Get Into This: An Introduction To New Japan Pro Wrestling, That Thing Everybody Likes (Part 3)

Welcome back for Part 3 of Get Into This, our introductory look at New Japan Pro Wrestling!  Just to get you up to speed, Part 1 was something of a general intro and Part 2 took a look at the heavyweight roster.  For today’s installment, we’ll take a look at the junior heavyweight division.  Before we get started here, I wanted to say thanks for the tremendous feedback that the first two portions have already gathered.  I’m glad you guys and gals are enjoying this, because I sure enjoy writing about it.  Keep sharing these among your wrestling friends… now, let’s get started!

So, we’re talking about junior heavyweights today.  I assume this is like the cruiserweight or light heavyweight divisions we’ve seen in other promotions?

Correct.  And much like other promotions, it’s not unheard of for a junior heavyweight to make waves in the heavyweight title scene, a la 2006 Rey Mysterio.  A recent example would be the NXT-bound Prince Devitt, who you see in the header image up there.

Who would you say is the current MVP of the New Japan junior heavyweights?

Hmm… that one’s a bit of a toss-up.  On one hand, you’ve got an athletic phenom with ridiculous high-flying skills.  On the other hand, you have an honest-to-God living legend.  It’s a close race!

Who’s the high-flyer?

“Golden Star” Kota Ibushi.  This three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion is signed to dual contracts with NJPW and Dramatic Dream Team – a very rare feat in wrestling, and one that only exists because both promotions want his incredible talent.  As far as his wrestling style goes, there are not many people who can match his skill off the top turnbuckle.  Granted,  he’s not just a high-flyer, but it’s what he does best.  The complexity and precision of his maneuvers are superhuman, in the realest sense of the word.  My current theory is that he’s an Airbender.  Here, just watch him in action at Chikara’s King of Trios 2009, because I don’t think my words can do him justice.

That whole match is available on Chikara’s official YouTube channel, by the way.  You have no excuse not to watch some Ibushi today.

Very impressive.  And who’s the living legend you were talking about?

LIGER, BABY.  At 49 years of age, Jushin “Thunder” Liger is still a force to be reckoned with in NJPW and anywhere else he travels.  I mean, I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t already been said, right?  He’s one of the all-time greats, and not just in the junior heavyweight division.  He’s battled with Muta, he was the first wrestler on WCW Monday Nitro, he invented the shooting star press… and he’s still going.  Let’s face it, Liger will be wrestling well into the next century.  I try not to make sweeping generalizations when I talk about wrestling, but I’ll make an exception here… your education isn’t complete without a healthy respect for the man they call Thunder.

His theme song is stuck in your head now, isn’t it?


Are either of these two champions right now?

They aren’t.  In fact, Ibushi is out of competition with a concussion as we speak.  Let me introduce you to the two wrestlers who hold all of New Japan’s junior heavyweight gold right now…

Meet Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA, also known as the Time Splitters.

Are you telling me that the junior heavyweight tag team champions are named after a PlayStation 2 first-person shooter?

That’s the long and short of it.  KUSHIDA also wears a Marty McFly vest, and they made their grand Wrestle Kingdom entrance in a DeLorean this year, so they’re a mixed bag of time travel references.  Anyway, you probably know Alex Shelley from TNA.  He was the Motor City Machine Gun who had the good sense to bail before Impact got cancelled, leaving Chris Sabin to get all kinds of weird with Velvet Sky.  If you like the style of the Motor City Machine Guns, you’ll like the Time Splitters… lots of fast-paced, well-coordinated offense to be found here.  KUSHIDA is the one you might not know about.  Like quite a few guys on the NJPW roster, he used to do MMA and even boasted an undefeated record at the time of his retirement.  As a double champion (junior heavyweight and junior heavyweight tag team), his star is just beginning to rise, which makes me really happy.  He’s got loads of talent, and it’s nice to see a new IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion enter the fray.  Prior to his current reign, it kind of felt like the title just pinballed back and forth between Devitt and Ibushi.  All in all, these two are great and it’s fun to see them run with the titles.

Who are some of the tag teams they’ve faced off against?

While they’re not exclusively members of the NJPW roster, I feel like Forever Hooligans belong in this discussion.  Alex Koslov is a fake Russian, and Rocky Romero is his partner who has a tendency to fly into hilarious rage-fits.  I didn’t even realize they’ve only been a tag team for two years, because their chemistry is always on point.  When they’re not wrestling for New Japan, you can find them working for Pro Wrestling Guerilla or Ring of Honor.  Track down their three-way tag team match from this year’s ROH Supercard of Honor, because it was one of the most entertaining things I saw all WrestleMania weekend.

Any other junior heavyweight tag teams of note?

Yeah, we’ve kind of glanced over an important one.  These two are Gedo and Jado, but you might know them as The World Class Tag Team, or perhaps just as the head bookers of NJPW.

They’re the bookers AND they wrestle?

Well, mostly just bookers now.  Jado recently announced his retirement from in-ring competition due to injuries, unfortunately.  Gedo still mixes it up every once in a while, but his main duty these days is being Kazuchika Okada’s hype man.  Throughout their 25-year careers, these two have racked up a lot of respect from their peers in Japan.  If the past few years of NJPW are any indication, the company is in good hands under the creative control of these two.

All right, who have we missed?

A couple of important people, actually.  Let’s run through them now.

  • Tiger Mask IV.  He’s certainly not the first Tiger Mask, and he won’t go down in history as the most renowned wrestler to adopt the persona.  (That’d be Misawa, probably.)  He IS, however, the longest-reigning Tiger Mask thus far, having worked under the famous mask for almost 20 years now.  As of late, he’s been in a lot of tag team matches with Jushin “Thunder” Liger.  Why they’re not calling it Team ThunderCat is beyond me.
  • “Funky Weapon” Ryusuke Taguchi.  Remember how we were talking so much about Bullet Club last time?  Well, Taguchi is actually a big part of the Bullet Club story.  He and Prince Devitt had been a long-standing, beloved tag team called Apollo 55.  When Devitt turned heel and formed Bullet Club, Taguchi was left to fend for himself, eventually suffering a hip injury.  When he returned to action, he got his closure against Devitt by finally beating him one-on-one.  He and Devitt would shake hands after the match.  THIS was seen as a sign of weakness, so Devitt was booted out and replaced by AJ Styles.  So really, it all comes back to Taguchi.  There’s always a man, there’s always a lighthouse.
  • BUSHI.  Like Tetsuya Naito or El Desperado, he’s another NJPW wrestler who was sent on an excursion to Mexico to improve his skills.  He actually started out at All Japan Pro Wrestling before he was transferred.  And as you can see from the green-and-red lucha libre mask and the sombrero, he brought a lot of Mexico back with him.  Not gonna lie, it’s a bit weird.
  • Takaaki Watanabe.  Another of NJPW’s young guns, Watanabe’s excursion has taken him to the United States.  You might know him from sporadic appearances on Ring of Honor programming.  If you’re really cool, you’ll know him from his two appearances at Inspire Pro Wrestling here in Austin.  If you’re really really cool, you bought a shirt from him and you’re afraid to wear it because you don’t want his autograph to wear off.  (Ha ha, yes, I’m talking about me)

And on that self-promoting note, we come to the end of our look at the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster!  This series might have a Part 4 in the works to coincide with NJPW’s big annual tournament (the G1 Climax), so keep your eyes open for that.  What do you think, would you like to see an installment dedicated to the titles and tournaments of New Japan?  Let your friendly neighborhood WithSpandex writers know, and thank you for reading!