The Week That Was in NJPW World History (April 20-26)

There are thousands of hours of great NJPW matches and moments to relive any time you like for less than 1000 Yen per month on NJPW World. Every week, we’re taking you back through wrestling history to look at some of the greatest moments accessible at your fingertips.

April 21, 1982: A clash of tigers!

Tiger Mask was a cultural phenomenon. Originally a manga that was converted to a 1969 anime, and remade in the 1970s, it was a unique thrill to see the animated hero come to real life in the ring in 1981. More thrilling still was that Tiger Mask was every bit the superhuman hero in ring that he was in the comic book pages. The innovative style Tiger Mask presented earned him legions of young fans that were rapt at his battles through 1981 and 1982 against a parade of different enemies, many coming from Mexican rings, as lucha libre’s finest sought to test their mettle against Tiger Mask’s hybrid Japanese and lucha style. 

Tiger Mask’s other significant early rivals came from the UK. The masked man had made his debut opposite Dynamite Kid, and on New Year’s Day 1982, captured the vacant WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship by defeating the late junior heavyweight innovator. He was heading into his sixth defence in April, a charity bout for worldwide refugees. His opponent would be the mysterious Black Tiger. 

Black Tiger was Tiger Mask’s manga nemesis, now made flesh in a New Japan ring. While his true identity was secret, rumours would spread about his British origins, and Black Tiger seemed to be a foreboding mix of UK, Mexican and Japanese wrestling. The ensuing wars these two had would set NJPW alight, right from this controversial open. A non-finish and subsequent injury to Tiger Mask would lead to Tiger’s title being vacated.

Relive the match here!

April 23 1988: The Dragon Seeks to Slay the Beast!

Big Van Vader was the ultimate ringer for Masa Saito and the Takeshi Puroresu Gundan. Arriving in the last NJPW event of 1987, Vader stormed into Korakuen Hall and did the unthinkable by pinning Antonio Inoki, after Inoki had already been through a grueling tag bout. Vader and the TPG actions that night got the riled up Ryogoku crowd so incensed that a near riot ensued. 

Tensions showed no signs of easing even in the spring. Vader and Saito started 1988 on a tear, as Saito was adamant that his charge Vader was rightful IWGP Heavyweight Champion, not Inoki. In Onoyama, both were intent on destroying Inoki and his partner Tatsumi Fujinami. Referee Tiger Hattori was tossed aside and the match thrown out as Vader continued an assault on Inoki, as Saito held down Fujinami.

Distraught at being unable to adequately defend Inoki, Fujinami would demand that the IWGP Champion and NJPW founder grant him a singles match with the imposing Vader. To demonstrate his resolve, Fujinami went as far as grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting his own hair, so dedicated he was to the idea of facing the monster. 

Relive the moment here!

April 24, 1989: Liger’s legendary debut!

Earlier this week, Jyushin Thunder Liger marked his 30th anniversary in NJPW by getting engaged in a wild fight with Minoru Suzuki. Liger hasn’t been backing down from fights for over three decades, and he proved that from day one.

The site for Liger’s debut was the very first pro wrestling event to ever be held in the Tokyo Dome. His opponent? Kuniaki Kobayashi. Kobayashi had already been engaged in a fierce rivalry with Tiger Mask earlier in the decade. A vicious antagonist, he was intent on removing Tiger’s mask and exposing the man who claimed to be a comic book and anime hero come to life. While he never accomplished that particular mission, his hate was transposed onto Liger, whose debut as a star ripped straight from the Go Nagai animated series was heavily hyped. 

Liger would come out on top of the match, but Kobayashi would attempt to make an emphatic statement at the young superstar’s expense post match.

Relive the match here!

April 26 1974: NJPW’s Founding Fathers Collide!

In the Showa era of Japanese professional wrestling from its post war beginnings in Japan, the vast majority of matches were contended between a Japanese competitor taking on a wrestler from overseas, in a bid to prove Japan’s superiority within the squared circle. This made stars of men like Rikidozan or Antonio Inoki, but also raised a lot of questions. Who was really the toughest Japanese wrestler? 

NJPW sought to answer this question in 1974 with the inauguration of the World League. This league format put wrestlers in two sequential blocks. The first would be a round robin series of matches where Japanese and non-Japanese wrestlers would compete exclusively against one another. Then the top points scorers would move on to wrestle one another regardless of nationality. In a roundabout sense, this was a progenitor of the modern G1 Climax, with a similar amount of intrigue into singles matches that would otherwise go unseen.

One such encounter was between NJPW founders Seiji Sakaguchi and Antonio Inoki. In final block action here, Sakaguchi and Inoki had a lot of pride as well as key points at stake. Before the bell, Karl Krupp sought to avenge a disqualification loss in the preliminary block by assaulting Sakaguchi but he was turned away and the match began. While Inoki got the upper hand on Sakaguchi with a Figure Four leglock, Sakaguchi held on until the time limit bell. 

Relive the match here!