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Cafe Puro (12/15/15): Wrestle Kingdom Through the Years


                        


Welcome, everyone, to Part 2 of our Wrestle Kingdom special! And for this week, we will look at Wrestle Kingdom through the years, and looking at how New Japan's biggest event evolved as time went on. So, without any delay!

Wrestle Kingdom in Tokyo Dome



An effort to rebrand the January 4 show after the dark ages of Inoki-ism, the first installment of Wrestle Kingdom took place on January 4, 2007, and much like NJPW's previous relationship with WCW, this was an event that was co-produced with their old rival, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). And to show this, not only were matches in the event featured NJPW vs. AJPW battles, but both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the Triple Crown Championship were also on the line for this event.

However, the main event of the first Wrestle Kingdom was a throwback of sorts, as the top dogs of NJPW and AJPW teamed up, with Masahiro Chono (NJPW) and Keiji Mutoh (AJPW President) took on the reunited TenKoji, Hiroyoshi Tenzan (NJPW) and Satoshi Kojima (AJPW). It was truly fitting as well that Mutoh and Chono honored their fallen Musketeer, Shinya Hashimoto (who passed away two years prior due to a brain aneurysm) at the end of the event.

Notable Matches: Toshiaki Kawada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a singles match, Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Yuji Nagata for the Triple Crown, Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Taiyo Kea for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Mutoh and Chono vs. TenKoji


Wrestle Kingdom II in Tokyo Dome



The second Wrestle Kingdom featured New Japan's relationship with TNA Wrestling, and as such, most of the matches featured had an "NJPW vs. TNA" theme to it. These matches would eventually make it to TNA's Global Impact, shown for the North American audience. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship controversy caused by Brock Lesnar's unexpected departure continued, with Kurt Angle defending the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Yuji Nagata, and Hiroshi Tanahashi defending the NJPW-approved version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against eternal rival, Shinsuke Nakamura.

Notable Matches: Hirooki Goto vs. The Great Muta, AJ Styles, Christian Cage, and Petey Williams vs Milano Collection A.T., Prince Devitt, and Minoru Tanaka, Team 3D vs. Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano), Kurt Angle (c) vs. Yuji Nagata for the IWGP (IGF) Third Belt Championship, Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the NJPW-approved IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom III in Tokyo Dome




This installment is, arguably, the most star-studded of all Wrestle Kingdoms, with various companies collaborating with NJPW to create quite a dream card. AJPW, NOAH, CMLL, TNA, and ZERO-1 came together to create matches we thought we would never see, including the first ever encounter between Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinsuke Nakamura (although in tag team format). The main event is an AJPW vs. NJPW encounter between the teacher and the protege as Keiji Mutoh (who also held the Triple Crown as The Great Muta) defended his title against Hiroshi Tanahashi in a truly special passing of the torch encounter.

Notable Matches: Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) vs. NO LIMIT (Yujiro Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito) for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, Yuji Nagata (c) vs. Masato Tanaka for the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto vs. Mitsuharu Misawa and Takashi Sugiura, Keiji Mutoh (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom IV in Tokyo Dome



The event features matches involving talent from TNA, ZERO1, CMLL, the eventual SMASH, and NOAH. As a matter of fact, the main feature of the event was the NJPW vs. NOAH series of matches to see which company is better (spoiler alert: it's a draw). The event saw defenses of NOAH's GHC Heavyweight Championship and NJPW's IWGP Heavyweight Championship. To note, the main event was supposed to have some involvement between the newly-repackaged Shinsuke Nakamura and the founder of NJPW, Antonio Inoki. However, nothing came of it and ended up with a rematch against Yoshihiro Takayama instead.

Notable Matches: Apollo 55 (Ryusuke Taguchi and Prince Devitt) vs. Ultimo Guerrero and Averno for the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship, the NJPW vs. NOAH series of matches, Shinsuke Nakamura (c)  vs. Yoshihiro Takayama for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo Dome



While the TNA presence was strong for the fifth Wrestle Kingdom (which even included a match for the TNA Heavyweight Championship, albeit a heavily-panned match that included Jeff Hardy), this event featured varying talent from different companies, and for the first time ever, DDT Pro Wrestling, the biggest indie company in Japan, had its presence felt in the form of the Golden Star, Kota Ibushi (along with a hilarious cameo from the president, Sanshiro Takagi). The night was also notable for the dream match between Shinsuke Nakamura and NOAH's Go Shiozaki, and it would also feature the main event battle between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Satoshi Kojima, then an outsider, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

It should be noted that this is the event where Toru Yano got his "YTR" taunt: in his match against Rob Van Dam.

Notable Matches: Prince Devitt (c) vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Go Shiozaki, Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom VI in Tokyo Dome



This night will forever be known for two reasons: it is the night when Hiroshi Tanahashi finally etched his name in stone by achieving the record for most IWGP Heavyweight Championship defenses in history (at V11), and it is also the night when The Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada, finally debuted. And as you all know, a month later, Okada would surprisingly beat Tanahashi for the heavyweight title in his first ever title opportunity. The event also featured the reunited TenKoji end Bad Intentions' record breaking tag title reign, and representatives from ROH, CMLL, NOAH, and AJPW.

Notable Matches: Hirooki Goto vs. Takashi Sugiura, TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) vs. Bad Intentions (c) (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) for the IWGP Tag Team Championship, Go Shiozai and Naomichi Marufuji vs. Toru Yano and Shinsuke Nakamura, Keiji Mutoh vs. Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom VII in Tokyo Dome



The main event of the seventh Wrestle Kingdom is a match that would help define the modern New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, having feuded with one another for most of the year. It was this Wrestle Kingdom when the tradition began wherein the G1 Climax winner will be able to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the Tokyo Dome, granted the winner successfully defends his right to challenge for the title. The night was also notable as the night that both the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and the NEVER Openweight Championship were defended for the first time ever, a sign of change in the scenery of NJPW as a whole.

This also became the first Wrestle Kingdom to be made available online for the rest of the world, although not as available as years later when NJPW World would be launched.

Notable Matches: Masato Tanaka (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin for the NEVER Openweight Championship, Togi Makabe vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Prince Devitt (c) vs. Kota Ibushi and Low Ki for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Wrestle Kingdom VIII in Tokyo Dome



The eighth Wrestle Kingdom was a very interesting one to say the least. The night was notable as the first time that the Intercontinental Championship main-evented the Dome, while the Heavyweight Championship was relegated as the semi-final. That is because for the first time ever, the fans got to decide which match would close the show, with the IC title match between Tanahashi and Nakamura getting a huge lead over the Naito and Okada match for the heavyweight title. This was also the first Wrestle Kingdom in a while that put extravagance in the forefront, noting appearances by Marty Friedman for Tanahashi's entrance, and the now-immortalized entrance of Nakamura which included what looks like an army of sexy dancers. The Great Muta also made an appearance as a Wrestle-1 star after the falling out between Mutoh and AJPW.

Notable Matches: The Great Muta and Toru Yano vs. Minoru Suzuki and Shelton X Benjamin, Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata, The Young Bucks (c) vs. The Forever Hooligans, Suzuki-gun, and The Time Splitters for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, Prince Devitt (c) (with BULLET CLUB) vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship

Wrestle Kingdom IX in Tokyo Dome



Well, this should still be fresh in your minds. For many of you guys, this may very well be your first exposure to the January 4 show. Being accessible through NJPW World and includes English commentary for the first time ever (through Jim Ross and Matt Striker), this is the most accessible Wrestle Kingdom to date, with major matches highlighting the event. Who could ever forget Ibushi vs. Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship in a five-star classic? Or the brutality of Ishii vs. Makabe for the NEVER Openweight Championship? Or the contnuation of the Tanahashi-Okada saga for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship?

Wrestle Kingdom IX is the gateway show for the modern fanbase, and with the kind of line-up they set up, it's easy to see why.

Notable Matches: AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makabe for the NEVER Openweight Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship

What is your favorite Wrestle Kingdom thus far? Sound off in the comments!

Images from NJPW
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Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.

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