Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: A Legendary Rivalry Begins 【WK18】

Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi’s first ever singles match headlined January 4 2005

<– 2004: Shinsuke Nakamura goes for double gold      2006: Ace tries to shut Big Mouth Loud–>

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As NJPW turned a corner into the second half of the 2000s, much talk was made of the ‘New Three Musketeers of the Fighting Spirit’. As Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto had led NJPW through the 1990s, it was thought that Shinsuke Nakamura, Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi would do the same in the new millennium.

As it happened, Shibata would take his own path in pro-wrestling history, but Nakamura and Tanahashi very much lived up to their early billing, albeit taking different routes. Tanahashi was NJPW Dojo hewn, and even in the most difficult of circumstances for his promotion, loyal to a fault. Tanahashi didn’t go on international excursion, instead playing for the home town throughout his career, committed to bring mainstream glory to New Japan as he steadily worked his way up the card.

Shinsuke Nakamura meanwhile was dubbed the ‘Supernova’ when he started in ring, and with good reason. Just a year and three months into his pro career, and at age just 23, he became the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history. Yet his 2004 was a trying one, as he relinquished gold due to injury, and then struggled in vain to win his IWGP title back. 

As Nakamura struggled to gain a footing either in the record books, or in the eyes of fan acceptance, he formed a tag team with Tanahashi, and a successful one at that. Tanahashi and Nakamura won IWGP Tag Team gold, and finally went on excursion together, to Mexico, in 2004. Yet the fans knew that these two were destined for superstardom, and wanted to find out who the next true ace was. 

That time came on January 4, 2005 in the first of what would be many singles matches between the two over a decade long rivalry. At stake was Tanahashi’s IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship, the title designed to celebrate a new youthful direction for NJPW being right at the top of the card at the Tokyo Dome as an example of how important it was for these men to attack for the next generation. That they did.

Leading the contemporary generation was Hiroyoshi Tenzan as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. With a title match set against AJPW Triple Crown Champion Satoshi Kojima mere weeks after Tokon Matsuri, Tenzan’s title was not on the line at Wrestling World, making for the last January 4 not to have the top prize in professional wrestling defended. Instead, a three way generational clash would play out over the ‘Fighting Spirit Cup’; what was dubbed a ‘three way dogfight’ between Tenzan, Riki Choshu and Masahiro Chono played out over playoff matches each with 15 minute time limits not unlike the NJPW World TV Championship to be decided at Wrestle Kingdom 17; the difference was that the dogfight would continue until somebody won two straight falls.

As Choshu and Chono butted heads on the way into the Tokyo Dome, Choshu ignored a random drawing that would have seen Chono start with Tenzan. A lariat and Scorpion Deathlock started the match for Choshu, with the match order changed on the fly, but it was not to the legend’s benefit. A Shining Kenka kick on Tenzan was followed by an STS for Chono on Tenzan, giving the leader of the New Japan Black faction the victory.

Tenzan’s Triple Crown opponent to be, Satoshi Kojima would be representing All Japan against one of his Third Generation contemporaries. Osamu Nishimura was a gifted technical wrestler and frequent partner and opponent of Kojima’s through the years. As Kojima proudly embraced his outsider status, Nishimura stepped up to defend New Japan honour against the man with the strongest arm. Nishimura would taste that arm several times over the course of the match; though he countered a big lariat into a ground cobra for a very near two, a final blow would see Kojima victorious on the night.

On the subject of unique bouts, also a part of the Wrestling World card was the first and only ever ‘Ultimate Royal’ match. Taking New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s flirtations and battles with mixed martial artists up another notch, the bout saw UFC and Pancrase alum Ron Waterman join Masayuki Naruse, Manabu Nakanishi, Toru Yano, sumo star Dolgorsuren Sumiyabazar, Blue Wolf and Yuji Nagata. The eight entrants were paired in effectively a single elimination match with every bout taking place simultaneously; a unique encounter that perhaps put seeds in Toru Yano’s mind for his later stints with the KOPW trophy.

Watch Wrestling World 2005 here!