Our weekly lookback through the NJPW World archives returns, with some fantastic retro picks before you get stuck into New Beginning in Sapporo live this weekend!
January 27, 2018: King trumps Ace
Hiroshi Tanahashi had recovered from a crushing IWGP Intercontinental Championship defeat to Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 11 to a strong 2017 as champion after winning the white and gold back in Dominion. When Switchblade Jay White made a high profile return on January 4 2018, Tanahashi successfully retained, but the very next night, at New Year Dash, the King lay in wait.
Minoru Suzuki made it clear that the IWGP Intercontinental Championship was the next treasure he sought, and he pursued it with vicious abandon. It all led to January 27 and New Beginning in Sapporo, where Suzuki would brutally assault Tanahashi’s knee past the breaking point. As Tanahashi had no answer for The King’s relentless assault, the match ended in a referee stoppage, Suzuki walking out with title held high, and the Ace leaving on a stretcher, future unclear.
January 28 1982: Allen & Abby Mean Bad News for Inoki
Antonio Inoki and Tiger Jeet Singh was a rivalry that lasted through the bulk of the 1970s and into the 80s. Many a town saw cards headlined by the NJPW founder taking on the wild sabre bearing Singh, with many a crowd scattered, thrilled and shocked at the violent, bloody battles they shared. In 1982, Inoki was able to close the chapter on his saga with Singh, but another hardcore foe would be around the corner.
Abdullah the Butcher had debuted in NJPW the prior summer, and instantly engaged in a brutal rivalry with Inoki’s partner and co-founder Seiji Sakaguchi. Throughout, Abdullah’s partner-cum-manager Bad News Allen was almost always at his side, and more often than not, would interfere on the Butcher’s behalf.
On January 29 1982, Inoki and Abdullah faced off one on one, with a harsh warning from the official: should Allen make his presence felt in the match in any way shape or form, Abdullah would be disqualified. To the breed of competitors Abdullah and Allen were, this was a red rag to a bull. Interference would be inevitable, as destruction took precedent over victory.
January 29, 1997: A Lion, a Former Tiger, a Liger and a Samurai Walk Into Fukushima…
On February 9, Ryu Lee and Hiromu Takahashi go head to head for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, barely one month after they teamed up to take on Jyushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano in what would be both men’s last match. It’s rare for Tokyo Dome partners to be opponents within a few weeks, but in January 1997, the reverse was true; January 4 opponents were on the same side in Fukushima.
Not that you’d know by the billing. three years after losing his Tiger Mask to Jyushin Thunder Liger in the Tokyo Dome, Koji Kanemoto had developed a vicious, hard-nosed bent that particularly found its way out when facing masked rivals like Liger and El Samurai. On January 4 he faced new masked competition in the Super Liger; the silver suited star’s one and only appearance resulted in a quick win for Kanemoto, but under the suit was one Chris Jericho. Jericho had wrestled in Japan in the WAR promotion in years past; in NJPW, much as the Tiger Mask never truly fit for Kanemoto, so Super Liger wasn’t for the ‘Lionheart’. Without mask and suit, Jericho found much in common with Kanemoto, including a violent style that came out against Liger and Samurai on the Fighting Spirit ’97 tour.
January 30 2016: Sayonara, Shinsuke
Korakuen Hall has seen many a tearful farewell. In fact, in February this year, it will see two as Tiger Hattori and Manabu Nakanishi both retire in the legendary building in the very same week. January 30 2016 didn’t see Shinsuke Nakamura retire, but the goodbye bade to him was nonetheless incredibly emotional.
After over 13 years in NJPW, Nakamura felt he had done all he could in the cerulean blue when 2016 rolled around. In his formative years he bridged a divide between martial artists and pro wrestlers in a controversial period in NJWP history. More recently, he addressed the divide between the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships that he would leave the promotion without losing, and had established as a headline title that could main event the Tokyo Dome. The fast pace of professional wrestling meant that many were fast to fill Nakamura’s position, and use the opportunity to define themselves in their own way; within months Kenny Omega would emerge as IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Tetsuya Naito as Heavyweight for the first time, and newcomers like SANADA would make themselves known. Yet there would be no replacing the ‘King of Strong Style’.
January 31 1990: Sano and Liger’s explosive rivalry
After debuting in the Tokyo Dome in April 1989, Jyushin Liger had a hot remainder of the year, and in 1990, after adding Thunder to his name, looked to define the decade. One man stood in his way, however. Much like Liger himself, Naoki Sano had strong personal ties to the Tokyo Dome; on the same day that Liger debuted in the Big Egg, Sano was the first to wrestle, the Young Tokyo Dome Cup final seeing him defeat Hiro Saito. Sano was not about to let Liger steal all the headlines as the 1980s came to a close, and when Liger won his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Shiro Koshinaka, Sano stepped up to challenge.
The resulting intense confrontation in Ryogoku in July would end when Sano suplexed Liger off the top rope, and both men were knocked unconscious, the result being a draw. Sano won a rematch, taking the junior title from Liger, who was intent on winning the belt back, but remained unsuccessful until the calendar turned to 1990. After Liger was unable to rest the title back from Sano through 1989, there was an air of finality in this bout with Sano; a feeling that this might be Liger’s last chance at the champ. The resulting desperation led to aggressive offense, and bloody results.