This weekend at Sengoku Lord, Hiromu Takahashi becomes only the third junior heavyweight to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight gold against LIJ’s defector to BULLET CLUB, EVIL. Appropriately enough, the second man after Koji Kanemoto to do so, Prince Devitt, did so seven years ago this week, and that’s just one of the hard fought matches from the archive to explore this week.
July 18, 2011: Suzuki out-Guns Kojima
Satoshi Kojima celebrated his 29th career anniversary this week. One of NJPW’s most beloved Third Genration members, it’s hard to imagine Kojima as a rule breaking antagonist, much less the leader and iron fist ruler of professional wrestling’s most brutal faction.
Yet once upon a time, Suzuki-Gun was the Provisional Kojima-Gun. Satoshi Kojima, somewhat out of place in the seas of New Japan Pro Wrestling, having returned to the promotion after a lengthy spell in All Japan, would team up with a pair of other figures who were trying to find a spiritual home. Taichi and TAKA Michinoku however had different plans to Kojima. Their methods involved bending rules as far as humanly possible before they broke, and gaining victory by any means possible.
That just wasn’t the Kojima way, and as Kojima butted heads with stable mates for weeks, it all came to a head in May. Michinoku and Taichi would turn on Kojima after his match with Togi Makabe, shockingly combining forces with Minoru Suzuki. Kojima-gun was now Suzuki-gun, and Kojima was the group’s first target. The result was a vicious battle in Hokkaido.
July 19, 2019: Korakuen Collision
When Jon Moxley first stepped into NJPW after years in WWE, the one venue at the top of his bucket list in Japan was Korakuen Hall. The scale of the Tokyo Dome and Sumo Hall was one thing to the Purveyor of Violence, but the intimacy and intensity only available in the legendary hallowed Hall made it the place to be for Mox.
So it was only right that an appropriate opponent be opposite him for his Korakuen debut, and when G1 Climax 29 came to Suidobashi, Tomohiro Ishii was that opponent. Ishii was not going to give an inch, and Moxley would have it no other way, the result being a wild and intense skull cracking, table smashing brawl. After this match, you will certainly believe that Stone Pitbulls can fly.
July 20, 2013: Raining Bullets
2013 was a year that changed the entire landscape in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Leading the way was a new faction of outcasts in BULLET CLUB, and at the group’s helm was one Prince Devitt.
Having toiled long and hard in NJPW and dominating as a junior heavyweight in singles and tag team ranks, Devitt had accomplished all there was to accomplish if, in his mind, he stayed in his perceived lane. Feeling there was a glass ceiling above him as a junior heavyweight wrestler, he brought a fire and underhanded edge at Anniversary in March of 2013, where an exhibition IWGP Junior Heavyweight versus Heavyweight Champion vs Champion match turned anything but friendly.
From there, Devitt would decide that he would do all it took to get his, and the chip on his shoulder grew ever deeper. Devitt joined forces with Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson, forming BULLET CLUB in May, and the group ran roughshod over NJPW. The group was no stranger to hate from the fans, but the once loved Devitt got convincing results, easily winning Best of the Super Juniors with a perfect record as a near riot erupted in Korakuen Hall.
Devitt went on to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi as the summer went on, and insisted that he be the first double IWGP Junior Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion. Okada granted Devitt his opportunity, provided the ‘Real Rock ‘n’ Rolla’ defend his title against Gedo first. That done in an instant classic weeks before, Devitt now headed into the biggest match of his career, and one he felt he had to win by any mean necessary.
July 22 1990: Four Rough Warriors
The 1990s in NJPW would become all about the Three Musketeers. Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto had all hit their stride in the midst of roster departures in the mid 1980s, seeing unprecedented focus on them during their Young Lion years, and on their returns from respective excursions, instant success. Returning from Canada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship tournament in the Tokyo Dome in April 1989, Hashimoto made the finals before losing at the last hurdle to Big Van Vader. Shortly afterward, he and Masa Saito would capture IWGP Tag Team Gold, holding the titles through to April 27 1990.
That was the day Keiji Muto returned to NJPW action after a hugely successful spell in the US. Muto would tag with Chono and the Musketeers were put against one another, with Muto and Chono coming out on top, a strong showing of what was to come in the ensuing decade. Muto and Chono would have an extremely impressive reign against tough competition, the Road Warriors being a prime example.
Hawk and Animal were in Japan for a brief 1990 summer tour, but were eager to show their strength against the best team in NJPW, even if the gold wasn’t up for grabs. Muto and Chono showed just how they were able to earn those championships in the first place, but the Road Warriors were determined not to go home the losers; via pinfall at least.
July 24, 2015: No Tranquilo for Shibata
Tetsuya Naito was one of the key players in the 2015 G1. After his victory two years earlier, and subsequent relegation of his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match to ‘main event one’ of the double main event Wrestle Kingdom 8, Naito started on the long path that took him to Mexico and Los Ingobernables.
Fans would see a new attitude from Naito after he returned from a Mexican excursion in June 2015, one that was not focused on what his fans or partners wanted to see from him. When the G1, Naito’s attitude was stepped up a gear, to the frustration of fans and opponents. This Naito was altogether more… Tranquilo.
The slow walk to the ring, and leisurely disrobing before his matches was clearly done to get under the skin of his opponents, but wasn’t a head game Katsuyori Shibata was willing to play. Having undergone a difficult period of regaining acceptance from fellow roster members and the public after making his return to NJPW in 2012, Shibata was one of the most popular G1 25 entrants. That popularity came from his straight ahead, no nonsense approach, something that was clearly incompatible with Naito, as evidenced when Shibata near decapitated El Ingobernable within seconds of the match starting. If Shibata wasn’t willing to take his time, Naito would just have to make him by taking away the legs of The Wrestler.