Contrary to what my role with New Japan Pro Wrestling and the professional wrestling community at large might indicate, my primary objective here has never been about statistics or the detailed history and research that I’ve been blessed with the task of compiling for broadcasters and fans. I’ve always hoped that my work would make a product that I am passionate about easier to explore, more accessible, or more palatable for new fans. Translating pro wrestling results to commonly understood sports metrics seemed like a great lane to jump into, and it continues to be a thrill to provide that for the community, but early in 2023, I wanted a project that would take a different form to clearly serve my objective.

Inspired and buzzing with excitement after Wrestle Kingdom 17, I was determined to do my part to expand this community full of curiosity and new NJPWWorld subscribers, so I tasked myself with compiling an all-encompassing resource to point people to as they seek out a deeper understanding of this tremendous professional wrestling product with often intimidating history, a deep reverence for its role in the industry, and (usually) clear lines to the next stages of its story.

So, of course, I reached out to my partner in NJPW deep dives, J. Michael, to create a primer for new fans. And while I continued to anchor myself with data and history-driven single-event content, J. Michael started writing, and I’m convinced he never stopped.

The 25,000 or so words that you’ll find beyond this foreword started as an outline and one of my most altruistic ideas in the pro wrestling space, and without much help from me, J. Michael took that outline and made it into a reality. J. left no stone unturned, so my hope is you’ll be inspired to bookmark this page and use command-F to search through it as you dive into the nuances of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 50+ year history. Chris Samsa

About The Author

J. Michael grew up in the sleep West of the woody East. He spent years doing meaningless, lowbrow things like digging cellars and scrutinizing 16th-century Papal bulls until he started writing about wrestling for VOW in 2020. Enjoy about a week of G1 Climax coverage @ryugu_jo until he gets distracted by the World Fencing Championships.

Brief History of NJPW

New Japan Pro Wrestling was founded by Antonio Inoki in 1972, following his break from the Japanese Wrestling Association (founded in 1953 by Inoki’s trainer, the legendary Rikidozan). The company of today bears partial resemblance to the company of Inoki, having changed ownership twice but still pays immense tribute to their founder. 

They still refer to New Japan’s philosophy and style as Strong Style, a phrase coined by Inoki that most find difficult to define; most attempt end in a hodgepodge of hard striking, stubborn fighting spirit, an appreciation of simplicity, but also a flair for dramatically charismatic bursts of roaring. Modern NJPW matches attempt to capture this essence, though often filtered through a framework reminiscent of classic King’s Road All-Japan (the company founded in 1972 by Giant Baba, Rikidozan’s other star pupil.)

New Japan flourished through the ‘70s and ‘80s, centering on Inoki, homegrown talent, and a parade of foreign menaces. By the ’80s, a new crop of wrestlers trained by Inoki had emerged, including Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, and the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama. Into this mix were thrown foreign wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and Big Van Vader, who both achieved massive success in Japan before they did so in America.

Starting around 1990, the next generation of New Japan legends began to assert themselves: Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, Jushin Liger, and Hiroshi Hase, among others like Choshu acolyte Kensuke Sasaki. This generation would draw incredible attendances and gates and influence an entire generation through their partnership with World Championship Wrestling. Many traditions in New Japan, including the G1 Climax and Best of the Super Juniors, started in this period.

NJPW continued to successfully produce tremendous wrestlers, several of whom would become known as the “Third Generation:” Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, Osamu Nishimura, and Koji Kanemoto, among others. Unfortunately, this period saw gate success falter, partly due to the rise of mixed martial arts (especially Pride Fighting Championships and K-1) and a larger wrestling recession of the early-2000s. 

Inoki’s response was not favorably received. Intoxicated by the allure of MMA, to which he had always considered himself a proto-MMA fighter (obviously including his famed, and derided, battle with Muhammed Ali), Inoki leaned into this concept. He had several of his wrestlers enter MMA fights with mixed results. Shinsuke Nakamura did adequately, while Yuji Nagata was obliterated by Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko. Inoki heavily pushed wrestlers like Kazuyuki Fujita, who had MMA success but did not catch on in pro wrestling.

Inoki departed New Japan in 2005, selling to Yuke’s. This is where New Japan began a slow comeback story. Hiroshi Tanahashi led the way, willing himself to ace status. Shinsuke Nakamura, originally a supernova rookie that plateaued, went to Mexico and returned with the flamboyant character he portrays to this day. And most importantly, two kids from the dojo system, Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada, would return from excursion in 2010 and 2012, respectively. 

Yuke’s sold NJPW to Bushiroad in 2012, the year Okada returned. From this point, wrestling history would be fundamentally changed by a sequence of events originating in New Japan:

  • Okada and Tanahashi would embark on a four-year feud over the IWGP Heavyweight title, confirming Tanahashi’s status as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time and elevating Okada into a superstar that could take New Japan global. 
  • The company launched New Japan World, with English commentary on most major events. 
  • Tetsuya Naito went to Mexico in mid-2015, leaving as a face but returning as the lethargic heel he portrays today, having aligned with Los Ingobernables during his month in CMLL. His chase of Okada from 2017-2020 brought the company to unprecedented heights.
  • Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi fully transfer from DDT. Omega’s reign as BULLET CLUB leader from 2016-2018, including a legendary four-match rivalry with Okada and Wrestle Kingdom match with Chris Jericho, essentially laid the groundwork for All Elite Wrestling.

NJPW now finds itself transitioning into a new era. The pillars of the old way, like Tanahashi and Naito, are slowly losing steam, and their bodies are starting to crumble. Okada, being the younger of this generation, has shifted towards a role as an easily provoked, ornery veteran that refuses to capitulate to the next generation. New returns like Yota Tsuji and Shota Umino have taken shots at titles well before schedule. As New Japan eases into its sixth decade, things are brewing.

NJPW Tours

New Japan tours year-round but not continuously. The typical New Japan tour lasts for roughly two to two-and-a-half weeks, followed by a break of roughly a week and a half to two weeks. It offers a nice reset and breather for the wrestlers, fans, and promotion. Over the course of a calendar year, New Japan travels to all points of the main Japanese islands. There are towns and cities they visit multiple times a year, and some only once per year,  but every tour includes at least one night at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.

Each tour culminates in a big event, with the lead-up shows being labeled “Road to” shows, although the nature of the tour differs based on the event. For instance, a major event like Dominion will build towards that one show, with the other shows on the tour being referred to as “Road to Dominion” shows. 

For lesser events like New Beginning, they spread out big matches and promote multiple “New Beginnings” based on their location. For instance, in 2023, there were four New Beginning shows: New Beginning in Nagoya, New Beginning in Sapporo, and two New Beginning in Osaka events. In between each event were Road to New Beginning shows.

While they have TV partners and their New Japan World streaming network, NJPW is not a TV-based product and does not air every house show. They generally air two shows per tour, though their practice is to air every Korakuen Hall show, which can cause the overall numbers to vary. This became especially gruesome during the heart of the pandemic, when they ran Korakuen Hall for the bulk of each tour.

Major Events

Almost every New Japan tour culminates in a big event of some kind. Some are spread out over multiple dates and venues. In other cases. Some are tournament finals. And some are the most important and significant events in the entire professional wrestling landscape for the entire year. 

The most major of all would be Wrestle Kingdom, held on January 4 every year at the Tokyo Dome. New Japan has run a show on that date, at that venue, since 1992. This has not always been to their benefit; because they run on a specific day every year, sometimes they’ve drawn lesser houses when January 4 falls mid-week. That said, Wrestle Kingdom remains their premiere event, and by that nature, it remains one of the premiere events in all of wrestling. 

The major events on the New Japan calendar are spaced out. The big stand-alone events are Wrestle Kingdom in January, Sakura Genesis in April, Dominion in June, and King of Pro Wrestling in October. In between these, there are multi-night events, such as New Beginning in February and Destruction in September, which spread shows out over multiple weeks. The rest of the calendar is filled out mostly by tournaments.

One could comfortably follow New Japan by watching only these major events. That changed somewhat during the pandemic, as the merciless onslaught of Korakuen Hall shows during 2021-2022 necessitated drawing matches. And even before the pandemic, they would have lesser belts, such as the NEVER Openweight 6-man and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championships defended on “Road to” shows. 

Even so, the vast majority of important matches, development, and sequences happen during these major events. These are the major events of the New Japan calendar, as well as the lesser ones:

  • January
    • Major Event: Wrestle Kingdom (January 4)
    • Major Event: New Year’s Dash!! (January 5)
    • Lesser Event: Fantasticamania (co-promoted with CMLL)
  • February
    • Major Event: New Beginning (Always broken into two or three shows)
  • March
    • Major Event: Anniversary Show (Held first week of March, usually at Ota Ward General Gymnasium, the site of the first New Japan show in 1972)
    • Major Event: New Japan Cup Final
  • April
    • Major Event: Sakura Genesis (Always held at Sumo Hall in Tokyo)
  • May
    • Major Event: Wrestling Dontaku (Held since 1993; always in Fukuoka)
  • June
    • Major Event: Dominion (Held since 2009; second-biggest single-night event; always in Osaka)
  •  July
  • August
    • Major Event: G1 Climax Final
  • September
    • Major Event: Destruction (Always broken into two or three shows)
  • October
    • Major Event: Sumo Hall in Tokyo
      • This event was King of Pro Wrestling until 2019. Its name is currently in flux.
  • November
    • Major Event: World Tag League/Super Junior Tag League
  • December
    • Lesser Event: Road to Tokyo Dome (Christmas Week – Korakuen Hall)

NJPW Tournaments

Besides the unit system, the key element of New Japan’s structure are tournaments. 

Tournaments account for at least one-quarter of the year, and are the fertile cauldrons from which countless rivalries and story points emerge. For most of the roster, the bulk of their singles matches for a year will come in either the G1 Climax or Best of the Super Juniors. Because wins and losses are treated consequentially, wrestlers will reference tournament losses as their motivation for years. 

These tournaments are also used as ways to normalize a new character or persona, which is why you will often see wrestlers debut such things leading into a G1 Climax or New Japan Cup. This can become tedious for those that follow every night of a tournament. For instance, if a wrestler debuts a new cheating heel persona before a G1 Climax, you can be assured that the wrestler will cheat in every G1 Climax match. It is effective in diffusing the new character to up to 18 different crowds.

The G1 Climax is New Japan’s flagship summer tournament, and is often treated as a fixed point in the wrestling calendar. Besides Wrestle Kingdom, it is the most substantial event on the New Japan calendar. Wrestler and Match of the Year considerations are generally held up in the air until the G1 Climax. The G1 Climax stretches back to 1991, and in its current form consists of roughly 18-19 shows stuffed into a grueling month. Since 2012, the winner of the G1 Climax tournament has earned the right to challenge for the IWGP (World) Heavyweight Championship at the next year’s Wrestle Kingdom.

As a round-robin tournament, the field of wrestlers are broken up into smaller pools, with each wrestler facing the other members of his pool once. Wins are worth two points, and draws are worth one point. The other major tournaments of the year all follow the same round-robin system, with pools of wrestlers fighting to advance to a final. 

The formats have changed over the years, but generally have fallen into two categories:

  • One wrestler or team advances from two blocks, with a one-match final
  • Two wrestlers or teams advance from two blocks, with a four-man mini-tournament final

The current G1 Climax format, set for 2023, is unique and never before attempted: four blocks, with two wrestlers from each block advancing to an eight-man tournament final.

The tournament outlier is the single-elimination New Japan Cup, which has risen in stature in recent years. The anchor of New Japan’s spring run, the New Japan Cup is increasingly the FA Cup of New Japan, with the number of participants jumping dramatically. From 2005 to 2018, the Cup field was always limited to 12-16 wrestlers. It jumped to 32 in 2019, reaching an apex of 48 in 2022 before settling back down to 24 in 2023. The winner of the New Japan Cup can challenge for any title, not just the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. The wide field and open challenge concept has produced unpredictability, allowing wrestlers to make tremendous leaps with a deep tournament run or tournament win.

New Japan’s tournaments are spaced well throughout the year, a built-in rest point for many wrestlers. For instance, most heavyweights will get the month off during Best of the Super Juniors, while the juniors get their break during the G1 Climax (although this has changed as the company runs more international shows). 

These are the tournaments run by New Japan during the year:

  • March: The New Japan Cup
    • Single Elimination
    • Held since 2005
    • Winner receives a title shot of their choosing, usually at Sakura Genesis
  • May-June: Best of the Super Juniors
    • Round Robin
    • Held since 1994 as Best of the Super Juniors, with continuity back to 1991
    • Winner receives a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, usually at Dominion
  • July-August: G1 Climax
    • Round Robin
    • Held since 1991 as the G1 Climax, with loose continuity stretching back to 1974
    • Winner receives a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestling Kingdom
  • October-November or November-December: Super Junior Tag League
    • Round Robin
    • Held since 2018 as Super Junior Tag League, with continuity back to 2012
    • Winner receives a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
  • November-December: World Tag League
    • Round Robin
    • Held since 2012 as World Tag League, with continuity back to 1991
    • Winner receives a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship at Wrestling Kingdom
  • Infrequent: Young Lions Cup
    • Round Robin
    • Held 1985-1987, 1989, 1993-1996, 2000, 2004-2005, 2017, 2019
  • Infrequent: Super J Cup
    • Single Elimination
    • Held 1994-1995, 2000, 2004, 2009, 2016, 2019-2020 (both in the United States)
    • Has run under several host promotions, has been exclusively New Japan since 2016

NJPW Titles

Titles are difficult to decipher in New Japan. At times, New Japan seems like a petrie dish in a lab experiment meant to test the asexual reproduction capabilities of title belts. The key thing to remember is that the titles are treated with reverence for the main singles titles, title matches are important, and title reigns are significant. The problem: all the other titles. The many, many titles. 

Like most Japanese promotions, New Japan title matches are restricted occurrences, and title defenses are tracked. Each title is defended less than ten times per year, and the distribution is not even. For instance, the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship is usually defended six or seventimes by June, but only one or two times the rest of the year. This predictability has its advantages and disadvantages, but a clear advantage is the ability to market title defenses by number. Most champions rarely defend more than four or five times; anything beyond that escalates stakes and foments intrigue.

There are three tiers of belts in New Japan: IWGP, NEVER, and STRONG. The highest prestige belts are under the International Wrestling Grand Prix moniker. The IWGP is the storyline governing body of New Japan that sanctions the company’s title matches. These titles hold the greatest significance; the sign of a wrestler’s ascent in the New Japan hierarchy is often shown when they win an IWGP belt.

The IWGP distinction is held in esteem, which is why a new title carrying those letters is always an indication of the company’s grander motives. When expanding into the United States more fervently, the company created the IWGP United States Championships, and booked Kenny Omega to be their initial champion.

In 2022, New Japan made their first steps towards including women in their events. This began with a co-promoted show with Stardom, Historic X-Over, which took place in November 2022. It was at this event that an inaugural IWGP Women’s Champion was crowned, and it was someone with international recognition: Kairi. Shortly thereafter, Mercedes Mone was brought into the mix, with an actual New Japan contract.

NEVER stands for “New Blood,” “Evolution,” “Valiantly,” “Eternal,” and “Radical.” NEVER is a holdover from a series of shows held in 2010-2012. Initially, this concept intended to highlight young wrestlers and outsiders, but by 2014 the NEVER title had evolved into a showcase for the resolute, Spartan style of wrestlers such as Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata, and Togi Makabe. Though these titles are listed as “openweight,” and the 6-man titles have been held by junior-heavy combination teams, the singles title has never been held by a junior heavyweight, and rarely has a junior ever challenged for it.

STRONG is the branding of New Japan of America’s flagship show, which has aired on New Japan World every Saturday since August 2020. Initially, the show did not have any champions. The first champion was crowned on April 23, 2021, with Tom Lawlor winning the inaugural title tournament. A later tournament established the STRONG Openweight Tag Team titles on July 24 2022, with Aussie Open as the first champions, and the STRONG Women’s Championship on April 27, 2023,  won by Willow Nightingale in a single-night tournament.

These are the current titles in New Japan.

International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP)

  • IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
    • The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship is a unification of two previous titles:
      • IWGP Heavyweight Championship
      • IWGP Intercontinental Championship
  • IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
  • IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
  • IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
  • IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
  • IWGP Women’s Championship

New blood, Evolution, Valiantly, Eternal, Radical (NEVER)

  • NEVER Openweight Championship
  • NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship


  • Strong Openweight Championship
  • Strong Women’s Championship
  • Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship

There are two titles that do not fall under these categories:

  • NJPW World Television
    • This title is presented as a partnership between New Japan and its television partner (and 10% minority owner) TV Asahi.
    • Matches are under 15-minute time limit
    • Every match is uploaded to Youtube and can be watched for free
  • KOPW
    • This title was established by Kazuchika Okada in the summer of 2020
    • It is essentially a gimmick title. Each wrestler presents a gimmick concept before the match. Fans vote, and the winning gimmick becomes the official stipulation of the match
    • The title is defended throughout the year. The person holding the title at the end of the year becomes that year’s KOPW champion. The process then begins anew at Wrestle Kingdom.

NJPW Units

The New Japan roster is broken into a number of different units:

    • Sub-unit: HOUSE OF TORTURE
  • Los Ingobernables de Japón
  • The United Empire
  • Just 5 Guys
  • TMDK

Those that don’t fall into these factions are considered part of the “Main Unit,” usually referred to by its Japanese name, Hontai. Hontai has two sub-units: Guerrillas of Destiny and Strong Style. In recent years, CHAOS has become more integrated into Hontai and often team with them in multi-man tags.

The entire company functions from the dynamics created by the unit structure. Units can generally be described as heel, face, or tweener units. The mix-matching of wrestlers and tags from these units against each other is the fundamental vehicle of the booking. And because each program involves a series of multi-man tags between the factions, any number of fruitful interactions can develop.

The units themselves help propel storytelling. Obviously, the most significant aspect of unit storytelling is a wrestler joining or leaving a stable. The excitement generated by a Young Lion returning from excursion is largely based on how that wrestler will fit into the current landscape, particularly which unit. Likewise, when foreign wrestlers debut, there is a tangible sense that they haven’t truly situated themselves into the company until they’ve officially joined a faction. Time in a unit allows these wrestlers time to acclimate and find their voice.

But the most influential action any wrestler can take in New Japan is leaving a unit to start another. In the list above, nearly every one was born from a messy separation. CHAOS was formed in 2009 when Shinsuke Nakamura lured several members of Great Bash Heel away from Togi Makabe. The United Empire began in 2020 when Will Ospreay betrayed Kazuchika Okada and left CHAOS. Just 5 Guys formed from the wake of Suzuki-gun’s voluntary dissolution in late 2022, but became a relevant stable when SANADA abruptly left LIJ to join them.

There is one thing to note, regarding an unofficial unit of sorts: the Three Musketeers (Toukon Sanjushi). The original Three Musketeers was comprised of Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, and Masahiro Chono, all members of the same New Japan dojo class (1984). This trio was so successful that the promotional tactic was repeated twenty years later with the early-00s trip of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Katsuyori Shibata. This group found great success, but not together. The company has recently revitalized the title, bestowing it upon Ren Narita, Shota Umino, and Yota Tsuji, dubbed the Reiwa Musketeers, despite all three being in different official units.

Multi-Man Tag Team Matches

“Road to” shows, and the undercards of most second and third-tier events,  are entirely multi-man tags and Young Lion matches. Each match is centered around one pairing of wrestlers or tag teams, supported by other members of their faction. Over the course of a tour, the supporting faction members will shift, but the core pairing remains the same. 

These matches simultaneously serve multiple purposes, all of them essential. 

Purpose #1: build an upcoming match. The multi-mans are not just busy work: they almost always give some insight into how the core pairing wrestlers will interact. In some cases, the story of a match is established, usually with one wrestler harming an arm or leg during the match or in a post-match scrum. There is a drawback to this: one might be “spoiled” when the match incorporates these sequences into the big culminating match. But New Japan wrestlers generally change things up enough that this prior knowledge actually enhances the match.

Purpose #2: cultivate intra-faction chemistry and reinforce faction hierarchy. As noted, factions can be fluid in who challenges for titles and such, but the hierarchy of the faction remains resolute. Part of this is undergirded by multi-man tag results. One of the core pairing wrestlers often pins a junior heavyweight from the other team. But another common finish is found when the leader of a faction is not one of the core pairing wrestlers, but support: they score the fall. But sometimes, when the leader is in the core pairing, the person on their side scoring the fall does so to cement them as the #2. 

It is equally important to pay attention to who takes the fall. Just as a wrestling scoring falls signals their ascent in the hierarchy, someone taking fewer falls could signal a change in their status. A good example of this is El Desperado. Desperado was a pin eater for a period of time in Suzuki-gun, clearly the subordinate in his tag team with Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Then, a switch occurred: Kanemaru started taking these multi-man falls instead of Desperado. It was a clear sign of a shake-up.

Purpose #3:lay the foundations for future pushes and/or inter-faction rivalry. Because wins and losses are not arbitrary in New Japan, a lot can be learned from paying attention to the wrestler that scores falls in the multi-mans, and who takes the falls. In many cases, they are a glimpse into the future. One technique New Japan often utilizes is having wrestlers wrack up falls in multi-mans to accrue credibility and validate future pushes. Likewise, at the end of tours, future programs are set in place during multi-man tags.

Backstage Comments

Storytelling in New Japan is simple. Programs emerge from the matchmaking: at either the beginning or end of a tour, wrestlers interact during seemingly inconsequential multi-man tag matches. From there, a feud begins. Title programs are slightly different; after a title match, a wrestler often emerges from backstage to either attack or challenge a titleholder in the ring. 

The key element here is that the important things–the catalysts, escalations, interactions, physical conflicts, promos, etc.–almost always happen in the ring. It can feel a bit sparse, but everything you need to engage with an angle/program is easily consumed.

But not all New Japan promos take place in the ring. In fact, almost every single wrestler speaks to the gathered cameras and media backstage after a televised match. These “backstage comments” are uploaded to either:

They generally last between one-to-two minutes, although some go longer. Some wrestlers talk ceaselessly, especially the older veterans. Some wrestlers do entire bits and sketches. Some wrestlers spew platitudes or babble. Some deliver exquisitely pithy monologues. The backstage comments are the best place to find this sort of differentiation amongst the roster.

At their peak, backstage comments provide something as exceptional as KENTA’s great “All’s Well That Ends Well Promo,” in which he uses his victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi at Power Struggle 2020 as a chance to tell a personal story of a meal he shared with Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Asuka when KENTA was still Hideo Itami in WWE. Without question, you could skip this promo and easily follow the story, but by watching it you gain so very much:

Speaking of YOSHI-HASHI, here is Juice Robinson threatening to literally murder him during G1 Climax 32: 

And, more recently, here’s Shota Umino showing glimpses of why he’s been pegged as a future ace, drawing upon childhood memories of Yujiro Takahashi prior to their New Japan Cup 2023 match:

The Young Lion Dojo System

One of the trademarks of New Japan is its dojo system, which has produced some of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the medium. The roll-call of names is stunning, to name just a handful: Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Satoru Sayama, Jushin Liger, Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Mutoh, Hiroshi Hase, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Katsuyori Shibata, Prince Devitt, Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, Jay White, and so many more.

The system is defined by simplicity and an almost ascetic limitation on what Young Lions can do in the ring. The training is intense, with outrageous amounts of squats, pushups, neck rolls, and runs. There’s a heavy emphasis on grappling. When trainees actually make their in-ring debut, they begin with 10-minute time-limit matches against each other, always ending in draws. Their gear: black trunks and boots. Their moveset: forearms, stomps, bodyslam, hip toss, dropkick. They are allowed to finish matches with a Boston crab. It is this minimalist base from which legends of the business emerged.

Young Lions eventually move through a gradual pattern. Eventually, they are able to defeat each other. Slowly, they incorporate a few suplexes and signature moves into their arsenal. They challenge veterans, gaining momentum but never winning. Eventually, they have a big send-off and are sent to either Mexico, England, or the United States for an “excursion,” a two-to-three year period where they experience another culture, wrestling and otherwise.

When they return, they enter a unit or remain with the New Japan Main Unit. Their return is as hyped as their departure for excursion. New Japan places heavy emphasis and loyalty on those that have made it through their system, native and foreign. You rarely see them give up on a Dojo graduate, no matter how shaky their return. Likewise, fans will follow a wrestler, supporting them from their debut, similar to an idol in music.

The dojo system also plays into New Japan’s global aspirations. In 2019, the company established the LA Dojo in Los Angeles. Previously, New Japan ran an American dojo in the early 2000s, through which such wrestlers as Brian Danielson, Samoa Joe, Lyoto Machida, and TJ Perkins emerged. This new incarnation was settled with Katsuyori Shibata as the head trainer. The pandemic stilted plans, but already feuds have been sparked between Japan’s Noge Dojo and the new LA Dojo, suggesting a new phase of generational rivalries.

Promotional Alliances

New Japan has partnerships with several wrestling promotions, an international alliance to varying degrees of mutualistic benefit. Some of these allegiances stretch back decades, while some are more recent, but all of them play a crucial role in the company’s long-term mission.

New Japan currently has partnerships with:

  • Mexico – CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre)
  • The United Kingdom – Revolution Pro Wrestling
  • The United States – Impact Wrestling
  • The United States – Ring of Honor
  • The United States – All Elite Wrestling

The first three are the most important, as these are the promotions where New Japan currently sends their Young Lions on excursion. These partnerships also result in co-promoted events. New Japan often runs a handful of shows in the UK every year, co-promoted with Rev Pro, and heavily featuring Rev Pro talent. In the United States, New Japan has run WrestleMania Weekend shows with Impact.

But the biggest co-promoted tour, by far, is Fantasticamania. Traditionally run after Wrestle Kingdom, Fantasticamania is a two-week period where CMLL essentially takes over New Japan. Fans bring Mexican flags to shows, cheer the technicos, and boo the rudos. It is a genuine celebration of lucha libre. New Japan wrestlers who did their excursions often participated in these shows, sometimes donning the personas they had while in Mexico. Fantasticamania is the most inessential tour on the calendar, but possibly the most joyous.

Co-promoted Events:

  • January/February: Fantasticamania (w/ CMLL)
  • June: Forbidden Door (w/ AEW)
  • November: Historic X-Over (w/ Stardom)

These do not include New Japan’s work with companies such as All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH. The current higher-ups at New Japan have expressed a much firmer desire to co-promote with domestic rivals in the post-pandemic environment, especially with talent sharing on particular shows. It should be expected that more of these cross-overs will occur. 

NJPW Units & Roster Members


  •  Founded: April 23, 2009
  •  1st Leader: Shinsuke Nakamura (April 29, 2009 – January 6, 2016)
  •  2nd and Current Leader: Kazuchika Okada (January 5, 2016 – Present)
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Rocky Romero, YOSHI-HASHI, Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOH, Robbie Eagles, Lio Rush
  • Original Members: Shinsuke Nakamura, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, Gedo, Jado, Giant Bernard, Karl Anderson, Black Tiger V
  • Prominent Former Members: Will Ospreay, Jay White, Tetsuya Naito, Robbie Eagles, SHO, Kazushi Sakuraba 

CHAOS is increasingly hard to define. For the entirety of the recent New Japan peak (2012-2020), the group has been at the forefront, led first by the immensely popular Shinsuke Nakamura and then by the dominant champion Kazuchika Okada. 

The group was a staunchly heel faction when it formed in April 2009, the result of several members of Great Bash Heel turning on Togi Makabe and siding with Nakamura. Gradually, the group became a face unit, and a ridiculously successful one. The group accounts for EIGHT IWGP/World Heavyweight title reigns, as well as:

  • Six Intercontinental title reigns
  • Five Heavyweight Tag Team titles
  • Six Junior Heavyweight runs
  • Fourteen Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championships
  • Five G1 Climaxes
  • Three New Japan Cups
  • Three World Tag Leagues
  • Two Best of the Super Juniors
  • Five Junior Tag Leagues
  • Thirteen NEVER Openweight championships
  • Three NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles

That said, the saturation of the group, as well as multiple turns, has left the group largely amorphous. They often team with Hontai members in multi-man tag matches. Even further, some members end up teaming with former Great Bash Heel stablemates. You can’t escape CHAOS, but you also can’t determine them, either. Unless, of course, they are celebrating in the back when someone wins or defends a title. Ironically, despite losing their identity, they are the only group that consistently does that.

Kazuchika Okada

  • NJPW Debut: August 26, 2007
  • Joined CHAOS: January 4, 2012
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP World Heavyweight Championships
    • 5 IWGP Heavyweight Championships
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii)
    • 4 G1 Climaxes (2012, 2014, 2021, 2022)
    • 2 New Japan Cups (2013, 2019)

One of the most consequential wrestlers alive, and the face of the company. Upon his return to New Japan from excursion on January 4, 2012, Okada made an immediate impact, ending Hiroshi Tanahashi’s historic title reign a month later, the legendary “Rainmaker Shock” moment. His full ascension to the throne of New Japan in 2015 has changed the global wrestling landscape, particularly his match with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in 2017, which launched Omega as a worldwide superstar and put him on the path to executive vice presidentship. The story of Tetsuya Naito chasing Okada, starting in 2016 and culminating in 2020, brought New Japan to unprecedented heights. 

Okada’s matches are the perfect entry point for New Japan. He has defined the main event style of the company, with slow, methodical starting periods that gradually build in escalation until reaching a blistering climax, often with finishing sequences of unbelievable complexity. He uses a bounty of signature moves, which some consider formulaic; they work because of Okada’s charisma and his remarkable intuition for when to use them in a match. 

When Okada went onto the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot in 2021, he received 92% of the vote. Historically, that places him behind only Kenta Kobashi and Jushin Liger. At only 34, he is already a living legend of mythical proportions. Explicitly promoted as the inheritor to founder Antonio Inoki’s will (and robe collection), Kazuchika Okada’s legacy is growing incredibly. 

Tomohiro Ishii

  • NJPW Debut: December 11, 2004
  • Joined CHAOS: April 23, 2009
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Toru Yano)
    • 6 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Beretta and Toru Yano, 1 – with Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi, 1 – with Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi)

Built like a solid steel mailbox, and possessing some of the staunchest striking and spirit in the company, Ishii has established himself in the heavyweight ranks. He is not only one of the best in New Japan, and not merely amongst the best in the world; he is one of the greatest in-ring wrestlers in the history of the business. Ishii has placed in the top 10 of the Most Outstanding Wrestler category of the fan-voted Wrestling Observer Awards for nine straight years, from 2013 to 2021. No other wrestler has placed in the category every year during this timeframe. Not Omega, not Okada… just Ishii.

Some consider his match structure and techniques formulaic. There is some truth to that. If you are uninterested in stiff strike exchanges, perfectly executed no-selling, and dramatics so compelling they make a match feel like a legitimate strong style battle, then Tomohiro Ishii is not your man. But, through these idiosyncrasies, the stalwart of the NEVER division has found success both in Japan and in America, where his popularity rivals the company’s top performers.

Hirooki Goto

  • NJPW Debut: July 6, 2003
  • Joined CHAOS:  March 12, 2016
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Intercontinental Championships
    • 4 IWGP Tag Team Championships (1 – with Katsuyori Shibata, 3 – YOSHI-HASHI)
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Minoru Tanaka)
    • 5 NEVER Openweight Championships 
    • 2 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Yoshi-Hashi and Tomohiro Ishii, 1 –  with YOSHI-HASHI and Yoh)
    • 1 STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championship (with YOSHI-HASHI)
    • 1 – G1 Climax (2008)
    • 3 New Japan Cups (2009, 2010, 2012)
    • 4 World Tag Leagues (2012  – with Karl Anderson, 2014 – with Katsuyori Shibata, 2021 and 2022 – with Yoshi-Hashi)
    • 1 Young Lion Cup (2005)

Hirooki Goto also has a bounty of accomplishments since arriving as a Young Lion in 2003: 2-time IWGP Intercontinental champion, 3-time IWGP Tag Team champion, 5-time NEVER Openweight champion, 2008 G1 Climax winner, 3-time New Japan Cup winner (2009, 2010, 2012), 4-time World Tag League winner (with three different partners). He’s one of the most decorated active wrestlers on the roster, with incredible longevity… but there is one title missing, the IWGP World title. 

Goto has challenged for the IWGP (World) Heavyweight Championship eight times, coming short every time. As in traditional sports, this has increasingly overwhelmed the discourse on Goto. He has assumed the mantle many pro athletes attain: the guy that can’t get it done. And it certainly doesn’t help that he joined CHAOS in 2016 after losing a title match to Okada for the third time in his career. But, as the list above proves, Goto is an exceptional wrestler with an impressively voluminous moveset. He is also an adorable dad.


  • NJPW Debut:  July 6, 2008
  • Joined CHAOS: December 28, 2011
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championships (all with Hirooki Goto)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii, 1 – with Hirooki Goto and YOH)
    • 1 STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championship (with Hirooki Goto)
    • 2 World Teag Leagues (2021 and 2022 – both with Hirooki Goto)

YOSHI-HASHI had one of the most hilariously unfavorable returns in New Japan history, if not wrestling history: a dual-return match at Wrestle Kingdom 6 against Kazuchika Okada. Within a month, Okada would be IWGP champion. YOSHI-HASHI, unfortunately, has yet to win an IWGP singles title. 

YOSHI-HASHI has turned into a very exciting and dynamic wrestler, his matches full of superkicks, spirited screaming, and cool moves. Of course, his breakthrough came during the pandemic, where he seemingly put everything together. He cut his awful hair and started spamming superkicks and big moves. Now his physical action matches his vocal energy. Since then he has won the IWGP Tag Team championships twice, won two World Tag Leagues, and almost single-handedly legitimized the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Titles. 

Toru Yano

  • NJPW Debut: May 18, 2002
  • Joined CHAOS: April 23,2009
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championships (1 – with Togi Makabe, 1 – with Takashi Iizuka, 1 – with Tomohiro Ishii)
    • 4 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (2 – with Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe, 1 – with Trent Beretta and Tomohiro Ishii, 1 – with Ryusuke Taguchi and Togi Makabe)
    • 2 KOPW Championships (2020, 2021)

Even as a comedy wrestler, Toru Yano is an acquired taste. While harmless, many utterly despise him. Many others (especially domestic Japanese crowds) adore his ring frivolity. Undoubtedly, Yano is a unique presence in New Japan Pro Wrestling. His devious style has netted Yano three IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships and two KOPW championships.

Yano provides variety with his comic relief, but his comic relief doesn’t have much variety. He has a limited amount of tools (rolls of athletic tape, turnbuckle cushions, and elaborately orchestrated low blows, mostly); the burden is on Yano to make the matches interesting from that narrow palette. Every so often, Yano mixes in his amateur wrestling background, as well as his notoriously strong grip and preposterously loud voice.


  • NJPW Debut: November 19, 2012
  • Joined CHAOS: 9 October 9, 2017
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 5 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (All with SHO)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship ( with Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi)
    • 1 Super Jr. Tag Tournament (2017 – with SHO)
    • 3 Super Junior Tag Leagues (2018 and 2019 – with SHO,  2022 – with Lio Rush)

“They say I don’t have emotions. But this is also part of pro wrestling… Wrestling wouldn’t be interesting if everyone was the same, if there weren’t people like this.” Those were the words of YOH on May 25th, 2022, after defeating his perpetual rival Hiromu Takahashi. It sums up YOH, who is effortlessly great at everything,  but even after five Junior tag title reigns and four Super Junior Tag League triumphs, singles success eludes him.

YOH has shown the ability to wrestle any match style, a level of adaptability on par with his abnormal athleticism. But he is expectedly above average. Without the panache, some are left uninspired. The course correction through Best of the Super Juniors 30 is an unrestrained, cartoonish personality shift.

YOH won the Observer Rookie of the Year award in 2013. A decade later, and entering his mid-30s, we are still waiting for the company to follow through on that.

Lio Rush

  • NJPW Debut: November 20, 2022
  • Joined CHAOS: November 23, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 Super Junior Tag League (2022 – with YOH)

Some people are just made to wrestle in Japan. A veteran of eight years and still only 28, Rush is a fascinating performer. Exceedingly ambitious (to controversial levels, at times) and unfathomably quick, his dexterity in the ring is astounding. Rush was released by WWE during the pandemic, and has drifted since then, popping up in AEW, on New Japan Strong, retiring, releasing music… but his performance in the 2022 Super Junior Tag League, his first time wrestling for the company in Japan, showed how well he fit into New Japan, an effervescent addition to the roster. His performance against Hiromu Takahashi on the New Japan Cup 2023 final card confirmed  that Rush is an otherworldly wrestler and a potential foundational piece of the Junior heavyweight division moving forward. 

Rocky Romero

  • NJPW Debut: October 6, 2002
  • Joined CHAOS: October12,  2010
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (as Black Tiger)
    • 8 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (2 – with Davey Richards, 2 – with Alex Koslov, 4 – with Trent Beretta)
    • 1 Super Jr. Tag Tournament (2016 – with Trent Beretta)

You wouldn’t expect Night 9 of the Best of the Super Juniors to hold many landmark matches, but it does hold one: Rocky Romero vs. El Phantasmo, May 24, 2019 at Korakuen Hall. Pushed to the brink of the 30 minute time limit, and with El Phantasmo’s undefeated record (5-0) in that year’s Super Juniors on the line, the closing stretch of that match reached sensationally dramatic heights. The crowd was raucously frenzied, clamoring for Rocky to defeat the loathsome Head Banga. When Rocky pulled it out, the eruption was overwhelming. Rocky’s Roppongi 3K proteges, SHO and YOH, hit the ring in spontaneous delight. It was a peak moment during peak New Japan. That is what Rocky is capable of, beyond his general comedic demeanor, or the exhaustion he must feel balancing so many different roles outside the ring. Rocky has wrestled 773 matches in New Japan, one of the most ever for a foreigner. He’s more than earned that distinction.

Los Ingobernables de Japon

  • Founded: November 21, 2015
  • 1st and Current Leader: Tetsuya Naito
  • Original Members: Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, BUSHI
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, Titan
  • Prominent Former Members: EVIL, SANADA

The most popular faction in New Japan, they propel the storylines, main title picture, and sell an unfathomable amount of merchandise.

The history of Los Ingobernables de Japon is hard to separate from the history of Tetsuya Naito. Prior to 2015, Naito was a prodigy known as the Stardust Genius, a nod to his preternatural ability to construct matches. Unfortunately, that only took him so far. The greatest indignity was when his match-up with Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title at Wrestle Kingdom 8 was voted out of the main event, losing a fan vote to the Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi Intercontinental title match. 

Naito found his career in flux in 2015 and went to Mexico to sort things out. Like Nakamura, he returned with an entirely new persona: a brazenly cavalier attitude, the byproduct of having joined Rush and La Sombra’s immensely popular Los Ingobernables stable. 

By the time he won the IWGP Heavyweight title from Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis 2016, and then lost  it back to Okada at Dominion a couple months later, it was a fait accompli for Naito to take the top spot in popularity. Greatly helping him was his new stable; not only EVIL and BUSHI, but SANADA, who debuted in New Japan by helping Naito defeat Okada for the title.

That’s  like a decidedly heel action, and the group were explicitly heelish until Hiromu Takahashi joined the group in December 2016. Takahashi’s relentless, crazed energy and whimsical eccentricities single-handedly babyfaced the group. The disinterested frostiness of the group had no choice but to thaw under Takahashi’s endearing antics.

Since then, the IWGP (World) Heavyweight title has largely been held by LIJ or LIJ adjacent acts. Naito won both the Intercontinental and Heavyweight titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14. He lost the titles to EVIL, who had betrayed the group to join BULLET CLUB. His first defense: Hiromu Takahashi. Shingo Takagi, who joined the group in 2018 after he departed Dragongate, held the title for nearly nine months in 2021. More recently, SANADA chose to forsake the group and join Just Four Guys; he immediately won the title and entered a program with Takahashi. Long a defiantly insular group, as it splinters LIJ’s web is starting to envelop the company.

Tetsuya Naito

  • NJPW Debut: May 27, 2006
  • Joined LIJ: November 21, 2015 (joined the original Los Ingobernables in CMLL on May 27, 2015)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Heavyweight Championships
    • 6 IWGP Intercontinental Championships
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Yujiro Takahashi)
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championships (1 – with Yujiro Takahashi, 1 – with SANADA)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship (1 time)
    • 2 G1 Climaxes (2013, 2017)
    • 1 New Japan Cup (2016)

Tetsuya Naito’s popularity is not a debatable subject: he is the most popular wrestler in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the most popular wrestler in Japan altogether, and one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of Japanese wrestling. 

The rise and peak of New Japan is almost completely aligned with Tetsuya Naito’s chase of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the Wrestle Kingdom main event slot in the Tokyo Dome, and Kazuchika Okada. Naito’s explosion of popularity provided a sturdy platform upon which the company’s profits and profile rose globally. 

A key element of that is not merely Naito’s persona, but his ability. Naito matches are thoughtful and erudite, but accessibly traditional. He has a specific sense of when to introduce an emotional element into a match, whether it be fury, composure, conceit, grandeur, or any of the plethora of tones and moods in his palette. Like Okada, he has a distinct cluster of signature moves that he employs, but he avoids feeling repetitive.

His journey to the title culminated at the 2020 Dome show. That should have signaled an end to the New Japan peak era, but a red hot angle with KENTA indicated that Naito’s triumph was not a culmination, but a catalyst to a new and equally impressive era.

Then… the world went to hell. Still a genius of the ring, with a fervent desire to main even Wrestle Kingdom once more, and still the most popular wrestler in the country (as attested to the outrageous amount of LIJ merchandise in every crowd), Naito’s story might have climaxed but there are more chapters left to tell.

Shingo Takagi

  • NJPW Debut: October 8, 2018 (had one match prior on July 20, 2007 when wrestling for Dragongate)
  • Joined LIJ: October 8, 2018
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[67]
    • IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Bushi[68]
    • NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (1 time)[69] – with Bushi and Evil
    • NEVER Openweight Championship (2 times)[70]
    • 1 KOPW Championship (2022)

Shingo Takagi was one of the most outstanding wrestlers in wrestling history before he ever stepped foot in New Japan, and his legend has increased exponentially since, due to an incredible catalog of matches. Escaping Dragongate in 2018–a messy time in Kobe–Shingo immediately confirmed his importance by debuting for the most popular faction in the company. Shingo spent the next year in the Junior division, a bizarre transition year where he went undefeated in the Best of the Super Juniors league play (losing the final to Will Ospreay), but never challenged for the title, nor facing anyone of significance (his non-BOSJ singles matches were against Young Lion Shota Umino and Yoshinobu Kanemaru).

Shingo moved to heavyweight in mid-2019. As he eased into the role, the pandemic hit and a number of factors overlapped, producing the conditions for Shingo to claim the IWGP World Heavyweight title in June 2021. His win came on the heels of a pair of remarkable matches against Will Ospreay (both in losing efforts), but Shingo has had great matches against nearly everyone, everywhere, for two decades. His matches are engulfed by his zealous intensity, power junior repertoire, and overwhelming determination. He’s one of the surest bets in the business. 

Hiromu Takahashi

  • NJPW Debut: August 24, 2010
  • Joined LIJ: December 10, 2016
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 5 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 4 Best of the Super Juniors (2018, 2020, 2012, 2022)

Hiromu might be the most genuinely adored wrestler in the company. Before Hiromu, LIJ generally acted like supercilious derelicts, frustrating opponents and desecrating sacred elements like title belts and sportsmanship. The group was instantly popular, but making a group like them endearing took a herculean effort; such is the power of Hiromu Takahashi’s likability.

Essentially, Hiromu babyfaced his faction by carrying around a stuffed cat plushie and forcing the other group to treat it like a member. But Hiromu could have done it without a prop. He burst back into New Japan, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from KUSHIDA with a uniquely frenetic, uninhibited style. If it wasn’t totally reckless, it appeared reckless, the manic, sanguine contrast to KUSHIDA’s cooly phlegmatic approach. 

Hiromu has since dominated the division, holding the Junior championship and/or winning Best of the Super Juniors pretty much any time he is active. But there is a distinct downside to that; the combination of a reckless style and intense schedule has not been kind to Hiromu. He suffered a scary spinal injury in 2018, missing over a year of action. He suffered a pectoral injury in 2021 which cost him another six months. Subsequently, Hiromu’s style has evolved, with less of the sublime irrationality of old, but sacrificing none of the intensity. 


  • NJPW Debut: May 27, 2012
  • Joined LIJ: November 21, 2015
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Shingo Takagi)
    • 4 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (3 –  with Evil and Sanada, 1 – with Evil and Shingo Takagi)

A stalwart of the Junior division, BUSHI is a popular member of LIJ, even if he sits at the bottom of the groups pecking order. Originally in All Japan, BUSHI made the jump to New Japan in 2012. Despite enduring a sequence of unfortunate injuries in 2014-2015, in the years since he’s been consistently healthy, which is the best you can say for him. Although he’s found success in Mexico, winning the CMLL Welterweight title, he’s largely been a role-player in his home promotion. He will generally place in the upper-middle of a Best of the Super Juniors, will challenge for the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team belts periodically, and eat a lot of falls in multi-man tags. Of course, you can’t ignore him totally; he has the best tope suicida in the company, a legitimate highlight of every match.


  • NJPW Debut: January 18, 2013 
  • Joined LIJ: October 10, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None in New Japan Pro Wrestling

For one of the most exciting and dependably awesome wrestlers in the world, Titan’s induction into Los Ingobernables de Japon was one of the most awkward segments in recent memory for NJPW. Having assisted LIJ against the United Empire on October 10, 2022 at Declaration of Power, Titan spent an excruciatingly long period of time before removing his top mask, revealing himself to a befuddled crowd who barely remembered him. 

Despite that painful silence, Titan has been involved with New Japan dating back to 2013, and his performance during the 2022 Best of the Super Juniors was a highlight. Titan moves gracefully and fluidly through the ring, darting and flying, a pure lucha experience filtered through his worldly travels and knowledge. His reign as CMLL Welterweight champion has exceeded 1200 days, a record, and he is every bit the global ambassador that such a record would suggest. Along with Mistico, he carried Fantasticamania 2023, having great performances every night of the most unique tour on the New Japan schedule.

Yota Tsuji

  • NJPW Debut: April 10, 2018
  • Joined LIJ: June 3, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

Yota Tsuji began his New Japan career in April 2018, which meant that his excursion was delayed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. This was particularly unfortunate, because Tsuji was so cheerfully vocal about his desire to wrestle in Mexico. The pandemic stifled that dream, but did not stunt his growth. Alongside Gabriel Kidd and Yuya Uemura, Tsuji wrestled an incredible amount of televised matches in 2020-2021, ending with a five match gauntlet in June 2021, plus bonus matches against Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito. He then spent a year in England, before living his dream of wrestling for CMLL. 

Tsuji re-debuted for the company at Wrestling Dontaku on May 3, 2023, a surprise return after a months-long campaign video hyping the return of a “monster” to Japan. He attacked SANADA, challenged the champion to a match at Dominion, and suggested himself as the new member of Los Ingobernables de Japon. He officially joined LIJ on June 3, 2023, and the next day pushed IWGP World Heavyweight Champion to the limit in his very first match back from excursion.

No longer a dark horse, Tsuji’s creativity might push him farther, much farther, than people expect. That certainly must have been on the mind of the company when they included him in the new Reiwa Musketeers with Ren Narita and Shota Umino, despite being in the class after those two. Tsuji responded acrimoniously to the distinction, suggesting that he truly will be an unruly force for years to come.


Hiroshi Tanahashi

  • NJPW Debut: October 10, 1999
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 8 IWGP Heavyweight Championships]
    • 2 IWGP Intercontinental Championships
    • 3 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championships
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championship (1 – with Yutaka Yoshie, 1 – with Shinsuke Nakamura, 1 – with Kota Ibushi)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 4 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Michael Elgin and Yoshitatsu, 1 – with Manabu Nakanishi and Ryusuke Taguchi, 1 – with Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi, 1 – with Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii)
    • 3 G1 Climaxes (2007, 2015, 2018)
    • 2 New Japan Cups (2005, 2008)
    • 2 IWGP U-30 Openweight Championships
    • 1 G2 U-30 Climax (2003)
    • 1 IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship League (2005)

He may not have the incredible (if inflated) attendance numbers of his predecessors, nor the international success of his successors (though he’s close), but the case the Hiroshi Tanahashi is the greatest wrestler of all time is a robust one:

  • He carried this company through a very dire period
  • He not only carried the company but resurrected it through his willpower and charisma
  • His matches are frequently cited as powerfully influential by some of the most consequential wrestlers of the modern era, including Jom Moxley, CM Punk, Brian Danielson, etc.
  • When the time came to pass the torch, he did so (learning from some of his, ahem, less willing mentors), carefully bringing Okada up to legendary status with him 
  • He’s spent the better part of the last decade building upon his drawing and in-ring legacy, while still solidifying new talent

Tanahashi famously called Antonio Inoki’s “strong style” moniker a curse. As someone who lived through the worst effects of that curse, and enduring through some of the most selfish wrestlers, Tanahashi emerged as one of the most important catalysts for the modern wrestling era. The way he emotes and displays a fiery, resolute determination is distinctly Japanese, but he combines it with American wrestling showmanship. He is paradoxically both inaccessible and engaging, delighting crowds with his famous air guitar routine to close out shows.

As Tanahashi creeps towards 50, his body is starting to betray him. He certainly can’t move with the nimbleness of even 3-4 years ago, but his wrestling aptitude is still so off-the-charts that his main events are still reliably great. 

Shota Umino

  • NJPW Debut: April 13, 2017
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

Shota Umino is one of the more recent excursion returns, confronting Will Ospreay onNovember 5, 2022, but his history with New Japan stretches back deeply. Although he debuted in 2017 as a Young Lion, his time around a New Japan ring would rival anyone in the company; he is the son of head referee Red Shoes Unno, who has been with the company since 2001.

Umino’s Young Lion tenure was notable, as Jon Moxley inexplicably took Shota under his wing during 2019, something which continued in the lead-up and aftermath of 2022’s AEW/NJPW Forbidden Door show. Unfortunately for Shota, this attachment has obfuscated some of his personality upon returning to Japan. He has Moxley’s entrance (and the literal jacket Moxley gave him, as some sort of massive talisman), Tanahashi’s pants, and Naito’s hair.

What he doesn’t lack is self-confidence. He’s shown substantial, almost immediate growth in his backstage comments, and has all the tools and trademarks there for in-ring progress. Only 25, he’s the sort of “rookie” you expect to make the big second year jump. Being named one of the Reiwa Musketeers puts immense pressure on the youngster, but also provides him a base to build himself.

Katsuyori Shibata

  • NJPW Debut: July 21, 1999
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship ( with Hirooki Goto)
    • 3 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 1 New Japan Cup (2017)
    • 1 World Tag League (2014 –  with Hirooki Goto)

In wrestling, there is an art to the debut, but there’s also an art to the exit, and Katsuyori Shibata’s relationship with NJPW is the exemplar of that notion. When Shibata first left New Japan in 2005, it was met with little fanfare, nor distress. Despite being one of the new Three Musketeers (with Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi, an attempt to replicate the success of the Mutoh-Hashimoto-Chono triad), Shibata was exceeded by his peers and left during a nadir in the company.

His second departure was quite different. After returning to New Japan in 2012, Shibata slowly regained the trust of the fans (and a particularly sour Tanahashi). Shibata’s austere presentation and wrestling style turned him into a legitimate fan favorite and heartthrob. He won New Japan Cup 2017 and faced Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis 2017 in one of the greatest matches of all time. Yet, a gruesome headbutt during the match left Shibata with a severe, potentially fatal  subdural hematoma. Shibata recovered, but has wrestled one official match for the company since, shifting instead to running the LA Dojo. Unlike 2005, Shibata’s departure in 2017 was involuntary, and established him as a unique living legend. His returns to Japan have garnered some of the loudests reactions of the last several years. 

El Phantasmo

  • NJPW Debut: May 4, 2019 (one previous match on October 14, 2018 in England)
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: May 4, 2019
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (all with Taiji Ishimori)
    • 2 Super J-Cups (2019 and 2020)

ELP debuted in 2005, but his career really took off in 2017. The numbers are perplexing and incredulous: from 2005-2016, he averaged 20 matches a year, the low being 8 matches in 2014. In 2017, the year he debuted for England’s RevPro, he wrestled 42 matches. Then, in 2018… 137 matches! From there he debuted with New Japan in 2019, and almost from the outset he has been cultivated to be a potential babyface superstar.

The pandemic derailed ELP slightly, but nowhere near as much as others, because Phantasmo managed to make several trips to Japan, sometimes staying for months at a time. That admirable sacrifice was to our benefit, because ELP’s ringwork is world-class. His abilities as a flier and his ability to string together moves are amongst the absolute tip-top best in the world, but it’s the gift he has as a comedy troll wrestler that put him above the rest. 

And that is why he is such a potent babyface; he is detestable as a heel, but with a slight tweak the exact same insufferable mannerisms become charming. This was the slow burn set in place since his return to Japan in January 2021, after a year’s absence. His feel for a match and crowd control is otherworldly, and now that he has been expelled from BULLET CLUB, his potential is finally being tapped.

Master Wato

  • NJPW Debut: January 3, 2016
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Ryusuke Taguchi)

Hirai Kawato was an incredibly empathetic Young Lion. People loved him because of his inherent underdog charisma. Unfortunately, several things have worked against Master Wato:

  • A shaky excursion in Mexico
  • A oddly lame gimmick with a weird look
  • Returning right in the worst stages of pandemic lockdowns

His backstage promos were stammering and unconvincing (when he wasn’t being interrupted by mentor-figure Hiroyoshi Tenzan), and his matches were replete with misfires and stumbles. Yet, Wato persevered. He amended his look, got in tremendous shape, and slowly asserted enough self-assurance to win crowds over again, as he did in a four-way match Junior Heavyweight title match at Wrestle Kingdom 15. His ringworm has exciting elements, and he is still in his mid-20s. He looks like he could run a marathon, and perhaps he has been all this time.

Ryusuke Taguchi

  • NJPW Debut: November 22, 2002
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 7 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (1 – with El Samurai, 4 – with Prince Devitt, 1 – with Ricochet 1 – with Master Wato)
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Manabu Nakanishi and Hiroshi Tanahashi, 1 – with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Ricochet, 1 – with Toru Yano and Togi Makabe)
    • 1 Best of the Super Juniors (2012)
    • 1 Young Lion Cup (2004)
    • 2 J Sports Crown Openweight 6 Man Tag Tournaments (2010 and 2011 –  both with Prince Devitt and Hirooki Goto)

Ryusuke Taguchi is an irredeemable pervert, and his matches are generally constructed around the potpourri of salacious, scatological, defiantly stupid gimmicks he has amassed through his 20+ year career. Taguchi should work better than Yano because, unlike Yano, Taguchi is constantly refining his act, a gamut of both explicit or oddly abstract bits. The problem: Taguchi always sells the bit, and sometimes the bit is unsettling. Or embarrassing to watch.

Of course, a lot of this is a smokescreen for one of the most proficient wrestlers on the roster. Tagcuhi’s ability to shift from a befuddled dope helplessly clutching his injured coccyx/anus/perineum to a refined, accomplished wrestler  is truly remarkable. That said, his act can be exhausting, especially during a Best of the Super Juniors or Super Junior Tag League. But, when the inspiration is valid, he’s a joy to watch. 


  • NJPW Debut: May 8, 2010
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 6 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 3 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (2 w/ Alex Shelley, 1 w/ Kevin Knight)
    • 2 Best of the Super Juniors (2015, 2017)
    • 1 Super J-Cup (2016)
    • 1 Super Jr. Tag Tournament (2012 – with Alex Shelley)

KUSHIDA certainly controlled the junior division from roughly 2015-2018, deservedly so considering that he is such a well-rounded, complete wrestler. But then, he became a victim of his success.

Without any interest on New Japan’s part  to move him to heavyweight, and having exhausted all possibilities in the Junior division, KUSHIDA reluctantly went to WWE. Despite brief flashes of triumph, it was an unfortunate tenure. His return to New Japan has been even more cursed; at one point, KUSHIDA’s title shot against Taiji Ishimori was canceled because KUSHIDA contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease. KUSHIDA is still a superb wrestler, one of the legitimately captivating ground-based wrestlers alive. But he seems as lost in 2023 New Japan as he did in 2018.

Kevin Knight

  • NJPW Debut: December 12, 2020
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag Team Championship (w/ KUSHIDA)

With an inconceivable amount of burst, and a dropkick with height that would make Okada jealous, Kevin Knight is one of the brightest prospects from Shibata’s L.A. Dojo. Like DKC, Knight had a couple of years in wrestling before debuting on NJPW Strong and accelerating his growth under Shibata’s tutelage. Knight was KUSHIDA’s partner in Super Junior Tag League, incredibly graduating from Young Lion status mid-tour and scoring a pinfall over Tiger Mask. That led to a title match against Catch 2/2 for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles, with the newly-dubbed Intergalactic Jet Setters winning the championship. Considering how rarely rookies win titles in this company, even today, Knight appears to be a very big factor in future plans.

At only 26 years old and with less than 100 matches to his name, that future projects large. Finding the balance between his explosive athleticism and growing strength, Knight also displays a promising, humble attitude in backstage comments. Amongst the abundance of young talent emerging in the company, and the fierce battle to reach the top that is to come, the future ace might end up being a Jet from Atlanta.

Yuji Nagata

  • NJPW Debut: September 14, 1992
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Heavyweight Championships
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championship (1 – with Manabu Nakanishi, 1 – with Wataru Inoue
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 1 G1 Climax (2001)
    • 2 New Japan Cups (2007 and 2011)
    • 1 G1 Tag League (2000 – with Takashi Iizuka)
    • 1 G1 Tag League (2010 – Wataru Inoue)

With his brutally resonant kicks and crisp suplexes, Yuji Nagata would have been a distinguished figure in any era; unfortunately for him, his time came during a very grim era for the company. Nagata debuted in 1992, and finally became IWGP Heavyweight Champion in 2002. Unfortunately, this reign was sandwiched between two of the most preposterous decisions the company ever made: 

  • Having soon-to-be champion Nagata face Mirko Flipovic, one of the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all time, in a shoot MMA fight in December 2001
  • Having former champion Nagata face Fedor Emelienko, the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all time, in a shoot MMA fight in December 2003

Nagata lasted 21 seconds in 2001, and 81 seconds in 2003. Keep in mind, Nagata’s 2002-2003 reign set the record for title defenses at 10. This was lunacy, the worst of Inoki’s 2000’s management. In retrospect, these losses did not irreparably damage Nagata. He went on to win the title again in 2007, as well as NOAH’s GHC Championship in 2014 and All-Japan’s Triple Crown Championship in… 2023. Nagata has been so good for so long, he is still winning world titles.

Satoshi Kojima

  • NJPW Debut: July 16, 1991
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Heavyweight Championships
    • 7 IWGP Tag Team Championships (6 – with Hiroyoshi Tenzan, 1 – with Manabu Nakanishi)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Matt Sydal and Ricochet, 1 – with David Finlay and Ricochet (1)[78]
    • 1 G1 Climax (2010)
    • 1 Super Grade Tag League (1998 – with Keiji Mutoh (1998)
    • 2 G1 Tag Leagues (2001 and 2008 – with Hiroyoshi Tenzan)
    • 1 Young Lion Cup (1994)

With massive arms and personality, Kojima played a more significant role in the resurgence of New Japan than he is credited. Kojima debuted in 1991, after Hiroyoshi Tenzan but before Yuji Nagata, Kojima spent eleven years languishing in New Japan before spurning Inoki’s vision for 2000’s New Japan and leaving for All-Japan with Keiji Mutoh. It was a remarkably shrewd decision. He won the Triple Crown Championship on February 16, 2005. Incredibly, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Tenzan four days later, the first person to hold the top two championships in Japan simultaneously.

After the controversial match, Kojima blithely tossed the IWGP belt at Shinsuke Nakamura, which ignited a near riot as Hiroshi Tanahashi stormed out of the ring and chased Kojima down the aisleway. Six years later, Tanahashi would later challenge Kojima for that title at Wrestle Kingdom V, winning it to begin his record-setting 11-defense reign. That reign, in turn, would set the stage for Okada’s return. Kojima’s main weapon is the lariat, a smart decision since his arms are ludicrously massive. Even in his 50’s, Kojima is a specimen, larger than nearly all the younger wrestlers. Mostly genial but with a streak of volatility, Kojima is the most viable member of his generation still competing. 

Hiroyoshi Tenzan

  • NJPW Debut: November 6, 1990
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 4 IWGP Heavyweight Championships
    • 12 IWGP Tag Team Championship (5 –  with Masahiro Chono, 6 – with Satoshi Kojima, 1 – with Osamu Nishimura)
    • 3 G1 Climaxes (2003, 2004, 2006)
    • 3 G1 Tag Leagues  (2001 and  2008 – with Satoshi Kojima, 2003 – with Osamu Nishimura)
    • 1 Super Grade Tag League (1995 – with Masahiro Chono)
    • 2 G1 Tag Leagues (2001 and 2008 – with Satoshi Kojima)
    • 1 Young Lion Cup 1993

Certainly, that list of accomplishments places Hiroyoshi Tenzan amongst the greatest New Japan competitors of all time. So why does his name never arise in discussion of all-time greats? Here’s a quick stat: those 4 IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns, tied for 5th all time with Keiji Mutoh, amounts to a total of… 197 days. Less than 50 days per reign. Two total title defenses. For comparison, Mutoh’s four reigns amount to 1,238 days and 19 title defenses. 

The company never committed to Tenzan, despite how over he was in the 00s, another eye-rolling strategy of that era. Watching Tenzan today doesn’t necessarily provide a glimpse into what fans at the time adored. He still does the Mongolian chops (even though he technically lost the move to Great-O-Khan), his suplexes are still technically sound, but his hips have lithified and his movements are the worst of the vets.

Togi Makabe

  • NJPW Debut: February 15, 1997
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Heavyweight Championship
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championships (1 – with Toru Yano, 1 – with Tomoaki Honma)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Ryusuke Taguchi and Toru Yano)
    • 1 G1 Climax (2009)
    • 2 World Tag League (2015 and 2016 – with Tomoaki Honma)

In summer 2018, Kazuchika Okada gave a backstage comment where he promised to beat Togi Makabe so badly that people would shout, “That’s enough, Okada, he’s already dead!” That ended up being untrue, but Okada did say something that might have been true: that Makabe was the most well-known wrestler on the roster. For years now, Makabe has been a favorite on the Japanese talk show circuit, particularly for his obsessive love for sweets. The gap moe appeal is off the charts: this gruff, intimidating man with dyed hair and chains around his neck having a child’s taste palette. 

Of course, The Unchained Gorilla is respected in the wrestling world as well. He is a dojo product pre-dating the Tanahashi-Nakamura-Shibata coterie, a former IWGP Heavyweight champion, one of the great brawlers of his era, and he still moves fairly well compared to others of his generation. He is more sporadic these days, to the point that people place over-under bets on how many bumps he will take in a match, but crowds still love him; he always gets a noticeable response to the King Kong Knee Drop. 

Tomoaki Honma

  • NJPW Debut: September 2, 2004
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP World Tag Team Championship (with Togi Makabe)
    • 2 World Tag League (2015 and 2016 – with Togi Makabe)

Tomoaki Honma is the ultimate sympathetic underdog. The last time he beat someone in a single match–besides Young Lions–was the 2016 G1 Climax. He also moves like he is wearing a medieval suit of armor with welded joints. Of course, he wouldn’t need armor, because no blade on Earth would have a chance against Honma’s leathery, mahogany skin. And yet, he is incredibly over. His series of matches with Togi Makabe and Tomohiiro Ishii in the mid-2010s were legendary for the fierceness of the action and the vociferousness of the crowd support for Honma. 

Prior to his move to New Japan in 2006, Honma was already something of a death match specialist. He is credited as the first wrestler to use light tubes in a match, so you have him to thank for that. He is a well accomplished brawler, though most of his matches since the early-2010s involve theatrical set-ups to his Kokeshi falling/diving headbutt, and a spectacular miss most of the time. 

Tiger Mask IV

  • NJPW Debut: January 4, 2002
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 6 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (1 – with Jushin Thunder Liger, 1 – with Robbie Eagles)
    • 2 Best of the Super Juniors (2004 and 2005)

The longest wrestler to hold the Tiger Mask moniker, although probably the least renowned. The current incarnation has been in practice since 1995, and was trained by the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama. Tiger Mask IV spent six years in Michinoku Pro, before moving to New Japan in 2002. A solid competitor, but lacking the otherworldly charisma of his elite peers, TM IV still stands as one of the premier juniors of his era. His work is robust, an all-around talent who sprinkles in flying, but generally works the ground and big moves. He seemed to be slowing down in the late 2010s, but after the pandemic and an injury hiatus, he seems rejuvenated. He won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championships with Robbie Eagles, and his work has recaptured a crispness and stiffness of his heyday. Of the Dads, he is the most overlooked, but possibly the most viable.

Guerrillas of Destiny

  • Founded: March 12, 2016
  • Leader: No Official Leader (Though Tama Tonga Fits the Role)
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Jado, Hikuleo
  • Original Members: Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa
  • Prominent Former Members: No former members

This isn’t necessarily a group, as much as an extended tag team, but if we stretch back to the roots of the tag team G.O.D. are one of the longest units in the company. They are second only to CHAOS, who have a loose gravitational connection to each other at this point, Guerrillas of destiny have a far sturdier bond: they are brothers. Even further, they are the sons of wrestling great Haku.

Haku raised some great boys. Their work is stiff but energetic. Led by Tama, they present the sort of understated hubris that could only be inspired by the sports world. There is a genuineness to them, but also a sublime self-confidence. With Tanga Loa injured since 2022 and Hikuleo inexplicably sporadic in appearances, Tama Tonga has performed spectacularly as the leader of the group.

Tama Tonga

  • NJPW Debut: May 8, 2010
  • Joined GOD: March 12, 2016
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 7 IWGP Tag Team Championship (all with Tanga Loa)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 4 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 – with Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi, 2 – with Bad Luck Fale and Tanga Loa, 1 – with Taiji Ishimori and Tanga Loa)
    • 1 World Tag League (2020 – with Tanga Loa)

After over a decade with the company, and nearly as much time in the BULLET CLUB, as an original member of the unit, Tama’s persona had been pushed beyond its limits by 2021. In a never-ended wheel of IWGP World Tag Team title defenses and challenges, having won the title a record seven times with brother Tonga Loa (in less than five years, no less), Tama found himself in early 2021 playing a Mad Hatter sort of character, possessed by Takash’s Iizuka’s Iron Fingers. The nadir: a 27 minute ladder match with Taichi over the prop in May 2021.

And then, during the G1 Climax that year, Tama wrestled all of his matches with honor and dignity, absolutely zero nonsense. The reward: he beat Kazuchika Okada. Clean. He would uneasily remain in BULLET CLUB until being ousted from the group inFebruary 2022. From there, it’s been all ascent. He started entering alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi, his steadfast, resolute expression a true reflection of his babyface power. Tama is authentic, his ring style and backstage comments exploding with conviction, the conviction that makes you believe in someone. He has a knack for when to fire up, when to break out his speed, when to call upon the crowd for support. He stepped up when his chance emerged, and there should be no limit on how far that could take him.

Tonga Loa

  • NJPW Debut: April 1, 2016
  • Joined GOD: March 12, 2016
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 7 IWGP Tag Team Championship (all with Tama Tonga)
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (2 – with Bad Luck Fale and Tanga Loa, 1 – with Taiji Ishimori and Tanga Loa)
    • 1 World Tag League (2020 – with Tama Tonga)

Several wrestlers leveled up during the pandemic, and Tonga Loa stands amongst the most striking. After five years in WWE and a year-long bridge in Impact, Loa entered New Japan in March 2016. He went right into the Guerrillas of Destiny tag team with his brother Tama Tonga and did not budge from the position for years. Obviously this was greatly successful, winning seven tag titles. But besides a match in New Japan Cup 2017, Tanga did not have a singles match in Japan until February 2021. 

But Tanga showed a fire and level of bruising, stiff viciousness unseen in the previous five years of tag team action. He performed admirably in G1 Climax 31. His matches against the likes of Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi, and Tomohiro Ishii revealed thatTanaga used his pandemic downtime wisely. Unfortunately, he has been on the shelf with injury since mid-2022, right as G.O.D. were booted from BULLET CLUB. When he returns, he projects to be a fruitful member of the NEVER division.


  • NJPW Debut: November 12, 2016
  • Joined GOD: September 25, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

A collegiate basketball player standing 6’8” and over 250 pounds, Hikuleo has been with the company since 2016, and the process since has been glacial. That is largely because Hikuleo’s ACL was torn in 2018; when the dojo graduate was ready to return, a global pandemic halted his progress. Because of this, he was a mainstay on NJPW Strong, his story revolving around his relationship with Jay White. After White exiled Hikuleo’s brothers, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa, Hikuleo was given an ultimatum: BULLET CLUB or G.O.D. Hikuleo not only chose G.O.D., he defeated White at New Beginning in Osaka 2023, banishing White from Japan. Despite the stipulation, Hikuleo largely didsappeared from Japan himself after the match. Hikuleo makes good use of his size, reminiscent of Kevin Nash with more athleticism but less charisma. At 31, Hikuleo has a good chance to be a unique force on the roster.


  • NJPW Debut: March 19, 1989 (left shortly thereafter; reappeared once in 1994 before rejoining for good on 28 June 2001)
  • Joined GOD: March 12, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
    • 4 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (all with Gedo)
    • 1 Super J Tag League (2010 – with Gedo)

He can’t bend his knees, he can’t twist his hips, and both his vertical leap and running speed top out in the single digits. Even so, Jado is the heart and soul of G.O.D. He was the bellwether of the group’s face turn in 2021; even while still in BULLET CLUB, Jado’s support for his team was jarringly sincere and honorable, a clear shift in tactics and demeanor. His defiance of longtime partner Gedo, and their subsequent series in tag matches, were oddly compelling, and produced notable crowd responses. And deservedly so, considering that Jado and Gedo had been together since 1989. 

United Empire

  •  Founded: October 16, 2020
  •  1st and Current Leader: Will Ospreay (October 16, 2020 – Present)
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Kyle Fletcher, Mark David, TJP, Francesco Akira, Gideon Grey, Dan Maloney
  •  Original Members: Will Ospreat, Great-O-Khan, Bea Priestley
  •  Prominent Former Member: Bea Priestley

New Japan is not a subtle company, especially with pushing wrestlers to the top. When it was Will Ospreay’s time, it did not matter that it came during the deepest throes of the pandemic in late 2020, or that those throes would continue on Japanese soil nearly two years further. Ospreay’s push came in succession:

  • Betray Kazuchika Okada and leave CHAOS
  • Bring back Great-O-Khan from England to establish his new unit
  • Assemble an international group of ambitious malcontents
  • Win the New Japan Cup
  • Win the IWGP World Heavyweight Title

All of this happened within six months (October 16, 2020 to April 4, 2021). Ospreay was forced to relinquish the title due to injury only six weeks later, but United Empire have not faltered. They have held court on the tag team titles in both the Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight divisions for much of their run. They continue to add members from around the world. They perform well in both the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax. They win a resounding majority of their multi-man tags. And, despite having the best in-ring wrestler alive as their leader, each member produces their share of astoundingly great matches, both singles and tag team. In short, they are the strongest unit in the company, and possibly the most incredible collection of talent in the world.

Will Ospreay

  • NJPW Debut: April 10, 2016
  • Joined United Empire: October 16, 2020
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
    • 3 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 1 New Japan Cup (2021)
    • 1 Best of the Super Juniors (2016 and 2019)

Will Ospreay is a marvel, and we can pinpoint the exact moment when one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live was set on the most propitious path to his development: his singles match against IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on October 3, 2015 in Reading, England. 

From that match, Ospreay was brought to New Japan in March 2016 at Okada’s behest. So began a deliberate, multi-year process in which Ospreay slowly matured to the apex of the junior ranks, joined the heavyweight division in 2019, turned on Okada and formed his own faction in 2020, and won the world title in 2021. All while continuing to wrestle worldwide and seizing the title of Most Outstanding wrestler twice (2019 & 2022, with 2020 thwarted by COVID and 2021 by an injury hiatus).

Early Ospreay was certainly an unapologetic acrobat, brazenly performing mind-boggling feats with panache. As he progressed through New Japan, he solidified a set of signature moves and set a pattern. As a heavyweight, he abandoned that pattern, amalgamating aspects of his former aerial style with a new style reliant on lethal striking and power. A complete wrestler in every way, Ospreay is hitting his peak, one of the all-time peaks, as he enters his 30s. Injuries have eaten up large chunks of his 2021 and 2023, though, so savor whatever moments he provides.


  • NJPW Debut: February 25, 2016
  • Joined United Empire: October 16, 2020
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championships (both with Jeff Cobb)

As a Young Lion, Tomoyuki Oka–former national wrestling champion of Japan–was a classic gut-wrenching technician. Thus, it’s a mystery why Oka was given this Great-O-Khan character, suggesting dynastic Mongolian heritage, but also a Jiangshi hopping vampire, yet dressing like a stately Mandarin bureaucrat (or a straight up Mandarinfish). To his credit, he has embraced the character wholeheartedly, all the way back to his excursion in England. O-Khan embraces pretty much everything, like the time when, in real life, he saved a young girl from an attacker and consoled her with pancakes until police arrived. O-Khan brought his certificate of recognition to the ring to taunt his opponents.

O-Khan’s ring style remains firmly mat-based. O-Khan’s arsenal is replete with throws, suplexes, and deeply elaborate holds, but it is also theatrical. He uses Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s Mongolian chops (which he cleanly won the right to in a stipulation match, which Tenzan did not honor), and the iron claw with his excessively taped fingers. O-Khan has floated around the midcard and progression appears glacial. One wonders when the company will embrace this jock otaku hero, as he has embraced this bizarre persona.

Jeff Cobb

  • NJPW Debut: November 18, 2017
  • Joined United Empire: November 15, 2020
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championships (both with Great-O-Khan)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship

Jeff Cobb is the powerhouse of New Japan; few in the world use their size and strength as spectacularly as he does. But timing is everything. If Jeff Cobb had joined a heel faction in 2019, or even early 2020, it would have been premature. Something about pre-pandemic Cobb– his character, his connection with the fans, his ring work–was very good but not clicking. 

Then, during G1 Climax 30 (2020), suddenly Cobb captured the spirit and charisma that he had displayed in other promotions. Everything fell into place: the timing, the sequencing, the stature… everything worked magnificently and  it was revelatory. It was then that he joined the United Empire. His subsequent match with Shingo Takagi at Wrestle Kingdom 15 was an unexpected classic, and it was clear that Jeff Cobb was going to be a major factor in New Japan going forward. 

Jeff Cobb is power and grace, amplified. Even with his massive frame, the power he generates is unfathomable, able to perform seemingly impossible moves on the largest wrestlers in the company. This only accentuates the grace of his dropkick and standing moonsault. He stalks the ring and mocks his opponent with such assurance that there are never dull, static, or complacent moments in a Jeff Cobb match. 

Aaron Henare

  • NJPW Debut: September 1, 2016
  • Joined United Empire: Apri 4,l 2021
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

A menacing figure with pernicious striking ability, Aaron Henare’s chance might have finally arrived. There are no drawbacks to being patient with a wrestler, especially someone that came through the dojo system. With someone like Henare, one’s patience might have been stretched to the molecular level, watching him flounder in stasis for years, even after joining the United Empire in 2021. 

Of the United Empire’s members, Henare is the truest example of someone developing a more heelish style and persona after joining. Henare projected a rage-based character upon his entry to UE, and matches have incorporated his training in Muy Thai and kickboxing to reflect this. No one gets more out of a well-timed, demonstratively held body shot than Henare. It is a thing of beauty, and something worth waiting for, like his release felt with his rise. 

Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis)

  • NJPW Debut: April 10, 2022 (Fletcher had one prior match on August 31, 2019 in England; Davis had prior matches on October 14, 2018 and August 31, 2019, both in England)
  • Joined United Empire: September 19, 2021
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
    • 1 Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship

It’s a golden age for tag teams, with several openly competing for the status as the best tag team in the world; Aussie Open are the likely candidates to usurp that throne next. Finally reaching Japan in November 2022, reaching the World Tag League final and eventually winning the titles from Bishamon at Sakura Genesis 2023. They were supposed to come in sooner, but were derailed by the pandemic. During that time, they were nurtured by Will Ospreay, who soon brought them under the United Empire banner.

Both complement each other well. Kyle Fletcher’s angular features and gliding offense is a nice counterbalance to Mark Davis’ gruff, hirsute, ironclad striking and power moves. They make incredible use of the different paces each brings. And, considering their performances in New Japan Cup 2023, Aussie Open’s additional legacy could be as the starting point for two future singles stars. Their catalog grows commensurately to an absurdly dense schedule; their matches with FTR and Bishamon were not merely tag team match of the year candidates, but match of the year overall.


  • NJPW Debut: October 6, 2002
  • Joined United Empire: September 26, 2021
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (both with Francesco Akira)
    • 1 American Young Lions Tournament (2004)

TJP is a virtuosic wrestler, as elegant as the form gets. His work is seamless, effortlessly amalgamating incongruous styles in fluid sequences. Because he started so young–beginning at 13 and finding himself in the famed original New Japan LA Dojo at 17–he’s equipped with an incredibly diverse arsenal.

Incredibly, besides the 2011 Best of the Super Juniors, there was a fourteen year gap between TJP’s New Japan matches in 2005 and his return in 2019. In between, he wrestled nearly everywhere, most notably winning the legendary Cruiserweight Classic in WWE, followed by an infamous reign as the inaugural Cruiserweight Champion, with baffling booking and inhumanely atrocious scripting. 

In New Japan, thankfully, he is a perfect fit. The scheduling keeps him fresh, delivering exquisite matches and unique backstage comments based around press-conference platitudes, assuredly learned from years of following his godawful local basketball team. A young veteran, TJP’s player-coach status feels distinctly earned, a benefit to everyone.

Francesco Akira

  • NJPW Debut: May 15, 2022
  • Joined United Empire: Apri 9,l 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (both with TJP)

The greatness of Catch 2/2, Francesco Akira’s team with TJP, is almost incomprehensible. Prior to their first match, on June 3 2022, Akira and TJP had never even shared the same ring. From literally day one, their matches have been masterpieces of pacing, eloquently shifting between the frenetic and the calculated. The team’s greatest asset might be their seemingly endless supply of captivating tandem offense, which TJP fully credits to this dynamic, high-strung 23 year-old Italian.

Akira debuted at Best of the Super Juniors 29. He seemed to find solid footing by the end of the tournament, and then was immediately shuffled into Catch 2/2, a shrewd blessing to learn under TJP’s tutelage. Akira’s strengths are his indefatigable reserves of energy, his perpetual irritability, and his bounty of ideas. He has a preternatural ability to fill space with something interesting. He matches up well against anyone on the roster. New Japan clearly knows that they have something special in someone so good at such a young age.

Gideon Grey

  • NJPW Debut: September 2, 2022 (one prior match on November 9, 2017 in England)
  • Joined United Empire: August 23, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

Lord Gideon Grey is the perfect orchestrator for the United Empire, manifesting their barbarous brutality into eloquent prose. He made his ring debut in Japan on September 2 2022, but his influence stretches much further back. As the manager for Great-O-Khan in the NJPW-affiliated English promotion RevPro, Grey is largely credited with helping that character move from bafflingly bizarre to endearingly bizarre. His reward has been his run with the United Empire. His ring style is pure comedy. Lacking physique or fiber of courage, he largely flees from opponents, his pallid, blanched complexion turned vermillion from the beating he endures. But, driven by his Plantagenet devotion to his colleagues, he manages to persevere until they can rescue him. In short, a perfect multi-man tag wrestler, legitimately funny and oddly captivating, akin to Gedo in BULLET CLUB.


  • Founded: May 3, 2013
  • 1st Leader: Prince Devitt (May 3, 2013 – April 6, 2014)
  • 2nd Leader: AJ Styles (April 6, 2014 – January 5, 2016)
  • 3rd Leader: Kenny Omega (January 5, 2016 – October 30, 2018)
  • 4th Leader: Jay White (December 22, 2018 – February 18, 2023)
  • 5th and Current Leader: David Finlay (April 8, 2023 – Present)
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Taiji Ishimori, Gedo, KENTA, Chris Bey, Rock Hard Juice Robinson, Ace Austin, David Finlay, Clark Connors, Dan Moloney, Gabriel Kidd, Alex Coughlin
  •  Original Members: Prince Devitt, Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga
  •  Prominent Former Member: Prince Devitt/Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, Jay White, The Young Bucks, Adam Cole, Hangman Page, Cody Rhodes, Tama Tonga, El Phantasmo

It may not have had the nonpareil supernova effect of the nWo, or the landmark legacy of the Four Horsemen, but considering its longevity and impact on the landscape of wrestling, the BULLET CLUB might be the most significant faction in wrestling history. Originally a vehicle for the elevation of Prince Devitt in 2013, the BULLET CLUB could have quietly disbanded and diffused when Devitt bailed for WWE in 2014. Instead, New Japan established a pattern: out with the old, in with the new. Unapologetically and remorselessly.

Devitt was ejected by Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, replaced by the incoming AJ Styles. Styles’ reign as BC leader resurrected his career, spectacularly. He went from a respected veteran to a slam-dunk hall-of-famer within two years. When the allure of Stamford tempted Styles in early 2016, he was evicted by Kenny Omega. Tomes and monographs will–and have–been written about the magnitude of this event. Within three years, Omega had established himself as a global star, of such extensive critical and commercial success, that a second national wrestling company–AEW, of course–was able to emerge largely from Omega’s stature.

Omega’s departure was… understated, to be polite, and Jay White’s sovereignty indicated a shift in BULLET CLUB orthodoxy. Previously, the leaders had been established wrestlers with substantial workrate credentials. White was less than two years removed from his return from Young Lion status, and in the process of developing a homeric, grandiose main event wrestling style. White navigated the CLUB through the highs and lows: the high being a main event at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, the low being his largely absent period during the pandemic.

As the group entered its second decade, a return to BULLET CLUB standards came with David Finlay’s usurpation of the  unit’s throne in 2023. After White lost a loser-leaves-town match in America, Finlay shocked the world by attacking and berating White. Finlay then reappeared in Japan, with Gedo as a manager and the leadership of BULLET CLUB secured. Finlay’s acknowledged goal is to return BULLET CLUB to its origins: small, brazen, and single-mindedly set on taking over New Japan. 

David Finlay

  • NJPW Debut: May 22, 2015
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: March 6, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • I NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Juice Robinson)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Ricochet and Satoshi Kojima)
    • 1 World Tag League (2019, with Juice Robinson)

A fourth-generation wrestler, most assumed that Finlay would have waltzed into WWE. His father, Fit Finlay, had emerged as one of the company’s most influential trainers and agents. Yet, David Finlay III chose to enter New Japan in 2015, undertaking the Young Lion lifestyle. Finlay would graduate from that status in 2016, and endure a long period of mid-card stasis. 

But clues began to emerge that the company had big ideas for Finlay. He made a surprise semi-finals run in New Japan Cup 2021, defeating long-time nemesis and tormentor Jay White along the way. That was clue #1. Finlay then disappeared until G1 Climax 32 in 2022, his first G1 after years of lobbying. He went 3-3, but his three wins were eye-opening: Juice Robinson, Shingo Takagi, and Will Ospreay. That was clue #2.

Finlay once again disappeared, returning at Battle in the Valley 2023 to attack Jay White, who had lost a loser-leaves-NJPW match. Finlay appeared in Japan later that month, sporting a darker look and with Gedo at his side. He quickly usurped control of BULLET CLUB, kicking  rival ELP out of the group and cementing his leadership at Sakura Genesis 2023. Finlay can back it up in the ring: his style is severe and punishing, but trendier and more disciplined than his father’s brutality. He is tremendous at the slow build, accumulating heat and delivering alluring finishing stretches. Such might be the case for his New Japan career.


  • NJPW Debut: July 6, 2019 (previous matches on August 29, 2002 and August 27, 2011 when wrestling for NOAH)
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: August 12, 2019
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 1 Strong Openweight Championship
    • 1 New Japan Cup USA (2020)

From the mid-00s to mid-10s, KENTA was considered one of the ten most outstanding wrestlers in the world, and his influence permeated every facet of the professional wrestling fabric. His stamp was so impactful that, when KENTA himself went to the WWE in 2014, he had to reinvent himself due to that influence preceding him. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan rose to the top of the WWE, changing the industry at most profound levels  using moves either invented or popularized by KENTA. 

When KENTA escaped Stamford in 2019, he was a much different KENTA. Increasingly, his matches are elaborate dances to bump the ref and use underhanded tactics, especially after a High Fly Flow from Hiroshi Tanahashi off a ladder at Wrestle Kingdom 16 (2022) essentially exploded his insides.

To compensate, he’s added an element missing from his 00s peak: unbelievable mic skills. He is the best backstage comment person alive, weaving tour-long narratives that are often totally divorced from his matches. He’s also taken part in two legendary angles: attacking Katsuyori Shibata at the G1 2019 final and attacking Tetsuya Naito as Naito celebrated his win over Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 14. The result of all this: KENTA still draws, gets crazy heat, and is captivating as he’s ever been.

Taiji Ishimori

  • NJPW Debut: August 10, 2004 (was in NJPW until mid-2005, returned for BOSJ 2010 and Super Jr. Tag Tournament in 2016)
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: May 4, 2018
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 3 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (all with El Phantasmo)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)
    • 1 U-30 One Night Tag Tournament (2004 – with Hiroshi Tanahashi)

A diminutive but lightning quick bodybuilder, Taiji Ishimori has been the company’s most consistent junior heavyweight wrestler since the pandemic. His reputation sometimes precedes him as the opposite, in spite of (or because of) his long history in wrestling pre-NJPW. A trainee of Ultimo Dragon, Ishimori debuted back in 2002. Since then, he’s at times looked phenomenal, other times pedestrian. And that’s not even including the boy band gimmick Dragon saddled him with at the outset. Ishimori was a longtime NOAH stalwart, finding his way to New Japan in 2018 under… circumstances that are still a source of sourness for NOAH.

Speed is merely one aspect of Ishimori’s game; it’s also the array of crisp power junior moves he employs, or his clinical matwork. But, above all, it’s the way his matches progress. They logically build to a crescendo, Ishimori’s laborious work on an opponent’s arm paying off with his Bone Lock submission. This is why his matches with El Desperado are so exquisite; because Despy does the same to the leg, their contests are a nice balance of spectacular bravado and cerebral technique.

Bad Luck Fale

  • NJPW Debut: April 4, 2010
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: May 3, 2013
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Intercontinental Championship (1 time)
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Chase Owens)
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (1 –  with Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi, 2 – with Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)

The only original BULLET CLUB member still with the group, Bad Luck Fale’s journey to Japan began long before his start with New Japan in 2009; it was not wrestling, but rugby which brought Fale to the country. Fale left New Zealand for Japan in the early 00s to play collegiate rugby, and then played professionally for several years before making the jump to the New Japan dojo.

Fale does exactly what New Japan wants from him, and for that he is one of the most derided members of the roster. As he noted on a 2020 episode of cousin Tama Tonga’s podcast, whenever he has slimmed down or attempted to speed up his matches, New Japan has been quick to remind him of their vision for a Bad Luck Fale: slow, methodical, slow, deliberate, and slow. They want him to be a monster, and so he looks and moves like one. Unfortunately, this masks his history of balancing the G1 Climax, and his excellent backstage comments, a product of his impressive intelligence.

Chase Owens

  • NJPW Debut: October 13, 2014
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: October 23, 2015
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Bad Luck Fale)

Chase Owens knows the payoffs to simplicity. Show up when the company needs you, have a cool finisher, and protect it. The result: the company clearly trusts him, and his package piledriver is one of the most over moves on the entire roster. 

He spent years as the fall-guy against whichever big name BULLET CLUB’s leader was feuding (often Okada), which means that Owens has spent a lot of time in closing stretches with the best in the business. He has a truly impactful set of moves that can change the complexion of a match at any point,  and all roads lead to a fight over his package piledriver. The crowd response when he lifts up his opponent is a clear answer to whether Owens’ years of work have paid off.

Clark Connors

  • NJPW Debut: September 30, 2018
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: April 15, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 Lion’s Break Crown (2020)

Before joining BULLET CLUB, the Wild Rhino 100 Proof was adrift. The in-ring was there, but his persona was in complete disorder. At times, he seemed like an overzealous safari guide. Other times–that is, every time he teamed with Ryusuke Taguchi–he was an exhibitionist pervert desperate to do anything to avoid confronting his excessive drinking problem. Connors himself is a product of the new LA Dojo, its first lead student and first to make it to Japan as a full graduate, eventually finding his way onto the Forbidden Door card in 2022, with a breakthrough performance in the AEW All-Atlantic Title match.

Clark’s style is rambunctious, fervent, and adroit in every facet, but a bit aimless. But his demeanor suggests a playfulness and self-assurance that, when combined with his natural abilities, could be something special. The stern intensity of David Finlay’s version of BULLET CLUB might be the sinews Clark Connors always needed to tie everything together.

Dan Moloney

  • NJPW Debut: May 12 2023 (one prior match against Gabriel Kidd on October 1 2022 in London at Royal Quest)
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: June 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

If you wait long enough, true character will emerge. When Dan Moloney debuted at Best of the Super Juniors 30, there was a very awkward transitional period. Due to the density of that tournament, this only lasted a week, but it was noticeable. After tremendous matches with El Desperado, Robbie Eagles, and Clark Connors, he seemed to be back on track. Will Ospreay, who recruited Moloney in Rev Pro, looked like a genius of scouting yet again.

And yet, at Dominion Moloney turned on Francesco Akira and TJP, leaving the United Empire to join with Clark Connors in BULLET CLUB. His reasoning: he didn’t fit in, because Francesco Akira offered to go out for bubble tea instead of beer. A very big junior heavyweight, and still in his mid-20s, the hard-hitting Drilla looks to overwhelm the division. 

Alex Coughlin

  • NJPW Debut: September 30, 2018
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: June 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

An absolute beast, a throwback whose inverted triangle is beyond the scope of common sense, the Android puts his strongman physique to good use. Every match contains at least one feat of mind-boggling strength. Coughlin showcases power on the level of Jeff Cobb, with a significantly more svelte frame. Beyond that, though, Coughlin’s ring technique is still amorphous. 

The injury bug has hit Coughlin consistently since he was a member of the first LA Dojo class in 2018. He was saddled with the Android moniker, ostensibly a robot but singularly propelled by extreme, histrionic emotional outbursts. After a rigorous World Tag League 2022 with Gabriel Kidd, Coughlin re-emerged with his partner at Dominion 2023 as the newest members of David Finlay’s BULLET CLUB. Even so, with such an excellent look and world class work ethic, it’s very easy to root for him.

Gabriel Kidd

  • NJPW Debut: January 25, 2020
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: June 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 Lion’s Break Crown (2020)

Whether it was a blessing or a curse, young Brit Gabriel Kidd was one of the Pandemic Young Lions, along with Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji. Surely the stress of being in a foreign land during such an unfortunate time period was intense, but it also gave Kidd a focus he might not have received. He worked more shows than almost anyone else on the roster. Kidd graduated from Young Lion status in late 2021. 

Despite holding strong in England and on STRONG, Kidd’s only substantive Japanese tour was at World Tag League 2022 with Alex Coughlin. Even with that limited time, Kidd’s in-ring-ferocity and defiantly passionate backstage comment style shined through. He resurfaced with Coughlin at Dominion 2023 as David Finlay’s latest LA Dojo recruits into BULLET CLUB.


  • NJPW Debut: March 19, 1989 (left shortly thereafter; reappeared for Super J Cup 1994 and sporadic appearances in 1995 and 1996 before rejoining for good on June 28, 2001)
  • Joined BULLET CLUB: October 12, 2010
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 4 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (all with Jado)
    • 1 DREAM* Win Jr. Tag Team Tournament (2002 – with El Samurai)
    • 1 Super J Tag League (2010 – with Jado)

One of the most unbearable members of the roster, Gedo’s relentless torrent of profane language and devious in-ring tactics belie his legitimacy. Despite this repugnant facade, Gedo was elected into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame as a booker back in 2019. He’s generally acknowledged to have held the role since around late 2008, navigating the company out of the bleakness of the 2000s and into its most lucrative period ever. Of course, that itself shrouds his status as one of the great tag team wrestlers of his era; his team with Jado won titles in multiple companies across five decades, running from 1989 to 2022.

BULLET CLUB – House of Torture

  •  Founded: September 4, 2021
  •  1st and Current Leader: EVIL (September 4, 2021 – Present)
  • Current  and Original Members: EVIL, Dick Togo, Yujiro Takahashi, YOH
  •  Prominent Former Member: No former members

House of Torture are clearly marked in New Japan literature as BULLET CLUB, but that’s where the association largely ends. The main group and House of Torture rarely interact, although they do sometimes team up for the sake of multi-man tags. The group was initially defined as a splinter group that may or may not challenge the supremacy of Jay White, but that concept fizzled away with White’s long absences during the pandemic.

As of 2023, the group exists as a paper tiger. Like the universe, they peaked in their very first moment, and it’s been downhill since. In 2020 EVIL won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Tetsuya Naito, and then lost it back to him shortly thereafter. At the time, this portended a formidable unit. Since, they largely make people nervous, then fail. 

EVIL usually makes a run in the New Japan Cup, or the G1 Climax, but fails in the end. EVIL sometimes challenges for a title, but fails in the end (and he hasn’t challenged for a singles title since losing the NEVER Openweight title to Tama Tonga in May 2022). The rest of the group seem to just exist to interfere in each other’s matches, usually failing.

That said, they present a different flavor to the company. Their rambunctious, unequivocally theatrical form of heel antics are still popular with the domestic Japanese crowds, even if Western critics find the act abhorrent. In Korakuen, you are guaranteed a lively main event with a boisterous crowd. Elsewhere, the act is hit-or-miss. 


  • NJPW Debut: May 13, 2011
  • Joined House of Torture: September 4, 2021 (BULLET CLUB: July 11, 2020)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP Intercontinental Championship
    • 2 IWGP Tag Team Championships (both with SANADA)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 6 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (3 – with BUSHI and SANADA, 1 – with BUSHI and Shingo Takagi, 2 – with Yujiro Takahashi and SHO)
    • 1 New Japan Cup (2020)
    • 2 World Tag Leagues (2017 and 2018 – with SANADA)

EVIL won the IWGP Heavyweight title from Tetsuya Naito after betraying Los Ingobernables de Japon and winning New Japan Cup 2020. People loathed his 48 day title reign to disproportionate levels, despising EVIL and Dick Togo’s excessive, relentless Western-style interference. Since losing the title, though, EVIL’s  just kept on losing. As of 2023, it has been three straight years of those antics faltering miserably.

But he was booked like that even before his defection to BULLET CLUB. When EVIL returned from excursion in 2015, it was to interfere in a Tetsuya Naito match. But, unlike SANADA’s debut in 2016—which helped Naito defeat Kazuchika Okada for the world title— EVIL’s interference actually failed… and that was his debut. It’s quite the feat that they’ve made people so scared of him winning, with such little supporting evidence that he can.

Ironically, as his matches have become more about interference and chicanery EVIL’s actual wrestling has improved tremendously. His suplexes are always powerful, and his lariats look legitimately devastating. At a certain point, EVIL should win big again, but even if he doesn’t, the threat of him winning is enough to propel an entire tournament.


  • NJPW Debut: November 15, 2012
  • Joined House of Torture: September 4, 2021 (BULLET CLUB: September 4, 2021)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 5 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (all with YOH)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (2 – with Evil and Yujiro Takahashi)
    • 3 Super Jr. Tag Tournament (2017, 2018, 2019 – with YOH)

SHO represents the best and worst of the House of Torture concept. Technically, he plays his character exceptionally well, with his Marty Feldman bug-eyed expressions and guileless Keystone Cops mannerisms. His backstage comments are masterfully delusional, incapable of accepting neither loss nor vulnerability. SHO’s dedication to the bit, and his forthright delivery, present a wonderful paradox: a hilariously authentic–yet fully transparent–facade. 

Purists scoff at SHO’s HOT persona because, prior to his betrayal of YOH and CHAOS, SHO appeared on track to be the foundational powerhouse of the junior division for the next decade. He is a unique combination of speed, strength, and technique. Now, his matches are about two things: how fast will he get to the wrench in his bag, and will the wrench-spot work or backfire? SHO has become lost within the House of Torture concept, but at 33, there’s time for him to claim the junior apex.

Yujiro Takahashi

  • NJPW Debut: July 26, 2004
  • Joined House of Torture: September 4, 2021 (BULLET CLUB: May 3, 2014)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Tetsuya Naito)
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Tetsuya Naito)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (1 –  with Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga, 2 – with EVIL and SHO)

At one point it was perfectly reasonable to expect Yujiro Takahashi to achieve accolades in comparison to his No Limit teammate Tetsuya Naito. He had a good look, ring presence, amateur background, and the effort you want out of a young, nascent talent. That was in 2010. Thirteen years later, all of those things have reversed. To be clear, Yujiro is a proficient wrestler. He places emphasis on every move, in some way. He garnered actual sympathy and response during his G1 Climax 30 losing streak. Even so, critics have found his matches languorous, his ring presence tranquilizing, and his effort level offensively low. If fans reflect what a wrestler puts out, it’s no surprise that Yukiro gets barely any reaction.

Dick Togo

  • NJPW Debut: June 1, 1994 (sporadic appearances until 2020)
  • Joined House of Torture: September 4, 2021 (BULLET CLUB: July 12, 2020)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Taka Michinoku)

Dick Togo has been a proficient, dependable wrestler across four decades (debuted June 5, 1991). And yet, his legacy may come from this current New Japan run: frustrating fans by ruining matches and wielding an anachronistic strangulation weapon (as opposed to being a participant in a public near-penectomy in WWE, attempted with a katana and not a garrotte wire). 

Although he seemed to come out of nowhere when introduced by EVIL in July 2020, Dick Togo’s history with the company goes way back. Initially appearing in 1994, he’s the epitome sporadic. He’s popped up in 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2017; even so, the most matches he had in any of those years was nine, in 2007. Since returning, he has been in over 200 matches… with only two singles matches. His role is to be a nuisance, interfere in literally every single EVIL match, and eat falls on Road-to shows.


  •  Founded: February 23, 2011
  •  Leader: No official leaders, though JONAH was presented like one, and ZSJ is referred to as “The Front Man” in their entrance video
  • Current Members (by order of join date): Mike Nicholls, Shane Haste, Bad Dude Tito, Zack Sabre Jr, Kosei Fujita
  •  Original Members: Haste and Nicholls
  •  Prominent Former Member: JONAH, Elliot Sexton

TMDK is one of the newest stables to form in New Japan, although they are technically one of the oldest as a unit. TMDK first formed in Pro Wrestling NOAH in February 2011, emerging from the team of Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. Very quickly they established themselves as one of the best tag teams in the world, winning Tokyo Sports best tag team award in 2013. The group soon became a stable, with other Aussies such as JONAH and Elliot Sexton joining the ranks

In early 2016, Haste and Nicholls joined NXT. Haste and Nicholls were frustratingly booked in WWE, receiving title shots but never truly orienting to that environment. Nicholls escaped in December 2018 and entered the New Japan fold. Haste stayed put, and paid for it. He became a member of the cataclysmically awful Retribution stable, and finally left WWE in November 2021.

TMDK reunited in March 2022 on New Japan Strong in America. Jonah returned to the fold and represented the group in a dominant G1 Climax run in which he was never pinned or submitted. Bad Dude Tito supported Jonah and was admitted into the group. Haste and Nicholls made a strong run in World Tag League 2022, but the biggest shakeup was at Wrestle Kingdom, where they entered the ring to congratulate new Television Champion Zack Sabre Jr, offering him a TMDK shirt. Sabre, who trained in NOAH for years and became close friends with the group during his time there, instantly accepted. Robbie Eagles cam along shortly thereafter.

Comprising a top singles star, top junior heavyweight, and a top tag team, this lean group should be a key player in New Japan as their membership grows.

Zack Sabre Jr.

  • NJPW Debut: March 6, 2017
  • Joined TMDK: January 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 NJPW World Television Championship
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championship (all with Taichi)
    • 2 New Japan Cups (2018, 2022)

 Zack Sabre Jr. is one of the most unique wrestlers in the world. A pure, captivating, and frenetic maelstrom of limbs and technique.. Twists his opponents into knots, impatiently switching holds with intense speed until he finally locks in one of his numerous signature holds (verbosely named after post-rock EPs, ambient techno albums, British stand-up comedy routines, etc.).

Back in 2016, Sabre was the standout of the British scene, and one of the stars of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic, being body shamed by Bryan Alvarez and separating himself from the field with his mat-based submission tsunami style. In the end, Sabre chose not to sign a contract with WWE and debuted with New Japan the next spring. Since then, he was won two New Japan Cups (2018, 2022) and three IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team titles. 

He is the current, inaugural Television Champion, winning the belt at Wrestle Kingdom 17 on January 4, 2023. He is also one of the most reliably great backstage comment guys in the world, weaving vitriolic verse, saturated in Britishly profane contempt. Having joined TMDK in the ring after winning the match, Sabre is poised to take great strides towards the top of the New Japan card.

Shane Haste

  • NJPW Debut: March 20, 2022 (had a previous match on January 4, 2015 at Wrestle Kingdom 9 when wrestling for NOAH)
  • Joined TMDK: February 23, 2011
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

He might never live down Slap Jack, but at least he can laugh about it. After Mikey Nicholls departed WWE, Haste was placed in Retribution, a faction booked with such comic–and predictable–ineptness. It was a disgraceful way to use Haste, who founded TMDK and with Nichols was Tokyo Sports Tag Team of the year in 2013. Haste appears determined to reclaim those years wasted in Florida. TMDK had a tremendous run in the 2022 World Tag League, and are rapidly regaining the magic of their NOAH run: blistering strike combos, cool double-team moves, and preposterous natural athleticism. His “Hysterical” character is the sort of performative weirdness that demands time to mature, but there is an endearing way Haste presents it.

Mikey Nicholls

  • NJPW Debut: March 9, 2019 (had previous matches on February 7, 2006 and January 4, 2015)
  • Joined TMDK: February 23, 2011
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

In what might be one of the all-time examples of good timing in wrestling, Mikey Nicholls escaped the clutches of WWE before the Retribution angle nearly destroyed his teammate Haste. And, when Nicholls was liberated from the Worldwide Leader, his destination was obvious: a return to New Japan. Because while Nicholls achieved worldwide renown for this TMDK work in NOAH, he had actually trained in the original LA Dojo in the early 2000s. His 2019 return was exceedingly stulted. He was shuffled into CHAOS. Amongst that anodyne group, Nicholls personality was completely absent, a void. Reuniting with Haste as a heel-ish TMDK has revitalized the technician. His ringwork and backstage comments both share the same gruff adeptness, a true veteran.

Robbie Eagles

  • NJPW Debut: February 17, 2018
  • Joined TMDK: March 21, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Tiger Mask)

Robbie Eagles is the ultimate multi-tool player: his work is an extraordinary combination of barbarically precise legwork and crisp, strategically placed aerial movements. Debuting in 2008 at only 18 years old, it took ten years for New Japan to finally bring in Eagles, and even then he spent the first year in Japan as the bottom rung junior in BULLET CLUB. It was only after being recruited into CHAOS by Will Ospreay in 2019 that he began to thrive. 

With the junior division severely contracted by pandemic conditions, Eagles took full advantage of the opportunity, dethroning El Desperado for the Junior Heavyweight title at Wrestle Grand Slam on July 25, 2021. During his reign, he became a rare double champion, winning the tag belts with Tiger Mask. Having seen Lio Rush come into CHAOS and jump the line, as happened to Eagles when ELP hopped over him in BULLET CLUB, Eagles made the switch to TMDK on March 21, 2023. He’s now a faction’s top junior. With fourteen years under his belt and still only 32, Eagles figures to be the bedrock of the junior division, consistently delivering superlative matches.

Bad Dude Tito

  • NJPW Debut:
  • Joined TMDK: May 14, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments:

Despite having a history in wrestling stretching back to at least 2011, Bad Dude Tito never stepped foot in a Japanese ring until July 2022. There was a primitive charm to Tito as he seconded JONAH’s dominant G1 performance. Tito was refreshing, a mass of rock hard flesh and vascularity, screaming WrestleMania IV era backstage comments and administering equally nostalgic power wrestler ring technique. A standout on New Japan Strong, the future is unclear for Tito in multiple ways. Does he follow the path of Strong, whatever that evolves into? Does the JONAH-less TMDK still value Tito? For the sake of his effervescent character, New Japan would be smart to answer in the affirmative.

Kosei Fujita

  • NJPW Debut: August 24, 2021
  • Joined TMDK: January 5, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

Fujita debuted on August 24, 2021, a mere month after his 19th birthday. Since then, he has largely followed the same pattern as his classmate and first opponent, Ryohei Oiwa. But there are two key differences. The first: the company trusted and valued Fujita enough to give him the Young Lion spot in the NJPW/NOAH Wrestle Kingdom event, wrestling Yasutaka Yano to a ten minute draw. More significantly, he has been accepted into a faction, shockingly recruited into TMDK on January 5, 2023. A Young Lion in a faction is quite the rarity; if this points to a shift in New Japan policy, Fujita might end up being a pioneer. Still only 20 years old and a classically stubborn, fiery Young Lion demeanor, Fujita is a very safe bet for the future.

Just Five Guys

  • Founded: January 5, 2023
  • Leader: No formal leader
  • Current Members: SANADA, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, DOUKI, Taka Michinokou
  • Prominent Former Members: No former members

On December 23, 2022, Suzuki-gun disbanded. It was an unusually sentimental send-off. There were no betrayals, catastrophes, or gimmick-enforced dismantling. Minoru Suzuki simply declared that the group had run its course after nearly 12 years, they had a multi-man tag between all the members, and officially broke up.

On January 5th, 2023, four former members of Suzuki-gun emerged through the entranceway of Ota City Gym: DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, and a chic Taka Michinoku. In the ring, and confirmed backstage, they proclaimed their new group sobriquet: JUST FOUR GUYS. In sum, they were Suzuki-gun, minus Suzuki and El Desperado, with their team name being a reference to the indie promotion Taka runs for  his trainees. 

And then, on St. Patrick’s Day 2023, after months of empty promises to change the wrestling landscape, they finally came through, swiping SANADA from Los Ingobernables de Japon. Buoyed by the support of his new coterie, SANADA fulfilled their promise to change the status quo of professional wrestling, overcoming several burdens on his career by beating Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP World Heavyweight title. Now JUST FIVE GUYS, the group has overcome their perplexing assemblage to confidently grasp the summit of the company.


  • NJPW Debut: April 17, 2016 
  • Joined Just Five Guys: March 17, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championships (2 – with Evil, 1 – with Tetsuya Naito)
    • 3 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships (all with Bushi and Evil)
    • 2 World Tag Leagues (2017 and 2018 – with EVIL)

SANADA is rife with paradox. He is effortlessly, impossibly athletic, but has a tendency for miscues that thwart his natural fluidity. SANADA is laconic, but plays to the crowd more than anyone  and has a show closing promo gimmick akin to Tanahashi. His matches are defined by start-stop dynamics, lulling you in and then releasing a supernova’s amount of energy in an instant. The company has been on the edge of pushing SANADA to the top for years, which has frustrated many. But, starting in 2022, he became more expressive in his in-ring passion and his understated humor. It certainly appeared to portend a brighter future for Cold Skull.

That came to fruition during the New Japan Cup 2023. In his opening round match, he had a heavily emotional match with Taichi, with whom he has a long past stretching back to their days in All Japan. This seemed to be the culmination of a long story between the two, especially their G1 Climax matches in 2021 and 2022. But their story was simply taking another turn; after SANADA’s win over Tetsuya Naito in the NJC 2023 quarter-finals, he officially left LIJ for Just Four Guys.

 SANADA quietly made huge strides in 2021-2022;  but by aligning with Taichi, the person who seems to get the best out of him, he finally realized them. 


  • NJPW Debut: May 13, 2006
  • Joined Just4Guys: January 5, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championship (all with Zack Sabre Jr.)
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (1 – with Taka Michinoku, 1 – with Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight Championships
    • 1 Road to the Super Jr. 2days Tournament (2011)

Holy Emperor Taichi began his career in the All-Japan dojo under the onerous tutelage of Four Pillar legend Tokiaki Kawada. Taichi inherited Kawada’s ferocious kicking techniques and caustic disposition. He left AJPW with his mentor, bouncing around Japan until officially landing in New Japan in 2009. After an excursion in Mexico, Taichi returned to Japan in late 2010, joining Satoshi Kojima’s Kojima-gun stable. When Taichi and Taka Michinoku betrayed Kojima to align themselves with Minrou Suzuki, Suzuki-gun’s eleven year run began.

Taichi was the menace of the Junior Heavyweight division until turning heavyweight in 2018. To some, he will never be forgiven for, amongst other things, poisoning the 2016 Super J Cup with a string of unwatchable matches. But Taichi has rebounded as a legitimately riveting heavyweight, with shrewdly timed suplexes, enthralling no-sell sequences, and an obsession with sumo wrestling. Taichi’s best finisher (and, unfortunately, the one he uses the least) is the Yokozuna Elbow, presumably an homage to retired Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho–possibly the great sumo wrestler of all time– who controversially used elbow strikes to the dismay of the sumo governance. A fittingly controversial circumstance for Taichi to emulate.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru

  • NJPW Debut: January 5, 2017 (previously had sporadic appearances as a wrestler for NOAH, and participated in the 2016 Super J Cup) 
  • Joined Just4Guys: January 5, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 6 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (1 – with Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, 1 – with Taichi, 4 – with El Desperado)
    • 1 Super Junior Tag League (2021 – with El Desperado)

Dismissively aloof, Kanemaru is a true living legend of the roster, just for his longevity and his origins. Kanemaru’s career, like Taichi’s, traces back to All-Japan, but Kanemaru traces back to 1996, with Giant Baba still around and the Four Pillars era in its peak. Kanemaru was one of the wrestlers that made the jump to Mitsuhara Misawa’s NOAH promotion in 2000. Aside from a brief two year run in All-Japan in the 2010’s, Kanemaru would remain in NOAH until 2017. At the time, Suzuki-gun was sent to NOAH as an invading faction, with Kanemaru joining as a NOAH turncoat. Fantasy became reality when Kanemaru followed the stable back to New Japan, a shuffling not well received by NOAH’s leaders.

That opportunistic spirit lives in Kanemaru’s current ring style. He carries himself with a free-floating disdain. It’s impossible to determine where that disdain is focused: the fans, his opponents, professional wrestling itself? It’s likely all three. Kanemaru majestically targets his opponents leg, and most of his matches contain his exquisite legwork. He also bucks trends; in the 2022 BOSJ, he ended division ace Hiromu Takahashi in a mere 6:47. 


  • NJPW Debut: May 13, 2019
  • Joined Just4Guys: January 5, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

DOUKI is the real deal. He may have been at the lowest rung on Suzuki-gun’s hierarchy, the multi-man tag pin eater for sure, but wrestler’s respect him. Greatly. As a teenager, DOUKI left Japan to chase his wrestling dream in Mexico, solely on his own impulse. He ended up staying in Mexico for an entire decade. His return in May 2019 was happenstance; El Desperado had his jaw broken by Jun Kasai, and DOUKI was the replacement. Just like in Mexico, this endearing vagabond stayed put.

DOUKI is an enchanting underdog, full of intoxicating vigor and a seemingly endless array of smooth move sequences and submissions. Ten years in Japan were fruitful; DOUKI’s lucha style and llave groundwork are unique to New Japan. He still loses nearly every time, but the few victories he gains are so much more savory for the struggle. His intensity and determination are increasingly winning crowds over.

Taka Michinoku

  • NJPW Debut: April 16, 1994 (as participant in Super J Cup 1994 when wrestling for Michinoku Pro Wrestling; sporadic appearances of varying lengths since)
  • Joined Just4Guys: January 5, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1 – with Dick Togo, 1 – with Taichi)

Taka, known to most English-speaking fans as an accessory to televised genital trauma, was the first WWE Light Heavyweight champion. Initially, he was just there as an opponent to showcase Great Sasuke; something about Taka clicked more, and soon he was the face of their new division.

In New Japan, Taka exists to eat pins in multi-man tags, generally poking eyes and executing elaborate pin sequences before falling to his always-superior foes. A consummate professional (in the ring), he makes losing look impressive, a master of the late-match desperation near-fall.

Strong Style

  • Founded: February 11, 2023
  • Leader: No official leaders
  • Current and Original Members: Minoru Suzuki, Ren Narita, El Desperado
  • Prominent Former Member: No Former Members

Minoru Suzuki’s sudden decision to  dissolve Suzuki-gun led to a bounty of speculation about the pathways for each former member. The essential question for each one of Suzuki’s acolytes, and Suzuki himself, was self-evident: who would benefit the most from this intention disintegration? The unexpected answer might have lied outside the group: Ren Narita.

On the 6 January 2023 New Year’s Dash Show, Narita found himself outnumbered by EVIL’s vile House of Torture group. With unpredictable panache, Minoru Suzuki emerged to assist the Son of Strong Style, followed by an ebullient El Desperado. Suzuki stressed his critical  significance to Narita’s development: if Narita was positioned as the heir apparent to the Strong Style moniker, logically he should assume tutelage under Suzuki, a pioneer of the style with experience unlike anyone else in the company. 

Narita still rebuked the offer, until a stern lecture on the 4 February 2023 New Beginning in Sapporo finally appeared to evoke reflection from Narita. The next night, Narita formally aligned with Suzuki and Desperado. They challenged House of Torture for the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship on 11 February 2023, winning after an arduous contest. Suzuki formally announced the group’s title after the match. 

While only a trio, the popularity of its members suggest that this group’s potency far outreaches its numbers, even if the chemistry between the group has a long way to go.

Minoru Suzuki

  • NJPW Debut: April 10, 1988 (leaves New Japan in early 1989 to form UWF, returned from 2003-2005, and then rejoined for current run on December 12, 2010)
  • Joined Strong Style: February 11, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Intercontinental Championship
    • 1 IWGP Tag Team Championship (with Yoshihiro Takayama)
    • 2 NEVER Openweight Championship
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with El Desperado and Ren Narita)
    • 1 G1 Tag League (2011 – with Lance Archer)

While it may be in vogue to be a both wrestling and MMA legend these days, few can trace that stature back further than Minoru Suzuki, and no one can claim to have the pro wrestling pedigree, nor legacy, that Suzuki has. Consider that he was a New Japan dojo trainee alongside Nagata, then went on to form Pancrase with Masakatsu Funaki, breezed back into pro wrestling in 2003 (in the process helping redefine the medium), and then returned to New Japan in 2010… not coincidentally, his return coincided with the rebound for the company. His match with Hiroshi Tanahashi at King of Pro Wrestling 2012 is a landmark match, revered by wrestlers and an early turning point for the company towards their 2010’s peak.

Suzuki floats in and out of New Japan, a global traveler capable of anything. His strikes are notoriously vivid, somehow both thudding and sharp, providing dementedly nuanced sounds with arena-sized volume. He terrorizes Young Lions. He engages in impossibly stupid dog cage matches (let alone his matches in DDT), and yet his credibility remains unimpeachable. He gives and gives, and loses nothing. The archetype Suzuki moment: the culmination of Suzuki-gun’s finale match, on December 22, 2022, revolved around Suzuki taking the best shot of each member, until finally being put away by Zack Sabre Jr. Of all the living legends, he stands at the pinnacle.

Ren Narita

  • NJPW Debut: July 4, 2017
  • Joined Strong Style: February 11, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: 
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with El Desperado and Minoru Suzuki)

A promising Young Lion, with an impressive showing during the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors, Narita has been granted the persona, demeanor, and legacy of Katsuyori Shibata, his mentor. Unfortunately, this has not been to Narita’s benefit just yet. As a Young Lion in America, Narita’s intensity and determination were fully resplendent, and won accolades. 

The transition to the Japanese roster, retaining the look of a Young Lion but with the Shibata label, literally the “Son of Strong Style,” has been an awkward one. The company seems resolute to support him, aligning him with two of the most popular wrestlers in the company, Minoru Suzuki and El Desperado, to form a unit literally called Strong Style. And, beyond that, conceptually aligning him with Ren Narita and Yota Tsuji as the Reiwa Musketeers. It’s not a subtle push or branding, but considering Narita’s young age (only 25), one expects his grit, resolve, and technique to eventually push through, once the right personality shell is realized.

El Desperado

  • NJPW Debut: March 7, 2010
  • Joined Strong Style: February 11, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships
    • 4 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (all with Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
    • 1 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Minoru Suzuki and Ren Narita)
    • 1 Super Junior Tag League (2021 — with Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

El Desperado took significantly longer to get ahead in New Japan than his dojo classmates (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Hiromu Takahashi). But when he did, he absolutely exploded. 

His return at Wrestle Kingdom 8 was perplexing, an awkward in-ring courtship of Kota Ibushi with a bouquet of flowers. He failed to capture Ibushi’s Junior Heavyweight championship, and the duo failed to capture the Young Bucks’ Junior Heavyweight tag titles. In spite, he turned rogue and joined Suzuki-gun in July 2014.

He followed his faction to NOAH, returning in 2017 and aimlessly floating around until he captured the Junior tag titles with Yoshinobu Kanemaru in March 2018, the first of four reigns. But then his love of death match weirdness led to a broken jaw at the hands of Jun Kasai, forcing Desperado out of the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors.

Since his late-2019 return, he has flourished. His Best of the Super Juniors 2020 Final against Takahashi, where he purposefully unmasked, was the fan-voted 2020 match of the year in Japan. He has since captured the Junior Heavyweight Championship two times, including a lengthy second reign in which he successfully defended the belt against Hiromu at Wrestle Kingdom 16.

Desperado’s work has matured, his ground game and legwork amongst the best in the company, while still maintaining a bevy of cool moves. He has emerged as a star of post-pandemic New Japan, heavily promoted, selling an insane amount of merchandise, and coming through in every spot he finds himself. The potential promised in 2014 has been realized, and then some.


Mercedes Mone

  • NJPW Debut: January 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Women’s Championship

Mercedes Mone left WWE in 2022 under a swirling maelstrom of animus, once again stymied in her attempt to make something of the WWE Women’s Tag titles. Her long overdue shift to Japanese wrestling takes those same ideals and grasps for higher aspirations. And while her orientation hasn’t been seamless, it has been fruitful.

Mone is living her dream, on her own accord, by her own standards, and with trademark panache. After months of speculation, she emerged during Wrestle Kingdom 17 to challenge IWGP Women’s Champion Kairi. She took the title the next month at Battle in the Valley, before dropping it to Mayu Iwatani at Stardom’s All Star Grand Queendom.

A month later, at STRONG Resurgence 2023, she took part in the inaugural STRONG Women’s title tournament. She was injured in the final and lost to Willow Nightingale. That was a much-debated result, and one which shows Mone’s unique approach thus far: in her five matches since joining the company, that was her first main event. This is someone whose star power and charisma can carry a card from any position.

Kenny Omega (AEW)

  • NJPW Debut: January 4, 2015 (previously, numerous appearances with Kota Ibushi while both wrestled for DDT Pro Wrestling, and also participated in the 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 Best of the Super Juniors)
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1 IWGP Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP Intercontinental Championship
    • 2 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
    • 1 IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (with Kota Ibushi)
    • 2 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
    • 2 NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (both with Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)
    • 1 G1 Climax (2016)

After an unsuccessful, doomed run in WWE developmental from 2005-2006, Kenny Omega first made his way to Japan in 2008. Within a decade, he had become one of the most famous, critically acclaimed, and significantly important wrestlers alive. His influence has only grown since with the establishment of All Elite Wrestling, in large part the result of Kenny Omega’s success in NJPW.

Omega, like his close partner Kota Ibushi, became the top stars of DDT and floated back and forth between that promotion and NJPW in the early 2010’s. Omega joined New Japan fully in 2015, holding the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for most of the year before moving to the heavyweights in 2016. He immediately made a gargantuan impact by usurping the BULLET CLUB throne from AJ Styles on January 5th. He followed that by winning G1 Climax 26 in August, and then delivering one of the greatest matches in wrestling history in a losing effort to Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4th, 2017. The history of wrestling changed immeasurably on that date, with that match.

In the subsequent years, Omega became the inaugural IWGP United States Champion, won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Okada at Dominion 2018 (in a match some consider to be the greatest wrestling match of all time), and was the foundational piece of AEW. 

Omega’s success has largely been built on his ringwork. His matches are brilliantly structured, paced, and executed, touted for the relentless athleticism and brazen ambition Omega brings (as well as his legitimate knack for comedic wrestling). His return to the fold at Wrestle Kingdom 17 in 2023—with an instant classic against Will Ospreay at Wrestling Kingdom 17 in 2023— reiterated a very clear fact: Kenny Omega and New Japan Pro Wrestling fit like hand in glove.

Jon Moxley

  • NJPW Debut: June 5, 2019
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championships

Because of his overwhelming success in AEW, it’s easy to forget that Moxley’s first post-WWE contract was with New Japan. If the 2019 G1 Climax stands as his only participation in the tournament, it stands as a legendary one. Moxley won five straight matches, then lost his final four. Along the way, he had a tremendous Korakuuen Hall main event with Tomohiro Ishii, lost a meme-tastic match to Toru Yano, and shocked the tournament by defeating Tetsuya Naito.

Since then, Moxley held the United States Championship twice, with one reign lasting an incredible (pandemic boosted)  564 days. It is a testament to the company’s esteem for Moxley that he wasn’t stripped, but he’s displayed his commitment as well. Despite a busy AEW schedule, he wrestled four times for the company in 2022, headlining shows against opponents such as Will Ospreay in Chicago and El Desperado in Nashville. 

Moxley’s inherent unpredictability is a fruitful device for the company to harness. His completely random adoption of Shota Umino in 2019 effectively began Umino’s future ace storyline, and is something still drawn upon to this day.. His menacing, brawling style and cavalier attitude are reminiscent of the most legendary foreigners in Japanese wrestling history;  Moxley’s potential ascent to that status is one of the most intriguing stories New Japan has on the table.

Lance Archer

  • NJPW Debut: June 18, 2011
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 2 IWGP United States Heavyweight Championships
    • 3 IWGP Tag Team Championship (all  with Davey Boy Smith Jr.)
    • 1 G1 Tag League (2011 – with Minoru Suzuki)

Sometimes it means more when it takes longer to achieve something… or maybe that’s something we tell ourselves to sublimate meaningless struggle. Lance Archer finally breaking through, finally being used properly, at age 42, the meaning of life age, falls under that dilemma. Sure, it had more weight, following years of baffling booking in TNA and WWE (something that continues to this day in AEW), and nearly a decade in New Japan as a tag team guy. But he finally got a chance at the 2019 G1 Climax, and he made it count. He was one of the standout wrestlers of the tournament, launching him to a brief U.S. Title run.

He was snatched up by AEW early in 2020; incredible timing for him, but for us it meant three years being deprived of Lance Archer in his most propitious environment. He returned for the 2022 G1 Climax. He went 3-3, but the record is irrelevant; he went 3-6 in 2019. It was the unique blend of ferocious monster power wrestling and ostentatious, charismatic showmanship that garnered reverence from the domestic Japanese audience. To that point, when the G1 Climax 32 participants were announced at Dominion 2022, Archer’s surprise announcement got a noticeable pop. It was a non-cheering event.


  • NJPW Debut: July 30, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments:
    • 1  IWGP Tag Team Championship

Both members of FTR escaped NXT performance center perdition by revitalizing tag team wrestling in the company, leading the wave that carried NXT through the lean 2016-2017 years. Their reward was a main roster run replete with body shaving skits, bumping for the boss’ overrated buddies, and meaningless title reigns. Since leaving, they had an awkward adjustment period, especially in AEW, and then… it all fell together. They became the hottest thing in that company, started having critically acclaimed tag and singles matches, and won titles around the world. 

The final piece was the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. The group fits the New Japan tag team aesthetic perfectly: intense matwork, thoughtful control periods, fervent striking, imaginative tandem offense, a deft awareness to glide through the inevitable tornado finishes, and the need to only show up intermittently. Apotheosized by the nostalgia crowd, FTR fundamentally subvert that ethos; they use their single-minded deference to the past to push wrestling forward.



  • NJPW Debut: June 13, 2020
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

Debuting early in NJPW Strong’s run (episode #3), DKC joined L.A. Dojo soon afterwards and has steadily matured. The DKC is a confluence of so many things crowds dig: he willingly entered the New Japan (L.A.) dojo despite having 2-3 years under his belt as a pro already; he has an almost manic intensity to his work; he has a partially comedic style; he emphasizes not only martial arts in his ringwork, but a Japanese martial art (karate); he fights from underneath with a natural ability to garner sympathy. After only two Japan tours so far, he is already a fan favorite.

Ryohei Oiwa

  • NJPW Debut: August 24, 2021
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

  Only 24 years old, Oiwa made his in-ring debut on August 24, 2021, against the also-debuting Kosei Fujita. Young Lions generally fall into a set number of tropes as they slowly develop a personality; Oiwa is this generation’s “gut wrench technician.” The climactic moment of his matches involve deadlift gut-wrench suplexes. The respect the company has Oiwa’s proficiency was shown when he was chosen to be long-term project Oleg Boltin’s debut opponent at Wrestle Kingdom 17.

Yuto Nakahshima

  • NJPW Debut: February 14, 2021
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

A product of the Fale dojo, and with a multi-discipline MMA background, Yuto Nakashima had one of the more infamous Young Lions debuts on Valentine’s Day, 2021. After some brief grappling with opponent Yuya Uemura, Nakashima ended up with an elbow injury. It would be nearly nine months since Nakashima would return, on Halloween 2021, wrestling to a draw with Ryohei Oiwa. Nakashima’s style has slowly emerged, a mixture of his MMA background and strong striking. At 26, he is older than his dojo classmates, but could fit well into the NEVER division.

Oskar Leube

  • NJPW Debut: November 20, 2022
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

24 years old and hailing from Hamburg, Leube was a Fale Dojo trainee until the pandemic sent him back to Germany. He wrestled a couple dozens matches there between 2021 and 2022 until debuting for New Japan in a pre-show multi-man tag at the NJPW/Stardom Historic X-Over Show. Despite being the newest Young Lion, he has found himself on the winning side of several tag matches, usually something a Young Lion must wait to achieve. At 6’7” and 242 pounds, it appears that New Japan might have found their new monster, and are treating him as such.

Oleg Boltin

  • NJPW Debut: January 4, 2023
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

  Oleg Boltin has been associated with Bushiroad (and Yuji Nagata) since 2017, when he joined Team New Japan, the company’s amateur wrestling team. The Kazakhstani grappler had Olympic hopes, but suffered a knee injury, with ligament damage, that led to him coming up short of qualifying for his home country. He made his official New Japan debut on January 4th, 2023, and has since slid into a more traditional Young Lion tag team  role. Fluent in Japanese, possessing immense raw power, and old enough (29) that the company will probably have to accelerate his momentum, he is someone to keep a sharp eye upon.


Yuya Uemura

  • NJPW Debut: April 10, 2018
  • Championships and Accomplishments: None

With his last match before excursion being against Kazuchika Okada, and now following Okada’s unfortunate path through Impact Wrestling, New Japan are not hiding their high hopes for Yuya Uemura. Uemura debuted in April 2018 and later found himself, alongside Yota Tsuji and Gabriel Kidd, as the “Pandemic Lions,” which offered them an unusually high amount of high-profile singles matches against each other (due to the limited cards), but also delayed their excursions. Uemura, like Tsuji, ran a five match gauntlet before being sent off, plus additional matches against Shingo Takagi, IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at the time, and Kazuchika Okada (who pretended to give Uemura recognition, but gave him a dropkick anyway). 

With his fiery ring presence and superstar looks, Uemura figures to be a very big deal upon returning to Japan. Katsuyori Shibata certainly believed so, and said as much in an interview with the company’s website. Now that the company has established the Reiwa Musketeers as Ren Narita, Shota Umino, and Yota Tsuji, Tsuji being Uemura’s direct dojo mate, Uemura is primed to take the top spot upon his return, unfettered by historical ties. 

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