The feud between Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu over the WWF International Heavyweight title spawned a series of six similarly structured matches between 1982 and 1983. They each have their moments, some echoed throughout, but between these six matches runs a thread of tension, which builds and threatens to snap with every encounter.

During the 1980s, Tatsumi Fujinami was the “golden boy” of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, a favorite of Antonio Inoki, while Choshu was the outsider fighting for notoriety, trying to establish himself as a staple of New Japan. After he captured the UWA World Heavyweight Title in Mexico, Choshu saw himself as Fujinami’s equal but when Fujinami and New Japan didn’t give him the respect he sought, Choshu retaliated, turning on his partner during a six-man tag match.

This breakdown and rebellion initiated the first significant feud between two native wrestlers, putting the spotlight on the hometown boys as opposed to the tired old standard of pitting the babyfaced Japanese hero against the invading “gaijin” heel. Riki Choshu is the Benedict Arnold to Inoki’s NJPW, and Fujinami’s ready to defend the promotion.

WWF International Heavyweight Title
Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs. Riki Choshu
November 4, 1982

In their first match-up, Fujinami is the assertive champion, rushing Choshu out of the gate with strikes and tossing him out of the ring, as if dismissing the challenge and Choshu’s credibility. He still maintains that spitfire energy that made him such an exciting junior heavyweight and Choshu is a bit more hesitant and methodical. What this match represents is a long feeling out process, as the two fight over holds, at times almost bumbling along with little to no selling and that lack of familiarity seen in subsequent contests. The end result is a double count out but Choshu continues attacking Fujinami’s leg after the match, setting the stage for their rematch the following year.

WWF International Heavyweight Title
Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs. Riki Choshu
NJPW, April 3, 1983

Energetically, Choshu is at his peak in the series, knowing full well if he wants to beat Fujinami, he has to keep a little fire burning through the match. He explodes at the sound of the bell and collides with Fujinami on a lariat attempt. The two take a bit to gather themselves but even after that initial contact, Fujinami is still working with that champion’s air, goading Riki on with slaps as if discrediting him as a threat, a mistake that comes back to haunt him. Choshu has some good takedowns early on as he tries to keep Fujinami under control, working to set up the sasori-gatame. Fujinami plays defense to avoid the hold but once Riki hits the backdrop suplex, he’s got the champion in a tough spot, pulling him back to the middle of the ring after a rope break and re-applying the deathlock hold. Choshu’s aggravation is obvious here over Fujinami refusing to submit and the action becomes a little more desperate, the crowd fully invested at this point. Riki’s able to hit the lariat on the outside but Fujinami delivers the German suplex hold back in the ring for a nearfall. They seem to have each other scouted heading toward the finish but Choshu nails Fujinami with another lariat out of nowhere to score the victory and the title! Fujinami’s in disbelief at the result and having underestimated Choshu. Of course, he wants another opportunity to regain the championship from the new maverick in town.

WWF International Heavyweight Title
Riki Choshu (c) vs. Tatsumi Fujinami
NJPW, April 21, 1983

Choshu now parades that champion’s confidence and immediately tries to hammer home the nail in the coffin but Fujinami avoids the lariat and cools Riki off with a figure-four leglock. At one point, Fujinami gets cheeky and tries to apply Choshu’s sasori-gatame but Riki smacks him in the face as if to bring him back down to earth. The selling here by Choshu is great as he hangs close to the ropes, limping about and forcing the referee’s hand. The pace of the match downshifts as they jockey for position on the mat but business picks up again when the hot-tempered Choshu starts putting the boots to Fujinami’s leg. Fujinami’s able to catch a foot and take him down with the dragon screw legwhip, transitioning into a front mount and slapping away. There’s an unintentionally laughable spot where Fujinami misses the dropkick and Choshu calmly walks over and suplexes him. He alternates between attempting the sasori-gatame and suplexing Fujinami, the two rivals more or less throwing themselves at each other in a blue collar ballet. Choshu counters the sleeper with a backdrop suplex and he’s able to lock in the sasori-gatame, hitting a couple of lariats before re-applying it. Again, that frustration over Fujinami not submitting rears its ugly head and Choshu slams Tatsumi on the guardrail, tying him up and retaining the title via countout. Fujinami tries going after Choshu after the match but the champ is able to skid by.

WWF International Heavyweight Title
Riki Choshu (c) vs. Tatsumi Fujinami
NJPW, July 7, 1983

Having grown accustomed to one another’s style and offense, the fourth match in their series feels more like a game of strategy. There are little things that occur to add depth to the bigger story, like Fujinami now hooking his leg to prevent Choshu’s habitual backdrop counter, or the way Choshu is able to slip out of the bow-and-arrow attempt. While Choshu wrestles seemingly off the cuff, Fujinami primarily targets Choshu’s leg with the figure-four leglock and rolling legbars. Fujinami goes all out here to regain his title, suplexing Choshu from the top rope and even utilizing Riki’s own signature offense. When he hits that lariat and puts on the sasori-gatame, the crowd goes bananas but Fujinami’s ego won’t let up, even after Choshu has made it to the ropes. Fujinami’s attitude costs him the match as the referee disqualifies him but he’s still not releasing Choshu’s hold. Meanwhile, all hell breaks loose in the ring around them as shirts come off and lion cubs get mauled.





WWF International Heavyweight Title
Riki Choshu (c) vs. Tatsumi Fujinami
NJPW, August 4, 1983

While the line of tension threading these matches has been strained throughout, it finally snaps in what was perhaps the most heated and evenly-contested match of the series. Fujinami’s sense of purpose was a constant source of strength as he tries to overwhelm the slower, more prone to frustration champion. The sooner Choshu can end this, the better, but when he tries to open with a lariat, Fujinami hangs on the ropes in avoidance. He’s finally got Choshu’s number. Fujinami’s able to counter and reverse a lot of the champ’s early offense, once again trying to find a way to beat Choshu with the same sasori-gatame that cost him the previous match. When that doesn’t work, Fujinami tries to end it with the figure-four leglock but Choshu is able to once again fight through the submission attempt, the action spilling it to the outside and chaos ensuing. One of the recurring themes of this series has been the chaotic nature of their exchanges, and that’s once again prevalent here as they rebound off one another like pinballs.

Fujinami emerges crimson-masked only for Choshu to suplex him back into the ring. Here, overcome with exhaustion, Fujinami gives his strongest selling performance of the entire series. After Choshu inadvertently takes out the ref, Fujinami hooks him with a nasty-looking lariat but doesn’t have the gas in the tank to follow up. The finishing stretch is red-hot and full of great dramatic moments — stuff like Choshu pointing at his foot on the rope after a suplex and the aggravation that follows as Fujinami peppers him with slaps. Or Fujinami dumping Choshu to the outside on a lariat attempt only to get himself tangled in the ropes, unable to capitalize. But from the start, Fujinami has wanted it more and in the end, he’s able to thwart Choshu’s finishing blow, sending him into the ring post and hitting that crowd-popping enziguri. I loved the countout victory for the frustrated Fujinami, backdropping Choshu on the floor after having been unable to pin him or submit him in the ring. This, in my opinion, is the most complete match of the series.

WWF International Heavyweight Title
Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs. Riki Choshu
NJPW, September 2, 1983

In many ways, the final title match between Fujinami and Choshu mirrored their very first contest. Tatsumi Fujinami is once again the proud company champion and Choshu the unpredictable outsider. However, at this chapter of their rivalry, the bigger story arc has already been told and the in-ring work now feels run down and uninspired, and unfortunately, the chapter ends with a shit double countout. Choshu and his Ishingun boys take care of Inoki before the bell and at times, the camera seems more interested in what’s happening to Inoki then what Choshu and Fujinami are doing in the ring. It’s the same well-tread structure, with the two working the mat for dominance, the old heat ups and cool downs, the frenzied interactions during offensive runs. I liked Fujinami’s armwork in execution but it was merely filler as the sasori-gatame once again becomes the hold. When Choshu’s finally able to put it on in the end, it’s poorly applied and unconvincing as a possible means to Fujinami’s end. Instead, the match and the feud over the WWF International Heavyweight title ends on account of a weak double count out finish.
Fujinami and Choshu would wrestle on September 21, 1983, in a non-title singles match, but again, it resulted in a double count out. They met in the MSG Team League as Choshu and Animal Hamiguchi wrestled Fujinami and Akira Maeda to a draw. In fact, most of their various interactions heading into 1984 ended in either disqualifications or count outs, and it seemed as if NJPW was building to another big title match between the two. On February 3, 1984, a bloody Choshu shoved his way out through the crowd to confront Fujinami in a pull apart brawl but nothing came of it and sadly, the definitive title match never happened.

The story wasn’t over between these two. While Choshu would go on to beat Fujinami via countout in the 1984 IWGP League and again in 1987, in a best two-out-of-three falls match, the next chapter in their championship rivalry began on May 27, 1988, in a match for Fujinami’s IWGP Heavyweight title.

But that’s a chapter for another time…