Twenty years before the outsiders appeared on WCW television, before the UWF invasion, or Riki Choshu’s Japan pro wrestling, the first true invasion angle took place in NJPW. A small group led by Rusher Kimura dubbed “Shin Kokusai Gundan” or “New International Army”, attempted to take on Inoki and the NJPW faithful. This is a look into how that angle began and how it unfolded..
What was the IWE?
The IWE is an often forgotten but hugely influential wrestling promotion, that was founded in 1966. It was one of the JWA’s (Japan’s biggest promotion at the time) first major rivals and would outlive that promotion by many years. It was the first Japanese promotion to bill a World Champion in Japan, and in 1970 it also became the first promotion to book a steel cage match (which TV networks at the time refused to show) as well as other “deathmatches” such as the Indian strap match or the hair vs hair match. It was also the first promotion to bring Andre the Giant (then known as Monster Roussimoff) over to Japan and it made stars out of the likes of Strong Kobayashi, Rusher Kimura and the Mighty Inoue, the latter of which being given an “ultimate underdog” style push. By 1981 though, the promotion was dying, unable to keep up with both New Japan and All Japan, and it shut its doors in September of that year. This left many of its stars looking for new employment, with some, including IWE’s then biggest star Rusher Kimura, looking to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Originally the IWE invasion was planned to be a lot bigger in scope, but the likes if Mighty Inoue and Tsurumi Goro were not on board with the idea, and many chose to go to All Japan or abroad instead. Instead the main group would be a small threesome (Strong Kobayashi would also join the group, but due to injuries would never step foot in the ring for them).
The ace of the IWE would essentially serve as the leader of the group. A record six-time IWA (Interntional Wrestling Alliance, a Kayfabe wrestling championship body) World champion, who held the title collectively for over 2,000 days, as well as winning the World Series (The IWE’s version of the G1 or Champion Carnival) and the IWA tag titles. An innovator of Japanese deathmatch wrestling, his participation in Japan’s first steel cage match earned him the moniker “Master of the steel cage match”.
Not blessed with the physical properties of your typical heavyweight wrestler, Animal Hamaguchi would make a name for himself as a cunning wrestler, who would use his technique and wits to defeat his more physically dominating opponents. He was also known for his promo skills which would help him stay relevant as a worker well into his later years.
Known as the “Mat Magician”, Teranashi was not, nor ever would be, a household name. He was however a solid worker and would serve as the International Army’s presence in the Junior division.
The Invasion Begins
Rusher Kimura, Isamu Teranashi and Animal Hamaguchi would appear in NJPW on the 23rd September. While initially their reception was mixed, Kimura and Hamaguchi would soon draw the fans ire, with their taunting and provocative attitudes on the microphone. They announced the formation of the “International Army” on October of 1981, just one month removed from the IWE’s closure. They wasted little time going after New Japan’s biggest names, with Rusher Kimura facing off against Antonio Inoki, Teranashi taking on Tatsumi Fujinami, and Hamaguchi going up against Ryuma Go, with each of the three matches happening on the same night. Hamaguchi defeated Go early on in the evening, whilst Teranashi fell short in an intense and underrated classic against Fujinami. This left the nights main event between Inoki & Kimura as something of a tie breaker. The match would start cautiously, but devolved into a chaotic scene with the International Army faction and the New Japan loyal brawling on the outside. Inoki would trap Kimura in an Armbar but would lose the match by DQ after Kimura reached the ropes and Inoki refused to let go of the hold.
The Fight Continues
Following their initial battle the group would continue to taunt Inoki and others, leading into the next series of matches a month later. Things don’t fare so well for the group this time, with Teranashi falling short to Kengo Kimura and Hamaguchi being disqalified after a heated battle with Fujinami. The Inoki and Kimura rematch played out in a similar way with Kimura once again initially surviving Inoki’s armbar. Inoki let go this time however, and applied it again later, with Kimura being unable to escape this time and the ref stopping the match after the International Army threw in the towel. This night leaves the International Army clearly defeated and the group falls down into the midcard to some degree. One year later however Kimura gets another shot at Inoki, this time in a hair vs hair match. The IWE group try to get involved but Inoki survives with the help of a chair and once again defeats Kimura. Thanks to his faction members though, Kimura gets to keep his hair after making an escape. Despite another loss, the group continues to be a thorn in the side of Inoki, attacking him backstage and continuing to challenge him. Inoki then attempts to put an end to the group once and for all and takes all three of them on in two handicap matches, both times however he is defeated.
The fall of Shin Kokusai Gundan and the rise of Revolutionary Army
In 1983 a new faction led by Riki Choshu, dubbed the ‘Revolutionary Army’ was on the rise. While the groups shared a common enemy (Inoki) they would nonetheless come to blows. While the International Army managed to hold their ground to some extent, it was made clear in their meetings, that this new group was now the dominant faction in New Japan. Animal Hamaguchi would defect to the new group that summer, leaving Kimura and Teranashi left essentially a tag team. Kimura would face-off against his rival Inoki twice later in the year, but would be defeated on both occasions, his second attempt ending in a KO no less, Thus putting a firm end to the Kimura/Inoki rivalry. Teranashi would then also leave to join Revolutionary army, putting an end to Shin Kokusai Gundan.
Aftermath and Impact
Hamaguchi and Teranashi would go onto follow Choshu to AJPW, and Teranashi would remain there when Choshu returned to NJPW. Kimura would also soon leave for All-Japan, working multi-tags with other veterans of the sport. While they may not have had that much success against the company’s top stars (although so well protected was Inoki, that the DQ and handicap wins were a big deal), the angle was hot and would set an early template for the many bigger invasion angles that were to follow, such as the UWF invasion of NJPW and Ishin Gundan’s invasion of AJPW.
By Mike Grindle @MikeGrindle
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