Have you never watched Japanese wrestling? Never really known where to find it? Well, this is the article for you. The land of the rising Sun is an area of wrestling that is quite often ignored by the mainstream fans of wrestling in the western world. I’m not sure if this is due to the lack of availability, lack of interest, or even just a case of a lack of awareness of the great product that has been put on for the last five plus decades. This list was never intended to be the greatest WRESTLING matches in history of Japan, it does naturally incorporate a lot of five star quality bouts though. What you can expect to find within is a run through of various types of matches from straight up Catch-as-Catch-Can to Women’s wrestling the likes of which you never have seen if you have haven’t ever watched Japanese women go at it.

    There’s Death Matches, Strong Style Matches, Heavyweights, Junior Heavyweights, Tag-Team, Six-Man Tag-Team, and Singles Matches. The one thing that bonds them all together? Well, we can safely say you will not see action like this anywhere but IN Japan. Just one last thing before we go into the list: whilst were doing research for it, we came across a gem of a piece of footage from April 29, 1986. Whilst this list has some of the best and craziest things you may never have seen, I thought this would make a perfect prequel video that couldn’t be included in the list anyway, as it goes completely wrong.

    As with every match we will provide you with a link to watch it:

    Prequel – Andre the Giant Vs. Akira Maeda
    (April 29, 1986)
    NJPW Big Fight Series (Day 15)
    Citizen Gynasium, Tsu, Mie, Japan
    Attendance: 4,700

    In brief, Akira Maeda who was having trouble with politics in NJPW at the time anyway decided he did not want to lost to Andre the Giant in the match. As you would expect, naturally, Andre the Giant was not going to lose a match he was scheduled to win. So, Akira Maeda decides to try and shoot on Andre the giant with a series of very solid kicks to Andre’s. Andre continues to push the persistent Maeda away, until, Andre has finally had enough and simply lays down to let Maeda pin him. Maeda refuses though wanting to shoot fight still. At this point Antonio Inoki comes down and calls the whole match off in one of the most bizarre moments in puroresu history. It should also be noted, Andre the Giant was most likely intoxicated, but when wasn’t he? There are also reports that Andre (And it does look like it too) was testing Maeda in the ring, which is why Maeda took a stance.

    Anyway, without any further ado here is part one –  Numbers 50 to 26 in the Fifty Japanese Matches You Simply Must Watch:

    50 – Kendo Nagasaki Vs. Mitsuhiro Matsunga
    (August 19, 1996)
    BJW Summer Nights Dream
    Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
    Amazon River Piranha & Barbed Wire Board Death Match

    http://www.vbox7.com/play:b8600ec485 – Watch this match

    What to say about a match with this title? Well, it was actually between this and a ‘Scorpion & Desert Cactus Death Match.’ It was a very close choice on out-there gimmicks. Both looked very painful, but, the psychology of this one building the match up around “will he actually go into the tank of very real, very live piranha?” won me over along with the hard hitting nature of Kendo Nagasaki.

    49 – Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Masahiro Chono Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Tatsumi Fujinami
    (May 14, 2005)
    NJPW Nexess VI
    Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 35,000

    http://bit.ly/1b64CdB – Watch this match

    This match makes the list for a very simple reason: Liger Vs. Misawa for the first and only time ever. The two of them in their primes going at it is a dream match, but this is the closest we’re ever gonna get to it, so enjoy this piece of Japanese pro wrestling history!

    48 – The Undertaker Vs. Hakushi
    (October 10, 1997)
    Michinoku Pro
    Yasukuni Jinja Sumo Hall, Tokyo, Japan.

    This a perfect example of a match that is on this list not necessarily because it’s a great match, not that it’s a bad match. It’s just a complete novelty though to see The Undertaker in a promotion other than the WWE. The action is fairly slow paced, however, when placed in the middle of a card with only 12 minutes approximately, it was never going to be breath taking. There is one pretty unique aspect to this encounter though, the Undertaker did not have to change his style at all, like most Western based wrestlers who travel to Japan.

    47 – Genichiro Tenryu & Ashura Hara Vs. Atsushi Onita & Tarzan Goto
    (March 2, 1994)
    WAR Revolution Rumble ’94
    Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 11, 000

    http://bit.ly/11RGwuR – Watch this match

    This was named the match of the year by sports related newspaper Tokyo Sports Grand Prix in 1994. While far from a technical masterpiece this match is an example of normal wrestling Vs. death match wrestling, WAR vs FMW, Tenryu and Onita had a heated feud in the mid 90’s and it shows in that match. Tenryu represented pro wrestling and all the fans who hate Onita and his brand of pro wrestling so it makes for a pretty intense stiff strong style brawl with the crowd well into it.

    46 – Antonio Inoki & Hulk Hogan Vs. Tatsumi Fujinami & Akirda Maeda
    (December 7, 1983)
    NJPW The 4th MSG Tag League Matches (Day 20)
    Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan
    MSG Tag League

    At first look this may appear as though it’s been put on as another novelty bout. That could not be further from the truth. Whilst it is only 13 or so minutes in length, bell-to-bell it features some nice trading of wrestling holds. The tempo of the match remains quick through-out building to a nice fast finish. Not only that it shows Hulk Hogan holding is own with very competent wrestlers in Akira Maeda, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Antonio Inoki.

    45 – Wild Pegasus & Jushin “Thunder” Liger Vs. Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Mutoh
    (November 1 or 5 (listed differently on a few websites) 1993)
    NJPW Super Grade Tag League III
    Matsumoto Gymnasium, Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
    Attendance: 2,400

    http://bit.ly/18uecHA – Watch this match

    This is a rarely seen little gem with some of Japan’s top performers at that time and the first time Liger and Mutoh faced off against one another in a match. With names like these, Benoit, Liger, Muta and Hase you know it’s good!

    44 – Antonio Inoki vs Tiger King (A.K.A. The Original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama)
    (April 12 1997)
    NJPW Battle Formation 1997 (not 1995 as stated on Wikipedia and YouTube)
    Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 60,500

    http://bit.ly/14d0inf – Watch this match

    It’s a real shame this encounter is only 6 minutes and 54 seconds in length. It’s nothing short of fantastic action from the get go between two wrestlers that, it’s not a stretch to say, are truly iconic figures in puroresu. The pair put on a real display of how you can have a short match and still make it mean something. To the best of our knowledge this is the only time Sayama and Inoki have faced off, solidifying it’s place on the list.

    43 – Hisako Uno (Akira Hokuto) & Yumiko Hotta (c) Vs. Kazue Nagahori & Yumi Ogura
    (April 27, 1987)
    AJW Tokyo, Japan
    WWWA World Tag-Team Championship – Two out of Three Falls

    Two out of three falls. It’s not often you see women in ugly bathing suits put on a pro wrestling match this good. At 1:35 of the second part, Akira Hokuto takes a second rope tombstone piledriver that breaks her neck. She actually continues the match after getting some “medical” attention. Her partner Yumiko Hotta then proceeds to stiff the hell out of the other team with KICKS for a measure of revenge. Great stuff!

    42 – The Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley) Vs. Team No Limit (Tetsuya Naito & Yujiro Takahashi)
    (December 11, 2010)
    NJPW Circuit 2010 New Japan Alive
    Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, Namba, Osaka, Japan
    Attendance: 6,115

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

    A very well planned out match by these two great teams. It’s built how most good matches should. It builds sucking you in, spot, it builds some more sucking you in further, spot, etc, until it explodes into a frenzy for the finish. A lot of people say smaller guys just fly, this is a very fun and entertaining example of how you can work a modern style and still tell the always important story.

    41 – Lou Thesz (c) Vs. Rikidozan
    (October 13, 1957)
    JWA Osaka, Osaka, Japan
    Attendance: 30,000
    NWA World Heavyweight Championship – Two out of Three Falls

    Rikidozan is a god in Japan. He is known as the father of puroresu and he’s one of the most popular athletes in Japan’s history. His one hour time limit draw against Lou Thesz on October 6, 1957, for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship drew unbelievable ratings of 87.0, his matches are the most watched in pro wrestling history. This is one of his legendary matches against Thesz, who plays the heel in Japan.

    40 – Kendo Nagasaki Vs. Bruiser Okamoto Vs. Seiji Yamakawa Vs. Yosuke Kobayashi Vs. Yuichi Taniguchi
    (July 1, 1995)
    BJW Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
    5-Way Elimination Grocery Store Death Match

    A fridge, a toaster, a toy dispenser, a fishing net, a broom, bags of rice, cardboard, beer bottles and crates, an avocado, a bicycle, raw ham, cash registers, water melons, a large fish, and the most useful of the offensive weapons, whipped cream. If these are all items you desire to be used as weapons in a pro-wrestling contest, then this is for you. When Kendo Nagasaki gets tired of watching two youngsters fight in a make shift ring in the middle of a shopping complex in Japan, all Hell breaks loose. With hilarious production sound effects and music. An array of bemused, confused, and scared onlookers watching on. This is a death match that could only happen in Japan. Nevermind your Steve Austin and Booker T supermarket tussle, this has it all. Not to be down played by the humour though, this is brutal

    39 – Jushin “Thunder” Liger Vs. Owen Hart
    (April 28, 1991)
    NJPW Explosion Tour 1991
    Omiya Skate Center, Saitama, Japan
    Top of the Super Junior Tournament

    http://bit.ly/Tg17k – Watch this match

    Two of the best junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world at that time, Owen Hart and Jushin Liger had a few matches against one another in NJPW but this one is widely regarded as their best encounter and one of the best matches of Owen Hart’s career. You can see just how great Owen really was when he faces another elite talent like Jushin “Thunder” Liger.

    38 – Mitsuharu Misawa (c) Vs. Samoa Joe
    (October 27, 2007)
    NOAH Autumn Navigation 2007
    Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 14,000
    GHC Heavyweight Championship

    http://bit.ly/17sH6rW – Watch this match

    About 20 minutes in match time, and it appears to be a very physical 20 minute affair between these two. The action is hard hitting, there’s a nice display of wrestling holds, aerial ability, and just straight up stiff shots. Samoa Joe holds his own with the Japanese veteran brilliantly.

    37 – Antonio Inoki Vs. Bruiser Brody
    (April 18, 1985)
    NJPW Big Fight Series II
    Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 11,066

    The names alone should get you excited for a match up like this. Antonio Inoki, the martial artist against the wildman brawler, Bruiser Brody. The commentators are trying to be funny but they’re just horrible but it’s worth sitting through these brainless idiots. I wish Inoki would just go to their homes and kick them repeatedly in the head like he did to the Great Antonio.

    36 – Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi Vs. Lou Thesz & Karl Gotch
    (October 14, 1973)
    NJPW World’s Strongest Tag Team Match
    Kuramae Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 12,000

    A real treat to see Karl Gotch in action, something that is rare to come by. In a brilliantly fast paced technical encounter between four of the most accomplished scientific wrestlers to appear in Japan. The four men feed off each other superbly as they trade holds, transition, and maneuver around the ring in a true Catch-as-Catch-Can style dance.

    35 – Holy Demon Army (Akira Taue & Toshiaki Kawada) (c) Vs. Miracle Violence Connection (Steve Williams & Terry Gordy)
    (July 26, 1993)
    AJPW Summer Action Series
    Ishikawa Prefectural Industrial Exhibition Hall #1, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan
    AJPW World Tag-Team Championship

    Two of the most successful tag-teams in All Japan Pro Wrestling history. Kawada and Taue, the local favourites against Gordy and Williams, the evil but well respected gaijins. Classic tag-teams for a classic tag-team match!

    34 – CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka, & Dragon Kid Vs. Naomichi Marufuji, Ricky Marvin, & Ippel Ota
    (April 28, 2007)
    NOAH Spring Navigation (Day 16)
    Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 15,000

    As we said in the intro, we wanted to include a wide range of Japanese contests, including some of the newer guys who have been rocking the scene for the last few years. This six-man tag-team bout works as very good demonstration on why that has been the case. There’s a story to the match. There’s a whole plethora of arsenal used through-out the non-stop action along with some really enjoyable spots.

    33 – Tiger Mask (c) Vs. Dynamite Kid
    (August 5, 1982)
    NJPW Summer Fight Series II (Day 19)
    Kuramae Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
    WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship

    http://bit.ly/12eccR6 – Watch this match

    Those were two of the best wrestlers in the world at that time and they had a lot of great matches together. Groundbreaking and way ahead of their times, those guys were X-Division before most of the current X-Division guys were even born.

    32 – Stan Hansen & Ted Dibiase Vs. Yoshiaki Yatsu & Riki Choshu
    (December 12, 1985)
    Budokan Hall Show #3
    Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 10,600
    Real World Tag League

    Strong style to the max. A ferocious battle between the four participants. Momentum changing from team-to-team as these wrestlers knock lumps out of each other, and seemingly enjoy doing it. When they’re fighting to win the Real World Tag League though, it’s hardly surprising they left nothing behind. These were the kind of contests that really put AJPW atop of the Japanese and, in many people’s minds, the international wrestling food chain as a whole in the mid-to-late 1980’s.

    31 – Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi (c) Vs. The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue)
    (June 9, 1995)
    AJPW Super Power Series
    Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
    AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship
    Attendance: 16,300

    http://bit.ly/Sc3tsK – Watch this match

    Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue were involved in some of the best tag-team matches of all time and this is arguably the very best four man match ever. Putting Kawada & Taue together against Misawa and Kobashi just couldn’t go wrong!

    30 – Wild Pegasus Vs. The Great Sasuke
    (April 16, 1994)
    NJPW Super J Cup
    Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 11,500
    Tournament Final

    To give this match some kind of perspective for you, Wild Pegasus (Better known as Chris Benoit) had already beaten Black Tiger II (Better known as Eddie Guerrero) and Gedo. The Great Sasuke had already beaten El Samurai and Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Known as one of the very best Junior Heavyweight events ever, the finals only served to be the icing on the cake in what had already been a tremendous card. Technical action, high flying action, and all still at an astoundingly fast pace given it was the third match for both men on this evening. On a personal note, this was the first full Japanese event Jimmy ever saw (Not counting WWF-E/WCW joint shows), and he never looked back.

    29 – Kurt Angle(c) vs Yuji Nagata
    (January 4, 2008)
    NJPW Wrestle Kingdom II
    Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance : 27,000
    IWGP Heavyweight Championship (IGF Version)

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

    This was when TNA had a deal with NJPW. These guys have great chemistry together with their MMA backgrounds. Angle here is defending the IGF recognized version of the IWGP Heavyweight title against New Japan representative Yuji Nagata. This is a very good match between one of the best wrestlers in the world for years, Kurt Angle and Yuji Nagata who is awesome in his own right but unfortunately not very well known in North America (he did make some appearances for WCW in the 90’s, though.)

    28 – Low Ki (c) Vs. Prince Devitt
    (November 11, 2012.)
    NJPW 40th Anniversary Power Struggle 2012
    Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka, Japan
    IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
    Attendance: 6,600

    http://bit.ly/12u5ikF – Watch this match

    A very special match on our list for the reason that it is the only one that contains two wrestlers born outside of the orient. With that being said, it truly deserves a place. When guys who have perfected the modern style of wrestling want to use it, Japan is the best place for them to go. This match from 2012 is an awesome representation of why the evolution of the style is a good thing, not a bad thing. If it had been five minutes longer, it’d have been much higher on the list.

    27 – Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. KENTA
    (January 3, 2009)
    NOAH Second Navigation (Day 7)
    Nippon, Budokan, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 14,800
    GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship

    It’s kinda weird to realize that at only 20 years old, Nakajima had already been wrestling for 5 years at that time. And it shows, it’s not your average 20 year old rookie pro wrestler in the ring. KENTA is amazing as always and it seems that all his matches are great, this one is no exception.

    26 – Big Van Vader Vs. Stan Hansen
    (February 10, 1990)
    NJPW Super Fight
    Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
    Attendance: 63,900
    IWGP Heavyweight Championship

    http://bit.ly/16W85bQ – Watch this match

    Have you ever wanted to just see two big guys literally beat seven shades of you know what out of each other? Well, I don’t know if there’s ever been a more appropriate match to bare witness to how ‘real’ wrestling can be. Within the opening five minutes, Vader’s eye is popped out of the socket and he has to push it back in. The, what can only be described as a vicious onslaught, continues for the following ten plus minutes. The phrase ‘organised brutality’ would never be used better than to describe this bout.


    Well, that was numbers fifty to twenty-six. Thank you for reading part one and we hope you have enjoyed taking a look through the matches we have provided as much as we have had putting them together. We will be back in the not too distant future with numbers twenty-five to number one, and the WRESTLING only gets better!

    – By Jimmy Wheeler and Tomohiro Tanaka

    sign-up image