PREVIOUSLY – COUNTING DOWN 100-76 – COUNTING DOWN 75-51 – COUNTING DOWN 50-26
We’re at the final installment of this thrilling four part series…that’s sarcasm. God bless the couple hundred of you reading this though. It’s super nice of you. We’re at the elite end of this list. The next 25 names I’m going to list are who I believe are the 25 best male Japanese wrestlers who aren’t apart of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
25. Masato Tanaka
What can I say, one of my favorite wrestlers of all time and in my opinion one of the best wrestlers of all time. So versatile over time. Still in 2016, he was versatile. He wrestled many different types of matches, he could have the classics in ZERO1, the AAA stuff, the amazing intergender match against Nanae Takahashi and of course the Current Blast Death Match stuff with Atsushi Onita. Tanaka isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
24. Kaz Hayashi
Kaz Hayashi had an incredible 2016, much like Masato Tanaka he has been around forever, but does not age or lose wrestling ability. He is seemingly getting better with age, instilling his knowledge of wrestling to the trainees of W-1 who are honestly all great. Kaz has had great Cruiserweight matches and a plethora of random tag matches which he shines in.
23. Jun Kasai
I remember 8 years ago I saw videos of Jun Kasai’s deathmatch stuff. I thought “gross, he couldn’t wrestle”. Little did I realize he’s actually an incredible wrestler, possibly the greatest deathmatch worker of all time. His deathmatch stuff got me into deathmatches this year. His charisma and the way he gets the audience invested is admirable. I think Kasai is just one special performer.
22. Daichi Hashimoto
D. Hashimoto’s 2016 was great. It was his first full year in BJW under contract, and he shined throughout the Ikkoutsen, especially in the Daisuke Sekimoto singles match. He didn’t team with Kazuki at all really since Kaz got injured, then towards the end of the year they have been feuding. I’m very excited for Daichi’s 2017.
21. Daisuke Sasaki
DAMNATION founder and leader Daisuke Sasaki has had a breakout year. He captured the KO-D title in a sneaky fashion and held the KO-D Tag titles with Shuji Ishikawa. He helped turn Endo into emo Endo. He had amazing matches with the likes of Konosuke Takeshita, Masahiro Takanashi, Mike Bailey, Tetsuya Endo, plus the plethora of tag matches. Sasaki is incredible. I hope this time next year he is #1 on this list.
20. Takuya Nomura
Takuya Nomura is the breakout star of 2016. The rookie of the year from Japan and without a doubt one of the best talents BJW has ever produced. This man has been wrestling for like 10 months and I just said all that about him. Every time he’s in the ring he captivates the crowd in a way that you have to see to believe. The future is very bright for this young man.
19. Kotaro Suzuki
Leaving AJPW turned out to work out for Kotaro unlike Keiichi Sato. Kotaro went to WRESTLE-1 and became their top Cruiserweight for most of the year, then he formed a tag team with Kaz Hayashi and became Tag Team Champions. Towards the back end of the year he started to become a bigger deal in ZERO1, and in February he will challenge Shinjiro Otani for the Junior title.
18. Kohei Sato
Kohei Sato is apart of one of the best tag teams in the world and is also the ace of ZERO1. He had a year full of shoot headbutts and great matches with a variety of opponents. Everyone from Yusaku Obata, Masato Tanaka, Seiya Sanada, plus, of course Strong BJ. One of my favorite Twin Towers matches of the year was the Death Vegas match against Nomura and Hideki Suzuki.
17. Yukio Sakaguchi
I doubt anyone else would have Yukio this high on their WOTY lists but I just enjoy his stuff so much. The way he moves around the ring and his strikes are so captivating. I can’t look away from the screen whenever he is there. I find him so intriguing as a person and a wrestler. The best of Yukio is still yet to come.
16. Minoru Suzuki
Look, he was in NOAH with the SZKG nonsense for most of the year, but if you can look past some of that–Minoru did have some great matches. What instantly comes to mind is the two Katsuhiko Nakajima matches. Minoru is 48 and competed in well over 100 matches this year. He worked some indies as well, I remember the awesome match against Kazuhiro Tamura in HEAT-UP. With Minoru back in NJPW I hope that means more great matches.
15. Kengo Mashimo
One of the best performers in the last decade, Mashimo continued that moniker in 2016 having one of the best years of his career, if not the best of his career. His AJPW run was amazing, great matches with Uncle Jun, Daisuke Sekimoto, and Kento Miyahara which I just re-watched and gave ****1/2. Kengo’s reign of terror will continue in this new year.
14. Maasaki Mochizuki
Mochizuki is like the best wrestler. Dragon Gate is amazing with all the flips but nothing warms me more than Mochi kicking peoples heads off and moving at a speed no 45-year-old should be able to do. Plus he’s the Tokyo Gurentai Worlds Heavyweight Champion!
The most improved wrestler of the year and a man who I think had one of the greatest matches of the year against Daisuke Sekimoto. I just re-watched that and I decided it was a five star match. It was flawless and exactly what it needed to be. Besides the great Champions Carnival, Zeus had a big year as a tag team with Bodygaaaah. They ended the year having a great match against Strong BJ at Sumo Hall regaining their tag titles.
12. Yuji Hino
I can’t thank Ian (Skrongstyle) enough for getting me into this man and exposing me to his greatness. Besides his giant stature, the first thing you notice about Hino is his charisma. It’s off the charts. He’s like Yuji Okabayashi with charisma, except Hino is a lot more cocky and it’s beautiful. Hino’s 2016 peaked at the Fortune Dream III show where he was in the spectacular main event. He also had great matches with Jiro, Manabu Soya, KAI and many more.
11. Hideki Suzuki
In my opinion this guy is one of the most special active wrestlers on planet earth. I can’t look away when he is on my screen, you never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if he will grapple, shoot or give a guy a handshake then proceed to slap the taste out of his mouth. He had what was my Japanese feud of the year against Yasafumi Nakanoue that ended in a certified shoot of a blow off match. Hideki is a once in a lifetime performer.
10. Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshio
We are now here at who I believe were the top 10 performers of the year and what a better way to start then with the amazing, joyful and ever so charismatic Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshio. He doesn’t even have to wrestle and the whole crowd is one their feet chanting this mans name. He has the best entrance in wrestling without a doubt. His work is just amazing. He could get away with being a terrible wrestler because of his charisma but nope, he is amazing. His two best matches this year were against Kota Ibushi and Masayuki Kono.
9. Yuko Miyamoto
The second 666 contracted performer on this list! Yes, believe it or not 666 is Yuko’s home promotion even though he’s competed more for BJW, AJPW and DDT in 2016. What a year though, the obvious great tag team matches with Isami and great singles work as well. People forget about the awesome Konosuke Takeshita singles match from July. Yuko formed a aesthetically beautiful team with HARASHIMA having a couple really good matches against DAMNATION. Yuko sometimes gets overshadowed by Isami (who doesn’t) but he is without a doubt one of the best workers on this planet.
8. HARASHIMA/Jun Akiyama
HARASHIMA: The ace of DDT and the man who will never let DDT down. HARASHIMA loves DDT so much and I think everyone loves HARASHIMA so much. His high end stuff from this year is up there with anyone’s. The two Shigehiro Irie matches, the Isami Kodaka match from Judgement and the great Shuji Ishikawa match. Plus I think HARASHIMA has a base of *** for every match he’s apart of. Everything of his is must see.
Jun Akiyama: Uncle Jun! All Japan’s owner and operator was destined to end up on this list. A man his age shouldn’t be as good as he is but my god he is just that good. The matches against Miyahara are all time greats. He’s also had very good bouts with Daichi Hashimoto, Daisuke Sekimoto, Yuma Aoyagi, Naoya Nomura, Takao Omori, Mutoh’s tribe and many more.
7. Konosuke Takeshita
Behind Zeus this man is the most improved Japanese performer of the year. You could tell once he gained size and got some more experience he would be a superstar. He put on a lot of size and got lots more experience working with guys like Jun Akiyama. He had an amazing year working with everyone and anyone. He had a four star match tag match at AJPW in July. His singles stuff with Endo was always very good. The big dog match in the main event of Sumo Hall was great. He main evented Sumo Hall at 21-years-old. MY GOD.
6. Tetsuya Endo
I honestly didn’t plan to put Endo one ahead of Takeshita like the two past DDT General Elections, but that’s the way it worked out. Recently I called Endo the most athletic Japanese wrestler in the world. I strongly stand by that statement. He has improved rapidly and still is. He’s added so much to his arsenal. He idolizes AJ Styles which is a damn good idol. Endo has had multiple MOTY contenders in 2016.
5. Kento Miyahara
ACE ACE ACE. The Ace of the year, the AJPW wrestler of the year, the most outstanding wrestler of the year. Kento is incredible, he didn’t single handedly bring back AJPW to the holy land, but he was a giant part of it. They put the rockets to Kento and Kento exceeded anyone’s expectations. He made the most out of any situation he was placed in, good or bad. I think he’s the best booked champion in wrestling and the Triple Crown is his title. When I think Triple Crown, I now think Kento Miyahara.
4. Yuji Okabayashi
Everyone knows this man’s ability and outstanding wrestling skills. What I want to talk about is his charisma, he is the most charismatic wrestler in the world. But he doesn’t have flashy tights or crazy hair; how can he be charismatic? YOU GO WATCH HIS HOT TAGS AND TELL ME HE ISN’T THE MOST CHARISMATIC BEING IN WRESTLING. He’s ridiculously versatile–he can be the most serious ass kicker in the world but then he can be the Posideon god. Yuji’s the best.
3. Daisuke Sekimoto
We’re down to the top three wrestlers of the year. A lot of you would have this man #1 and I don’t see any problem with that. He is the most consistent wrestler in the world and every time he’s in the ring it’s special. He adapts to every situation or match he’s in. Every promotion that isn’t named NJPW has attempted to book this man in 2016. He’s worked everywhere from TARU Produce to LANDS END. His MOTY for me was the Zeus singles match but I also urge you to watch the Yankee Two Kenju tag match and the Hideki/Takuya tag match. JUST WATCH EVERYTHING.
2. Isami Kodaka
At the start of the year I thought Isami was just another guy. Yes, I admitted that. Now I see him as the ace of my world and one of, if not the best wrestler in Japan. I tossed up between him and who I chose as #1 for ages but the lad who finished #1 edged out Isami ever so slightly. Isami from the first day of 2016 was incredible. In January alone I gave 8 of his matches ***3/4 +. He had a MOTYC with Masa Takanashi and a very under appreciated match against Konosuke Takeshita. Plus he launched BASARA in January, he was in the main event tag match which was absolutely bonkers and insane in every imaginable way. He continued the year working everywhere really, he was an integral part of BASARA, BJW, DDT, AJPW and ZERO1 in 2016. He also got a good match out of Chikara in FREEDOMS which deserves an award in itself. Isami main evented Sumo Hall in DDT’s biggest show of the year. Is there anything Isami can’t do? Yes there is, put on a bad match (and reply to Bya’s tweets).
1. Shuji Ishikawa
The Big Dog reigns supreme. We all know the potential of Shuji Ishikawa, but 2016 was HIS year. Every promotion gave Shuji a chance to shine and he shined bright like the Brahman’s forehead, baby. He excelled everywhere. Let me list off some of his 2016 accomplishments: BJW Ikkoutsen 2016 winner, King of DDT 2016 winner, DDT stable of the year winner (DAMNATION), KO-D Openweight Champion, KO-D Tag Team Champion, BJW Tag Team Champion, BJW Saikyo Tag League semi-finalist and finally the MVP of the indies for 2016. Oh yeah he did all of that at the age of 41. He works out with Kota Ibushi who got him to lose weight and get in the best shape of his life. Ishikawa has seemingly become the ace of non NJPW wrestling. He is successful wherever he goes. One wish for Ishikawa in 2017 is that he is featured more in AJPW. The Kento Miyahara singles match needs to happen.
THERE WE GO LADS AND LASSES, IT’S OVER. This was without a doubt the most challenging project I’ve ever done but also most rewarding. I hope this shines more light onto the indies and the performers that make up the Japanese independent scene. Ishikawa was #1 and NOSAWA Rongai was #100. Thank you all for reading and following along. I hope you all enjoyed.