As we head to a night of firsts in Jingu Stadium for the culmination of Summer Struggle, and with the birth of NJPW STRONG imminent, there are plenty of reasons why this period of 2020 will go down in history for years to come. There are plenty of other historically significant events to talk about from this week in history, though, the below included.
July 26, 2015: Golden Revenge
We start by taking you back to G1 Climax 25, and Kota Ibushi’s attempt at his second major tournament of the year. In the spring, with landmark victories over Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto, Ibushi took the New japan Cup, and headed into an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match with BULLET CLUB’s AJ Styles. His first ever IWGP reign appeared to be within reach as he climbed to the top rope and looked for a Phoenix Splash, only to be reluctantly distracted on the apron by Kenny Omega. The momentary hesitation that caused the Golden Star gave Styles enough time to recover, and catch the Phoenix into a devastating Styles Clash.
Now, the chance for some closure from the spring, albeit without a championship at stake. Styles, with his own ability to prove, would not go to the well of BULLET CLUB interference through the tournament, leading to a series of classic bouts, including with Hiroshi Tanahashi at tournament’s end, and here, with Ibushi. The question remained whether Ibushi could reverse the result from Invasion Attack, or could AJ reassert his dominance as he sought a path back to IWGP glory?
July 27, 1978: Ryuma title win a no Go
After the G1 Climax wraps up in the Nippon Budokan on August 12, the next tournament on the calendar will be Super J-Cup 2019. Though his achievements as a heavyweight are more often remembered, it’s important to remember Tatsumi Fujinami’s contributions to junior heavyweight wrestling.
It was as a junior heavyweight that Fujinami first found his popularity, with ‘dragon fever’ sweeping the wrestling landscape in the late 1970s. In January 1978, Fujinami picked up his first championship, the WWWF’s Junior Heavyweight title, in Madison Square Garden (he would pick up the three count over Jose Estrada, incidentally, by innovating the Dragon Suplex). From there, but for a two day spell, he would hold the title all the way until the autumn of 1981.
He was a fighting champion, too. He already had defences in Los Angeles and Mexico scheduled in August should he beat a historically significant challenger in Ryuma Go on this July night.
This title match in the Budokan represented the first all Japanese WWWF title match in history. In the 1970s where matches often pit Japanese stars against the best from around the world, a singles bout between two Japanese wrestlers was rare, and in this case, fans were extra curious. Go was a fast rising star himself, but not in New Japan. Rather, he represented the IWE promotion, a group that formed and found popularity in the 1960s and 70s before eventually folding in 1981.
Go would fall short in this bout, losing to a Fujinami German suplex, but The Dragon was impressed enough to grant a rematch down the line. When that night finally came the next October, Go would be successful; indeed the two days that Fujinami didn’t hold the WWWF Junior Heavyweight title were accounted for by the popular and innovative Ryuma Go.
July 28 2018: Golden Pitbull
Kota Ibushi’s 2015 G1 Climax may have seen big victories against the likes of AJ Styles, but did not end in overall glory. 2016 saw Ibushi miss the summer tournament as he traveled worldwide in a break from Japanese wrestling, but 2017 started three acts for the Golden Star on his way to ultimate glory in 2019.
After his first steps back in a NJPW ring during the 217 tournament, G1 Climax 28 saw a highly motivated Ibushi fight tooth and nail to reach what would become an emotional final against Hiroshi Tanahashi. That final ended in bitter defeat, but with a sting of classic, hard fought matchups along the way. This Aichi war with Tomohiro Ishii could certainly be counted among them.
July 29 1988: All for one, one for all
NJPW’s 48 year history spans several generations of fandom, and each generation has its iconic figures. In the beginning, there was Inoki and Sakaguchi, through to Choshu and Fujinami. Today, Okada, Ibushi, Naito. The future, no doubt, belongs to those starting their Young Lion journeys in 2019 New Japan rings.
For those whose fandom emerged in the 1990s, however, three names eclipse all others: Hashimoto, Chono, Muto. The Three Musketeers of Fighting Spirit.
Three rising stars who arrived in the New Japan Dojo within days of one another, each had unique appeal and undeniable potential. Masahiro Chono was a masterful technician, Shinya Hashimoto a powerful bruiser and Keiji Muto a flashy high flier. Their usual Young Lion journey was accelerated out of necessity; when several wrestlers departed NJPW for other promotions in 1984, these three Dojo prospects were put in bigger matches in bigger buildings than those at their career stage normally would be. They acquitted themselves impressively, and all would be sent on excursions to meet high booking demand in the Americas and Europe.
On July 2 1988, the three found themselves in the same place; not Japan but Puerto Rico. It was there that they teamed for the first time, and formed the Three musketeers unit. On their return to Japan late in the month, they would have their first bout against three members of the NJPW establishment: Tatsumi Fujinami, Shiro Koshinaka and Kengo Kimura.
July 30, 2000: Riki Choshu’s explosive return
On January 4, 1998, Riki Choshu called an end to his active wrestling career in the Tokyo Dome. After five matches and an emotional speech at Final Power Hall, Choshu seemed set, with no regrets, to take a step back from the ring and to help New Japan from behind the curtain.
Those plans all changed when Atsushi Onita arrived. Originally a promising junior heavyweight in the All Japan Pro Wrestling ranks, Onita would leave AJPW and walk to the beat of his own, unique drum. Primarily for FMW, he would take part in some innovative, and extremely violent matches. When he himself retired briefly from the ring in FMW, he would eventually appear as an uninvited freelancer in NJPW.
Onita considered himself as the standard bearer of ‘jado (heretic) pro wrestling’. That was illustrative not just of his in ring style, but attitude toward the establishment of the wrestling world, an establishment that Choshu represented. On Januiary 4 1999 at Wrestling World, Onita faced Kensuke Sasaki in a match that ended in disqualification with a fireball flung in Sasaki’s face; that fire was thrown literally at Sasaki, but figuratively at his mentor Choshu.
When Choshu eventually could be needled no more, a match was made in Yokohama Arena that would see him come out of retirment to face Onita. It would be no ordinary bout however, but an Onita speciality; a no rope, barbed wire electrified deathmatch. Tensions were high as Onita continued to taunt at Choshu, even invading a pre-match training session to make sure Choshu still had the resolve to go through with the bout. The action was, as expected, explosive.