In 2018 there’s never been a better time to be a fan of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The promotion is on the rise, touring multiple countries and gaining new followers the world over thanks to some amazing in-ring action and the accessibility of the New Japan World streaming service. Never before has it been so easy to keep up with the promotion, for fans at home or abroad. With increasing international success comes a demand for merchandise, and while there are now easy options for fans to get t-shirts and other apparel in the US or EU, physical media has been another matter. NJPW do release a wide range of DVDs, BluRays and CDs in Japan, but fans outside of the country have been forced to import these and deal with the exorbitant costs of media in Japan, not to mention the headaches of shipping and customs.
Which is why those of us who still appreciate owning and collecting physical media were excited to hear about the first ever official international NJPW DVD release, ‘An Introduction to New Japan Pro-Wrestling’. This two-disc set produced by WrestlingStore.co.uk collects ten big matches from 2013 to 2014 featuring some of NJPW’s most recognisable faces from that time. The footage comes from the AXS TV broadcasts, with commentary provided by Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett. While not the most exciting release for long term fans, the matches on offer here are some of the biggest bouts from the time period covered and will provide a great primer on NJPW’s top names to newer fans of the promotion. The selection touches on big name wrestlers who’ve gone on to ply their trade elsewhere, but the focus is on the stars that remain, namely: Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito.
First up is a historic match from Kizuna Road 2013, pitting IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada against IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Prince Devit (now seen more commonly on Monday nights as Finn Balor). Although the Heavyweight Champion had competed against the Jr. Heavyweight Champion in the past, never before was the Heavyweight title on the line which, as Ranallo points out on commentary, goes to show the esteem in which NJPW held Prince Devitt, a homegrown talent of the New Japan Dojo and founder of one of the most notable factions in wrestling today, The Bullet Club. The match is an exciting affair, the crowd warming to Devitt in spite of his nefarious tactics as the bout progresses, but like a lot of Okada’s matches it’s more of an advert for his opponent than it is the champion.
The second match of the set comes from the 2013 G1 Climax Tournament, and was one of the most critically acclaimed matches that year in any promotion as ‘The King of Strong Style’ Shinsuke Nakamura faced off against ‘Golden Star’ Kota Ibushi for the very first time. In a violent, hard-hitting bout that thrilled the audience that night in Osaka, the more experienced Nakamura fought to bring the best out of Ibushi and got almost more than he bargained for. Next stop is the 2013 G1 final, an important match in the career of Tetsuya Naito as he embarked on what would be a failed bid for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. This match, perhaps more than any, showed the promise of the ‘Stardust Genius’, but what followed after prompted a dramatic character change that would propel Naito to another level of popularity.
Which brings us to the fourth match on the set, Tetsuya Naito’s attempt to wrest the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 8. While Naito’s victory over Tanahashi in the G1 final had met with rapturous appreciation from the Sumo Hall crowd that night, his run-in to Wrestle Kingdom itself was a lot more troubled. Fans weren’t as hyped as New Japan expected them to be, so they announced a fan vote to decide which match should main event the biggest show of the year. Okada vs Naito lost, which was seen more as a comment on the challenger than the champion. As such, Naito and Okada may have had a point to prove when they stepped into the Tokyo Dome and the resulting match was something quite special.
The main event that evening is the fifth and final on disc one of this two-disc set, Shinsuke Nakamura defending the IWGP Intercontinental Championship against his old rival, The Ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the ‘Once in a Century Talent’ Hiroshi Tanahashi. Both veterans of multiple Wrestle Kingdom main events, Tanahashi and Nakamura remained the two most popular stars within the promotion, regardless of who was holding the IWGP Heavyweight Title. So, for the first time, the secondary IWGP title headlined the biggest event of the NJPW calendar. The resulting match was another classic in the storied history of Tanahashi and Nakamura, and the last time the two would face off against one another on such a grand stage.
Disc two kicks off with a bang, as ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles returned to New Japan (after a brief stint six years previously, while working for TNA) to take on IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. The resulting match was a strange one, shocking in terms of its outcome and an exciting match in its own right, although for whatever reason the Fukuoka crowd were quieter than you’d have liked up until the dramatic closing stages. Nevertheless, this was a hugely important match in NJPW’s 2014 and a statement making re-debut for Styles.
The seventh match on offer moves focus to the Jr. Heavyweight division and the final of the 2014 Best of the Super Jr. tournament, that saw KUSHIDA face off against one of the most impressive high flyers in the world, Ricochet. The resulting match was a fast paced and hugely exciting contest against two evenly matched and similarly skilled competitors. Next up is the first tag match of the set, and somewhat disappointingly the only match that isn’t included in full (as it was edited down for the AXS TV broadcast from which the footage is sourced). Here The Young Bucks defend their IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles against the Time Splitters, KUSHIDA and Alex Shelley. A fun match in front of an excitable Sumo Hall crowd, but it’s a shame the full thing couldn’t be included.
On to the penultimate match of the set, another break-neck paced juniors bout here as Ricochet cashed in his Best of the Super Jr. victory for a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title, then held by one of the most popular and enigmatic men in Japanese wrestling: Kota Ibushi. While KUSHIDA and Ricochet’s match highlighted their differences, this match went exactly the way you’d expect a match between two of the absolute best high flyers in the world to go. Lastly, but not least, the 10th and final match sees ‘The Ace’ of New Japan Pro-Wrestling Hiroshi Tanahashi try and take back the IWGP Heavyweight Title from the villainous hands of AJ Styles and the Bullet Club. A classic NJPW-style main event that the Sumo Hall fans lapped up on the night, only marred by the somewhat unnecessary presence of Jeff Jarrett.
Overall this is a solid collection of some of NJPW’s top matches from the time period it covers, but it can’t help but feel a little out of date to fans who’ve been following along for years. Also, while the match selection is mostly very good, for guys like The Young Bucks and Tetsuya Naito, there absolutely are better matches to showcase the reasons for their current popularity within New Japan. That being said, for any newer fans of NJPW this compilation does exactly what it promises and provides a solid introduction to the current stars of the promotion, while also featuring names they may be more familiar with due to their current involvement with the WWE. Meanwhile, for collectors it’s nice to finally have officially licensed NJPW DVDs readily available and I can only hope that more are in the pipeline for the future.
‘An Introduction to New Japan Pro-Wrestling’ is available to purchase now on Region 0 DVD from WrestlingStore.co.uk for £19.99