NJPW has been in the news recently, over the years they have had many great matches and on twitter I put up a Poll Of The Day – What is the greatest ever NJPW match? I tagged in 4 people who I know were big followers of the product as I was very interested in their opinions and to see from what era their choice comes from. Instantly even though it covers a LOT of ground, 2 came back to me with choices and one said they’d need a bit of time to think. so here are the thoughts of our very own @SenorLARIATO & FSM Editor Brian Eliott (@FSM_Editor)
SL: Big Van Vader vs Keiji Mutoh – NJPW, G1 Climax Day 2 (1991)
This is easily one of the best New Japan heavyweight bouts of the 90’s and one of the most important matches in NJPW history, but it’s often overlooked for the Chono vs Mutoh final for one good reason; it wasn’t filmed for TV and is only available because someone in the audience was recording it. And it’s a good thing they were recording, because this is such a perfectly worked bout occurring at the height of both men’s athleticism and ability. It’s a very physical match, similar in a lot of ways to the Vader vs Sting matches from WCW a year or two later, and the crowd are so heavily invested in everything they do. Vader controls for the majority, Mutoh given a near-insurmountable task of conquering his much larger, much stronger opponent, using his speed and athletic ability to surprise the big man and try to take him off his feet. But Vader is such a monstrous force, as the match wears on and as his offence becomes all the more punishing the outcome seems inevitable, which only makes the crowd gasp even louder in surprise as Mutoh kicks out time and time again. The finish itself is such a perfect, organic moment of joy from the assembled audience.
The backslide near-fall towards the end (a direct copy of the finish of Fujinami vs Vader from earlier in the tournament when Fujinami got the upset victory with the move) is a great touch and has the crowd on their feet. Mutoh follows up with a schoolboy pin, but Vader kicks out so Mutoh heads up top, only to get caught in mid-air on a crossbody attempt. Vader goes to slam Mutoh, but Mutoh rolls him into a cradle for the three count and Sumo Hall errupts! The fans, in a mark of appreciation traditional in sumo wrestling after witnessing an amazing match, throw their seat cushions into the ring and Vader, rather than throwing a fit like he did in earlier losses, instead offers Mutoh a handshake in a great show of respect. Mutoh would go on to lose the G1 Final to Masahiro Chono and again the fans would throw their seat cushions into the ring, footage of which is often used by New Japan today and is one of the most well-remembered moments in the promotion. But it didn’t feel quite as natural as in the Vader vs Mutoh match, where the crowd were genuinely surprised and elated at seeing their hero overcome, and felt as if the audience was waiting to repeat the heavily publicised moment.
BE: Any question about “the greatest of all-time” is one that sets off a thousand impulses in a writer’s right-brain, and with an incredible array of New Japan bouts to whittle down to just one, it’s a process that would generally take a lot of time.
With that said, the first bout that came to mind was Jushin Liger vs El Samurai in the 1992 Top of the Super Juniors final. In the ’90s, I was always particularly taken with the New Japan junior-heavyweights, and not only is this match fast, athletic and very hard-hitting, but it has the added visual of Liger ripping the mask from Samurai’s face, notching up the drama.
A true classic of the genre.
Thanks to SenorLARIATO & Brian for their choices, now me personally, I started watching NJPW in 97, I went back and watched earlier matches and shows and it was the junior heavyweight division that captured my attention. The likes of Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Koji Kanemoto, Shinjiro Otani, El Samurai, The Great Sasuke & Black Tiger II (Eddy Guerrero) are just some of the guys that I enjoyed watching back then.
Now back to my question on twitter, what is the greatest NJPW match? I am struggling to answer that myself so I know the guys who have answered already and the ones having a think had and are having their work cut out. So, it is a junior heavyweight match for myself and it’s from the 1996 J*Crown tournament and it was a semi-final match between El Ultimo Dragon vs Shinjiro Otani. This match match was amazing, the whole show was to be honest which saw a guys enter with a Jnr title from across the globe and then as they lost a match they lost a title which them would see the winner of the final match be the holder of 8
separate title belts.
I would like your picks for greatest NJPW match of all time.
Hit me up on twitter @TheIndyCorner with the hashtag #NJPWGreatest with your choice.