At Wrestlemania 34, Shinsuke Nakamura will take on AJ Styles for the WWE Championship, but it won’t be the first time they’ve fought for gold on a huge stage. In 2016, Styles and Nakamura had a match at Wrestle Kingdom 10 for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, and if that bout is any indication of how their Wrestlemania encounter is going to be, it will be absolutely fantastic.
With this WWE dream match coming up next month, it got me thinking – which other rivals have faced each other in both WWE and New Japan? Well, thanks to hours of research and the lifesaver that is cagematch.com, I’ve found the best feuds that happened on opposite sides of the world. Here are the Top 20 Times Wrestlers Fought in both WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
For this list, I have decided to not include any WWE house shows, Royal Rumbles, battle royals, or Money in the Bank matches, however two-on-two and six-man tag team matches still count. With that being said, let’s get started.
20. Finn Balor/Prince Devitt vs. Karl Anderson
While Finn Balor and Karl Anderson are mostly known for being the best of friends, and as stablemates in both Bullet Club and Balor Club, they have been on the other side of the ring from each other on a couple of occasions. On an episode of Monday Night Raw, Finn fought against Anderson in a quick five-minute match, whilst in New Japan, before they became Bullet Club buddies, Devitt and Anderson fought against each other in multiple tag team matches. Nothing too exciting, but considering these two are now good brothers together, it’s interesting to know that they’re some of the few wrestlers to compete against each other in these two huge companies.
19. Kurt Angle vs. Albert/Giant Bernard
While Giant Bernard (AKA Matt Bloom, A-Train, Tensai, Lord Tensai, Sweet T, Albert, Prince Albert, Jason Albert, etc etc) had a lengthy and extremely successful run in NJPW, Kurt Angle had just eight matches there, but still managed to win a version of the company’s top belt (that’s because he’s an olympic gold freakin’ medalist). His penultimate match with New Japan came against top gaijin heel, Giant Bernard, a man whom he had faced twice on WWF television back in the Attitude Era – once on Raw, and once a Smackdown. Back then, Bernard was a part of the forgettable Test and Albert tag team, whilst Angle had quickly become one of the WWF’s best talents in an incredibly short amount of time.
Whilst they’re not encounters that would be played in a career retrospective for either man, they’re still a part of a select group of Attitude Era stars that got to tear it up in Japan as well as during the hottest period of American wrestling.
18. Giant Bernard/Albert vs. Dudley Boyz/Team 3D
And now once again for the man with the tribal tattoos and hairy back.
During the Attitude Era, Albert was never given any clear direction or much of a character to cling onto, so as a result, he was bounced from forgettable pairing to forgettable pairing, teaming with the likes of Scotty 2 Hotty, X-Pac, Justin Credible, and Test. As a prominently tag team-based wrestler in the early 2000s, obviously Albert had to face the Dudley Boyz on multiple occasions in the WWF/E, sometimes even with the tag team titles on the line, all of which weren’t memorable.
However, when the future NXT head coach met the brothers from Dudleyville once again years later, it was on a much more memorable platform – inside the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom IV. By this time, the former Prince Albert had finally found the perfect partner to destroy other teams with, Karl Anderson, who together formed Bad Intentions, a massively successful team in New Japan. A tag team championship match at Wrestle Kingdom featuring one of the most dominant tag teams in recent NJPW history, and the team who’s won the most world tag team titles of all time, now that’s a little more important than a two-minute match on Monday Night Raw.
17. Andre the Giant vs. The Iron Sheik
While their encounters in WWF and New Japan didn’t take place on the grandest of stages, or during peak times for either companies, it’s still intriguing that two of the most famous wrestlers of the 1980’s managed to square off on both sides of the world during that decade. The two are never associated with each other as they never crossed paths during the peak of their exposure, so it may come as a surprise that they even faced-off on WWF television, let alone in New Japan as well.
16. Andre the Giant vs. King Kong Bundy
Competing in several tag matches on WWF’s Saturday Night Main Events, as well as some programming broadcast on the MSG and PRISM networks, Andre and Bundy battled each other multiple times whilst employed by Vince McMahon, yet were never really associated with each other as rivals. Although their most famous matches took place in America from late 1985 onwards, these two behemoths of grappling first collided earlier that same year in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Similarly to the previous entry, these two never had a heated feud together, yet they did compete in front of millions of NBC viewers, in front of a humble audience in Koruken Hall, and were both major stars in their era.
15. Hulk Hogan vs. Big John Studd
These two WWE Hall of Famers, and 1980’s Rock n’ Wrestling era legends, are known for fighting each other for the WWF Championship in both 1984 and 1985, yet 99% of fans at the time wouldn’t have known that these two behemoths actually collided back in 1983 in New Japan Pro Wrestling in multiple tag team matches, as well as a one-on-one bout in that year’s IWGP League (Hogan obviously went over in that one, brother).
14. Chris Benoit/Pegasus Kid vs. William/Steve Regal
These two technical wizards tested their skills against each other all over the world, in promotions such as WCW, independent shows such as the Brian Pillman Memorial, NJPW, and of course, WWE.
In the 1990s, when Benoit was a mythical beast child, and Regal was a lord with a different first name, these two were pitted against each other multiple times in New Japan due to their chemistry and high skills in technical wrestling. Years later, they would have a fantastic match on Velocity, easily the best in the secondary show’s short history, as well as at No Mercy 2006.
Without question, their contests together in WWE would be held in much higher regard these days if it wasn’t for the events surrounding Benoit’s death. For good reason, these matches will never be praised as much as they once should have been.
13. Andre the Giant vs. Ax/Masked Superstar
Despite being one of the most unimaginative gimmicks I’ve ever heard of, the Masked Superstar, who would later been known as Ax from Demolition, had a lengthy run in New Japan during the 1980s, both feuding and teaming with the legendary Andre the Giant. After a long and rich history together in Japan, these two would face off again years later in the WWF, when Andre teamed with the equally terrifying Haku to face the dominating Demolition at Wrestlemania 6 (as well as on an episode of Superstars) in 1990.
These two have far more history together than you may realise, even before their collision on the grandest stage of them all towards the end of Andre’s career.
12. Neville/PAC vs. Finn Balor/Prince Devitt
Two of the best wrestlers in the world under 200 pounds had a couple of incredible encounters in NXT back in 2015, but those weren’t the first times these two former champions went face-to-face in a ring. Surprisingly, as suitable as he may seem for the company, Neville only embarked on one tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling during his indie days as PAC, which was to compete in the 2012 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. For a first-timer in the promotion, PAC did surprisingly well, reaching the semi-finals thanks to wins over the likes of Jushin Thunder Liger, Gedo, and the man known at the time as Prince Devitt.
Before forming the unbelievably popular Bullet Club, and moving up to the heavyweight division, Devitt was one of NJPW’s top junior heavyweight wrestlers, and a former champion and BOSJ winner by the time he fought against PAC, making it a significant victory for the man from Newcastle.
Whether in Japan or Full Sail University, these two always put on a great show, and I would highly recommend checking out all of their matches if you haven’t already.
11. Brock Lesnar vs. A-Train/Giant Bernard
Now a random match between Brock Lesnar and A-Train on Smackdown back in the early 2000s probably wouldn’t have been all too significant to many people, yet years later, Brock and the re-branded Giant Bernard fought in New Japan for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in one of the few gaijin vs. gaijin title matches in NJPW history. As you can imagine, Brock came out on top each time these two fought, and whilst nobody is talking about their matches from WWE, people still discuss their New Japan encounter given the rarity of two non-Japanese talents competing for the company’s biggest price.
10. Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd
One of the most promoted fights at the very first Wrestlemania was the body slam challenge between two of the companies biggest stars (literally). Big John Studd inevitably failed to slam the mammoth Andre to nobody’s surprise…..and of course fans weren’t surprised when Andre beat John several times throughout the early 80s in the NWA and NJPW. In fact, these two were facing off all the way back in the mid-70s in the WWWF, run by Vince McMahon Sr, with Andre coming out on top every single time.
9. Chris Benoit/Pegasus Kid vs. Eddie Guerrero/Black Tiger
The end of Wrestlemania XX was, at the time, one of the most emotional moments in recent memory, when WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero and World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit embraced as a shroud of confetti covered the arena. The reason why this was such a special image for the two wrestlers and for fans around the world (before the events surrounding Benoit’s death) is because these two had so much history together.
The two former world champions first met in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where they competed with and against each other in the junior heavyweight division, as Pegasus Kid and Black Tiger. As the years went by, Guerrero and Benoit took their many battles to WCW, and then eventually, and most notably, in WWE on many episodes of Smackdown, as well as multiple PPVs.
Although many find it hard to enjoy watching Benoit’s matches in hindsight, and understandably so, with the amount of talent both men had, they were always guaranteed to put on a world-class show, regardless of which promotion they faced-off in.
8. Chris Benoit/Wild Pegasus vs. Chris Jericho
It’s no secret that Chris Jericho greatly admired his fellow countryman, Chris Benoit. Jericho has admitted on several occasions that the reason he wanted to go to Japan was because Benoit had been there several times, and contacted him when he was deciding whether to join the New Japan dojo. Given how much respect he had for Benoit, it must have been a great honour for Jericho at the time to face him in New Japan in a series of tag matches in 1997 (they also had several matches for WAR and WCW beforehand, but to battle in the country Benoit had recommended to Jericho must have made these tags particularly special).
Of course these tag team matches were not the last occasions these two future world champions would compete against each other. From 2000 to 2005, Benoit and Jericho fought dozens of times in the WWF/E, most memorably at Wrestlemania 2000, Judgement Day 2000, and No Way Out 2001.
Whilst Benoit’s matches are impossible to truly enjoy for most fans these days, at the time, his fights with Jericho were always show-stealers. Two of the very best at what they do/did could never have a bad match together, regardless of the company they were in.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Finn Balor/Prince Devitt
One of the best NXT television matches took place on July 13th 2016, when Finn Balor passed the yellow brand’s torch to Shinsuke Nakamura. This may have been the first time they fought in WWE, but their history together started almost a decade beforehand.
In 2007, Balor (then called Prince Devitt) and Nakamura were a part of RISE, the company’s most dominant faction at the time. Nakamura and Devitt teamed on a regular basis up until 2009, when Devitt would begin teaming with Ryusuke Taguchi as Apollo 55, whilst Shinsuke formed the heel group CHAOS, two teams that would collide regularly.
From 2006 to 2014, Nakamura shared the ring with Devitt in 53 different tag team matches, but their first and only singles match together took place the last time they competed against each other in NJPW, in the second round of the 2014 New Japan Cup, one of Devitt’s last matches for the company. If their NJPW and NXT matches are anything to go by, we need to see these two collide on the main roster sooner rather than later.
6. Bob Backlund vs. Hulk Hogan
The fact these two even had a match in WWF will probably come as a big surprise to most of you. Yes, long before Hulkamania began running wild, all the way back in 1980, Bob Backlund defended his WWF Championship several times against a young Hulk Hogan, both on the PRISM Network and on WWF Championship Wrestling, with Backlund coming out on top each time. But there was another place which Backlund defended his title against the Hulkster….in New Japan Pro Wrestling. From the research I’ve done, I believe this is the only instance of two wrestlers facing each other for the WWF Heavyweight Championship in both of these promotions.
Across WWF and New Japan, Backlund and Hogan faced each other 14 times, with Backlund coming out on top every time. However, if these two had competed just a few years later, I’m sure it would have had a totally different outcome, brother.
5. Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
From Saturday Night’s Main Events, to Superstars, to Survivor Series, to Prime Time Wrestling, and of course, to Wrestlemania II, Hogan and Bundy fought a LOT in WWF during the 1980s, however the first and only other place outside of the WWF that these two fought was in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In January 1985, Bundy and Hogan met twice during the NJPW New Year Golden Series tournament – by September of that year, the two were fighting on NESN for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. It truly is amazing how quickly American members of the New Japan roster were turned into global superstars by WWF during that period.
4. Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
When Sgt. Slaughter turned his back on America, Hulk Hogan had to put a stop to it in one of the most controversial (and unsuccessful) Wrestlemania main events of all time. Although WWF would have wanted you to think differently, this was not the first time these two touched inside a ring. Ten years prior to Wrestlemania VII, Slaughter and Hogan fought several times in New Japan Pro Wrestling, from 1981 to 1982 in multiple singles and tag team matches. They actually had quite the rivalry going at the time, which was rare for gaijin talents.
Slaughter and Hogan never once teamed together, either in New Japan or WWF – they were always opponents. Even when they were both flying the red, white and blue, they just couldn’t fight on the same side of the war.
3. Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage
Leading up to Wrestlemania 8, every fan in the world was anticipating a match between the two biggest stars on the planet at the time – Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. They were finally in the same company at the same time with the whole world watching…….but that’s not the match they got. Instead, for whatever idiotic reason, Flair defended his WWF Championship against Randy Savage. By no means is this a bad match though, and is still a clash between two megastars, despite not being what fans had anticipated.
By 1996, both men had left the WWF for the company’s biggest competition, WCW, who at the time had a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling. At NJPW’s Summer Struggle in 1996, WCW sent over two of its biggest stars to have a rematch from Wrestlemania 8, except this time nobody was hoping the Hulkster would have turned up instead.
2. Bret Hart vs. Davey Boy Smith/British Bulldog
Often regarded as one of the greatest matches in WWE history, Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog from Summerslam 1992 has become legendary. 80,000 homeland fans in Wembley Stadium exploded with excitement when one of their own defeated the excellence of execution for the Intercontinental Championship.
Before this, the teams of The British Bulldogs and The Hart Foundation collided on countless occasions, yet this was the first time Davey Boy and Bret went head-to-head in a singles match together….well….at least that’s what Vince and co wanted people to think. In reality, this wasn’t even the first time Bret and Davey had a singles match with WWF singles championship implications.
Eight years prior to their Summerslam classic, Bret and Davey Boy competed against each other in a tournament to decide the WWF Junior Heavyweight Champion……a tournament which was held by New Japan Pro Wrestling! (Plot twist!) Yes, NJPW had these two future legends competing for an official WWF championship long before even the WWF managed to!
During the 1970s and 80s, WWF and New Japan had a working relationship with each other, and would often exchange talents in order to benefit both companies. The WWF even created new belts, or gifted existing belts, to be defended just in New Japan and other associated promotions. Although originally established by Vince McMahon senior in the 1960s, the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship permanently moved to New Japan in 1978, hence why the promotion was able to hold a tournament with a WWF championship as the main prize (which was eventually won by Dynamite Kid).
So there you go! Who would have thought their first match with WWF title implications didn’t even take place in the World Wrestling Federation. Wrestling truly is a ridiculous yet wonderful sport full of weird and pointless trivia such as this that we all crave to know (or at least I do).
Dean Malenko vs. Taka Michinoku
Lance/Vance Archer vs. Luke/Doc Gallows
Andre the Giant vs. Adrian Adonis
Lance/Vance Archer vs. MVP
Eddie Guerrero/Black Tiger vs. Taka Michinoku
Brian Kendrick vs. Gran Metalik/Mascara Dorada
Hulk Hogan vs. Adrian Adonis
Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle – I imagine some of you were expecting these two to be on this list, after all they did face each other for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at one point. However…..it wasn’t technically in New Japan……..It took place at the first event held by a new promotion, Inoki Genome Federation, created by the founder of New Japan, Antonio Inoki. An NJPW title may have been on the line, yet technically it still doesn’t count.
- Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
Yes, the biggest main event in Wrestlemania history happened years before in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The irresistible force vs. the immovable object occurred multiple times, both in singles and tag team matches from 1980 to 1984. In fact, something Vinny Mac probably hoped none of his fans remembered back in 1987 was that Andre and Hogan actually had matches in the WWF all the way back in 1980, even before their collisions in New Japan! Granted, most were house shows, yet a singles match between the two was broadcast on the MSG Network in 1980, and another in 1981.
So when the WWF were building their biggest show of all time around this monumental clash between two sensations, any fans who had attended a WWF house show in the early 80s, or watched the MSG Network during that time, or just happened to catch a New Japan Pro Wrestling show up until 1984, they’d probably already seen it…Granted, Hogan and Andre were nowhere near the levels of megastar they were by the time Wrestlemania 3 rolled around, and their previous encounters didn’t have the added excitement of 90,000 ecstatic fans screaming throughout, yet that doesn’t change the fact this record-setting main-event match not only had happened multiple times before, it had taken place on both sides of the world in two of the biggest promotions in history.