On January 4 1998, nWo Japan’s Keiji Muto tried to wrest gold and power from NJPW’s Kensuke Sasaki
<–Riki Choshu’s last drive for glory nWo Civil War–>
1998 would become most strongly remembered for the end of two eras, as both Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu would end their active in ring careers in the Tokyo Dome this year. While Inoki’s retirement was set for April, Choshu would withdraw from the ring on January 4 with an incredible gauntlet of five matches against opponents he had high hopes for in the future; Kazuyuki Fujita, Yutaka Yoshie, Jyushin Thunder Liger, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Takashi Iizuka.
Choshu would win four of the five bouts in the gauntlet, and left Tokyo Dome with head and arm raised high, but although he would address the crowd at the end of Wrestling World ’98, the in-ring main event was between Kensuke Sasaki and Keiji Muto.
Just as it had taken the American wrestling world by storm, the New World Order took over in Japan in 1997. With Masahiro Chono at its helm, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Hiro Saito would run roughshod over their competition, by fair means, or most often, foul. With Satoshi Kojima also joining the group, a lot of speculation in 1997 would surround Keiji Muto. His demonic alter-ego the Great Muta did align himself with nWo Japan, but for a long time, Keiji Muto himself fought on the side of NJPW against the rebellious black clad group.
When Muto did join nWo, his actions couldn’t be forgiven by Kensuke Sasaki. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion had finally ended Shinya Hashimoto’s seemingly unstoppable reign, and now stood atop of the mountain, representing the establishment that his retiring mentor Riki Choshu had helped build. This main event battle was deeply intense, and deeply personal.
The previous year’s January 4 card had seen Sasaki and Muto’s alter ego’s of the Great Muta and Power Warrior do wild and violent battle in the Dome with chairs and tables, this bout was much more clinical, both men seeking to demonstrate superiority on the canvas. It would be Muto gaining the upper hand with an assault on the base of Sasaki, but the will to win of Sasaki could not be denied. The big man refused to lose, delivering a pair of Northern Lights Bombs to pick up victory for the second straight year in the Tokyo Dome; and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship along with it.
Truly it was nWo versus the World in 1998, and Shiro Koshinaka’s battle with Masahiro Chono exemplified the point. The veteran Koshinaka had been well used to breaking down doors between promotions, as well as drinking in the boos should the situation depend on it, as he formed a key part of the Heisei Ishingun stable in the early part of the 1990s. Now Koshinaka sought to revive the group by targeting the key figure in the biggest of all factions, but a Kenka kick saw to it that nWo Japan was 1-1 in key main event matches on the night.
While fans bade farewell for now to Riki Choshu on the night, in April it would be Antonio Inoki who wrestled his last official match in the cerulean. As influential as Inoki was on professional wrestling, he was also a pioneer in the field of mixed martial arts, and Shinya Hashimoto’s match with Dennis Lane from the K-1 world. A very brief match ended short of the two minute mark when a takedown from Hashimoto saw Lane roll his ankle; a moment that would be significantly surpassed in terms of controversy by hashimoto7s bout one year later.