New Japan Pro-Wrestling
New Japan Pro-Wrestling Shin Nihon Puroresu (新日本プロレス) is a professional wrestling promotion in Japan. It is the oldest existing puroresu organization. It was founded by Antonio Inoki in 1972 and is owned by Future Media Creators YUKE's since 2005/11.
Fired from JWA in late 1971, Inoki founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972 with his followers Yamamoto Kotetsu, Fujinami Tatsumi, and Kido Osamu. The main event of New Japan's opening card was a match where Inoki lost to his shishō, Karl Gotch.
In 1973/4, Sakaguchi Seiji, who was, at the time, one of the main eventers for the JWA, joined New Japan. NET (today's TV Asahi) followed this and started airing New Japan's cards on its weekly program, "World Pro-Wrestling". In the same year, New Japan "discovered" Tiger Jeet Singh, who would eventually become the company's top gaijin star.
The first title match between two Japanese top stars since the infamous Rikidōzan vs Kimura Masahiko match took place on 1974/3/19 when Inoki faced a former IWE star Strong Kobayashi. Kobayashi would meet Inoki in one more match before joining New Japan as the third star of the organization under Inoki and Sakaguchi.
New Japan was accepted into National Wrestling Alliance in 1975. However, due to the political power of Giant Baba within the NWA, Inoki was not allowed to be the member. Instead, vice president Sakaguchi Seiji and business manager Shinma Hisashi became the members. New Japan was not allowed to book the NWA World Heavyweight Champion despite its membership. It was around the same time when New Japan reached a working agreement with World Wide Wrestling Federation, run by Vince McMahon.
Mixed Martial Arts
Main article: Antonio Inoki#Mixed Martial Arts
1975 also saw Inoki challenging Muhammad Ali, the unified world boxing heavyweight champion. While the match was in negotiation, Inoki took on the Olympic jūdō gold medalist, Willem Ruska on 1976/2/6, which would become the first of the mixed martial arts matches. On 6/26, Inoki and Ali had a 15-round draw.
Rise of the Junior Heavyweight Division
On 1978/1/23, Fujinami defeated Carlos Jose Estrada at Madison Square Garden to win WWWF Junior Heavyweight Championship. He returned to Japan with the title and became the pioneer of New Japan's legendary junior heavyweight division. He would also win New Japan version of NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship .
On 1981/4/23, just the three days after TV Asahi premiered a new anime series "Tiger Mask II", Sayama Satoru made his way to the ring in the Kuramae Kokugikan as Tiger Mask. Initially, many traditional Japanese fans scoffed at the thought of Kajiwara Ikki's popular anime hero being pushed as a legitimate wrestling star, but he shocked the audience by pinning Dynamite Kid with his german suplex. Tiger Mask continued to have many classic battles against the British rival as well as other opponents such as Black Tiger and Kobayashi Kuniaki. Fujinami would soon move up to the heavyweight division, leaving Tiger Mask as the premier star in the division.
During this time, New Japan and All Japan were having a promotional war, in which both groups took gaijin stars from each other. Tiger Toguchi, who was at the time the third star of All Japan, Dick Murdoch, and All Japan's top heel Abdullah the Butcher jumped to New Japan in 1981. Later in the year, the fans saw two top gaijin stars of New Japan, Tiger Jeet Singh and Stan Hansen, in All Japan. All Japan also took the British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid & Davey Boy Smith in 1984, and New Japan took Bruiser Brody the following year.
While the promotionl war was taking place, the importance of the gaijin talents declined. The triangle feud between New Japan (Inoki, Sakaguchi, Fujinami, Tiger Mask, etc.), the former IWE wrestlers (Rusher Kimura, Animal Hamaguchi, & Teranishi Isamu), and Kakumeigun (Masa Saitō, Chōshū Riki, Killer Khan, & Kobayashi Kuniaki) was the hottest thing around this time.
However, after few years of what was probably the best days of New Japan since its start in 1972, many Japanese wrestlers left the company. In the summer of 1983, Tiger Mask announced his retirement, followed by a coup within the office which took Inoki, Sakaguchi, and Shinma from their respective positions as president, vice president, and business manager. Inoki and Sakaguchi soon returned to their positions, but Shinma was never welcomed back.
In 1984, Shinma started a new promotion Universal Wrestling Federation with several New Japan guys, including Maeda Akira, whom Shinma was pushing as the next top star in New Japan, Rusher Kimura, Gō Ryūma, and Gran Hamada. Eventually, Fujiwara Yoshiaki, Takada Nobuhiko, and Kido Osamu joined the new group.
Later in the same year, Chōshū's stable, with several other New Japan mid-carders and rookies, formed Japan Pro-Wrestling and started a working relationship with All Japan.
New Japan also lost the connection with the WWF in 1985 and with the NWA in 1986. In 1985/12, NJPW started to form their own championships, beginning with the IWGP Tag Team Championship, followed by the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in 1986/2, and finally the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 1987/6, although its championship belt has been used as a trophy for the winner of the IWGP League since 1983.
In 1986, the UWF was no longer able to promote its own card, and the wrestlers returned to New Japan to start an inter-promotional feud. The real-life tension between two groups helped the feud.
In 1987, Chōshū and some of the wrestlers from his group returned to New Japan. Soon after, a inter-generational feud between the "Now Leaders" (Inoki, Sakaguchi, Masa Saitō, Fujiwara, etc.) and the "New Leaders" (Fujinami, Chōshū, Maeda, Kimura, etc.) started. It lasted only several months, and on 11/19, Maeda injured Chōshū during a 6-man tag team match and was fired on 1988/2/1.
Maeda started the new UWF, and some of the former UWF wrestlers as well as New Japan rookies joined him.
In 1988/5, Inoki was injured and vacated IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which was later won by Fujinami. The two had a memorable match in August which ended as a 60-minute time limit draw. Fujinami and Chōshū, also with Big Van Vader would trade the title into the early 1990s.
The turn of the decade saw the rise of the Tōkon Sanjūshi ("Fighting Spirit Three Musketeers"), Mutō Keiji, Hashimoto Shin'ya, and Chōno Masahiro, as well as the new top star of the junior heavyweight Jūshin Thunder Liger. All three members of the Tōkon Sanjūshi held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the 1990s.
Liger held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in several occasions throught the decade. He feuded with Sano Naoki, Pegasus Kid/Wild Pegasus, Honaga Norio, El Samurai, and Kanemoto Kōji, as well as the non-New Japan stars such as The Great Sasuke and Ultimo Dragon.
New Japan also had working agreements (and interpromotional feuds) with several organizations, including WCW, WAR, and UWF International in the 1990s. Fujinami, Chōno, and Great Muta held NWA World Heavyweight Championship (then controlled by WCW). UWF Inernational's Nobuhiko Takada once held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. WAR's Tenryū Gen'ichirō defeated Inoki at Tokyo Dome on 1994/1/4 to become the first Japanese to gain victories over the two biggest Japanese legends, Inoki and Giant Baba, by pinfall.
End of the Inoki Era
The turn of the century saw big changes in New Japan.
In 1998/4, Inoki retired as an active wrestler. The event had Tokyo Dome's record-breaking crowd of 70,000 fans.
In 1998/8, they introduced a new championship called the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
In 1999/1, Inoki's long-time promotional rival Giant Baba passed away. By 2000/6, All Japan would soon lose most of its wrestlers and started working with New Japan.
In 2000/10, Shin'ya Hashimoto announced the formation of an independent group within New Japan in order to work with several other promotions. The group was called "New Japan Pro-Wrestling ZERO", but Chōshū, the matchmaker, was against the idea. Hashimoto was fired in 2000/11 and started Pro-Wrestling ZERO-ONE.
Inoki remained to be the most powerful person in New Japan, and the early 2000s saw the New Japan's involvement in the MMA. It was during this time Fujita Kazuyuki and the future top star Nakamura Shinsuke gained the popularity.
The conflict continued within New Japan, and eleven wrestlers and employees, including Nishimura Osamu and the long-time ring announcer Tanaka Hidekazu, did not renew the contract and left the company in 2006/1. Later, the veterans Kimura Kengo and Fujinami, who had been with the promotion from its early years, also left.
Simon Inoki resigned as the president in 2007/3, and it marked the end of Inoki era in New Japan.
In 2011/5, they introduced a new championship called the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
- IWGP Championships - active
- NWF Championships - retired
- WWF Championships - retired
- NWA Championships - retired
- Asia Championships - retired
- Other Championships - retired