The NJPW roster is varied, featuring a stable of regulars, as well as talent mixed in from promotions around the world over the course of the year. NJPW runs co-promoted shows in Japan with Ring of Honor and Mexico’s CMLL, which allows for new matches between stars that don’t usually run in the same circles. The following links are great resources for more information on the NJPW Roster, as well as on demand information on the company as a whole.
The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada has been a stalwart in NJPW’s top tier since 2012. Okada spent a brief period of time in the United States in 2010, working for TNA as ‘Okato’. After returning to Japan, he was almost immediately pushed into the top tier of the Heavyweight division, and he hasn’t looked back since.
A holder of over ten championships during his NJPW career, Hiroshi Tanahashi is considered the “ace” of New Japan Pro Wrestling. He debuted in late 1999, and was considered a hot prospect early on. Well, those who considered him to be so were right. In the ring and out, Hiroshi Tanahashi has been NJPW’s biggest star over the last decade.
The current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Kenny Omega is set for a breakout year in 2016. Since beginning as a full timer in NJPW just under a year and a half ago, Omega has transitioned from a Junior Heavyweight into a Heavyweight… based mostly on necessity. With the exodus of Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, in combination with the lowering of Hiroshi Tanahashi’s profile in the Heavyweight title picture, NJPW needed a rising star. Kenny Omega is that talent – a fluid speaker of both Japanese and English – who has all the opportunity to make 2016 his year.
At April’s Invasion Attack PPV, Tetsuya Naito will challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Championship. This match comes about from Naito’s win in the New Japan Cup. Naito is new to the top tier of NJPW’s talent roster, in part because of the exodus of other top talents from the promotion, while also due to the benefit of a character shift. Naito has been pushed to the top of NJPW at times before, but failed to stick. Now, embracing a heel persona as the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japón, Naito has undergone a renaissance. Or rather, he’s finally finding his voice. After all, Naito is only 33 years old, becoming a steady star in NJPW only six years ago. Putting that into perspective with a WWE equivalent, it took CM Punk about the same amount of time to truly stick as a top guy in WWE from the time he debuted on TV.
Beginning his NJPW career in late 1999, Shibata was considered one of a trio of hot prospects building the future of NJPW – Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura being the other two. In mid-2000s, Shibata left NJPW … choosing to become a freelancer, which means he was tied to no particular promotion. This decision to leave would cause a lack of trust of Shibata in the future, but that trust has seemingly been gained back lately. Shibata holds the NEVER Openweight Championship, and recently signed a full time contract extension with NJPW, making his future in NJPW more secure. It should be noted, also, that Shibata competed regularly in MMA from 2007-2011, alebit poorly – Shibata finished with a 4-11-1 record.
The newest member of CHAOS, Goto has had a rough past year in NJPW. After a brief run with the Intercontinental Championship, Goto struggled against rivals Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, and Tetsuya Naito in both title matches and the New Japan Cup. He’s been a bit of a loser, quite frankly. Now, he looks to join the IWGP Champion, Okada, in turning his career around.
Ring of Honor’s TV Champion is Tomohiro Ishii. The title won’t just sit on Ishii’s shoulder until he returns to the US, however. Ishii is set to defend the championship in Japan on NJPW events, furthering the profile of ROH in Japan. Ishii is a former NEVER Openweight Champion, and put on some of the most critically acclaimed matches in NJPW throughout 2014-2015.
Makabe’s had an interesting NJPW career, spanning nearly twenty years. He’s held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, IWGP Tag Team Championships with two different partners in Tomoaki Honma and Toru Yano, and the NEVER Openweight Championship as recently as this past October. Currently, he’s the IWGP Tag Team Champion with Tomoaki Honma.
#BigMike began as a NJPW regular in the 2015 G1 Climax tournament, and has quickly built a partnership with Hiroshi Tanahashi. That can only help his standing amongst NJPW fans who may have previously been unfamiliar with Elgin. A former ROH Champion, Elgin signed a two-year contract to compete in NJPW and ROH regularly.
Honma is the lovable loser of NJPW, although right now he is a reigning champion – IWGP Tag Team Champion. Honma does not do well in singles matches, but had an epic program with Tomohiro Ishii over the last two years for Ishii’s NEVER title. While Honma couldn’t get the job done and bring the belt home, he put his name on the map among both NJPW fans in Japan and abroad.
Bad Luck Fale
As the Bullet Club evolves, breaking off into various factions and groups that may eventually lead to the end of the club, “The Underboss” Bad Luck Fale sticks out as the current leader of the non-ELITE members of Bullet Club proper. When you need to beat Tanahashi in a tournament, Fale is your guy. When you need to scare the fans that their favorite may lose, Fale is your guy. When you need to fill a low-tier PPV’s semi-main event, Fale is your guy. When you want a good match… Fale is not usually your guy.
“King of Darkness” EVIL
The former Takaaki Watanabe, EVIL returned to NJPW last year after an extended stint in the US. His stay in the US was rather quiet, as he appeared sporadically for low level indies with the occasional ROH appearance. His return, however, hasn’t been quiet. Joining with Tetsuya Naito and BUSHI in Los Ingobernables, EVIL looks to be on the rise within NJPW.
A former MMA star, Sakuraba does surprisingly well in big NJPW matches. He is inconsistent in the ring, but sometimes seen as a big deal despite his lower card status.
The Master Thief, Toru Yano routinely relies on tricks to gain quick and surprising wins in a short time. He’s a former tag champion in NJPW, but has yet to gain a singles championship in the promotion.
A veteran in NJPW, the 49 year old star is a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion as well as G1 Climax winner. These days, Nakanishi works the undercard in tag team matches.
Like Nakanishi, Nagata has recently been relegated to undercard tag team matches, often with and opposite the young lions. He has a bit more time left in the singles spotlight, but his time is almost up.
A member of Bullet Club, Tonga is the adopted son of former WWE/WCW star Haku/Meng. Tonga’s profile is set to rise in 2016 as he sets his sights on the IWGP Tag championships with his brother, Tanga Roa.
A former IWGP Junior Tag Champion, as well as Heavyweight tag title holder, Yujiro is a member of Bullet Club.
A whipping boy of CHAOS, YOSHI-HASHI last won a singles match against a non-young lion back in October… of 2012. His opponent? Captain New Japan.
Captain New Japan
A loser and half-joke in NJPW, Captain New Japan rarely wins. He isn’t completely shut out of victories, but he may as well be. You’ll often see him taking the pin in early card multi-man tag matches.
Formerly CJ Parker in WWE’s NXT, Juice Robinson left WWE to seek the opportunity to make a name for himself outside of WWE. He saw the hiring trend from WWE… the Kevin Owens’, Finn Balors, and the like. Grow within WWE under near impossible circumstances, or become a hot commodity that WWE wants from the outside.
The son of WWE Hall of Famer Scott Hall. Cody Hall joined NJPW and the Bullet Club the night after Wrestle Kingdom 9. He’s effectively a young lion in NJPW, but of a rather high profile for such.
A New Japan legend who made his debut all the way back in 1991. Today, he spends a majority of his time teaming with fellow legend Hiroyoshi Tenzan as part of the TenKoji tag team. Ever so often, Kojima will pop up in a big time singles match. The 45-year-old ageless wonder is perhaps the best in-ring legend New Japan currently has. He routinely delivers newsworthy matches each G1 Climax tournament.
The other half of TenKoji, Tenzan was one of the pillars of New Japan Pro Wrestling in the early 2000s but has since become roster fodder. The NJPW audience still loves their former star which allows New Japan to occasionally throw him into featured singles matches. Unlike his partner Kojima, time and age has taken a toll on Tenzan’s in-ring work.
The Young Lions
Jay White, David Finlay, Teruaki Kanemitsu, and Takumi Honjo. The Young Lions in NJPW are students at the NJPW Dojo, and are used to fill cards while they train to eventually become key players in NJPW.
The current IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion, KUSHIDA has gone through a crazy ride over the last several years. Start & Stop pushes as a singles division leader amongst the Juniors mixed in with Jr Tag title opportunities with his tag partner, Alex Shelley, was the norm. We never quite knew what path KUSHIDA was on, exactly. The question still remains whether KUSHIDA will remain a singles if he loses the Jr Title, or will he run right back into his Time Splitters tag team with Shelley?
BUSHI is a masked Jr Heavyweight currently aligned with Tetsuya Naito and EVIL in Los Ingobernables. He’s been unsuccessful in gaining the Jr Heavyweight title since returning, and mostly works in multi-man tags with his stable mates.
Will Ospreay is new to NJPW, making his debut with the company on April 10’s Invasion Attack. The future is bright for Ospreay who is only 22 years old.
One of the old vets of the NJPW Juniors, Taguchi has been with NJPW since the early 2000s. He’s a multi-time Jr Heavyweight champion, Jr Heavyweight Tag champion, and former winner of Best of the Super Juniors. These days, with the influx of so much new blood in the Jr Heavyweight division, Taguchi generally finds himself in early card tag matches.
Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, the duo known as reDRagon, found most of their success in Ring of Honor. They’re one of the more protected teams in NJPW, as well, as they rarely lose via pinfall. Look for reDRagon to be heavy in the Jr Heavyweight tag title scene later this year, unless their singles careers really take off.
The team of Rocky Romero and Trent Baretta (know in NJPW simply as Beretta), Roppongi Vice is relatively fresh to the Jr Heavyweight tag division, and are formidable foes in the tag title scene. The team name is often written as RPG Vice.
Matt Sydal & Ricochet
The current IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Matt Sydal & Ricochet are also new to the NJPW Jr Heavyweight tag scene as partners. Matt Sydal works regularly for NJPW and ROH, while Ricochet can be seen weekly on Lucha Underground as Prince Puma.
Nick and Matt Jackson, two brothers from California, are one of the most decorated tag teams in NJPW history. They’ve also won tag team gold in Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and are the current NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag champs with Kenny Omega. Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette are big fans of this duo.
Junior Heavyweights – Legends
Gedo debuted in NJPW in the late 1980s, and at 47, is relegated to being a part time in ring performer these days. Mostly, he manages the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Behind the scenes, Gedo is the matchmaker of NJPW.
Gedo’s oft tag team partner, Jado currently spends most of his time matchmaking for Pro Wrestling NOAH. Jado did make an apperance in NJPW earlier this year when he won the Wrestle Kingdom 10 pre-show battle royal.
Jushin Thunder Liger
A Japanese legend with over 30 years in pro wrestling, Jushin Liger is also a well known name in the United States. He’s competed in both WCW and WWE NXT, while spending most of his career with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He’s an 11-time IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion.
Along with Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask is a Jr division legend in NJPW. He’ll often be found working early card tag team matches alongside Liger, often against the young lions of NJPW.
Factions / Stables
A large stable within NJPW, known as CHAOS, sees its leader as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Alongside Kazuchika Okada, other stable mates include Gedo, Jado, Roppongi Vice, Hirooki Goto, Kazushi Sakuraba, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, and recently Will Ospreay.
Lead by the ELITE of Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, Bullet Club is one of the main reasons why NJPW has become so popular in the United States. Former stable mates include NXT’s Finn Bálor (Prince Devitt in NJPW), WWE’s AJ Styles, and soon-to-be WWE stars Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows.
Los Ingobernables de Japón
Lead by Tetsuya Naito, Los Ingobernables de Japón is the Japanese wing of a faction began in Mexico’s CMLL promotion. BUSHI and “King of Darkness” EVIL round out the trio in NJPW.
Minoru Suzuki currently leads Suzuki-gun as a stable within Pro Wrestling NOAH, but their most infamous for their tenure in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The group resides in NOAH right now as part of a talent initiative to even out the rosters, as NOAH is affiliated through ownership with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
If you’re interested in learning more about New Japan Pro Wrestling, check out the VOW 2015 NJPW Year in Review eBook. Also be sure to follow us on Twitter @VoicesWrestling where we’re often discussing highlights, upcoming matches, past events and more. Last but not least, register on our forums where you can meet and discuss NJPW with fans from across the world.
If you’d like to learn about the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling, we recommend reading Chris Charlton’s book Lion’s Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling