Another of puroresu’s top Jr. Heavyweights of the last 15-20 years, Koji Kanemoto is a 19-year veteran who remains among the elite Juniors of New Japan and puroresu as a whole. He is of Zainichi Korean descent. He became engaged to now-retired joshi star Hikaru in late 2008 and announced the engagement in early 2009.
Before becoming a wrestler, Kanemoto practiced judo in school and won a few pro championships before joining the New Japan Dojo. He debuted in late 1990 then became the 3rd incarnation of Tiger Mask in early 1992. He would compete as Tiger Mask 3 until January 1994, when he lost a mask vs. mask match to Jushin Liger, at which point he was unmasked and returned to competing as his real name. His style used to be the classic junior heavyweight wrestling, but repeated high-flying moves, the fans’ change in taste, and inherent damage on his body put an incentive on him to use shoot-style taught by Kazuo Yamazaki, largely as a modification of his wrestling persona. Hard shoot kicks combined with scientific wrestling are his current trademark along with the facewash, which always gets the crowd going in a football stadium-like chant.
Kanemoto was the first man to defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in the United States, a match against Alex Wright at Starrcade ’95: World Cup of Wrestling (although World Championship Wrestling did not announce it as such). He also holds a victory over revered MMA fighter Kazushi Sakuraba in shoot-style wrestling. In the early 2000s Kanemoto formed an popular tag team with Minoru Tanaka called “Jr. Stars” the 2 enjoyed a lengthy reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, but before they could receive a rematch for their titles, Kanemoto was injured. Kanemoto made an very controversial return, turning on Tanaka & siding with Masahiro Chono’s “Team 2000” Stable. As an reward for his defection Chono gave him his own sub-group to lead named “Team 2000 Jr.” among their ranks were Gedo,Jado, & AKIRA. During this time, Kanemoto wore entrance gear very similar to Chono, as a way to show “He was a boss”. After Team 2000 dissolved he became a calmer, much more calculating individual & it was apparent that his days of a rude, arrogant punk were over. In 2003, in an attempt to regain the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team titles from rival promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH he formed an tag team with Jushin Liger known as “The Unbeatables” the 2 held on to the titles until November when Kanemoto fractured his left cheekbone & were forced to vacate them.
Kanemoto won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title for the 5th time in May 2006, reigning almost the rest of the year before dropping the belt to Minoru on Christmas Eve. In the 2006 G1 Climax, Kanemoto reached the semi final, the first junior heavyweight to achieve this feat. Along with Hiroshi Tanahashi, he made it to the finals of the G1 Climax Tag League two years in a row – the 2006 and 2007 editions. Also in 2007 he became the first junior heavyweight since Bas Rutten to receive a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match. Although he lost this match against his tag team partner Hiroshi Tanahashi he was revered for his performance, especially after kicking out of Tanahashi’s dragon suplex finish after only a 1 count.After this match it was regarded that Kanemoto was not only the top junior heavyweight but one of top talents that New Japan has in its entirety. Kanemoto remained near the top in 2009, winning the Best Of The Super Junior for the 3rd time in his career, although he came up short in efforts to win his 6th IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title.
Kanemoto will celebrate his 20th anniversary as an active wrestler in November 2010.
Kanemoto missed about 2 months from March 2010-May 2010 due to injuries, but made a successful return on May 8, 2010, teaming with El Samurai to win the first SUPER J TAG TOURNAMENT and his 4th IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. In August 2010 he added the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title to his impressive career resume, teaming with Tiger Mask 4 to win the titles in NOAH.
Stats & Info:
Weight: 176 pounds/80 kg
Experience: 19 years
Finishing move: Ankle Hold, Tiger Suplex Hold
Current affiliation: New Japan
Ring entrance theme: “JAGUAR ’08”
5-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion
4-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1-time GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1-time AWF Tag Team Champion
1-time UWA Welterweight Champion
1-time UWA Jr. Light Heavyweight Champion
1998, 2002, 2009 Best Of The Super Junior
2002 Naeba Cup Tag Tournament
2002 Jr. Triathlon Survivor
2006 National Area Tag League
2010 Super J Tag Tournament 1st
1 Wrestling Observer Newsletter 5 Star Match
1998 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Outstanding Wrestler Award