Hiroyoshi Tenzan debuted in 1991 under his birth name Yamamoto and followed the traditional path of a potential young star in New Japan, winning the Young Lion’s Cup in 1993 before going on a learning excursion to Europe that lasted for two years. Yamamoto would return at the January 1995 Tokyo Dome show now known as Tenzan and within a month recieved his first IWGP Heavyweight shot against champ Shinya Hashimoto. Despite losing the match opportunities continued to be given to Tenzan and he teamed up with Masahiro Chono, a man who he would be linked with throughout his career to win his first IWGP Tag Team title in June 1995 though only holding it for a month. Like a number of other New Japan wrestlers during this era he had a brief run in WCW but never did anything notable beyond a losing effort at Starrcade 95 against Randy Savage. In July 1996 Tenzan & Chono won the Tag Team titles for the second time and held on to them until the start of the new year. After losing the titles Tenzan would join Chono in the nWo Japan faction.
Tenzan would earn his third Tag Team title when Chono’s current partner Keiji Mutoh was injured and the two won the ensuing tournament for the belts. After they lost the belts Tenzan would form the famous “Ten-Koji” team with Satoshi Kojima, one of the most popular and successful teams of all time. Ten-Koji would win the Tag titles for the first time in January 1999 and the second time (the fifth time for Tenzan) in July 2000 impressing fans with their teamwork and talent. In 2002 with Kojima having left the promotion for AJPW, Tenzan teamed up with Chono again and won the Tag titles which tied the record for most IWGP tag titles won by a team.
Although the bulk of his career has been spent as a tag specialist Tenzan would finally prove there was far more to him won he won the IWGP Heavyweight title in November 2003. More importantly he’d prove it was no fluke winning it three more times, in February 2004, December 2004, and May 2005. His most controversial moment came when he lost to Kojima in a inter-promotional Champion Vs Champion match via knockout and there has long been rumors that this wasn’t the intended finish and that New Japan was never supposed to lose their top title to a rival company. In any case three months later Tenzan regained the title before dropping it to Kaz Fujita in July 2005.
Tenzan and Chono would once again reunite in October 2005 and win the IWGP Tag titles now for the fifth time setting a record for most title reigns as a team. Ten-Koji would make history in 2006 by reuniting in AJPW and becoming the first team to ever win both NJPW’s G1 Tag Tournament and AJPW’s tag tournament that is best known in the west as the Real World Tag League. In October 2006 after splitting with Chono he formed his first stable of his own, “Great Bash Heel” in which to join you needed to be “strong, bad and cool”. Unfortunately for Tenzan there is no loyalty amongst heels and when he was first away too much and then on the injured list he allowed his position to be usurped by Togi Makabe. When he returned full-time in 2008 GBH turned on him and kicked him to the curb.
After this Ten-Koji would once again reform and improve upon their G1/RWTL feat by winning the tournaments in the same year. Unfortunately an eye injury to Tenzan stopped the team from fighting for the IWGP Tag titles at the 2009 Dome show. This injury was only one of many for Tenzan as his roughneck style had begun to catch up with him and he spent more and more time on the injured list. He would spend fifteen months out injured starting in August 2009 before returning. Finally Ten-Koji made their return in 2011 and since then have won the IWGP Tag titles three more times tying Tenzan’s record with Chono. The two men are the current champs and I’d expect them to remain in the mix for a long time to come. Unless one of their bodies finally gives up which is a distinct possibility.
Tenzan had been unsuccessful in all his G1 Climax tournaments going into the 2003 event but he would finally turn things around and defeat outsider Jun Akiyama in the finals. The next year’s G1 was even more impressive for Tenzan as he became the second man to win all of his round robin matches on his way to beating Tanahashi in the finals. After a disappointing year in 2005 he was back in 2006 when he defeated Kojima (they just can’t leave each other alone) in the finals. Since then he hasn’t done as well though he still is treated with respect and they make sure to give him his share of wins which is how he should be treated given his age and health. Tenzan is not going to win this tournament. He’s just not in any shape for it anymore sadly. He can still turn it on for special occasions and hold up his end in tag matches and get by on his charisma but he is not someone they want to book in the main event and that is something New Japan has been good about realizing with him and others in his position the last few years.
Prior to making his debut with New Japan Yuji Nagata had a legitimate successful career in amateur wrestling, representing Japan internationally on several occasions. Later in his career he’d also have two MMA matches…but we try to forget about those. Nagata trained in the New Japan dojo and would eventually develop a style focusing on submissions and hard strikes which he learned in part from former UWFI wrestler and long time NJPW trainer Kazuo Yamazaki after he returned to NJPW. Nagata would as so many before him follow the traditional path by being runner up in the Young Lion’s Cup in 1996 before being sent out of country to gain valuable learning experience but this time he was going to WCW and he’d even get used a little!
Like virtually all Japanese wrestlers in WCW he entered as a heel managed by Sonny Onoo in 1997 and began a feud with Ultimo Dragon in which he won both PPV encounters. He would team up with Kensuke Sasaki in a tournament to choose the #1 contenders for the WCW Tag Team Championship and win the tournament but fail to win the titles. After this relatively successful run he would return to Japan in August 1998.
In September he would battle Scott Norton for the vacant IWGP Heavyweight title but was unable to defeat the big man. In August 1999 Nagata and partner Manabu Nakanishi would win the IWGP Tag titles and hold them for almost an entire year before losing them to Ten-Koji. At the 2000 Dome show Nagata would serve as Kazuo Yamazaki’s final opponent defeating his mentor. Nagata would make his first attempt at forming a stable that year called “Fighting Club G-Eggs” but it was seemingly cursed as one member died after a in-ring accident (Masakazu Fukuda) and another (Brian Johnston) barely participated after suffering a stroke. Nagata would disband the unit in June 2001 probably to the immense relief of remaining members Nakanishi and Yutaka Yoshie.
Things would improve for Nagata after this when he won his first (and so far only) G1 tournament that August by defeating the legendary Keiji Mutoh in the finals. At the Dome show in January 2002 Nagata would lose to Tadao Yasuda in the tournament finals for the vacant IWGP title but would beat him in April and keep a death-grip on the belt for 13 months, setting a record for most successful title defenses that was only recently surpassed by Tanahashi. After losing the belt Nagata would take the New Japan flag to other Japanese companies, teaming up with Tanahashi and beat NOAH legend Kenta Kobashi and his partner Tamon Honda to win NOAH’s GHC Tag titles in November 2003 and then in June 2004 teaming with Kendo Kashin to defeat Kojima and Kaz Hayashi for All Japan’s Tag titles. Nagata would challenge for the AJPW Triple Crown against Minoru Suzuki but would fail in the effort after passing out in Suzuki’s Saka-otoshi sleeper hold. This would be only the first of several heated Dome show matches the two men would have with each other as they developed a bitter rivalry.
Nagata would win the New Japan Cup becoming the first to win both the G1 and the Cup. He would win the IWGP title for the second time in April 2007 by defeating Tanahashi but lost the belt back to him in October of that year. Nagata would get the chance to live out one of his dream matches by wrestling Kurt Angle in January 2008 before going down with an injury until the summer ( a brain injury the details of which I am not sure of, and New Japan’s English language site helpfully translates as “some abnormality in his head area”). After he came back he once again picked up New Japan’s flag and invaded a rival company, this time Zero-One which had been founded by the former (and deceased) New Japan superstar Shinya Hashimoto. Nagata’s particular target was Masato Tanaka (he of ECW fame) who was Z1’s current Heavyweight champion. Nagata would win the title from Tanaka in October 2008 and hold on to it for several challenges before losing it to Shinjiro Otani in February 2009.
After his war with Z1 Nagata announced the formation of his most popular and successful stable Aogi-gun aka “Blue Justice Army” featuring along with Nagata, Wataru Inoue, Mitsuhide Hirasawa and Super Strong Machine. King Fale would also eventually join the group. In May 2010 Nagata and Inoue would win the IWGP Tag titles and then in October they entered the G1 Tag tournament and defeated Naito and Yujiro to win in the finals. At the 2011 Dome show he would face off against Minoru Suzuki again and managed to even up their dome show feud wins at 1-1. Nagata would then win the New Japan Cup by defeating Nakamura but lose his ensuing IWGP title shot. He’d then take the fight to AJPW and enter their Champion Carnival tournament and win it by defeating their up and coming young star Seiya Sanada in the finals. After breaking All Japan star Masakatsu Funaki’s orbital bone at the January 2012 Dome show Nagata became a semi-regular in AJPW engaging in a feud with Funaki’s protege, making it to the semi-finals of that year’s G1 and eventually losing a grudge match to Funaki to settle their score.
At the 2013 Dome show Nagata would once again do battle with Minoru Suzuki and once more he picked up the win over his nemesis giving him a 2-1 record in their Dome show feud. This will be Nagata’s fifteenth G1 tournament and while he’s in better shape physically then many of his generation (or than he was in a few years ago) the company has moved past the point where they need to put the spotlight on him. Nagata can be brought up for a big match every once and awhile but he’s much better off working tags and popping the crowd lower down the card.
Tetsuya Naito took a different path from many New Japan wrestlers starting his training in 2000 with retired wrestler Animal Hamaguchi and only entering the New Japan dojo after passing an open tryout in 2005. Naito would make his official New Japan debut five months later. Naito started out as a Junior Heavyweight and would make his first Best of the Super Juniors appearance in 2007 subbing for an injured Jado. Naito would finish last in his block but managed to pick up two wins.
In February 2008 Naito would form a partnership with fellow young lion and junior heavyweight Yujiro Takahashi. Going by the name “NO LIMIT” the team would be the big break needed for bother men as they were given the chance to show what they could do. The two would take several former IWGP Junior Tag champs to time limits earning a title shot which they failed to win. In June 2008 Yujiro would take part in the BOSJ but go winless until the final day before picking up a big win over top junior star Minoru. In October NO LIMIT would win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag titles from Minoru & Prince Devitt before losing them to the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin) at the January 2009 Dome show. After this the two were sent off to begin an extended learning excursion, first stop TNA!
NO LIMIT would only last two months in TNA, which given that it’s TNA is probably a good thing. During that brief time they would receive title shots at the TNA tag titles and the IWGP Heavyweight Tag titles which were then held by Team 3-D before losing a handicap match to Kevin Nash in their last match with the company. They would have far FAR more success when they started their Mexico excursion with CMLL in May 2009. They came in as anti-Mexican heels joining with fellow Japanese wrestle Okumura as a trio that translates as “The Yellow Wave”. It was in Mexico that Naito would develop his famous “Round Eye” taunt in response to Mexican fans making “slant eye” gestures at him. While in Mexico they would bulk up to heavyweight status in anticapation of their return to New Japan which they did at the January 2010 Dome show.
At the Dome show NO LIMIT would be thrust right into the thick of things taking part in a 3-way hardcore match for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag titles which they won by beating Team 3-D and Bad Intentions (Bernard & Karl Anderson). In April NO LIMIT would turn heel and join Shinsuke Nakamura’s CHAOS unit. NO LIMIT would lose the titles in May which will bad for the team allowed Naito to break out as a singles competitor. Among other impressive showings he would pin the then current IWGP champ Togi Makabe and go to a time limit draw with Tanahashi during the 2010 G1 tournament. NO LIMIT would take part in the G1 Tag League making it to the finals before losing to Nagata and Wataru Inoue. at the 2011 Dome show Naito would be given a featured match when he challenged Jeff Hardy for the TNA World title in a losing effort. NO LIMIT attempted to regain the Tag titles in May but failed after which Yujiro walked out on Naito leading to escalating tensions between the two men and the inevitable heel turn by Yujiro and ouster from CHAOS for Naito.
Yujiro would defeat Naito in their first encounter of June 2011 and again in the round robin portion of the 2011 G1 Climax but Naito would turn the tournament around for himself and go on to win his block and advance all the way to the finals before losing to Nakamura. After beating Yujiro in their third match Naito issued a challenge to Tanahashi for the IWGP title which he lost. At the January 2012 Dome show Naito would go down in defeat to the legendary Keiji Mutoh. Naito would feud with his former CHAOS leader Nakamura leading to a match in February which Naito won and secured a title shot against Kaz Okada. Naito would get his shot at the New Japan 40th anniversary show in March but lose in a incredible performance.
Naito would suffer a knee injury during the 2012 G1 tournament and though he continued to wrestle was clearly in bad shape. In October Naito would lose to Yujiro after the referee stopped the match due to his knee taking too much damage. Naito would do a stretcher job and undergo reconstructive surgery on his knee. He would make his in-ring return on June 22 2013 and get a measure of revenge on Yujiro by beating him and also stating that he planned to go after Masato Tanaka’s NEVER Openweight title. I would consider Naito a strong candidate for winning B Block and possibly the finals. Naito is one of the best young wrestlers in the company (or all of Japan in my opinion) and after his lengthy downtime they’ll want to get him reestablished and back in the hunt. An impressive G1 performance is a great way to do that. At the same time his time off with the injury could hurt him because Japan takes the idea of ring rust seriously and very rarely do returning wrestlers come back in peak condition, quite often losing their first several matches back.
Before taking up pro wrestling Shinsuke was the captain of his University wrestling club and had a successful amateur career. He passed his audition and signed with New Japan and signed in September 2001 and made his debut a little less than a year later in August 2002. From the start Nakamura showed tremendous potential with his combination of speed and technical ability to which he added vale tudo and his own unique charisma. In December 2002 he made his MMA debut as was the fashion at time but unlike nearly every other NJPW wrestler who made a foray into MMA he managed to get out with a winning record of 3 wins, 1 loss and 1 no contest.
Nakamura’s speedy ascent up the New Japan ladder would continue when he won his first IWGP Heavyweight title in December 2003 defeating Tenzan and becoming the youngest champion to date in the process. Nakamura would also defeat Yohihiro Takayama to unify the IWGP and NWF belts before being forced to vacate the title due to an injury in February 2004. Nakamura would form a tag team with the man who would become his biggest rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the IWGP Tag Team titles in December in a match against Minoru Suzuki and Kensuke Sasaki. At the January 2005 Dome show Nakamura and Tanahashi would square off over Tanahashi’s U-30 Championship (a title for wrestlers under 30) in a match that Nakamura would win. Afterwards the two would travel to Mexico together and defend the Tag titles while gaining experience before returning and losing the titles in October 2005 to Chono and Tenzan, which marked the end of the their partnership.
After failing to take the IWGP title from Brock Lesnar at the 2006 Dome show Nakamura decided to leave on a extended learning excursion to gain more experience, including a planned trip to Lesnar’s gym to train with Brock. Shinsuke would return to New Japan in September 2006 with a bit more muscle on his frame and joined Masahiro Chono’s BLACK stable with the goal of becoming the company’s Ace. Nakamura and Chono would team up to win the 2006 G1 Tag League defeating Tanahashi and Kanemoto in the finals. After this success he would challenge Tanahashi for the IWGP title but come away the loser. Nakamura would enter the 2007 G1 and make it to the semis where he dislocated his shoulder and lost to Yuji Nagata by ref stoppage.
Nakamura would miss several months because of his injury but when he returned in November 2007 he took over the leadership of BLACK from Chono and reformed it under the name “RISE”. Nakamura would get one over on his arch-rival Tanahashi at the 2008 Dome show and win the IWGP title from him which he followed up by defeating Kurt Angle in February for the Inoki Genome Federation’s version of the IWGP title (created when Brock Lesnar left New Japan with the belt) to unify the titles. In April 2008 Nakamura would lose the title to All Japan’s Keiji Mutoh and would fail in his attempts to regain the title in October and again in February after Tanahashi had taken the belt.
In April 2009 Nakamura entered a new phase of his career when he turned heel and formed the heel stable CHAOS with Toru Yano being his chief co-conspirator. Nakamura stated that his goal was to bring back “Strong Style” to New Japan had abandoned with the departures of Antonio Inoki and Shinya Hashimoto. This lead to Nakamura taking on a much more vicious style with more stiff strikes as well as the adoption of his new finisher the “Boma Ye” a running high knee to the face or back of the head to a seated opponent. With his new finisher Nakamura entered the 2009 G1 and won all of his round robin matches (and was credited with breaking Tanahashi’s orbital bone which would force him to vacate the title.) before defeated in the finals by Togi Makabe. Nakamura and Makabe would take each other on for the vacant IWGP title in September and this time it was Nakamura who came out on top winning the title for the third time. Nakamura would hold the title until May 2010 before Makabe managed to take him down.
After failing to make it out of his block in the 2010 G1 Nakamura entered the 2011 G1 and made it to the finals where he defeated Naito to win his first G1 Climax. Nakamura would fail in his ensuing IWGP title shot against Tanahashi in September. In July 2012 Nakamura defeated Hirooki Goto to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship which he would hold on to for just short of a year and eight successful defenses giving the young title important status. Nakamura lost the title to La Somba in Mexico at the end of May 2013 but has just regained the title. Shinsuke has also been involved in the war with Minoru Suzuki’s stable as well as mixing it up with the invading Kazushi Sakuraba. These actions have seemed to mark a mellowing of his heel status as well as allowing Kaz Okada to take center stage but for how long this will last is anyone’s guess. Nakamura is guaranteed to return to prominence at some point the only questions are when and if it will be as a heel or a face. Shinsuke is an excellent candidate to win his block and to win the entire tournament. However they might not want to pull the trigger yet on Okada Vs Nakamura which could be indicated by Nakamura regaining the IC title.
Despite being a brawling rulebreaker for virtually his entire career Toru Yano is another New Japan wrestler with solid amateur credentials including several championships and the Minister of Education Cup in 2000. In April 2001 Yano would enter the amateur wrestling section of New Japan’s training section (known as the Toukon Club) to begin training for his pro debut which took place in May 2002 on his 24th birthday. In August 2003 he would have his one and only MMA match (They even had Jushin Liger do a MMA match in this era. Liger!) in the Pancrase company which he would lose.
Yano would take on the look he is best known for, with his blonde hair, wooden clogs, Happi coat, and often carrying a bottle of sake and a umbrella when he turned heel in April 2004. Yano would mark his heel turn by getting himself DQ’d in nearly every match for several months. In June he would attempt to win the vacant U-30 Title making it to the finals of the tournament for the championship but losing to Tanahashi. After also failing in the 2005 G1 Tournament he left for a brief German trip and when he returned he shocked everyone by proclaiming himself a changed man and forsaking his rulebreaking ways. Of course this couldn’t last and when following the rules failed to improve his lot in life Yano returned to his true colours turning heel in March 2006. Yano and his partner Tomohiro Ishii would then join Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s new “Great Bash Heel” stable at the end of 2006.
In the summer of 2006 Yano would take part in GBH’s invasion of Apache Pro and win the company’s main title the WEW Heavyweight Championship in July 2007. He would also have his most successful G1 Climax yet in 2007 missing the finals by only a single point after taking Hiroshi Tanahashi to a time limit draw. After GBH kicked Tenzan out of the group Yano would team up with new leader Makabe and enter the G1 Tag League making it to the semi finals before being eliminated by the eventual winner Giant Bernard and Travis Tomko. However the two would stick together as a team and in February they would beat Bernard and Tomko for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag titles. They would hold on to Tag titles for 322 days losing them at the January Dome show to Team 3D.
In April 2009 Yano and GBH (except for the loyal Tomoaki Honma) betrayed Togi Makabe and joined new leader Shinsuke Nakamura in forming the new stable “CHAOS”. Yano would get into a feud with Tanahashi and managed to cut off some of his hair (something the lady fans of New Japan did NOT like) in January 2010 and picked up what was quite possibly his biggest career win by beating Tanahashi in May 2010. This could of course mean only one thing…Hair Vs Hair! On June 19th the two met for with all the follicles on the line and Tanahashi won despite heavy interference from CHAOS.
Yano took part in the first ever New Japan tour of the US in May 2011 and was a participant in the tournament to crown the original Intercontinental Champion. He managed to make it to the finals but was defeated by MVP. In the 2011 G1 he would get another big win over Tanahashi but fail once again to make it to the finals. In October he attacked Tanahashi and stole the IWGP belt renaming it the “YWGP Heavyweight Championship” holding it for ransom until he recieved a title shot in November which he lost. Yano would continue his belt stealing ways in March 2013 when he and Iizuka stole Ten-Koji’s IWGP Tag titles. This time the tactic worked out better as Yano & Iizuka won the belts in May but after going to a No Contest in the re-match they were stripped of the titles and lost the ensuing decision match.
In February 2013 Yano would wrestle at a Pro Wrestling NOAH show and grab the GHC Tag titles leading to he and Iizuka winning the titles in March. Yano would also receive a title shot at the GHC Heavyweight title held by KENTA but fail to win. Yano and Iizuka would lose the GHC Tag titles in July but where probably distracted by the fact they had stolen the IWGP Tag titles again at the end of June! However they were once again defeated at the end of July by Ten-Koji. Yano is not going to win the G1 this year nor is he likely to ever win one. His role is to serve as a spoiler by screwing over the other wrestlers and he does that well, seeming to take real delight in it.
Join me Tuesday for the final part!