Here is a brand new feature for The Wrestling Mania, where some of your trusted site writers will pick and offer up a series of their Top Five things on a particular subject/area in wrestling. We’re not saying we have the “correct” or definitive lists, but merely offer up what we think for debate, discussion and, hopefully, entertainment.
This time out, I’ll look at my favourite five Japanese wrestlers. This is in no small way inspired by the brilliant recent article on The Wrestling Mania counting down the top 50 Japanese matches. I’m not saying the grapplers listed here are by any means the “best” of Japan, given my less than encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese grappling, just the five performers I’ve enjoyed most over the years.
Those who know me well may be a little tired of my love for Bull Nakano. She is legitimately one of my favourite wresters of all time, regardless of nationality, gender or anything else you want to bring into it. Even though she was a fantastic worker in the ring I would acknowledge that others of her era, such as Manami Toyota, may have a better claim to being the “best of all time” – she’s miles above anything the Western Hemisphere has produced in the modern era mind you – but for the complete all-round package, Bull took some beating. As well as the high-flying moves, she could wrestle on the mat, brawl and unleash any number of power moves. And she had the character as well. Her “strange” look may have got her noticed initially in both WWF and WCW, but she retained the attention of the crowd with her charisma and psychology.
The Great Sasuke
Even before ECW (and the the WWF) started showcasing the stars of Michinoku Pro Wrestling, The Great Sasuke’s forays into Super J Cup action had caught my attention. When I was able to watch Sasuke performing in the United States it made me appreciate him even more. Arguably the most graceful flyer of his era (though I’d admit that the likes of Jushin Liger or Ultimo Dragon to name but two are right up there with him) Sasuke generally made it look easy to fly through the air, risking his career with every big move and serving up top quality matches to boot. Singles, tags, six-man matches…Sasuke excelled in them all.
The Great Muta
If Keji Mutoh had only ever had that stint in WCW in the late 80’s and done nothing else in his career he still may have made this list. It truly was wonderful, even in by the end of 1989 and Starrcade: Future Shock, he was being buried by a booking committee who didn’t have a clue what they really had on their hands. Or they were “anti-foreign”. That he returned to Japan to bring us an amazing body of work over more than two decades merely ensures that he has to make it onto this list. At times it has looked like the magic of Muta has been consigned to history but just when you think you’ve seen the last great Muta match, he inevitably pulls another one superb performance out of the bag. Credit has to go to him as well for reinventing himself both in terms of character and in-ring work over many years and a number of serious injuries.
If his very early displays in AJPW merely suggested he was another in the long line of rock-solid Japanese workers, his move to Pro Wrestling Noah showed just what a talent he was. Given AJPW’s lesser interest in the Cruiserweight/Junior-Heavyweight style of things the Mitsuhara Misawa led Noah was perhaps a fortunately timed blossoming for Kenta. Along with his perennial rival/contemporary Naomichi Marufuji he held Tag Team gold, has been a champion at Junior Heavyweight level and is also the current GHC Heavyweight Champion. He is truly a proponent of the “strong” style thanks to his kickboxing training but KENTA can do it all. His series in Ring of Honor against the likes of Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson and Davey Richards were superb and in his native Japan he’s been at the heart of numerous singles and tag classics. I don’t think there is an opponent in the wrestling business today who KENTA couldn’t carry to a good match.
Oh, and he also invented the Go-2-Sleep. I’m sure CM Punk has thanked him personally.
Come on, the guy was a wrestling crustacean. Has there ever been a better gimmick? The guy could work as well. It’s been scientifically proven that it’s impossible not to watch a Gran Naniwa match and be entertained. His middle rope “Crab Walk” never fails to amuse. If you’ve never heard of him, do yourself a favour and go check him out.