So this is a completely unique list to any other year end list. There will be four posts on this website each taking you through some of the best Japan has to offer leading up to who I believe was the best Japanese professional wrestler of the year. Obviously my gimmick is not including NJPW in lists like this because they are big enough and are their own entity. Let’s get to it, shall we?
100. NOSAWA Rongai
NOSAWA is one of my most beloved puroresu personalities. I am on an island of my own when I say how much I enjoy this man’s in ring work but that’s okay. NOSAWA has had quite the 2016, he had a giant feud with Atsushi Onita selling out Korakuen a couple times. He promoted some of the most intriguing cards of the year including main eventing Korakuen against 75-year-old Mil Mascaras. He now holds gold in W-1 whilst competing for AJPW simultaneously under a mask. RONGAI!
Manjimaru is Michinoku Pro’s meanest and grumpiest ass kicker. Michinoku Pro would probably be one of my favorite promotions on the planet if they made tape more and a lot of that is because of Manjimaru. This man looks like the dude hanging outside the bar on a Wednesday just waiting for trouble. He is technically efficient, but what draws Manjimaru to me is the intensity he brings to the ring. He would be much higher on this list if he was in more matches that were accessable.
98. Masa Kitamiya
I almost didn’t add this man to the list but then I thought everyone loves him and I have to please everyone. Masa is a little cliche for me with all the grunting and arm gestures, it’s like he’s a WWF babyface from the early 90’s. He is good at what he does but he doesn’t do too much. His matches are usually based on how good his opponent is. So for example when he faces Minoru Suzuki or Naomichi Marufuji the matches are usually awesome.
97. Takumi Tsukamoto
BASARA BOYS MAKE THEIR FIRST (OF MANY) APPEARANCES ON THIS LIST. Tsukamoto has had quite the great year from BASARA, BJW and most recently ZERO1 where he holds the Jr. Tag Titles with Isami Kodaka. Tsukamoto can work many different styles, I prefer his wrestling to his deathmatch work. I highly recommend his tag match with Isami on the first BASARA show in January.
96. Daisuke Masaoka
Another case of “if this fella made tape more often”. Masaoka is a performer for quite possibly the best deathmatch promotion in the world, FREEDOMS. He moves like any great cruiserweight whilst also doing some insanely stupid stuff in the deathmatch environment. I highly recommend you check out any of his matches, but especially ones with the DTU boys or Yuko Miyamoto.
95. Shuji Kondo
Shuji Kondo had a very underrated 2016. He wasn’t on top in WRESTLE-1 and didn’t go to any other promotions. He was solid as always and had a couple excellent matches, with one standing out from the pack, being the Yuji Hino singles match.
This is another lad that would be so much higher if more Michinoku Pro made tape, Kenbai is a masked wrestler for those that don’t know. He is one of the most over guys in M-Pro, whenever M-Pro makes tape I go straight to Kenbai’s match.
93. Keji Mutoh
I promise this isn’t just me one of the biggest Mutoh fans ever. I don’t know if anyone is like this but I’m always super intrigued by old guys wrestling. Mutoh may be wrestling without knees, but he is still very good with what he’s got. Every Mutoh six man tag from this year is worth watching, just Mutoh being Mutoh adds so much to any of his matches.
I love YO-HEY, the probably annoying, reoccurring theme of this portion of the list continues. I just wish more of his matches would make tape. In 2016 he really made DOVE PRO his home, he competed in J-Stage, AJPW, BJW, Ganbare & FREEDOMS also.
91. Yasafumi Nakanoue
From being one of the most underutilized talents in W-1 to now being a freelancer mainly competing in BJW, Yasafumi Nakanoue has had quite the year. I applaud him for leaving his trainer Mutoh and going out on his own. I hope Nakanoue returns to AJPW as well in 2017.
90. Atsushi Onita
No, he is no technical wizard, but my god–Onita needs recognition for being one of the best personalities in wrestling STILL. He is a carny but probably the most lovable carny on the planet. He owns his own company and is the ace for three other companies whilst basically being on his last legs. He broke his pelvis recently but that isn’t even stopping him. Onita is the best.
89. The Bodyguard
Just about everyone knows that BODYGAAAH isn’t the best professional wrestler and in some instances he is flat out terrible at the wrestling but somehow, someway (teaming with Zeus) he finds himself in many great matches. I applaud that. Keep doing you Bodyguard.
88. Takashi Sasaki
FREEDOMS lead man (alongside Kasai) had a very good 2016, nothing absurdly great but all round a very good year. He also celebrated his 20th anniversary as a professional wrestler.
One of the most consistent workers of all time makes his way on this list. I loved TAJIRI’s 2016. Everywhere from WRESTLE-1 to FREEDOMS to AJPW, TAJIRI was very impressive. So impressive that he will be returning to WWE this week to finish off his career. Love TAJIRI.
86. Billy Ken Kid
Everyone loves them some Billy Ken Kid. I know for a fact Mr. Joe Lanza is a HUGE Billy Ken Kid fan. Billy had quite the 2016, having very good matches in BJW, AJPW and abroad. One match that comes to mind is the Ken Kid & Tsubasa vs. Yankee Two Kenju match on a random Osaka house show.
85. Fujita “Jr” Hayato
Fujita “Jr” Hayato is one of the best professional wrestlers on planet earth. He is so low on this list because he missed 4 months and Michinoku Pro who he calls his home promotion doesn’t make tape enough. That said his televised match against Manjimaru was great. Plus he had excellent stuff in ZERO1 and that great Fortune Dream III match.
84. Yoshihiro Takayama
Ah yes. One of our favorite MMA dads Yoshihiro Takayama was bound to appear on this list. His had a quieter 2016 than most but still put on some really great performances. He’s made DDT his home since September. Earlier in the year he was in a feud with Onita. I feel like everyone has been in a feud with Onita one way or another.
83. Taiji Ishimori
I could leave this guy off the list, not because I don’t see him as a great wrestler, it’s just I’ve probably watched him 10 times this year. He’s had some really good matches against the likes of Yoshinobu Kanemaru and other NOAH guys. Ishimori is great and I feel like him more than anyone would benefit greatly from leaving the promotion. Imagine Ishimori in DDT… MY GOD.
Really love Kenou’s work. He was good in (roughly) 10 matches I saw of him this year. Another NOAH dude that I didn’t watch enough. I just know Kenou is bloody fantastic and deserves recognition.
81. Ultimo Dragon
The ever consistent Yoshihiro Asai appears on this list. No, this man didn’t have any title reigns or really big time matches, but everything he was involved in was pretty damn awesome. He had a really good match with Jiro Kuroshio in WRESTLE-1 plus was integral in that awesome six man tag at Fortune Dream. Add on top of such a few bangers in Michinoku Pro as well as his great work in AJPW as always.
80. Kankuro Hoshino
Deathmatch dad! (There are many deathmatch dads on this list). Kankuro Hoshino had a blow away year and as of writing I feel as though he could be much higher on the list. He made a plethora of great singles matches against the likes of Ryuji Ito, Isami Kodaka & Abdullah Kobayashi plus there were three Hoshino & Inaba vs. Yankee Two Kenju matches that were all given ****.
79. Ryota Hama
The 225kg giant had one hell of a 2016, easily his best year as a performer. What Hama doesn’t get enough credit for is keeping an insanely busy schedule at his size and age (37). Hama is one of the most loved guys on Wrestle Twitter, and it’s well deserved. His had great matches all year long in many different organisations. His MOTY is the Okabayashi match from January and another good one is the SMOP vs. Twin Towers match from Sumo Hall.
78. N.W.A (MAO, Shunma Katsumata & Makoto Oishi)
You suck if you get mad at me putting all these guys together. I love every single one of them and recently I have become a Makoto Oishi stan. I want to go back and watch all of his old stuff. These lads had a great year putting on great trios matches as well as singles matches in DNA. Oishi had a ****1/4 tag match in Kaientai Dojo. MAO is one of the most underrated guys in the world, hell, these three could be the most underrated stable in the world.
77. Ryuichi Sekine
JAPANESE CRAZY BASARA HORSE PONY MAN! How could I leave Sekine off this list? Great year, having awesome singles matches in BASARA as well as consistent work in BJW, HEAT-UP & K-Dojo. Definitely check out his match against Isami.
HAHA! MY BOY HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-69, aka Hirooki makes his appearance known on this list. I think Hi69 had a tremendous year being one of the best freelancers Japan has to offer (that may stop soon thanks to NOAH). He had one of my top 15 favorite matches of the year against Tank Nagai in K-Dojo. Everything of Hirooki’s that makes tape I urge you to watch.
Well, there you have it. There’s 25 of the best Japan has to offer. I’ll be back soon going over the top 75 -51 workers in Japan in the year of 2016. Thank you for reading.