I should preface this entry by saying I’m not talking about WWE’s version of The Demon Finn Balor. Though creepy in its own right, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Demon Prince character has so much more quantitative history with coherent arcs that explain the origin story of why and how the man behind the face paint became the demon.
Photo credit: @FinnBalor
When Prince Devitt arrived in NJPW in 2006, he was just like the other foreigners that stepped into the company. He jobbed and put the more popular Japanese stars over in nearly every match he had. Devitt would deviate from the stereotype however, being taken under the wing by Ryusuke Taguchi, and forming the wildly popular tag team, Apollo 55 who would go on to win tag gold and carry the belts a number of times.
Over the next couple years, Devitt, in an attempt to prove himself as a singles star, would try for one of the most prestigious titles in all of professional wrestling, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. Each fight got him closer and closer, but he never quite succeeded. That was until NJPW Dominion where he defeated Naomichi Marufuji to bring the title back to New Japan from its then host, Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Devitt was one of the faces of NJPW. He totaled nearly 600 days with the title, but would eventually lose it to Kota Ibushi at another Dominion supershow. He would lose a slew of matches to the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Ibushi, but always act cordial afterwards. He would raise his opponents arms, bow to them and shake their hand. This, we would soon find out, was all a facade.
In reality, Devitt was boiling over. He would lose one final match against Tanahashi for the big gold before he snapped. We would find out that despite seeming respectful, resentment towards his opponents and the company had reached irreparable heights. He wanted a spot with the heavyweights. He had the fan support, he had the amazing matches and he believed he had proven himself. He attributed the odds never being in his favour to the fact that he was a small foreigner in a world of larger than life Japanese stars. And so, after the Tanahashi match, Devitt didn’t bow to his opponent. He didn’t shake his hand or even raise his arm. Instead, he pushed him out of the way, shoved the referee and made his way backstage, with his head down the whole way.
This was the formation of the Bullet Club. With the help of Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale, Devitt would take NJPW by storm, becoming one of the company’s biggest heels. He broke up Apollo 55 by attacking his former tag partner and would go on to sever all babyface ties he had to his past.
After losses to Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi in the G1 Climax, he realized he needed a bigger change. Despite the attempted assists from his Bullet Club brethren, he came short. The Bullet Club wasn’t enough. At this point, he was broken; a shell of who he once was.
At Wrestle Kingdom 8, in a rematch against Kota Ibushi, Prince Devitt entered the ring to a different theme song. The stage lights were darker and he was almost completely unrecognizable. His face and body were painted in dark black and red, with demonic drawn-on decals on his chest and upper back. This Prince Devitt was a far cry from the former respectful gaijin who worked his way up through the New Japan Pro Wrestling dojo system. This was years of frustration and built-up anger in the making. He had resorted to becoming the darkest parts of himself. He was a manifestation of his inner demons.
Despite the new getup and a new moveset that conveyed a complete lack of regard to his own personal safety, he came short yet again. This loss would break him down even more. He was too foreign, too small and too overlooked, and now even the darkest parts of himself couldn’t earn him a win.
Suddenly, a shadow from his past arrived. His former Apollo 55 partner, Taguchi surprisingly attacked Devitt in the ring after being sidelined for nearly a year due to injury. This would set up a match that was essentially the climax of Devitt’s psychological torment. The insecurities, the inner demons and now the manifestation of his old tag team and a character that he’s so far removed from. The grudge match between the two would see Devitt entering the ring now covered in all black paint, walking towards the ring looking already as if he had been defeated. The entrance was scary, not because you were scared for Taguchi… You were scared for Devitt. From the appearance alone, there was no light left in the character. He had completely embraced the darkness he covered himself in. The fans in attendance noticed this too and began cheering his name. We wanted the old Prince Devitt back. It was a truly emotional moment. Each strike he took removed a little bit of black body paint and each tear shed removed a little bit of black face paint. When the Young Bucks attempted to interfere to give Devitt some Bullet Club assistance, he didn’t let them. He wanted to do this himself. He wanted to do it the way Prince Devitt would, not the demon. After Devitt took the pin, he bowed to his former partner, shook his hand and made his way out of the arena. He had returned to his old self.
Despite not being scary in the way that others on this list are, Prince Devitt’s arc represents realistic horror. The demon represents parts of the psyche we unleash on ourselves and the world around us in response to resentment and frustration. It affects our relationships, physical appearance and emotional stability. The man behind the demon is who we want to be remembered as when we die (or leave NJPW in the case of Devitt). For New Japan Pro Wrestling fans, Prince Devitt will always be a story of hope and redemption among times of self-sabotage.