So as an average fan of pro wrestling, sports entertainment, or whatever you want to call it, you probably watch a lot of WWE. Maybe you watch some TNA or ROH as well but most people know pro wrestling solely as Vince McMahon’s conglomerate. But in 2016 WWE fans are starting to find out that wrestling is still very much a worldwide thing. Whether it’s in Mexico with AAA or CMLL. The guys in the UK doing Progress and ICW. Even in Japan with companies like Big Japan, All Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH and the basis of this piece and arguably one of the hottest wrestling companies on the planet right now. Shin Nihon Puro Resu aka New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Written by: @KingOfKekStyle
So basically the goal of this article is basically to at least give you a background on the promotion and the talent. New Japan used to be kind of a hardcore thing for fans outside of Japan to follow due to a couple of factors. The biggest issue being that unlike a WWE or TNA or Ring Of Honor pro wrestling in Japan really isn’t a hot television property. In fact the only place you’d find New Japan on television usually in Japan is in the wee hours of the night on one of their public access channels. Even then they’re basically clip shows from the various house shows or maybe the previous month’s event. There is also SamuraiTV which is a cable network which has recently rolled out a streaming service that covers not only New Japan but the aforementioned promotions such as NOAH/BJW/AJPW/Zero-1/DDT. New Japan also has rolled out its New Japan World streaming service including a very easy to use English translated version to expand their reach. Of course if you get AXSTV stateside there’s also the great New Japan Pro Wrestling shows commentated by the legendary Jim Ross and Josh Barnett with the downside being these are generally events from six months ago but they’re still worth watching.
Now you’re saying to yourself “Okay cool. I know where and how to watch New Japan. Who are all these guys? What’s up with that guy with the weird glasses? What are all these belts? Where’s John Cena?” Okay maybe not the last one. So before we get into the titles and the talent let’s go through a quick rundown of the promotion’s storied history shall we? If you’ve followed pro wrestling for any part of the last 10-20 years some of these names might sound familiar.
New Japan Pro Wrestling was established in 1972 by wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. Inoki was part of a promotion started in the early 1950s called the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance created by legendary sumo wrestler and who many consider the “father of puroresu” Rikidozan. The JPWA was a huge deal at the time being home to legends such as Inoki and Giant Baba . Rikidozan unfortunately passed away in 1963 and following his death the company still continued to run until the early 70s at which time both Inoki and Baba left the organization to start their own promotions, Inoki starting New Japan Pro Wrestling and Baba starting his All Japan Pro Wresting promotion. With two of arguably their biggest draws departing the company JPWA was forced to fold soon after. Inoki’s new promotion held their first event March 6, 1972.
Without getting too convoluted about the history of the titles, and trust me the details of how every belt came to be will make your head spin, let’s talk about the basics. New Japan has its own governing body, the International Wrestling Grand Prix or IWGP. There are seven IWGP titles right now. That’s right. I said seven titles and if you think that’s bad wiki the J-Crown title series and really have your mind blown. So with that being said let’s meet our champions shall we?
64th IWGP Heavyweight Champion: Tetsuya Naito
Tetsuya Naito has really undergone an impressive career resurgence over the past few years. Debuting in New Japan in mid 2006 he achieved a modicum of success teaming with Yujiro Takahashi capturing the Jr Heavyweight Tag Titles in 2008 from Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) and Minoru Suzuki losing them to The Motor City Machine Guns in early 2009 at Wrestle Kingdom 3. Naito then embarked on what New Japan refers to as a “Developmental tour” where they travel the world to hone their skills. Naito’s first stop in 2009 was with TNA. That tour lasted all of two months however it would be his next stop in CMLL in Mexico that arguably would mold him into the champion we see today. Naito returned to New Japan in 2010 and really broke out as a singles star later that year hold victories over both the current champion Togi Makabe as well as taking the Ace of New Japan Hiroshi Tanahashi to a 30 minute draw in a classic match during 2010’s G1 tournament.
A knee injury would sideline him during 2012’s G1 until May of 2013. 2013 would be the start of great things for Naito. During the 2013 G1 Naito won his block and went on to beat Tanahashi in the finals which meant he was back in the drivers seat for another chance at the IWGP championship he let slip through his fingers when he took on Okada in 2012. He wasn’t stopping there. His first act after winning the G1 was demanding a rematch with Masato Tanaka for the NEVER title he failed to capture in July putting his contract for his title match at Wrestle Kingdom on the line. Naito captured the NEVER title later that month, defending it all the way through Wrestle Kingdom. A vote was held for the fans as to who they thought should main event the yearly must see event in 2014 between Naito/Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title or Nakamura/Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title. The results were staggering. Nakamura/Tanahashi was voted in almost landslide fashion as the true main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8 with Naito once again failing to dethrone Okada as champion. Naito would go on to feud with Tomohiro Ishii losing his NEVER title in their third encounter at New Beginning. As 2014 came to a close New Japan’s partnership with Ring Of Honor saw Naito working shows stateside as part of their Global Wars and War of the World events. Naito chose to stay stateside after the tour returning once again to CMLL. With a chip on his shoulder, he teamed with La Sombra as part of the heel stable of Los Ingobernables (The Ungovernables).
He returned to New Japan for the final time in June of 2014 with a completely new look and a new attitude. Gone was the plucky “Stardust Genius” smiling happy go lucky Tetsuya Naito. He was obviously a changed man after his travels. He carried the Los Ingobernables banner to New Japan, recruiting BUSHI and Takaaki Watanabe (EVIL) and creating the Los Ingobernables de Japon. Naito with a new-found confidence and swagger went on to win the New Japan Cup earlier this year earning him a match with the champion Okada. At Invasion Attack 2016 Naito finally dethroned the champion after interference from all of his LIJ stablemates as well as the debuting Seiya Sanada. Los Ingobernables de Japon, and more importantly it’s leader, is on top of the wrestling world.
13th IWGP Intercontinental Champion: Kenny Omega
The current leader of the Bullet Club/The Elite is an interesting character to say the least. Calling himself “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega has definitely mopped up his opponents left and right over the past six months. Known more to compete in the junior heavyweight category it wasn’t until at this year’s New Years Dash that he usurped AJ Styles as the leader of the Bullet Club and declared that he was fed up with being essentially in the “lesser” division while everyone else got the spotlight. Graduating to the heavyweight division paid off in spades for Kenny in 2016. Shinsuke Nakamura’s departure from New Japan to WWE forced him to vacate the IC title. Kenny scored the pinfall on Nakamura in his last New Japan match stating his case for being the rightful champion. It was decided that at New Beginning Omega would square off with Tanahashi for the vacated title with Omega pinning Tanahashi winning his first heavyweight title. Kenny however was not done.
Just a mere six days later at Honor Rising he and his fellow Elite members The Young Bucks captured the Never 6 Man Tag Titles making him a double champion. They would go on to lose those titles to the team of Tanahashi, Michael Elgin and Yoshitatsu sparking a feud with both Tanahashi and Elgin, Elgin challenging unsuccessfully for the IC title later that month and The Elite winning back the 6 man titles a month later. A ladder match (a rarity in New Japan) was set between Tanahashi and Omega for this month’s Dominion show however due to nagging shoulder injuries Tanahashi was written off at one of the recent Best of Super Juniors shows and it will be Elgin taking his place in the match.
73rd IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion: KUSHIDA
Kushida has been a staple of the junior heavyweight scene in New Japan for about six years. Debuting in 2010 during the Best Of Super Juniors he immediately made his mark on the promotion winning a handful of his opening block matches missing the finals by mere points. He then was in the mix for the Jr Heavyweight title on a number of occasions with then champion Prince Devitt but it was really his pairing with Alex Shelley and the formation of the Time Splitters where things really picked up for Kushida. They became one of the most popular tag teams having fantastic matches with then champions The Forever Hooligans Rocky Romero and Alex Koslov with the Time Splitters beating The Hooligans in November of 2012 to win the IWGP Jr Tag Titles. Over the course of the next year or so the Time Splitters would challenge the Young Bucks with varying levels of success over the tag titles but an injury to partner Alex Shelley would lead Kushida to strike back out on his own with his sights set on that Jr Heavyweight Title. In 2015 after so many years of coming up just a hair short in his quest to win the Best of Super Juniors he defeated Kyle O’Reilly in the finals securing his shot at then champion Kenny Omega. Kushida would defeat Omega at Dominion that year with the feud carrying him all the way to Wrestle Kingdom 10 where he once again vanquished Kenny Omega and regained the title which he has defended to this day. Kushida’s next defense will take place at Dominion on June 19th against Best of Super Juniors winner Will Ospreay in a rematch from their fantastic Invasion Attack match in April.
11th NEVER Openweight Champion: Yuji Nagata
The man known as “Blue Justice” and puro mainstay Yuji Nagata is your reigning NEVER champion. The NEVER title is a fairly new championship being instituted in 2010 as a title for all weight classes meant to allow some possibly lesser recognized talent and talent not signed to New Japan Pro Wrestling to establish themselves. NEVER stands for “New Blood” “Evolution”, “Valiantly”, “Eternal”, and “Radical”. Masato Tanaka was the first ever title holder and also holds the record for the longest title reign at a staggering 314 days. Normally I go into pretty deep detail about the title holders and their wrestling history but with all due respect to Nagata-san if I did this article would take 15 hours to write and would take you 10 hours to read.
Nagata has been a staple of Japanese wrestling for over 2 decades and some of you may even remember him during his time in WCW in the late 90s. He actually started as an amateur wrestler in the early 80s which lends to his noticeable rugged mat based style along with his striking ability. What’s really interesting to note is that Nagata didn’t really have his sights set on capturing this title at any point during his tenure in New Japan. When he returned from WCW in late 1998 he went straight after the IWGP Heavyweight Title and then champion Scott Norton going on to later become a 2 time IWGP Heavyweight champion, a 2 time tag champion, a G1 Climax winner, 2 time G1 Tag winner.. the list goes on and on.
It wasn’t until earlier this year when then champion Katsuyori Shibata started focusing on the New Japan veterans such as Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeating each of them handily. Shibata then fired the first shot.
Nagata and Shibata would cross paths in various six man tags on the road to Wrestling Dontaku 2016 with Nagata taking down Shibata and beginning his first reign as the NEVER champion. Shibata will have his chance at revenge as he will have his rematch with Nagata at Dominion.
70th IWGP Tag Team Champions: The Guerrillas of Destiny (Tanga Roa/Tama Tonga)
Remember when I mentioned at the start of the article how some names might sound familiar to you even if you’ve never watched New Japan before? This is one of those cases. Tama and Tanga are indeed real life brothers and what’s really crazy is they were adopted at a young age by Meng or Haku depending on which side of the WCW/WWF fence you were on during the late 90s/early 2000s. Tama Tonga has been with New Japan since early 2010 mostly in a tag team capacity with moderate success but nothing really to write home about. All that changed in 2013. At May’s Wrestling Dontaku event, he, Prince Devitt, Karl Anderson and Bad Luck Fale formed the original incarnation of quite possibly one of the hottest heel factions since the original incarnations of DX and the NWO. The Bullet Club. Chances are that even if you haven’t watched NJPW you probably already know about it in some way but we’ll cover a little more specifics later on. So fast forward to 2016.
Time had passed and Tama had spent some time doing trips for CMLL and returned to compete for the newly created NEVER 6 Man Tag Titles along with Fale and Yujiro Takahashi coming up short in their first chance against The Briscoes and Toru Yano at Wrestle Kingdom 10. However their reign was short-lived as just a month later at The New Beginning in Osaka the Bullet Club captured the titles only to lose them back to that same team just three days later at the Niigata New Beginning show. Somewhat frustrated at the lack of success he was having, always being perceived as the low man on the totem pole when it came to the Bullet Club ranks, and with the imminent departures of fellow Bullet Club members Anderson and Gallows looming, Tama knew it was necessary for the Bullet Club to continue the strong showings in the heavyweight tag division that had been carried by Gallows and Anderson for past few years. In March he approached then tag champions Great Bash Heel (Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe) in the ring after Anderson and Gallows bowed and bid a somber farewell to the appreciative crowd in Niigata, stating that he was going to introduce his new partner as well as new member of the Bullet Club and demanded a match with GBH at the next month’s Invasion Attack event.
That man was none other than his real life adopted brother Tanga Roa who some of you may remember from his time in WWE in 2009 as Camacho. They formed the team the “Guerillas of Destiny” a play off of the meanings of the names Tama Tonga “Battle of God” and Tanga Roa meaning “Family of God” hence G.O.D. for short. However you approach it, it spelled success for the team as they captured the gold at Invasion Attack and successfully defended it in a rematch against GBH at Wrestling Dontaku. Their next defense will take place at Dominion later this month against Jay and Mark Briscoe reigniting Tama’s feud with the brothers from earlier this year with arguably higher stakes.
47th IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Champions: Ricochet and “Reborn” Matt Sydal
Arguably two of the most popular high-flying, ungodly athletic performers in the industry today is the team of Ricochet and Matt Sydal who continue to amaze audiences with their seemingly endless energy and showing that wrestling doesn’t have to just be chinlocks and suplexes to be fun. It’s a bit interesting to see how these two came together and to see just how well they work together.
Ricochet has been a staple of the independent wrestling scene for over a decade now. He had his first match in Chikara in 2006 at the age of 17. 17 years old. Let that sink in for a second. Think about what you were doing at 17. Maybe a part-time job? Yeah this guy was already wrestling. He’s been everywhere. You could name promotions off the top of your head and he’s worked for them at some point in his career but most notably Pro Wrestling Guerilla and as Prince Puma on the wildly popular Lucha Underground on El Rey Network. The guy has one speed and that is overdrive and when he steps in the ring it really is something to see.
That brings us to his partner Matt Sydal. Some of you are probably going “Hey isn’t that Evan Bourne? I remember that guy he used to do that Air Boom thing with Kofi Kingston” and you would be correct. Sydal, like his partner, started his career over a decade ago starting out in independent promotions such as GCW and IWA Mid South in the early 2000s, moving on to a stint in TNA in for a year used mostly as a jobber, then spent a couple of years in Ring of Honor from 2004-2007 as part of the Generation Next stable. He was picked up by WWE in 2007 and made his debut on ECW during the 2008 brand split. Once the ECW brand was eliminated he went on to various singles feuds on the Raw brand but always seemed to have that niche as a high-flying tag team guy. However that high flying comes with consequences as Sydal would suffer various injuries throughout his time with WWE as well as multiple violations of their wellness policy. In 2012 Sydal was involved in a car accident that resulted in his foot being broken in four places and dislocated in five others. Ouch. Sydal returned from his injuries in 2013 however was never featured on WWE television and was subsequently released from his contract in 2014. Sydal returned to the independent scene later that year giving himself the moniker of “Reborn” Matt Sydal implying that being free from WWE had allowed him to recreate himself as a performer.
Sydal and Ricochet first teamed up in November of 2015 entering the 2015 Super Jr Tag Tournament ultimately winning it going through the teams of the Time Splitters, Young Bucks and besting the team of Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero) in the finals. They would go on to challenge for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom 10 earlier this year in a four-way match which saw the Young Bucks come out on top. However after coming so close in that match they captured the titles in a 3 way match with reDRagon and The Young Bucks at February’s New Beginning in Osaka. They dropped the belts to Roppongi Vice the following month at Invasion Attack but regained the titles at last month’s Wrestling Dontaku event. Their next title match is set for June 19th’s Dominion show where they will defend the titles in a 4 way match with Roppongi Vice, The Young Bucks and reDRagon.
6th NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Titles: The Elite (Kenny Omega/Young Bucks)
Okay so you still with me? There are a lot of belts in New Japan eh? Well that brings us to the final set and newest titles of the bunch. The NEVER 6 Man Tag Titles were introduced during this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 show and are basically New Japan’s version of Trios titles that you see in other promotions around the world and yes if you’re even moderately good at math you’re saying to yourself “Kek are you serious? It’s June and they’re the SIXTH champions?” The booking of these belts have been head-scratching to say the least.
So the inaugural match took place in Jan at WK10 with The Briscoes and Toru Yano defeating the team of Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi and Tama Tonga. 38 days later Fale/Takahashi/Tonga win the titles back at the Osaka New Beginning show. 6 days later Briscoes/YTR get them back in Niigata. Another six days later The Elite win them at Honor Rising, losing them at Invasion Attack less than 2 months later to the team of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin and the returning Yoshitatsu before losing them the next month back to The Elite at Wrestling Dontaku. So if you’re keeping track, and I don’t blame you if you fell off along the way, there have been six championship reigns in six months of existence of the six man tag team titles.
As I already covered Kenny in detail in his Intercontinental Title section let’s focus on arguably the most polarizing tag team in wrestling right now. Matt and Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks. Just like Ricochet, The Bucks have reached almost legendary status on the indies. The sheer amount of tag team titles these two have won in various promotions through their career is utterly mind-blowing. In no particular order, 4 time PWG tag champs, Chikara, 4 time IWGP Jr heavyweight tag champs, ROH, 2CW, SCW, FWE,DG USA, that local fed that runs in the National Guard Armory down the street with $5 tickets? They probably had those belts too.
It’s really hard to describe these two other than to say they’re ridiculously talented and their gimmick so to speak is basically a meta of everything in the history of pro wrestling. I mean I’ve been watching their stuff for almost 10 years and I still can’t explain it but it’s very cut and dry. You either love the Bucks or you hate them with a passion as fiery as a thousand suns. Either way to go into all of the Bucks history is like I mentioned with Nagata. There’s just a ton to cover and if you’re interested in more there are tons of YouTube videos you can watch to familiarize yourself with the tandem.
The next 6 man defense is unknown at this time because as mentioned previously Kenny will be in an IC title ladder match with Michael Elgin and The Young Bucks will be part of the 4 way for the Jr Heavyweight titles at Dominion.
So that about wraps up part one of my two part series about the basics of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Next time we’ll look at the the events that shape the average event year in Japan as well as take a look at the various factions that exist within the promotion. If I seek to accomplish anything at all with these pieces it is simply to help expose more fans of professional wrestling to great promotions and styles that they may feel is out of their comfort zones for whatever reason, whether it be the language barrier or what have you. If even one person reads this and goes “Wow this seems really cool I’m gonna start watching this” then I consider my job done.
Thanks for reading!