On top of all the amazing live content on NJPW World, there are thousands of hours of classic historical matches. Every week, we take you through the World archives to relive some of the best moments in New Japan’s past.
April 27, 1990: The Three Musketeers Collide!
The mid 1980s was a time of great change in the wrestling landscape, as a large contingent of NJPW wrestlers defected to form a new organization in UWF. This turbulence created a huge opportunity for a new generation of stars, however. Masahiro Chono, Keiji Muto and Shinya Hashimoto quickly garnered fan attention, and would be labelled the Three Musketeers of the Fighting Spirit. All three would go separate ways in the late 1980s to garner experience in Europe, Canada and America, and on their return, it seemed like the 1990s would belong to them.
In fact, all three would have very prominent roles in early Tokyo Dome main events on their return. Hashimoto and Chono both were entered into a tournament to crown a new IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the first Tokyo Dome event in 1989. Hashimoto reached the final of that tournament, and it was a case of when, and not if, he would capture his first IWGP title.
When Muto returned to Japan from America, he would be propelled right to the main event. In February 1990, he and Chono would team up against Seiji Sakaguchi and Antonio Inoki, the last time the New Japan founders would team together. Muto and Chono fell short of victory that night, but the torch had been passed, and the two seemed set to be the future.
Hashimoto meanwhile had been taken under the wing of Masa Saito. Hashimoto’s brutal hard hitting style had earned him the nickname ‘the king of destruction’ and there was certainly no better alliance to be made for him stylistically with the ultra tough Saito. The two would grasp IWGP Tag Team Championship gold in September 1989.
Hashimoto then, was the first of the Musketeers to be a champion in New Japan, and was not about to let Muto and Chono gain all the headlines. That led to this hard fought battle in Tokyo Bay’s NK Hall, with a red hot crowd in attendance.
April 29 1996: A Return Bound in Blood
In the mid 1990s, Michinoku Pro was a name on many a wrestling fan’s mouth. Presenting regular events mainly in rural areas that didn’t see major promotions operate so often allowed fans to see fresh talent who presented a dynamic style of wrestling that smoothly blended Japanese wrestling and lucha libre. The Great Sasuke and TAKA Michinoku were among their revolutionary young junior heavyweight talent, and gaining eyes as a heavyweight was a young man by the name of Jinsei Shinzaki.
Shinzaki’s unique look quickly gained the attention of figures in the wrestling business domestic and overseas. Barely a year in the business, he was recruited by the WWF in America, where he wrestled under the name Hakushi. For Shinzaki this was a chance to rapidly gain experience at a high level, but he knew on leaving that he wanted to come back at the highest level in Japan; and to do so opposite the Great Muta.
This led to April 29 1996, and a clash of two mystical figures on the big stage of the Tokyo Dome. Shinzaki, as Hakushi, was the opposite of the same coin to Muta. Both had gained significant experience in America, Muta the demonic alter ego of Keiji Muto who had a dominant run in the NWA, and Hakushi as the white clad pure warrior spirit within Shinzaki, given protection by the Buddhist Heart sutra carefully painted on his body.
Shinzaki was impressive in the early going, but the dark arts of Muta would quickly overcome the returnee. Muta would piledrive Shinzaki through a table, and go on a near frighteningly relentless attack, going as far as to write the kanji for ‘death’ on the prayer stick Shinzaki had brought with him to the ring.
April 30 1991: The Very Top of the Super Juniors
On May 13, the Best of the Super Juniors sees the world’s best junior heavyweight wrestlers start to face off in a grueling month long battle for supremacy. It’s the 26th running of the BoSJ, but the tournament has roots that stretch further back. Its precursor ran from 1988 to 1993, and was called the Top of the Super Juniors.
The 1991 version was a far cry from the current day in terms of scale; only seven wrestlers participated in a single block league as opposed to 2019’s field of 20 wrestlers in two separate blocks. It was, nonetheless an impressive field. Owen Hart, Negro Casas, Pegasus Kid, Dave Finlay and Flying (later Too Cold) Scorpio made a strong batch of non Japanese contenders, with Norio Honaga and Jyushin Thunder Liger being domestic participants.
Liger and Honaga would make the finals of a tournament that not only would decide who was at the top of the division for the duration of the tour, but going forward. After setting the wrestling world on fire following his debut two years earlier, Liger sought to bring further attention to the junior heavyweight division, and when the Top of the Super Juniors was announced as coming back after a three year hiatus, Liger willingly vacated his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to be contested in the tournament.
12 year veteran Honaga was by no means a fan favourite. Aligning himself with the likes of Hiro Saito and Super Strong Machine, he was a prominent member of the despised Blond Outlaws faction, and was embroiled in a rivalry with Liger almost as soon as the masked man debuted. Here though, he is intent on out-wrestling the future legend on his own, and climbing to the top of his division.
May 1, 1994: Inoki’s Final Countdown in Fukuoka
Antonio Inoki’s in ring career spanned an incredible four decades from his debut in 1960 to retirement in 1998. There was no star bigger or brighter than New Japan’s founder, and as such Inoki’s retirement was no sudden occurrence and not to be taken lightly. Rather, Inoki would embark on his Final Countdown in 1994, a series of matches that took place over a four year span that would leave lasting memories and enduring messages to fans and wrestlers alike.
The countdown got off to a significant start on May 1, 1994 inside the Fukuoka Dome for the second ever Wrestling Dontaku event. Taking on the ultimate challenge of Inoki was the mysterious Great Muta, who was at definite ideological odds with his boss. Keiji Muto had entered the New Japan Dojo at age 21, in the midst of a turbulent period in New Japan. As many of his seniors found themselves in different promotions during a period of upheaval, Muto found himself the center of attention for his athleticism and good looks. Still in his early 20s, Muto found himself tagging with Inoki, who saw in the young man somebody who would assume his mantle, alongside other promising youngsters Shinya Hashimoto and Masahiro Chono.
Inoki would take a select few of his most promising young talents, including Muto, Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, and the man who we would come to know as Jyushin Thunder Liger, aside in 1987. He would encourage them to take additional martial arts training with the hope to create a group of all round fighters to take on the world’s best martial artists as well as pro wrestlers. For Muto, about to head to Florida on international excursion though, a different path awaited.
In America, under the tutelage of the mystical legend Great Kabuki, Muto would tap into an otherworldly alter ego by the name of the Great Muta. Muta moved with a supernatural blend of grace and speed, and like his new mentor, mastered the spewing of poisonous mist. When back in Japan, the two personae of Muto and Muta would hold fans in awe. Audiences sometimes got the bright, colourful, positive man announcers would call the ‘Sexy Tarzan’. When the occasion called for it, the terrifying, bloodletting crazed Muta.
Muto and Muta ushered in a new era for New Japan. He was the ultimate charismatic showman, but someone in staunch contrast to the plain talking, plain fighting martial artist Inoki was, and who Inoki had wanted Muto to be. The first Final Countdown match was a generational battle, but it was also an ideological one.
May 2, 2002: The Black, White and Green Dream Match
It was a match nobody in their right mind would ever have predicted in the 1990s, but on May 2 2002, the Tokyo Dome was in awe as two standard bearers for their styles and companies stood opposite one another in the ultimate of dream main events: Masahiro Chono versus Mitsuharu Misawa.
2002 was a year of major change in new Japan. At the start of the year, Keiji Muto and Satoshi Kojima were big names in a departure of wrestlers from New to All Japan. Chono would step up, not just as leader of Team 2000, but as a representative of NJPW at large. The black clad mega star had spent much of the 1990s as an antagonistic force heading up T2000 and nWo Japan before it. Yet his love for New Japan and willingness to fight for the company and the principles of Strong Style were still evident and burning strongly.
Misawa was fighting for a newer company. Having been a major star in All Japan through the 1990s, Misawa championed the dramatic King’s Road style of pro wrestling. In 2000, he would take that style with him to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. The upstart promotion was making major waves in the early part of the new millennium, and its stars were eager to show their worth against the established names of NJPW. It all led to the biggest of big fights, underneath the shell of the Big Egg.
May 3, 2013: Number One, With a Bullet
Wrestling Dontaku has its fair share of historical moments, but none changed the face of NJPW and the wrestling world at large as much as in 2013, when the Bullet Club was officially formed.
Prince Devitt had undergone a massive change at the start of the year. After a Junior versus Heavyweight Champion match at NJPW’s 41st Anniversary event saw Devitt fight with a chip on his shoulder against Hiroshi Tanahashi, he became determined to seek any means necessary for victory. When partner Ryusuke Taguchi resisted Devitt’s new tactics, he turned on his Apollo 55 brother and aligned himself with the gigantic Kiwi, Bad Luck Fale.
Meanwhile, Karl Anderson, who had shown his worth as a singles wrestler in 2012 and went as far as the finals of that year’s G1 Climax, had engaged in a rivalry of his own with Tanahashi. His was more sportsmanlike on the surface, driven by a desire to beat Tanahashi in order to advance his career to the next level.
Anderson and Tanahashi had a spirited and highly competitive match in Fukuoka, but it was Tanahashi coming out on top. Immediately post match, Devitt and Fale charged the ring, attacking the Ace, and giving the Machine Gun a choice that changed the business…