The events of Destruction in Kobe this past Sunday left us with a lot to unpack. 2019 added new moments to a historically significant event, all history you can explore for yourself with a subscription to NJPW World!
Here are matches from this week in history to check out:
September 21, 2014: The Ace and the Wrestler
In a parallel existence, they were fellow Musketeers, but in this one, in 2014, Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi were bitter foes. In the early 2000s, high hopes were pinned on Shibata, Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, the three being called the ‘new three musketeers of the fighting spirit’, primed as they were to take NJPW into the 2000s just as Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono and Keiji Muto had in the 1990s. Yet this was a trying time for many in New Japan, and in 2005, Shibata decided he wanted out.
Declaring that he wanted to forge his own path in professional wrestling, Shibata would appear in the likes of Pro Wrestling NOAH and the upstart Big Mouth Loud promotions, as well as fighting in MMA rings in the intervening years, before the G1 Climax 2012 final saw his shocking return. Appearing alongside Kazushi Sakuraba, Shibata made the famous proclamation that ‘I came to pick a fight,’ and people were lining up around the block to take Shibata up on that comment.
Tanahashi was chief among them. The Ace had carried the burden of NJPW through its darkest times to a period of revival, all while Shibata was gone. Moreover, Tanahashi had a lot of faith in his style of wrestling being what made him so successful at the top, and that Shibata’s merciless strike based approach didn’t belong in the modern age. It was a difference in philosophies that could only be resolved in the ring, and a quest for acceptance that could only be completed after a hard fought battle.
September 23 1995: First Shots of an All Out War
In the Japanese wrestling boom of the mid 1990s, few stories captured the imagination of audiences more fervently than the war between NJPW and UWFI. The Union of Wrestling Forces International was the third incarnation of the UWF promotion originally started after several wrestlers broke away from NJPW in the mid 1980s. One of the key figures then was a young wrestler by the name of Nobuhiko Takada, who had gone through the New Japan Dojo and went onto Canadian excursion in Calgary’s famous Stampede Wrestling before becoming a founding UWF member.
When the first UWF collapsed, Takada joined many of his fellow wrestlers in returning to NJPW and having some success, including becoming the second IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. In 1988 however, he would leave again, forming the second generation of the UWF; when that company too dissolved, splitting into several different promotions, Takada would become the face of UWFI.
Takada would frequently claim that he was the toughest professional wrestler alive, and could easily handle the likes of Masahiro Chono in New Japan or Mitsuharu Misawa in All Japan. It sparked curiosity from fans all over Japan, about the entireity of UWFI; just how would the two companies rosters fare opposite one another?
The Yokohama Arena was the first to find out, as a heated tag bout saw NJPW and UWFI teams face off. In the New Japan corner, a vanguard of NJPW Strong Style, Riki Choshu, alongside one of its hottest young disciples: Yuji Nagata, who had only recently lost the Young Lion Cup to Manabu Nakanishi who had headed on excursion to the US.
Opposite them from UWFI was Yoji Ando and Tatsuo Nakano. Both men had gotten their starts in the original UWF, and had stayed loyal to senpai Takada through the NJPW return (where both participated in the 1987 Young Lion Cup) and then on to the second UWF and UWFI.
Truly this was a fascinating clash of two different takes on the aggressive martial artistry behind Strong Style, and it proved to be the first shot in a war that quickly headed to a sold out Tokyo Dome.
September 25 1980: Western Lariat, Eastern Enzui
Ask anybody familiar with Japanese pro wrestling in the 1980s who the biggest names of the decade from Japan and abroad were, and the top answers in each category will undoubtedly be Antonio Inoki and Stan Hansen. Hansen had arrived in New Japan in 1977, and for the rest of the decade had an on-again-off-again rivalry with Inoki that shifted into high gear as the new decade began.
On February 10, Hansen shocked all of NJPW when he delivered a Western Lariat from the apron that led to a countout victory over NWF Champion Inoki. Under the championship rules, the belt did change hands on a countout, meaning Hansen had deposed the founder and ace of NJPW to become the new heavyweight champion. Two months later, Inoki would seize the gold back, but Hansen would state that he knew Inoki could be beaten, and from here, the two would wrestle six more times in 1980. Through non-title, MSG Series and then another NWF Championship match just two weeks before this Hiroshima meeting, disqualifications and double countouts meant the score never truly felt settled. Now Inoki and Hansen would draw a line under their rivalry; for another year at least.
September 27, 2015: Bad Naito for Shibata in Kobe
At Kobe World Hall in 2014, Katsuyori Shibata’s match with Hiroshi Tanahashi saw him finally accepted by the Ace, and thus the establishment of New Japan Pro Wrestling after a long exile. One year later, Shibata was willing to stand and fight for what New Japan stood for, and everything Tetsuya Naito stood against.
After feeling that his career had stalled, Naito had headed on self imposed excursion to Mexico, and joined Los Ingobernables in May. On his return, the Stardust Genius had become ungovernable, marching to the beat of his own drum, with no regard for what his partners, opponents or fans felt.
To the straight ahead, no-nonsense Shibata, the new nihilistic Naito’s very existence was an insult. During the G1 Climax, a Penalty Kick delivered somewhat of a message to El Ingobernable, but at Destruction in Kobe, Naito sought to further poke the bear, (or the Wrestler in fact), all the while passing hints that he may be joined by a ‘pareja’ soon enough.