Originally published at NJPW 50th Anniversary: Legends from the past highlight Budokan card
NJPW 50th Anniversary Report: Legends from the past highlight Budokan card
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Anniversary Show. This was a celebration of New Japan’s 50th anniversary. The line-up included names from New Japan’s past, with the main event featuring two stars who wrestled for New Japan back in 1972.
In terms of using New Japan names from the past, there were not many names that were available. The likes of Riki Choshu, Masahiro Chono, Kensuke Sasaki and Jushin Liger were retired. Shinjiro Otani and Keiji Muto would have probably been on this show if he wasn’t injured. There was no way that New Japan could get contracted talent for these shows, so the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura were unavailable. The show was held in Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, with an announced attendance of 3,182 fans.
1 Ryohei Oiwa, YOH & Tiger Mask vs House of Torture (SHO, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL) – A match so quick that House of Torture could not be irritating.
2 Minoru Tanaka, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi vs Bullet Club (El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & Bad Luck Fale) – A basic tag that was greatly improved whenever Minoru Tanaka got in the ring.
3 Strong Hearts (El Lindaman, T-Hawk & CIMA) vs Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) – A fun, energetic match with Strong Hearts adding a change of pace – RECOMMENDED for people new to Strong Hearts
4 Yuto Nakashima, Kosei Fujita, Yuji Nagata & Satoshi Kojima vs United Empire (Aaron Henare, Jeff Cobb, Will Ospreay & Great O-Khan) – A basic but decent tag match.
5 Great Bash Heel (Shiro Koshinaka, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs Los Ingobernables des Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & SANADA) – A decent tag match with fun nostalgia from Koshinaka and some decent build up to Ishii vs Takagi.
6 Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) vs Six or Nine (Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi) – A good, solid tag team match full of double teams but nothing special.
7 Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr. – A nostalgic, fun, and fitting tribute to 50 years of New Japan. Complete with a shocking decision that had me cackling – RECOMMENDED
Before the show started there was a 50th Anniversary celebration. As well as the regular New Japan roster there were names from New Japan’s past, announced by New Japan’s old ring announcer, Kero Tanaka. These included Wataru Inoue, Jushin Thunder Liger, Kuniaki Kobayashi, Seiji Sakaguchi, Norio Honaga, Tiger Hattori, Motoyuki Kitazawa, Milano Collection AT (with his invisible dog), Minoru Tanaka, Masahito Kakihara, Kazuo Yamazaki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Akira Maeda, Shiro Koshinaka, Kengo Kimura, Masahiro Chono, Keiji Muto, Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami. The original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama had a video message.
The show itself started at the 1 hour 5-minute mark, with a video package about New Japan’s past and hyping up the names from the past who were on today.
Ryohei Oiwa, YOH & Tiger Mask vs House of Torture (SHO, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL)
Things literally started off HoT. Oh, sorry. Things started off WITH HoT. Tiger Mask started strong before House of Torture isolated Oiwa. The rookie Oiwa earned near falls with a gut wrench suplex and a small package before Takahashi pinned him with the Pimp Juice DDT. The finishing move was replayed with a panoramic slow-motion shot that honestly looked bad.
Yujiro Takahashi pinned Ryohei Oiwa via Pimp Juice (6:35)
This was as basic as you could get. Tiger Mask looked decent and Oiwa showed some fire, but this was over quick. It wasn’t even long enough for Dick Togo to do anything more than climb onto the apron.
Minoru Tanaka, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi vs El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & Bad Luck Fale
Minoru Tanaka was the first special guest on the show. He was a big part of New Japan’s Jr division in the 2000s, with his last New Japan match being a dark match on Wrestle Kingdom 3. Tanaka showed off his skills against Ishimori, to the delight of the crowd, until Bad Luck Fale attacked him on the outside. Bullet Club isolated Tanaka but he still managed to surprise Ishimori with the Minoru Special and tagged in Taichi. Fale proved to be a match for Taichi, and the match came down to Michinoku vs Phantasmo. Michinoku looked strong against Phantasmo until Phantasmo pinned Michinoku with the Thunder Kiss 86.
El Phantasmo pinned Taka Michinoku via Thunder Kiss 86 (9:50)
This was a match of two halves. The half when Minoru Tanaka was in the ring was fun, full of good action and had an excited crowd. When Tanaka was not in the ring, the match was none of these things. Tanaka was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise unexciting, basic match.
Strong Hearts (El Lindaman, T-Hawk & CIMA) vs Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
CIMA is an Ultimo Dragon trainee who wrestled Public Enemy on WCW Thunder before becoming a focal point of Toryumon and Dragon Gate. When CIMA left Dragon Gate in 2018 he took T-Hawk and El Lindaman with him. When the original plan to create a wrestling dynasty in China with OWE collapsed, these three formed the Strong Hearts group and wrestled almost everywhere in Japan. Currently, they represent GLEAT, where El Lindaman recently became their G-Rex Champion.
Suzuki-gun ambushed T-Hawk, who quickly overcame 3 on 1 odds. Strong Hearts isolated Kanemaru with quick tags and combination moves until Kanemaru reversed a suplex. El Lindaman and El Desperado went toe to toe in a good little sequence until DOUKI and CIMA were tagged in. CIMA looked strong until Kanemaru helped DOUKI, helping DOUKI to get two counts with a Double stomp and the Daybreak DDT. DOUKI went for the Suplex del la Luna, but Strong Heart unleashed an onslaught of double teams. Lindaman used a Tope con Hilo to keep DOUKI’s partners on the outside while T-Hawk and CIMA hit a Night Ride – Meteora combination to win the match.
CIMA pinned DOUKI via Meteora (9:22)
This was a good, fun match. Strong Hearts teamwork and quick-paced offense really felt like something fresh compared to the usual New Japan undercard tag matches. The highlights were the finishing stretch and a promising clash between Lindaman and Desperado. While it was nothing must-see, I really hope that we get more from the Strong Hearts in New Japan as they add something different and exciting. I recommend watching it if you are unfamiliar with Strong Hearts.
Kosei Fujita, Yuto Nakashima, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Kota Ibushi vs United Empire (Aaron Henare, Jeff Cobb, Will Ospreay & Great O-Khan)
This was meant to be Kota Ibushi’s first match in New Japan since the G1 Climax final in October, but his return was delayed after medical consultation. Nakashima tried to prove himself against Ospreay, only for Henare to use some cheap tactics. United Empire attacked their opponents at ringside and bullied Nakashima inside the ring. Cobb launched Nakashima with a vertical suplex, and Nakashima fought back (very clumsily). Kojima made the hot tag, with both Kojima and Nagata running wild with machine gun chops. O-Khan attacked Kojima, but Kojima fought back with a Mongolian Chop. Fujita insisted on tagging in, landing a trio of dropkicks on O-Khan. O-Khan escaped a Boston Crab, suplexed both Young Lions and pinned Fujita with the Eliminator.
Great O-Khan pinned Kosei Fujita via Eliminator (9:20)
This was a decent match with some good fire from Nakashima & Fujita. Aside from some clumsiness from Nakashima, no one looked bad, but this was a basic and forgettable match designed to make United Empire look strong going into the New Japan Cup.
Great Bash Heel (Shiro Koshinaka, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe) vs Los Ingobernables des Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito & SANADA)
Shiro Koshinaka was the first New Japan Jr Heavyweight Champion and spent almost 20 years in New Japan in the ’80s, 90’s, and 00s. His presence in this match means that this was a Great Bash Heel Reunion: Everyone on his team was part of GBH in the late 00s, which was the predecessor to CHAOS. The guest referee was former New Japan wrestler Norio Honaga.
Takagi ambushed Koshinaka and the match immediately broke down. Makabe brought things back on track before Yano immediately derailed things again with his usual antics. Yano teased tagging Koshinaka, but LIJ cut him off. Hiromu and BUSHI mocked Koshinaka by attacking Yano with hip attacks. Koshinaka saved Yano from SANADA’s Paradise Lock and Yano tagged in Koshinaka, who ran wild with a series of hip attacks. We even got a running hip attack off the apron and a top rope hip attack.
Koshinaka and SANADA tagged out, which led to Takagi and Ishii charging at each other. They traded big strikes in the corner before throwing big forearms in the center of the ring. Ishii no sold a vertical suplex from Takagi and hit one of his own. Honma tagged in and GBH ganged up on Takagi, with Honma hitting the Kokeshi. Takagi used a Lariat to take down Honma and LIJ hit a quadruple dropkick on Honma. Ishii made the save and Honma showed guts against Takagi, kicking out of a Pumping Bomber before being beaten with the Last of the Dragon.
Shingo Takagi pinned Tomoaki Honma via Last of the Dragon (12:38)
This was another fun nostalgia match. It was firmly focused on giving Koshinaka some time to shine, much to the delight of the crowd. Honma did surprisingly well in the closing stretch. This was designed to please the crowd and build up Ishii vs Takagi without busting a gut. It did what it aimed to do but aside from that this was a pretty by-the-numbers tag match.
Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) vs Six or Nine (Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi)
Normally the New Japan Anniversary shows are main evented by the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion facing the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Instead, that match was saved of the main event of night 1 of the New Japan Cup and we got this match instead, pitting the tag team champions from each division against each other.
Taguchi did well holding his own against Goto at the start of the match, with YOSHI-HASHI and Wato coming in to help their partners. Goto used a clothesline to fight back, with Goto & YOSHI-HASHI using their double teams to gain control and isolate Taguchi. YOSHI-HASHI avoided Taguchi’s first hip attack but got caught with a second hip attack. Wato tagged in and hit a Tope con Hilo on both opponents. A missile dropkick earned Wato a two count before YOSHI-HASHI fought back. Taguchi took it to Goto with a range of hip attacks, but Goto kicked out and countered Taguchi’s three amigos with a suplex of his own. Wato helped Taguchi get a nearfall and the crowd was firmly behind Taguchi’s behind. Goto and YOSHI-HASHI used their arsenal of double team moves but Taguchi escaped the Shoto and locked in his Oh my and Garfunkel ankle lock.
Wato stopped Goto from reaching the ropes and Taguchi had Goto trapped in the center of the ring with the ankle lock. YOSHI-HASHI made the save and Taguchi’s hip attack backfired. Got used the Go to Hell, his old finisher from his Jr Heavyweight days before Wato was eliminated with the Violent Flash. It was two on one and Goto pinned Taguchi using the Shoto.
Hirooki Goto pinned Ryusuke Taguchi via Shoto (15:04)
This was a good match with a lot of solid action and some great double teams. I would not call this a great match, as it felt a little dull at times and lacked something. Everyone looked good, and Taguchi was very popular, but there was not enough to make this match worth going out of your way to watch. Then again, I really appreciated Goto using the Go to Hell, a throwback to the days when he was a Junior Heavyweight and Taguchi was one of his rivals.
Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.
Tatsumi Fujinami wrestled on the first New Japan Show back in 1972. He was one of New Japan’s bigger stars throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Only Hiroshi Tanahashi has had more IWGP Heavyweight title reigns than Fujinami. In fact, Tanahashi is a spiritual student of Fujinami as Tanahashi was Keiji Mutoh’s spiritual successor, and Mutoh was Fujinami’s spiritual successor. The trio of Fujinami, Tanahashi & Okada are three of the most dominant Heavyweight Champions in New Japan history.
Yoshiaki Fujiwara also wrestled in New Japan in 1972. Fujiwara left New Japan twice to join two different versions of UWF. Both times Fujiwara ended up eventually returning to New Japan. When Fujiwara left the second time, he took a young Minoru Suzuki with him. After UWF folded (again), Suzuki followed Fujiwara to PWFG before Suzuki left PWFG to create Pancrase. The trio of Fujiwara, Suzuki & Sabre Jr also felt like a great fit stylistically as all three captured the more grounded, technical side of New Japan. Of course, the downside of having Fujinami and Fujiwara in this match was that Fujinami is 68 years old and Fujiwara is 72 years old.
The youngsters, Sabre Jr and Okada, started this match trading holds. Okada used a lot more chain wrestling than you are used to from him. Suzuki and Tatsumi Fujinami tagged in. Fujinami grounded Suzuki with a headscissors and used a masterful counter to a single-leg crab. Tanahashi came in and Fujiwara tagged himself in, with Suzuki and Fujiwara slapping each other as Suzuki did not want to tag Fujiwara in. Tanahashi got caught with a Fujiwara armbar, quickly reaching the ropes. Fujiwara, who looked quite frail, proved too tricky for Tanahashi and Fujiwara was not afraid of throwing punches or slaps.
Okada was unafraid as well. In this case, he was unafraid to hit the elderly Fujiwara. When Okada headbutted Fujiwara, he regretted it. Fujiwara proved how hard his head was by shoot headbutting a steel turnbuckle which made an audible clang. Twice. This was ridiculous but when you get to 72 it’s your choice whether you headbutt a lump of steel. Fujiwara then proceeded to take out Okada with a headbutt. Fujinami tagged in and both old men fought over a headlock on the mat. This spot felt a little sad at times, but it didn’t last long. Tanahashi and Fujiwara traded strikes before Sabre Jr tagged in, with Suzuki and Sabre Jr using repeated arm wringers on Tanahashi. At one point Fujiwara, Suzuki, and Sabre Jr all had submissions locked in on Tanahashi.
Tanahashi fought back using his aerial offense. Suzuki and Tanahashi traded strikes before Fujinami and Tanahashi hit Dragon Screws. Suzuki fought back with headbutts, and Fujiwara came in to lend a hand. Well, he decided to lend a head instead. There were Fujiwara armbars all round but Okada no sold Suzuki’s Penalty Kicks. Suzuki teed off on Okada with vicious strikes, but Fujinami made the save with the Dragon Sleeper. Tanahashi then hit Suzuki with a Sling Blade and Okada hit a Tombstone, only for Suzuki to counter the Rainmaker into a sleeper. Okada faked Suzuki out with a teased dropkick before hitting an actual dropkick, the sit-out Tombstone the Rainmaker to pin Suzuki.
The show ended with Fujinami doing Antonio Inoki’s signature 1 2 3 Da call after speeches from Tanahashi and Okada.
Kazuchika Okada pinned Minoru Suzuki via Rainmaker (18:12)
This was great fun. It was a nostalgia-heavy ode to New Japan’s past. It was not full of the fastest or the crispest action. Two of the competitors were over 65 and you could tell, but it still made me laugh and smile. It’s hard to have a match with two people over 65 without it looking farcical and over-exposing things. Fujiwara and Fujinami were very limited, but the match played to their strengths, and it only felt awkward a couple of times. Fujinami picked his spots well. For all of Fujiwara’s frailty, he was better than I expected. The shoot headbutt on the steel turnbuckle was magnificently stupid. The kind of thing that I would hate from anyone less than half Fujiwara’s age but a great way to shock the crowd.
This match was not about star ratings. It won’t be remembered for crisp wrestling and yes, it would have been a smoother and technically superior match without Fujinami and Fujiwara. This match was not about technically great wrestling or epic finishing stretches, although I loved the finish with Okada pretending to hit a dropkick to fake out Suzuki. The match was about paying homage to New Japan’s past, and it did a great job of that. It won’t be remembered as a world-class match, but it felt like a welcome burst of nostalgia. It was a fitting finale to the 50th-anniversary show.
On paper, this did not look like a great show. By the usual standards of New Japan shows, this was not a great show. However, this was not a normal show. It was an anniversary show. The aim was to give fans a burst of nostalgia. The idea was to use stars from the past to pay tribute to 50 years of New Japan. That’s exactly what they delivered. The main event proved that you don’t need to be good to make people feel good. Fujiwara and Fujinami showed their age, but it was fun to see them in the main event. That first Fujiwara headbutt will live long in my memory.
If RoH or TNA held a 30th-anniversary show, fans today would moan if they got a show that only showcased the current wrestlers. They would want matches that paid homage to the companies peak. This is exactly what New Japan tried to do here.
The big lesson for me was about how New Japan needs to embrace outsiders to add freshness. The two freshest things on the undercard were Minoru Tanaka and Strong Hearts. It sounds weird to say it but New Japan using GLEAT talent on their undercard would be a great move for New Japan. It showed that you don’t need the biggest names to freshen things up.
2022 is not going to be a smooth year for New Japan. The future is uncertain, with a sense that they are waiting for COVID VISA restrictions to end before they can freshen things up with talent from AEW or New Japan Strong. At least, that is what most Western fans hope for. Time will tell if this comes to pass, and more time will tell if it is a true panacea or if it’s just a temporary cure that treats the symptoms instead of the actual problem: stale booking ideas and an excessive schedule.