This January has seen a lot of chaotic memories made on the Road to the New Beginning, but in years past it has traditionally seen the best of CMLL come to Japan as part of Fantasticamania. Some history from that tour highlights this week in the past, as well as classic matches from the 1980s and 1990s.
January 23 2011: What a Fantastica Main Event!
One of the main events of Fantasticamania in 2011 saw NJPW regulars battle for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, but with a CMLL twist. Ryusuke Taguchi was the CMLL Welterweight Champion at the time, having won the belt just one night earlier from Mascara Dorada. Little did an elated Taguchi know that his reign would be short lived before relinquishing the CMLL gold back to Dorada, but before that could go down, he had the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships to gun for alongside his Apollo 55 partner Prince Devitt.
At Ryogoku Sumo Hall in October 2010, Apollo 55 lost the tag gold to the invading forces of Kota Ibushi and Prince Devitt, the Golden☆Lovers. Though Devitt gained some measure of retirbution in the Tokyo Dome by defeating Ibushi to retain the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, he and Taguchi wanted the tag gold back, and the scene was set in Korakuen Hall. Though this Fantasticamania bout didn’t see any CMLL regulars in action, it did have plenty of the high flying risk taking spectacle that lucha libre fans, and indeed anyone the world over, could appreciate.
January 24, 2016: A Fantastic Korakuen moment
They might now be known by different names, but their rivalry has spanned 19 singles matches over seven years, and will no doubt continue when the global situation eases. Through triumph, trauma and a career threatening neck injury, Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee have always given it their all, exactly as was the case on January 24 2016.
Then freshly demasked by Lee, and wrestling under the name Kamaitachi, Takahashi wasn’t listed on the cards for Fantasticamania that year. Yet after a surprise assault the night before, he would declare that ‘there’s been a change to the card!’ and immediately challenged for Lee’s CMLL World Lightweight Championship.
An electric crowd in Korakuen bore witness for the first time to the phenomenal rivalry that had exploded in Mexico and continue to erupt worldwide in the ensuing years.
January 27, 2018: King trumps Ace
Hiroshi Tanahashi had recovered from a crushing IWGP Intercontinental Championship defeat to Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 11 to a strong 2017 as champion after winning the white and gold back in Dominion. When Switchblade Jay White made a high profile return on January 4 2018, Tanahashi successfully retained, but the very next night, at New Year Dash, the King lay in wait.
Minoru Suzuki made it clear that the IWGP Intercontinental Championship was the next treasure he sought, and he pursued it with vicious abandon. It all led to January 27 and New Beginning in Sapporo, where Suzuki would brutally assault Tanahashi’s knee past the breaking point. As Tanahashi had no answer for The King’s relentless assault, the match ended in a referee stoppage, Suzuki walking out with title held high, and the Ace leaving on a stretcher, future unclear.
January 28 1982: Allen & Abby Mean Bad News for Inoki
Antonio Inoki and Tiger Jeet Singh was a rivalry that lasted through the bulk of the 1970s and into the 80s. Many a town saw cards headlined by the NJPW founder taking on the wild sabre bearing Singh, with many a crowd scattered, thrilled and shocked at the violent, bloody battles they shared. In 1982, Inoki was able to close the chapter on his saga with Singh, but another hardcore foe would be around the corner.
Abdullah the Butcher had debuted in NJPW the prior summer, and instantly engaged in a brutal rivalry with Inoki’s partner and co-founder Seiji Sakaguchi. Throughout, Abdullah’s partner-cum-manager Bad News Allen was almost always at his side, and more often than not, would interfere on the Butcher’s behalf.
On January 29 1982, Inoki and Abdullah faced off one on one, with a harsh warning from the official: should Allen make his presence felt in the match in any way shape or form, Abdullah would be disqualified. To the breed of competitors Abdullah and Allen were, this was a red rag to a bull. Interference would be inevitable, as destruction took precedent over victory.
January 29, 1997: A Lion, a Former Tiger, a Liger and a Samurai Walk Into Fukushima…
Three years after losing his Tiger Mask to Jyushin Thunder Liger in the Tokyo Dome, Koji Kanemoto had developed a vicious, hard-nosed bent that particularly found its way out when facing masked rivals like Liger and El Samurai. On January 4 he faced new masked competition in the Super Liger; the silver suited star’s one and only appearance resulted in a quick win for Kanemoto, but under the suit was one Chris Jericho. Jericho had wrestled in Japan in the WAR promotion in years past; in NJPW, much as the Tiger Mask never truly fit for Kanemoto, so Super Liger wasn’t for the ‘Lionheart’. Without mask and suit, Jericho found much in common with Kanemoto, including a violent style that came out against Liger and Samurai on the Fighting Spirit ’97 tour.