New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is a promotion I only watched the big matches for prior to 2015. I'd watch the big Tanahashi, Okada, Chaos and Bullet Club stuff, but I never invested fully into the product. I just didn't have the time and I thought it would be hard to keep up on a weekly or monthly basis. I knew about the people like KUSHIDA, Kenny Omega (cause I've watched a fair bit of his DDT stuff), Ishii and Shibata, but never really fully got into their character or ring-work. Mostly cause of the time differential with me living in the US and the fact that they don't do a ton of shows in English. Though I have come to learn with NJPW, even not knowing any Japanese, the commentary and passion or even no commentary at all can be way better than English Announcers they bring in. Can we get JR to another Wrestle Kingdom or a G1 Climax please?
All of that only sparingly keeping up with NJPW changed when I watched Wrestle Kingdom 9 last year. It got me fully hooked to the whole roster and the talent exchange they do with Ring of Honor (ROH). To start off the year we got a PPV full of wrestling, emotion and passion that just couldn't be topped the whole year. Though I loved G1 Climax, Wrestlemania 31 and Ultima Lucha very much. Wrestle Kingdom 9 reminded me how I got into WWE all those years ago watching Wrestlemaina 19. But that's not to say it was easy to keep up with everything that goes on in a promotion that primarily doesn't speak my native tongue. I mean sure we get English promos from Kenny Omega pretty steadily or perhaps ones from the people in ROH. From what I've watched and I don't often get to catch PPV pressers, is that NJPW does all of their story-line building outside of shows, or at least most of the time that's where the talking happens. Sure you may get a challenge after win or the world champ will say speech at the end of a major PPV or match. But story-lines are built outside of the ring and settled exclusively inside of it. So getting used to the WWE, or I guess just Western style, of having everything spelled out for you, takes some getting used to.
Another big difference is that NJPW really focuses on the wrestling aspect of pro wrestling. They call it puroresu which roughly translates to "pro-wres." Most notably, in NJPW, you have "strong style" which was termed way back in the day. It's literally fighting spirit and incorporates a ton of traditional wrestling, kicks, strikes and martial arts, since a lot of NJPW's stars have MMA training and background. You also have the "King's Road" style which you're probably more used to if you've been watching the WWE. It focuses on holds, brawling and the storytelling aspect of pro wrestling. With the strong style you get faster paced matches that have a lot of fighting, counters, hard strikes and brutal stiffness. They can pack a ton of action into a 12-15 match that other promotions may take a 20+ minute match to convey.
You have Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Macho Man, etc as some of the big names in the history of WWE. They are larger than life names that everyone knows because WWE/F is a worldwide thing. But up until the last decade or so, it wasn't as easy to obtain shows or events from other countries so easily. WWE has used Japanese wrestlers, but it's another thing to be able to keep up with the best NJPW has to offer and they really can be considered the best wrestlers in the world. For the past year, as a fan of pro wrestling matches over the theatrics, I've come to realize while WWE and ROH can put on top tier matches, Rollins/Lesnar/Cena, Owens/Cena, Bayley/Banks, Styles/Lethal, any Young Bucks/reDRagon combo match. NJPW puts on one of these high caliber matches nearly every PPV.
You're about to get a huge list of massive stars that competed in NJPW or in ROH throughout 2015. This year alone I've been enthralled with a shortlist of NJPW stars that include Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, KUSHIDA, Kenny Omega, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahahi, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada. Not to mention they've had stellar matches with aforementioned Styles and Omega all year. This doesn't even include the tag team work that Young Bucks, reDRagon, Ricochet (Prince Puma) and Matt Sydal, Roppongi Vice, Los Ingobernables, GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma), Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, who have all been doing this month after month this past year.
There is a ton of history, Young Lions (younger stars in NJPW training their way up) and people I just don't know all that well putting on matches and working their ass off for our entertainment each and every NJPW show, not just the PPVs. They hold the Best of the Super Juniors, the World Tag League and the G1 Climax Tournaments, where "smaller" people like say Karl Anderson (who shone during the G1 Climax this year) or Michael Elgin (who shone during the World Tag League) are given a chance to go all out in front of the NJPW audience. Not to mention these week and month long star studded tournaments are usually held in high regard for everyone competing and a good way to catch up on some of the lesser known NJPW stars too. I can't wait to learn more about the history of this illustrious promotion going forward.
Now I don't really want to end this on me only giving a run down of NJPW. I want to point out my favorite things about NJPW going right now and updated as of last night NJPW New Years Dash show. So if you're not caught up to that, then you may want to stop reading until you catch up with everything that happened.
I like the Never Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship, and The Briscoe Brothers and Toru Yano are the perfect first champions.
The Briscoe Brothers are great and their reckless brawling style with the more comedic style of Yano have worked pretty well in their first two matches between Wrestle Kingdom 10 and New Years Dash. The three have an obvious chemistry, and the promo they cut after the main event of NYD was very endearing. The Briscoe Brothers cut a basic promo about coming into NJPW and right off the bat winning the tag team titles. The crowd seemed silent, so when they passed the mic to Yano to end the show he commented with "I bet none of you knew what they said, did you? No prob, I didn't either! But we've got a bond, heart to heart. You probably do, too!" which is fantastic.
The IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships are still awesome.
The Young Bucks are still awesome. Whether you like them or not they're one of the top tag teams on the planet. Even with Bobby Fish getting a little older, him and Kyle O'Reilly are one of the most smooth tag teams on the market. reDRagon is awesome. Combine that with Ricochet and Matt Sydal rising and putting on fantastic matches these three teams are still putting forth great matches I'll continue to enjoy. Though I do think they need to maybe push a team like David Finlay and Jay White into this picture as they had a good match with Ricochet/Sydal at NYD.
I like Los Ingobernables and Bushi vs KUSHIDA will be fun.
I thought Tetsuya Naito vs Goto at Wrestle Kingdom 10 was only okay. The bad guy charisma oozed out of Los Ingobarnables though and I love the villainous swag that Naito can bring to a match just by simply entering or exiting a match. Plus that scythe was awesome. KUSHIDA on the other hand had a fantastic match with Kenny Omega (and feud for that matter for a lot of 2015) and will now be dealing with Bushi as he challenged him for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Never Openweight Championship is awesome no matter who is holding it.
Never Openweight Championship is awesome no matter who is holding it.
Ishii and Shibata could have matches like this every week and I will love every single one them. Pure brutality and a fresh face like Shibata holding the title will give us a new look at challengers going forward. And if they ever do a triple threat match for this title, they may have before, I don't know, it would be beautiful.
Okada is still my favorite and another match with Goto will be good.
Tanahashi and Okada delivered what may be match of the decade at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Guts, passion and overcoming were the themes as Okada finally got the Tanahashi monkey off his back. After the eight man tag Okada was in last night Goto challenged him. Okada is one of the top, if not the top guy, on the entire planet and Goto has had wars with the likes of Nakamura (and Okada himself). Here's how the match was likely set up last night at NYD. It's all you need to know.
Goto: "The Naito thing, that finished yesterday. Okada! I'm going to take that belt!"
Okada: "You're done with Naito? That's got nothing to do with anything! But I remember losing to you in the G1. Oh, I remember when you wanted to unify the IWGP and IC belts, let's do it! Oh right, you don't have the IC belt."
Kenny Omega is the best and people will FINALLY get to see it in the main event.
Don't you get me wrong, Styles, Okada, Nakamura and Tanahashi had incredible matches all year. But with the way Styles was excommunicated from Bullet Club by Omega last night and the defiant way Omega challenged Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship, he's ready to explode. His heel persona is amazing and his ring-skills are on par with anyone I've named in this write-up. With all the crazy news breaking the last few days of Styles, Nakamura, Anderson and Gallows leaving to join WWE, they had to do something and boy was that something huge. Here's the video of it and it's going to tell you all you need to know about the Bullet Club going forward. Plus Kenny Omega vs Shinsuke Nakamura is going to be bananas.
New Japan is going to be awesome this year and I'm ready for it all!