Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: A Year in the making 【WK18】

January 4 1994 saw a dream main event a year in the making.

<–WAR vs NJPW                     Ultimate Dynamism–>

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The third January 4 Tokyo Dome card came as a direct sequel to the main event before it, headlined by a match 12 months in the making between Genichiro Tenryu and Antonio Inoki. Inoki had thrown down the challenge to Tenryu after his January 4 1993 defeat of Riki Choshu, with the message being one of respect, but also defiance; Tenryu would comment in later years that he felt Inoki was ‘testing’ him both as a wrestler and leader of the WAR promotion.

1993 had seen strong performances from his WAR charges, and now Tenryu had to test himself in the ring against an Inoki who was beginning his ‘final countdown’ to a 1998 retirement. Tenryu had a chance not only to prove himself against the ultimate challenge, but to make history as the only Japanese wrestler to garner pinfall victories over both Inoki and Giant Baba. His will to win would see Tenryu stand after being choked out by Inoki in the ropes in the middle of the bout; a dramatic rise to his feet as fans and the corners of both competitors pleaded with referee Tiger Hattori not to stop the contest.

When the match did indeed continue, it was as if both men truly embodied the Fighting Spirit itself. A hard punch to the jaw by Inoki was shrugged off by Tenryu who landed a crushing enzuigiri for just two, then a kick to the face for another two. A powerslam following for yet another kickout, it appeared as if nothing could beat Inoki, but a powerbomb did, and Tenryu made professional wrestling history.

The immense nature of this main event would see the IWGP Heavyweight Championship defended in match ten of the bumper 11 match card, as Shinya Hashimoto defended against Masahiro Chono. After Chono wrestled Great Muta the prior year, this was another collision of Three Musketeers, as Hashimoto sought to tightened his vice grip on the IWGP gold. Hashimoto’s first reign had begun back in September as he ended the run of the Great Muta, and was followed with a defence against Keiji Muto sans face paint three months later. 

After Hashimoto defended once again against Power Warrior, with two title matches in three days, Chono would attempt to do what Muto couldn’t in the Tokyo Dome. Facing the ‘King of Destruction’, Chono had to fight fire with fire, and would bloody Hashimoto’s mouth, before trying to take away the champion’s base; a task far easier said than done. In the end, Hashimoto would have just enough to unleash a vertical drop brainbuster and a running DDT to retain his title. 

The main event of the first Tokyo Dome January 4 card two years earlier had seen Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami collide in a battle of two men well familiar with one another. Third from the top in ’94 was another battle of combatants with a long history, as Choshu took on Yoshiaki Fujiwara. It wasn’t long into first generation Young Lion Choshu’s post excursion career that he first faced Fujiwara in 1977. An on again off again feud would see plenty of memorable moments, including a controversial bloody attack in Sapporo that was not long before Fujiwara left NJPW to be a part of the original UWF. Fujiwara would also be a part of the promotion’s second incarnation before forming his own PWFG group; as that transitioned into Pancrase in the early 1990s, Fujiwara returned to NJPW, and soon reunited with his old rival.

Kicking off 1994 would be what was their first singles meeting in six years, and Choshu’s first match after a six month absence due to injury. The two men’s competitive nature was clear in a short intense bout, and one that saw Fujiwara largely outclass the ring rusty Choshu with submission holds. Yet the Riki lariat was too tough to beat, and after four crunching blows, he was victorious in his return. 

As for Choshu’s eternal rival Fujinami? He was in another high profile match on the card opposite one Hulk Hogan. Hogan and Fujinami had tangled many a time over the 1980s, most recently before this bout being over the WWF Championship in June of 1985. Eight years later, and Hogan would controversially state that the WWF gold was ‘but a trinket’ compared to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship as he rejoined competition int he cerulean blue. 1993 saw him successful in matches against and alongside the Great Muta/Keiji Muto before tangling with a familiar foe who had scored wins in tag team competition in the past, but had never beaten the Hulkster one on one. 

Fujinami had come off his own hot 1993, with a G1 Climax winning showing- the first man other than Masahiro Chono to win the Tournament of Tournaments. In the match itself, Hogan showed his grappling and striking worth, as he took the Dragon to the mat and was able to land an Ax Bomber that sent Fujinami spilling to the ramp. Yet Fujinami had the advantage for the bulk of the bout, and opened Hogan’s stance up for leg kicks, then getting a sleeper on Hogan. Still, as countless opponents on both sides of the Pacific knew only too well, Hogan was near impossible to keep down. An Ax Bomber in the corner was followed by a second dead center, and Hogan was victorious.