As the Road to Power Struggle sees the stars of NJPW battle for control, history repeats through the years. This week in history, interpromotional and inter-sports feuds as well as a shocking and powerful alliance:
October 23, 1992：Of Course, You Know, This Means WAR
In the history of professional wrestling few men plied their trade in rings as diverse, and with as much success, as Genichiro Tenryu. A late entrant into the wrestling world after he spent his early 20s in sumo, Tenryu would become a top flight star in All Japan Pro-Wrestling through the 1980s. Not feeling he had the top flight breaks he deserved, however, Tenryu would leave for the controversial SWS group, and in the wake of its demise, start on his own with WAR. The ‘R’ stood for the ‘Revolution’ Tenryu sought to bring to the entire world of professional wrestling. With his rough, no nonsense style, immense charisma, and a like minded, talented roster Tenryu’s revolution gained a lot of followers after WAR’s establishment in July 1992. In October 1992, his revolution would be televised; on Asahi’s World Pro Wrestling in fact, a rarity for the TV show to be airing a non-NJPW event.
Shiro Koshinaka and Kengo Kimura were the impetus for this television rarity. Along with Akitoshi Saito, they represented the Heisei Ishingun, a modernised version of the Ishingun stable that terrorized Japan in the 1980s. With WAR eager to prove their worth against all comers including NJPW in Japan, and the WWF in the US, Heisei Ishingun would show their force in Yokohama and Sapporo events for WAR, and emerged victorious both times.
Now, in Korakuen Hall, Genichiro Tenryu and Koki Kitahara wanted revenge at all costs. Tenryu wouldn’t bow down to the larger New Japan, and was in a collision course with Riki Choshu on January 4 1993 in the Tokyo Dome, what would be their first match with one another for over six years. Tenryu was eager for the win, as was the extremely partisan Korakuen crowd.
October 25, 1977: Inoki Taps, Not Chucks, Wepner
In 1976, Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali was not merely one of the most talked about matches of the year, it became one of the most significant sporting events of the 20th century, and sparked what would become mixed martial arts as we know it today.
It did however fail to determine a winner, and with disagreements over rules from both sides, no party involved was entirely satisfied with the outcome. Inoki would drive toward a rematch with Ali, establishing himself as not only the NWF Champion in NJPW, but the world’s top ranked martial artist to boot. It set Inoki up for a wide range of matches with diverse opponents, a heavily promoted example being his October 1977 meeting with Chuck Wepner.
In the same building that Inoki faced Ali, he came face to face with the man who pushed ‘The Greatest’ to his limits. In a famous 1975 fight that would become the inspiration for the ‘Rocky’ movies, Wepner came within seconds of the full 15 round distance with Ali, falling barely short but gaining immense fame in the process. On July 26 1976, Ali and Inoki would have their famous bout broadcast via close circuit from the Nippon Budokan to Shea Stadium in the US, where Wepner took on Andre the Giant on the undercard. There he was flung to the floor by the mammoth Frenchman, giving Wepner further motivation to get back in the ring and take on another grappler in ’77.
October 26, 1982: Tiger, Hunted
In the brief but red-hot initial boom period for Tiger Mask, one of the hottest rivalries was with Kuniaki Kobayashi. A 1972 entrant into the NJPW Dojo, Kobayashi had debuted in 1973, but struggled to truly find an edge in the competitive 1970s. Even on excursion to Europe, he found himself lost in the mix, unkindly nicknamed ‘Not So Strong’ Kobayashi, after Europeans had fallen in love with IWE pioneer Strong Kobayashi earlier in the decade.
In 1980, Kobayashi underwent an excursion to Mexico that transformed him in much the same way Tetsuya Naito metamorphosed in 2015. He returned in October 1982 with a very different look with his red martial arts gear, and very different attitude. Kobayashi decided to pick a fight with the top dog of his division; or the top cat at least. Tiger Mask was on fire, and Kobayashi was determined not just to beat, but to demask him. A feud began that, Kobayashi would later say ‘transformed me from a no-name to a prime time star’.
October 27, 2018: The Dream Team is Formed
Ever since Kazuchika Okada returned to NJPW from excursion as the Rainmaker, and issued a brazen challenge to then IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on January 4, 2012, nobody thought it would be possible. From the Rainmaker Shock in Osaka the next month, through three Tokyo Dome main events, nail-biting G1 Climax draws and incredible matches all over Japan, nobody even conceived that Okada and Tanahashi would be on the same side.
Yet unprecedented times lead to unprecedented steps. Jay White and Gedo betrayed CHAOS after Okada and Tanahashi met in the main event in Kobe on September 23 2018. One month later at King of Pro-Wrestling, after Tanahashi pinned White clean in the middle of the ring, a brutal Switchblade led beating ensued, as White, along with Jado & Gedo joined BULLET CLUB. Okada chased Jay White off, but it still seemed that the Ace and the Rainmaker simply shared a common foe rather than any alliance of their own.
Then, on October 27, Okada found himself at the receiving end of BULLET CLUB wrath. This time it was Tanahashi making the save, and the two cut down White with a big double elbow. What followed was a handshake that changed the landscape of NJPW.
October 30, 1998: Typhoon Season
In 1998, nWo fever was taking over the wrestling fans consciousness in Japan and in the US. Under Masahiro Chono, nWo Japan was an unstoppable juggernaut with legions of fans, nine Yen figure merchandise sales, and results to match, Chono capturing his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship in August.
nWo were big enough that entire tours were built around them, with nWo Typhoon seeing the NJPW cerulean blue mat replaced by nWo black and white, but its leader was not on the cards. Barely one month into his IWGP reign, Chono was forced to vacate the title due to a neck injury, with a new champion beng decided on Big Wednesday in September. While a young Yuji Nagata bravely fought to the finals of a single elimination tournament to decide the new champion, it was Scott Norton that kept the title in nWo control, scoring his first IWGP reign and becoming the first non-Japanese since Big Van Vader to hold the IWGP gold.
Looming large though was G1 Climax winner Shinya Hashimoto. While the young and tough, but inexperienced Nagata was one thing, Hashimoto was quite another, and Norton, having unsuccessfully challenged the King of Destruction when roles were reversed in his dominant title run, knew it. The powerful Norton would have to use every weapon, and every inch of his environment, to his disposal.