A year ago, “Switchblade” Jay White headlined Wrestle Kingdom 15. He wrestled Kota Ibushi for the IWGP heavyweight title in the event’s finale, main-eventing the Tokyo Dome in an absurdly captivating bout that saw Ibushi claim his long-waited spot atop New Japan Pro-Wrestling. A year later, White was not part of Wrestle Kingdom 16–but he will play a pivotal role at this Saturday’s New Beginning USA show.
Taking place in Seattle, Wash., New Beginning USA is part of upcoming tapings for the weekly New Japan STRONG show. The card features a fascinating array of talent, including El Phantasmo, Yuya Uemura, Rocky Romero, Juice Robinson, Jonah, David Finlay, and Josh Barnett. Fresh off his Wrestle Kingdom bout against the returning Katsuyori Shibata, New Beginning USA will also see Ren Narita step into the ring.
The headline match is a bit of a mystery, as White meets a mystery opponent in his U-S-of-Jay open challenge. A recent history of important moments taking place at New Beginning suggests that this will be an important night for New Japan, and it will be led by White, the first-ever New Japan grand slam winner.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, the 29-year-old White discussed his upcoming open challenge, his goal for 2022, and whether he was disappointed to miss this year’s three-night Wrestle Kingdom.
Sports Illustrated: Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan’s signature show, and you are bringing that type of excitement to Saturday’s New Beginning taping.
Jay White: I’m putting my all into New Japan STRONG and making it what I believe it can be. STRONG keeps growing and growing with each show that we do, and we have a lot of potential here. 2022 is going to be the year we tap into that.
SI: You headlined the second night of Wrestle Kingdom last year against Kota Ibushi. Was it difficult to miss all three nights of this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, which included an inter-promotional show with Pro Wrestling NOAH?
White: No. Look at Shingo [Takagi]. If I had been there, that would have been me in the championship match. Or I would have been the one to take that belt away from him. Missing out on facing those NOAH guys, I really don’t care. A lot of wrestlers often talk about wrestling certain people from other companies. I really don’t. At this level, I’m not going online to ask someone for a match. I’m the guy that people want to get in the ring with, not the other way around. When I’m not wrestling, I’m not thinking about it. I’m too busy living my life.
SI: After growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, you have grown quite an affinity for the United States, particularly your home in Florida (right near Atlanta, Georgia, where you traveled to in 2007 for WrestleMania 27). What do you enjoy most about America?
White: It’s a home away from home. I’ve been here before when I was doing ROH in 2016 and 2017. That’s when I cut my teeth, so there are parts of the country that feel familiar. And I’m familiar with the arenas, and the people are familiar with me.
I really like California, and now I feel that way about Philly. We had our shows there in September, and that was a good reminder of how great those fans are at the 2300 Arena. And I love my mango key lime pies from Publix. If I was back in Japan, that would be sorely missed.
SI: The U-S-of-Jay open challenge places you against a mystery opponent. What can we expect to see?
White: I’m in the match, so no matter where it falls, it’s the main event. And I can only hope that whoever steps through that door has a little bit of prestige or something to offer me.
SI: You are a diehard basketball fan. We’ve discussed this before, but based on this season, which NBA players would you want in Bullet Club?
White: I’ll pick five. Some of the stuff Steph Curry has done this season is mind-blowing. Now that Klay Thompson is back, you need to have the Splash Brothers. You need LeBron [James]. My guy [Russell] Westbrook is taking a rest from this list–we’ll give LeBron some new teammates. We’ll have Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Nikola Jokic too, giving us some muscle. If anyone wants to f--- with us, we’ll have The Joker to take care of us.
SI: Maybe you’d also want his brothers, who it seems are also ready to throw down.
White: I don’t think you want to mess too much with those guys.
SI: Speaking of NBA ties, the New Beginning USA show is in Seattle, which was the home of the Supersonics–and the team that drafted Kevin Durant.
White: That crossed my mind. This will be my first time wrestling in Seattle, and my first proper time in the city. And we’re starting off with a bang with the U-S-of-Jay open challenge.
SI: You were just announced for the Impact tapings later this month. Is your motivation extending your reach to an even wider audience?
White: You really think I’ll give away my plans and motivation that easily? People will have to tune in and see what I will be doing in Impact.
SI: There is so much prestige attached to a world title reign in New Japan. Though the current focus in building STRONG, do you need to win the IWGP world heavyweight title to reclaim your spot atop the industry?
White: I don’t need that belt to prove I am the best. Is that still the best belt? That question is out there. When I held the IWGP heavyweight title, or when I held the NEVER belt, an argument could always be made that it was the best title in all of wrestling. That is no longer the case, especially with the NEVER belt.
SI: Are you still the leader of Bullet Club?
White: Of course. I’m not in Japan, so if someone else thinks they’d do better, be my guest. But it’s still mine, and there will come a day when people see that.
SI: What is your goal for 2022?
White: I am going to make STRONG exceed its potential. By putting me at the forefront, that gives us the best chance possible.