We are fast approaching the finals of the first ever autumn G1 Climax, all with live English commentary on NJPW World. Yet while this is the first time the G1 finals take place in October, the month has long been associated with its venue of Ryogoku Sumo Hall. That association has created some incredible moments from this week in history:
October 10, 2016: Seeing W
Fans at Ryogoku for King of Pro-Wrestling in 2016 got a special treat before the card proper when an animated rivalry sprang to life. Tiger Mask W saw a triumphant reboot of the classic ‘Tiger Mask’ anime series with a modern twist. Just like the series birthed a legacy of real life wrestling stars in the 1980s, Tiger Mask W saw its own real-world representation.
While many speculated that the animated hero was somewhat familiar in physicality and motion, his true identity was very much a mystery, as was that of his opponent, the Red Death Mask that W feuded with on the TV show. Much as the original Tiger Mask wrestler and the animation that inspired him informed a generation of fans and competitors, perhaps there were children in the audience that October night who will embark on their own in ring journey a decade from now…
October 11 2010: 55 ☆ Love
After G1 Climax is in the books, we will be on the road to Power Struggle on November 7, and Best of the Super Jr. 27 and World Tag League beyond. Turn back the clock ten years, and the four names most prominent in the junior heavyweight division, and in tag team wrestling regardless of weight class, were Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega, Ryusuke Taguchi and Prince Devitt.
Devitt and Taguchi, Apollo 55 dominated the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championships over a four year period from 2009 to 2012, while both were similarly successful in the singles ranks, with Devitt beginning a year long first reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion in April 2010. With both men seemingly unstoppable against teams and individuals within NJPW, their biggest challenge would come from outside.
In May 2009, Kota Ibushi made his hotly anticipated NJPW debut, representing the Dramatic Dream Team promotion at the time. The next January, he would be joined by his Golden☆Lovers partner, Kenny Omega. Omega had been inspired by footage of Ibushi to begin his pro-wrestling career anew in Japan, and quickly formed a memorable tag team. When both men participated in best of the Super Juniors in June 2010, Ibushi fell just short of defeating Devitt in the tournament final, while Omega, a win over Taguchi in hand moved to an impressive if unsuccessful challenge in September. Both men had put together a strong enough track record to challenge for the tag team championships though, and the match that ensued was good enough to be the first in its category to win Tokyo Sports Match of the Year.
October 12 2015: The Era of EVIL
As the G1 Climax B Block reaches its conclusion Saturday night, Tetsuya Naito and EVIL are two of the most prominent players. EVIL knows Ryogoku very well indeed; in fact it was five years ago in Sumo Hall that he became Naito’s first pareja in what became Los Ingobernables de Japon.
When Naito returned from Mexico in May of 2015, he did so reinvented as El Ingobernable, having aligned himself with the CMLL sensation that was Los Ingobernables. With his new attitude, Naito had clearly tapped into something that made him punch through the glass ceiling into the upper tier of superstardom in NJPW, but it was a lonely position to be in. Without a partner, Naito teamed with Juice Robinson through the Destruction tour, an arrangement that neither was at all happy with.
After his match with Katsuyori Shibata in Kobe then, it was little surprise that Naito would begin teasing the presence of a ‘pareja’ to join him in his challenge to Hiroshi Tanahashi for his right to challenge IWGP briefcase at King of Pro-Wrestling. That pareja was a man Naito knew from a common background in Animal Hamaguchi’s fabled gym and had followed during his time on American excursion, a man now known as EVIL. The King of Darkness made an instant impact, and instant enemies.
October 13 2008: In-ring Genius
While the G1 Climax 30 winner is still very much undecided, the man who holds aloft the trophy will certainly be an NJPW wrestler. In the 30 years of pro-wrestling’s greatest tournament, only one man, Satoshi Kojima in 2010 has done so while being directly affiliated with another organization. The same can’t be said of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and when the richest prize in NJPW has slipped away from New Japan’s grasp, those at the helm of the promotion have historically fought with double the pride and passion to bring the title back to the cerulean blue.
This was the case in 2008 where Keiji Muto shocked the world in April by beginning his fourth IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign by defeating Shinsuke Nakamura. Muto was at the forefront of All Japan Pro-Wrestling, with sporadic appearances in NJPW rings at this point in his career, and indeed, would appear but rarely in NJPW to defend his title, against ever more determined competition each time. Manabu Nakanishi, Togi Makabe and Hirooki Goto each fell short in their challenges, and at Destruction, Nakamura stepped back to the plate. Were he victorious, he would gain much needed revenge, and would certainly edge out rival Hiroshi Tanahashi for the label of NJPW’s single Ace…
October 14 2019: The King Bows
NJPW’s most recent showing in Ryogoku at king of Pro-Wrestling 2019 was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend for everyone involved. After the fearsome Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan the day before, swathes of the country were underwater, including the first floor of NJPW’s Noge Dojo. Travel was disrupted, with Zack Sabre Junior and Jon Moxley unable to arrive in the country, the latter having to forfeit his IWGP US Heavyweight Championship as a result. And in the middle of the card, Jyushin Thunder Liger wrestled his last high profile singles match, against Minoru Suzuki.
Suzuki and Liger’s connection stretched back to Suzuki’s days as a young man in the NJPW Dojo, before his career took him in a different direction, via UWF and coach Yoshiaki Fujiwara to the seminal days of mixed martial arts. When Suzuki’s MMA career ended, Liger volunteered to be a last minute replacement for his final opponent. The match ended in a loss, but Liger vowed revenge.
Though the two men would meet again in 2012, Liger again came up short and again vowed the matchup would happen again one day. When Liger announced his retirement in March of 2019 then, Suzuki was furious that Liger might leave the wrestling world ‘too weak to hack it’, and still duck his encounter with the King. There began a bitter feud that had both men promising a fight more than a wrestling match, and in the ring at Ryogoku, each competitor gave it all they had.