Welcome to our regular look back through the NJPW World archives, as we look at some of the past classics from this week in history. This time, some classic junior heavyweight matches, including that one time in 2016 a certain Best of the Super Junior match made a few headlines…
May 24, 2015: Tranquilo!
In 2015, Naito made a fateful trip to Mexico in a strange mental state. The ghosts of the prior year clearly haunted the ‘Stardust Genius’; after winning the G1 in 2013, his Wrestle Kingdom IWGP Heavyweight Championship match with Kazuchika Okada was voted down to semi main event status while Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura topped the Tokyo Dome card. A month later, Naito would lose the NEVER Openweight Championship to Tomohiro Ishii, in a match that saw him booed out of the Osaka building.
Naito continued to have an uninspired 2014, and started the net year in losing form, falling to AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 9. Struggling to stay in the conversation when it came to the NJPW main event scene, Naito started his excursion with rough form. Teaming with Maximo and La Mascara, he would take both falls in a losing effort to Ultimo Guerrero, Terrible and Rey Bucanero. Left lying after a low blow, Naito had to make a change, which came in a huge way just days later. Falling in with Rush and La Sombra, Naito joined Los Ingobernables, an amoral league of misfits who fell out of the usual rudo and tecnico paradigms. When he returned to Japan in June, it was with an all new attitude, and the impetus to start a movement.
May 25, 1989: A Championship Legacy Begins
1989 was still a few years before May was celebrated as a festival of junior heavyweight wrestling, but Prolympic in Osaka Jo Hall saw one sign of what was to come when it came to the explosion of junior heavyweight popularity in the decade to come.
The event was a follow-up to the prior month’s Battle Satellite, which saw NJPW and pro-wrestling at large debut inside the Tokyo Dome. Prolympic saw a series of matches between high ranking Russian amateur wrestlers and NJPW’s pros, while one journey started in the Dome continued in Osaka.
Jyushin Liger had debuted that April night to a thunderous reaction and instant success, defeating Kuniaki Kobayashi despite the self proclaimed ‘tiger hunter’s goal of demasking Liger on his debut. Liger went on to have a hot May, with ten singles victories through the month putting him on an instant collision course with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Hase.
Hase was himself only at the start of his second championship reign, having defeated Shiro Koshinaka on the third time of asking in Yokohama in March. The Northern Lights Suplex mastery of Hase would be tough to overcome, but Liger had been perfecting his own bridging suplex- the Jyushin Atomic Plex- for just such an occasion…
May 26, 1982: International Incident
For the first several years in New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s existence after its 1972 establishment, most matches took the form of a Japanese wrestlewr facing a foreign adversary. Ever since the establishment of professional wrestling in post-war Japan, national pride was a theme of the early decades in the sport, as fans were eager to see top Japanese athletes against opponents from all over the world.
Matches with two top Japanese stars facing off were rare, especially outside of a tournament setting, and led to a good deal of buzz as a result. The same could be said of two non-Japanese wrestlers facing off, as happened at the Big Fight Series card in Osaka.
Abdullah the Butcher had been the center of controversy ever since he debuted in NJPW the prior June, immediately singling out Antonio Inoki as he engaged in vicious and bloody brawls. Hogan meanwhile was the recipient of high praise and cheers from crowds, especially after a strong run in the 1981 MSG series saw ‘Ichiban’ come out a strong fourth in a ten man league. Hogan’s charisma and striking look had Japanese fans getting behind the star as if he were their own, but Abdullah’s fork would play a part in scarring Hogan’s face and turning the bleached hair red.
May 27, 2016: There Goes the Internet
Many had May 27 circled on their calendars when the Best of the Super Juniors 23 cards were unveiled. Ricochet was the 2014 BOSJ winner, and in the eyes of many, the world’s premier high flier. Opposite him would be Will Ospreay, the young Briton with a lot of buzz, who had joined New Japan in the spring and instantly came within a hair of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The anticipation in Korakuen Hall was palpable, but nobody could anticipate just how much 16 minutes and 50 seconds of action would transform the wrestling world.
It was controversial, it was thrilling, it was beautiful and it made worldwide stars of both. It’s probably easier just to watch it.
May 28, 1990: Clash the Super Heavy
Riki Choshu and Shinya Hashimoto had a complex relationship, veering between respectful and openly antagonistic from Hashimoto’s years as a Young Lion, all the way to the 2000s, with a series of heavy hitting matches taking place before Hashimoto’s untimely passing in 2005.
In 1990, this Osaka battle was a vital one for Hashimoto. Choshu had seen the rise of the Three Musketeers of the Fighting Spirit in Hashimoto, Masahiro Chono and Keiji Muto as they made their ascent in the 1980s, in part to fill the gap left when Choshu had himself temporarily left New Japan to join AJPW. He set himself, along with his contemporary and rival Tatsumi Fujinami as the gatekeepers to the main event kingdom. ‘The future may be yours,’ he would say ‘but don’t rush it, because we’re still in charge for now.’ To prove his point, Choshu would enter three big singles matches on the May 1990 Clash the Super Heavy tour, against each of the musketeers in turn. Choshu had already defeated Muto and Chono by the 28th, meaning Hashimoto had the burden of the new generation’s hopes on his shoulders, as well as the knowledge he could win; he held a 1-1 record with Choshu, with his win coming in the Tokyo Dome the prior year in under four minutes. ‘How I win doesn’t matter,’ were Hashimoto’s pre-match thoughts, ‘I just have to win.’