New Japan Pro Wrestling is considered as the second biggest wrestling company in the world today behind the WWE. NJPW was founded by wrestling legend Antonio Inoki in 1972, but it is currently owned by Bushiroad Inc. Throughout its history NJPW has been affiliated and had agreements with several wrestling and mixed martial arts promotions in the world.
NJPW has worked with the WWE, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Jersey All Pro Wrestling, and Pride Fighting Championships. The company has had its ups and downs, but they are currently having one of their best runs of all time.
Wrestling fans around the world have used NJPW as an alternative to the WWE since they bring better wrestling matches overall. NJPW focus on the wrestling part of the business, unlike the WWE that likes the entertainment side more. Former WWE talents like Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, Vance Archer, Juice Robinson, Tonga Loa, and Davey Boy Smith Jr. have revived their careers in NJPW. With the rumours of some WWE superstars being unhappy and wanting to get released, NJPW is certainly a great option for them.
On the other hand, some NJPW stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows have signed with the WWE. But this list is not about the current WWE superstars who have worked with New Japan. Here are 15 WWE legends, current and future WWE Hall of Famers you did know wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
15 Daniel Bryan
Fans want to see Daniel Bryan wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling once his contract with the WWE expires next year. Bryan retired from active competition last year due to his concussion issues, but he has hinted that he wants to wrestle again outside of the WWE. One of his options is NJPW, a promotion he wrestled for after he was released by the WWE in 2000.
Bryan wrestled under his American Dragon persona, sometimes wearing a red, white, and blue mask while at New Japan. He was part of the junior heavyweight division and he had a very successful run as a singles and tag team wrestler. Bryan won the Best of the American Super Juniors and became the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Curry Man in 2004.
14 Brock Lesnar
After a short and successful first tenure in the WWE from 2001 to 2004, Brock Lesnar pursued a career in the NFL but failed. Lesnar returned to professional wrestling and signed with New Japan in 2005. He won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his debut match in a three-way against Kazuyuki Fujita and Masahiro Chono. With that victory, Lesnar joined Big Van Vader, Salman Hashimikov, Scott Norton, and Bob Sapp as the only non-Japanese wrestlers to win the prestigious title
Lesnar successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship three times against Shinsuke Nakamura, Akebono, and Giant Bernard before getting stripped by NJPW. Lesnar went on to hold the actual belt and signed with Inoki Genome Foundation to become the inaugural champion. He finally lost the championship to Kurt Angle in 2007.
13 The Dudley Boyz
Quite possibly the most accomplished tag team in wrestling history, The Dudley Boyz started in 1996 as part of the Dudley Family in ECW. Bubba Ray and D-Von joined the WWE in 1999 before getting released in 2005. The Dudley Boyz joined TNA Wrestling and they were able to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling because of a partnership agreement.
The Dudley Boyz made their debut for NJPW as Team 3D at Wrestle Kingdom II in 2008 against Togi Makabe and Toru Yano. Bubba Ray and D-Von won the IWGP World Tag Team Titles from Makabe and Yano at Wrestle Kingdom III, and they successfully defended the championships four times. They lost the titles to Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro in a Three-Way Hardcore Tag Team Match that also involved Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson.
12 Chris Jericho
The wrestling world was shocked when New Japan Pro Wrestling announced earlier this week that Chris Jericho will challenge Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship on January 4, 2018 at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It will mark Jericho’s return to NJPW after 20 long years. He made his last appearance for New Japan in 1998 when he and Black Tiger II (Eddie Guerrero) unsuccessfully challenged Shinjiro Otani and Tatsuhito Takaiwa for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
Jericho made his NJPW debut in 1997 under the Super Liger mask against Koji Kanemoto. It turned out to be the worst match in Jericho’s career and his performance was so bad that the character was immediately dropped. He debuted under his real name three weeks later and it helped him get called back by WCW. The rest was history.
11 Ricky Steamboat
After his first run with the WWE ended in 1988 and his one-year stint with WCW was unsuccessful, Ricky Steamboat toured with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1990. Steamboat faced The Great Muta and Hiroshi Hase while also teaming up with stars like Riki Choshu, Shinya Hashimoto, Owen Hart, Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit), and Miguel Perez Jr.
Following Steamboat’s successful two-month run with New Japan, the WWE came back calling and he was signed to a new deal in 1991. However, he left after a year and he returned to WCW. After two years in his second stint with WCW, Steamboat retired in 1994 before returning to the WWE in 2005. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 and he currently works as an ambassador for the WWE.
10 Eddie Guerrero
The late great Eddie Guerrero honed his skills all over the world before making it in the WWE in 2000. Guerrero was also known for his stints with WCW and ECW, but he also wrestled in New Japan Pro Wrestling from 1993 to 1996. Eddie wrestled under the Black Tiger mask and he was eventually known as Black Tiger II.
Guerrero was very successful as Black Tiger II in NJPW as he won the Best of the Super Juniors 1996 in 1996. He received a title shot for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, but he lost to The Great Sasuke. Eddie returned to NJPW in March 2002 in a three-week tour after he was released by the WWE due to a drunk driving incident. He re-signed with the WWE the next month and he was with the company until his untimely passing in 2005.
9 The Road Warriors
Whatever you want to call them (The Road Warriors or Legion of Doom) they are considered the greatest tag team in wrestling history. Hawk and Animal have won 17 tag team championships all over the world including the IWGP tag team championship twice as The Hell Raisers. The Road Warriors toured Japan from 1985 to 1990, wrestling for All Japan and New Japan.
When Hawk left the WWE in 1992, he formed The Hell Raisers with Kensuke Sasaki who dubbed himself as Power Warrior. They won the IWGP tag team championship in 1992 and 1994 with Animal eventually joining them in 1996, calling themselves the Road Warriors. Hawk and Animal signed with WCW in 1996 before returning to the WWE the next year until 1999. The original Road Warriors made their final appearance in May 2003 as Hawk passed away five months later.
The greatest WCW wrestler of all time, Sting was the face of the promotion until its demise in 2001. Sting refused to work for the WWE throughout the years, but he finally signed a deal in 2014. He wrestled sporadically for a year until he suffered a back injury against Seth Rollins. Sting announced his retirement last year when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
But when he was part of WCW Sting also appeared for New Japan Pro Wrestling, making his debut in 1991 against The Great Muta. Sting challenged Keiji Mutoh for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship the next year but lost. He continued to wrestle sporadically for NJPW until 1996. Some of the opponents he had at New Japan included Antonio Inoki, Masahiro Chono, Shiro Koshinaka, Hiro Saito, and Kensuke Sasaki, who defeated him in 1995 to win the WCW United States Championship.
7 Kurt Angle
Oh, it’s true. It’s damn true. Kurt Angle wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling after his release from the WWE as part of TNA Wrestling’s partnership agreement. Angle made his debut in 2007 when he teamed up with Yuji Nagata to defeat Giant Bernard and Travis Tomko. Angle ended up winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Brock Lesnar that same year before losing it to Shinsuke Nakamura in 2008.
Angle also wrestled at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom II and III in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He successfully defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Nagata at Wrestle Kingdom II while also winning an 8-person tag team match with Kevin Nash, Masahiro Chono, and Riki Choshu at Wrestle Kingdom III. Angle also lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi at the NJPW Resolution in 2009.
6 Bret Hart
At the present time, Bret Hart might be the most bitter man in professional wrestling but he is considered as one of the greatest wrestlers in the world. Hart made his name in the WWE where he won the world title five times. He is also a two-time Intercontinental champion and a two-time tag team champion with Jim Neidhart. But before he became “The Hitman” in the WWE, Hart had a short stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling in the early 1980s.
Hart first appeared in NJPW in 1980 when he teamed up with Bad News Allen to face Kengo Kimura and Riki Choshu. He also faced off against Tiger Mask I in 1982 before appearing in more tag team matches in 1984. Hart’s tag team partners included Black Tiger I, Rusher Kimura, and Bad News Allen. He made his final appearance for New Japan in 1990 when he faced Tiger Mask II at the WWE/All Japan/New Japan Wrestling Summit.
5 Randy Savage
Oh Yeah! “Macho Man” Randy Savage made his name in the WWE and WCW, but he also wrestled for several matches in New Japan Pro Wrestling during his illustrious career. Savage first appeared in 1990 at the WWE/All Japan/New Japan Wrestling Summit wherein he lost to Genichiro Tenryu in a 15-minute match. He returned to NJPW in 1996 as part of WCW’s working agreement and he had matches with Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Ric Flair, and the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger.
“Macho Man” lost to Flair, but he picked up two wins against Tenzan and Jushin Thunder Liger. His last appearance for New Japan happened on January 4, 2000 at the NJPW Wrestling World against Rick Steiner. Even though he lost to Steiner and his NJPW stint was brief, Savage had memorable matches that should be remembered to this day.
4 Ric Flair
Ric Flair is known to have wrestled all over the world including a short stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Flair first appeared on an NJPW show in 1991 when he challenged Tatsumi Fujinami for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a double title match that also involved his NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the WCW/New Japan Supershow in Tokyo. Flair ended up losing the match, but he won back the NWA title at WCW SuperBrawl that same year.
Flair also participated in the 1995 G1 Climax wherein he battled against Masahiro Chono, Shiro Koshinaka, and Keiji Mutoh. He did not earn enough points to reach the semifinals of the tournament that was eventually won by Mutoh. Flair made his final appearances for NJPW at a couple of shows in Osaka and Tokyo in 1996 wherein he faced off with Fujinami and Kensuke Sasaki, respectively.
3 Andre The Giant
The Eighth Wonder of the World is one of the biggest – literally and figuratively – WWE superstars in history. Andre The Giant was signed to the WWE from 1973 to 1992, but he was not exclusively working for them. Andre had over 500 matches in New Japan Pro Wrestling from 1974 to 1986. He won the MSG Tag League, now the G1 Tag League, in 1981 with Rene Goulet.
Andre also won the 1985 International Wrestling Grand Prix, defeating fellow WWE Hall of Famer, Tatsumi Fujinami, in the Final. He added the Sagawa Express Cup in his trophy cabinet in 1986. Other wrestlers Andre The Giant faced in NJPW include Antonio Inoki, Seiki Sakaguchi, Kengo Kimura, Killer Khan, Tiger Toguchi, Riki Choshu, Haruka Eigen, Tiger Jeet Singh, and Kantaro Hoshino.
2 Hulk Hogan
Before Hulk Hogan became the biggest wrestling superstar of the 1980s, he worked sporadically in New Japan Pro Wrestling for five years from 1980 to 1985. Hogan did it despite being signed to WWE and he only became a big star when Vince McMahon acquired the company from his father in 1983. Hogan was a huge star in Japan wherein the fans gave him the nickname Ichiban which means Number One.
What’s more surprising in Hogan’s run in NJPW is his technical wrestling. Yes, Hogan apparently knows how to use traditional wrestling holds and maneuvers, not just body slams and punches. Hogan also used a crooked arm lariat as his finisher and not his patented running leg drop. Although not recognized by NJPW, Hogan won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Antonio Inoki in 1983.
1 The Undertaker
Surprised? Yes, The Undertaker, who is known for his loyalty to the WWE, has worked for NJPW during his legendary career. Before The Undertaker was taking souls and digging holes in the WWE, he was signed to WCW from 1989 to 1990 and they had an agreement with NJPW. As “Punisher” Dice Morgan, Mark Callaway wrestled in Japan for three weeks in March 1990.
Dice Morgan teamed up with the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow and Scott Hall during the three-week tour. Morgan and Hall even had a shot to win the IWGP Tag Team Championships, but they failed. He was later released by WCW and he was immediately signed by the WWE. You know what happened next. The Undertaker was born and he became one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time.
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