So, you’re interested in the exciting and captivating world of New Japan Pro Wrestling. You’ve heard the hype and wanted to check it out for yourself. If you’re already a wrestling fan, much of what NJPW has to offer is very similar. However, there are some differences, and interestingly enough, a lot of that comes from the Japanese culture, itself. This page is meant to be a short and concise intro to the world of NJPW.
What is New Japan Pro Wrestling?
New Japan Pro Wrestling is over 45 years old, giving it credibility as one of the best and most storied promotions of all time. It does have it’s own legends (Antonio Inoki, Masahiro Chono, The Great Muta/Muto Keiji, and many more). NJPW has also had numerous crossovers with WWE and WCW in the past, providing some memorable and iconic moments. Currently, the company stands solidly as the second biggest wrestling promotion in the world. There is a ton of history, but I would suggest not worrying about it all right away. Just jump in to the current scene, and cherry pick from whatever past shows look interesting.
When is the ‘weekly show’?
Unlike WWE or TNA, there are no regularly scheduled weekly shows. But like those companies, NJPW stories are built around big events, which are usually monthly. Leading up to these events are a series of smaller shows, labeled ‘Road To’. These serve as appetizers to the main events, giving opportunities for opponents to come face to face with each other, to build excitement and anticipation.
How can I watch?
NJPW World is the streaming service. It costs ¥999 (about $9) per month. It lets you stream all current shows live, with replays available soon after broadcast. There is also a huge library of classic matches, dating back to the beginning of the company. The Lion Marks can vouch for the quality of their Amazon Fire TV app, which allows you to watch the big fights on the big screen.
But it’s all in Japanese!
Well, that’s mostly true, it is still called ‘New Japan’, after all. First off, wrestling has been and always will be a universal sport. Spanish, English, or Japanese, the struggles in the ring are easily understood. But on that note, NJPW is making a huge push to become more English friendly. All of the major shows are broadcast in English. There is an English companion site NJPW1972.com which helps to make things easier to understand. And most recently, they have started to subtitle backstage promos, and I’m sure more is to come. Besides, Japanese is so in these days. Get over it and enjoy the show.
What are the championships?
- Heavyweight Title: Top belt. Long lineage. Does not change hands often. In fact, only 4 different guys have held it since 2011!
- Intercontinental Title: Second best title, but capable of main eventing big shows. Made famous by Shinsuke Nakamura.
- US Heavyweight Title: The newest belt, won on US soil by it’s current holder, Kenny Omega.
- NEVER Openweight Title: A title that is somewhat ambiguous. At one time intended for up and coming stars, it has since been considered a prize for heavy hitters. It has no weight limit.
- Junior Heavyweight Title: Also very illustrious and storied in history, but at a smaller weight limit.
- Tag Team Championship: Self explanatory.
- Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: For the smaller guys.
- NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship: Only a few years old. Gets passed around a bit. For 3 on 3 matches.
What are the big shows?
- Wrestle Kingdom: The biggest show and culmination of all the big feuds and stories. Takes place every year on January 4 in the Tokyo Dome, since 1992.
- Dominion: Second biggest show, occurs in the Summer.
- G1: A tournament… THE tournament. In many ways, it is as important as the top title. Winner gets a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom.
Who are the factions?
NJPW loves factions. Nearly every wrestlers is part of one.
- New Japan/Faces: Most pure and traditional faces have no real affiliation, and just represent the brand.
- CHAOS: A mix of punks and troublemakers, but without any real malice.
- Bullet Club: Created by Finn Ballor, once led by AJ Styles, they are the rude and loud foreigners.
- Suzuki-gun: Japanese Yakuza (Mafia) that uses gang tactics to get what they want.
- Los Ingobernables de Japon: The Japanese chapter of the group founded in Mexico. Bad boys who are too cool for school, but everyone wants to be around.
- There are also a few subgroups and less formal teams
- Taguchi Japan: Directed by Ryusuke Taguchi, features a revolving door cast of members, largely made of of New Japan Faces
- Great Bash Heel: Once a large faction, now only a pairing of Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma
- Tencozy or Ten-Koji: The pairing of veterans Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima
- The Third Generation: Not an official group, but what some of the older guys are called (Nagata, Nakanishi, Tenzan, Kohima, etc). Sometimes affectionately referred to as the ‘New Japan Dads’.
Who or what is a Young Lion?
NJPW has their own recruitment and training system. New wrestlers, referred to as ‘Young Lions’ or ‘Young Boys’, train and live together in a dojo. They start at the bottom, doing everything from running errands for the main roster members and scrubbing toilets. When they first start wrestling, almost exclusively in the opening matches, they are denied any ‘character’. Instead, they were plain black trunks, use their real name, and are limited in their moveset. After some time, they are sent away on excursion, usually overseas. They may spend a couple of years in ROH or CMLL, honing their craft and developing their persona. When they return to NJPW, they debut with their new identity.
Where are the women wrestlers?
Are rules different?
Everything is nearly the same. There is a 20 count for wrestlers outside of the ring, instead of 10. You may see a lot of chair usage and wonder why the match isn’t stopped; the refs tend to give a lot of leniency to stuff that happens outside of the ring. If you used a weapon inside the ring and are caught, you can expect a disqualification.
But why are there so many tag matches?
This is at the same time one of the brilliant moves of the company, but also one of the hardest to sometimes accept. If it’s not a big show, nearly every match will be a multi-man tag match. Even on a bigger show, the undercard will also feature several tag matches. On the practical side, this serves to limit the chances that a wrestler will get injured. It also gives the fans an opportunity to see as many of their favorites in action as possible, regardless of the show size. It also serves the bigger stories, as it keeps rivals from having their one-on-one confrontation until their eventual match. It can sometimes seem tedious and stale, but it does help the the big moments feel epic.
How is it seen in Japan?
Kind of the same way it’s seen in the West. At one point everyone and their grandma watched pro wrestling. Most people can name the stars of yesteryear. It’s sometimes seen as juvenile or dorky, but there is also a lot of mainstream crossover (wrestlers go on talk shows and appear in movies). There is a difference, in that it is still treated as a sport. People are aware of ‘the truth’, but still consider it an athletic endeavour. Therefore, you’ll see wrestling results in the sports pages of a newspaper.
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