Welcome back everyone, I am your friendly, neighborhood archivist and I am here to introduce you to two more selections from the NJPW World Archives. For this week’s trip down memory lane we are going to view two championship matches, the first of which served as the beginning of one of the most important feuds in NJPW history, while the second match is an action-packed affair between two of the most athletic and graceful wrestlers to ever enter the New Japan ring.
But before we get to the action, a celebration of meeting the major milestone of producing a second column, I would like to introduce you to our Guide to The Lion’s Vault. It is my hope that the guide will serve as both a tracking document for all of the matches that we review here, as well as present interested readers with various curated playlists that will support more accessible navigation of the NJPW World Archive. And now that we have fulfilled our obligated shameless plug, it’s time to head to the ring for this week’s featured matches!
BONUS CONTENT – Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami & Riki Choshu vs. Abdullah the Butcher, Bad News Allen & S.D. Jones (Clipped Match)
October 8, 1982
Toukon Series 1982 [Main Event]
Tokyo, Japan – Korakuen Hall
Wait, what’s this!?!? Why indeed it is our first bonus content opportunity! For our first match this week we are looking back at the genesis of the Riki Choshu versus Tatsumi Fujinami feud. To say that this feud was insanely important to NJPW would still somehow be an understatement. The short version is that by late 1982 Fujinami had successfully transitioned from the junior heavyweight to the heavyweight division. As a part of his heavyweight push, Fujinami captured the recently reactivated WWF International Heavyweight Championship and was generally viewed as the “superstar in waiting” to Antonio Inoki. As for Choshu, well he believed that it was his time to be the star of the promotion, and he was more than willing to kick the ass of anyone who didn’t see it that way. So yeah, the two were on an obvious collision course, and when their feud kicked off it marked the first bigtime New Japan feud that was not based on the trope of a Japanese wrestler taking on a Western gaijin…and the audience went crazy for it. Finally, as an extra layer of importance, shortly after the feud started Choshu formed the new stable Ishin Gundan (Revolutionary Army), which would go on to play an important role in both NJPW and AJPW history.
As for the actual bonus content, NJPW World was kind enough to provide highlights from the six-man tag that kick-started this epic feud. The match itself is significantly clipped, and is focused purely on the tension between Fujinami and Choshu. Things start off somewhat innocently enough as Choshu is shown acting aloof on the apron and refusing a tag from Fujinami, forcing him to tag in Inoki instead. After some more action, Fujinami actually succeeds in tagging Choshu into the match and decides to slap the taste out of his mouth as payback for the earlier disrespect. A couple more similar interactions are shown before Fujinami secures the victory for his team with a sunset flip on Jones, but Choshu decides to celebrate the victory by attacking Fujinami post-match.
Match Rating N/A – Really nothing to rate as just a few strung together clips, but still serves as a nice preface to our first featured bout.
Tatsumi Fujinami © vs. Riki Choshu (WWF International Heavyweight Championship)
November 4, 1982
Toukon Series 1982 [Semi-Main Event]
Tokyo, Japan – Kuramae Kokugikan
Spoiler Free Teaser: In the aftermath of their in-ring altercations and post-match brawl from a six-man tag match earlier in the tour, Fujinami and Choshu face off one-on-one. A short match that sells the disrespect between the two, and sets the table for future matches…but falls a little short of greatness as a standalone match. ***¼
We begin with Fujinami circling the ring in a swank robe and with the WWF International Championship around his waist…which at first glance looks like a lesser version of the WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship. Choshu is ready to go and attacks Fujinami when he first attempts to get in the ring, but then allows him to enter on his second attempt. Finally, the bell rings and we have a hot start with Fujinami throwing Choshu out of the ring right, but then being kind enough to toss him back in. Choshu pays Fujinami back with an early backdrop driver, which segues into an early control period for Choshu. This turns into an extended grappling/feeling out process between both men, and the crowd is invested every step of the way. A couple of nice spots include a violent fireman’s carry slam from Choshu, and a bow and arrow lock from Fujinami.
Once they break apart, Choshu is able to force Fujinami into the corner, and lands some hard elbow shots before resorting back to a series of holds to further wear down his opponent. Both competitors are willing to brawl when they have openings, but for the most part, Choshu seems to hold the slight advantage on the mat, while Fujinami has been able to gain the upper hand when the action speeds up. Choshu catches Fujinami with a big knee breaker, and follows it up with his Sasore-gatami (aka Scorpion Deathlock/Sharpshooter) right in the middle of the ring. Fujinami manages to pull his way to the ropes and responds by increasing the pace and hitting a flurry of offense that culminates with him hitting a big knee drop from the top rope…which Choshu essentially just shrugs off. Well so much for that. At this point Choshu has decided that he has had enough and hits Fujinami a couple of lariats, the latter awkwardly sending both men stumbling out of the ring where they continue to brawl with one another. While outside Choshu throws Fujinami over the railing and into the crowd, which earns him an immediate disqualification (a not uncommon finish in NJPW at the time).
Post-match Choshu continues his beatdown Fujinami, including working over his leg after hanging him upside down from the corner turnbuckle. Choshu receives some fairly loud cheers during all of this, and he eventually grabs the house mic and I assume proceeds to say some not very nice nice things about Fujinami. As Choshu heads back to the locker room Fujinami grabs the same mic and is kind enough to offer his official rebuttal to Choshu’s accusations.
Match Rating ***¼ – Let’s begin with the obvious positives for the match, which include a great intensity between the wrestlers, both men having opportunities to shine, and a crowd that was emotionally invested every step in the way. Additionally, one thing that caught my eye during this viewing, that I did not remember noticing before was how much they seemed to be aligning Fujinami’s in-ring personality with Inoki’s, such as being quick-tempered and a willingness to throw the rules out the window at the first sign of disrespect from his opponent…which further supports the Inoki “heir apparent” view of him. While really enjoying the match, I also have to admit it had some obvious flaws, such as parts of the grappling exchanges not being the most engaging and some awkward looking spots, especially near the end of the match. Still, the match mostly flew by at under fifteen minutes, and it effectively set the stage for a rematch down the line.
Kota Ibushi © vs. Ricochet (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
June 21, 2014
Dominion 6.21 – [5th out of 9 matches]
Osaka, Japan – Bodymaker Colosseum
Spoiler Free Teaser: Kota Ibushi defends his junior heavyweight crown against the Best of the Super Juniors champion Ricochet. In an attempt to prove who was the best junior heavyweight in the world, the two deliver an entertaining, fast paced, and high impact match that included several amazing moves and exchanges, while mostly never feeling overly choreographed. ****¼
While the first match was marked by hatred and disrespect between the competitors, our second match features two wrestlers who simply want to prove that they are the best junior heavyweight in the world. Kota Ibushi enters the match in the middle of his third reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, which he won from Prince Devitt (aka Finn Balor) and then successfully defended against El Desperado, Nick Jackson, and Ryusuke Taguchi. On the other side of the ring is Ricochet, who was staging amazing matches across the globe, and less than two weeks before Dominion won the Best of the Super Juniors tournament by defeating KUSHIDA in a classic match for the finals. This match was Ibushi’s and Ricochet’s first (and as of this writing only) singles match, with their only previous encounter coming on opposite teams in the 2009 CHIKARA King of Trios tournament.
The match starts out in a fairly predictable way with both wrestlers performing a number of dodges and flips that end in a stalemate in order to get over their athleticism and how even they are in the ring. After that Ricochet decides enough fooling around and takes control with a mixture of various strikes and holds…but pauses for a second to perform a pec flex, a taunt that always makes my daughters burst into uncontrollable laughter. Kota responds to this sophomoric action with a series of high flying moves, including his moonsault press to the outside. In due time Ricochet decides to up the dive ante and hits an amazing somersault plancha over the corner turnbuckle to the outside. Back in the ring and a fireman’s carry dropped into a kick to the gut (Go 2 Sleepy Hollow for any Hallowicked fans out there…and that is now two CHIKARA references for a single NJPW match review…should probably cut those out) earns a long two and an extended Ricochet chant from the audience.
The next holy shit spot comes just minutes later as Kota springboards to the top rope in order to hit Ricochet with an avalanche hurricanrana, only for Ricochet to land on his feet!!! Northern Lights Suplex, rolled into a brainbuster for another two for Ricochet. Another sequence of reversals and strikes end with a Golden Star Powerbomb from Ibushi for a two. Ibushi misses with the Phoenix Splash, and Ricochet hits a GIANT springboard Shooting Star Press for another close pin attempt. Bennydriller ducked, Bennydriller reversed…and the fucking Phoenix-Plex for the 1-2-3!
While Kota is celebrating his victory Ricochet grabs the belt and a trophy that I assume was to be presented to the winner (does not look like his BOSJ trophy) and walks across the ring to present them to Kota. Ibushi takes the belt, but insists that Ricochet keeps the trophy. The two then embrace with a manly hug in the middle of the ring as the crowd showers them with cheers in what feels like a deserved celebration of both wrestlers.
Match Rating ****¼ – Wow. Okay, first off that match recap got more move heavy than I intended, but with the match’s pace, it was the best I could do to represent the frenetic action inside the ring. Plus it was hard to think about anything to write other than “holy shit, look at that!” Similar to our first match this was relatively short at just under fifteen minutes, but honestly, with the pace and high impact moves (along with the placement on the card), it felt like the perfect time length. Also, it was interesting that for two wrestlers facing each other for the first time in singles competition that they decided to successfully counter and dodge each other’s finishers multiple times necessitating Ibushi to resort to his rarely used Phoenix-Plex. It was also fun watching this knowing how their careers have progressed since, with both men moving into heavyweight divisions while retaining a lot of what made them successful and exciting juniors.
And with that we finish our second-ever trip to The Lion’s Vault. It was great to be able to dive into the beginnings of the Choshu and Fujinami feud, which we will continue looking back at next week. As for our second match next week, and with my apologies to the Liger Beat crew, we are going to start a special series of reviews that will give us the opportunity to pay tribute to Jushin Thunder Liger as he approaches his Wrestle Kingdom retirement matches. Until then, peace and happy wrestling watching to you all!