This is a Wrestle Kingdom main event that often goes overlooked. It’s surprising that it is, because it’s a very significant match in the modern NJPW timeline. If you’re not aware, Keiji Mutoh was a legend of NJPW, belonging to the three musketeers of NJPW in the 1990s (the other two being Masahiro Chono and the late great Shinya Hashimoto). The trio carried the company and was responsible for a huge boom period.
In 2008, things were quite different. NJPW was building their promotion around younger stars such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, among others. Mutoh, meanwhile, was still going strong, but not in NJPW, but their rival promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW).
Mutoh had beaten Nakamura to become IWGP Heavyweight Champion in an inter-promotional contest. From that time until the end of the year, he successfully defended the title against multiple challengers from NJPW, all while also winning the AJPW Triple Crown Championship.
Tanahashi had returned from the United States to challenge Mutoh in a high-profile main event and it was somewhat a passing of the torch type of match, as Tanahashi regained the IWGP Heavyweight title, not only for himself but for NJPW. This was seen as a huge turning point from a business perspective.
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