Over the past few years, NJPW has established itself as the place to go for elite-level wrestling (pun only partially intended).
When compiling matches for this article, my initial feeling was that 2017 was a slightly stronger year. In hindsight, I think we’ve all just become accustomed to New Japan producing amazing matches with amazing consistency. Last year the roster set an outrageous bar, but over the past 12 months, they’ve continued to reach it time and time again. There may often be less fanfare when they do so, but that’s because it’s just the way things are now.
There was a time when a Dave Meltzer 5-star rating was a major news story. Nowadays, perfect ratings come thick and fast – the majority of them courtesy of New Japan, of course. Before big events, we predict (and expect) classic bouts ahead of time. The scale has been utterly smashed. Try not to panic when I tell you that one match this year received seven stars. It’s an outrageous state of affairs.
Astonishingly, though, NJPW continues to deliver. In this list you’ll find the reliable names: Okada, Omega, Tanahashi, Ishii, and so on. But 2018 also saw a few new figures come to the fore, and leave their mark on another fantastic year of wrestling.
Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 12
Minoru Suzuki vs. Hirooki Goto – Wrestle Kingdom 12
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Wrestling Dontaku Day 2
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay – Dominion
Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax Day 10
Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito – G1 Climax Day 14
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Destruction in Hiroshima
10. The Golden Lovers Vs. The Young Bucks – Strong Style Evolved
Deciding whether 2017 or 2018 was a better in-ring year for NJPW is a complex debate – but there’s one area that the promotion clearly improved upon this time around.
I’m talking about tag team wrestling, with New Japan’s various factions clashing in a series of action-packed bouts over the course of the year. The best, however, featured four men from the same stable. Sort of.
Bullet Club’s implosion dominated the early stages of 2018. Things kicked off in earnest at New Year Dash!!, where Cody finally usurped Omega and split the stable, only for Kota Ibushi to save his former friend from a beatdown.
The reformed Golden Lovers clashed with an emotionally distressed Matt and Nick Jackson in California, the Bucks still confused as to where their loyalties lay. The result was one of New Japan’s cleverest matches of 2018 – particularly for a promotion that typically reserves its most layered stories for one-on-one bouts.
Best Moment: Matt Jackson going rogue mid-move, abandoning ‘More Bang For Your Buck’ to Elbow-Drop Omega through a table on the outside. Bonus points for Nick’s horrified reaction.