A couple weeks ago I spent way too long writing about this year’s bizarre mess of a Wrestlemania so it’s no secret that I’m a fan of the strange world of professional wrestling. One thing you might not know if you aren’t a fan is that there’s more to wrestling than just the WWE, they’re just the biggest company/promotion in the industry kind of similar to Disney in the animation industry, yet somehow even more morally bankrupt. So I figured why not spend some time to recommend what is currently my personal favorite promotion: New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
New Japan has been around since 1972. It’s currently the largest wrestling promotion in Japan and the second largest in the world, only rivaled by AEW. So what makes them different from the pop culture institution of WWE? Why should I watch it, instead of the house that built stars like Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, and Stone Cold Steve Austin? Two words: Consistency, and believability.
New Japan has the most consistently excellent matches out of any major wrestling promotion today, with their shows and matches almost always receiving glowing reviews. Their matches being dynamic hard-hitting wars that try their best to provide the spectacle of professional wrestling but with a realistic MMA inspired edge. This is what’s called “Strong Style.” and while sometimes the more realistic brutality of these matches can be a little hard to watch, it’s important to keep in mind that New Japan has one of the lowest rates of injury for any of the major wrestling promotions. The wrestlers, while it may not look it, are doing their best to keep each other from getting seriously hurt.
But as any wrestling fan will tell you it’s not just about the matches. Storylines are the lifeblood of this industry and while a lot of times WWE can feel like it’s either a really good or a terribly bad soap opera, New Japan is more akin to the best of Shonen anime and manga. This is where the believability comes in, as New Japan shows a commitment to its characters rarely seen anywhere in wrestling today. The company is able to craft tales around it wrestlers that span years. The head booker (booker being a term for the creative lead of a wrestling promotion similar to a writer or director) Gado has seemingly mastered the art of buildup and payoff, being able to build up to massively satisfying emotional victories for his characters nearly constantly without feeling stale or contrived. You are rewarded for getting invested in your favorite wrestlers even if they aren’t going to be the top stars of the promotion because they’re still able to have great matches with satisfying storylines. Finding a favorite isn’t hard because the company gives its talent so many chances to show off their skills. Whether it be in the plethora of tournaments they do over the year or the interviews the wrestlers get to do after every match that allows the wrestlers to show off their personality and tell their stories.
As you would expect most of the wrestlers in NJPW only speak Japanese. Now you might think this would make things kind of unapproachable for non-japanese speakers but that isn’t quite the case. Not only does New Japan have a great English commentary team that does a fantastic job of keeping you abreast of the storylines during the show but all promos (segments that focus on a wrestler talking) are uploaded with subtitles on New Japan’s official youtube channel. Besides that, very little of a New Japan show involves the wrestler speaking to a live crowd anyway. The only guaranteed talking time on every show is a closing speech by whichever wrestler wins the main event.
Despite my recommendation right now is an odd time to get into New Japan. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis all their shows are canceled up to May 4th and even when that time comes it’s unlikely they’ll be able to run normally again. So if you decide to subscribe now you won’t be getting any new content for a while. As a way to provide content during this time, New Japan has been having its English commentary team go back to important matches in the company’s history which were previously only available in Japanese. This is a great way of learning about the history of the promotion so it’s well worth looking into. This also gives you plenty of time to get caught up on any important recent shows or storylines that might be going on. If any of this sounds interesting to you allow me to give you some recommendations on what to search for because admittedly their streaming service, NJPW World, isn’t the most user-friendly.
If you’re just looking to get the general gist of what’s going on in the company, there’s two big shows you should watch: Wrestle Kingdom and Dominion. Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan’s equivalent to Wrestlemania, its biggest show of the year held in January at the famous Tokyo Dome. This is where you get the conclusions to all the major storylines of the previous year. This year the event took place over two nights, much like this year’s Wrestlemania. Dominion is comfortably their second biggest show. It doesn’t have the same history or importance as Wrestle Kingdom but major title changes or story events can still and often do happen there. It basically serves as a conclusion to the first half of the year’s storylines and sets the stage for the company’s biggest tournament of the year. There are other major shows the company performs like King of Pro Wrestling or Sakura Genesis but Dominion and Wrestle Kingdom are the ones to really make sure you see.
Keep in mind that these shows are pay-per-views and not what you should expect from the average New Japan show. The average New Japan show will be largely made up of tag matches with maybe one or two singles matches to close the show. So when you watch these big events like Wrestle Kingdom or Dominion keep in mind that shows that are mostly made up of 10 to 40 minute singles matches are not what you should expect from all of New Japan. However since singles matches are a lot rarer when you do get them the wrestlers tend to go all out so the chances of that match being excellent are high.
But if you’re trying to get majorly invested into the promotion the best way to do that is through one of its tournaments, of which it has many but there are three major ones; The New Japan Cup, The Best of the Super Juniors, and their most important The G1 Climax. The New Japan Cup is the first major tournament of the year and the winner gets to be the next IWGP Heavyweight Title challenger after Wrestle Kingdom. While it’s not often that the winner of this tournament actually succeeds in beating the champion, the tournament is more important for setting up the direction the storylines will be going in for the rest of the year. So even though it may not be the most significant tournament out there it might be worth looking at any of the matches your favorite wrestler had during the cup and how that may have impacted their year.
Best New Japan Cup Matches
- Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii
- SANADA vs Kazuchika Okada
- SANADA vs Minoru Suzuki
Best of the Super Juniors is the largest tournament for the Junior Weight wrestlers with the winner of the tournament getting an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title match. It’s a huge round-robin format tournament which in recent years has typically started in May. With nearly the entire Junior Heavyweight division being given a spotlight which is great for a division that can often struggle for screen time. If there’s a Junior Weight wrestler that catches your eye and doesn’t get as many opportunities as you feel like they deserve, chances are they’ve been in a Best of the Super Juniors. Given how talented the Junior Weight division in New Japan is, you’re bound to find some absolute classics. Last year’s tournament finals were held at Dominion but at the moment it’s not certain if this is a trend that will continue.
Best of the Super Juniors
- Will Ospreay vs Shingo Takagi
- Will Ospreay vs Ryusuke Taguchi
- Shingo Takagi vs Sho
- El Phantasmo vs Rocky Romero
- Marty Scurll vs Dragon Lee
The G1 Climax is New Japan’s biggest tournament of the year and currently the most prestigious wrestling tournament in the world today. The winner gets to challenge the IWGP Heavyweight Champion to the main event of next year’s Wrestle Kingdom. The G1 Climax is simply a marvel of pro wrestling; it has a ridiculously high quality of matches. When you’re following a G1 Climax the sheer onslaught of astoundingly incredible matches can warp your perspective on what good wrestling is. Great becomes the norm and good becomes horrible. It’s a round-robin tournament just like the Best of the Super Juniors and just like in that tournament every wrestler has their own storyline it goes on throughout the tourney. Even if your favorite wrestler has no chance of winning the tournament it’s still worth checking out all their matches in the G1. It is the most exciting time of the New Japan calendar. However the G1 is a massive tournament, it has over a hundred matches taking place in it. So for new fans the easiest way to consume it is to only watch the matches of whichever wrestler catches your eye, there’s no shame in doing so. But if you want some hints for some of the best matches to watch here are some of my personal favorites from last year’s.
- Jon Moxley vs Tomohiro Ishii
- Jon Moxley vs Tetsuya Naito
- Will Ospreay vs Kota Ibushi
- Will Ospreay vs Lance Archer
- Shingo Takagi vs Tetsuya Naito
- Shingo Takagi vs Tomohiro Ishii
- Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA
- Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi
- Kota Ibushi vs Jay White
Well there’s my recommendation. I hope you found that useful. New Japan is a joy to follow, a gift to wrestling fans. I can virtually promise that if you give it an honest attempt you won’t regret it. The wrestling industry is going through a rough spot right now so if you’re a wrestling fan or interested in becoming one it helps a lot to support wrestlers in wrestling and whatever way you can. Whether that be subscribing to the platform of any given promotion or going to the Pro Wrestling Tees website and buying your favorite wrestlers shirt. If you can help support wrestlers in any way please do and thank you for reading.