Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata had a deeply personal battle January 4 2006
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On January 4 2005, Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi met in the main event at the Tokyo Dome. Two thirds of the so-called ‘New Three Musketeers of the Fighting Spirit’ collided in the ring, but it was the third of this triumverate that stole headlines in early 2005.
Katsuyori Shibata would shockingly leave NJPW in order to ‘seek his own path’ in professional wrestling and MMA, helping form a new promotion along with Kazunari Murakami by the name of Big Mouth Loud. Murakami and Shibata would both make a brief return to an NJPW ring on January 4 2006, with Shibata engaged in a personal war with Tanahashi.
As Tanahashi stayed fiercely devoted to NJPW’s cause, he would rage against Shibata’s decision to leave his home in New Japan. The future Ace would attempt to teach Shibata a lesson in loyalty, but the Wrestler had some harsh lessons of his own to teach.
While Tanahashi would struggle opposite Shibata, Yuji Nagata would once again defend NJPW’s honour against Murakami, with brutal efficacy. Just as with Kensuke Sasaki two years earlier, Nagata would bloody Murakami before winning with an emphatic backdrop suplex. The subtext was one of Nagata continuing to lead the way for New Japan even as Tanahashi was in the ascendancy, and inevitably the two generations would clash in due time.
While Brock lesnar successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura in the main event of the evening, becoming the last non-Japanese wrestler to be successful in such a spot, the IWGP Tag Team Championships presented a similar feel of NJPW being defended against invading forces. Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan had defeated Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi to lift the belts for the fifth and final time in October of 2005, and were now defending for the first time against Shiro Koshinaka and Takao Omori, who was then representing Zero One. The match didn’t take long to become chaotic, with Tenzan and Omori in particular brawling outside, while Chono retained his composure to blast a familiar opponent in Koshinaka with a Kenka Kick for the decisive three.
The aforementioned Brock Lesnar had shocked on his Japanese debut in the Tokyo Dome by instantly snapping up the IWGP Heavyweight title in October. January 4 2006 saw another imposing international force with WWE credentials make his NJPW debut in Giant Bernard. Bernard had been a big heater for AJPW’s Voodoo Murders group through 2005, but jumped to New Japan to pursue Lesnar. In his way beforehand though was NJPW’s resident monster, Manabu Nakanishi.