The Super Junior Tag league is raging on as the Road to Power Struggle continues. Looking back through the NJPW World archives though, we see some hot matches from heavyweights as well as junior pioneers this week.
October 19 1988: Choshu’s Bloody Statement
By 1988, fans had grown used to seeing Antonio Inoki as a main event player for two decades, and had seen him at the top of the mountain in New Japan since its 1972 inception. Yet at the close of the decade, times were changing. Though Inoki would win the 1987 IWGP League to be the first holder of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship as we know it now, his one and only reign was brief, as he would vacate the title due to injury.
Fighting his way back to the main event scene, Inoki would eventually face new champion Tatsumi Fujinami in Yokohama on August 8 1988. Speculation was wild going into the ‘Super Monday’ main event that this was Inoki’s last ditch attempt for glory, that if he lost, he may retire. Even Inoki himself admitted this would be the case, as he laid it all on the line.
The result was a famous 60 minute time limit draw; Fujinami hanging onto the IWGP Championship, but Inoki not hanging them up yet. Even so, Inoki felt like he had much to prove going forward, and declared that he would ‘start again’ at the bottom of the card before he deemed himself worthy of top contention once more.
To that end, Inoki put himself through a seven match Proving Series in October 1988, for the appropriately named Fighting Spirit Series tour. It was a campaign that started strong, with a two minute victory over Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow, and continued with three more victories, against Mexican legend El Canek, Kengo Kimura, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. The fifth match in the series was his toughest challenge yet, however.
Riki Choshu wrestled most of the 1980s with a severe chip on his shoulder. Way back in 1982, it was the attention of the media and Inoki himself given to Tatsumi Fujinami that saw the jealous Choshu unleash a violent turn. Now in October 1988, he had more ammunition to his bitter cannon. Fujinami’s draw with Inoki saw ‘The Dragon’ cemented as an ace level player in NJPW, and resulted in the respect of the New Japan founder. Choshu was nowhere in that conversation, despite, he would protest, defeating Inoki in under eight minutes during the IWGP League that year. That the win came as a result of a brutal attack from behind with a Riki Lariat, Choshu would say, was of little consequence; if Inoki wanted to prove himself, he would have to prove himself against a Choshu hungry for blood.
October 20 1986: Junior Heavyweight Promotional Pride
One of the biggest narratives of 1986 surrounded what was known as the ‘UWF U-Turn’. Mere months after a group of NJPW wrestlers left the company to form a competing martial arts focused interest called UWF, the group returned to their original homes, and not to entirely welcoming arms. The UWF contingent vowed to ‘show their worth’ back in the cerulean blue, and did so in aggressive, violent form.
To many New Japan loyalists, the UWF contingent weren’t the most popular, but they were effective, and successful in a time of great change in the broader context of NJPW. This was the birth of the IWGP era, with the IWGP Tag Team Championships born at the end of 1985, and the Junior Heavyweight Championship inaugurated at the start of 1986. Kido and Takada scored early IWGP championship success in both fields; Kido would team with original UWF ace Akira Maeda to become half of the second IWGP Tag Team Champions, while Takada would himself become the second IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Momentum was strong for the UWF, but started to falter in September. Both Kido and Maeda and Takada lost their titles that month, back to the men they beat for them; Takada to Shiro Koshinaka, and Kido and Maeda lost to Tatsumi Fujinami and Kengo Kimura. That led to this tag bout in Kanagawa with ill feelings high, Kido and Takada teaming up against Kimura and Maeda.
October 21, 2017: A Quarter Century of Justice
Blue Justice has been a fixture to look forward to on the NJPW calendar for several years now, as Yuji Nagata’s home town of Togane turns out to see its favourite son usually battle in the main event. In 2017, it was a particularly special occasion, as Nagata marked his 25th anniversary in New Japan against the man he debuted opposite, Manabu Nakanishi.
In the cut throat world of professional wrestling, no two men have been closer than Nakanishi and Nagata. Nagata would feel for much of his early career as if Nakanishi was on a level above; the Olympian defeated Nagata to lift the Young Lion Cup in 1995, going on American excursion earlier, and on his return would lift the G1 Climax trophy in 1999, two years before Nagata achieved the same feat. Nagata though would find himself at the top of the IWGP mountain faster however as he earned the title in 2002, and through it all the friendly competition between two standard bearers for the Third Generation continued.
The two would capture the IWGP Tag team championships in August 1999, and even though they only had one reign, it was a dominant one, lasting almost a year. Such success necessitates a close bond, one that also helped Nakanishi to recovery after a long absence due to a severe neck injury in 2011. For Nagata there was no better choice for a 25th anniversary opponent than Nakanishi, but the two were not going to hold back even a little bit as they headed into Blue Justice VII.
October 23, 1992：Of Course, You Know, This Means WAR
In the history of professional wrestling few men plied their trade in rings as diverse, and with as much success, as Genichiro Tenryu. A late entrant into the wrestling world after he spent his early 20s in sumo, Tenryu would become a top flight star in All Japan Pro-Wrestling through the 1980s. Not feeling he had the top flight breaks he deserved, however, Tenryu would leave for the controversial SWS group, and in the wake of its demise, start on his own with WAR. The ‘R’ stood for the ‘Revolution’ Tenryu sought to bring to the entire world of professional wrestling. With his rough, no nonsense style, immense charisma, and a like minded, talented roster Tenryu’s revolution gained a lot of followers after WAR’s establishment in July 1992. In October 1992, his revolution would be televised; on Asahi’s World Pro Wrestling in fact, a rarity for the TV show to be airing a non-NJPW event.
Shiro Koshinaka and Kengo Kimura were the impetus for this television rarity. Along with Akitoshi Saito, they represented the Heisei Ishingun, a modernised version of the Ishingun stable that terrorized Japan in the 1980s. With WAR eager to prove their worth against all comers including NJPW in Japan, and the WWF in the US, Heisei Ishingun would show their force in Yokohama and Sapporo events for WAR, and emerged victorious both times.
Now, in Korakuen Hall, Genichiro Tenryu and Koki Kitahara wanted revenge at all costs. Tenryu wouldn’t bow down to the larger New Japan, and was in a collision course with Riki Choshu on January 4 1993 in the Tokyo Dome, what would be their first match with one another for over six years. Tenryu was eager for the win, as was the extremely partisan Korakuen crowd.
October 25, 1977: Inoki Taps, Not Chucks, Wepner
In 1976, Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali was not merely one of the most talked about matches of the year, it became one of the most significant sporting events of the 20th century, and sparked what would become mixed martial arts as we know it today.
It did however fail to determine a winner, and with disagreements over rules from both sides, no party involved was entirely satisfied with the outcome. Inoki would drive toward a rematch with Ali, establishing himself as not only the NWF Champion in NJPW, but the world’s top ranked martial artist to boot. It set Inoki up for a wide range of matches with diverse opponents, a heavily promoted example being his October 1977 meeting with Chuck Wepner.
In the same building that Inoki faced Ali, he came face to face with the man who pushed ‘The Greatest’ to his limits. In a famous 1975 fight that would become the inspiration for the ‘Rocky’ movies, Wepner came within seconds of the full 15 round distance with Ali, falling barely short but gaining immense fame in the process. On July 26 1976, Ali and Inoki would have their famous bout broadcast via close circuit from the Nippon Budokan to Shea Stadium in the US, where Wepner took on Andre the Giant on the undercard. There he was flung to the floor by the mammoth Frenchman, giving Wepner further motivation to get back in the ring and take on another grappler in ’77.