New Japan Pro Wrestling is the top wrestling promotion in Japan that has many of their wrestlers featured in various tokusatsu shows and movies. This guide teaches you everything you need to know about NJPW.
This weekend, New Japan Pro Wrestling makes their North America debut at the Long Beach Convention Center. The G1 Special in the USA kicks off their summer tournament: The G1 Climax. In the world of professional wrestling, it is comparable to the Royal Rumble in determining a contender for their world title at their biggest show: Wrestle Kingdom. Now for many, this will be their first exposure to New Japan. To help out those who may be curious to tune in and not be left in the dark as to what’s happening, here’s a basic beginners guide to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
What is New Japan Pro Wrestling?
NJPW is currently the top wrestling promotion in Japan. One of three major promotions in the country, with the other two being All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah. New Japan was founded in 1972 by Antonio Inoki, who would not only help establish a stronghold of the sport in Japan but rose to international fame after what many consider the first professional mixed martial arts fight with Muhammad Ali in 1976. The company hit great heights in the 80’s and 90’s before hitting the floor in the mid-2000’s when Inoki was heavily focusing on combining wrestling with MMA. A decision that would see NJPW nearly collapse until Inoki sold the majority of his shares in the promotion to game developer Yukes in 2006. In 2012, Yukes sold the entire company to game card developer Bushiroad, who put the company in turnaround to the current incarnation we see today.
How is New Japan different from WWE?
While all professional wrestling is predetermined, the difference in how WWE and New Japan run are vastly different. WWE relies heavily on storylines, gimmick wrestlers, and gimmick matches. All to varying degrees of success. New Japan focuses less on the “entertainment” aspects and more on the “sport” aspect. There are no real storylines, but feuds that can best be broken down by one man trying to prove he is the better than his opponent. Matches are straight forward wrestling, with mostly clean finishes. The company rarely does gimmick matches but have on occasion. All of it is played straight and serious. Another focus is the style of wrestling. Known as “Strong Style“, it favors stiff kicks and chops than the American counterpart. While not every wrestler on the roster employs Strong Style, there is a degree of toughness to every match.
TV is also very different. New Japan tours instead of filming a weekly TV show to build feuds. These tours usually happen before a big event. They’re known as “Road to” shows and are usually held in small arenas and feature multi-man tag matches of opponents who will be facing off one on one at the big shows that finish the tour. There’s usually a few weeks break between tours as well, with some talent traveling to other promotions in the down time to work.
Finally, New Japan also uses weight divisions like MMA or Boxing. But not to the crazy extent the latter two do. Divisions are broken down into heavyweight and junior heavyweights, with titles for both divisions.
What are the big shows then?
Well, New Japan holds what is essentially their Wrestlemania on January 4th every year in the Tokyo Dome. Wrestle Kingdom as it’s called, is built up to in the second half of the year by a nearly month-long round robin tournament called the G1 Climax. Whoever wins the G1 gets a shot at the world champion at the Tokyo Dome show. Along with the G1, there’s the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. As you can guess, it’s an all Jr heavyweight tournament not unlike the G1. At the top of the year is the New Japan Cup, with the winner choosing whichever championship he cares to challenge for. That match is usually held at the preceding show Invasion Attack, now known as Sakura Genesis. There’s also a Jr and regular heavyweight tag team tournaments, with the winners getting title shots as well.
So what are the titles that New Japan uses then?
New Japan employs a governing body known as the International Wrestling Gran Prix. Thus, all but two titles carry this name in the promotion. The title hierarchy goes as this:
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
NEVER Openweight Championship
NEVER 6 Man Openweight Championship
The IWGP Heavyweight is the absolute top prize, while is the Intercontinental is a close second.
Ok? So why is it important to know this?
Because at the G1 Special, four of these titles will be on the line, while a fifth will be created. That title will be known as the IWGP United States Championship.
Who are the champions then?
Kazuchika Okada: IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He’s currently one year into his fourth reign. Okada is the current face of the company, comparable in America to someone like Randy Orton, but far more talented. He’s known as “The Rainmaker” and his entrance is usually accompanied with a shower of “Okadabucks” raining from the ceiling. Only 29, he’s had more 5 star matches than anyone wrestling today. Okada is also the leader of the stable known as Chaos, but more on that in a moment.
Hiroshi Tanahashi: IWGP Intercontinental Champion. The “Ace” of New Japan. He’s comparable to John Cena here in the states. Tanahashi is a former 7-time IWGP Heavyweight champion, 2 time IC champion and is making his first defense of the title at the G1 Special since winning it earlier in the month.
Gurillas of Destiny: IWGP Tag Team Champions. Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa currently in their third reign as champs. They are members of the nefarious heel group known as Bullet Club.
The Young Bucks: IWGP Jr Tag Team Champions. Nick and Matt Jackson. Two of arguably the most popular wrestlers not in WWE today. Currently in their 5th reign as champs. They have been compared to the Hardy Boyz in the past, and the comparison is quite apt.
Well, that’s a lot? Anyone else?
Tons. I’ll make it quick:
New Japan has a bunch of factions. Big groups made of up different wrestlers. 3 of the main 4 of these factions will be taking part in the show.
Bullet Club: Cody, Kenny Omega, Young Bucks, Guerillas of Destiny, Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, Yujiro Takahashi. Kenny Omega is the leader and leads the subunit in Bullet Club with the Young Bucks called The Elite. The group is made up of foreigners (sans Takahashi) and are comparable to WCW’s NWO faction.
Chaos: Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishi, Will Ospreay, Roppongi Vice, Toru Yano, Gedo, Jado. The top good guys or “Face” group. Okada is the leader.
Los Ingobernables de Japon: Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL, BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi. Naito is the leader. Arguably the most popular faction in the company. They are a splinter group of a Mexican promotion (CMLL) own team that Naito was a part of.
I’d be remiss no to mention the greatest light heavyweight wrestler of all time and New Japan’s own tokusatsu hero:
JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER.
Speaking of tokusatsu, this doesn’t seem very tokusatsu.
Well, it is and it isn’t. Many wrestlers in New Japan have tokusatsu connections. Tanahashi was in Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid & Ghost with Legend Rider as well as Garo: Ashura. Okada voiced a character in the World Trigger anime. Other New Japan wrestlers not appearing on the American show, like Kota Ibushi, have starred in films like Giant Monster Mono. All of the above have featured into the anime Tiger Mask W, based on one of New Japan’s most prominent personas: Tiger Mask. Then, of course, there’s Jushin Thunder Liger. A creation of Go Nagai. He embodies the tokusatsu fighting spirit in the company.
And it’s more than just appearances. Japanese pro wrestling is very much tokusatsu in style. Hard hitting action, fantastical costumes, great characters. While it’s not special effects, it’s very much in the spirit. Just check out the examples below.
If I’m gonna watch it, where can I?
Saturday night in North America, live on AXS TV. The second night will air on the following Friday. You can see both nights on New Japan’s video service, New Japan World. Both shows will have English commentary on them. So no matter where you watch, you won’t be lost in what’s going on.
You can see right here.
Can I go?
Sadly, the show is sold out for both days but wouldn’t hurt to look around for tickets.
Watch should I watch before then?
This and enjoy.