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NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING: YOUR PRIMER & INTRODUCTION TO JAPAN'S TOP PROMOTION

By Matthew Macklin on 2014-10-19 22:01:38

New Japan Pro Wrestling: Where to Start?

Are you tired of WWE’s constant nonsense? Are you sick of having John Cena shoved down your throat every week and mow down every up and coming guy on the roster before they ever even have a chance to breathe? I bet you’re tired of hearing about TNA’s constant screw ups and wasted opportunities too.  Well look no further, there is an alternative and it’s called New Japan Pro Wrestling....and it's scheduled to debut on American PPV on 1/4/15 in conjunction with Jeff Jarrett's GFW promotion.

New Japan are in a golden age right now with a roster loaded from top to bottom with some of the best wrestlers on the planet right now such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kota Ibushi, the list goes on.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Bullett Club, pro wrestling’s hottest faction and something for the western fans to cling on to.  Now with New Japan about to air on U.S. PPV for the first time as part of Jeff Jarrett’s GFW, why  not start right now and learn all about it?

Now, I know you may have heard of it and heard great things about it but maybe you’re not really sure where to start.  Maybe the idea of listening to Japanese commentary turns you off.  I’ll admit I thought the same when I first started to delve into it, but will soon go away once you’re captivated by what can easily be called the greatest professional on earth today.  I don’t claim to be a New Japan expert, as I only began watching the promotion four years ago and full time for the last two years, however I can tell you all you need to know to get you started.

The Concept

New Japan doesn’t have a weekly TV show, like Monday Night Raw, mainly because they’re a pro wrestling promotion as opposed to a TV series as WWE & TNA have become in recent years.  New Japan is built around their major monthly shows and will have a series of “Road To” events leading up to it. 

For example, their next major show is Power Struggle on November 8th, in the weeks before New Japan will run “Road To Power Struggle” events, some of which are televised, some of which are house shows. 

These shows will mostly consist of tag matches involving the guys involved in the major matches on the major show at the end of the tour.  You will notice how these matches are used to tease interactions between the bigger names, while protecting them by generally having the lesser name in the tag match taking the pin fall.

You will never see silly backstage skits, just pro wrestling with the majority of the storytelling done in the ring based off the matches themselves and at press conferences which gives New Japan its feel of actually being a competitive sporting environment.

You aren’t going to see multiple rematches between top guys over and over again in New Japan as every major match has meaning.  Bookers Jado & Gedo work extremely hard to protect their top matches so much so that you might have to wait a year to see top names face off or wait to see them meet in a tournament. 

The greatest feud in modern day New Japan, in my opinion, has been the six match series between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada.  They met six times over two years, which meant each match was hugely anticipated and hyped to the maximum.  They will meet again in the main event of the 1/4/15 Dome show.

The Style

You will notice a difference in the ring style if you are used to watching WWE or American wrestling in general.  The first thing to note is that there is a twenty count on the floor as opposed to the ten count you might be used to.  The action will be much more physical and hard hitting and won’t stick to a formula as you will see from WWE.  Japanese wrestling is mostly based around traditional “strong style” wrestling or “fighting spirit” with a lot of hard strikes, stiff suplexes and guys never backing down no matter how much punishment they take. 

New Japan doesn’t just present “strong style” as you will see the high flying fast paced juniors, the showmanship of guys like Tanahashi and Okada and even comedy from undercard acts like Toru Yano.  However, in recent years New Japan has begun to introduce American style tactics such as ref bumps, interference and such things mostly due to the rise of The Bullet Club.  This has annoyed a lot of long time fans (and in full disclosure, myself included) as it is breaking from tradition and what makes New Japan stand out.

Championships

IWGP Heavyweight championship
Current champion: Hiroshi Tanahashi


IWGP: standing for International Wrestling Grand Prix. In my opinion the most prestigious championship in the world.  Every title defense is of huge importance, just like every other championship in the company you won’t see it defended on meaningless house shows.  This has been the highest ranking title in New Japan until recently when the IWGP intercontinental championship came along.  Tanahashi recently won the title from AJ Styles and now holds the record for most title reign (7), most defenses (27) and most combined days as champion.  His next defence will be on January 4th at Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome against Kazuchika Okada.

IWGP Intercontinental championship
Current champion: Shinsuke Nakamura


Created in 2011, when MVP won a tournament to become the inaugural champion during New Japan's last U.S. tour in Philadelphia.  Originally meant to be a secondary title, it has had its prestige raised to main event level after the incredible matches had by Shinsuke Nakamura during his four reigns with the belt - so much so that the title main evented Wrestle Kingdom this past year over the Heavyweight championship.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team championship
Current champions: Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows


They speak for themselves really.  Anderson and Gallows have held the titles since this past January at Wrestle Kingdom.  Tag team championship matches will sometimes semi-main event a show and are treated of high importance.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship
Current champion: Ryusuke Taguchi


There is a 220 pound weight limit on this title and was held by current NXT talent Fergal "Prince" Devitt for what felt like forever, and was forgotten about as he moved on to the heavyweight division.   The title has needed a new coat of paint and has gotten it somewhat recently after being held by Kota Ibushi, KUSHIDA and now Taguchi.   With Kenny Omega recently joining the roster and setting his sights on the title, it should be a fun few months for the division.  The junior heavyweight division generally prides itself on a mixture of high flying and technical wrestling, a style popularised by Jushin Thunder Liger in the 1990’s.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championship
Current champions: Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA (Time Splitters)

Championship matches will usually serve as the opening match of major events as you are guaranteed a hot opener.  Time Splitters won the championship from The Young Bucks.  These titles seem to change hands the most in New Japan.

NEVER championship
Current champion: Tomohiro Ishii


The NEVER championship is an open weight championship and had floated around in obscurity until Tomohiro Ishii won it from Tetsuya Naito and went on to have a series of classic title defenses against many different guys raising the titles prestige.  Personally I don’t think there is much need for this title at the minute, but I’m not complaining as the matches Ishii has had for this title have been some of the best seen anywhere all year.

Tournaments

With New Japan you are never too far removed from a tournament, one of my favorite things about them and something that gives them a real feel of being a legit “sport”.

G1 Climax

New Japan's biggest tournament and biggest tour of the year.  This has just recently ended and annually takes place in late July/early August, is what many have been calling the greatest tournament in pro wrestling history.  Every single show and match became must see.  Wrestlers are split into two blocks and the winners of each block meet in the final.  This year’s final came down to Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kazuchika Okada, won by Okada.  The winner receives an IWGP heavyweight title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome on January 4th (NJPW’s Wrestlemania) and must defend that title shot up until the big show.  The magic of this tournament is having a group of the best wrestlers on the planet wrestling every match like it’s their last.

Best of the Super Juniors


Held in early June, this is a tournament showcasing the best Junior heavyweights in the world.  Wrestlers are split into blocks again with two from each block advancing to the semi finals.  This tournament will usually involve a select few outsiders from other promotions just like this year's winner, King Ricochet from Dragon Gate, which was a surprise as a non-roster member will very rarely win.  The winner gets a shot at the IWPG Junior heavyweight Championship.

World Tag League

Held in December, much like the BOSJ, two teams advance from each block to face in the semi finals.  The winner receives an IWGP tag team title shot.  This past year's winners were Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows, who are the current tag team champions.

Super Junior Tag Tournament

The format is different here with a single elimination eight team tournament, winners receiving an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team title shot (you get the trend here). This past year’s winners were The Young Bucks.  This tournament is due to kick off on October 25th.

New Japan Cup

Generally held in March, this is a 16 man single elimination tournament with the winner receiving a shot at either the IWGP heavyweight title or the IWGP Intercontinental title. This year, the winner was Shinsuke Nakamura who chose to face Tanahashi the intercontinental title that he had recently lost.

If you want a taster of what New Japan is all about watch the link below as four of the top guys in the company go at it in the final event before last years Wrestle Kingdom, as Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito team up to take on Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura of CHAOS. 

To see it, click here.

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