New Japan’s annual G1 Climax is about to get underway and while there’s no question it will be filled with numerous excellent matches, I was left feeling a little let down by the list of participants. NJPW has seriously cut back on their use of freelance talent (beyond Ibushi who is a regular) in favour of their own and ROH talent. While I understand the reasoning I think the G1 could use a bit of freshening up. So if I could pick any outside talent (and I’m limiting it to people who have never been in before) who would I give it to? Well here’s my list in no particular order.
- Kenoh (Pro Wrestling NOAH)
Kenoh started out as a Junior Heavyweight in Michonoku Pro in 2007 and he’d win several titles there before moving to NOAH in 2013. NOAH was in a major transition period as many of their older workers had left or retired and they were starting to bring in and push younger workers like Kenoh for really the first time in company history.
Kenoh would have more major success as a Junior in NOAH but his breakout came in 2017 after switching to the Heavyweight division. Over the course of the year he won the Heavyweight Tag Title, The Global League (NOAH’s biggest tournament), and then finally won the GHC Heavyweight Title in December to cap off one of the most impressive rises in wrestling in years.
NOAH and NJPW have a long history of working together, although with NOAH now working with WWE this is likely over. Kenoh perfectly fits the mold of previous NOAH success stories in New Japan like Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji and Katsuhiko Nakajima.
Matches to check out: His title win over Eddie Edwards in December 2017 or his Global League match in October 2017 with Katsuhiko Nakajima.
2. Shuji Ishikawa (Freelancer/DDT)
Big Shuji has been getting a lot of attention the last several years, whether he’s a late bloomer (he’s 41) or was underappreciated he certainly deserves the praise as he’s one of the best hard-hitting big men in the business right now.
Ishikawa started in wrestling back in 2003 but he he his career lagged for years until 2007 when he finally started to catch on. As well as working for DDT he began working for and winning titles in several other companies, most notably in BJPW. Although he originally worked in death-matches, and enjoyed success in them he branched out from that and by 2013 stopped competing in them.
Shuji would win the top titles in both DDT and Big Japan before being invited to compete in All Japan Pro Wrestling in 2015. It didn’t take too long for him to make a big impact as in 2017 he won the Champion Carnival (along with the G1 it’s the most famous tournament in Japan, if much reduced in stature) and in the resulting title shot he won the Triple Crown. He continued his dominance of AJPW but teaming up with company ace Suwama to win the tag league and tag titles, because why not?
Ishikawa’s style is somewhat like the old-school New Japan strong-style of years gone-by. Seeing him throw down with Ishii, Hirooki Goto and several others would be a lot of fun.
Matches to check out: The June and August 2017 Triple Crown matches with his major AJPW rival Kento Miyahara are great illustrations of what Ishikawa can bring to the table in big match settings.
3. Shingo Takagi (Dragon Gate)
Possibly the smallest of the men on this list, Shingo Takagi has spent most of his career as one of the biggest men in Dragon Gate. That’s what has made his recent forays into other companies so much fun and why I’d love to see him in the G1.
Takagi was the very first graduate of the Dragon Gate Dojo and garnered immediate attention and praise, even winning the Wrestling Observer’s Rookie of the Year award in 2005. Dragon Gate had major plans for him from the start as he was quickly pushed hard and in 2008 would win the top singles belt for the first time in 2008.
Shingo is in fact tied for the most Open The Dream Gate title wins with 4 and has had numerous runs with all of the other belts in Dragon Gate. He’s been such a consistent presence at the top of the card in the company that it was probably long past time for him to start taking bookings outside the company to freshen things up a little.
Starting in 2017 he began making more appearances in other companies such as Big Japan and especially All Japan where he impressed many with his run in the Champion Carnival. His ability to adjust to a smaller heavy showed impressive versatility.
Matches to check out: His Champion Carnival match from 2017 with Shuji Ishikawa is a fantastic example of what I’m talking about when it comes to his work with bigger men. For a great Dragon Gate match the July 2016 bout with his rival/BFF YAMATO is top-shelf.
4. Daisuke Sekimoto (Big Japan Pro Wrestling)
Sekimoto is one of the main reasons I’m writing this. He’s been one of the best indy workers on the planet for years and I’ve wanted to see him in NJPW the whole time. He recently worked on a smaller New Japan project with their young lions so the possibility is tantalizingly close.
As for why I want to see him in New Japan and the G1 so much? Daisuke is the master of BJPW’s “Strong BJ” (it’s intentional) style. If you want to see dudes lariating, chopping and german suplexing each other to hell than it’s your style.
Sekimoto himself got his start in 1999 when he was only 19 years old. Within only a few years he was on top of BJPW holding both the BJW Heavyweight Title and the Tag Title at the same time. He’d continue to be a dominant worker there most especially as a tag worker, where he’d win the belts with various partners another 7 times as well as racking up numerous singles titles.
Big Japan wasn’t the only company Daisuke made his presence felt as he also worked consistently in Zero1 and DDT and began working in Europe for WxW, winning championships and accolades wherever he went. He and his most regular partner Yuji Okabayashi were in demand with numerous companies but they eventually got a booking with All Japan in 2011 which was something of a breakthrough for Sekimoto as AJPW despite it’s much diminished stature is still seen as a “major” company.
In All Japan he continued his winning ways, winning tag gold 4 times and in perhaps his biggest career achievement won the Champion Carnival in 2016. Daisuke Sekimoto would make the perfect addition to the G1 (and he’s said himself that he’d love to work for New Japan) with his style that in many ways (even more than Ishikawa) hearkens back to an older New Japan.
Matches to check out: For tag team work his and Okabayashi’s January 2nd 2017 match with Kohei Sato and Shuji Ishikawa is great. For singles his 2011 match with the one and only El Generico (Ole!) while a bit older is still worth singling out.
5. Matt Riddle (American Independents)
If you’re a current follower of the US indies than you almost certainly know who Matt Riddle is. The former MMA star has been taking the scene by storm since making the transition to wrestling and has already worked with a number of New Japan stars. The only thing seemingly holding him back from getting dates with the company (or any other Japanese company) is his extremely public love of Marijuana which is still a serious crime in Japan.
Riddle was a high school wrestler, even pinning fellow future UFC superstar Jon Jones. During his MMA career in which he’d appear on The Ultimate fighter and compete for both UFC and Bellator, Matt would compile a record of 8 wins and 3 losses, he also had two no contests which were originally wins but were overturned when he tested positive for marijuana.
In Febuary 2015 Riddle debuted in 2015 and his big personality and MMA influenced-style made him a draw immediately. Although he was given a WWE tryout that October they didn’t sign him (rumored to be because of his love of marijuana) and instead they got him some bookings with EVOLVE where he quickly became the top star and champion. Along with working in EVOLVE Riddle has been a big part of prominent indy companies like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Revolution Pro Wrestling.
If he was able to overcome the Japanese issue with his marijuana consumption he’d be tremendous in New Japan as his background in MMA is the kind of thing they have always (sometimes to the detriment of the company) loved and he’s got a very marketable personality.
Matches to check out: His 2017 match with the now retired and deeply missed Katsuyori Shibata in Revolution Pro and his March 2018 match with Zack Sabre Jr in PWG are both examples not only of what he’s capable of at the top of his game but of how he’d fit in working with New Japan talent.
6. Konosuke Takeshita (DDT)
Takeshita earned the nickname “The Future of DDT” from Kenny Omega and it is easy to see why. He made his pro wrestling debut for DDT in 2012 while still in high school and took to the sport so quickly he was named by Tokyo Sports the Rookie of The Year.
DDT clearly had huge plans for him as when they were given a chance to use Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2014 it was Takeshita who was given the opportunity to work with the New Japan ace in the biggest match of his career to that date. More big moments would quickly follow as he would win the KO-D Tag Titles with his partner Tetsuya Endo from Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega.
Since that break-through title win Takeshita has gone on to be a 2 time KO-D Heavyweight Champion and taken his place at the summit of DDT while only being 23 years old. New Japan has drawn some great talent such as Omega and Ibushi from DDT in the past and bringing in Takeshita for the G1 would continue both that legacy and Takeshita’s personal growth as DDT’s ace.
Matches to check out: His match with HARASHIMA in May 2017 which is something of passing of the torch from one generation to another in DDT. Also worth watching is his May 2018 match with Shuji Ishikawa as Takeshita does everything he can to survive a monster who has brutalized him so many times and hold onto his title.
7. Kento Miyahara (AJPW)
It is no secret to fans of Japanese pro wrestling that All Japan has struggled to find and keep an audience for most of the 21st century. The turmoil backstage had led to massive roster turnover that you don’t see in any other company in Japan. After the most recent drama in May 2013 where Keiji Mutoh and perhaps half the roster left to form Wrestle-1, things didn’t look good. AJPW needed fresh blood. Enter Kento Miyahara.
Miyahara was part of the “Kensuke Office” group of high profile freelancers when he first made his pro wrestling debut in 2008. The group worked in several companies especially Pro Wrestling NOAH, but by 2013 Kensuke Sasaki was slowing down and in 2014 he would quietly retire. In August 2013 Kento not only joined AJPW but left the Kensuke Office.
It would only take a year in All Japan for Miyahara to claim his first title when he would win the All-Asia Tag Team Championship alongside Kotaro Suzuki. Along with this he would win AJPW’s other Tag Championship (and go to the company tag finals two years in a row) with Go Shiozaki. After Go left the company he would win the Tag League with Suwama as well but the time was finally right for him to gain his true goal.
In February 2016 Kento became the youngest ever Triple Crown Champion at the age of only 26. Miyahara would onto the Triple Crown for a massive 15 months and make 8 successful defenses, in an attempt to beat Toshiaki Kawada’s record of 10. During his run on top AJPW’s attendance saw a significant upswing after years of decay. Realizing that they were onto something special it wasn’t long before the company went back to what was working. Miyahara is now a 3-time and current Triple Crown Champion leading what will hopefully be a return to grace for the once venerable company.
Kento fits the G1 because first of all it should be a tournament for the top wrestlers in the world and he’s obviously one of them. Secondly as a protege of former New Japan legend Kensuke Sasaki he had the legacy that fits right perfectly in. On top of that Miyahara has a style and charisma that is very reminiscent of Shinsuke Nakamura and that is something we can all appreciate.
Matches to check out: September 2017 Kento takes on the long time ace of the company Suwama in a complete war. Is the new generation fully in charge or does the old dawg still have what it takes? Fantastic match. Also worth watching is the July 2016 match where Kento takes on the ultimate grumpy old man of All Japan in Jun Akiyama.
8. Walter (European Independents)
The big Austrian known simply as Walter has earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitting men in pro wrestling and one only has to look at the chests of his opponents to see why. With that kind of mentality Walter is an obvious pick for the G1 as he fits right in with the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Michael Elgin and Hirooki Goto who would all be more than willing to throw strikes with him.
Walter made his debut in 2007 and by 2010 he won his first major title defeating Zack Sabre Jr to win the WxW World Unified Wrestling Championship, which he’d go on to hold two more times. Walter’s reputation for hard-hitting matches quickly spread and he was in demand first all over Europe and then around the world so that by 2017 he was working in the US.
In April 2018 Walter achieved his highest success so far is his career when he won the PWG World Title in a triple threat match. Also during 2018 Walter received a great deal of attention because of his Wrestlemania weekend match with PCO in one of the most brutally stiff contests in some time. Walter’s profile is likely to continue to rise as he recently worked with Tomohiro Ishii so there’s the possibility he might get an offer to tour with New Japan.
Matches to check out: His October 2017 match with Zack Sabre Jr which Dave Meltzer gave 5 stars to is obviously the top choice. Another tremendous match is his January 2018 match with Timothy Thatcher.
9. KUSHIDA (NJPW)
This one might seem strange at first since KUSHIDA is already in New Japan. It’s happened many times before though: Jushin Liger, Prince Devitt, Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega just to name the most successful cases. I think KUSHIDA is just as capable of stepping his game up and working with the heavyweights as those men.
For those who don’t know KUSHIDA had dreamed of being a pro wrestler since he was a child and got into training while still only in Junior High at the dojo of the legendary Nobuhiko Takeda. He learned both pro wrestling and MMA, and while he made a brief detour into MMA (He complied a record of 6 wins and 0 losses) he quickly turned to his first love of pro wrestling.
KUSHIDA was taken under the wing of Tajiri (of WWE fame) and starting in 2006 worked in HUSTLE and then SMASH before finally in 2010 signing with New Japan and beginning his rise to stardom. It took until late 2012 for KUSHIDA to finally strike gold but as part of the popular Timesplitters team with Alex Shelley, he won the Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Titles which he and Shelley would hold twice. In July 2014 KUSHIDA would win the Junior Heavyweight Title for the first of five times (making him the third most winning Junior Champ of all-time). KUSHIDA has been a dominant worker in the junior division and has also represented the New Japan brand in ROH, CMLL and other companies all over the world.
Due to his spending more time representing NJPW in other companies as well as New Japan pushing other workers in the Junior division, KUSHIDA hasn’t gotten as many chances to shine recently. Working in the G1 and trying to prove he can take it right to the biggest men in the company is a way for him to show he is still the best junior heavyweight in New Japan.
Matches to check out: His June 2017 match with Will Ospreay which Dave Meltzer gave 5 stars, as well as his June 2017 match with Hiromu Takahashi are not only fantastic matches but were done in a short space of time making them even more impressive.
10. Seth Rollins (WWE)
This one is obviously veering into fantasy booking. The chances of a main event level (and to all signs quite happy) worker leaving and going to NJPW is very low. That said, this is my list and Seth Rollins in the G1 would be pretty “freaking” great!
Rollins got his start in the business in 2005 but his big break didn’t come until 2007 when he debuted (under his old ring name of Tyler Black) in ROH as a member of the Age of the Fall stable. He quickly became one of the most popular wrestlers in the company and during his time in the company would rise to the top, eventually winning the ROH World Heavyweight Championship in February 2010. Not long after losing the title Rollins left for the WWE developmental system.
After spending time in development Rollins debuted on the WWE main roster in a big way, as a member of The Shield (with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns). The three men became the most dominant faction in modern WWE history going on a long undefeated streak and seizing the Tag Team Championships. After a long successful run with The Shield, Seth “shockingly betrayed his brothers in June 2014 and turned heel. He won that year’s Money in the Bank ladder match and at Wrestlemania 31 he cashed in and won his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Since then Rollins has gone on to win both the top title and several other championships as well as reuniting with his Shield comrades briefly. Despite suffering a serious injury where he tore his acl, mcl and medial meniscus all at the same time Rollins has been in top form in 2018 often being counted on to carry the Raw brand workload. If he were to ever appear in the G1 he would have a lot to offer.
Matches to check out: His June 2016 ladder match with Dean Ambrose as the two former best friends try to pretty much kill each other. For an example of how great he was in The Shield check out the February 2014 Wyatt Family Vs Shield match.
Well that’s what I’ve got. Enjoy the G1!