Welcome back to the story of BJW. In part one, we covered the birth of the company and the innovative work it did to re-invent the death match. This time we will look at the other divisions the company has had over the years and the early days of the strong division. BJW was able to use this division to set up a working relationship with a surprisingly big company too. There’s also some tales to tell about some of the now defunct divisions of the company.
Working with NJPW
As later years would bring CZW into the fold with the death match division, the original Strong division gave BJW the chance to work with one of the biggest wrestling companies in Japan. From late 1996 to early 1997, BJW went into a partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling. The partnership led to a storyline feud between the two companies leading to a massive co-promoted show at the Tokyo Dome on the 4th of January 1997. The companies worked together on the pretence that BJW would take the fall for most of their competitive matches, allowing NJPW to look strongest out of the feud and BJW gaining a massive surge in mainstream appeal and audience numbers.
Pro Wrestling World 1997 was the biggest New Japan show of the year and featured four co-promoted matches between the two companies during the mid-card of the show. Their first bout saw Shinjiro Otani defeat Yoshihiro Tajiri (who would later just go by Tajiri) for team NJPW. Match two saw team BJW come back as Kendo Nagasaki defeated Tatsutoshi Goto. The biggest rub for NJPW came when main eventer Masahiro Chono defeated Shoji Nakamaki in around a minute. The last match cemented NJPW’s victory over the feud as the president of BJW Shinya Kojika, wrestling as The Great Kojika, was defeated by NJPW veteran Masa Saito. Team NJPW won 3-1 but BJW definitely benefited from the mainstream attention. Fun fact, also on this show was Chris Jericho as Super Liger, a failed enemy character for Jyushin Thunder Liger.
The Historical Junior Title
In early 1998 BJW introduced the original Junior Heavyweight Championship. Much like the crowning of the original death match champion, the first junior champion was declared through an eight man tournament. The tournament featured some now famous names as Tomoaki Honma, Gedo and the winner Tajiri. Tajiri won the title by defeating Gedo in the finals. The other entrants of the tournament were Gran Naniwa, Minoru Tanaka, Minoru Fujita, Ryuji Yamakawa and Masayoshi Motegi.
Tajiri would only hold the belt for a few weeks as he was stripped of the title once he left the company in April 1998. From there the title was passed around between tournament contenders, new names and members of CZW. These names included Johnny Kashmere and Trent Acid of CZW, Masayoshi Motegi from the tournament and possibly one of the most famous names to hold the belt, Homicide of the original LAX. Homicide was the last man to hold the original belt before it was retired from the company. The belt would stay retired until it was brought back into the company in May 2017
Early Days of the Tag Division
As the company was flourishing with death matches, it also wanted to provide tradition and strong style wrestling too. One of the ways it has sometimes mixed the pair of styles is through its tag division. The division was started in mid-1997 when inaugural champions Kengo Kimura and Takashi Ishikawa won a five team scramble tournament. They vacated the titles less than two weeks later when their team split up. The next team to hold the titles would last a bit longer as Ryuji Yamakawa and Tajiri held the titles until December 1997 where they lost to Bullet Club’s own Gedo and Jado. The NJPW favourites only held the belts a few days before losing the belts to the former champions in a rematch.
The belts would be passed between teams before it was vacated in late 1998 when one of the champion team left the company. Shadow MX and Tomoaki Homna would claim the vacant titles and would hold those belts until July of 1999. From there the belts would be contested between BJW teams and CZW teams with both promotions having teams hold the belts. As the 2000’s broke more famous BJW stars would start to hold the belts as Daisuke Sekimoto, Abdullah Kobayashi and Ryuji Ito would start to reign. The team of Daisuke Sekimoto and Men’s Teioh would set the record, holding the belts for 595 days. The belts weren’t vacated again until 2005 when the team of Gentaro and Takashi Sasaki were stripped of the belts for not defending them enough.
BJW experimented with other divisions over the years. They have had a women’s division that saw the belt defended in normal and death matches. The belt was in use between 2000-2003 but gathered dust soon after as the last champion, Kaori Yoneyama returned the belt to the company and the division died. There were only ever three champions and a handful of defences.
Alongside this was an 8 man scramble belt that lasted a year and was contested in 8 man matches. There were only ever two champions, the Great Kojika, BJW’s president and Kyoki Ichiki, one of the women’s champions. The belt was abandoned in 2001 after only two matches involving it. Oddly enough the first scramble match included Abdullah the Butcher, Abdullah Kobayashi and Tomoaki Honma.
(Video shows Daisuke Sekimoto vs Shinjiro Otani)
The Original Strong Division
Before the Strong Heavyweight Title became a thing, there was the original BJW Heavyweight Title. It was in use from March 2001 to September 2004. It was meant to be a counterpart to the Death Match Heavyweight title but fell through. There were only five different champions across the title’s lifespan with most of that time being dominated by Men’s Teioh who held the belt three different times for a total of 600+ days. He even vacated and won back the title in between reigns.
The other champions were KAMIKAZE, the inaugural champion, Daikokubo Benkei, Daisuke Sekimoto and Gran Hamada. The most notable name is Daisuke Sekimoto as he was a big player then and has only risen in popularity as time has gone on. He has become a staple of the re-branded strong division and is probably one of, if not the most well-known wrestler in BJW. The heavyweight title was retired in 2004 and no title of its type would exist in the company until 2012 when the company introduced the Strong Heavyweight title as a prize for its non-death match combatants. But we’ll get to more of that in part three.
So that wraps up part two. As you can see BJW tried to make itself more than a death match company and experimented with different ideas to do so. It may have given up on most of those at the time but as we get to part three you’ll see that some of those divisions came back stronger and more popular than ever. It’s commendable that the company tried to have a women’s division and the eight man scramble belt is a nice idea even if it fell through. Part three will cover the present death match and strong division stars and look at some of the future stars for the company. See you in part three for the grand finale.
(Images courtesy of Tajiri’s Twitter, puroresusystem.fandom.com, Alchetron.com, njpw1972.com)