There is no arguing the fact that this week has been a historic one. Typically the end of March and beginning of April sees NJPW on the road to major events in Ryogoku Sumo Hall, and 2021 will have an added significance on April 4 when Kota Ibushi defends the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship for the first time against Will Ospreay.
Yet there is plenty more of note this week in history. Check out some of the incredible events that have taken place, all available on the NJPW World archives.
March 27, 2016: Guerrilla Insurgency
NJPW’s first Ryogoku event of 2016 was Invasion Attack, an event that would see New Japan Cup winner Tetsuya Naito challenge Kazuchika Okada, the debuting Will Ospreay challenge IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA, and, for the IWGP Tag Team Championships, Great Bash Heel defending against Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa.
Fans were very familiar with and supportive of the tag team champions Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma. After years of struggle, the powerful bonds of friendship between the two was finally rewarded with the 2015 World Tag League, and a victory over champions Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows at Wrestle Kingdom. Invasion Attack would see the champions make their second defence against another BULLET CLUB team.
Yet fans were not familiar with just who that team was, or at least, half of them. Tama Tonga was a founding member of the organization, but Tanga Loa was an unknown factor until this Korakuen night. The night had been dominated by a theme of NJPW hontai vs BULLET CLUB in singles confrontations, the last of which being Tama Tonga taking on Togi Makabe. Makabe seemed to have the upper hand on Tonga, kicking out of a Gunstun and moving to the top rope as he looked to unleash the King Kong Knee Drop that would have ended the match. Suddenly though, Loa made his presence felt, and after taking out their future opposition, Tama let the world know that his partner would be his own flesh and blood, and that collectively they were G.o.D.
March 28 2004: Future Ace in a Cage
March 28 2004 saw NJPW in Ry0goku Sumo Hall for the King of Sports event, but one of its highlighted matches did not take place in the famous arena. In fact, it didn’t take place in front of people at all, but rather a separate venue that housed a large, imposing and extremely rarely seen in NJPW steel cage.
Inside it walked Kazunari Murakami and a young man who was on the way to future superstardom by the name of Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi proudly represented a new youth movement within New Japan, a position that was backed up by hardware around his waist. He was the IWGP U-30 Openweight Champion, a title open to all under the age of 30 to compete for, and which Tanahashi had held for close to a year as its inaugural champion after defeating the future Togi Makabe.
Yet standing in Tanahashi’s way in a bid to ‘attack for the next generation’ was Kazunari Murakami and the Makai Club faction. Murakami was a young martial artist who had gained victories in early PRIDE events before transitioning into professional wrestling in the year 2000. A skilled fighter with an arrogant demeanour, he angered both professional wrestlers and MMA fighters alike.
In early 2004 in fact, he drew the ire of both Hiroshi Tanahashi, representing NJPW and Enson Inoue and his Crazy Dogs fight team. A singles match between Tanahashi and Murakami in February in Aichi resulted in so much interference and such lack of control, that extreme measures were taken for the next month. No crowd, no referee, no pinfall, with then NJPW Dojo master Kotetsu Yamamoto deciding a victor by submission or knockout. An even ground in theory, but Tanahashi still had the deck stacked against him with the vicious Murakami, having dislocated his shoulder a mere two weeks before in tag action.
March 30 2008: Common Enemies
At the start of 2008, Hiroyoshi Tenzan couldn’t buy a friend. In October 2006, he had joined forces with Shiro Koshinaka and Togi Makabe to form a brutal, take no prisoners faction known as Great Bash Heel. As GBH grew stronger however, Tenzan would be sidelined by a neck injury in 2007. While Tenzan took the time away, he looked on as Togi Makabe, now coming into his violent own after a long period of self discovery in pro-wrestling, usurping the GBH founder, and crafting the group in his own image.
In his first match of 2008 in February, Tenzan would find himself on the losing end of an eight man tag, and immediately afterward was at the wrong end of a beating from his GBH teammates. Jado, Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii brutally expelled Tenzan from the group, but after years of wrestling as an antagonist in nWo Japan and Team 2000 even before GBH, few were eager to team up with the wild bull.
Then, at the start of the New Japan Cup, a saviour came in the form of Takashi Iizuka. Veteran combatant Iizuka had a finely honed sense of justice, and seemed to see someone in need of saving in Tenzan. On March 30, a chance came for the new team to earn an IWGP Tag Team Championship opportunity if they could beat the champions, Makabe and Toru Yano, in a non-title bout first.
April 1, 2018: April shower courtesy of the Rainmaker
This Sunday, Will Ospreay becomes the third Briton to challenge for the top prize in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. His challenge to Kota Ibushi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship comes after Lord Steven Regal challenged Shinya Hashimoto for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and, in 2018, Zack Sabre Jr. battled for the same prize.
ZSJ was coming off a New Japan Cup victory in his debut year in the tournament, submitting a who’s who of top talent. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA and Hiroshi Tanahashi all were forced to give up in the wake of Sabre’s masterful submission ability, moving him to Ryogoku and Kazuchika Okada. Yet Okada was in the midst of a title reign for the ages, moving past Shinya Hashimoto to take the record of longest IWGP Heavyweight reign, and about to match Hiroshi Tanahashi’s then record 11 defences.
Okada was the very embodiment of IWGP and NJPW competition through the second half of the 2010s, but ZSJ would brag that he embodied New Japan’s history and traditions better than anything else. Saying that he was the purest embodiment of Strong Style and the King of Sports since Antonio Inoki, Sabre sought to prove the point by adding Okada to his submissions list.
April 2 2015: All Golden Star Tag
Days removed from his victory over Hirooki Goto sealing New Japan Cup glory, Kota Ibushi was bound for the Invasion Attack main event, and the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, AJ Styles. As time ticked down to that fateful Ryogoku showdown however, there were matches in Korakuen Hall to come, and a main event on April 2 in Korakuen. Ibushi would team with the man he defeated in the semi-final, Tetsuya Naito.
As Naito continued to flounder in the early part of the year, it had to be difficult for Naito to team up with Ibushi, much less opposite Styles, who had scored victory over him at Wrestle Kingdom 9 three months earlier. On the champion’s side was Yujiro Takahashi, another figure Naito had history with. Naito’s former partner had turned his back on him to expel him from CHAOS years prior, and had put him on the shelf with knee injury in 2012, an incident that arguably began the Stardust Genius’ downward slide.