We’re reaching the peak of summer heat, and the peak of summer action as the G1 rounds a corner into the home stretch toward the Budokan for next week’s finals. While staying cool is a top priority, hot action in the NJPW World archives is available on a day in day out basis whatever the season.
July 27, 1978: Ryuma title win a no Go
After the G1 Climax wraps up in the Nippon Budokan on August 12, the next tournament on the calendar will be Super J-Cup 2019. Though his achievements as a heavyweight are more often remembered, it’s important to remember Tatsumi Fujinami’s contributions to junior heavyweight wrestling.
It was as a junior heavyweight that Fujinami first found his popularity, with ‘dragon fever’ sweeping the wrestling landscape in the late 1970s. In January 1978, Fujinami picked up his first championship, the WWWF’s Junior Heavyweight title, in Madison Square Garden (he would pick up the three count over Jose Estrada, incidentally, by innovating the Dragon Suplex). From there, but for a two day spell, he would hold the title all the way until the autumn of 1981.
He was a fighting champion, too. He already had defences in Los Angeles and Mexico scheduled in August should he beat a historically significant challenger in Ryuma Go on this July night.
This title match in the Budokan represented the first all Japanese WWWF title match in history. In the 1970s where matches often pit Japanese stars against the best from around the world, a singles bout between two Japanese wrestlers was rare, and in this case, fans were extra curious. Go was a fast rising star himself, but not in New Japan. Rather, he represented the IWE promotion, a group that formed and found popularity in the 1960s and 70s before eventually folding in 1981.
Go would fall short in this bout, losing to a Fujinami German suplex, but The Dragon was impressed enough to grant a rematch down the line. When that night finally came the next October, Go would be successful; indeed the two days that Fujinami didn’t hold the WWWF Junior Heavyweight title were accounted for by the popular and innovative Ryuma Go.
July 28 2014: hot Sendai Naito
Tetsuya Naito was not in the best of mindsets when he headed into Sendai Sun Plaza hall on July 28 2014. Two years earlier, it was during a match with Rush in this building that he injured his right knee, an injury that would eventually see him having to miss action for close to a year.
When Naito did come back, he was able to win the G1 Climax in 2013, but that win would only spark more bad memories for Naito, of losing the main event spot in the Tokyo Dome to a fan vote, losing his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match to Kazuchika Okada, and being rejected by large portions of the audience, especially in Osaka.
During G1 Climax 24 then, he had the potential to right some wrongs. In front of the Sendai crowd he wanted closure on the frustrating setback of his knee injury, and to prove he could beat Okada, a man he was once a decided senpai to, but who had racked up considerably more achievements since returning from excursion in Naito’s annus horribilis of 2012.
July 29 1988: All for one, one for all
NJPW’s 47 year history spans several generations of fandom, and each generation has its iconic figures. In the beginning, there was Inoki and Sakaguchi, through to Choshu and Fujinami. Today, Okada, Ibushi, Naito. The future, no doubt, belongs to those starting their Young Lion journeys in 2019 New Japan rings.
For those whose fandom emerged in the 1990s, however, three names eclipse all others: Hashimoto, Chono, Muto. The Three Musketeers of Fighting Spirit.
Three rising stars who arrived in the New Japan Dojo within days of one another, each had unique appeal and undeniable potential. Masahiro Chono was a masterful technician, Shinya Hashimoto a powerful bruiser and Keiji Muto a flashy high flier. Their usual Young Lion journey was accelerated out of necessity; when several wrestlers departed NJPW for other promotions in 1984, these three Dojo prospects were put in bigger matches in bigger buildings than those at their career stage normally would be. They acquitted themselves impressively, and all would be sent on excursions to meet high booking demand in the Americas and Europe.
On July 2 1988, the three found themselves in the same place; not Japan but Puerto Rico. It was there that they teamed for the first time, and formed the Three musketeers unit. On their return to Japan late in the month, they would have their first bout against three members of the NJPW establishment: Tatsumi Fujinami, Shiro Koshinaka and Kengo Kimura.
July 30, 2000: Riki Choshu’s explosive return
On January 4, 1998, Riki Choshu called an end to his active wrestling career in the Tokyo Dome. After five matches and an emotional speech at Final Power Hall, Choshu seemed set, with no regrets, to take a step back from the ring and to help New Japan from behind the curtain.
Those plans all changed when Atsushi Onita arrived. Originally a promising junior heavyweight in the All Japan Pro Wrestling ranks, Onita would leave AJPW and walk to the beat of his own, unique drum. Primarily for FMW, he would take part in some innovative, and extremely violent matches. When he himself retired briefly from the ring in FMW, he would eventually appear as an uninvuited freelancer in NJPW.
Onita considered himself as the standard bearer of ‘jado (heretic) pro wrestling’. That was illustrative not just of his in ring style, but attitude toward the establishment of the wrestling world, an establishment that Choshu represented. On Januiary 4 1999 at Wrestling World, Onita faced Kensuke Sasaki in a match that ended in disqualification with a fireball flung in Sasaki’s face; that fire was thrown literally at Sasaki, but figuratively at his mentor Choshu.
When Choshu eventually could be needled no more, a match was made in Yokohama Arena that would see him come out of retirment to face Onita. It would be no ordinary bout however, but an Onita speciality; a no rope, barbed wire electrified deathmatch. Tensions were high as Onita continued to taunt at Choshu, even invading a pre-match training session to make sure Choshu still had the resolve to go through with the bout. The action was, as expected, explosive.
August 1, 1998: King of destructive dream matches
One of the most thrilling aspects of the G1 is potential for dream matches. This year alone there are several bouts that we might not normally see because of lines drawn by weight class (as in Ospreay and Takagi’s matches), factional (Suzuki Gun and LIJ head to heads) and even promotional and international borders (try suggesting the idea of Jon Moxley or KENTA in the G1 even one short year ago, and see how many laughs you get). Sometimes these are first time bouts, and sometimes they are fierce opponents brought back together after years apart, as in 1998, when Shinya Hashimoto and Genichiro Tenryu faced off in their first singles match in four years.
Tenryu and Hashimoto’s history stretched back to 1993. Back then, Tenryu’s promotion WAR was pitting itself against the top stars of NJPW, and the interpromotional feud saw Tenryu participate in that year’s G1, too, defeating Hashimoto in Ryogoku. Half a decade on, and Tenryu was wrestling more extensively in NJPW rings, a trend that would eventually see him rise through the ranks to the status of IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
As far as the 1998 G1 was concerned though, this was Hashimoto’s year. In the must win single elimination format of the tournament that year, there was to be no quarter given, and Hashimoto and Tenryu were never going to hold back.