The Week that Was in NJPW History: March 1-5

This week saw NJPW celebrate its 49th Anniversary, an occasion that has seen some wild matchups over the years, and even a notable talk show! Take a look: 

March 1, 2017: Seeing W

Early March has become the time to celebrate NJPW’s prestigious history. The anniversary of the company’s first event on March 6 1972 is usually commemorated with a card full of unique, intriguing matchups. 

2017’s main event had been set a year in advance. At 2016’s 42nd anniversary, NJPW owner Takaaki Kidani announced the development of the ‘Tiger Mask W’ animated series, a show that put a modern twist on the classic Naoki Tsuji 1968 manga and subsequent anime adaptation. The anime was a big hit by the end of the year, and just as audiences in the early 1980s were curious to see the original Tiger Mask emerge from printed page and TV screen to a real life ring, so Tiger Mask W’s in-ring debut at King of Pro-Wrestling 2016 parked a lot of curiosity, speculation and excitement. 

 Tiger Mask W would continue to wrestle sporadically at NJPW events, including at Wrestle Kingdom 11, where he competed against his animated rival Tiger the Dark. There were a lot of people curious to test their mettle against this mysterious, dynamic star; chief among them was the then IWGP Heavyweight Champion. 

After Kazuchika Okada defeated Minoru Suzuki to retain his title at New Beginning in Sapporo, he decided to call out his opponent for Anniversary. That opponent would be Tiger Mask W. Interests were piqued, and to give a taste of what to expect, a unique tag team preview was made for Korakuen Hall. Okada and then manager Gedo would take on a team of tigers- Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W- in a fascinating main event.

Relive the match here!

March 2, 1990: A Tough Team to Undertake

Shinya Hashimoto had ridden a hot year back from excursion in 1989, to crest a wave of momentum in the early part of 1990. Entered into the tournament to crown a new IWGP Heavyweight Champion at NJPW’s first Tokyo Dome event in April 1989, Hashimoto made the finals before falling to Big Van Vader. The King of Destruction certainly impressed the veteran rough houser Masa Saito, even in defeat; Saito would take Hashimoto under his wing, and the two would  beat another senpai kohai pairing of Riki Choshu and Takayuki Iizuka on September 20 to take the IWGP tag Team Championships. 

Saito and Hashimoto were fighting champions open to many a challenge, especially against other hard hitting heavyweights. Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow fit that bill, and in early March, he would bring a new partner to the table, making his Korakuen hall debut. Punisher Dice Morgan would go onto more fame in WWE years later, but made an impact in his NJPW debut, pinning Saito with a flying elbow, and setting himself up for a title challenge alongside Scott Hall later in his one and only New Japan tour.

Relive the match here!

March 3, 2013: Rock ‘n’ Roll Anniversary

Unique, intriguing matchups have indeed become the norm from Anniversary cards in recent years, indeed. Along those lines, a common trend has been for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champions to meet in the main event. In 2021, the stakes were even higher when double junior champion challenged double IWGP title holder Kota Ibushi, but other inter division clashes have included Kazuchika Okada meeting Will Ospreay and Ibushi while both were junior heavyweights, and infamously in Korakuen Hall in 2013, Prince Devitt taking on Hiroshi Tanahashi. 

Devitt was assuredly not just the ace of the junior heavyweight division at the time, but of all the international competitors in NJPW. Emerging from the original LA Dojo and then the Japanese Dojo system itself, Devitt had been part of factions like CTU and RISE, but once settled in hontai had immense success as a junior heavyweight. With Ryusuke Taguchi, he secured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships twice, and the singles Junior Heavyweight Championship three times, coming into the 41st Anniversary in the midst of a 419 day spell as champion. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi was more than happy to take on Devitt, and see what the best of the junior division had to offer. For Devitt though, there was much more to prove. Whether it was imposed by his weight class or his nationality, Devitt felt that he was labouring under a glass ceiling despite his popularity with the crowd. He sought to break through that ceiling with his opportunity against the Ace, and would use any means necessary to do so. It wouldn’t be long before he found a club’s worth of like minded individuals…

Relive the match here!

March 4, 2020: Healthy! Healthy!

While the familiar sight of a jam packed building for NJPW’s annual anniversary will have to wait another year, much progress has been made since the outbreak of the global pandemic this time last year. Then it was Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi set to collide in the main event at Ota-ku, but the match had to be sadly called off at the last minute. With the goal of coming together and presenting what NJPW could to the masses during its enforced absence, the Together Project was launched. It all started with Naito and Hiromu in a talk show that included invisible men, dancing, and much more besides. It’s probably for the best if you just watch it.