Mount Rushmore has been among the most popular attractions in the United States over the country’s history. It represents what are believed to be the four fathers of the country, all former Presidents, and is meant to highlight their importance in American history. When fans talk about professional wrestling, they often argue about who represents an equivalent four. While some will agree on names that represent the cornerstone for a particular company or period in time, a more interesting discussion is one that is all encompassing and explores more than one generation. For fans of New Japan Pro Wrestling, like any other promotion, an interesting discussion can be had regarding which four names have best represented the company over the years.
With a promotion that is over 45 years old, it is a challenge to isolate only a few names that represent the company. Who would represent New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Mount Rushmore? Here are the four names we feel achieve that.
Of the four men listed on this mountain top of excellence, Tanhashi is the youngest, and the only one still active. In a career that has spanned two decades, he has faced the best in the world and remained a true professional in every sense of the word. He is held in such regard for a number of reasons; for instance, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer referred to him in 2013 as the best in-ring performer at the time. A student that came out of the NJPW Dojo, Tanahashi ran the gamut of training and preparation while a young boy, all leading to where he is today. His list of accomplishments is a mile long: he is an eight-time IWGP Heavyweight champion, a two-time IWGP Intercontinental champion, an IWGP Tag Team champion and a NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team champion. This doesn’t include the countless tournaments he has won, and on top of that he was NJPW’s Most Valuable Player this past year. His matches have been considered the standard bearer. His commitment to New Japan Pro Wrestling has never been in doubt, and if any one man could be considered the one by which all others should be measured by it is the man that is called the company’s Ace.
Considering he was the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling, one may think that is what earned him his place on this list. However, after looking at his matches, their quality and their significance in transcending beyond Japan and captivating wrestling fans outside the country cannot be understated. He had a career that spanned nearly four decades after being trained by Rikidōzan, and had legendary matches against the late eighth wonder of the world Andre the Giant and late boxing legend Muhammed Ali. One of the greatest spectacles for Inoki were his two matches against ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. These matches were ground-breaking and made fans worldwide aware of him. He was a multiple time champion in both singles and tag team action, and has been inducted into more than one hall of fame. He has negotiated the release of Japanese prisoners of the Gulf War, which points out how his impact was felt not just by wrestling fans but non-fans. Inoki is still beloved for all his contributions to Japanese wrestling, and it cannot be overstated how important it is to have him on this list.
A student of Karl Gotch, Fujinami committed 35 years of his career to New Japan Pro Wrestling. He was for a time sent abroad to earn a name for himself and competed in the WWWF, even capturing the Junior Heavyweight championship. He accomplished a tremendous amount, facing the likes of Vader while winning or defending a championship in the process. He faced Ric Flair in 1988 in what was a title vs title match at WCW SuperBrawl. The match was seen as controversial because not only did Flair win, but he used nefarious means to do so. He faced the likes of Keji Mutoh, Hiroshi Hase and Yoshiaki Fujiwara on the way to winning the G1 Climax tournament. Fujinami is a multiple-time champion, winning titles in Japan and North America. He was frequently viewed as one of the best technical wrestlers in the world. In fact online magazine publications have recognized him as ‘the best technical wrestler.’ A member of multiple Halls of Fame, Fujinami is widely respected for his matches, and is seen as one of the most important faces for Japanese wrestling in its history.
In a career that has spanned 35 years and counting Keiji Mutoh has been considered a staple in Japanese wrestling, in particular New Japan Pro Wrestling. The man who performed in North America as ‘The Great Muta’ is recognized as one of a limited number of Japanese wrestlers who achieved tremendous fame and success outside the country. He often performed in face paint, and his importance is not just due to in-ring talent but what he presented as a character, and overall he has been quite influential in the country. North Americans remember him for his signature green mist, and while it has been utilized by others since, he will always be the original. He is considered one of the most recognizable faces in the company due to his innumerable matches and feuds. Whether it was under his ‘Great Muta’ persona or as Kokushi-Muso, he has been as much of a showman and character as he has been an incredible talent. He is often considered among the elite with his multitude of championships and accolades, such as wrestler of the year or match of the year, Mutoh at 56 years of age can still deliver with the same ferocity as anyone else in the ring today. He has won 22 championships, either in singles or tag team action, suggesting that throughout his career he was able to adapt to any and all situations.
As a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.