Friday 25 July 2014

AWBA: Fergal Devitt in ICW & NJPW (part 2 of 3)

Disclaimer: Check out Part 1 here to prepare yourself. As before, there will be 18+ videos featured in this article - view at your own discretion. Here we go.

Prince Fergal Devitt

Video credits: ICWOnline
Photo credits: (c) @MrDavidJWilson unless otherwise stated.

Building A Legacy
Fergal Devitt made his in-ring debut some time in 2001 and it is estimated he has wrestled in almost 800 matches since. His career got off to a great start, winning the NWA British Commonwealth Title by 2003 and wrestling in Ireland, the UK, France, Canada and the USA. It was during his US matches in 2006 that Devitt began to get noticed by New Japan Pro Wrestling, eventually wrestling his first match in Japan in April 2006, under the moniker of "Prince" Devitt.

In the following 7 years, Prince Devitt would grow to be thought of as one of the greatest wrestlers in the world. Picking up titles such as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship several times, as well as winning the Best Of The Super Juniors in both 2010 and 2013, Devitt was a highly decorated and loved foreigner in the Japanese promotion.

A lot of that adoration grew from his four years teaming with Ryusuke Taguchi as Apollo 55 - one of the most highly decorated tag teams in NJPW history, breaking records along the way. They were each individually able to win the Best Of The Super Juniors tournament and Prince Devitt even obtained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times during this era.

It was this third reign that spelled the end of Apollo 55 however, and the rebirth of Prince Devitt. A whole article could be written on the dissolution of Apollo 55 and the rise of Bullet Club, but at its essence was Prince Devitt's singles success, his frustration at not being able to win the IWGP Heavyweight title, and the inability of Apollo 55 to regain their tag belts. It all culminated with Devitt turning on his long-term partner and forming a new group of villainous foreigners, hell-bent on taking over NJPW.

(c) NJPW - Original photographer unknown

Bullet Club
Inarguably, Prince Devitt's Bullet Club group brought him to the attention of fans worldwide. Formed with Tongan wrestlers Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga, along with American Karl Anderson, the group has gone on to boast members such as former WWE and TNA star Doc Gallows, former ROH and TNA tag team The Young Bucks, and even a Latinoamerica spin-off group based in the CMLL promotion.

Throughout it all however was Prince Devitt's undisputed leadership. With Bullet Club by his side, Devitt won the 2013 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament with an unprecedented unbeaten run. Despite this incredible achievement, at Wrestle Kingdom 8 on January 4th 2014, Prince Devitt was defeated by Kota Ibushi, putting an end to his 14 month reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, a match discussed the world over and which sets the scene for:

Fergal Devitt v Jack Jester - ICW Heavyweight Title Match
ICW: 3rd Annual Square Go
January 26th 2014

One of the most talked about aspects of the aforementioned Wrestle Kingdom 8 match, even more so than the outcome, was Prince Devitt's entrance. It's fair to say that even non-NJPW fans saw footage and images of Devitt done up as Marvel's Carnage supervillain. As awesome as that looked, his entrance at ICW's 3rd Annual Square Go was something else entirely:

The crowd's cheers for Devitt's "Venom" get-up were almost louder than for the hometown hero, defending ICW Heavyweight Champion and Hardcore Icon, Jack Jester:

Clips from the match can be viewed on the video below (Episode 2 of ICW Worldwide's Season 2 - match footage starts at 17:48):

If you can't be bothered watching the match above (what the hell is wrong with you?) here is a quick run-down with some awesome pictures from Mr David J Wilson. The match got off on Devitt's terms, with a chop and delayed dropkick stunning Jester into attempting to climb to the top rope, only to find himself in the Tree Of Woe position and recipient of another series of dropkicks.

It had become clear to Jester that he was not going to win this bout on anything but his own terms, so after a few moments of head-clearing with the ICW fans at ringside, the Hardcore Icon attempted to bring a chair into the ring, only to find himself dropkicked all the way into the crowd. Devitt then threw Jester's own chair at him, as the audience chanted "I C DUB" in approval, despite now becoming part of the violence.

From there, the wrestlers made their way back to the ringside area - only for Jester to throw Devitt back into the crowd on the other side of the venue. Compared to even the carnage of BT Gunn v Devitt this was on a whole other level of insanity, worlds apart from Devitt's debut against Wolfgang away back in 2012. While in those two contests Devitt was welcomed to the ICW ring, with this brawl he looked like he had been ICW for life. Putting paid to that sentiment, Devitt combined his Japanese stylings (a huge double-foot stomp) with his new ICW flavoured attitude - launching himself from the announcers' desk and through a table with Jester lying prone upon it.

This was fast looking like the night that Fergal would dethrone Jack, a situation that the crowd seemed shockingly to be lapping up. It felt right. It did not feel like an invader coming into the company and getting an undeserved title shot. After his last two matches, and with his look and attitude on the night, Fergal Devitt deserved this shot, and he was grasping it with both hands (and feet).

But a hard-as-nails Glaswegian with a deadly weapon can never be taken lightly. Jester managed to wrest control of his chair and the momentum of the match, striking back against Devitt and declaring he was about to meet the true face of I-C-W.

Shaking off the chops that had so displaced him earlier in the bout, Jester even absorbed a brainbuster from Fergal, kicking out at two. This spurred Devitt on to hit Jester with everything he had, but still the champion would not quit. Having absorbed incredible damage, Jack Jester finally managed to hit back and struck with his Tombstone Piledriver finisher to earn the victory, and the respect of one of the best in the world.

A world apart from Prince Devitt's last visit to ICW, this was a sporting contest from both wrestlers who gave it their all. The victory spurred Jack Jester on to defeat all comers throughout 2014, including a three-way match with former 2-time ICW Heavyweight Champion James Scott and the Iron Man Joe Coffey at the same time, and a FOUR-WAY bout with the NAK's Chris Renfrew (the man who helped put Devitt down during his last visit), the Homicidal Suicidal Genocidal Death-Defying legend that is Sabu, and the only other man who could claim a victory over Fergal Devitt in ICW, Wolfgang.

None of Jack Jester's defenses have been easy tasks, but his battle with Devitt at the turn of the year taught him how to dig deep and win on his terms, an experience I believe helped him overcome ever-increasing odds throughout 2014.

And Devitt? Not only did his appearance at ICW put an exclamation mark on the UK wrestling scene, it also proved a point. Since losing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belt, the rumour mills had been buzzing as to whether Devitt would leave NJPW and sign for either WWE or TNA. No other option seemed credible.

Fergal proved in this bout that he didn't need either company, as his future in British wrestling was secure, should he choose to leave Japan. In doing so, he lent credibility to the already strong and growing British wrestling companies that what we have on these islands are a group of very special companies.

As for Insane Championship Wrestling, the 3rd Annual Square Go sold out in advance, starting a string of seven sell-outs across nine events so far for 2014, including the first ever ICW show in London, the first ever ICW show in Newcastle, Up And Atom in Edinburgh and Still Smoking at the huge o2 ABC in Glasgow (... more on that show to come). Their latest event, Shug's Hoose Party on 27th July 2014, sold out before a single match was even announced!! To say ICW's 2014 started off strong and went from strength to strength is putting it lightly.

Back To Japan
Prince Devitt was not done with Bullet Club, not by a long shot. The rumours may have started that he had left New Japan, but this was far from the truth. Despite the interference of Bullet Club throughout Prince Devitt's matches, a very rare sight in Japanese wrestling, Devitt was unable to seize the IWGP Heavyweight title during his run as Bullet Club leader. But other matters were soon to become his main consideration.

The day after Wrestle Kingdom 8, Prince Devitt's former tag-team partner Ryusuke Taguchi returned from injury to attack the former champion, re-igniting a feud that would see the two battle in a variety of tag matches involving the Bullet Club team of Devitt, Fale, Gallows, Anderson and Tonga taking on Ryusuke Taguchi and a variety of tag partners, with neither side gaining a distinct advantage over the months of fights.

A singles match was begging to be made, and at Invasion Attack 2014, one year since the event that saw Apollo 55 split so violently, Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi would finally meet one on one to settle the score. The Young Bucks, the two newest recruits to the Bullet Club fold, were keen to help their leader, but Prince Devitt made it clear this was to be a one on one wrestling match with no outside interference.

Despite this, the duo continually tried to push the subject, leading to a physical altercation between Devitt and the Bucks to keep them at bay. The crowd were beginning to sense something had changed in Prince Devitt. By the time Ryusuke Taguchi had managed to score the victory, he could tell it too. With his trademark facepaint smeared and a look of pain twisting his face beyond the physical punishment of the match, Devitt extended his hand to his former partner. With a handshake of forgiveness gained, Prince Devitt rolled out of the ring. It was to be his last match at New Japan Pro Wrestling.

But not his last at ICW....

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