2020 has been witness to lots of great wrestlers showing off their trade in various high-level matches. New Japan Pro-Wrestling have put together a strange year in terms of their booking, but this hasn’t stopped their wrestlers from producing stellar performances all year round.
This list details NJPW’s five best wrestlers in 2020, from veterans to rising stars, this list shows the diversity of the wrestling New Japan has offered its fans in 2020.
5. Minoru Suzuki
At 52 years old, Minoru Suzuki shouldn’t be able to do the things he does in a wrestling ring, but he disproves logic again and again with his astonishing talent. 2020 has seen Suzuki return to the lofty heights of the prestigious G1 Climax and a duo of high-level feuds outside of the Autumn tournament.
The aptly named ‘King of pro-wrestling’ reigned as the IWGP NEVER Openweight Champion for the second time in his career, this time for a couple of months in the latter half of the year. His 70 day reign was sandwiched between two great matches with Shingo Takagi, with a third encounter nestled in the middle – at the end of their respective G1 crusades.
Suzuki was someone who undoubtedly benefited from the absence of foreign stars, due to COVID restrictions, as he was afforded the opportunity to put on a couple of hard-hitting slugfests with fellow veretan Yuji Nagata.
Nagata and Suzuki stole the show together with their empty-arena encounter in the New Japan Cup First Round, before re-entering combat for a fiery bout in the hallowed halls of Korakuen a few months later that was even more pulsating as the first.
Suzuki also delivered a pronounced G1 Climax 30 campaign, in 2020. Highlighted by matches against the likes of ‘Golden Star’ Kota Ibushi, long-time rival Tomohiro Ishii and a dream opponent in Will Ospreay. He continues to prove that despite being north of 50 years old, he still has all the tools to be one of the absolute best wrestlers in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
4. Tomohiro Ishii
Perhaps the most consistent performer in recent memory, inside or outside of New Japan, the ‘Stone Pitbull’ produced yet another year of outstanding pro-wrestling.
Tomohiro Ishii was once again the standout performer of the G1 Climax tournament, delivering multiple of the competition’s best matches. Specifically his matches against Jay White, Kota Ibushi, Minoru Suzuki, Will Ospreay and Jeff Cobb to name but a few.
His encounter with Bullet Club’s ‘Switchblade’ is especially deserving of praise because it was a powerful piece of storytelling, which advanced the characters of both men involved.
Ishii has a distinctive character as the hard-hitting, powerful underdog of New Japan, which he has built upon year after year. This particular match is the perfect example of this, while simultaneously being the cherry on top of another superb G1 for him.
The sterling job he did against Shingo Takagi back in February was a testament to his work-effect when inside the NJPW ring. Put in this same category his run to the Quarter Finals of the New Japan Cup and you already have a pretty good return for a year’s work.
Ishii didn’t stop there of course, as he went on to claim the IWGP NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship with CHAOS stablemates YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto. This trio elevated the often disregarded titles to something that is now intriguing and worth investment.
Throughout 2020, Ishii has displayed his incredible versatility. Whether it be a top-tier tag team match, a classic hard-hitting affair or a match where he tweaks his style to accommodate a Jr. Heavyweight, he continues to be one of the best wrestler’s NJPW has to offer.
3. Shingo Takagi
L.I.J’s ‘Dragon’ has flown the flag for his faction in a quite amazing year, earning him a well deserved place on my list. He has successfully elevated the IWGP NEVER Openweight Championship in 2020, through a multitude of great defences and a quick drop of the title to the aforementioned Minoru Suzuki.
He captured the championship in a thrilling New Beginning in Sapporo Main Event against Hirooki Goto, before going on to live up to the title’s ‘Openweight’ name.
He faced the likes of SHO and El Desperado from the Jr. Heavyweight division and Heavyweight mainstays Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki. Shingo Takagi first defended the title against Ishii in front of a rampant Korakuen Hall crowd, a match which made its way onto my Match of the Year list. However, it is his feud with Minoru Suzuki which deserves the most attention of all, due to the storyline it coupled with the brutal NEVER style.
Shingo combines his unique move-set, style and selling, with the traditional expectations of New Japan’s NEVER Openweight division, to build a spectacular fusion of what puroresu should look like in this era.
The way he seamlessly transitioned from a Jr. Heavyweight star to a bone-crunching heavyweight hallmark in 2019 set the table for his lengthy run for the NEVER Openweight Championship.
Shingo has yet to reach the fullest extent of his sky-high capabilities, but for this year at least, being the focal point of a now vitaly important NEVER Openweight division is a great place for him, before eventually challenging for NJPW’s biggest prize in years to come (I can dream).
2. Kota Ibushi
This year’s history-making G1 Climax 30 winner was the ever-amazing ‘Golden Star’, a certain pick for a high position on my list. What was so special about Kota Ibushi’s G1 wasn’t the fact that it was his third successive final and second successive win, but instead was the immense versatility it put on full show.
Ibushi wrestled his G1 by fitting into the various styles of his opponents, whether it be Minoru Suzuki’s sadistic, strike heavy encore or the high-flying of Will Ospreay, he slotted himself into a different style each match – resulting in a diverse series of bouts.
It’s impossible to talk about Ibushi’s G1 without mentioning his unique encounter with Taichi. This spectacular match focused entirely on the kicks of each man to their opponent. Giving it a never before seen match style, which allowed Ibushi to pave his own path as one of the most diverse wrestlers in NJPW today.
Of course he provided great matches outside of the reputable G1 Climax competition, with a stellar tag team feud as a part of the Golden Aces (with Hiroshi Tanahashi) against Dangerous Tekkers – Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi.
This feud highlighted a different side of Kota Ibushi, as it allowed him to focus on the storytelling capabilities he has as one of the world’s very best pro wrestlers. His crusade to become “God” is very intriguing from a storyline perspective as it leaves open the opportunity for a detailed, layered, enthralling story to build up to an eventual match between the Golden Aces.
Ibushi is as well rounded as a wrestler can be, being one of the best at telling a story within a wrestling match, while also having the talent of one of the world’s most gifted workers.
1. Hiromu Takahashi
The best wrestler in New Japan Pro-Wrestling for 2020 has to be Hiromu Takahashi. Piecing together a stellar year, the ‘Time Bomb’ showed that a career-threatening injury would only slightly postpone his rise to worldwide stardom.
Most importantly, Hiromu Takahashi began his transition from Jr. Heavyweight to his eventual destiny as an IWGP Heavyweight Champion in years to come. We got a slight taste of this as he challenged EVIL for the Double Gold at Sengoku Lord in July. This was by far the best EVIL has looked in his time as a heel, which is definitely thanks to Hiromu.
Hiromu was a part of some of the best matches NJPW had to offer in 2020, from a high-flying spectacular with Ryu Lee to a David vs Goliath masterpiece against Tomohiro Ishii a few months on.
The obvious highlight was his January 4th, Wrestle Kingdom match with then IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, Will Ospreay. It is somewhat hard to believe that this was Hiromu’s first big match back from his aforementioned neck-injury, as it was the best Jr. Heavyweight bout of the whole year, but on the other hand it is the ‘Time Bomb’ we are talking about.
Hiromu went on an amazing run in the New Japan Cup, going further than any other Jr. Heavyweight has ever done, before finally coming unstuck in the semi-finals against Kazuchika Okada. This was an enduring testament to the special ability Hiromu has as the best Jr. Heavyweight anywhere in the world, because he can adapt his style to construct the best match imaginable with any given opponent.
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