Professional wrestling has a rich history in the country of Japan. Many of the principles and values of Ring Of Honor were based upon customs of Japanese wrestling. The past two years have seen a number of co-ventures between ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling, which are set to expand significantly in 2016. These are the latest examples of a long-standing tradition of Japan’s best coming to compete in ROH rings. In celebration of these traditions, the following is a recap the history of Japanese wrestlers competing in ROH, starting with 2002-2006..
The first actual match by a Japanese wrestler in ROH was a women’s match that occurred at ROH Road To The Title on June 22, 2002. On that show, Japanese women’s wrestler Sumie Sakai defeating Simply Luscious. Sakai had a history with many of the Joshi promotions in Japan dating back to 1997 and was brought into ROH by wrestling historian and promoter Sheldon Goldberg.
There was a heavier Japanese presence on the first ROH Unscripted show on September 21, 2002. This show featured a tournament to crown the first ROH Tag Team Champions. Michinoku Pro legend Dick Togo teamed with Japanese indy star Ikuto Hidaka who had previously been seen by North American fans in ECW. Togo and Hidaka defeated former ECW Tag Team Champions James Maritato (aka Little Guido) and Tony Mamaluke in the first round before losing to eventual tournament winners Christopher Daniels and Donovan Morgan. The card also featured All-Japan Pro Wrestling veteran Takao Omori defeating Sonny Siaki in a singles match in Omori’s only ROH appearance.
Hidaka returned to ROH for a singles match at the first Glory By Honor show on October 5, 2002. Hidaka faced early ROH star The Amazing Red in a losing effort on that show.
The inaugural All-Star extravaganza show took place on November 9, 2002. Steve Corino and Low-Ki were two North American wrestlers who were wrestling extensively with the Zero-1 promotion in Japan at that point in time. In the main event of this show they lost to Zero-1 stars Masato Tanaka and Shinjiro Ohtani. Tanaka was a former star of both FMW and ECW while Ohtani was a top junior heavyweight in 1990’s NJPW. The two had formed a strong antagonistic team in Zero-1 and ROH fans were fortunate to see them during their first tour of the U.S. as a team.
It was over seven months before another Japanese competitor would appear in ROH. This occurred at ROH WrestleRave on June 28, 2003 when Sumie Sakai returned to ROH and lost to Alexis Laree, later known as Mickie James.
Sakai returned to the company at the ROH Fan Convention on December 27, 2003 when she defeated Allison Danger.
While most of the year 2003 did not see as heavy of a Japanese presence as 2002, Final Battle 2003 featured the largest Japanese representation up to that time. Keiji Mutoh had become a star in North America as The Great Muta in 1989 and had been one of the top names in NJPW for many years afterward. By 2003, he was the owner and star of All-Japan Pro Wrestling and he along with a number of AJPW stars travelled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for this show. Kazushi Miyamoto and Tomaoki Honma lost to CM Punk and Colt Cabana. AJ Styles then defeated Kaz Hayashi (formerly seen in both Michinoku Pro and WCW). Satoshi Kojima, who had left NJPW for AJPW with Mutoh, defeated Homicide. And in the main event of the show, Mutoh and former WAR wrestler Arashi successfully defended their AJPW World Tag Team Titles against Christopher Daniels and Dan Maff. The efforts at co-promotion was the biggest Japanese involvement in ROH to date and was a sign of things to come.
Sumie Sakai made another ROH appearance on a show titled Collission Course that was co-promoted with Jersey All-Pro Wrestling on January 9, 2004. Sakai lost to April Hunter on that show.
Kazushi Miyamoto returned to ROH for Death Before Dishonor II Day 1 on July 23, 2004. He wrestled as The Great Kazushi, an homage to Mutoh’s days as The Great Muta, and defeated Shawn Daivari. He also wrestled on DBD II Night 2 on July 24 in a six-way match involving Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne), Delirious, Danny Daniels, Daivairi and match-winner Trent Acid.
Near the end of 2004, ROH hosted a legend who, with the exception of Keiji Mutoh, would be the biggest Japanese wrestling name to appear in the company yet. Jushin “Thunder” Liger came to the United States for what was billed as the “Weekend of Thunder”. Night 1 took place on November 5, 2004 with Jushin Liger defeating Bryan Danielson. The next night Liger teamed up with then ROH Champion Samoa Joe to defeat Bryan Danielson and Homicide.