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5 Wrestlers to Watch Outside of New Japan

3 years ago

5 Wrestlers to Watch Outside of New Japan

By: Nicholas Gerts

Are you new to Japanese wrestling, looking to branch out from New Japan and dive deeper into the world of puro, or are you returning after taking a hiatus? You could not have picked a better time than 2021 – the depth in the Japanese wrestling world is as rich as it’s been for a long time. The main promotions in Japan boast a strong mix of youth and veteran leadership, and last year was one of the strongest years in recent memory.

Diving into the unknown can be a little daunting, so here is a list of the top five wrestlers outside of NJPW you should watch as you take the leap into this wonderful world of Japanese wrestling.

COMPANY: Pro Wrestling NOAH
AGE: 24

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: GHC Heavyweight champion, GHC Tag Team champion, Global Tag League champion (with Go Shiozaki in 2018), Global League champion (2018), Tokyo Sports Fighting Spirit Award (2018, 2019)

ABOUT: Kiyomiya is the future of Pro Wrestling NOAH, as evidenced by his 384-day GHC Heavyweight Championship reign from December 16, 2018 through January 4, 2020 – the longest GHC Heavyweight Title run in NOAH since KENTA held the strap for 343 days in 2013. Kiyomiya’s championship victory over Takashi Sugiura made him the youngest NOAH champion ever at the age of 22, and his stock continues to soar after Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked him the 36th-best wrestler in the world in its annual PWI 500 list in 2020. Kiyomiya, who cites Misawa as his biggest influence, had one of the best matches of 2020 despite losing the GHC title to Go Shiozaki. He has already opened the 2021 campaign with an incredible eight-man tag that took place on January 10 (Kiyomiya/Shiozaki/ Sugiura/Naomichi Marufuji vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima/Kenoh/Manabu Soya/Masa Kitamiya). Expect more of the same from NOAH’S “Supernova” this year.


COMPANY: Pro Wrestling NOAH
AGE: 36

: GHC National champion (current champion), GHC Heavyweight champion, GHC Tag Team champion (two times), GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion (two times), Michinoku Pro Wrestling Tohoku Junior Heavyweight champion (three times), Global League/N-1 champion (2017 and 2019)

ABOUT: Pro Wrestling NOAH started to rebound from its dismal two-year Suzuki-gun invasion largely because of Kenoh’s rise to become GHC Heavyweight Champion in 2017. The run lasted just 79 days, but championship matches against Eddie Edwards, archival Kaito Kiyomiya and Takashi Sugiura are the stuff of legend, and he continues to put on incredible match a ter incredible match. The Kongo faction’s leader reigns as GHC National Champion, and he made a huge imprint on the company last year by causing Katsuhiko Nakajima to defect from his AXIZ partner – current GHC Heavyweight champion Go Shiozaki – and join one of the best stables in Japan. And while Shiozaki has received the bulk of the love the past year, Kenoh deserves just as much adoration despite the fact that he was not included in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Top 500 wrestlers of 2020.

COMPANY: DDT Pro-Wrestling
AGE: 25

: KO-D Openweight Champion (four times), DDT Ironman Heavy Metal Champion (four times); KO-D 6-Man Tag Team Champion (five times, current champion), KO-D Tag Team Champion (three times), D-Oh Grand Prix winner (2017), King of DDT winner (2019) 2014 Japan Indie Awards Best Bout Award (with Tetsuya Endo against Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi), Tokyo Sports 2013 Newcomer Award winner.

ABOUT: It’s hard to believe that Takeshita is only 25 years old, given that he’s been wrestling for DDT for nearly a decade. Takeshita has really turned it on the past few years and will be DDT’s centerpiece for years to come. The current KO-D 6-Man Tag Team Champion, along with Yuki Ueno and Shunma Katsumata, has put on tremendous matches throughout his career – both on the singles and tag side – but matches against HARASHIMA, Tetsuya Endo and most recently Jun Akiyama in the D-Oh Grand Prix Finals stand out as his best in recent history.

COMPANY: DragonGate
AGE: 24

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Open the Dream Gate champion (current champion), 2020 International Wrestling Revolution Group Rey del Ring winner, 2019 Rookie Ranking Tournament champion, 2018 Dragon Gate Rookie of the Year.

ABOUT: The 24-year-old has grown exponentially since starting his Mexico excursion in December 2019. He made an immediate impact when he returned to Dragon Gate in November, defeating Eita to win the Open the Dream Gate championship in his first DG match in almost a year. Skywalker is now the youngest wrestler to win the Open the Dream Gate Championship. He could see even greater success in 2021 as the leader of the newly formed Masquerade, which also consists of Dragon Dia, Jason Lee, La Estrella and Kota Minoura. Skywalker will be a household name in puroresu for years to come thanks to a perfect offensive blend of high- lying and mat-based wrestling.

COMPANY: DDT Pro Wrestling
AGE: 29

Tetsuya Endo by Monthly Puroresu

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: KO-D Openweight Champion (two times, current champion), DDT Ironman Heavyweight Champion, KO-D Six-Man Tag Team Champion (four times), KO-D Tag Team Champion (four times), King of DDT tournament winner (twice, 2017 and 2020), Japan Indie Awards Best Bout Award (with Konosuke Takeshita against Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi), 2020 Tokyo Sports Technique Award

ABOUT: Endo, along with Konosuke Takeshita, has been the centerpiece of DDT’s youth movement and saw his stock rise significantly in 2020 after defeating the legendary Masato Tanaka for the KO-D Openweight Championship at Wrestle Peter Pan 2020. His momentum carried over to the 28-man King of DDT tournament, which he won nearly three months later. Endo then sent a shockwave through the wrestling world by challenging current AEW champion Kenny Omega to a KO-D Openweight title match at Ultimate Party 2020 – with Endo’s former dormmate accepting the challenge – but the coronavirus pandemic delayed that match. The dream showdown might be on the shelf for the time being, but the biggest match of Endo’s career awaits in February, where he will defend his KO-D Openweight title against another legend, Jun Akiyama.

This article previously appeared in Monthly Puroresu Issue #3

Written by:

I graduated from Northern Illinois University, and immediately went into the business I love: newspapers. While I've dabbled in music publishing and magazine writing, daily news is something I've been involved in off and on since I was a boy on a paper route. Currently, I work for Tribune Publishing. Thom and I crossed paths at Gannett, and I assisted him in a variety of editing and writing roles to help launch Monthly Puroresu and set the level of professionalism that readers now enjoy.