Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The NJPW Top 10

As we close out 2015, I continue my look at some of the top wrestlers in various promotions as the year draws to a close. This time around, the focus turns to New Japan as it ramps up for its January 4th Wrestle Kingdom 10 event.

Coming off of the World Tag League, New Japan seems to be firing on all cylinders with amazing talent, great import stars from Ring of Honor and a bevy of talent itching to put on the best matches they can. This is New Japan's Wrestlemania season and even in their smaller events they are really showing that fire in six and eight man tags. 

Image credit: NJPW
  1. Tomohiro Ishii: The NEVER Openweight champion has had ups and downs in 2015, but his massive hard hitting matches with the likes of Togi Makabe have helped establish the title a bit more in 2015. While the title still remains an afterthought far too often, Ishii has done much to put it on the map with his tough brawling, which should make for an interesting counterpoint to Katsuyori Shibata at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
  2. Kenny Omega: The Canadian wrestler turned Japanese superstar turned hated "Cleaner" for the Bullet Club has held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title for much of 2015. His nefarious tactics have worked far better than some other Bullet Club members' use of interference and have helped him gain wins against Ryusuke Taguchi, Kushida and Matt Sydal. His feud with Kushida looks to be a new money match for New Japan as they will clash again at the biggest event of the year. 
  3. Katsuyori Shibata: The former MMA fighter was arguably the show stealer in the G1 Climax this year and despite still being considered a freelancer he has earned a shot at the NEVER Openweight title in the process. His sleeper into the PK finisher is a thing of beauty and I suspect Ishii will get first hand knowledge of it on January 4th. 
  4. Michael Elgin: Elgin broke out in a huge way with his run in the G1 Climax and while he didn't win he made tons of new fans in Japan. A rare babyface gaijin, the Canadian powerhouse was hand picked to be top star Tanahashi's partner in the World Tag League and his wins in Japan scored him a place on the Wrestle Kingdom 10 card. He now has the chance to win the ROH title in front of perhaps the biggest crowd he ever wrestled. 
  5. AJ Styles: TNA's loss has been NJPW's gain. While Styles gained and lost the IWGP Heavyweight title in 2015, it is his match quality that has kept him as a top talent with the promotion as much as his star power. The Bullet Club ace has had amazing matches against Tanahashi and Okada, but his battle with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10 will give him a fresh feud with another amazing talent. 
  6. Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson: Gallows and Anderson have been dominant in the tag ranks for years now, but past Wrestle Kingdom events have not always been kind to them. The Bullet Club seems to be in a major state of flux right now and with Los Ingobernables seemingly being groomed as the next top heel stable, this might be the last time either man appears so high on the list. 
  7. Tetsuya Naito: Naito has battled at the edge of the main event for years now, but it was his turn to the dark side and formation of Los Ingobernables that has set him on the path towards the main event picture. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, he battles former IWGP Intercontinental champion Hirooki Goto and I suspect with a win will move into regular contention for that title. With allies now in Bushi and EVIL, he seems ready to be the major baddie of NJPW in the coming year.
  8. Shinsuke Nakamura: The King of Strong Style hasn't had the best 2015 with multiple losses under his belt to Hirooki Goto and the loss of the G1 Climax title to Tanahashi. He has recovered a bit as the year closes and regained his IWGP Intercontinental title. Now entering a fresh feud for the belt with AJ Styles, he seems poised to steal the show in the semi-main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10.
  9. Hiroshi Tanahashi: One year ago, Tanahashi beat Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight title at Wrestle Kingdom 9. He's main events every January 4th event since Wrestle Kingdom 5 and won every time. He is truly the biggest star of this century in New Japan, but I strongly suspect he might be in for a rude awakening this year. Okada is ready to shine as the company's new ace and a big win against Tanahashi on the grandest state cements that once and for all.
  10. Kazuchika Okada: The Rainmaker is both one of NJPW's best wrestlers and one of their most charismatic new leaders. Still under thirty, he's got years of wrestling ahead of him as well. Already a three time IWGP champion, he has beaten AJ Styles and Tanahashi more than once, but hasn't won the big one: the Wrestle Kingdom main event. That may change this year as Okada seems poised to become the promotion's new ace. 
Image credit: NJPW.

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