At New Year’s Dash, the faction Suzuki-gun returned to New Japan after spending the last two years in Pro Wrestling NOAH. The sudden influx of an entire faction has inflated the New Japan roster, so I thought I would write up a bit about the different factions currently in NJPW, both for my benefit and that of anyone reading.
Plus, what else am I going to write about, the Royal Rumble? The Rumble could be interesting, but most likely the most boring wrestler with the most boring story is going to win, so I’m not going to waste time predicting interesting scenarios. So New Japan factions it is. I’ll be listing them in order of current power and strength, based on recent major wins and losses and titles held.
Leader: Kazuchika Okada
Key Members: Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano
CHAOS is the largest and most powerful faction at the moment. They hold the IWGP Heavyweight title, the NEVER Openweight title, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles, and the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Titles. They have several auxiliary members they can call in time of need such as Will Ospreay and Roppongi Vice to raise their numbers. They won four matches at WrestleKingdom, including the main event, putting them firmly as the most powerful faction in New Japan.
2016 was the first year of CHAOS without founder and former leader, Shinsuke Nakamura. Rather then flounder, the faction became more unified under the leadership of Okada. Every IWGP title match this year involved a member of CHAOS, and they added a strong asset in Goto. Several members stepped up this year. Ishii challenged for the IWGP title for the first time, and defeated Okada in the G1 Climax. And YOSHI-HASHI moved up the card as well, fighting in the G1 and challenging for lower titles.
2017 will be about keeping the power they have. As New Japan expands internationally, Okada will continue to be the face of the company, which makes him a target for everyone, even his own faction members. And while the faction seems unified, it would not surprise me if some of the members more attached to Nakamura like Ishii and Yano start to split off. The faction looks to spend the first part of the year in a feud with Suzuki-gun, and after that, who knows? They still have a lot of unfinished business with Los Ingobernables as well.
Los Ingobernables de Japon
Leader: Tetsuya Naito
Key Members: EVIL, SANADA, BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi
The smallest faction in New Japan, LIJ values quality over quantity, and I hope they keep that philosophy going forward. They currently hold two titles, the IWGP Intercontinental Title and the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title. They won three matches at WrestleKingdom, winning three titles, though they lost the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles the next night. However, they achieved something very special at WrestleKingdom, with Naito defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi clean to defend the IC title. The importance of that win can’t be understated, not to mention the entire stage and screen being designed for Naito’s entrance.
2016 was a fantastic year for LIJ. They added two new members, bringing their total to five, with Rush from CMLL on the wings if needed. They won many titles over the course of the year, but lost them nearly as fast. The highlight was Naito winning the IWGP title against Okada over the summer, though he lost it back rather quickly. He seems to have found a home as IC champion though, and has been the only member of the team to successfully defend a title. Naito has stepped up in a big way last year, essentially filling the shoes Nakamura left behind. Though the other members all had good years too, the faction really belongs to Naito.
In 2017, LIJ should focus on raising the stature of their other members. EVIL improved tremendously last year, and will be a fixture in the NEVER scene. SANADA has yet to challenge for a singles title, and that will probably change this year. BUSHI risks being overshadowed by his stablemate Hiromu, but the two could dominate the Jr Tag ranks. As the second most powerful faction, they also are going to be targeted by those looking to move up. They are also the newest faction, and that could leave them vulnerable.
New Japan Army
Leader: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Key Members: Katsoyuri Shibata, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA
Less a faction and more of a collection of wrestlers not in another faction, the New Japan Army tends to be where all the babyfaces go to team up against other factions. It’s hard to judge them as a group because of their individual natures. But they generally had a rough year, and went 0-6 at WrestleKingdom. Elgin did win the preshow Rumble, so that’s something I guess. Overall though, the faces of New Japan are going to be looking for a comeback year.
2016 saw the worst year of Tanahashi’s career. He was unable to beat Okada (twice!), unable to get past Kenny Omega, had surgery, and was defeated clean at WrestleKingdom by Tetsuya Naito. KUSHIDA had probably the best year of any of them, holding the IWGP Jr title for much of year and winning the Super J Cup tournament. Everyone else had mixed years, though special notice should be paid to Shibata’s year long story of having to earn the respect of his New Japan peers.
2017 will need to be a rebound year for the New Japan Army. Tanahashi in particular has to settle into his new role of no longer being THE guy. Judging by how much he goes around and still calls himself the Ace, I’m not sure he’s going to adapt all that well. I feel Elgin in particular is ready for a break out year, and if Shibata doesn’t challenge for the IWGP title this year, I’d be very surprised.
New Japan Army Sub-Faction
The Third Generation
Leader: Yuji Nagata
Key Members: Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Thunder Liger
Also known as the New Japan Dads, this collection of older wrestlers is still able to grumpily put younger wrestlers in their place. Though major success eluded them and will probably continue to elude them, they hold a valuable place in New Japan. They had a great story with Shibata, who disrespected them as he beat each of them in turn until Nagata defeated him for the NEVER title. After having respect knocked into him, Shibata won back his title and gained a new ally. Also notable was Tenzan’s G1 run. Originally left out of the line up, his friend and tag partner Kojima gave Tenzan his spot for one last run at glory. It didn’t pan out that way, but still.
New Japan Army Sub-Faction
Great Bash Heel
Leader: Togi Makabe
Key Member: Tomooaki Honma
Less of a faction and more of a tag team, Makabe and Honma still come out to their GBH moniker. Rougher and cruder then their Army counterparts, they had a pretty good year in 2016. They won the tag titles, fought for them several times, and became one of the few teams to win the annual Global Tag League two years in a row. They came up short at WrestleKingdom, but no doubt will stay in the tag team title scene.
Leader: Minoru Suzuki
Key Members: Killer Elite Squad, Taka Michinoku
I’m afraid I’m not super qualified to talk about Suzuki-gun. They literally left New Japan just as I started watching it. My first NJPW show was WrestleKingdom 9, which also happened to be their last show. I was disappointed, because I really liked Suzuki in the one match I saw him in. And since I don’t watch NOAH, these guys have been off my radar. But now they’re back in New Japan and ready to cause havoc.
Suzuki-gun is the purest faction of heels in the company right now. They cheat, and Suzuki has said he will use every trick he has to win the title off of Okada and tear down everything New Japan is trying to build. I imagine they will feud with CHAOS for a while, but who knows after that. The injection of Suzuki in the title scene, and Davey Boy Smith & Lance Archer into the tag team scene, is only a good thing at least.
Leader: Kenny Omega
Key Members: Guerilla’s of Destiny, Bad Luck Fale
The Bullet Club ended 2016 on a down note. The Guerilla’s lost the tag titles, and Kenny Omega came up short in the main event. The only members to get victories were Cody Rhodes and Adam Cole, auxiliary members at best. They have been left off the New Beginning’s tour entirely, replaced by Suzuki-gun. But the Bullet Club still moves merchandise, so you can bet they will be back sooner rather then later. But in what form?
2016 was a massive year of changes for the Club. Their leader left. A founding member left. And, uh, Luke Gallows left. Under the leadership of Kenny Omega, it often felt like there were two different Bullet Clubs. They had successes, to be sure. Tama Tonga took a large step forward, teaming with his brother to win the tag titles and participating in his first G1 Climax tournament. And Omega of course, became the first Westerner to win the G1. But they ended on a down note.
So what will 2017 bring? With them not being on the New Beginning’s shows, it’s hard to say. It would not surprise me if Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa, and maybe a few minor members, split away from the rest. Fale and Tonga are the only original members left, and the Bullet Club looks little like what it used to. Bullet Club Wolfpac?
Bullet Club Sub-Faction
Leader: Kenny Omega
Key Members: The Young Bucks
Omega has said time and time again that The Elite is his main priority, not the Bullet Club. Omega has made no secret that he finds the leadership of the Bullet Club to be more trouble then it’s worth, so how long can he manage to keep such a large faction unified? Then there’s his performance at WrestleKingdom. Despite losing, Omega put on a performance for the ages. Can he still be a heel after such an effort? When Omega returns, will it be at the head of the Bullet Club, cheating their way to victory once again? Or will it be a new Omega, one who is ready to shed the mantle of the Bullet Club and just be Elite? Omega plays things close to the chest, so there’s no way of knowing. But when he does come back, it’s going to be noteworthy.