Select hits from NJPW’s violent past
On July 4 and 5, NJPW STRONG celebrates Independence Day not in the US, but in Japan and Korakuen Hall for two wild nights of action. Fans in Japan will see a very different environment to usual in Korakuen, as not only will they be treated to the sight of American regulars making a rare trip to the hallowed Hall, but they’ll also see a unique pair of very violent headline bouts. Jun Kasai will be making his NJPW debut after 25 bloodsoaked years in professional wrestling on July 4, while July 5 sees El Desperado and Jon Moxley face off in Final Death.
The idea of hardcore deathmatches is a rare one indeed in NJPW, but blood feuds have seen violent ends in the past. Here are five violent encounters to look out for from the NJPW World archives.
1. Masa Saito vs Antonio Inoki- Ganryujima Death Match
October 4, 1987- Ganryujima
Masa Saito and Antonio Inoki had butted heads several times even before NJPW was even formed, and when Saito would join Riki Choshu’s antagonistic Ishingun group in 1983, their issues would continue. Saito would leave Japan entirely for several years however, and after his stretch in the United States (including 18 months behind bars) would come back all the more hardened, and all the more eager to take care of Inoki.
The two would do battle in March 1987, a match in Osaka Jo Hall that ended in a bizarre disqualification that left neither man satisfied. A month later, a rematch between the two would become a bloodbath that ended with a young Hiroshi Hase in the corner of Saito throwing in the towel. Saito wouldn’t accept that result either, and when Inoki just pulled out a victory with a counter to a dominant Saito in June, becoming the first regularly defended IWGP Heavyweight Champion, something had to give.
The result would be a match that called back to one of the famous duels of feudal Japanese history; that between Musashi Miyamoto and Kojiro Sasaki on the deserted island of Ganryujima. There would be no rules in the bout, and no fans in attendance, with wrestlers arriving to the island by boat before embarking on a two hour plus fight broadcast on TV. No doubt one of if not the most unique matches in NJPW’s 50 plus years, it was an indicator of how much hatred existed between two formidable forces.
2. Hiroshi Hase vs Tiger Jeet Singh- Ganryujima 2
December 18, 1991- Ganryujima
The second Ganryujima match would see a generational rival of Inoki’s face off against a fast rising member of the next. At the end of 1991, New Japan Pro-Wrestling was counting down to what would be the first January 4 Tokyo Dome event in company history. A major attraction of the event would have been a resumption of Antonio Inoki and Tiger Jeet Singh’s famous feud.
The rivalry between the two had seen plenty of blood shed in the early years of New Japan, but the foes hadn’t faced one another in over a decade. Inoki didn’t have plans to appeal to nostalgia however. Hiroshi Hase had been a standout in recent years, becoming a fast fan favourite, and Inoki directly appealed for a singles match with Hase while he was still an active wrestler.
A battle against Inoki in the Tokyo Dome was a prize rich enough to rival most championships, and NJPW elected to put a match with Inoki itself at stake between Inoki and Singh. To ensure there would be no debate or excuses as to the winner, the bout took place on Ganryujima once more, in a bout that would be heated in more ways than one. After a tense standoff between the combatants, Singh would set fire to the tent that served as his dressing room to send a message to Hase, and the bout would turn into a blood soaked battle that left Hase victorious by knockout.
3. Atsushi Onita vs Riki Choshu- Barbed Wire Exploding Death Match
July 30, 2000- Yokohama
Riki Choshu had planned on a peaceful retirement after his final match on January 4, 1998, but hadn’t planned on the presence of Atsushi Onita. The rogue path of Onita would blaze its trail into New Japan Pro-Wrestling one year after Choshu’s retirement, and with Kensuke Sasaki, then a protege of Choshu’s, first in his firing line, it was clear that Onita had a point to prove. Standing in stark contrast to the rest of NJPW, Onita brought his trademark weaponry, explosions and buckets of blood to the cerulean blue.
After considerable provocation and confrontations backstage, Riki Choshu would eventually take the bait and emerge from retirement for one night to rid NJPW of Onita. A man who would become famous for reneging on retirements would force his opponent to ironically renege on his own, but to ensure that there would be a decisive winner, Choshu would agree to the bout in Yokohama Arena in Onita’s kind of match.
The exploding barbed wire bout saw Choshu unleash the full extent of his wrath, in a match so dominant that referee Tiger Hattori waved it off less than eight minutes in. Onita, having scored barely any offence whatsoever would never appear for NJPW again, while the triumphant Choshu would return to more regular competition in 2001.
4. Togi Makabe vs Takashi Iizuka- Chain Match
November 8, 2009- Ryogoku
Togi Makabe had long struggled to break through in the pro-wrestling space, until returning from excursion to Puerto Rico would inspire him to take a detour into the hardcore world of Apache Pro-Wrestling. Makabe’s involvement in bloody battles would harden him even beyond the gruff exterior he’d always presented, and helped spark his time int he lead of the Great Bash Heel faction.
GBH didn’t care for the rules, nor the approval of the people. While a widely hated and feared group, the faction would play a big part in heating up NJPW audiences after a challenging middle part of the 2000s. GBH was a force for change then, including for its members, with men like Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii coming into theirown, and Takashi Iizuka transforming from dedicated martial artist to crazed monster. Iizuka’s betrayal of friend and partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan was blood soaked in itself, but when Iizuka and most of GBH turned on Makabe to form CHAOS, a quest for revenge would lead to a brutal chain match that spread all over Ryogoku Sumo Hall.
5. El Desperado vs Jon Moxley- No DQ
July 30, 2022- Nashville
To get us up to the present day, El Desperado and Jon Moxley’s first no disqualification meeting at Music City Mayhem in Nashville in 2022 makes our cut (in more ways than one). Desperado’s feud with Jun Kasai on TAKATaichi Mania cards escalated through this year, and prompted Moxley to walk on the wild side with Despe in this violent summer clash. From bamboo skewers to barbed wire boards and the classic guitar, Depserado and Moxley doled out incredible violence for 17 minutes and 20 seconds of brutality. Chasing a violent dragon, Desperado asked for more of that same motivation from Mox, prompting the AEW star to first tell his masked opposition to find a partner to team up against himself and the Notorious 187 Homicide. Then, when Kasai agreed to be in Despe’s corner, Moxley demanded a second, singles bout- this time under ‘Final Death’ rules. Whatever that entails, it won’t be pretty July 5.