IWGP heavyweight champion Jay White has risen from a mid-card superstar to the top heel in New Japan Pro Wrestling. On last week's episode of our WINCLY podcast, NJPW color commentator Josh Barnett spoke to Wrestling Inc. about "Switchblade" being elevated to the top of the company.
Barnett praised White for his commitment to becoming a true heel, something he doesn't think exists in professional wrestling anymore. He noted that superstars don't maintain their personas as much as they should, which takes away from the feeling of them being real bad guys.
"I haven't been able to watch any New Japan since the last episodes we did, but Jay White was getting steadily and steadily better. Beyond the fact that they need people to be heels and to be bad guys and to take up that mantle, the Bullet Club became a glorified nWo, like a 'cool guy' gimmick. I don't think anybody actually wants to be a heel anymore, nobody wants to take on the mantle of a real heel wrestler," Barnett said. "Everybody wants to be the cool bad guy that can still send [merchandise] and do meet-and-greets and get to pal around with the fan instead of being the guy that doesn't sign [merchandise], doesn't sign autographs, keeps that perspective up and gives that heel character some weight to it so that people get invested in wanting to dislike that character... So to have someone willing to go out there and embody more of a heel persona, that's important, because you're only as good as your adversaries."
Barnett and White have an interesting history after an incident involving them and Jim Ross. At a show in San Francisco last year, White suplexed his opponent into the guardrail, which hit the commentating table and hurt Ross's ribs. Barnett jumped the guardrail and went to confront White, and it wasn't part of a storyline. Barnett said they were able to work things out and they decided to use the incident to build up White as a heel.
"To be perfectly honest, I never wanted to talk about the incident with Jay White, myself and J.R. in a shoot way," he said. "After it was all said and done, we the principles had sorted it all out, everybody was on board and OK, drinks were had and people became of better use to each other. I figured, it is what it is, but now it's more useful to be used in a kayfabe manner than it is otherwise. This is heat, use it. He got nuclear heat after what happened. Contrary to what some sources or some critics out there might say, I actually got a huge, gigantic pop when I went after Jay White and went in the ring."
Many people criticized Barnett and thought what he did was unprofessional. He explained that he had no intentions of going into business for himself. He was so overcome with anger after seeing Ross get hurt and he really wanted to confront White about it.
"No, there was no interest to go in business for myself, I didn't want any business. I had spoken to New Japan plenty of times about wanting to work matches, but I also knew that as a commentator that creates an issue. OK, fine. But that was a matter of something entirely unrelated to anything that I was interested in terms of doing pro wrestling," he said. "That was a moment of reality, not of going in business for one's self. But the result of it was, Jay White got super nuclear heat, Juice Robinson became such a face out of it, got so much of a response, let's use it. Mistakes are made, you can't fix that, but we can go forward with something more positive and more beneficial to everyone... If this is how it's turned out, and people are getting a good, solid heel that's creating interest and creating conflict, then fantastic. That's what's needed."
Barnett said the incident was an example of the pro wrestling business not being what it used to be. He said things like that would've never happened if the business stayed true to its roots of respect. He also said the whole thing could've been avoided if they told him and Ross about the plans for the match beforehand.
"I was f***ing mad as hell. It was just irresponsible. I think that the drifting away from the older traditional foundations of what professional wrestling is and how it operates has actually been quite a detriment," he said. "If those were more in place, I don't think things like that would've happened. I also think that some of the things we see in professional wrestling would move a lot smoother and with less snags and I think it would allow itself to even become that much greater. But I really do feel like there's something missing from that traditional foundation of the training, the culture of professional wrestling and being a part of the program. One conversation with me and J.R. would've solved all of that."
GCW presents Josh Barnett's Bloodsport, which goes down April 4th from White Eagles Hall in Jersey City, NJ. It will be streamed via FITE.tv and tickets are available by clicking here.
Barnett's full WINCLY interview can be heard in the embedded audio player below. In it he previews Bloodsport, talks working with GCW, how Ronda Rousey has transitioned to pro wrestling, Daniel Cormier teasing a leap to pro wrestling and more. You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here.