matter whether he is insisting that it his “new era” or demanding recognition as “the catalyst” who has shaped the current face of wrestling, all of White’s self-aggrandizement acts as a call to arms, demanding that some nobler fighter rises up to smite the greasy loudmouth.

In his essay analyzing the structural organization of pro wrestling and its characters, the famous French critic Roland Barthes wrote that a heel should be “organically repugnant”, capable of provoking disgust and loathing without saying a word or taking an action. By that measure, White became a fantastic heel as he rose in stature in New Japan. My long-suffering, wrestling-hating partner has only ever volunteered a handful of observations upon walking through the living room while I’m watching matches: the crowd sounds very excited for Kobashi/Sasaki, Jade Cargill looks fantastic, and both MJF and Jay White look like total assholes. At the risk of reading too much into the Internet’s coining of the “Knife Pervert” nickname for White, the moniker points to the cold, unrelatable deviance which seems to drive the Switchblade: there’s nothing sympathetic about him even in the throes of his worst defeats, no anti-hero charm to the spittle in his beard or his leering grin. In an era in which turning heel to later get over via a babyface turn is a rote move, White constantly worked to ensure that no one could hope for or expect his redemption, even as talk about his possible departure from New Japan began to increase over the past years.

Jumping forward to the present, White’s swan song in the New Japan limelight, a main event loss of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship to Okada at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, couldn’t hold a candle in terms of bell-to-bell action to the semi-main masterpiece put together by Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay. To their credit, neither White nor Okada tried to outwork one of the greatest matches in New Japan’s history and instead worked to clearly communicate the story of New Japan gold naturally reverting to Okada and honoring the legacy of Antonio Inoki. White’s penultimate New Japan match, a much lower profile, one-sided loss to former Bullet Club protege Hikuleo, wasn’t nearly as engaging, but again, fits in with the ethos of veterans working to elevate new talent on their way out.

White’s final New Japan match being a hastily assembled “loser leaves New Japan” match against Eddie Kingston was initially somewhat surprising. The pair had only ever met twice in tag matches last year, and Kingston is by no means the sort of New Japan stalwart one might expect White to go out on his shield to, having only eight previous matches on the cerulean canvas. But once the match was underway both the clash between Kingston’s All Japan-inspired brawling and White’s cagey reversals, as well as their differing attitudes towards Japanese wrestling, made for an intriguing and unpredictable contest. Besides, given that he wasn’t facing a regularly rostered New Japan wrestler, would White actually win? Could his losing streak all be part of a longer story in which White was being broken down in order to return in a whole new guise?

White’s counter-driven style (not to mention his constant stalling) is as far removed from either King’s Road or Strong Style as it is possible to be, however, one wants to define those traditions. Every move White makes is designed to evade harm and to ensure a win as quickly and decisively as possible. Karen Peterson recently noted that Japanese crowds avoid chants in the style of “This is awesome” and “Fight forever” in part because such comments could be seen to implicitly break kayfabe or the sports-like presentation of wrestling in Japan by implying that wrestlers are working solely to entertain, rather than to win, and could easily be read as disrespectful. As I’ve been arguing thus far, White has never worked an “entertaining” style in the way that term is often used within wrestling fandom today, but if I can split a rhetorical hair, White’s match with Kingston was one of the most “thrilling” I’ve seen in a long while.

A chop-heavy brawler who epitomizes fighting spirit, Kingston worked not just to cut off White’s counters and evasions, but also to try to bring out the sort of fire upon which wrestling depends in Kingston’s mind. “Fight for New Japan!” Kingston screamed at White as he cut him down. The idea of White fighting for something other than himself seemed impossible, but here the honor of New Japan and White’s own self-preservation were one and the same, as Kingston drew White into exactly the sort of war of striking attrition White had always avoided. Ultimately worn down to nothing by chops and Urakens, White literally spat at a gesture of respect from his opponent, before a pair of northern lights drivers sealed the Switchblade’s fate.

After his win, Kingston immediately ceded the ring to White, acknowledging the gravity of the moment both for the Switchblade and the crowd. As White stumbled to his feet, a “Thank you Jay” chant spread around the San Jose crowd, and as White took the mic, for the first time in his New Japan career, it felt like the crowd’s grudging admiration for White’s career and his own view of himself were actually one and the same. After so many intentionally aggravating post-main-event speeches which had sent Japanese crowds running for the exit, the Switchblade had finally been sheathed, and we would hear the real Jay White speak from the heart.

…But of course, we actually didn’t. While White held the mic aloft, he was blindsided by none other than his old dojo mate David Finlay. Cutting a scathing promo about having been overlooked and never accepted within the company, Finlay vented about years of frustration at living in the shadow of the likes of White, who was ignominiously carried out of sight while the crowd booed Finlay. Rather than uttering a single word of thanks or acknowledgment which might run counter to everything that the Switchblade had been up until that point, White’s final appearance in a New Japan ring (the sort of thing we’re now used to being called a “moment”, for better or worse) was used to not only call back to Finlay’s first defeat of White more than seven years earlier but more importantly to ensure that whatever momentum he still carried would be used to kickstart someone else’s journey, rather than for a victory lap. Pretty giving for one of the most selfish heels of the modern era.

Looking forward, the promo-focused WWE seems like the most suitable home for White. His crowd-baiting mic work has no doubt grabbed the attention of Paul Levesque over the years, and it’s easy to imagine White’s stalling and methodical in-ring suiting current WWE television. As was recently discussed on The N.W.A. Podcast, immediately rocketing White into a program with a champion Cody Rhodes would be an exciting and daring move. That being said, his links with numerous AEW talents could also make for some great feuds, and as crowded as the AEW roster is there’s always a need for main event heels. The possibility that his departure from New Japan might be a work can’t yet be totally dismissed, either; White himself has implied that he’s deliberately obfuscated the terms of his New Japan contract in order to manipulate the media and other wrestling companies.

Assuming that the latter is not the case, Jay White’s tenure with New Japan Wrestling is the first substantial one that I’ll have watched in real-time from a Young Lion’s debut to the end since I started following the promotion in earnest. On one hand, it’s a run that flies in the face of what New Japan purports itself to be and what is often celebrated by its fans: pure and valiant in-ring wrestling where fighting spirit is prioritized over extreme character or mic work. But on the other, it’s a run rooted in the most fundamental tenets of the pro wrestling business: the steady cultivating of a villain so loathsome that crowds will happily part with their money to see them vanquished. Either way, the Switchblade’s Era is one which has long since earned my respect, even if he’d likely prefer my contempt.

About Bruce Lord 28 Articles
Bruce Lord lives in Vancouver where, between AEW and NJPW binges, he blogs and podcasts about industrial and goth music at