Will Ospreay’s United Empire faction is going strong in 2022 with ‘The Aerial Assassin’ himself holding the IWGP US Title and his henchmen Jeff Cobb and Great-O-Khan holding the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles.
On June 20th, the ever-expanding global faction added another prize to its trophy cabinet. Former WWE Cruiserweight Champion TJP and Francesco Akira won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. The pair secured the title shot by beating the champs, Ryusuke Taguchi and Master Wato, in a non-title bout before beating them again for the belts.
For Akira, this breaks some ground on two levels. Not only did the lightning-quick Bergamo star land his first title in NJPW, he also became the promotion’s first ever Italian champion. In a crisp, fast-paced, surprisingly long main event, he and Perkins put long-time comedy character Taguchi and polarizing mid-carder Wato’s work with the titles to rest.
In the aftermath, both Akira and TJP cut some of their post-match promos in Japanese, much to the delight of the Korakuen Hall crowd.
Akira is now one half of the 70th IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Given head booker Gedo’s fondness for playing hot potato with NJPW’s tag belts, don’t be too surprised to see Akira potentially lose and regain his title soon, making him NJPW’s first ever two-time Italian champion as well.
It’s been a prolific year for the 22-year-old rising star. Arriving in NJPW back in April, Akira enjoyed an entertaining run in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. While his final record of four wins and five losses wasn’t ideal, it’s clear NJPW see major potential in the young star moving forward.
With United Empire gradually rivalling Bullet Club for NJPW‘s top heel stable slot, the new junior tag champ will likely enjoy a high octane second half of 2022.