As the Road to Power Struggle nears its end, there’s no stop to the live action on NJPW World! If you find yourself with a little downtime after catching up with the Super Jr. Tag League action though, you can check out some of the following classic matches and moments from the archives!
October 26, 1982: Tiger, Hunted
In the brief but red-hot initial boom period for Tiger Mask, one of the hottest rivalries was with Kuniaki Kobayashi. A 1972 entrant into the NJPW Dojo, Kobayashi had debuted in 1973, but struggled to truly find an edge in the competitive 1970s. Even on excursion to Europe, he found himself lost in the mix, unkindly nicknamed ‘Not So Strong’ Kobayashi, after Europeans had fallen in love with IWE pioneer Strong Kobayashi earlier in the decade.
In 1980, Kobayashi underwent an excursion to Mexico that transformed him in much the same way Tetsuya Naito metamorphosed in 2015. He returned in October 1982 with a very different look with his red martial arts gear, and very different attitude. Kobayashi decided to pick a fight with the top dog of his division; or the top cat at least. Tiger Mask was on fire, and Kobayashi was determined not just to beat, but to demask him. A feud began that, Kobayashi would later say ‘transformed me from a no-name to a prime time star’.
October 27, 2018: The Dream Team is Formed
Ever since Kazuchika Okada returned to NJPW from excursion as the Rainmaker, and issued a brazen challenge to then IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on January 4, 2012, nobody thought it would be possible. From the Rainmaker Shock in Osaka the next month, through three Tokyo Dome main events, nail-biting G1 Climax draws and incredible matches all over Japan, nobody even conceived that Okada and Tanahashi would be on the same side.
Yet unprecedented times lead to unprecedented steps. Jay White and Gedo betrayed CHAOS after Okada and Tanahashi met in the main event in Kobe on September 23 2018. One month later at King of Pro-Wrestling, after Tanahashi pinned White clean in the middle of the ring, a brutal Switchblade led beating ensued, as White, along with Jado & Gedo joined BULLET CLUB. Okada chased Jay White off, but it still seemed that the Ace and the Rainmaker simply shared a common foe rather than any alliance of their own.
Then, on October 27, Okada found himself at the receiving end of BULLET CLUB wrath. This time it was Tanahashi making the save, and the two cut down White with a big double elbow. What followed was a handshake that changed the landscape of NJPW.
October 30, 1994: Lone Wolf Chono
The Super Jr. Tag League is reaching its conclusion right now, but in 1994, it was the SG (Super Grade, a precursor to today’s World) Tag League that saw its finals in Ryogoku. Ten teams were part of the single block league, and the combination of Masahiro Chono and Super Strong Machine seemed an effective one indeed. The two logged an impressive 7-2 record in the league, only losing to Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu and the J Jacks team of Akira Nogami and Takayuki Iizuka. Unlucky with the draw heading into the final day, the two had to face the Hell Raisers of Power and Hawk Warrior before the final match itself, and nevertheless came out on top, facing the relatively fresh Keiji Muto and Hiroshi Hase in the main event.
Yet this wasn’t the same Masahiro Chono that had delighted NJPW fans through the early 90s. Ever since the G1 Climax a month prior, Chono had adopted a lone wolf mentality and a complete change in demeanour. No longer clad in colourful tights, Chono was now black clad, and mean hearted, ruthlessly attacking Hiroshi Hase in a bloodbath over the summer. Hase was hungry for revenge in the SG final, and Muto wanted to break through to his rival and former friend, but Chono was indifferent to all concerned, his own partner included, as he deserted the Machine and headed to the back alone.
November 1, 1999: Ace and Gorilla in Prototype Form
Two of the most prominent figures in NJPW through the turbulent 2000s, it’s safe to say that without Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe, New Japan as we know it would be in a very different place today.
Yet just like everyone else in the NJPW system, Tanahashi and Makabe started out as Young Lions, in black tights, black boots and with the will to survive and thrive challenged daily. Having debuted two years earlier, Makabe- then known as Shinya Makabe- was the senior to three fresh faces who debuted simultaneously on October 10; Katsuyori Shibata, Wataru Inoue and Hiroshi Tanahashi. This resulted in the future Ace learning some harsh lessons from the man that became the Unchained Gorilla, as we see here.