Rey Mysterio had a very brief summer fling with NJPW in 2018. The coveted luchador competed twice in the cerulean blue ring and, bizarrely, that was it.
Mysterio left WWE in February 2015 and spent the next 3 years with no real home base. He most notably worked in AAA and Lucha Underground between working independent shows.
Then in early 2018 it was announced that he would be competing at New Japan’s Strong Style Evolved in California, in a dream match against Jushin Thunder Liger. The two biggest titans in junior heavyweight history were set to clash for the first time in over 20 years.
Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be as Mysterio suffered an injury. For the show on March 25th, Mysterio was replaced by then IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay. After defeating Liger, Ospreay made a challenge to Mysterio. Groundwork was being laid for the coming of Mysterio. Now there was the match that never happened with the past and present in Liger and a match against the present and future, Will Ospreay.
Mysterio finally set foot in the cerulean blue NJPW ring for the first time at Dominion in June, teaming up with Liger and Hiroshi Tanahashi to take on the combined force of Bullet Club’s Cody, Hangman Page and Marty Scurll. Despite hitting a 619 on both Page and Scurll, Mysterio’s team took the loss when Cody pinned Liger.
Two months later Mysterio returned to Japan again. On this occasion he teamed with KUSHIDA and Ryusuke Taguchi (as Sengoku Enbu) to face Chaos’ Kazuchika Okada, SHO and YOH. Mysterio picked up his first and only win in a New Japan ring when he pinned YOH but it was Mysterio’s confrontations with Okada that elicited the biggest reactions. It appeared that another top star was being put on the list for Mysterio.
But that was it. That was his last match in New Japan. Two months later Mysterio was back home with WWE. He has found success since his return there, having won the US Championship twice to be a Grand Slam champion. But he left copious amounts of unfinished business in Japan; he had barely started to write the first page of a new chapter in his career.
Evidently New Japan had plans for him. A match with Liger would have likely happened and would have been a landmark match in professional wrestling history. Ospreay looked primed to defend his title which would have only elevated the championship itself; having Mysterio be part of the already prolific legacy would have been remarkable. Then there is Okada, a tale that Mysterio has mastered in David vs Goliath.
It’s outstanding to think what could have been if Mysterio chose to compete in New Japan. Entering the Best of Super Juniors would have been momentous; the best junior heavyweight in the Western world looking to prove himself in another league entirely. If he had entered the 2019 tournament he could have faced the likes of Shingo Takagi, Taiji Ishimori, Dragon Lee, Rocky Romero, El Phantasmo… the list goes on.
It wouldn’t have just been a chance for Mysterio to remind everyone that he is truly one of the greatest of all time, it would have been a huge opportunity for his opponents to test their skill against one of the best. Mysterio could have put a spotlight on his opponents like few others can match.
There’s no reason to think Mysterio couldn’t have competed in 2019’s G1 Climax either, given Ospreay entered the tournament as a Junior that year and it isn’t unheard of for Juniors to be entrants. The list of possible matches is once again outlandish: Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Zack Sabre Jr., Tomohiro Ishii. Essentially you can put Rey Mysterio’s name as an opponent for anybody on the New Japan roster and it would be main event material.
New Japan’s attempts to expand in the USA would have been boosted with Mysterio as part of their roster. He spent almost 13 years with WWE during his initial tenure and is undoubtedly the most well-known luchador of the modern day, if not of all time.
He transcended being a junior heavyweight to become a two time World Heavyweight Champion. He is a name that every American wrestling fan is aware of, young and old. His brand and name would have certainly drawn more eyes to NJPW and put more fans in seats at shows.
It isn’t a blemish on Mysterio’s career, simply a “what if”. Mysterio is synonymous with WWE so returning to the company for the twilight of his career is understandable. When he takes off his mask for the final time and fans look back at his unrivalled career, his curious venture with New Japan won’t be looked at as a missed undertaking but rather an interesting piece of trivia.
He could have made an impact, he could have made himself great in yet another company and he could have been an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. But the reality is that he is still an icon even without those accolades.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.