While May’s big events in Y0okohama Stadium and the Tokyo Dome may have been postponed, plenty of big matches highlight this week in NJPW history, spanning the decades from the mid 1970s all the way up to the present day. Below are just some of the highlights!
May 8 1974: Inoki at the Top of the World
In an era of Japanese wrestling where most matches were contested between Japanese wrestlers and foreigners, NJPW saw its first World League in 1974, and a rare opportunity for the top Japanese stars to face off against one another. They proved superior for the most part on home soil against foreign opponents, with Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi proving to be the best. Yet one non-Japanese joined them at the top, the brutal brawler that was Karl Krupp. By fair means and foul, Krupp had managed to amass the same number of points in the league as Inoki and Sakaguchi. In today’s G1 that would mean the winner of the tournament would be the one with the better head to head record of the three, but this was not the case in 1974.
Rather, the idea was for all three to enter into a playoff, each wrestling the other two with the best record determining the winner. Krupp had managed to gain wins over Sakaguchi and Inoki, which meant he could choose which of his opponents to wrestle first. Krupp elected to take on Sakaguchi.
Krupp would end up getting himself disqualified against Sakaguchi, putting himself on the back foot when it came to the playoff. When Sakaguchi took on Inoki then, he and partner the Invader would assault Inoki and Sakaguchi in order to render their match void, and more importantly eliminate Sakaguchi from the running. That led to Inoki and Krupp becoming the de-facto league final, and Inoki turning pride of country and company into all out rage.
May 10, 1985: Champion Series For Masked Superstar
While we have come to celebrate the most prestigious of junior heavyweight tournaments in late spring in recent decades, this wasn’t always the case. In 1985, it was the heavyweights that were making the headlines, and not just those from NJPW.
In 1983, the IWGP League was born. Representing NJPW’s proud place in the global wrestling landscape, the International Wrestling Grand Prix was a precursor of sorts to the modern day G1 Climax, and saw the best wrestlers from around the world compete in a league, with the eventual winner Hulk Hogan leaving with a title belt (though not one regularly defended).
1984’s second running of the tournament saw Inoki emerge on top, and face Hogan as his prize, getting revenge for a controversial loss the year prior. This was in an era of close working relations between NJPW and the WWF, leading to 1985’s tournament becoming the first ever IWGP WWF Champion series. A single elimination tournament rather than the league format of prior years, the series saw the best of Japan and America compete; the winner would face last year’s IWGP Champion Inoki, while the runner-up would go on to challenge then WWF Champion Hogan.
In the first matchup of the tournament in Fukuoka, Seiji Sakaguchi would take on the enigmatic Masked Superstar. Superstar would fall by the wayside via countout as Sakaguchi moved on, with tough competition still to come in the form of young up-and-comer, the aforementioned Tatsumi Fujinami, and overwhelming tournament favourite, Andre the Giant.
May 12 1996: ChoTen in Korakuen
We fast forward now to 1996; a year that many fans in the west associate with the birth of the New World Order. Its Japanese wing would be formally setup in 1997, but neither nWo Japan, and the New World Order on either side of the Pacific arguably would ever take off to the same degree had it not been for Masahiro Chono.
The nWo was yet to make its presence felt in either Japan or America as of May 1996, but groundwork was doubtless being laid. Masahiro Chono was in the midst of a dramatic change of disposition ever since the prior year’s G1 Climax, a change of disposition that saw him change his look and attitude from hard working blue chip prospect in colourful tights to black leather, a goatee and a bad attitude. No longer a team player for New Japan, Chono was a lone wolf that refused to be part of team NJPW in their clashes with the UWF up to the spring.
Chono had his new attitude recognised by veteran antagonist Hiro Saito. Saito took Chono under his wing and resurrected the Okami Gundan, a stable of renegades Saito had been a part of in the 1980s. Young prospect Hiroyoshi Tenzan would also join the group, and the ChoTen tag team would reach the summit of the IWGP Tag Team division a massive five times in the coming years.
This upstart new stable would draw the ire of another group of outsiders that was given a new edge for the 1990s. Heisei Ishingun was a revival of the Ishingun group that Riki Choshu spearheaded a decade earlier. Shiro Koshinaka and Tatsutoshi Goto’s group was an antagonistic force ever since the decade began, and the presence of Okami Gundan on the scene led instantly to a turf war.
The result, a tag match in Korakuen Hall that’s as wild as they come.
May 13, 2019: Final Boss on Level One
When Best of the Super Junior 26 kicked off on May 10, 2019, it did so with a stacked card at Sendai Sun Plaza Hall. In the main event spot was a rematch from the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship main event from Dontaku just a week prior between Ryu Lee and Taiji Ishimori. Underneath that though was a match almost as hotly anticipated.
Shingo Takagi had been on SHO’s radar ever since he had first appeared in NJPW the prior October. During the 2018 BoSJ, SHO had established himself not just as a tag team expert, but as a potential major singles star, and the name to look to in the division when it came to raw strength. Yet the Dragon’s appearance as a junior heavyweight initially, threatened the RPG3K member, and SHO made it his duty to hand Takagi his first loss in a New Japan ring.
While that didn’t happen, SHO did charge full steam ahead into his opening tournament match. New entrance music evoked classic videogame chip tune music, which was appropriate indeed: SHO was facing the final boss on level one.
May 14 2005: A legendary Tokyo Dome Tag Match
Masahiro Chono would go on to spearhead more than a few legendary wrestling factions. As mentioned, Okami Gundan would evolve into nWo Japan, and when that organization folded, Team2000 would come up in its place. After T2000 disbanded, Chono would maintain his closer nit ties and make new ones, forming New Japan Black and making an alliance with the CTU group that Jyushin Thunder Liger headed up.
Together, Black and CTU put a united front dedicated to changing NJPW’s stance in a challenging period for the promotion, but their values ran against the establishment, represented in the Tokyo Dome in May 2005 by former New Japan president Tatsumi Fujinami. Fujinami was in need of a partner to contest Chono and Liger, and recruited another company president to make a team as tough in ring as they were in the boardroom. Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Mitsuharu Misawa made this an all star tag. While there were doubts over how Fujinami would perform after being relatively withdrawn from active competition, he pulled out all the stops from the outset in this classic bout.