With the G1 Climax ongoing, thoughts are understandably on what’s directly in front of us, with the rigorous tournament schedule and a slate of fantastic live content on NJPW World. The fantastic archival content gives valuable context however, as well as some fascinating historical palette cleansers.
July 20, 2016: Return of the Super J
One of the biggest surprises of 2019 was the announcement of Super J-Cup’s return, the legendary single elimination junior heavyweight tournament being brought back under the watchful eye of producer Jyushin Thunder Liger, and being staged for the first time in the United States, in Tacoma, San Francisco and Long Beach.
The last tournament occurred in 2016, and was itself a surprise, coming off a seven year absence. 16 wrestlers from around the world participated in the torunament, with the first round taking place in Korakuen Hall on July 20, with the other rounds hitting Ariake Colosseum later in the summer.
The first round of 16 was an electric affair, and saw a lot of fresh talent leave their mark. A highlight was the first round match between Liger and Dragon Gate’s Eita, a match that started with a dropkick and dive from Eita that was eerily reminiscent of Hayabusa’s thrilling start against Liger in the first J-Cup in 1994.
July 21, 2014: A Phenomenal Beginning
The 2019 G1 Climax is reaching its midway point this week, but in the condensed schedule of 2014, it was just starting. At the top of the card on night one was a B block clash with a lot of personal pride at stake, as Kazuchika Okada met AJ Styles.
Styles had first appeared in New Japan that April in Ryogoku, surprising Okada with a Styles Clash after a CHAOS versus BULLET CLUB tag team match. As Prince Devitt found himself forced out of NJPW by Ryusuke Taguchi that same night, Styles would find himself leading BC, and the next month in Fukuoka won Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship on his first attempt.
That win wasn’t all Styles’ doing however. BULLET CLUB interference played a role, specifically as Yujiro Takahashi betrayed CHAOS by attacking Okada late in the match. Yujiro would play a role in a Yokohama Arena rematch three weeks later, too, and adding in a three way match in ROH over the title that Okada again failed to win, he was 0-3 against Styles going into the G1. The Rainmaker had to be driven, and had to have eyes in the back of his head for more BULLET CLUB involvement.
July 23, 1993: Black Cat, Young Lion
NJPW and CMLL Fantasticamania has been a fixture on the NJPW calendar every year since 2011. One of NJPW’s more recent traditions is nonetheless one of the most respected and celebrated, and a significant part of proceedings every year is the Black Cat Memorial Match.
Black Cat passed away back in 2006, but his legacy not just as a wrestler, but referee, trainer and bridge between Japanese and Mexican pro wrestling is huge, and one that deserves immense respect. Debuting in 1977 in Mexico, he would head to Japan and NJPW for a learning excursion in 1981, and became a significant go-between for Mexico and Japan in the years to come. In his later in ring years, he would also work very closely with younger talent, teaching hard but valuable lessons in the ring.
Such is the case here with rookie Tatsuhito Takaiwa. Takaiwa was one of the third generation of Young Lions along with the likes of Shinjiro Otani, with whom he would later become the inaugural IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions, and Satoshi Kojima, who he had debuted against just a year before this match. His potential is evident here, but it’s only a matter of time before Black Cat can get a hold of the youngster and put him in a punishing Canadian Backbreaker.
July 24, 2015: No Tranquilo for Shibata
Tetsuya Naito was one of the key players in the 2015 G1. After his victory two years earlier, and subsequent relegation of his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match to ‘main event one’ of the double main event Wrestle Kingdom 8, Naito started on the long path that took him to Mexico and Los Ingobernables.
Fans would see a new attitude from Naito after he returned from a Mexican excursion in June 2015, one that was not focused on what his fans or partners wanted to see from him. When the G1, Naito’s attitude was stepped up a gear, to the frustration of fans and opponents. This Naito was altogether more… Tranquilo.
The slow walk to the ring, and leisurely disrobing before his matches was clearly done to tget under the skin of his opponents, but wasn’t a head game Katsuyori Shibata was willing to play. Having undergone a difficult period of regaining acceptance from fellow roster members and the public after making his return to NJPW in 2012, Shibata was one of the most popular G1 25 entrants. That popularity came from his straight ahead, no nonsense approach, something that was clearly incompatible with Naito, as evidenced when Shibata near decapitated El Ingobernable within seconds of the match starting. If Shibata wasn’t willing to take his time, Naito would just have to make him by taking away the legs of The Wrestler.
July 25, 1986: Biggest Bruisers Battle
In 2015, Katsuyori Shibata had turned a corner in terms of fan and peer acceptance, having spent over six years away from NJPW and returning in 2012. More than 20 years before, Akira Maeda and Yoshiaki Fujiwara received similar aggression on their own returns to New Japan.
After finding fame in NJPW, Maeda and Fujiwara would join a contingent of wrestlers leaving the promotion to form the UWF organization in 1984. When that company collapsed, the so-called ‘UWF U-Turn’ saw all the members return to New Japan. Knowing that their welcome would be far from warm, they would instead target the top New Japan stars in a series of vicious matches.
Respect of some of the New Japan faithful would be earned by the UWF contingent, specifically Maeda, who was a promising young prospect for NJPW before his departure. Here Maeda and Fujiwara were taking on the villainous Bad News Allen and a new tag partner he’d recruited for the summer tour by the name of Steve Williams.
The future ‘Dr. Death’ would become famous for his work in All Japan in the 1990s, but got his start in the country with NJPW. Starting his career in 1982, Williams would put himself on the Japanese wrestling map by wrestling Antonio Inoki in Dallas in 1985, and durign his time in New Japan he would mix it up with Inoki again, as well as Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami and younger stars like Keiji Muto. Here though, he and Allen comprised an intimidating team, and up against Maeda and Fujiwara, truly four of the toughest human beings in wrestling history were meeting in Akita on July 25, 1986.