Spotlight: Birds of Prey
Now that school holidays are here, I've got some free time on my hands. Which means... more time to watch wrestling and write about it! Yay! Gotta do something while I rest and recover my body, and this is as good an option as any. Another new series starting here, and the title speaks for itself, really. The Spotlight series is where I shine a light on a wrestler (or in this case, a tag team) that I feel is exceptional and worth going out of your way to see, if you haven't already.
The Birds of Prey are a team comprised of the reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, the Aerial Assasin, Will Ospreay, and Australian superstar, the Sniper of the Skies, Robbie Eagles. And while the formation of their tag team is very recent, their history dates back considerably. Let's dive right in.
Robbie Eagles and Will Ospreay first crossed paths in the Sydney-based promotion, PWA. It was the 10th anniversary show in August 2017 for the company, Call To Arms, hence bringing in the highly touted international star in Ospreay. It was meant to be a non-title match-up, but Robbie, being the proud champion and competitor that he is, opted to put his PWA Heavyweight Championship on the line. They say pride goes before the fall, and on this night, Ospreay was the better man, besting Eagles in an epic contest where they waged war in and out of the ring. Robbie didn't get the win that night, but he did get the respect of Ospreay, and the quality of the contest was such that it placed a well overdue spotlight on Australian wrestling as a whole. The humble Land Down Under has a tremendous wrestling scene, it may not be as widely talked about as the UK or Japan, but I'd put the best Aussie wrestlers up against any wrestlers from anywhere in the world. This match brought way more eyes to Aussie wrestling, but it would be the beginning of a real friendship- and rivalry- for Ospreay and Eagles.
Ospreay would return to Australian shores in February 2018, and would once again share the ring with Eagles, although this time it was a Fatal 4 Way involving Mick Moretti and Caveman Ugg- two more outstanding Aussie wrestlers. Non-stop action, where Big Will once again picked up the W. Post-match, he gets on the mic and praises Robbie Eagles, saying that Dave Meltzer (one of the most prolific journalists in the wrestling industry) had taken notice of the Australian. He then floats the prospect of Robbie participating in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, to a thunderous positive response from the PWA faithful, but it wouldn't happen- at least not in 2018.
Since Will Ospreay absolutely fucking loves Australia, he was back again in August 2018 for PWA Call To Arms. His opponent? You guessed it, Robbie Eagles. After a crazy 27 minutes of going balls to the wall, Robbie finally defeated his accomplished rival, forcing the Aerial Assassin to tap to the Ron Miller Special leg lock. Following the match, in the ultimate show of respect, Ospreay ripped the Japanese flag off his tights and handed it to Eagles. The crowd roared, understanding the symbolism- Robbie had an open invite to go to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where Ospreay was one of its biggest stars.
Because we can't always have nice things, we were thrown a curveball. In October 2018, it was made official- Robbie Eagles would indeed make his NJPW debut, participating in the Super Jr. Tag League. However, it would not be beside Will Ospreay, instead, Robbie opted to join Bad Luck Fale in the villainous and notorious faction, the Bullet Club. His partner would be Taiji Ishimori, and while they did not win the tournament, they did quite well and made a lot of people pay attention. Robbie immediately established himself as a credible force in Japan in his first match- he made the legendary Jyushin Thunder Liger tap out to the Ron Miller Special in Korakuen Hall. He wasn't there to make up the numbers or be a nobody.
It soon became clear that Robbie Eagles was not a great fit for Bullet Club. The Club were known for having bad attitudes, breaking the rules at every turn, and Robbie never seemed comfortable with that. Back home in Australia, he was always the good guy, and tried to win his matches honourably. Cracks started to show with Robbie and his Bullet Club brethren in 2019, when Eagles got his shot at solo stardom as a competitor in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Eagles faced off against fellow BC member El Phantasmo. He believed it would be a fair match between allies, but this would prove to be false as ELP gained the victory through underhanded means, which didn't sit well with the Sniper of the Skies.
The round robin format of the tournament meant that Robbie Eagles would face Will Ospreay in singles action for the third time. Much like their PWA battles, Eagles and Ospreay fought tooth and nail for 20 minutes... then ELP got involved. He attacked Ospreay behind the referee's back, much to Eagles' chagrin. He wanted to prove he could beat Ospreay in front of Will's "home crowd", so to speak. However, Eagles knew what a monumental victory beating Will Ospreay in NJPW would be, so he finished the job with the 450 Splash, conflict etched all over his face.
Robbie didn't win BOSJ, but he came damn close. That honour ultimately went to Will Ospreay, beating Shingo Takagi in what may have been the best match of 2019. Soon after the tournament, New Japan would tour Australia for the second consecutive year. Since Eagles did have a victory over Ospreay to his credit, NJPW booked the biggest match of Robbie's career- Eagles vs. Ospreay in Melbourne, for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Robbie fell short, and once again, El Phantasmo got involved in the match against Eagles' wishes. So after the match, Eagles punched ELP right in his stupid face, and the following night in Sydney (which I saw live in person), Robbie officially left the Bullet Club and joined Ospreay's group, Chaos. All was right in the world again. Score one for the good guys.
Since Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles were now in the same faction of Chaos, it was only a matter of time before they ended up working together in a tag team. The Birds of Prey were officially born on August 31 at NJPW Royal Quest. Following years of wrestling each other, they built a familiarity that allowed them to work tremendously as a tandem, busting out rapid fire tandem moves with perfect timing and precision. As NJPW announcer Kevin Kelly said during the Road to Power Struggle, "You would think with the symmetry that they have as a team, that they've been tagging forever!" They hit their new finisher, the Red Wing (a double top rope Spanish Fly) on the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori. Unfortunately, it was a non-title match, and Eagles and Ospreay lost in the title match that followed shortly after.
Undetered, the Birds of Prey pressed on. They had only just become a team, and immediately they took their Bullet Club foes to the limit in a pair of incredible matches! Plus, not only did they have a cool new nickname- it was just happenstance that both the Englishman and the Aussie had bird-based wrestling names- but they had also got snazzy matching gear! Ospreay and Eagles were in this for the long haul.
Their style as a tag team is a quite unique one. They're both young high fliers, so the obvious comparisons are the Rockers, the Hardyz, the Young Bucks... but Ospreay and Eagles aren't JUST high fliers. Eagles brings with him an exceptional submission game. He works the legs with pinpoint precision- hence the "Sniper" part of his nickname- before hitting a 450 on the leg of his helpless opponent and locking in the Ron Miller Special. And Ospreay has been bulking up over the last couple of years in preparation for a move to the heavyweight division, so in addition to his surreal ability to fly through the air, he also had a number of power moves in his arsenal, including the innovative Stormbreaker spinning slam. Between the two of them, the Birds of Prey can literally do EVERYTHING inside that ring- and out of it if need be.
The obvious next step for the Birds of Prey was the 2019 Super Jr. Tag League. But because NJPW likes to subvert expectations sometimes- and I love them for it- the Birds actually lost their first couple of matches in the tournament, falling to old Bullet Club rivals ELP and Ishimori, then taking a loss courtesy of Roppongi 3K. The matches were highly competitive and impressive, but still, the results weren't what Ospreay and Eagles were after. They would rebound by winning the next three, and an important note- it was actually Robbie getting the victory for his team every time via submission with the Ron Miller Special. This is important because Will Ospreay came into the tag tournament as the reigning singles IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, so for Robbie to be the one carrying the load for his team shows that he is also on that level, and isn't a hanger on or a lesser star. In other words, this team has no Jannetty. It's two Shawn Michaels' on the same team.
The Birds of Prey were flying high after a rocky start. And speaking of rocky, the next team that Ospreay and Eagles had to take on was the combination of coaches, Rocky Romero and Ryusuke Taguchi. While Taguchi is known for his comedic style, and his propensity to use his ass as an offensive weapon, this tag team match got serious quickly. It was the main event in Korauken Hall, and all four men gave a performance worthy of that spot. One of the best tag matches I've seen this year. The Birds got the job done in a 22 minute war, keeping their hopes alive of winning the tag tournament. This time, it would be Ospreay with the shine, finally hitting his finishers of the Hidden Blade and the Stormbreaker for the pinfall victory. After the match, Robbie Eagles gets on the mic, apologises for his lack of Japanese, and thanks the crowd for their support. It warms my heart to see an Aussie building such a great fanbase for himself overseas. Whether it's as a tag wrestler or a singles competitor, Robbie Eagles is becoming a big deal in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Unfortunately, the next match in the tag tournament would spell the end of the Birds of Prey's hopes at winning the Super Jr. Tag League. The boys faced El Desperado and Kanemaru of the Suzuki-gun stable. This was a very different dynamic to the previous bout against the Super Coaches, as Desperado and Kanemaru are dyed-in-the-wool heels, and used every underhanded tactic in the book to get the best of the Aussie and the Brit. With all the equity built up in the Ron Miller Special submission as a dangerous finisher, it was used to tease a great false finish where Robbie had it locked on Desperado, Ospreay held Kanemaru back... but he eventually broke free to make the save. Suzuki-gun's win came with a great deal of fuckery- Taichi, who was at ringside on commentary, distracted the referee, allowing Bushi to run down and spray black mist in the face of Ospreay, and Kanemaru spit whisky in the face of Eagles, allowing Desperado to roll him for the victory. Classic bad guy shenanigans, but it speaks to the high regard that NJPW hold the Birds of Prey in, that it takes that level of unfair advantage to pin a loss on the team. Ospreay was set to face Bushi at Power Struggle to defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, so it seems that the New Japan powers-that-be didn't want Big Will pulling double duty- given the man's wrestling style, not a bad idea.
In my opinion, the Birds of Prey quickly became one of the best tag teams in the world, despite only officially forming a few months ago. They've got greater chemistry and have had better matches already than tag teams that have been around for a decade. I have to believe it was the rivalry born in Australia, the respect that clearly emerged from those battles, that led Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles to instantly becoming a tag team sensation in New Japan. Their moves, their timing, their psychology, their characters and presentation- everything about this dynamic duo screams "money" to me!
In the immediate future, Ospreay has a title defence against a returning Hiromu Takahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Robbie Eagles will be involved in Night 2, teaming with other Chaos teammates Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-hashi to challenge for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship. I have to believe though, that we're not anywhere near seeing the end of the Birds of Prey just yet. They're too good. Yes, Will Ospreay has commitments in the singles division as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, but there's no reason he can't bounce between singles and tag divisions. Hell, Robbie Eagles has got to be in serious consideration as a future Jr. Heavyweight champ as well, the sky is the limit for both men. The 80s had the Mega-Powers. The early 2000s had the Two Man Power Trip. The late 2000s had Rated RKO. And the late 2010s/early 2020s has the Birds of Prey.
Until next time, take care,