After Wrestle Kingdom ends, and before New Beginning… begins, the last decade has seen Fantasticamania hit the NJPW schedule, with a special celebration of lucha libre. As we see with our returning look at the NJPW World archives, an international feel has persisted through January’s cards.
January 18 1985: Nineteen Eighty FIVE
In the late 1970s and mid 1980s, a strong connection existed between Tokyo and New York, as NJPW and the WWF operated together. That relationship would lead to the likes of Tatsumi Fujinami and Tiger Mask wrestling in the fabled Madison Square Garden long before NJPW ran the building for the first time in 2019. Meanwhile, tours like the MSG Series that predated the G1 Climax and World Tag League precursor the MSG Tag League were conceived with the idea of bringing the excitement of MSG to Japan.
In 1985, King Kong Bundy was one of several WWF wrestlers that would step in the ring to tangle with NJPW’s best. Debuting on January 4, he would instantly make an impact in singles bouts against Tiger Toguchi and Kengo Kimura, where he would scoop fast victories. Two weeks after his first match, he would have his toughest challenge thus far against NJPW co-founder Seiji Sakaguchi.
January 21, 2017: JP vs USA in the UK
To anyone covering The Wrestler’s career, it appeared as if 2017 would be Katsuyori Shibata’s year. 2016 had seen him redouble his commitment to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and in the ensuing months, he would win gold in both the UK and Japan, earning the NEVER Openweight and British Heavyweight Championships. Though 2017 started on the back foot with a loss of the NEVER title to Hirooki Goto, hopes and expectations were high for Shibata as he headed to the UK to defend his heavyweight gold. Particularly high in fact as it seemed he would be battling a kindred spirit in MMA fighter turned professional wrestler Matt Riddle at RPW’s High Stakes event.
January 23 1978: The Dragon Breaths Fire in New York
As we’ve explored above, many wrestlers from New York would head to Japan in the late 1970s and early to mid 80s. Meanwhile, hot Japanese prospects headed west, among them a youngster by the name of Tatsumi Fujinami.
On January 4 2020, we saw NJPW’s original Dragon as part of Jyushin Thunder Liger’s retirement in the Tokyo Dome. Liger was inspired to become a wrestler by a picture of Fujinami holding the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, a title Fujinami won in Madison Square Garden against Carlos Estrada in this very match. Fujinami was wildly popular in Japan before making the journey to America; on a huge stage against Estrada, he knew he had to dig deep and produce. That he did with a move he would later say he created on the spot: the Dragon Suplex that secured victory.
January 24, 2016: A Fantastic Korakuen moment
They might now be known by different names, but their rivalry has spanned 18 singles matches over six years, and will continue on February 9 in Osaka. Despite, or even perhaps because of the fateful events of G1 Special in San Francisco in 2018, Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee will be picking up exactly as they left off in Osaka Jo Hall; exactly as was the case on January 24 2016.
Then freshly demasked by Lee, and wrestling under the name Kamaitachi, Takahashi wasn’t listed on the cards for Fantasticamania that year. Yet after a surprise assault the night before, he would declare that ‘there’s been a change to the card!’ and immediately challenged for Lee’s CMLL World Lightweight Championship.
An electric crowd in Korakuen bore witness for the first time to the phenomenal rivalry that had exploded in Mexico and continue to erupt worldwide in the ensuing years.