The week that was in NJPW World history: January 30- February 5

January 30 2016: Sayonara, Shinsuke

Korakuen Hall has seen many a tearful farewell. In February this year, it saw two as Tiger Hattori and Manabu Nakanishi both retired in the legendary building in the very same week. January 30 2016 didn’t see Shinsuke Nakamura retire, but the goodbye bade to him was nonetheless incredibly emotional. 

After over 13 years in NJPW, Nakamura felt he had done all he could in the cerulean blue when 2016 rolled around. In his formative years he bridged a divide between martial artists and pro wrestlers in a controversial period in NJWP history. More recently, he addressed the divide between the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships that he would leave the promotion without losing, and had established as a headline title that could main event the Tokyo Dome. The fast pace of professional wrestling meant that many were fast to fill Nakamura’s position, and use the opportunity to define themselves in their own way; within months Kenny Omega would emerge as IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Tetsuya Naito as Heavyweight for the first time, and newcomers like SANADA would make themselves known. Yet there would be no replacing the ‘King of Strong Style’. 

Relive the moment here!

January 31 1990: Sano and Liger’s explosive rivalry

After debuting in the Tokyo Dome in April 1989, Jyushin Liger had a hot remainder of the year, and in 1990, after adding Thunder to his name, looked to define the decade. One man stood in his way, however. Much like Liger himself, Naoki Sano had strong personal ties to the Tokyo Dome; on the same day that Liger debuted in the Big Egg, Sano was the first to wrestle, the Young Tokyo Dome Cup final seeing him defeat Hiro Saito. Sano was not about to let Liger steal all the headlines as the 1980s came to a close, and when Liger won his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Shiro Koshinaka, Sano stepped up to challenge.

The resulting intense confrontation in Ryogoku in July would end when Sano suplexed Liger off the top rope, and both men were knocked unconscious, the result being a draw. Sano won a rematch, taking the junior title from Liger, who was intent on winning the belt back, but remained unsuccessful until the calendar turned to 1990. After Liger was unable to rest the title back from Sano through 1989, there was an air of finality in this bout with Sano; a feeling that this might be Liger’s last chance at the champ. The resulting desperation led to aggressive offense, and bloody results.

Relive the match here!

February 1, 2002: Yajin Justice

Although this year, global events led to the New Beginning tour stopping in different cities, a series of events in Sapporo has long been winter tradition with 2002 being particularly contentious. In January, after injuries sustained in an MMA fight, Kazuyuki Fujita vacated the IWGP heavyweight Championship. A tournament was held over the February tour to find the next champion, with the first round taking place in Sapporo. 

Opportunity awaited one of Masahiro Chono, Giant Silva, Rick Steiner, Tadao Yasuda, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and Kensuke Sasaki, not just to lift the IWGP gold, but also to carry New Japan Pro-Wrestling further in the new millennium. The end of January saw seismic shifts within NJPW after Keiji Muto and Satoshi Kojima left the company to head to the rival All Japan Pro-Wrestling. To the third generation loyalists and strong personal friends Nakanishi and Nagata, there was much to prove in the first round matchup. Personal pride too would play a part; it was seven years earlier that Nakanishi defeated Nagata in the Young Lion Cup, and Blue Justice sought revenge against the giant country boy.

Relive the match here!

February 3 1984: Blood in the snow

February 2002 in Sapporo was contentious. February 1984 was near riot inducing. Riki Choshu and Tatsumi Fujinami had been rivals since 1982, their feud not just breaking down barriers in setting the standard for all Japanese main event level matches, but also setting new standards in viciousness. Choshu’s hate for Fujinami came from a deep seated jealousy and a chip on his shoulder toward all of NJPW, one which led him to create one of NJPW’s first anti-authoritarian factions, Ishingun.

Ishingun versus the core NJPW loyalists was a narrative through the early 1980s, with the likes of Tatsumi Fujinami and Yoshiaki Fujiwara remaining true blue New Japan athletes. At the top of that interfactional feud was Choshu and Fujinami. Seven times through 1983, the two met in singles action, and Fujinami could never get a pinfall edge over Choshu, with many of their matches ending in disqualification and double count outs. 

The Dragon was hoping for a definitive win, and hoping for one in Sapporo. As Fujinami awaited Riki Choshu in ring however, his opponent was late making his entrance, before emerging covered in blood. Of all people, it was Fujiwara who had attacked Choshu, as tempers toward Ishingun boiled over. With the match declared a no contest, Hiro Saito and Animal Hamaguchi in Choshu’s corner would insist that Fujinami had put Fujiwara up to the task of assaulting Choshu, while Fujinami himself had his own anger to bear, denied a decisive win over Choshu once more.

Relive the moment here!

February 4, 1996: could have used 1,002…

Continuing the Sapporo theme, in 1996, a Sapporo title match was not for an IWGP Championship, but rather the Mexican UWA’s Light Heavyweight title, as El Samurai defended his crown against Dean Malenko. The wrestler who would soon become known as ‘the man of 1,001 holds’ had already wrestled in the inaugural Super J-Cup, and was making waves all over the world that would see him to great success in ECW and WCW before the end of the year. It was in Japan though, that junior heavyweight wrestling was hot in the mid 1990s, and gaining a championship from El Samurai would see Malenko far up the food chain. Not only would a win give prestige in and of itself, but with the best junior heavyweight champions from around the world competing in the cerulean blue, it seemed as if a sea change would eventually bring junior heavyweight titles from all over the globe to coalesce into one ultimate title, something that did indeed happen that summer. 

Relive the match here!