When Antonio Inoki split from his partnership with the late, legendary Giant Baba and the Japanese Pro Wrestling Alliance, few likely could have imagined the juggernaut he was going to create shortly afterward. While Baba went on to form All Japan Pro Wrestling, Inoki launched New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) on March 6, 1972. Forty five years later, on March 6, 2017, NJPW delivered an exciting and noteworthy Anniversary Show.
Some years, the action is very good-solid and everything is almost held in a holding pattern in terms of championship defenses and ongoing feuds.
Not this year. With the annual New Japan Cup set to begin in few short days, the ante was upped Monday morning at the Ota General Gymnasium (the same location the debut show was held).
Eight matches were held with five being contested for a championship. There was a shake up in the card following a horrific injury suffered by Tomoaki Honma on the March 3rd “Road To” show. Jado planted him with a hanging DDT out of the corner and Honma was immediately unresponsive in movement. He was alert and able to speak but couldn’t move a muscle. He was transported to a hospital ER where he has since regained some movement in his arms and legs. He can not however sit up as of this writing.
The master of the Kokeshi is believed to have suffered damage to the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck. He has vowed to return to the ring but when that would be is up in the air indefinitely.
Honma and his Great Bash Heel compadre Togi Makabe were scheduled to challenge the CHAOS tandem of Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships; they were subsequently replaced by TenCozy.
The night kicked off with battle tested veteran Manabu Nakanishi surviving a tenacious Tomoyuki Oka and defeating him via submission with the Torture Rack.
CHAOS vs. Suzuki-Gun Rages On.
It has been a mixed bag for Minoru Suzuki and his assembled army of followers since their return at New Year’s Dash back on January 5.
Following a two year exile in Pro Wrestling NOAH, he led the troops back to NJPW with an assault on CHAOS, particularly the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Suzuki-Gun seemed primed for another clean sweep of dominance just as they had spread in NOAH. They then seemingly hit a brick wall when the New Beginning PPV events rolled around.
Despite badly damaging Okada’s leg, Suzuki came up short in his bid for the gold.
TAKA Michinoku & Taichi fell to IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Roppongi Vice while The Killer Elite Squad and Takashi Iizuka also lost their respective matches. To add insult to injury, Killer Elite’s Lance Archer is out of action for an undeterminable length of time after undergoing back surgery.
Yet if it sounds all doom and gloom, you clearly haven’t seen how the mind of Suzuki cunningly operates. While angry over the setbacks, his thought process places him ten steps ahead of all who stand in his way.
His night didn’t start off red hot as the CHAOS force of Never Champion Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo & Jado defeated Suzuki & Davey Boy Smith Jr & TAKA Michinoku & El Desperado in a very solid eight man tag team match. Yoshi-Hashi shined as he took Suzuki off the apron before submitting Michinoku following Karma.
Suzuki-Gun would bounce back in a major way.
RPG Vice’s Beretta and Rocky Romero overcome some tense infighting at the end of 2016 to capture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships from the Young Bucks at Wrestle Kingdom 11. In the aforementioned successful defense against TAKA & Taichi, they overcome an insane amount of outside involvement to hold onto the gold.
Here they went up against SZG’s Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in what was a very good back and forth championship encounter. It was the willingness of the challengers to once more bend the rules beyond repair that made the difference. They jumped RPG Vice before the match began. That allowed them to work over Romero for several minutes including Taichi using the bell hammer to inflict damage.
RPG Vice fought back and wiped out SZG with stereo suicide dives. Late in the match they connected with Strong Zero on Kanemaru but Taichi’s valet Miho Abe provided a distraction; it was long enough to allow Taichi and El Desperado to lay out the champions with their own titles. Romero kicked out of a Kanemaru tilt-a-whirl DDT but not his top rope DDT and new champions were crowned.
Not satisfied with just taking their titles, SZG continued to assault RPG Vice until Gedo and Jado ran down and cleared the ring. It was clear that CHAOS’ Complete Players were going to be the first challengers to avenge both their faction and their fallen stable mates.
A new solider for the SZG Army.
After UK standout Will Ospreay signed with NJPW, he made an immediate splash. En route to winning the 2016 Best of The Super Juniors, the CHAOS member took part in several classics including an outstanding, surprisingly controversial bout against Ricochet.
With his success, the news of the arrival of Zack Sabre Jr was met with utmost enthusiasm and excitement.
Considered by many as one of the best pure wrestlers in the world, ZSJ came into his title challenge of RevPro’s British Heavyweight Champion Katsuyori Shibata with a ton of momentum; he had just only recently ended EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher‘s record setting reign as well as already reigning as the Pro Wrestling Guerilla (PWG) Champion as well.
Their encounter was another excellent bout on the card. Very early on they exchanged scientific and mat holds as effortlessly as you’ll ever see. Sabre Jr would work over Shibata’s shoulder while evading his deadly Penalty Kick. Shibata mounted a comeback and planted his foe with a half dragon suplex.
Shibata seemed primed to retain his title when Suzuki-Gun made their presence felt in the biggest way of the night. Shibata went after Minoru which is what the SZG leader wanted. Davey Boy Smith Jr laid out Shibata from behind. Suzuki locked in his patented sleeper choke an then delivered the Gotch Piledriver. That enabled Sabre Jr to land the Penalty Kick and capture the title.
As if that all wasn’t shocking enough, ZSJ formally joined Suzuki-Gun and donned their tee-shirt as Suzuki cut a promo on Shibata as well as CHAOS. The addition of Sabre Jr is a major one and fills a void left by Archer’s injury. It also fascinatingly puts him at direct odds with Ospreay and CHAOS.
With his title win, Sabre Jr accomplished what Ospreay failed to do at New Beginning in Osaka, though he pushed Shibata to the limit. One has to think they will eventually clash both in RevPro and NJPW rings.
A banner night for other factions.
Two of NJPW’s other villainous factions made big statements on this celebratory card.
After a successful return to action at the pair of Honor Rising shows (co-promoted with Ring of Honor), Kenny Omega‘s Bullet Club aimed to continue their momentum as several of their members are set for action in the New Japan Cup.
Omega teamed with Bad Luck Fale and Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) to defeat the team of Yuji Nagata & David Finlay & Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask IV in a very good eight man tag team match. Most notable was Finlay aggressively going after the BC’s Underboss throughout the match. In the end however Fale pinned him following a massive Grenade.
In the NJ Cup’s opening round, Omega faces Tomohiro Ishii, Yujiro Takahashi battles Juice Robinson, Fale goes up against Michael Elgin, Loa takes on Yuji Nagata (replacing Honma), and Tonga will meet Yano.
Not to be outdone, Tetsuya Naito‘s Los Ingobernables de Japon went into battle in two key matches.
Naito led Never Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions BUSHI, EVIL, and SANADA to victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA, and Juice Robinson in a great, exciting eight man tag team bout.
Afterward, EVIL continued an assault on Tanahashi as the two will meet in the NJ Cup’s opening round. He delivered the EVIL and stood over New Japan’s Ace.
LIJ’s other title holder Hiromu Takahashi had his hands full defending the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against the Funky Weapon himself Rysuke Taguchi. Several hard slaps from the champion brought out Taguchi’s serious side and he reminded everyone just how talented he is when not going for laughs. He was able to land the Dodon but a frog splash attempt saw Takahashi get his knees up in time. Taguchi survived a death valley driver in the corner to counter the Time Bomb with an ankle lock. However Takahashi was able to land a second one late in the match and deliver said Time Bomb for the victory.
Afterward KUSHIDA emerged seeking his return match for the title he lost at Wrestle Kingdom 11.
TenCozy made the most of their last minute title bid and defeated Yano and Ishii to win their sixth IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
It was a solid back and forth match that could have gone either way. Yano and Ishii displayed great teamwork to compliment Yano’s usual sneaky tactics. Kojima tasted steel when Yano removed the corner padding but kicked out of a roll up. He kicked out of a second roll up following a headbutt from Ishii.
Kojima and Ishii squared off in an exchange the crowd loved. A back and forth hard slap contest left them both reeling. Kojima utilized the Kokeshi in honor of close friend Honma several times throughout the match. In the end Tenzan trapped Ishii in the Anaconda Vice while Kojima flattened Yano with a Cozy Lariat to pick up the win.
Afterward, Nagata and Nakanishi were out to celebrate with the new champions.
The Rainmaker Tames The Tiger.
As if it were 1982 all over again, an anime featuring Tiger Mask gave birth to perhaps his most exciting wrestling incarnation to date.
Tiger Mask W appeared at Wrestle Kingdom 11 to vanquish the dastardly Tiger Mask Dark. His subsequent outings caught the eye of IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada who went as far as to say he wanted him in the NJ Cup and to go far.
While that didn’t come to fruition, it didn’t stop the two from meeting in a fantastic non-title main event.
Tiger nearly won with several breathtaking moves including a reverse dropsault, a press powerbomb, and a top rope Tiger Bomb. He even countered the Rainmaker with vicious head kicks.
Once again displaying true fighting spirit, Okada withstood all of that to eventually drive Tiger into the mat with a dead lift German suplex and finish him off with the Rainmaker.
Tiger rejected a post-match handshake gesture leaving Okada to cut a show closing promo, promising many more Anniversary Show Rainmakers to come.
With an exciting and truly great show like this, it is no wonder NJPW has stood the test of time.
Main Photo Collage: All photos NJPW, ZSJ from CallingSpots.com