The Biggest Names and Places in the Japanese Pro Wrestling Industry
When someone brings up the topic of pro-wrestling, the United States-based WWE quickly comes to mind. Which is understandable, being that it’s the largest pro-wrestling company in the world, with a loyal fan base behind it. However, here in Japan is a wrestling scene that distributes DVDs nationwide and draws thousands of fans to venues across the country. In this article, we will take a look at popular companies and wrestlers that make up that scene, as well as venues that they wrestle in.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
There are 12 major wrestling companies in Japan, the biggest one being New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
In existence since 1972, NJPW is a 5 billion dollar revenue company that, along with airing weekly on TV Asahi, they have their annual biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, at the Tokyo Dome. The 1993 edition of the event (which was named, “Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome” at the time), drew 63,500 fans, the largest attendance for a wrestling event at the Dome to date.
NJPW has a presence outside of Japan as well. From 2014 - 2019, NJPW aired on American TV network AXS TV, presenting 200,000 viewers a week with their brand of Japanese-style pro-wrestling. Although the program no longer is shown, American interest in NJPW continues to exist. Along with NJPW videos being available for sale on Amazon.com, they have their own streaming service, NJPW World. It currently has about 100,000 subscribers, and is available to fans worldwide.
There are many wrestlers on the NJPW roster who have played a big part in the company's popularity. Some of them are:
Trained by NJPW and a member of its roster since 1999, Hiroshi Tanahashi is one of NJPW’s most popular wrestlers. He has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (the company’s main singles title) a total of eight times, which is more times than any wrestler in NJPW’s history. During Tanahashi’s fifth reign, he held the Championship for 404 days, the third longest reign in the company’s history.
Considered by many fans to be one of the best pro-wrestlers in the industry today, Kazuchika Okada is a very valued member of the NJPW roster. A five-time former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, his fourth reign lasted 720 days, the longest in the company’s history. Okada’s nickname is “Rainmaker”, his character being a star who makes a company rich, and makes it rain with money. Considering that Okada has main-evented NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom event six times, his character is more fact than fiction.
As of this writing. Tetsuya Naito is the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and is in his second reign. His story is one that would be familiar to fans who followed Steve Austin’s WWE career in the 1990’s- a wrestler who rebels against the company he works for, and has the support of the fans behind him.
There are over 20 small/medium-sized wrestling companies, and the most successful one is Michinoku Pro.
Founded in 1993, the company has most of their events in the Tōhoku region, where Michinoku Pro is based. However, they are popular in other areas of Japan as well, proven by the fact that their DVDs are sold in stores nationwide.
Occasionally, Michinoku Pro has events in Tokyo. The venue that they usually choose is Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.
It’s one of the smaller wrestling venues, but is also favored by many since its small size makes it easier for wrestlers to connect with fans during events. Michinoku Pro frequently has sellouts at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.
This year however, Michinoku Pro is focusing more on the Korakuen Hall for their Tokyo appearances.
The Korakuen Hall is known as a place where many historical moments in the Japanese pro-wrestling scene have occurred. It's to Japan what Madison Square Garden is to the pro-wrestling scene in the United States. And Michinoku Pro has good reason to put more focus on the Korakuen Hall. Their December 13, 2019 event there had a sellout, standing room only attendance of 1,890. That was the highest reported attendance at the Korakuen Hall to date for a pro-wrestling event since April 2015.
All of the biggest names on the Michinoku Pro roster are legends in the pro-wrestling industry.
The Great Sasuke
The Great Sasuke is the founder of Michinoku Pro. With 30 years of in-ring experience on his resume, Sasuke was the original holder of the J-Crown, a unification of eight different titles from eight different companies (which included WWE and New Japan).
Photo by 2for6 on Wikipedia Commons.
Dick Togo has been wrestling for over two decades, and during that time, he has wrestled for major promotions in Japan (including New Japan), the US (including WWE), and the UK. Togo became the first Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Champion (Michinoku Pro’s singles championship) in the company’s history.
Jinsei Shinzaki is the commissioner of Michinoku Pro. He has wrestled in New Japan and other major companies in Japan, but he may be most familiar to foreigners for his two years working for WWE from 1994 - 1996 as, “Hakushi”.
A product of the Michinoku Pro Dojo with 12 years of experience, Rui Hyūgaji is the current Tohoku Junior Heavyweight Champion, and is in his third reign. At only 32 years old, Hyūgaji is one of the main wrestlers on the Michinoku Pro roster who is the future of the company.
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