The week that was in NJPW World history [August 16-21]

From KOPW 2020 polls to the finals of the first ever New Japan Cup USA, there’s a lot happening this week that will become interesting historical notes for years to come, all joining the conclusion of a classic feud, a generational clash, and more tournament action this week in history!


August 16, 2015: A Grade One Rivalry Ends

As NJPW World brought the year’s greatest wrestling tournament to a global audience,  G1 Climax 25 was the most watched G1 up to that point in history. The world witnessed a classic tournament, a classic main event, and a rivalry that had continued for over a decade. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura had taken wildly different paths to the top in NJPW. Young upstart Nakamura would win his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship at a record 23 years of age and only one year and three months into his career, while it would take the Ace almost seven to earn his first IWGP crown. Nakamura’s journey into the hearts and minds of the NJPW faithful was a roundabout one, a long journey to acceptance seeing him head up CHAOS as an antagonistic faction before the King of Strong Style’s swagger became impossible not to adore, all while Tanahashi stayed true to the Lion Mark. And while Tanahashi would become synonymous with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a historic V11 reign through 2011 and 2012, Nakamura would be forever linked to a different belt; the white and gold of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. 

Yet through it all these two charismatic individuals where linked by an intense rivalry. Their first ever singles bout would headline in the Tokyo Dome on January 4 2005; Nakamura seeking friendly competition (if you can believe that), with his then tag team partner (if you can believe *that*), looking for a handshake that Tanahashi denied. 

16 more matches would follow in the coming decade, and as a final High Fly Flow landed in Ryogoku to send Hiroshi Tanhahashi to the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 10, it seemed as if more would follow. Yet post match, a hand extended- now finally accepted- was a non-verbal sign that Nakamura and Tanahashi’s paths would once again diverge; at least for the time being. 

Relive the match here!

August 17, 2003: Home Crowd Advantage

As we head toward the 30th G1 Climax in September, we’re getting ready for  a one month journey to find out who the best tournament wrestler in the world is. 

Through the history of the tournament, that hasn’t been limited purely to NJPW wrestlers. From WCW to CMLL, other organizations have sent their best to test their limits in the ultimate challenge on several occasions. Yet in 29 G1 Climaxes to date, only Satoshi Kojima, then contracted to All Japan Pro-Wrestling, has won the tournament on behalf of a company other than NJPW in 2010. 

New Japan’s superiority is something loyal fans to the cerulean blue are eager to celebrate and protect, and that meant Jun Akiyama was heading into hostile territory when he represented Pro-Wrestling NOAH in the G1 Climax 13 final. Akiyama had been one of the big names to defect from AJPW to the upstart NOAH promotion in 2000, and as the new promotion gained in popularity, Akiyama was proving NOAH wrestlers could be tough competition to any other company’s finest. That included Tenzan himself, in fact; when the tournament started in Kobe World Hall, Akiyama pinned Tenzan to start his A Block winning campaign. Tenzan would come back to finish second however, and with the top two wrestlers advancing to the semi finals, he kept his hopes of a first G1 win alive. 

As Akiyama moved past Yuji Nagata, and Tenzan defeated Yoshihiro Takayama in the semi finals, it was down to a rematch with everything at stake in Ryogoku, and a crowd that was 100% in Tenzan’s corner. 

Relive the match with NJPW World! 

August 19 1990: Summer Night Fever Dream

One of the reasons we take this look through history every week is to see some of the parallels that come to life at different stages in 48 years of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. History repeats, but that’s a trend Riki Choshu was trying to buck in the main event of Summer Night Fever 2 in Ryogoku Sumo Hall. 

In the same event in Ryogoku one year earlier, Choshu’s first IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign came crashing to a halt at the hands of Big Van Vader. Vader, with his second reign became the seventh IWGP Heavyweight Champion that night, handily beating a man who had never scored a win over him via pinfall; only countouts and disqualification had seen Choshu’s hand raised against the giant in a two year span. 

Vader’s championship reign was no cakewalk. During his run, he would defend his title against fellow leviathans in Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow, Shinya Hashimoto and, most famously, Stan Hansen, against whom he had two wild brawls that saw blood spilled and even retinas detached. It was Vader’s right eye that Choshu would rightly target in this match in a bid to get any upper hand he could. 

Vader was one of the most feared men on the planet in the summer of 1990, but Choshu was determined to prove that he too had gotten immeasurably tougher since their last encounter, and would put everything on the line in Sumo Hall.

Relive the match here!

August 20 1987: NOW Leader, New Partner

The summer of 1987 saw great change in the NJPW landscape. That year’s IWGP league (the precursor to the current G1 Climax) would see its winner take on a new responsibility; rather than the IWGP Champion defending their title annually against the league winner as had been the case in the past, they would defend their title belt regularly, as the IWGP Heavyweight Championship as we know it now was formally established. 

It was a watershed moment in the eyes of many, and a chance for a new era to truly take hold in NJPW. After 15 years, the trail that Antonio Inoki had blazed at the top seemed to be coming to an end, as those who had forged new paths beneath, stars like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu, had arrived at their primes. 

Yet on June 12 1987, Antonio Inoki was victorious once more, defeating Masa Saito to become the first recognised IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Despite missing out on the finals of the tournament himself, Choshu was angered at the elder statesmen of Inoki and Saito remaining in the NJPW top spots, and saw himself unable to break through a glass ceiling into true top flight status. 

Circumstances created strange and uneasy bedfellows, as he called upon bitter rival Tatsumi Fujinami to ‘fight for the generation we’ve created’. Young firebrand Akira Maeda would join their cause even despite his UWF loyalties, and generational battle lines were drawn, as the ‘NEW Leaders’ went up against the established ‘NOW Leaders’ of Inoki, Seiji Sakaguchi and Yoshiaki Fujiwara.

Eventually, two teams of five would battle it out in elimination matches that September, but tensions would be high through the summer. On August 20, Choshu and Fujinami were set to represent the NEW Leaders against Inoki and a partner of his choosing; Inoki would head to the Ryogoku ring alone before calling out a surprising recruit to the NOW group in Keiji Muto. 

Muto had seen a sharp rise to main cards in NJPW even as a Young Lion thanks in large part to the absences of Maeda and Choshu at the time. Inoki respected the abilities of a man who seemed a sure fire top star in the making, and Muto was thrust into the biggest match of his young career.

Relive the match here!

August 21, 2016: KUSHIDA Takes the J-Cup 

Since 1994, the Super J-Cup has been a semi-regular testing ground for the best junior heavyweights not just in NJPW, but from promotions all over the world. The 2016 version of the Super J-Cup saw its resurrection after a seven year absence, with representatives from CMLL, ROH, NOAH, and Okinawa’s Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling among a diverse field of 16 that started their tournament in Korakuen Hall, before the quarter, semi and final matches came from Ariake Colosseum. 

The traditional big match stomping ground for Pro Wrestling NOAH saw a representative from the green brand in the finals, but perhaps not one that NOAH loyalists were eager to cheer on. GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru had recently defected to a Suzuki-Gun in the midst of a conquest of NOAH, and certainly didn’t gain any friends in the Tokyo crowd when he eliminated Will Ospreay in the semi-finals. 

That prevented a rematch of June’s Dominion, which had seen Best of the Super Juniors winner Ospreay fall to IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA. As Kanemaru had beaten a pair of New Japan wrestlers on the Ariake night in the form of BUSHI and Ospreay, KUSHIDA had bested a pair of then NOAH representatives, Taiji Ishimori and Kenoh. 

It all led to a battle of promotional superiority in the final. Kanemaru had long been a standard bearer for NOAH’s junior heavyweight ranks but one who had no interest in the fans. KUSHIDA, in the midst of his third IWGP reign, was being talked about as the junior heavyweight ace of NJPW; a gold J-Cup victors’ jacket seemed more than adequate certification. 

Relive the match here!