History of New Japan at the Tokyo Dome
By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
This Tuesday, New Japan Pro Wrestling ushers in the 21st century with their annual January 4th spectacular at Tokyo's Egg Dome.
The most anticipated event on the Japanese wrestling calendar, the annual event has a rich history of incredible matches, sell out crowds and historic moments.
In 1989, a climate of change was sweeping across Eastern Europe. The Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall came down and the spirit of Glasnost helped bring down the curtain of Communist rule in Russia.
In the spirit of helping to promote peace and good will, New Japan Pro Wrestling promoter Antonio Inoki approached the Soviet government about letting some of Russia's top amateur wrestlers travel to Tokyo to compete against the top stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
On April 24, 1989 close to 54,000 fans packed the Dome as a tournament was held to fill the vacant IWGP Heavyweight title. New Japan stars Vader, Masa Chono Shinya Hashimoto and Riki Choshu competed against Soviet stars Vladimir Berkovich and Victor Zangiev in a single elimination tournament. Vader was crowned the new champion defeating Hashimoto in the finals.
In the main event Soviet star Shota Chochyashvili defeated Inoki in a mixed martial arts match. Other matches included Salman Hashimikov defeating Bam Bam Bigelow and Wahka Eveleov beat Masa Saito. When all was said and done, the spirit of co-operation between the two nations was a success and helped to further bridge Russia's entrance into the free world.
Chris Benoit under the mask as Pegasus Kid endures a camel clutch from Jushin "Thunder" Liger. Liger and Benoit are two stars that have helped make New Japan's Tokyo Dome shows so special.
This show was also historic for another reason. Keiichi Yamada was a mid card wrestler in Japan who spent some time in Mexico's UWA promotion, in England and in the Calgary Stampede territory.
On this afternoon in 1989, Yamada donned a mask and debuted under a new name based on a character from a Japanese comic. With his lightning quick style and unique blend of dazzling aerial moves and martial arts, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi. Jushin "Thunder" Liger was born and he went on to become, arguably, the most influential junior heavyweight in wrestling history.
The following year, the spirit of co-operation was again in full force as New Japan put on a joint show with Giant Baba
and All Japan Pro Wrestling, their rival promotion, on February 10th. Over 63, 000 fans filed into the Dome as Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi beat Shinya Hashimoto & Masa Chono in the main event. Former NWA World Champion Lou Thesz served as the guest referee.
In a New Japan vs All Japan match, Genichiro Tenryu & Mitsuhara Misawa (competing under a mask as Tiger Mask) beat Riki Choshu & George Takano by count out. IWGP Heavyweight Champ Vader went to a double count out with Stan Hansen and Masa Saito pinned Larry Zbysko to win the AWA World Title.
This would be the last show co-promoted by the two promotions as All Japan would soon slip into their isolationist stance.
In 1991, New Japan entered into a working relationship with WCW. On March 21st, over 64 000 fans packed the Dome for a show that New Japan promoted as "Starrcade in the Tokyo Dome." In the main event, IWGP Champ Tatsumi Fujinami defeated WCW World Champ Ric Flair by pinfall. However, the infamous 'Dusty Finish' reared its ugly head as the title was given back to Flair after the show due to a prior infraction on Flair, giving Fujinami the win by DQ. Despite this, Fujinami was being recognized in Japan as WCW champion.
Other results from the show saw IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champ Jushin Liger defeat Akira Nogami, Arn Anderson & Barry Windham beat Masa Saito & Masa Chono, Rick & Scott Steiner beat Hiro Hase & Kensuke Sasaki to win the IWGP Tag Titles and The Great Muta pinned Sting.
On January 4th, 1992 the WCW presence at the annual show was strong. WCW World Champ Lex Luger pinned Masa Chono to retain his title. Vader went to a double DQ with El Gigante and Dusty Rhodes came out of retirement, teaming with son Dustin to defeat Masa Saito and Kim Duk.
After squaring off against each other the previous year, this time The Great Muta and Sting teamed up to defeat the Steiners. In the main event, Riki Choshu pinned Tatsumi Fujinami to win his first of three IWGP Heavyweight Titles.
Another year rolled around and again WCW sent their top stars to work the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, 1993. In the WCW vs New Japan match ups, IWGP Tag Champs The Hellraisers (Road Warrior Hawk & Kensuke Sasaki) went to a double count out with The Steiners. Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto beat Scott Norton & Dustin Rhodes and Sting pinned Hiro Hase.
Two titles changed hands this year as IWGP Heavyweight champ The Great Muta beat NWA World Champ Masa Chono and Jushin Liger pinned Ultimo Dragon to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title for the sixth time. In the main event, two legends faced off as Genichiro Tenryu pinned Riki Choshu.
The January 4th, 1994 show was an interesting one. Hulk Hogan, had left the WWF the previous year and was working part time for New Japan. On this show, he pinned former IWGP Heavyweight champ Tatsumi Fujinami. Jushin Liger pinned Koji Kanemoto (competing under a mask as Tiger Mask). The Hellraisers beat Scott Norton & Hercules Hernandez to win the IWGP Tag Titles, Rick & Scott Steiner beat Keiji Muto & Hiro Hase and IWGP Champ Shinya Hashimoto pinned Masa Chono. The main event featured the first match between Tenryu and Inoki, two of the biggest stars in Japanese wrestling history. Tenryu won the historic match.
On January 4th, 1995, 62 500 fans saw IWGP Champ Shinya Hashimoto pin Kensuke Sasaki. IWGP Tag Champs Hiro Hase & Keiji Muto beat Rick & Scott Steiner, Antonio Inoki beat Sting, ECW star Sabu
& Masa Chono beat Tatsumi Fujinami & Junji Hirata and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champ Norio Honaga pinned The Great Sasuke.
The show set a Tokyo Dome record with a live paid gate of $4,800,000 USD. The event was such a huge financial success that New Japan rolled the dice and made plans to run a second Dome show later that year.
The promotion was working with the UWFI shoot promotion and was building to a New Japan vs UWFI feud. New Japan was on fire at this time, setting attendance records across Japan for this inter-promotional feud. Naturally, New Japan looked to promote a New Japan vs UWFI card at the Tokyo Dome as the payoff.
So, on October 9, 1995 New Japan held its second Tokyo Dome show of 1995 as IWGP Champ Keiji Muto beat UWFI's Nobuhiko Takada in the main event. The entire under-card featured a series of New Japan vs UWFI matches with New Japan winning four out of the seven matches.
The show was another huge success for New Japan. Over 67,000 fans packed the Dome setting the attendance record and the gate receipts totalled over $6.1 million US, another record. The New Japan vs UWFI feud was a financial windfall and in terms of live attendance and gate receipts, stands as the most successful feud in wrestling history. The feud was also historic for another reason as it was the model that former WCW Executive Vice President Eric Bischoff based his NWO invasion angle on.
A mere three months later, New Japan sold out the Dome once again to the tune of 64 000 fans and a gate of $5.5 million as Takada claimed victory for the UWFI promotion defeating Muto for the IWGP Heavyweight title. In his last match before heading to the WWF, Vader put on an incredible performance carrying aging legend Antonio Inoki to a **** match. In another title change, Jushin Liger pinned Koji Kanemoto to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
New Japan was the most financially successful promotion in the world at the time and they decided to parlay that success into a another Dome show. On April 29, 1996 Shinya Hashimoto gained revenge for New Japan defeating Takada in the main event to win the IWGP Heavyweight title. Other matches saw Genichiro Tenryu pinned Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Muta pinned Ginsei Shinzaki (AKA former WWF star Hakushi), The Road Warriors & Kensuke Sasaki beat Rick & Scott Steiner & Scott Norton and The Great Sasuke pinned Jushin Liger to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
The January 4th, 1997 show featured another inter-promotional feud, this time with Big Japan Pro Wrestling. In one of the marquee matches New Japan veteran Masa Saito beat Big Japan Pro Wrestling president Great Kojika. History was made on this night as Jushin Liger pinned Ultimo Dragon to win the J Crown Titles. Chris Jericho
, wrestling under a gold body suit and mask as Super Liger, a take on Jushin Liger's character, defeated Koji Kanemoto. The experiment didn't work and the gimmick was quickly dropped. In the main event IWGP Champ Shinya Hashimoto pinned Riki Choshu.
Three months later on April 12th, 60 500 fans saw Naoya Ogawa, a former Japanese Olympian, defeat IWGP Champ Shinya Hashimoto by TKO in a non-title match. It was Ogawa's first pro match and instantly established him as a major star in Japan. The two have faced off in only a handful of matches since, each one more heated than the next.
A legendary career came to an end on the January 4th, 1998 show as Riki Choshu retired, wrestling five opponents. His final match saw him defeat Jushin Liger by pinfall. In the main event IWGP Champ Kensuke Sasaki pinned Keiji Muto.
NEW JAPAN TOKYO DOME FACTS AND FIGURES
This Tuesday marks the 12 years New Japan Pro Wrestling spectaculars at the Tokyo Egg Dome. With over a deacade worth of shows, there have been some memorable performances and performers who have set foot on the turf of the legendary baseball stadium. Below is a list of facts and figures to ponder.
Number of shows: 17
Largest crowd: 70,000 fans, April 4, 1998
Smallest Crowd: 58,000 fans, October 11, 1999
Largest gross: $7,000,000 (U.S.), April 4, 1998
Smallest gross: $2,781,000 (U.S.), April 24, 1989
Notable Retirements: Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu
IWGP Heavyweight Title changes: 6
Most appearances: 16 by Jushin Liger; 15 by Masa Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, Kensuke Sasaki and Keiji Muto
Most appearances by a non-Japanese: 8 by Scott Norton; 6 by the Steiners.
Notable single appearances: Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Randy Savage
Most appearances in main event: 6 by Shinya Hashimoto; 5 by Keiji Muto; 4 by Antonio Inoki
Three months later on April 4, 1998 another legendary career came to a close as Antonio Inoki officially retired. In his last match, Inoki beat Don Frye in a mixed martial arts match. Dignitaries such as Muhammad Ali, Bob Backlund, Eric Bischoff, Riki Choshu, Animal Hamaguchi, Killer Khan, Akira Maeda and Genichiro Tenryu paid tribute to Inoki after the match in a very special in-ring ceremony.
This evening was also noteworthy as Tatsumi Fujinami beat Kensuke Sasaki via submission to win the IWGP Title.
To close out the century, New Japan became very ambitious and ran three Tokyo Dome shows in 1999. On January 4th, Keiji Muto beat Scott Norton via submission to win the IWGP Title in the main event before 62, 500 fans. Other matches saw Kendo Ka Shin & Mexican superstar Dr. Wagner, Jr. beat Shinjiro Ohtani & Tokimitsu Takaiwa to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Title, Kensuke Sasaki beat FMW founder Atsushi Onita via DQ and Shinya Hashimoto battled Naoya Ogawa to a no-contest.
The April 4th show saw IWGP Champ Keiji Muto beat Don Frye via submission in the main event. The Great Sasuke & Jushin Liger beat Dr. Wagner, Jr. & Kendo Ka Shin to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Titles and Masa Chono battled Atsushi Onita in a "no ropes explosive barbed wire" match.
The final Tokyo Dome show of the century took place on October 11 before 58, 000 fans. In the main event, NWA World Champ Naoya Ogawa beat Shinya Hashimoto by TKO in one of the most famous matches in recent history. It was a stiff match that saw promoter Antonio Inoki run in during the match and call for the bell to end the match. Hashimoto was lying prone on the mat and was deemed unable to continue.
The strange finish, a weird facsimile of a infamous 1986 match between Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda that Inoki ended when the match broke down and became a legitimate fight, was booked so to look like a shoot and build interest to another main event match at New Japan's next Tokyo Dome show in April, 2000.
In other action IWGP Champ Keiji Muto beat Manabu Nakanishi (former WCW star Kurosawa) via submission and Jushin Liger pinned Kendo Ka Shin to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
A storied building with a rich wrestling history, the Tokyo Dome has been home to some of the most historic moments in wrestling history. As we enter the year 2000 and a new century, once can only hope that New Japan will continue to make history at the Tokyo Egg Dome.