King of Pro Wrestling is coming up this Monday live on NJPW World!
With five huge singles matches at the top of the card, it’s going to be an event for the ages, with lots of news coming out of Ryogoku. Historically though, this has always been a big week, as our regular trove through the archives will show:
October 7, 1976: A Giant Challenge for Inoki
1976 had been a banner year for Antonio Inoki. Not only was he dominant as NWF World Heavyweight Champion, putting him on the top of the NJPW roster, he had also managed to shift his focus to the field of martial arts, inaugurating the World Martial Arts title, and proving himself against Olympic judoka Willem Ruska, and in arguably the most famous moment of his career, Antonio Inoki.
In October however, came a gargantuan challenge. Andre the Giant had been wrestling in New Japan rings since 1974, and ran rampant through the whole New Japan roster. Figures like Seiji Sakaguchi, Kotetsu Yamamoto, or (Katsuyori’s father) Katsuhisa Shibata came and all fell, sometimes two at the same time in handicap matches. Inoki was always a victim Andre was unable to claim however. It all served to eat away at the Frenchman, who was always looking for another shot at Inoki, whether under NWF and pro wrestling auspices, or here, for the martial arts title in a unique bout indeed. Ultimately blood loss on Andre’s part would give the match a controversial ending, and the Frenchman, not submitted nor knocked out, had a claim to yet another war with Inoki down the line.
October 8, 2018: Enter the Dragon
In the world of professional wrestling, a day is a very long time, and a year is even longer. In the space of one year, Shingo Takagi dominated the junior heavyweight division, only falling at the final hurdle of Will Ospreay in the Best of the Super Juniors final. He entered the G1 Climax as an openweight, ending his campaign with a win over Hirooki Goto and moving straight up to the heavyweight division. His journey in New Japan is incredibly still only at its start, despite a hugely impressive resume already.
Shingo started writing that New Japan resume at King of Pro Wrestling 2018. When Hiromu Takahashi was sidelined with his neck injury, Naito promised a new pareja to join Los Ingobernables de Japon at the same event and venue that we saw its first, EVIL, in 2015. This, Naito explained, was not a replacement for Hiromu, but a new addition in the group to ensure that five men, not four, would be awaiting him on his still impending return.
Speculation ran rampant before King of Pro Wrestling, anticipation built as a masked figure made his way to ringside, and the roof just about blew off Sumo Hall when the man who was then the hottest free agent in Japanese wrestling revealed himself to the world.
October 9, 2000: Strong Style vs Kings’ Road
Throughout the 1990s, as pro wrestling surged in popularity across Japan, two promotions were at the very top of the game: New Japan and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Both had phenomenal wrestlers, and both cultivated their own styles with great success, the aggressive offense of Strong Style, exemplified at the end of the decade by IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki, and the tenacity and toughness of Kings’ Road, as illustrated by Toshiaki Kawada.
Dream matches were the stuff of fantasy, as AJPW and NJPW never crossed paths. That was until the summer of 2000, when in the midst of a turbulent period in All Japan, a decision was made to break down the walls between both parties. At the G1 Climax final, an unprecedented sight of AJPW’s Masanobu Fuchi coming to address the crowd got the entire wrestling business talking, and made a dream reality.
October in the Tokyo Dome, Sasaki and Kawada locked horns in an all-time classic clash of flesh and wills. Kawada would come out on top in this non-title affair, but believing himself no longer worthy to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in defeat, Sasaki would relinquish his crown, leading to a massive tournament on January 4 the next year.
October 10, 2011: Stardust, Pressed
SANADA walks into his fourth battle in 2019 against Kazuchika Okada. For SANADA it’s an uphill battle to prove he’s not just capable fo beating Okada, but capable of superseding him and elevating himself to the top spot.
It’s a situation SANADA’s Los Ingobernables De Japon leader Tetsuya Naito is only too familiar with. Naito’s Okada figure in 2010 and 2011 was Hiroshi Tanahashi. Four big matches for Naito against tanahashi established him as a singles heavyweight star, but despite a win and a draw, he was unable to set himself definitively as a level above the Ace. That image would have followed through 2011, were it not for an incredible G1 Climax performance.
Naito would make the final of the G1 that year, only falling short against Shinsuke Nakamura in the final. Among his victories was a flash pin that caught Tanahashi early, the Polvo de Estrella putting the Stardust genius into the final down the road, and meaning that he had a debt that needed repaying against the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. That debt would be repayed in Ryogoku at Destruction.