One of the beautiful things about pro wrestling is the variety. In the past two years, I've come to realize how much there is out there to explore and that resulted in me discovering puroresu, otherwise known as Japanese Wrestling. Looking at it on the surface, some may think, what? Is there a big wrestling company in Japan like WWE? Well, yes, there is. However, there's also a number of other large companies with a rich history. The great thing I've found about japanese wrestling promotions is that they're all unique. There's one clear leader of the pack, though...
NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
And that would be none other than New Japan Pro Wrestling. You've likely heard of them due to the buzz they've gotten recently in America due partly to AJ Styles jumping ship from TNA to there in 2014, but also because of their working relationship with companies like ROH & GFW which has blossomed as time has went on. In 2015, NJPW kicked off the year in phenomenal fashion with Wrestle Kingdom 9 which saw arch rivals Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada tear the house down in another classic main event and Kota Ibushi prove himself as a heavyweight in a five star match for the Intercontinental Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura. As the year tredged on, so did the amazing matches. Tomohiro Ishii waged war with Tomoaki Honma in a epic match for the NEVER Openweight Title, a belt which he has become synonymous with. AJ Styles regained the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Tanahashi. Kyle O'Reilly and KUSHIDA delivered one of the best BOSJ final round matches ever. Kota Ibushi won the New Japan cup and went on to challenge AJ Styles for the heavyweight title in a dream match. Then came summer and thus came time for the almighty G1 Climax. It's the biggest tournament in NJPW and arguably in pro wrestling as a whole. This was a spectacle to watch unfold once again, just like last year. It was even more special considering it was the 25th annual edition of the tournament. The tournament would be won by Hiroshi Tanahashi which set the main event of WK10, which is days away as we speak, in stone. Tanahashi challenges Okada for the title as another chapter of their rivalry unfolds. So, in short, 2015 was another landmark year for NJPW all around. Consistently great matches and ground breaking partnerships made this one of NJPW's best years yet. I can't wait to see what 2016 holds for the mecca that is New Japan Pro Wrestling.
NJPW WRESTLER OF THE YEAR - HIROSHI TANAHASHI
Top 10 NJPW Matches of 2015:
2) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - G1 Climax 25 Finals - *****
3) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma - New Beginning In Sendai - ****3/4
4) KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O'Reilly - Best of Super Juniors Finals - ****3/4
5) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada - Wrestle Kingdom 9 - ****3/4
6) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi - G1 Climax 25 Day 1 - ****1/2
7) AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi - G1 Climax 25 Day 5 - ****1/2
8) AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi - Invasion Attack - ****1/2
9) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazuchika Okada - G1 Climax 25 Day 17 - ****1/2
9) Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto - G1 Climax 25 Day 8 - ****1/4
10) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto - G1 Climax 25 Day 14 - ****1/4
Big Japan Pro Wrestling (BJW)
One of my favorite promotions just so happens to be one that I just discovered this year, Big Japan Pro Wrestling. Around the spring, I heard people singing the praises of Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi, a team collectively known as Strong BJ. Their singles and tag work was a highlight of the early part of the year for many so I decided to give it a shot. Needless to say, I'm extremely glad that I did because I found something that I latched onto quicker than I had to anything in several years. Being a mark for old japanese wrestling superstars like Kenta Kobashi who are known for their brutality and stiff chops, Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi were right up my alley. Beyond that, the entire premise of Big Japan was right up my alley as well.
Most people know Big Japan because of their death matches and while that is a key part of their shows, there's also another division in the company and that's the Strong BJ division which basically features a bunch of badass, mammoth men that like to fight. Plain and simple. It's the epitome of top notch heavyweight pro wrestling. Names like the aformentioned Sekimoto and Okabayashi plus Shuji Ishikawa, Kohei Sato, Hideyoshi Kamitani, Yuji Hino, and others make for a truly packed division.
This year, it was pretty much all about two tag teams in one way or another. Those teams being Twin Towers (Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato) and Strong BJ (Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi). Between these four men, we got an array of amazing matches that are high on my list when it comes to my favorites from the year. For starters, the two teams had a must see three match series for the BJW Tag Team Titles, but to top that off, they also battled each other in singles competition for the BJW World Title. Ishikawa began the year as champion battling Sekimoto & Okabayashi in great contests, in one of which, Sekimoto was able to dethrone him. This led to Sekimoto defending the title against his partner in July which was of course, a sight to see. Any time these four were in the ring together in any form, it was magic.
So, if you like hard hitting strong style and/or death matches, you should undoubtedly give Big Japan Pro Wrestling a try. I look forward to following them in 2016 and seeing what the mighty Sekimoto, Okabayashi, Ishikawa, & Sato have in store after the astounding year they had in 2015.
BIG JAPAN WRESTLER OF THE YEAR - YUJI OKABAYASHI
BIG JAPAN TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR - TWIN TOWERS (SHUJI ISHIKAWA & KOHEI SATO)
Top 5 Big Japan Matches of 2015:
2) Shuji Ishikawa vs. Daisuke Sekimoto - 3/31/15 - ****3/4
3) Twin Towers (Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato) vs. Strong BJ (Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi) - 10/29/15 - ****1/2
4) Daisuke Sekimoto, Masato Tanaka, & Takashi Saguira vs. HARASHIMA, Yuji Okabayashi & Yuji Hino - 6/30/15 - ****1/2
5) Twin Towers & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Hideki Suzuki, & Hideyoshi Kamitani - 11/23/15 - ****1/4
While the aforementioned units were a large part of Dragon Gate in 2015 like usual, I have to take the time to mention the man that brought my attention to the promotion, Akira Tozawa. I'm not just bringing him up because of my tie to him, I'm bringing him up because he's been one of the aces of DG all year. He kicked the year off in fabulous fashion by winning his first singles title, the Open the Brave Gate Championship. The title is a secondary/mid-card singles title and is quite the achievement for a guy who was seen as a joke several years back.
Another man that has to be mentioned is a long time MVP of Dragon Gate, Masato Yoshino. In 2015, he staked his claim as still being one of, if not THE #1 prospect in Dragon Gate. From his Open the Twin Gate Title matches, Open the Dream Gate Title victory, and numerous breathtaking matches, Yoshino never disappointed this year.
The year is closing out with Shingo Takagi and his VERSERK stablemates atop the mountain as he holds the Open The Dream Gate Title and Naruki Doi & YAMATO are still in the midst of a record breaking reign as Twin Gate Champions. YAMAdoi is another duo that had a phenomenal year and made their claim as one of the best tag teams in the world. With them and the power house Shingo running roughshod over DG with a whole group of back up behind them, it's gonna be interesting to see who will take them down in 2016. I think that's the question on the minds of many as we head into the new year.
DRAGON GATE WRESTLER OF THE YEAR - MASATO YOSHINO
DRAGON GATE TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR - NARUKI DOI & YAMATO
DRAGON GATE TRIO OF THE YEAR - CIMA, GAMMA, & DON FUJI
MOMENT OF THE YEAR - UHAA NATION'S FAREWELL/GRADUATION CEREMONY
TOP 10 BEST DRAGON GATE MATCHES OF 2015:
2) Bxb Hulk vs. Uhaa Nation - Champion Gate In Osaka - 3/1/15 - ****1/2
3) Masato Yoshino & Shachihoko BOY vs. Jimmy Susumu & Jimmy Kagetora - Dragon Gate in Korakuen Hall - 4/9/15 - ****1/2
4) Masato Yoshino vs. T-Hawk - Kobe World - 7/20/15 - ****1/2
5) Naruki Doi & YAMATO vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal - Kobe World - 7/20/15 - ****1/4
6) Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Masaaki Mochizuki - Gate of Destiny - 11/5/15 - ****1/4
7) Akira Tozawa (c) vs. EITA - Kobe World - 7/20/15 - ****1/4
8) CIMA, Matt Sydal, & Ricochet vs. YAMATO, Naruki Doi, & Masato Yoshino - 7/2/15 - ****1/4
9) Akira Tozawa vs. Dragon Kid - Open The Brave Gate Championship Match - Dead or Alive - 5/5/15 - ****
10) Akira Tozawa vs. Kzy - Open The Brave Gate Championship Match - 2/28/15 - ***3/4
TOP PURO STARS OF THE YEAR
1) Daisuke Sekimoto (BJW, DDT, ZERO-1) - 168 points
WHAT?! A NON NJPW STAR WINS PURO WRESTLER OF THE YEAR?! IN 2015?! Yes, indeed! It was by a very close margin, though, as you can see. He only beat out Okada by two points, but if you look at how often Sekimoto worked and pair that with how consistent he was, you will see just how/why he is the highest ranked japanese wrestler on this list. One half of the Strong BJ duo had an unbelievable year which saw him hold tag titles with Yuji Okabayashi in both his home promotion of Big Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as DDT. Even though they are partners, Sekimoto mixed it up with Okabayashi several times this year and it was epic each time. His tag team success & delivery plus his outstanding string of singles contests against Ishikawa, Masato Tanaka, & Okabayashi earned one of the hardest workers in Japan a well deserved award and a Top 10 ranking. Now is the time to check out Daisuke Sekimoto, if you never have. This year was my first exposure to him and I've already been digging into his past work. Lord knows what the man himself will accomplish in 2016!
2) Kazuchika Okada (NJPW) - 166 points
The Rainmaker began 2015 in bittersweet fashion. He delivered a classic performance yet he came up short and left the Tokyo Dome in literal tears in a moment that was watched by millions around the world. How can you rebound from one of the most embarassing moments of your career that took place at the hands of your arch rival? Fight back and win the IWGP Title. And that's exactly what Kazuchika Okada did. By the time that June rolled around, Okada was back to his old self as he defeated AJ Styles in an awesome match at Dominion to become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. This put his rival Hiroshi Tanahashi at odds with him once again as he would go on to win the G1 Climax which meant the two would meet in the coming year for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. By August, the stage was set for another huge meeting in quite possibly the greatest rivalry of the past 10 years. Okada spent the entire final half of the year as IWGP Heavyweight Champion which virtually righted the wrong that happened in January, but once again all of that could be crushed to start out the new year if Okada can't manage to defeat Tanahashi at the biggest show of the year.
3) Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW) - 162 points
I pretty much covered the basis of Tanahashi's year in the above article about Okada so I'm going to take this time to explain why I chose Tanahashi as NJPW Wrestler of the Year ahead of Okada despite the Rainmaker having more points than him. First things first, some of the points earned were earned in matches outside NJPW, and admittedly, some of Tanahashi's were as well, but when you look at NJPW solely, Tanahashi had the better year. He won his biggest match of the year at the biggest show of the year thus retaining his title and making his most heated rival cry in defeat. He DID lose the IWGP Heavyweight Title a month later, but he would continue to have awesome matches as the year went on against the likes of Kota Ibushi, Katsuyori Shibata, AJ Styles and the man he had his second damn near five star match of the year with, Shinsuke Nakamura. To top that off, he won the 25th annual G1 Climax which is the most prestigious pro wrestling tournament going today. Tanahashi was the ace of NJPW in 2015 and there's no doubt about that.
4) Kota Ibushi (NJPW, DDT) - 159 points
For quite a long time during the year, Kota Ibushi was in firm control of the number one slot on this list. The young, exciting athlete killed it every single night. From the five star classic with Nakamura just four days into the year to his series with HARASHIMA in DDT over the KO-D Openweight Title to the NJ Cup Final Match with Hirooki Goto to his matches with AJ Styles, Ibushi was all over the place and looking phenomenal each time out. The exhausting performances ended up paying a toll however as Ibushi would end up sitting out the final three months of the year due to an injury. It's said to be quite serious and I'm very saddened to see it happen. Especially when he was having one of the best years of his career. One can only do so much, though. I feel like he will come back rested and better than ever whenever that may be, so, here's to the breathtaking performer that is Kota Ibushi! Get well soon!
5) Yuji Okabayashi (BJW, DDT) - 157 points
Yuji Okabayashi returned from injury in 2015 and needless to say, he blew the doors off of every promotion that he stepped foot in, most notably his home promotion of Big Japan Pro Wrestling. Whether it was teaming with Daisuke Sekimoto and ripping it up in a series of matches with Twin Towers or facing his own partner for the BJW World Title which led to him winning the title and being the reigning champion through the end of the year, Okabayashi never failed to deliver. In fact, he didn't just deliver, he knocked it out of the park. In singles, tags, six man's, in ever area he was hard hitting, precise, and left an impact. I'm new to BJW and other promotions like DDT in which Okabayashi frequents, but I'd venture to say that 2015 was one of, if not, THE best year yet for him. As said before, he and the rest of the Big Japan Big Four as I like to call them, were one of my favorite parts about wrestling this year.
6) Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW) - 148 points
The King of Strong Style may have dropped from #1 to #6 on this list however he's still the same performer that he was last year. Nakamura produced the only to five star matches in the world this year (with Ibushi at WK9 and with Tanahashi at the G1 Finals) and reminded everyone why he's one of the very best in the world today. Aside from his high quality matches, Nakamura sometimes fell into a repetitive format which is what cost him a higher slot on this lost. The lower profile the match, the less eventful it is when it comes to Nakamura, but as long as keeps delivering these five star matches like he did this year, I won't be complaining. Nakamura found himself at home with the IC Title yet again this year as he traded it back and forth with Hirooki Goto in a good series of contests that he would end up winning ultimately as he regained the title in September and has it around his waist heading into 2016 with AJ Styles waiting for him.
7) Hirooki Goto (NJPW) - 129 points
It's been one hell of a sleeper year for Hirooki Goto. I don't think people realize how awesome of a run he had in 2015, one that rivaled that of the four aces of NJPW ahead of him on this list. Goto started the year as one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions then went on to make it to the finals of the NJ CUP in a great match with Kota Ibushi. In the middle part of the year, Goto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to win the Intercontinental Championship and would walk into the G1 Climax with the title around his waist. This led to a big champion vs champion meeting during the tournament which saw Goto pin the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada to the mat for a three count. It was a massive victory and one of the best matches of the entire tournament. So, what's that? Victories over the two top singles champions in NJPW, Okada & Nakamura, a reign as IWGP Tag Team Champion and a reign as IWGP Intercontinental Champion? I'd say that's a damn good year and I think Goto would agree.
8) Masato Yoshino (Dragon Gate) - 109 points
Yoshino's position as the ace of Dragon Gate was put to the test multiple times the year and he not only solidified his position for another year, he went above and beyond to prove it. In matches against up & comers like T-Hawk, Yoshino stood his ground and won the King of Gate Tournament which led to him defeating BxB Hulk to become the Open the Dream Gate Champion. He would defend the title successfully against T-Hawk in the main event of Kobe World in July before dropping it to Shingo Takagi at Dangerous Gate in August. Before I go on though, I also have to mention his reign as one half of the Open The Twin Gate Champions with Shachihoko Boy which gave us one of the best tag matches of the year when they faced the Jimmys in April. None the less, Yoshino rebounded from his Dream Gate Title loss by teaming up with fellow stable mates, Akira Tozawa & T-Hawk, to win a tournament to crown new Open The Triangle Gate Champions. So, as a whole, Yoshino had each of the top three championships in Dragon Gate around his waist at some point this year PLUS he won the King of Gate tournament and delivered awesome matches all along the way. Enough said, Yoshino's 2015 was superb.
9) Akira Tozawa (Dragon Gate) - 103 points
Tozawa set his 2015 into perfect motion with a sensational victory over Kzy in February which gave him the first singles championship of his career, the Open the Brave Gate Title. The resident top babyface in Dragon Gate carried the title with pride throughout the year having several outstanding defenses, particularly his match with EITA at Kobe World in July. His reign came to a suprising end in November at Gate of Destiny where Kotoka somehow managed to win the belt. It was a disappointing moment for many fans, but Tozawa took the momentum he gained from that near 9 month reign as champion to rebound and win the Open The Triangle Gate Titles with Masato Yoshino & T-Hawk to close out the year.
10) Kohei Sato (BJW, Zero 1) - 99 points
Kohei Sato, one half of the Twin Towers tag team in BJW, had one hell of a year wrestling aside his partner Shuji Ishikawa. The duo ripped the tag division in Big Japan to shreds with outstanding matches in all forms from regular tags to trios. All along the way, they held the BJW Tag Team Titles, that is, until they lost them to arch rivals Strong BJ, Sekimoto & Okabayashi in the third match in their series. Outside of BJW, Sato had great matches in promotions such as Zero-1 where he held the Zero-1 Heavyweight Title for a number of months and he also currently holds the NWA Intercontinental Tag Team Titles with Daisuke Sekimoto!
Top 25 Puroresu Matches of the Year (All Promotions)
If you want an introduction to puro before trying to dive into any of the said promotions in 2016, these are the matches you need to see. This list also features some matches that didn't make the individual lists above.
1) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi - NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 9 - 1/4/15 - *****
2) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 Finals - 8/16/15 - *****
3) Twin Towers (Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato) vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi - BJW - 5/28/15 - ****3/4
4) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma - NJPW: New Beginning In Sendai - ****3/4
5) KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O'Reilly - NJPW: BOSJ Finals - 6/12/15 - ****3/4
6) MAD BLANKEY (Naruki Doi, YAMATO) vs. Jimmyz - Losing Unit Disbands Match - Dragon Gate: Dangerous Gate - 8/16/15 - ****3/4
7) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada - NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 9 - 1/4/15 - ****3/4
8) Shuji Ishikawa vs. Daisuke Sekimoto - BJW - 3/31/15 - ****3/4
9) Minoru Suzuki vs. Takashi Saguira - NOAH: Great Voyage in Osaka - 9/19/15 - ****1/2
10) Kota Ibushi vs. HARASHIMA - DDT - 4/29/15 - ****1/2
11) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 Day 1 - ****1/2
12) AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 Day 5 - ****1/2
13) Twin Towers (Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato) vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi - BJW - 10/29/15 - ****1/2
14) Masato Yoshino & Shachihoko Boy vs. Jimmy Susumu & Jimmy Kagetora - Dragon Gate in Korukaeun Hall - 4/9/15 - ****1/2
15) Masato Yoshino vs. T-Hawk - Dragon Gate: Kobe World - 7/21/15 - ****1/2
16) Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazuchika Okada - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 - ****1/2
17) Daisuke Sekimoto, Masato Tanaka, & Takashi Saguira vs. HARASHIMA, Yuji Okabayashi & Yuji Hino - BJW - 6/30/15 - ****1/2
18) Naruki Doi & YAMATO vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal - Dragon Gate: Kobe World - 7/20/15 - ****1/4
19) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 Night 14 - ****1/4
20) Twin Towers & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Hideki Suzuki, & Hideyoshi Kamitani - BJW: 11/23/15 - ****1/4
21) Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto - NJPW: G1 Climax 25 Night 8 - ****1/4
22) Akira Tozawa vs. EITA - Dragon Gate: Kobe World - ****1/4
23) Shingo Takagi vs. Masaaki Mochizuki - Dragon Gate: Gate of Destiny - 11/5/15 - ****1/4
24) Shuji Ishikawa vs. Yuji Okabayashi - BJW: 2/2/15 - ****1/4
25) Kazuchika Okada vs. AJ Styles - NJPW: Dominion - 7/5/15 - ****1/4
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