Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: nWo Civil War 【WK18】

Keiji Muto and Scott Norton met in an all nWo main event in 1999.


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nWo Japan’s dominance continued to run through 1998. While Kensuke Sasaki would rebuff Keiji Muto’s challenge on January 4, 1998, it was only a matter of time before nWo seized IWGP Heavyweight gold, and that time came in the summer, when Masahiro Chono defeated champion Tatsumi Fujinami to lift the title for the one and only time. 

Yet Chono’s reign would be cut short as neck injuries mounted, and he was forced to take time away from the ring to recover. A tournament was held to determine a new IWGP champion, a tournament that Scott Norton defied expectation to win. Norton’s efforts and accomplishments in NJPW through the 1990s were exemplary, but few expected him to come out on top of the tournament and in so doing, become the top ranked member of the New World Order. 

Norton’s win had made him the first non-Japanese IWGP champion in seven years, and meant he became the first non-Japanese to ever headline on January 4 in the Tokyo Dome. Opposite him was the man who believed himself nWo Japan’s leader in Chono’s wake, Keiji Muto. 

An all nWo main event ensued, with Chono on guest commentary ringside. After Muto scored victory, he would embrace his teammate Norton before saying this was a match that proved nWo superiority, but Chono, though present on commentary for the main event, was notably absent from the in-ring celebration; a sign perhaps of things to come. 

The nWo would hold both the singles and tag heavyweight gold by the end of the night. Chono’s stoic visage would watch on as his ChoTen partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan would team with Satoshi Kojima to take the belts from Heisei Ishingun. Shiro Koshinaka would rally from his defeat to Chono one year prior in the Dome, and one time foe Genichiro Tenryu would join the master of the hip attack in march. On a hot streak, the two would take the IWGP Tag Team Championships from ChoTen in June 1998, and fielded a pair of challenges from nWo combinations through the summer. 

Now looking to head to V3, it was Kojima and Tenzan in their path. The seemingly unstoppable Keiji Muto had won the Super Grade Tag League alongside Tenzan in December, but with the team already having dropped one challenge to Tenryu and Koshinaka, and with Muto challenging Norton for the singles gold, it would be Kojima’s Noge Dojo stablemate Tenzan taking his place. With a big diving headbutt to Koshinaka, Tenzan secured the first of what would become six IWGP Tag team Championship reigns for TenCozy.

The twin IWGP Championship matches topped a card that was also themed around NJPW stars facing the fighters of UFO, a new mixed martial arts project headed by Antonio Inoki in the wake of his retirement from in-ring competition the year before. Don Frye, who had the honour of Inoki’s last match in April 1998, would face Brian Johnston, Yuji Nagata took on Dave Beneteau, and most controversially, Shinya Hashimoto faced judoka Naoya Ogawa in a match that turned into a a fight that altered the career of Hashimoto and changed the face of NJPW in the immediate years to come. 

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