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Japanese Wrestling: Behind The Forbidden Door – Matches You Simply Must Watch | Part 2 (2014)

Here we are ready to look at the top twenty-five Japanese Matches You Simply Must Watch. If you haven’t already seen part 1, don’t forget to check it out. But, for now, let’s get on with the list.

As alsways, every match is available to watch.

25 – Keisuke Yamada & Shoji Nakamaki Vs. Tarzan Goto & Mr Gannosuke
(August 21, 1995)
IWA Japan
Bathhouse Death Match

After the grocery store death match, here’s another one in the “Only in Japan” category. The rules of the match are not very clear but it seems like a tag-team match where the legal men are fighting while the other two are in the water. The water temperature increases the longer the match goes until one guy dies, drowns or most probably just gives up. You have to see this to believe it. Also, NUDITY!

24 – Akira Maeda Vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara
(February 5, 1986)
NJPW New Year Dash 1986 (Day 26)
Castle Hall, Osaka, Japan

Two of the most skilled and toughest Catch fighters to wrestle in Japan. Both were in part trained by the legendary Karl Gotch. Both are also some what obscured in the history of wrestling due to the dubious relationships they had with the main promotions over there. Many may actually recognise the name Fujiwara as he was the innovator of the Fujiwara Armbar. This match made it so high up the list because it is a masterpiece in scientific wrestling put on by two of the most highly trained and capable individuals to do so on a platform that was really only available in Japan in the late 1980’s. And don’t for a minute think these two men were going light with each other, they had an on-going competitive personal rivalry that always added a little extra to their contests.

23 – Josh Barnett Vs. Hideki Suzuki
(December 31, 2011)
DREAM/IGF Fight For Japan ~ Genki Desu Ka? New Year’s Eve!!
Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan
Attendance : 24,606
IGF Rules Match

This match happened at the awesome annual NYE show in Japan that mixed pro wrestling with MMA and Kickboxing for an explosive cocktail of awesome. Josh Barnett is a former UFC World Heavyweight champion and a huge star in both MMA and pro wrestling, especially in Japan. This is a shoot style match that shows great catch wrestling technique and it’s just beautiful to watch, a great great pro wrestling match.

22 – Rey Mysterio Jr. Vs. Psicosis
(December 13, 1995)
WAR Super J Cup 1995
Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 11,500
Second Stage Match

The two lucha style stars start out with a display of technical wrestling, before letting the match naturally transition into the high flying arsenal they are both known for. A great example of two guys who really used the Super J Cup in Japan to springboard themselves onto a higher audience awareness level internationally.

21 – Manami Toyota (c) Vs. Aja Kong
(June 27, 1995)
AJW Best*One
Nakajima Sports Center, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Attendance: 5,300
WWWA Singles Championship

Two of Japan’s most well known joshis do battle for the WWWA World Championship, the most important title in women’s wrestling at that point in the biggest women-only wrestling organization in the world. Aja Kong is better known for her short stint in the WWF in the mid-90’s where she enjoyed considerable success, being pushed for the title and a match against Alundra Blayze until Blayze got fired before the match could occur.

20 – Atsushi Onita Vs. Terry Funk
(May 5, 1993)
FMW 4th Anniversary Show
Kawasaki Stadium, Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Japan
Exploding No Rope Barbed Wire Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match
Attendance: 41,000 

Two of the pioneers in the over the top death match scene of the early to mid-90’s. They don’t disappoint. Putting on a display of brutality and a story to go with it that can be picked up even by someone who doesn’t know the details of the feud. There is no doubt that this is one of the best death matches of the 1990’s, and deserves it’s place on the list at number twenty. From here on out though the list concentrates on what can only be described as some of the best professional WRESTLING in the world.

19 – Naomichi Marufuji & KENTA Vs. Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikio
(July 16, 2006)
NOAH Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 16,500

KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji are great rivals, but as you can see in that match, they can also make a pretty damn good team! The junior-heavyweights go up against the super-heavyweight team of Takeshi Rikio and former ROH World champion Takeshi Morishima. Even tho the size difference in pretty obvious, this match is very open and shows that the smaller guys can hang with the big guys with speed, heart and pure talent. Great chemistry as rivals and great chemistry as a team, KENTA and Marufuji are two of NOAH’s building block and most important stars.

18 – Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue Vs. Cutie Suzuki & Mayumi Ozaki
(April 2, 1993)
AJW All-Star Dream Slam I
Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Attendance: 16,500

This is a representation of everything that made Japanese women’s wrestling the best on the planet in the ’90’s, in my opinion. These four ladies have the technical ability of the best men, they are hard hitting, and they put on a display that leaves you wanting to hit the replay button. Nothing short of an amazing contest between four very talented women.

17 – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) Vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
(January 4, 2013)
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 7 – Evolution
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 29,000
IWGP Intercontinental Championship

http://nicogame.info/watch/sm19771434 – Watch this match

Kazushi Sakuraba is a legendary former MMA fighter that specializes in catch wrestling. He always was a pro wrestler at heart, trained by fellow legend Billy Robinson, Sakuraba shows that he has what it takes to become a legend in pro wrestling as well, even if he’s already 43 years old. At the height of his career, Sakuraba was making pro wrestling proud in MMA organization PrideFC, instead of having his style listed as jiu-jitsu, kickboxing or another martial art, Saku was announced as a pro wrestler. Shinsuke Nakamura is also a former successful MMA fighter, although his fighting career never reached the height of Sakuraba, he reached similar heights in New Japan Pro Wrestling, being a former World champion and one of NJPW’s most popular performers. Both men mesh very well as opponents in what is one of the top matches of 2013 thus far!

16 – Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody Vs. Dory Funk & Terry Funk
(December 8, 1984)
AJPW Real World Tag League: Day 16
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Attendance: 9,000
Round Robin Tournament Match

Four legends. One ring. Two best friends on one side, two brothers on the other. The onslaught by both teams is just at an absolutely relentless pace. There is not a second in this match when something is not happening, you can not help but keep your eyes glued to the screen as four of the greatest gaijins in Japanese history put on a tag match for the ages.

15 – Jushin “Thunder” Liger Vs. The Great Sasuke
(July 8, 1994)
NJPW Summer Struggle 1994
Nakajima Sports Center, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Attendance: 6,000

Two of Japan’s most popular and best juniors of all time are masked Jushin Liger and The Great Sasuke. They live up to their reputation here in this July 1994 encounter who really is a “how to” put on a great, complete pro wrestling match with not just high-flying, high risk moves, but also solid technical wrestling. Both men are pretty much at the height of their careers here in the match quality shows just that. A great wrestling match all around that really has the crowd on the edge of their seats from the first minute to the last. A little something for everybody in a match that is sure to please just about any wrestling fan!

14 – Manami Toyota (c) Vs. Toshiyo Yamada
(August 15, 1992)
AJW Mid-Summer Typhoon
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
IWA Women’s World Title – Hair vs. Hair Match

As with all the joshi matches on this, they are all worthy of being in the top ten, but to give a taste of all the different of aspects Japan and variety in the list we didn’t do that. One of the things that makes this particular one stand out though is the fantastic plethora of suplexes used, for the readers who are only familiar with the western product, these ladies can hit suplexes as good as a Perry Saturn, Tazz, Chris Benoit, or Kurt Angle. The video contains the actual shaving (Yes, bald) of the loser too.

13 – Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) Vs. Kazuchika Okada
(April 7, 2013)
NJPW Invasion Attack
Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 8,200
IWGP Heavyweight Championship

This is a lot of people’s personal choice for match of the year so far in 2013. Tanahashi shows why he’s so popular and why he has been is the biggest star in New Japan for years while Okada proves himself as one of the best performers in the world right now and maybe the most over guy in Japan. You will not find many matches of this quality this year, Okada cements himself as the great main-eventer everybody knew he was and has one of the coolest move sets you’ll ever see, some of his moves you never seen before, I’m sure, if you’re not already familiar with him. Tanahashi just lives up to the hype once again and remains one of the most solid, consistent wrestler of New Japan.

12 – Billy Robinson (c) Vs. Jumbo Tsuruta
(March 11, 1977)
AJPW Tokyo, Japan
NWA United National Championship – Two out of Three Falls

For me personally, this is some what of a dream match. In my eyes the incredibly underrated technical wrestler Billy Robinson, and Jumbo Tsuruta a man who in Japan needed no introduction was often considered to have the highest work rate in all of wrestling during the peak of his career. This match certainly goes to show strongest points of both athletes. You got a great mixture in the story of the contest as it starts out as a technical contest, but by the end of the match, it’s close to being an all out brawl at times. Topped off by the fact it is contested as a two out of three falls match allowing three individual stories to take place. Yet the three stories all fit in perfectly together to create one excellent trilogy.

11 – Mitsuharu Misawa (c) Vs. Toshiaki Kawada
(June 3, 1994)
AJPW Super Power Series
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 16,300
AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship

Considered by many to be the greatest match of all times, there was no way that this match didn’t make the list. This is not the first time and not the last time that you see Kawada and Misawa’s name in this countdown and for good reasons. Misawa and Kawada are pure legends, that word gets thrown around a lot these days, but these guys are just that great! They are stiff, technically sound, fast, they can also fly and hit the big power moves. They just can do no wrong. You’ll se why once you take a look at this particular match. They throw everything but the kitchen sink at each other for an instant classic that still, even to this day stands the test of time. Do yourself a favour and if you’ve never seen this match, watch it right now, and if you’ve already seen it… Watch it again!

10 – Stan Hansen vs Kenta Kobashi
(July 29, 1993)
AJPW Summer Action Series
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 16,3000

Once again we have a match with two, well, icons in Japanese wrestling. This bout is as stiff as a steel bar, even whilst the match is still in progress you can see bruising and swelling on Kenta’s face. Of course that was just how Stan Hansen wrestled though, his terrible eyesight is some what of an on-going joke. Kobashi on the other hand had originally been built as the ultimate underdog, so when he squared off with the overly aggressive Hansen he always gave as good as he got, and it just helped to solidify his character within the eyes of the audience. This is probably one of my personal top five matches from AJPW from two of the wrestlers that really helped to define that strong style of puroesu.

09 – Vader (c) Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa
(May 2, 1999)
AJPW Giant Baba Memorial Show
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 62500
AJPW Unified Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship

http://bit.ly/19WP2QP – Watch this match

When Vader and Misawa got together in the late 90’s, early 00’s, you know you were in for a treat. Stiff, strong style wrestling. After getting destroyed and basically raped in the WWF, Vader got back to Japan where he was always used at the best of his talents. I chose this encounter in particular because it’s my favourite, but you can watch any of their matches against each other to see just how good the big man really was. Considered the greatest big man ever by many, Vader shows why he’s considered as such in those matches and if you have only seen him in the WWF, you will be able to see what he’s really capable of.

08 – Toshiaki Kawada Vs. Keiji Mutoh
(April 14, 2001)
AJPW Champion Carnival One Night Special
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 15,800

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xl24fi_toshiaki-kawada-vs-keiji-mutoh-ajpw-04-14-2001-youtube_sport#.Uel45Y21FmN – Watch this match

Are you someone who likes a match that has that big match feel? That atmosphere that just hits you even at home. Well, this would be one of the best matches to start with to integrate you into their style of wrestling. The crowd is solidly behind Kawada, even though he is in there with the great Keiji Mutoh better known as the Great Muta too some. The best way to describe this bout is methodical. It starts out slow, exchanging holds, testing each other out. Then the pace quickens, and it quickens some more, until there is a frenzy of near falls and painful submissions leading to that final bell ring.

07 – Naomichi Marufuji (c) Vs. KENTA
(October 29, 2006)
NOAH Autumn Navigation: European Catch (Day 15)
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
GHC Heavyweight Championship

These guys are total nonstop action. They appeared earlier in this countdown as a team and I talked about their great chemistry together as opponents. You get to see what I mean here. The pace they keep is amazing, especially for a match that is well over 30 minutes in lenght. Those guys are not only stiff, fast and skilled but they are also creative, which makes all of their matches special and just plain great. Watch them go at it, you’ll be impressed, 100% guaranteed!

06 – Akira Hokuto Vs. Shinobu Kandori
(April 2, 1993)
AJW All-Star Dream Slam I
Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Attendance: 16,500

I can promise that you will never see two professional athletes in any arena of competition leave more in front of the fans then these two ladies in this match. Akira Hokuto is in my opinion the best female wrestler in the history of wrestling, and Kandori hangs move for move, blow for blow with her. By the time you finish watching this bloody and brutal contest, you feel like you have been on an emotional roller coaster, it leaves you feeling as drained as they genuinely look.

05 – Kenta Kobashi (c) Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa
(January 20, 1997)
AJPW New Year Giant Series
Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Namba, Osaka, Japan
AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship

http://bit.ly/130xzH6 – Watch this match

Another AJPW Triple Crown title match, another classic. You just can’t teach chemistry like that, no wonder why these guys are two of the most popular wrestlers of all time in Japan and their work is also well recognized all over the world. As you would expect, stiff, solid wrestling from Kobashi and Misawa, always pulling out all the stops when in a big time match, it ranks this high and it isn’t even their best one! That one will come a little later…

04 – Toyonobori (c) Vs. The Destroyer
(February 26, 1965)
JWA
Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
WWA World Heavyweight Championship – Two out of Three Falls

Almost sixty minutes in length, I was fully invested in this match within the first ten. Some fans find it hard to watch matches which contain a lot of (What are now known as) rest holds. Yet with this match even a fan who is may-be unfamiliar with scientific wrestling, can see that they are constantly moving, arching, changing grip, to either gain or keep the advantage. Unlike most technical bouts, this one is some what more theatrical in it’s approach to demonstrating the grappling side of things which is what makes it perfect for someone who may not normally appreciate this style of wrestling. On top of that though, The Destroyer provides almost a running commentary through-out the contest in his thick, I believe to be New York accent.

03 – Genichiro Tenryu (c) Vs. Keiji Mutoh
(June 8, 2001)
AJPW Super Power Series (Day 10): Budokan Hall Show #90
Attendance: 16,000
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship

This is personally my favourite match of all time and a timeless classic. Tenryu is already very old here but demonstrates that age is just a number when it comes to some pro wrestlers. A very well worked match as you would expect from these two guys and Mutoh’s very first AJPW Triple Crown championship match. Mutoh earned that shot by defeating Toshiaki Kawada in a very impressive outing, a match you have already seen if you watched the ones in that countdown. Will he make the most our of his first Triple Crown title shot against the legend Tenryu? Watch it and find out, like every other matches on this list, trust me, you won’t regret it! Honestly, Mutoh in 2001 is reaching another prime of his career and pretty much all of his matches from that year are a must see for pro wrestling fans, he was on fire! Tenryu is just being equal to himself, like usual, always giving great matches.

02 – Jumbo Tsuruta (c) Vs. Genichiro Tenryu
(June 5, 1989)
AJPW Super Power Series: Day 19
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 15,200
AJPW Unified Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship

When you talk Japanese wrestling from the 1980’s and 1990’s these two names will just continuously pop up. Deciding between this and the match that did finish in first place was an extremely hard choice for both me and Tanaka. Make no mistake though, either match could have been there. It would not be an overstatement to say this is considered as one of the greatest professional wrestling matches in history by many people. Tenryu and Tsuruta lay into each other like men possessed as they put on a display that involves physicality, technicality, psychology, work rate, everything that you could possibly want in a match. One that will definitely leave you in awe each time you view it.

01 – Mitsuharu Misawa Vs. Kenta Kobashi
(March 1, 2003)
NOAH Navigate For Evolution
Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 16,700

http://bit.ly/LGvG8o – Watch this match

This match is well deserving of the #1 spot! We discussed about not having the same matches with the exact same guys come up more than once in the countdown, but this one is THE exception. First of all because it’s undoubtedly one of the very best pro wrestling matches of all time, second because it’s and entirely different match than the first Kobashi/Misawa one on the list. You know guys are great wrestlers when they can face each other plenty of times and always bring something fresh to the table, something completely different even tho they’re both normal single matches, it is from A to Z totally distinctive pro wrestling matches. They took wrestling to another level in the 90’s in All Japan Pro Wrestling and they kept doing it into the 2000’s now in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Always raising the bar. A bar which you thought would be impossible to raise after their 1990’s period… But after you see this match you will know that it didn’t end there, Kobashi was actually still one of the top wrestlers in the world when he retired earlier this year. These guys had the best chemistry, they worked very hard, they knew each other like the palm of their hands and you know that when you put them together, you get pro wrestling magic. That’s why this match is #1, it’s fast paced, stiff, technical, some power moves, some flying… Just everything for everybody to enjoy. Misawa unfortunately died in 2009 after receiving a backdrop(belly-to-back suplex) in a tag-team match. This just shows you that this man gave everything he had for pro wrestling, his health and even his life. When you have as much dedication to your craft, you can be nothing but one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. R.I.P. Misawa, gone but never forgotten by true wrestling fans all over the world.

There you have it. The top fifty matches in Jimmy and Tanaka’s opinion that you just have to watch to get the full flavour of what Japan has to offer. The way this came together, just to give you some idea of why it was these fifty matches that were chosen. We wanted to cover all the different styles, every match had to be available to watch online, so anyone who hasn’t seen the action can see it and those who have seen it before can relive it. From there we each created a top 25 list each, whilst we both like a lot of the same stuff in Japan we also very different preferences in what we watch. That worked to give us an excellent variety of matches. Then we just discussed the over all order and slotted them together. And we hope it has opened a few new eyes to the Land of the Rising Sun, and has been a unique read for anyone who is familiar with Puroresu.

The very last thing, after part one was listed, there was a request by a reader named NJPW Gaijin Eric for a certain match. This was a match that didn’t come up while browsing for videos that were accessible on line. After seeing it requested though, we managed to find a copy and get it uploaded on YouTube, so we could include it as a bonus match, it really is worth the watch.

Bonus Match:

NJPW (Antonio Inoki, Seiji Sakaguchi, Kantaro Hoshino, Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Keiji Muto) Vs. UWF (Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, Akira Maeda, Kengo Kimura & Super Strong Machine)
NJPW
Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 11,070
10-Man Elimination Tag-Team Match

We won’t do a write up for this match other than to say, you can not get a more star studded match in Japan than this match. The name power alone is phenomenal. Give it a watch and let us know what you think of this match on the comments section below or on The Wrestling Mania Facebook Page. Thank you all for reading.

– By Jimmy Wheeler & Tomohiro Tanaka

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