With the enforced restrictions on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s regular foreign talent entering the country, there have been lots of opportunities given to wrestlers who perhaps wouldn’t have been given these chances otherwise.
This has highlighted both the talent of some wrestlers, who haven’t been able to showcase this before, and the improvements other wrestlers have made to become as good as they are today.
My list covers the 5 Most Improved Wrestlers in NJPW during 2020. From new wrestlers getting better by the day, to most experienced wrestlers improving after years in a lower position on the roster, there are plenty of great candidates.
5. Young Lions
I couldn’t pick between this very promising Young Lion class as to who deserved a place on this list, so I have clumped them together as one entry.
This standout Young Lion class – namely Yota Tsuji, Yuya Uemura and Gabriel Kidd – put on tremendous displays throughout the year as they battled in the smartly dubbed ‘C Block’ of this year’s G1 Climax. This was a great pallet cleanser to the rest of the G1 action, with their place as show openers they were always an enjoyable watch to supplement the block matches that followed.
Importantly, the Young Lions have had the chance to wrestle veterans of NJPW, which is a huge chance for them to advance as pro wrestlers. These Young Lions have pushed the boundaries of their roles, breaking the shackles of the system, and therefore have been able to put on good matches despite the limits on their move-sets and characters.
Not only have Young Lions impressed in Japan, Clark Connors has shown his talents during his matches on NJPW Strong stateside, giving New Japan fans reason to be hopeful for the young man’s future with the company.
Each Young Lion I have mentioned has a defining feature, allowing them to each find a different lane, despite the nature of Young Lion roles. This is testament to their ever-growing talents that 2020 has helped grow at a much faster rate.
Perhaps the most surprising choice on my list is Suuzki-gun’s DOUKI. He has become a valued member of the faction, the Jr. Heavyweight division and New Japan as a whole. This has been accentuated in 2020 due to the chances afforded to him.
Now a full-time member of the roster, after going the unconventional route to the company (an indie wrestler picked as a last minute replacement for last year’s Best of Super Juniors), he has grown into a good hand in the Jr. division.
Of course DOUKI has his level in NJPW, but I would argue that this level has been elevated slightly in 2020. Case and point was his singles match against Master Wato evidencing that there is an element of trust from the company to him.
DOUKI also got the spotlight during an IWGP NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship match in late October. He coupled up with YOSHI-HASHI in this match, with Tachi and Zack Sabre Jr. pairing off with the other members of the CHAOS team (Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto). Surprisingly, him and YOSHI-HASHI were given prominent roles in this tag match, further evidencing the trust that has been built up between the company and him.
DOUKI is a good wrestler to have around as he can fill many different spots on the card, his 2020 has only proven this to the mass NJPW audience.
SHO has benefited from the unfortunate injury to his Roppongi 3K tag partner YOH, as he has been able to hone his skills as a top Jr. Heavyweight singles star.
The multiple opportunities given to him in this year have represented the great potential SHO has to become a key wrestler for New Japan in the future. His duo of matches against the IWGP NEVER Openweight Champion, Shingo Takagi, have elevated his status and allowed him to improve as a pro wrestler.
Shingo is one of the best wrestlers in the world at present, so a chance to wrestle him on two separate occasions is certainly a nod of confidence in SHO’s direction. This has certaining allowed SHO to flourish as he is now a force to be reckoned with at the climax of the Jr. Heavyweight division.
SHO has also proven himself as a potential Openweight division centerpiece if he continues to improve on the trajectory he has in 2020.
Perhaps the improvements SHO has made this year make him too good to be in a Jr. Heavyweight tag team, no matter how great that team is. SHO has shown he has the potential to be a very important player for NJPW, if he continues to be nurtured, his improvement will be vast. The sky really is the limit for ‘High Voltage’ SHO.
The ‘Lord Emperor’ hasn’t been a favourite of mine by any stretch during his NJPW career. That all changed this year. He has really improved by working with great wrestlers as Zack Sabre Jr., Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi so closely.
In both singles and tag team matches, Taichi has impressed me this year.
His kickfest against Kota Ibushi at the conclusion of the G1 Climax’s A Block action sticks vividly in my mind as one of the most unique wrestling matches I have seen in a long time. On the other end of the stick are the couple of more traditional tag matches between Dangerous Tekkers and Golden Aces from the summer. This was one of the very best feuds of NJPW’s 2020, marrying amazing in-ring work with a complex, inter-weaving storyline, and was a massive part helping revive NJPW’s tag team division in 2020.
This year has shown clearly that Taichi is on a level which is similar to some of the better wrestlers in New Japan, putting him on par with the likes of Hirooki Goto and SANADA.
Taichi’s character work has seen lots of improvement in 2020, as it is much more defined, rather than being seemingly confused, like it has in previous years. He has grown as a great, cunning heel this year, giving him the potential to perhaps lead his own faction one day – Taichi-gun?
This seems like an obvious choice for the most improved wrestler of 2020 because this year has been by far the best year of YOSHI-HASHI’s wrestling career.
The ‘Head Hunter’ hunted down, and successfully captured, his first piece of gold in NJPW (the IWGP NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships). YOSHI-HASHI was given the shining light in multiple six-man tag team title matches this year, as he continued to improve on a match by match basis.
This wasn’t the only important accomplishment YOSHI-HASHI achieved in 2020, as he also put together a solid G1 campaign despite the lackluster nature of the tournament’s B Block. His highlight matches were against established heavyweight stars such as Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
The improvement YOSHI-HASHI has shown in 2020 has been nothing short of wholly impressive, as in this year he has again and again proved his value as a strong midcard babyface in the best wrestling promotion in the world. Gone is the YOSHI-HASHI who falls embarrassingly while attempting a run-in, and in his place is a much more accomplished wrestler.
YOSHI-HASHI fully represents the purest form of a wrestling underdog story, as the crowd heart-warmingly willed him on to finally winning a New Japan Championship over a decade after his NJPW debut.
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