Though most fans at this point tie Kota Ibushi to New Japan Pro-Wrestling but he didn't start in that company. Ibushi would gain the most exposure as a member of NJPW he would get his start in the company called Dramatic Dream Team or DDT which is also the company where he first began teaming with long time partner Kenny Omega as one half of the Golden Lovers. During his time in DDT Ibushi would hold every possible title the company had to offer before leaving the company in 2016. Following his departure from DDT he would shock the wrestling world by signing with WWE to appear in the Cruiserweight Classic over the summer.
Ibushi's mainstream stock begin to rise in 2009 when he first made his NJPW debut as a member of the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. His first taste of gold came when Ibushi teamed with Omega to defeat Apollo 55 for a short reign with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight titles. For the most part of his run the first time around he was wrapped up in a never ending feud with fellow junior heavyweight in Prince Devitt that was until Devitt got signed and Ibushi would move up soon after. In late 2014 he would attack Shinsuke Nakamura following his match and would challenge the then IWGP IC champion to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 which was actually my first exposure to NJPW. Within the next year Ibushi would actually step away from New Japan as well to heal up from various injuries.
In the fall of 2016, Ibushi would make his return to NJPW under the name of Tiger Mask W this would only be a short stint as he would return to his normal name the following June and the rest has been history. With him slowly integrating himself into being a fixture in the companies top story with other members of the Bullet Club. Interesting note though there recent tag matches were the first time that Omega and Ibushi would team together in almost 8 years as they both seemingly went in opposite directions following their New Japan arrivals.
Over the last couple of months things have gotten very interesting within the ranks of the Bullet Club. With things seemingly boiling over between Cody & Kenny and this leading to everyone from the Bucks to Tama Tonga to Scrull being caught in the middle. However, this also means that there is now more room for new members within the stable. Though this might raise a question of weather Bone Solider is with Tama or Cody and if the group is still a full group or if they have been separated but that is a conversation for another day.
Right now we address the perfectly built and insanely put over "debut" of Bone Soldier in not just New Japan but for the Bullet Club. After seeing this video it seems to be clear that Will Osprey now has a challenger for the foreseeable future and that is Bone Solider. Admittedly though I think that the part I enjoyed the most about this video was the announcers shocking when it was reveled to be Ishimori due to him being away in America. For those who may not be aware Taiji was recently not only a member of Impact Wrestling, but was X-Division champion at one point during his stay with the company. Now it seems his stay in the states might be over and not only ready for New Japan, but also to become the newest member of the Bullet Club.
As away to use an old series like Match of the Week and spice things up a bit I have chosen to look at some of the top challengers for, and possible men to end the record breaking run of the current World Champion. Currently in New Japan they have Kazuchika Okada on top of the mountain and it has been that way for amazingly the last 680 days an counting. Though at this point Okada may have his critics there is no doubting his ability in the ring and his current standing as "Ace" of New Japan.
One person who may argue Okada's standing is former "Ace" of New Japan and former IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. Before the ascension of Okada the New Japan world was ran by the "King of the High Fly Flow" and one of the few bright spots of NJPW's dark ages. Now for those who don't know Tanahashi laid down the challenge for Okada a few weeks ago for his IWGP title and the match is set for Dontaku in a few days. It was for that reason that I thought Tanahashi was the best place to start for this series and I don't think I have to tell you why this man is a top contender so I will him talk in the ring. Below is his match from G1 Climax a few years ago against AJ Styles:
The biggest PPV of the year for any company outside of the WWE is New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom event which always takes place on January 4. Next year we will have the unlucky number 13 edition of the yearly spectacular event and I thought like I did with Wrestlemania I could offer some prediction for Wrestle Kingdom. Looking at this past years card we saw a number spectacular matches including Tanahashi & Naito and Jericho vs Omega which both left fans talking for weeks after the event. To be fair these two matches left fans talking for different reasons as many fans believed that Naito should have won the World Title at the event. However, now let's look at the type of card I see for the event next year:
Wrestle Kingdom 13
New Japan Rumble
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
(c) Suzuki Gun (Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs Roppongi 3K
IWGP Never Openweight 6 Man Tag Championship:
(c) Young Bucks & The Villan vs Los Ingobernables vs Togi Makabe, Dave Finlay, and Toa Henare
Tomohiro Ishii vs Minoru Suzuki
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
Will Osprey vs Jushin Liger vs (c) Kushida vs Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP Intercontinental Championship:
(c) Tetsuya Naito vs Juice Robinson
IWGP Tag Team Championship:
(c) Killer Elite Squad vs Golden Lovers
IWGP Never Openweight Championship:
(c) Hirooki Goto vs Jay White
IWGP United States Champion: Rematch from New Japan Cup
(c) Zack Sabre Jr vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) vs Chaos (Briscoe Brothers & Yoshi Hashi)
Hangman Page vs Toru Yano
IWGP World Championship Match:
(c) Cody vs Kazuchika Okada
Recently I spoke with someone about what makes New Japan different to the WWE and the more I got to thinking about it the more I thought it would make a good article. Now I will be the first to admit that I don't know a lot about New Japan but I do feel like I know enough to discuss this as most of it is based around opinion. In my opinion things in New Japan breakdown to two things first of which is the booking style and the other is the underlying talent within the roster. Even though they did in fact loose some top stars in recent years both the roster & the ability of Gedo to book covered the wholes that were made.
Though I will point out that a lot of non NJPW fans think that the shows are overrated and the matches are slow or not as good as they are made out to be. In all honesty some matches are overhyped and overrated by the NJPW loyalists, but its also possible that if you are use to watching US wrestling and don't normally watch any other type of wrestling it will be hard to get interested in NJPW. Even though some might not understand the idea that there are many different types of wrestling I will point out that it is almost impossible to compare WWE & NJPW because they are just too different from each other. Fact is I feel as though New Japan has more of an old school wrestling feel where the main focus is the wrestling and it's legit. Let me explain a little more as I mean that Japanese wrestling fans respect wrestling and look it as a respectable & honorable to do which is the opposite for American wrestling fans. This means it is easier to keep fans interested because of how much respect they have for those who work in the ring & the incredible talent is just icing on the cake.
Going hand and hand with the incredibly talented roster is bookers so good that they sent one of them to Pro-Wrestling NOAH to help keep that company alive. Now I know from prior knowledge that Gedo & Jado looked to Dusty Rhodes as a "mentor" type with not just there in ring style but booking as well. Though in some cases I do have to question the booking choices made by New Japan much of what I do with the WWE I do also have to praise them for brining the old school style into the new age. Basically New Japan goes the simple way and shows how good wrestling can be if you don't overthink things. It does also pay having as good a roster as they do, but the booking is the more important part, because if you have good players but a bad coach then the team wont win.
For anyone living under a rock that may not know who Zack Sabre Jr is well he is one of the most skilled mat wrestlers in the world and still hasn't found his potential in my opinion. The reason I think that Zack still has untapped potential is him still being a fresh face in Japan and relative unknown in the states. Though I do know that he spent time in PWG and was the companies World Champion, but I mean as far as a national scale he isn't the most known name. However, based on recent events his status in Japan might be getting a boost recently with his performance in the New Japan Cup.
During the tournament Sabre made Naito, Tanahashi, Sanada, and Ibushi all submit which is an incredible accomplishment due to the status of the talent he defeated. Now I know that at this point he has come up short against Okada, but is definitely still looked at as a credible challenger. Looking at the booking they made sure that Sabre would be looked at as a credible challenger and gave him the biggest push possible.
For fans that are new to Japan and are use to the WWE style of booking this seems a foreign due to the amount of investment they put in Sabre for such a short gap. But that is likely the reason they gave him such a push at the New Japan Cup. Now with Tanahashi as the next challenger for Okada many would think that Sabre falls back down the card, but I think due to his solid performance in the Main Event he will be sticking around for the time being even if it will be a while before his next shot.
Honestly, I didn't expect to find this match in any form due to how long ago this match was but after watching this match I am happy I found it. There is no doubt that this feud between the Golden Lovers and Bullet Club has been one of the most interesting things going on in wrestling right now. Also just thinking about the fact that Omega and the Young Bucks have really been together in some form or fashion for over two years at this point means a lot of history is on the table in this match.
The only thing that I will add is that even though this style is very different then the one that is prominent in other promotions. It is tough to not think that Kenny & the Bucks are among the Best Wrestlers in the World and though they have critics anyone who thinks they don't have talent is crazy.
Bullet Club vs Young Bucks
This storyline between the leaders of the Bullet Club possibly fracturing in a bad way with it seemingly various members picking sides. Though the Club could use some momentum, I don't think it will come at the behest of Young Bucks. With that being said I do think that the Young Bucks will get the win at the event.
Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii vs Taichi & Takashi Iizuka
This match is tough to call due to my lack of knowledge with the talent in this match other than Ishii. I do know though that Ishii took a big loss back at Wrestle Kingdom to Suzuki and still hasn't regained some momentum. I think this will point to a win for Ishii & Yano as a way to give Ishii some momentum back.
Never Openweight 6 Man Tag Title Match:
Ryusuke Taguchi, Michael Elgin, and Togi Makabe vs (c) Bullet Club
I will be the first to admit that I have not always been a fan of New Japan, but I have definitely started to pay attention more in recent years both due in part to ROH & the other due to expansion. The first part of this match is that I remember Makabe when he was TV champion in ROH and thinking that he must've been skilled to be able to win a title in ROH as a loaned wrestler. But also far none the Guerrillas of Destiny have been my favorite team in NJPW for the longest time just based on the success & chemistry these two have. Keeping that in mind there is no doubt for me that the Bullet Club gets the win and retains the gold.
David Finlay, Hiroshi Tanahashi, & Juice Robinson vs Jay White, Yoshi Hashi, & Hirooki Goto
First of all I have to say that Jay White's stock has took off to heights I didn't think it would at this point and time, but it just shows what happens when New Japan sees something in someone. I have seen Jay compete for ROH and thought that he was good but right now was more a secondary player rather than a possible leader. However, after seeing his recent performances in New Japan he has changed my opinion of him and now I think he has potential to really help New Japan stay in front of the expansion. However, much like I mentioned earlier and keeping the results of last weeks show in mind I do think that the face team wins to get both Tanahashi & Finlay on the good side of momentum.
Suzuki-Gun vs Los Ingobernables
A very interesting match and one that could be steal the show if given the opportunity to based on the amount of talent within the match. From Suzuki to Naito to Sanada to Davey Boy Jr there is a tremendous amount of skills and ability in this match for these teams to tear the house down. But the underling idea of the match in my opinion is that this will play a part in both Suzuki's future challengers and where New Japan goes with the IC title in the next few months. This is why I think that Los Ingobernables will get the win and Naito might pick up the win the move into contention for the IC title.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Los Ingobernables vs Roppongi 3K vs (c) Suzuki-Gun
The junior heavyweights always find a way to be one of the highlights for New Japan events and though they have their critics, I will say I am a fan. This is a tough match to call as I do think that the Junior titles are still looking for a new identity after the Bucks moved up from the division which has now left a whole. Now I think Sho & Yho were good champions but with a loss for part of Suzuki-Gun earlier I think the title should stay were it is for right now. Suzuki Gun retains the titles.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
(c) Will Osprey vs Marty Scrull
There is no pair in modern wrestling that has been more attached at the hip then these two men have been in their careers. Though these two may have their critics there is no doubt that these two are tremendously talented at what they do. However, it is worth noting that since Marty has joined the Bullet Club in place of Adam Cole a few months back he has become one of the top members. With that being said I think that Will Osprey will retain his title as Marty winning the title doesn't make sense due to his place in the Bullet Club feud.
Golden Lovers vs Cody & Hangman Page
The tension has been building for almost a year between Cody & Omega over their place in the Bullet Club. I remember last year at I think it was Dominion when Cody tried to throw in the towel during Omega's match against Okada which started the tension. Things boiled over a few months ago when Cody finally attacked Omega setting things up for the future. Though it will be interesting to finally see Omega and Cody together in the ring and with the interactions that Page & Omega have had makes this all the more interesting. Last week we saw Kenny & Kota against the Bucks and this is the natural progression but is also a tough decision. I think that it seems likely that Kenny & Kota will get the win over Hangman Page to keep the heat on Cody without him losing.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match:
(c) Kazuchika Okada vs Zack Sabre Jr.
It has been a crazy month of March for one Zack Sabre with his amazing victories during the New Japan Cup earlier this month. Sabre has victories over Tanahashi, Sanada, Ibushi, and Naito during the tournament. Over the years Sabre has become one of the most skilled talents in the ring and has really carried on the amazing mat wrestling skills that UK stars have been known for in the past. I don't think that anyone has more momentum at the moment then Zack Sabre and this is the perfect time for him to get into the World Title picture. Some fans are now questioning if the momentum can continue and if Sabre can end the record breaking 648 day reign. I think that this "push" will be the start of things to come for Sabre Jr. and could actually be the World Champion one day. But I don't think that it will happen right now I think that Okada will maintain his record breaking run with the IWGP title.
On this day in wrestling history two very different workers are celebrating their birthdays. Now I know I very rarely do back to back posts like this, but I've seen two former New Japan stars celebrating on the same day. Even though both men have made names for themselves in the tag team division in New Japan one of them reached legendary status and the other would just be thought of as a veteran of sorts. The interesting thing about New Japan though is that a tag team wrestler could in some cases be looked at as a equal to singles star.
At one point two former WWE stars were the most dominate team in the company and it was Giant Bernard & Tyson Tomko. Though his time in New Japan was very short Tomko did accomplish a lot during his time with the company as the multiple time IWGP Tag Champion and would even drop the titles in his last match with the company. Hiroyoshi Tenzan on the other hand has become a legend within New Japan and his partnership with Kojima is one of the best ever. Tenzan's career has not only be memorable, but the longevity that he has built his career has been even more incredible. Keep this in mind Tenzan is still relatively active even at 47 years old.
The series that really never got going will finally get it's start with one legend that really needs know introduction. One part of Japanese wrestling that has never caught on in the states is the connection to cartoons and anime. In the spring of 1984 a young gun named Keiichi Yamada would make his debut in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Though most people know him as Jushin Liger he wouldn't dawn his legendary outfit for the first few years of his career. Actually his first career accomplishment came under the Keiichi Yamada name when he won the Young Lions Cup in 1986.
It was soon after this win though that Yamada would go on his excursion to both Europe & Canada for around a year before returning to Japan. Upon his return to New Japan he would finally dawn his gimmick as Jushin "Thunder" Liger. For those who don't know Liger he portrays an anime superhero and has become an "Icon" in the land of the rising sun.
Dawning the gimmick in late 1986 it is crazy think that Liger has been under the mask for the last thirty years of his wrestling career. For better part of a decade Liger would be one of the leaders of NJPW's Junior division and it was around this time he'd become a legend based on longevity alone. Now don't get me wrong Liger has competed for each of the major wrestling companies in the world at one time or another excluding ECW. Liger has had matches for WCW, ROH, WWE, & TNA during his career and has of course competed in CMLL due to the working agreement that NJPW has had for decades. In recent years Liger has also competed in companies like Chikara, PWG, PWS, and various others.
Overall there is no doubt that Jushin Liger is a member of the upper echelon of legends in the history of pro-wrestling. In a way Liger is on part with the Undertaker based on how long both stayed in character and how serious both men took their gimmicks. Though at this point he might not be fully active but it is still crazy to think that not only does he still compete at 53 years old but also the idea that he has been an active wrestler for the last 34 years which is insane. Thank you for the memories Liger and all you have done and continue to do for this great profession.