Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: NJPW takes on UWFI 【WK18】

Influential interpromotional war steals headlines on January 4 1996

<– Ultimate Dynamism                      Riki Choshu’s last drive for glory–>

Wrestle Kingdom 18 in Tokyo Dome Live and in English on January 4 2024

International tickets on sale NOW for Wrestle Kingdom!


1996 saw January 4’s big Tokyo Dome event named Wrestling World for the first time, a nomenclature that would stay with the year opening event until 2004. A new era was beginning for NJPW in the Tokyo Dome, and a new surge in popularity was bubbling around a hot rivalry between two separate companies. 

The original UWF was created when a group of talent left NJPW in 1982. Comprising a range of talented wrestlers, from veterans like Yoshiaki Fujiwara down to young prospects like Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada, the UWF presented a new style of heavy strike and submission based wrestling. With a hot tempers and differences at play in the original promotion’s fall, the UWF faction would return to NJPW in 1984, but didn’t receive an entirely warm reception. After several years of memorable action and violent disagreement, a second UWF separated itself from New Japan and was born in 1989. 

That version of the group would eventually split into three separate entities, led by Maeda, Fujiwara and in the case of the Union of Wrestling Forces International, Takada. Takada belived himself to be the toughest individual in the emerging combat sports world; with he and his compatriots willing to pick fights with anyone and everyone, he eventually picked a fight with the biggest promotion in the country. 

Anticipation was at a fever pitch to see whether Takada could put his money where his mouth was. The resulting October 1995 All Out War event sold out the Tokyo Dome, and UWFI picked up some big victories over New Japan, but in the main event of the evening, Keiji Muto managed to outdo Takada to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. 

Yet with fighting spirit imbued in the NJPW Dojo and still burning away from his original home, Takada and UWFI demanded a rematch. Wrestling World ’96 saw Muto/Takada 2 and a philosophical clash. Nobuhiko Takada saw himself as a fighter, a martial artist with an emphasis on the martial. Keiji Muto felt he was the model of a professional wrestler in the 1990s; a martial artist with an emphasis on the art, and the heart within.

Takada would be victorious via submission after an intense affair. Proving his message right as the toughest in combat sports, he was on top of the world- until he came face to face with the King of Destruction. Shinya Hashimoto would challenge Takada immediately after the match, and the subsequent title bout would begin a dominant era for the former champion’s fellow Musketeer.

Hashimoto had earned that right to challenge in the semi main event, with a win over Kazuo Yamazaki. Much like Takada, Yamazaki had come from the NJPW Dojo, three years Hashimoto’s senior having been part of the class of ’81. He went on to be a part of the first two UWF generations, but as UWFI and NJPW went to war, he would go back to full time NJPW competition after a seven year absence in 1995. Hashimoto was a big obstacle to be fully welcomed back into the fold, and Yamazaki fought as such, viciously assaulting the former champion’s arm with stinging kicks.   

The King of Destruction was almost destroyed himself by Yamazaki’s strikes, but when he decided enough was enough, all the educated feet in the world couldn’t help him. An overhead blow and brainbuster, and it was lights out for Yamazaki, but the two would meet again, most notably in the 1998 G1 final that was a career highlight or both men.


For Riki Choshu, whose in ring fury and backstage composure made him a pre-Internet meme in Japan when UWFI and NJPW first met in the Tokyo Dome, it was a short night against rising youngster Masahito Kakihara. Kakihara would come at Choshu with kicks, and had the Riki Lariat scouted as he slid out the way, but he didn’t see a backdrop suplex coming, and the dreaded Lariat would follow as a prelude to the Scorpion Deathlock. Choshu would have a Cinderella run to the G1 trophy later in the year, while Kakihara woud have an inspiring victory over cancer later in his career, returning to the ring for the pre-Wrestle Kingdom New Japan Ranbo in 2018. 

Heavily promoted alongside the NJPW vs UWFI battles was Antonio Inoki’s clash with Big Van Vader. Inoki had begun his long ‘Final Countdown’ to eventual 1998 retirement two years earlier; a series of battles against legendary rivals from his past. Vader posed massive opposition. Back in 1987, Vader made his NJPW debut as the ringer for the devious Takeshi Puroresu Gundan, attacking Inoki and pinning the legend to end the final event of the year, much to the fury of the Ryogoku crowd. Discounting a disqualification win for Inoki in 1988, he and Vader were dead even, 1-1-1 heading into this bout eight years after their prior meeting. The powerful Vader was not about to go lightly on the veteran on the huge Tokyo Dome stage, and the resulting match was a classic that proved to be the favourite of many a professional wrestler to come, including Hiroshi Tanahashi. 

<– Ultimate Dynamism                      Riki Choshu’s last drive for glory–>