By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer
From the second Jay White physically stole the AEW World Heavyweight Championship from MJF, it was easy enough to decipher what the company was doing: MJF was still its champion, but White, one of the most decorated New Japan stars in recent years, would assume the aesthetic role for at least six weeks.
Why six weeks? Because AEW did something it never does – it announced the main event to a pay-per-view nearly two months ahead of time. The match was made while White had the belt in his possession. It was easy storytelling. Switchblade would flaunt the title in the weeks leading up to Full Gear. MJF would get it back after he retains the title by beating White in the main event of the show.
In the meantime, White would actually look like the champion. Imagine you tuned out of AEW in August but then you turned on any random Dynamite over the last couple months and you see White walk to the ring with the title over his shoulder. “Oh,” you’d think. “I guess he beat MJF. What’d I miss?” The optics were there. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that White was AEW’s top guy. It was a clever way to never beat MJF, but suggest that White was going to be a major player in the company. They couldn’t give him the belt right away, but at least they could make things look like they did.
Yeah, but …
Something about Jay White’s run in AEW thus far feels off. If you watched New Japan Pro Wrestling during the COVID-19 pandemic, you saw a guy who felt bigger than anything around him. A cocky, pest heel who could wrestle his way around the best in the world and amp up any moment, feud or major show with no less than five minutes on a microphone. He basked in a sea of respect – respect that he earned the hard way by working his way through Ring Of Honor and then up the NJPW food chain for the better part of five years. He was magnetic. His matches felt must-see. He matured into a hell of a faction leader at a time when said faction (Bullet Club) had seen its best days pass.
So, um, where did that guy go?
White officially debuted for AEW in April. He’s had more than seven months to establish himself as a major player in the company. But if we’re being honest … well, he hasn’t quite done that. Instead of a rebrand, AEW figured out a way to keep the Bullet Club lineage going, having White lead Bullet Club Gold, which does little more than sound like a credit card with a larger limit on it than most of us are used to. Juice Robinson, who joined the OG Bullet Club in New Japan before parting for AEW, was by White’s side almost as soon as both of them walked through the AEW curtain. The problem with that?
Juice has been the one to get over. Or, well, to whatever extent anyone in Bullet Club Gold has gotten over, Juice Robinson is at the top of that mountain. His nutty antics and dog-pissing procedures have stuck out above White, whose gimmick so far has been “steal a belt.” Hell, even Austin Gunn and Colten Gunn earned a glow up (as they kids say) when they joined up with Robinson and White. Sure, they just lost a pre-show match for the ROH World Tag Team Titles, but there’s no denying how much Billy’s kids were spinning wheels before Juice and Jay plucked them from relative obscurity.
But White? Eh. Whatever aura he built in New Japan feels almost entirely gone at this point. Full Gear didn’t do him any favors, of course. MJF was rushed to the hospital because of a bum leg, made his way back to the arena to wrestle White on said bum leg, was on the wrong side of outside interference multiple times … and still managed to pin White to retain (and recapture) the AEW world title on Saturday. And while I’m sure that’s enough to make some wrestling fans say the company buried White, I’m not exactly convinced that’s a fair argument, either.
Consider: Before losing to MJF at Full Gear, White was last on the losing side of a match in August, all the way back in the CM Punk days. It was an episode of Collision and Punk, Darby Allin, Hook and Sting beat White, Luchasaurus, Swerve Strickland, and Brian Cage. The last singles match White lost in AEW? Ehhh … well … that doesn’t exist. His last singles loss came in New Japan, according to cagematch.net, when he lost a Loser Leaves NJPW bout against Eddie Kingston. White’s only losses in AEW have come while teaming with someone else.
And it’s not like his wins during that span of time weren’t impressive, either. Among the people Switchblade beat were Ricky Starks, Dax Harwood, Adam Page and Penta El Zero Miedo. His one and only singles loss in AEW came at the hands of MJF on Saturday. It’s beyond fair to say that AEW has done its best to protect him – at least from a wins and losses standpoint – since he made his debut in the company. And for my money, that was the right way to go. Don’t bring in arguably New Japan’s biggest star only to have him job out to Max Caster on a throwaway episode of Rampage; have the guy win, by hook or by crook, all the time.
So, what gives? White was lumped in with that crew of people who were set to carry Collision when it launched, right? CM Punk was going to be the star because the entire roster couldn’t play nice with everyone else, so we were led to believe there was going to be a soft brand split (whatever that means) and the difference between Collision and Dynamite would be tangible. Since then, Tony Schiavone has taken over as the voice of Saturdays, anyone from either show seems to appear on either show at any time, and no Punk means no divide (or at least that’s what the feeling is from afar).
Did those developments bring an unintended consequence to White’s trajectory? Could it be something we’ll never know about? Were Punk and White supposed to circle around each other until they locked up for the Real World Title (or whatever such nonsense that was)? Between Punk’s firing and Adam Cole’s injury, was White thrusted into the MJF program on a whim?
Perhaps we’ll never know. What we do know, for now at least, is that White isn’t clicking in the same way he clicked during his last run in NJPW. That Jay White was drowning in emotion. That Jay White felt bigger than life. That Jay White almost seemed unbeatable (until, well, he was on his way out, because once that was established, New Japan said, “Nope, you’re going to have to put some people over first, buddy,” but I digress). That Jay White wasn’t overshadowed by anybody around him, be it a stablemate, an opponent or even another top guy on the card. That Jay White was transcendent.
This Jay White, the AEW Jay White, still feels like he’s trying to find his way. And now that his story with MJF appears to be over for now (even though nothing is ever truly over in pro wrestling), where does he go? Could he build himself back up if he ditched Bullet Club Gold and carried a secondary title? Maybe, but Orange Cassidy and Christian Cage seem to be the perfect fits for AEW’s secondary titles at this moment. Would a win in AEW’s Dollar Store G1 help? Maybe, but you would have thought the same thing if you told me six months ago that White would be parading around with the world title all while working toward a main event match with the company’s biggest star in MJF.
So, in the end, it all comes down to one big, who knows? I tend to lean toward branching him off as a singles wrestler, sans faction, and maybe just throw him in some long matches with some reputable names to let him get some building blocks underneath him as a solo star. But even with that in mind, the hope would be that his work would translate into finding the missing piece – a missing piece that has become so impossible to accurately define. The guy had it in spades no less than a year ago. Anymore, he feels like someone aimlessly searching for that one thing that will morph him back into the superstar he once was.
Here’s hoping he finds it. Because the pro wrestling world is better with Top Guy Jay White in it. And AEW could definitely use at least one more captivating figure that isn’t named CM Punk or MJF, especially when you consider how the former is ostensibly banned from the company. The Switchblade Era was so much fun, guys. Please don’t tell me it’s over quite yet.