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History of New Japan at the Fukuoka Dome
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

This Friday, New Japan Pro Wrestling resumes an old tradition as they return to the Fukuoka Dome for their "Wrestling Dontaku in Fukuoka Dome" spectacular.

 Celebrating the national Japanese holiday known as 'The Hakata Dontaku', (a coming together of people from all walks of life for one festive day), New Japan will be returning to the Fukuoka Dome for the first time in three years.

 Despite the fact that New Japan has only run the Dome on four different occasions in the past eight years, they have a rich and storied history in the building.

 It all started in 1993. As WCW and the WWF were both in a state of disarray and their business were at all time lows, New Japan was the most profitable wrestling promotion in the world. They were experiencing record business and were considered the archetypal wrestling office.

 Coming off their success from their annual Tokyo Dome show in January, New Japan was looking to add another date at a major facility on their schedule.

 Enter the Fukuoka Dome.

 New Japan decided to ride their incredible wave of momentum and, in a bold move, booked the Fukuoka Dome on May 3.

 As it turned out, the gamble paid off. Although not a complete sellout, New Japan drew a crowd of 55,000 fans to the 70,000 stadium, taking in a live gate total of $2,500,000 USD.

 Not bad for one afternoon of work.

 Not only was the card a commercial success, but it was also a critical success. The junior heavyweights took centre stage as Jushin "Thunder" Liger faced off against Koji Kanemoto who was wrestling with a mask under the Tiger Mask gimmick. Made famous by Satoru Sayama, the Tiger Mask gimmick was in good hands with Kanemoto as he pinned the legendary Liger in a memorable match.
Poster from this year's "Wrestling Dontaku in Fukuoka Dome" New Japan spectacular.


 WCW was well represented at this show as Sting wrestled Scott "Flash" Norton to a DDQ. Yoshiaki Fujiwara made his return to New Japan after four years defeating Hiro Hase by submission. At the time, Hase was the golden boy of New Japan and was considered by many to be, pound for pound, the best wrestler in the world at the time.

 In a rare inter-promotional match, WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan defeated The Great Muta. After the show that evening, Hulk Hogan told the Japanese press core that the WWF world title was an insignificant piece of tin and that the IWGP World title was the only real world title.

 Hogan also met and spoke with Sting, having their photo taken together (which later graced the cover of several wrestling magazines in the U.S.) and spoke about the possibility of jumping to WCW sometime in the future. The following month, Hogan dropped the WWF world title to Yokozuna in his final match in the promotion and joined WCW a year later.

 Amazingly, the Hogan-Muta match was not the main event. The card was topped by a legends battle that saw company founder Antonio Inoki team up with Tatsumi Fujinami to defeat Riki Choshu and Genichiro Tenryu, arguably the four biggest stars in the history of the promotion.

 One year later, New Japan were back in Fukuoka. On May 4, 1994, they drew 53,500 fans and a live gate of $3,000 000 USD.

 The main event that year was a battle between the old guard and the new generation of young New Japan superstars. Antonio Inoki squared off against The Great Muta in their first singles match ever. Keiji Mutoh, under the Great Muta gimmick, had established himself as the best heavyweight worker in the promotion and Japanese fans and media were wondering if the aging Inoki would put Muta over.

 In a 20-minute match that, for the most part was uneventful, Inoki disposed of Muta scoring the pin and forcing several pundits to scratch their head over why Muta did not get put over.

 The show was opened that afternoon by two relative youngsters who, today in 2000, stand poised to lead New Japan in the new millennium. Satoshi Kojima, who many Japanese wrestling experts peg as the next perrenial IWGP Heavyweight champion defeated Yuji Nagata, who most fans will remember from his 1997 run in WCW, in an 11-minute match.

 That year's show was graced by another battle of young and old stars as Satoru Sayama, the original Tiger Mask faced the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champ Jushin "Thunder" Liger. Sayama, the man who revolutionized the junior heavyweight division in the early '80s, and Liger, the man who revolutionized it in the '90s, battled to a 10-minute draw. And although the match would have been better had it happened five years earlier, it was still a historic battle that Japanese fans have never forgotten.
Genichiro Tenryu appeared in two main events at the Fukuoka Dome. Photo courtesy the wonderful Puroresu Hall of Fame.


 The IWGP World Tag champions the HellRaisers (Kensuke Saski and Road Warrior Hawk) defeated Rick and Scott Steiner in a memorable title match while WCW star Rick Rude defeated Sting to capture the WCW International World title.

 In an match pitting the teacher vs the student, Riki Choshu took on Hiro Hase. Choshu, the New Japan booker had helped train Hase for his pro debut several years prior. Choshu disposed of Hase, pinning his protege (and his assistant booker at the time) in ten minutes.

 The 1994 show saw the first title change as Shinya Hashimoto won the IWGP World Heavyweight title for the second time defeating Tatsumi Fujinami.

 In 1995, only 48,000 fans turned out to the Fukuoka Dome. Ironically, despite drawing the smallest crowd in the history of the event, the card stands as the best in the series.

 Yuji Nagata gained opened up the show, defeating Manabu Nakanishi (former WCW star Kurosawa) in a battle of future New Japan stars.

 Current WWF Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit, a regular with New Japan in those days, defeated fellow junior heavyweight Too Cold Scorpio in a brilliant aerial battle. Sabu, who just had a fallout with ECW promoter Paul Heyman, won the IWGP Junior heavyweight title from Koji Kanemoto. Despite the differences in style -- Sabu being a highspot daredevil and Kanemoto being a classic Japanese junior heavyweight -- the two meshed together seemlessly in the ring and had a memorable match.

 Rick and Scott Steiner defeated Road Warrior Hawk and Scott Norton while Kensuke Saski defeated Hiroshi Tenzan. In another legends match, Antonio Inoki teamed with Koji Kitao to defeat Genichiro Tenryu and Riki Choshu.

 More than anything else, this show set wrestling history. Terry Funk, at the time wrestling for the International Wrestling Alliance office, made his New Japan debut teaming with Shiro Koshinaka to defeat Hiomichi Fuyuki and Masa Chono. For most of the '70s and '80s, Funk was a headlining star for the rival All Japan Pro Wrestling. He was one of the top foreign wrestlers in All Japan and was closely associated with that promotion.

 Funk's appearance on a New Japan card after all those years set off shock waves in Japan. Even though he hadn't wrestled for the company, All Japan owner Giant Baba thought Funk would never "betray" him by working for the enemy.

 But that's exactly what happened that afternoon in Fukuoka. Funk's appearance on a New Japan show is comparable to when Hulk Hogan jumped to WCW after all his glory years with Vince McMahon and the WWF.

 One week prior to this show, Flair headlined a New Japan show against Antonio Inoki at Pyongyang Stadium in North Korea before 150,000 fans, the largest recorded crowd in modern pro wrestling history.

 Flair followed that up by putting on his best match in Japan in years as he defeated Hiro Hase in a 20-minute classic. The match with Hase brought back memories of Flair's classic mid-80s tilts with Jumbo Tsuruta and Riki Choshu when he routinely toured Japan as the NWA World Champion.

 Nobody in attendance that night though it could get any better. They were wrong.
NEW JAPAN FUKUOKA DOME FACTS AND FIGURES
This Friday sees the return of New Japan Pro Wrestling to the Fukuoka Dome for the first time in three years. Second only to the annual Tokyo Dome show in importance, New Japan has a rich history in Fukuoka. Below is a list of facts and figures to ponder.
  • Number of shows: 4
  • Largest crowd: 55,000 fans, May 3, 1993
  • Smallest Crowd: 400,000 fans, November 2, 1997
  • Largest gross: $3,500,000 USD, November 2, 1997
  • IWGP Heavyweight Title changes: 2 ('94 - Hashimoto beats Fujinami; '95 - Mutoh beats Hashimoto)
  • Most appearances by a non-Japanese: 3 by Scott Norton and Road Warrior Hawk
  • Notable single appearances: Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Sabu, Terry Funk, Rick Rude
  • Most appearances in main event: 3 by Keiji Muto


  •  In the main event, Keiji Mutoh won the IWGP Heavyweight title for the second time defeating rival Shinya Hashimoto in a fantastic and physically gruelling encounter.

     New Japan would not return to the Fukuoka Dome until November 2, 1997 when it drew a "disappointing" crowd of 40,000 fans.

     Part of the reason was a weak main event. While previous shows boasted a marquee battle, this year's main event was lackluster. NWO Japan co-founders Keiji Mutoh and Masa Chono retained their IWGP World tag titles against Tatsumi Fujinami and Genichiro Tenryu in a match charitably described as passable.

     Months before his retirement match at the Tokyo Dome, Riki Choshu took on another protege, Kensuke Sasaki. It was another battle between teacher and student and this time, realizing that Sasaki needed the win to be elevated to the New Japan's upper tier, Choshu put him over.

     In a memorable match, J-Crown champion Shinjiro Otani defeated Chris Benoit in a fast and furious match.

     The undercard was highlighted by the return of Satoru Sayama, (the Original Tiger Mask). Wrestling under the name Tiger King, he teamed with Jushin "Thunder" Liger to defeat Koji Kanemoto and Tatsuhito Takaiwa. The match was a sight to behold as in the ring stood the man who laid the foundation for the New Japan Junior Heavyweight division (Sayama), the man who took it to another level in the '90s (Liger) and the two young stars who will likely lead the division in the future (Kanemoto and Takaiwa).

     Looking at this year's show, it appears New Japan will have a hard time drawing a decent crowd. The main event, pitting IWGP World Tag Team champs Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. Kazunari Murakama and Naoya Ogawa, doesn't live up to the standard of previous main events. Ogawa is likely skip the show due to an injury. Rumour has it that Shinya Hashimoto will replace him.

     IWGP World Heavyweight champion Kensuke Sasaki, wrestling under his old 'Power Warrior' gimmick defends against The Great Muta. The battered and bruised Masa Chono takes on Tatsumi Fujinami and Takeshi Iizuka faces Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the remaining top matches.

     On paper, these matches appear to very weak. The show also took a hit when the scheduled Shinjiro Otani vs AKIRA bout was cancelled. The Yutaka Yoshie vs Satoshi Kojima match has little interest and the six-man contest of Shiro Koshinaka & Junji Hirata & Tadao Yasuda and Hiro Saito & Tatsutoshi Gotoh & Michiyoshi Ohara looks to be a throw-away match.

     The only match that shows promise is the eight-man junior heavyweight match. Toryumon, a small indy group operated and run by the Ultimo Dragon, will send CIMA & SUWA & Sumo Dandy Fuji to team up with Jushin "Thunder" Liger to take on El Samurai & Koji Kanemoto & Kendo Ka Shin & Tatsuhito Takaiwa.

     Can New Japan defy the critics and put on a good show? Only time will tell. But even if they can't, no matter how bad of showing they put in this Friday, the legend of the Fukuoka Dome shows will never die.

     John Molinaro will have a full report with all the results from the show Friday afternoon.

    Sasaki retains belt in Fukuoka




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