This week has seen the culmination of the New Beginning tour. It’s traditi0nally a time for the top stars to carve their narrative for the year ahead, and frequently it’s been the place for major changes to the NJPW landscape. That’s certainly been reflected by big matches this week in history as we find out in our regular retrospective:
February 6, 1986: #AndFirst
This week sees NJPW head to Hiroshima for a pair of New Beginning events to close out the tour, but before we go to Osaka Jo Hall for Castle Attack at the end of the month, we’ll start that road with four nights in Tokyo. It’s there we start our retrospective this week. In Ryogoku Sumo Hall, history was made in 1986, when the first ever IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion was crowned.
Junior Heavyweights had been a celebrated part of NJPW cards since the late 1970s, especially so in the wake of Dragon Fever, and Tatsumi Fujinami’s capturing of the WWF’s Junior Heavyweight Championship. That title had by now been dissolved, and one under the IWGP purview would take its place. In a grueling league that ran all the way through New Year Dash (in the 1980s, New Year Dash was a tour through January and February rather than the single big event it is today), seven men participated.
From NJPW, The Cobra, Black Tiger, Shiro Koshinaka, Shunji Kosugi and Keiichi Yamada were joined by luchador Scorpio, and World Class alum Johnny Mantell. It all came down to Koshinaka and the Cobra however, with Sumo Hall the site for this decisive battle.
February 9, 2020: the King vs the Champ
MOX vs KENTA is the match on everybody’s lips, as after over a year away from the cerulean blue, Jon Moxley finally puts the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship on the line for the third time of his second reign.
Moxley’s absence from New Japan, KENTA’s long and successful reign with the number one contendership briefcase, and promotional lines being blurred; all are factors that have taken fan anticipation for this New Beginning USA 2021 showdown to the boiling point. Yet most excitement should be reserved for the fact that Moxley vs KENTA will be a hell of a match.
Moxley has admitted his own admiration for KENTA from his days as a fan and a young professional. That’s an admiration Moxley also held for one Minoru Suzuki; an admiration for a no nonsense, take no prisoners wrestler that ‘feels totally comfortable in his own skin’. As if fate and the will of the universe was intervening, Suzuki walked to the ring on January 5 at the Tokyo Dome to challenge Moxley for New Beginning in Osaka, and the resulting match was one of the wildest, most chaotic and most violent of all 2020.
February 10, 1990: Eye Popping Action
After April 1989 saw professional wrestling hit Japan’s most famous stadium, 1990 would see NJPW return to the Tokyo Dome for its second event under the shell of the Big Egg. ’89’s huge card would see a tournament to determine a new IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and battles between Japan and Russia’s best athletes. For the Super Fight ’90 card, a different clash to determine the best of the best brought fans in their thousands to the ticket booth.
Since their respective foundations in 1972, New and All Japan Pro-Wrestling being under the same roof was all but unthinkable, especially after a competitive rivalry through the 1980s. Yet the new decade saw new beginnings and a new chapter in the relationship between the two groups. Here, a selection of the best All Japan Pro-Wrestling stars battling in a New Japan ring was too much for fans to pass up, especially when it came to this clash for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Fans on both sides of the AJPW and NJPW camps were fiercely loyal to their home grown stars, but also to their foreign aces. Stan Hansen had started his Japanese career in NJPW, but after moving to All Japan in the early 1980s, his stardom rose to a new level in the country. Meanwhile, a new monster by the name of Vader had hit the New Japan scene, and fans would debate which heavyweight slugger was the most powerful.
This title bout was always going to be wild and out of control; in hindsight, its double countout finish was perhaps inevitable. What was more unpredictable was how the match went down, and an errant punch from Hansen that had Vader in a world of trouble, and the fans shocked at the graphic scenes that followed.
February 11, 2014: Tough Crowd, Tough Match
Wrestle Kingdom 8 was supposed to be the culmination of a long journey for Tetsuya Naito. Having spent months away from the ring with a severe knee injury, Naito returned to the ring in time for the 2013 G1, and motivated to prove that he could be the central figure in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to lift the famous trophy for the first time. Shortly afterward, Naito would defeat Masato Tanaka to take the NEVER Championship, a branding he had close association with earlier in his career, but a title his injury had caused him to miss the inauguration of.
With the NEVER title, and the G1 trophy he was set to overcome Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event at the Tokyo Dome. A true dream scenario; but not a dream the fans shared. Naito’s insistence that he was the top star in NJPW was rejected by an ever growing portion of the fanbase, and when the choice was put to the fans as to which match would be the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 8, the result was a landslide in favour of Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Voted down to the semi-final spot, Naito would lose the match to boot. Resetting his priorities, Naito would try and rebuild his 2014 around the NEVER Openweight Championship, but his first defence of the year was against the vicious Stone Pitbull Tomohiro Ishii. Perhaps more vicious than his opponent was the ever passionate and opinionated Osaka crowd.
February 12, 2012: The Rainmaker Shock
The New Beginning has had its fare share of surprises over the years, but nothing represents the name of the event more than 2012’s infamous Rainmaker Shock.
In the middle of the Wrestle Kingdom 6 card, Kazuchika Okada returned to NJPW as the Rainmaker, and defeated YOSHI-HASHI. One match into his return, with a win over a fellow returning wrestler, hardly represented a legitimate IWGP Heavyweight challenge resume, and fans were derisory to say the least when Okada came to the ring after the main event and stated that he was coming for the gold.
Nobody within the Tokyo Dome truly felt that Okada would beat a Hiroshi Tanahashi who had just set the record of IWGP Heavyweight Championship defences at 11, but if fans stuck their noses up at Okada’s challenge on January 4, six weeks later their jaws were on the floor. Arguably the most shocking upset in IWGP Heavyweight Championship history set the Okada era of NJPW in motion; truly a New Beginning indeed.