It is very interesting to see how far both Kenny Omega and Jay Lethal have come in recent years in the ring as both have become incredible talents. Omega has become an ambassador of New Japan and one the companies top stars with his association in the Bullet Club and his ongoing rivalry with Cody. I remember back in the day when Omega was still making his name in Japan and was an underrated star in the United States.
Since he left Impact Wrestling years ROH has done wonders building Jay and giving him the platform to become a star. Honestly after watching him in the same regard of Kenny I didn't expect him to become the star he has become in ROH. For context of the match this was held during one of NJPW's events in California last year and was the start of things to come for the ever expanding Japanese promotion.
For the first time in a long time we dial it back and try to give the spotlight to writers from other sites as we move to the blog of the week. This near the start of the site was used as sort of a way to gain more attention for the site and help me give others a moment in the sun. Even though some might think that this doesn't make sense or sounds lazy, but the reason is because I have always wanted a chance to prove what I can do but nobody to this day has and that's why when I got the chance I wanted to take it.
It is said that more and more wrestling fans from outside Japan are gravitating towards New Japan Pro Wrestling, and I am one of them. Having exclusively watched American professional wrestling for most of my life I have held a NJPW World subscription for almost six months now. Today I share my first impressions of NJPW, what I like, what I don’t like, what is different and what is the same when compared to WWE.
To apply some context, I am 33 years old and have been a fan of wrestling ever since I was a kid. Like most people my age, if you like wrestling then WWE is probably what you grew up on. I did also partake in a healthy dose of WCW while dabbling with ECW and ROH. Over the last two or three years I have gradually turned away from WWE, for reasons that could probably fill another post. Having all but turned off from WWE completely, in January I decided that I’d give NJPW a shot to see what it was like.
Like many new fans, the first show of my NJPW World subscription was a Tokyo Dome show and what a show it was. Wrestle Kingdom is often referred to as the Japanese version of WrestleMania, and rightly so. The elaborate entrances, giant set, massive crowd and sheer length of the show are all comparative. There’s even a pre-show battle royal for the guys not booked on the main show. This type of grandeur is not the norm though. Pretty much every other show is held in a fairly modest, by WWE standards, venue. Korakuen Hall appears to be NJPW’s home arena and it doesn’t even have a proper entrance for the wrestlers. It very much reminds me a slightly nicer version of the ECW Arena. One of the immediate differences for me, however, was the first thing that strikes many a western fan; the quietness of the fans.
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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: