A Shining Jewel: Chase Owens in New Japan

Chase Owens looks like a star these days. Picking up wins and earning himself a shot at Juice Robinson’s US Title, he looks, acts and wrestles like a contender. While he is no stranger to championships, that hasn’t always been the case in recent years for the 12-year veteran. While a lot of his contemporaries to his position took more established routes, the New Japan Dojo, or via NXT, his was from a path less travelled.

He is an unapologetic southern wrestler, sticking to a slick fast-paced/big impact moveset. His was a style forged in the armouries and community centres of the Deep South. Trained by Ricky Morton of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, his connections came from the southern promoters that formed the backbone of the NWA up until Billy Corgan’s takeover of the erstwhile governing body of wrestling. He would be NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion three times, a belt held in the past by such luminaries as Danny Hodge and Nelson Royal. Taking the title in a tournament win in Kingsport, TN in 2013, it would be the start of great things for the new champion.

Chase being cordial with SANADA. Picture njpw1972.com

Around this time, newly minted President of the NWA, Bruce R. Tharpe was trying to restructure the organisation to have a bigger presence in world media. Having worked out a talent swap agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling that would see the NWA Heavyweight title change hands on many shows in Japan, it made sense then that the Junior title should be defended too.

Owens would make his NJPW debut at King of Pro Wrestling in October of 2014, defending the title against a then-struggling babyface BUSHI who had yet to find his groove in New Japan. He would drop eventually the title to Jushin Thunder Liger but would be invited to 2015 Best of Super Juniors tournament to represent the NWA. He would take a respectable four wins in the tournament, but without doubt, he’d impressed the right people.

Within the storyline of New Japan, Bullet Club was a one Junior faction and they needed a hand when it came to the Super Jr. Tag Tournament, so a quick negotiation with Bruce R. Tharpe, lawyer at large, ensured the services of Chase for the foreseeable future. He would join Kenny Omega but bow out in the first round to Roppongi Vice. In the next year, he would replace Nick Jackson in the Best of Super Juniors. No matter what, Bullet Club and New Japan needed the utility player from Bristol, Tennessee.

Chase being less cordial with SANADA. Picture njpw1972.com

His overall usefulness would be on show by December where he would reprise his team with Omega in the Heavyweight World Tag League. Having done respectably well in that tournament, it was clear that he was far more useful as a slow burn heat getter in the Heavyweight division than in the state of the art, high tempo juniors. Applying some Southern Heel tag and singles psychology to Bullet Club’s already loaded bag of talents made a refreshing change. He was back on more or less every tour in 2017, forming an occasional and utilitarian tag team with Yujiro Takahashi, but eventually teaming with Bad Luck Fale in the World Tag League.

2017 was the beginning of the end for Bullet Club, or so it seemed. Cody and Kenny Omega were at odds over leadership for most of the year as Kota Ibushi rekindled his friendship with Kenny and reformed The Golden Lovers tag team. Throughout the winter of ’17 and into ’18, layers were added to the story with Kota becoming an associate member and the split into the Elite and OG factions. Kenny and Kota eventually settled with the OGs, and by Honor Rising, Omega had his pick of long-standing partners. In a six-man tag that main evented that year’s tour he didn’t have to choose, he took both on an emotional roller coaster ride against Cody and the Bucks.

Whilst he was pinned, Chase looked at home with five of the six biggest players in the wrestling industry. He was also proving to be very popular. The OGs had become the faces in the feud, and whether he was tagging with Kota, Kenny or Hangman Page, the Crown Jewel was welcomed with open arms by New Japan fans who recognise hard work and talent, especially when it reaches the main event level, but all good things, as they say, must come to an end.

At the Cow Palace, things took a dark turn. After Kenny Omega successfully defended his IWGP Heavyweight title against Cody, the Firing Squad, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Haku destroyed The Elite. The last two down to make the save, Yujiro and Chase got a satisfyingly big pop but were also on the receiving end of a beating. They became members of the Bullet Club Elite but as the majority of the group failed to reign with New Japan, going on to form AEW, it left Chase and Yujiro out in the cold. They were in The Elite, but their allegiance remained with New Japan. When it came to World Tag League, Chase was also out of the picture. A clashed date with a US indie show kept him out of the tournament.

A Package Piledriver put Owens in the title picture for New Japan Cup. Picture njpw1972.com

With the rest of The Elite gone, Chase and Yujiro were announced as returnees to Bullet Club, the pair had been the backbone of the group for a long time and it turned out in the storyline had been undercover agents, partly responsible for encouraging Cody, Kenny and The Bucks to leave, and now ready to take up their place in the Cut Throat Era. Another change would come in the fact that he signed a contract, no longer the subject of tour-to-tour bookings, New Japan saw him as a vital part of their company and treated him accordingly.

He was announced for the New Japan Cup, his first appearance in the tournament and in the first round went up against IWGP US Heavyweight Champion Juice Robinson and won. With style. He would go out in the second round, but a clean pin on a champion in New Japan usually ensures a title shot, Chase would make his challenge a few nights later, laying Juice out with a chair. They are set to meet at the New Japan Cup final night on March 24th. A major singles title match on one of the biggest shows of the year, not bad for a guy who ground his way into the spotlight and looks determined to stay there. Rocky Romero called him “The little engine that could.” On the Art of Wrestling Podcast, but now he is in the upper echelon, he has found his natural home.  

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