NJPW Wrestling Primer (Updated for 2017)
A while back I did a primer post to help introduce people to the wrestlers of NJPW, but it’s become out of date over time as things have changed since then, since wrestling always changes. So this is an updated version from mid-April 2017.
Kazuchika Okada - The greatest wrestler on the planet today, and one who is in the middle of possibly the best title reign of all time, which has featured numerous 4.5 and 4.75 star matches, as well as two 5 star and even a 6 star match. He originally made his legacy in NJPW with a now iconic rivalary with Hiroshi Tanahashi, but since has become a true ace for the company. He is the leader of the CHAOS faction and possibly Gedos son. Though, the position of ace wasn’t meant for Okada, it was meant for..
Tetsuya Naito - Naito was supposed to be the new top face of NJPW, but the fans rejected him. So during a US tour, instead of returing to Japan like most, he took a little soul searching journey down to Mexico, and met a man named La Sombra (you might know him as Andrade Cien Almas from WWE NXT) and his Los Ingobernables stable. This inspired a change of attitude in Naito, who returned to NJPW, and turned his back on the fans who rejected him, becoming one of the best characters and heels in wrestling in the process. He leads the Los Ingobernables stable, has had 5 star matches with Kenny Omega, Micheal Elgin (and imo with Tanahashi at WK11), and is just a master of working a crowd. He won the IWGP Heavyweight Title, and threw it in the air like a piece of trash. It was amazing.
Kenny Omega - Currently in NJPW, there are three men who could be considered the ace. Okada, Naito and Kenny Omega. Omega is probably the most popular wrestler in NJPW outside of Japan, due to him being Canadian. He’s the leader of Bullet Club, and is one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet today. Theres simply nothing Kenny Omega can’t do. But he has two modes: if he keeps his shirt on in a match, expect more comedy, but if the shirts off you’re in for the match of the night because thats when he gives 100%. Last year he became the first gaijin to win the G1 Climax Tournament, and went on to have a 6 star classic match with Okada in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Since losing, he’s been searching for the answer of “why can’t I win big matches”, and his current goal is to walk into the upcoming NJPW shows in America as champion, no matter what.
Hiroshi Tanahashi - The former ace of NJPW. He’s the man who pulled NJPW out of the dark ages. A wildly popular rockstar of a man, who is still one of the best big match workers in all of wrestling, even now that he’s slowing down. He’s had classic matches with just about every big name on the NJPW roster, and I don’t think you can count him out just yet. He’s currently a member of the weird Taguchi Japan stable, and doing lots of 6 man tag matches, but I can’t help but feel he’ll be chasing singles gold again soon.
Katsuyori Shibata - Shibata is an interesting case. He debuted alongside Tanahashi and Nakamura and with them he was part of the chosen future of the company. But when things got rough for NJPW, he jumped ship to go do MMA fights instead. With his 4-10-1 record, it is often considered pretty bad for him, but when he came back to wrestling, he seemed more legitimate than ever and wants to fight his way to the top instead of being handed the title. He’s the anti-hero face that everyone wants in wrestling, a true badass who will fight until the very end… which he might have in his recent main event with Okada. Due to a combonation of dehydration due a longer match than he’s used to, and a dangerous shoot headbutt spot, he had to get surgery on his head following the match and might never wrestle again, but if his music hits again, the pop will likely be thunderous.
Minoru Suzuki - 48 fights, 29 wins & 19 losses. That is the MMA record of former King of Pancrase Minoru Suzuki. He’s the leader of Suzuki-Gun, and someone who would break your arm off and laugh at your suffering. He’s the best bastard heel on the planet, a legitimate badass, and he scares me. He’s held both the AJPW Triple Crown Championship, and NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Championship, and only needs the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to be one of few men to hold all three of Japans top belts, and even at 48 years old, age might not be enough to stop him. He’s an ageless badass.
Tomohiro Ishii - Ishii is one of the most underrated men in NJPW, as he can be slotted in as a top guy at any time and he’ll put on a fantastic match. Just an incredible worker when motivated in a singles match, but usually does tag work with other members of CHAOS, usually Toru Yano. But there are moments of brilliance in all of his matches.
Those are the major players in the company in my eyes but here’s some fun minor characters:
Ryusuke Taguchi - The funky weapon, who likes to throw his ass into peoples faces to win matches. When motivated he’s one of the most dangerous junior heavyweights on the roster, but he’d rather just have fun. He leads Taguchi Japan, which is a stable of random members of the roster who for some reason united under the flag of The Funky Weapon. It’s awesome just trust me.
Bad Luck Fale - A huge, slow beast of a man. Currently the longest running member of Bullet Club, being the first person to join Prince Devitt’s (WWE’s Finn Balor) new stable back in 2013. He’s a constant force that is protected in singles action and that makes him dangerous. In tournaments he’s a spoiler. Don’t bet against Fale, he’s kill your brackets and your dreams. He’s gotten singles wins over most big names in current NJPW, and is a hard guy to predict. Fear the Underboss of Bullet Club.
Tama Tonga - A future breakout star for NJPW, since his awesome performance in the G1 Climax last year, Tonga has just been getting better and better with each match. He’s got a unique in ring style where he uses his speed to confuse an opponent before striking. Always fun to watch, and I see singles success in his future, as well as more tag success with his brother:
Tanga Loa - Camacho. Does anyone remember Camacho? Teamed with Hunico in WWE? No? Well he’s in Japan now with his brother and they’re pretty great. He’s a brawler, and that’s about it. It works in tag matches but don’t expect much from a singles match with him.
Ricochet - The human incarnation of flippt shit. He busts out 630 sentons like they’re nothing, it’s incredible. But beyond that he’s just a fantastic and well rounded wrestler.
Will Ospreay - The best high flyer in wrestling but needs to slow the fuck down before he kills his knees. He’s only 23, and already one of the best in the world, and only gets better as he expands his style.
Jushin Thunder Liger - Iconic legend of juniors wrestling, character was based off an anime which is much less known than Liger himself, still wrestles but has slowed down a bit. He’s 52 years old and can still outwrestle most juniors on the roster.
Tiger Mask W - Not Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushu - A freelancer who turned down a full time WWE contract to do weird shit in Japan, used to team with Kenny Omega as The Golden Lovers but they broke up and have soap opera level drama AND JUST NEED TO MAKE UP ALREADY. He’s also not Tiger Mask W.
Togi Makabe - Bruiser Brody 2.0
Ropongi Vice - Trent Barreta (yes, that Trent from WWE) and Rocky Romero just wanna have a good time in Ropongi, but have to wrestle too but are very good at it. Rocky is one of the best tag wrestlers around, and Barreta is becoming one of the best too.
Sanada - A member of Los Ingobernables De Japon. I can’t help but feel like NJPW has big plans for him. He debutted helping Naito win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and has had big singles matches with both Tanahashi and Okada, but has never held singles gold. (only member of L.I.J to not get a singles title) He’s an incredibly agile, handsome, and skilled wrestler, expect big things from him in the future.
Evil - A member of Los Ingobernables De Japon, is Evil and has lasers.
Hiromu Takahashi - The Joker mixed with Kefka mixed with a Pro Wrestler, he will kill himself so long as he kills his opponent at the same time. Has a fetish where he needs to lick everything he touches.
BUSHI - Evil Luchador who spits mist in peoples eyes and has really fucking cool masks.
Yujiro Takahashi - The Godfather but Japanese, the only Japanese member of Bullet Club, formerly teamed with Tetsuya Naito as No Limit
Micheal Elgin - The worlds strongest Canadian, likely lives in a gym.
Satoshi Kojima - Heir to the lariat, will take your head off with it, loves bread (seriously follow this guy on Twitter, his broken english tweets are as wholesome as his lariats are stiff)
David Finlay Jr. - Son of Fit Finlay, getting very good
Tomaki Honma - Gravely voiced fan favorite who usually loses but is always fun, he uses his head a weapon, started his career in Big Japan Wrestling where he was the first person to use light tubes in a deathmatch, and is currently on the shelf with a very major neck injury and might never wrestle again.
Toru Yano - A comedy relief wrestler who just wants you to buy his DVD and will keep beating your faves with upset victories until you do
Yuji Nagata - Some would say Nagata is the former ace of NJPW during the dark years, but no one really wants to take that title. But he’s a fantastic worker even in his old age, one of the last of his generation of NJPW.
Hirooki Goto - A man who could challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship a thousand more times and still choke every single time, but always have a good match in the process. Seriously, this guy loses 80% of big matches he’s in. He’s a stiff worker and it’s great, but get your head in the game Goto, you can win matches, I know you can!
Kushida - Have you ever watched Back the the Future and thought, ‘this is great but I wish Marty McFly was a wrestler’. Kushida. That’s Kushida.
and just so many more and I could go on forever. There are so many great wrestlers in NJPW, and you really don’t need to know the commentary to enjoy it.