Pro-wrestling is and has been full of terrifying wrestlers. And this particular wrestler is a great example because he has intimidated people in two different ways. And nothing says ‘Halloween’ like fear and evil.
EVIL is the ring name of Takaaki Watanabe, who wrestles for New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW). He is one of the few NJPW wrestlers that actually has a gimmick/stage name and doesn’t wrestle under his real name. But it wasn’t always like this for him. He did wrestle under his own name for four years. However, that changed in October 2015, following his return from a foreign excursion.
Watanabe returned to New Japan at King of Pro-Wrestling 2015 to help Tetsuya Naito in his match against Hiroshi Tanahashi. After that match, Watanabe was rechristened “the King of Darkness” EVIL. Under this persona, he became a caricature of, well, evil. His entrances became elaborate and overtly ‘dark,’ like a significantly less-scary Undertaker but with the symbolism ramped up.
Over the years, EVIL’s entrance consisted of him wearing a black cloak emblazoned with an inverted crucifix on it. He also liked to carry a big scythe in one hand and a special glove in his other hand that had laser pointers on the end. His entrance theme was also more gothic and ominous when compared to his fellow Los Ignobernables de Japón allies. He also punctuated his promos with a very simple catchphrase: “THIS is EVIL. EVERYTHING IS EVIL!”
But despite standing out and being a bit of a cartoon character, EVIL didn’t accomplish very much during this phase. He had some tag team title reigns here and there and scored an upset win over Kazuchika Okada in the 2017 G1 Climax tournament that led to an unsuccessful title challenge. But then everything changed in 2020.
A different type of EVIL
In June 2020, EVIL shocked the world by winning the New Japan Cup, a single-elimination tournament that got him a world title shot. At the time, the world champion (and also Intercontinental Champion) was his friend and LiJ stable leader Tetsuya Naito. After EVIL’s victory, Naito came out to celebrate, and he and EVIL did the LiJ fistbump. Then, at the last second, EVIL’s fist transformed into a wolf’s head. Also known as the ‘Too Sweet’ sign, the mark of the Bullet Club.
And then EVIL betrayed Naito.
With that move, EVIL did the most evil of things he could: he betrayed his best friend for the sake of personal glory. A friendship that lasted a good five years was thrown out the window so that EVIL could collect more shiny things. It was a shocking moment, and it proved that no one was safe in New Japan.
It did work out in the end for EVIL as he beat Naito the following night to win both of Naito’s belts. And since he was still NEVER Openweight 6-man champion before his betrayal, EVIL became the first wrestler in New Japan history to have three different titles at the same time.
In the moment, it must’ve been worth it, but all of those victories were short-lived. EVIL’s own greed led him to vacate the 6-man titles that he won with his former friends, and then Naito beat him to win the other two titles back 48 days later.
Since then, he has done little and has spent most of his time mingling with his Bullet Club pals. But are they truly his new family? Or will they cast him aside once he’s outlived his usefulness? And if that happens, who will take him in, knowing he has a reputation for being a ruthless backstabber?
In the stable-centric world of New Japan, there couldn’t possibly be a scarier prospect than that.