Professional wrestling has always been a test of skill, strength and athleticism, but also a test of perseverance and resiliency. The best wrestlers today, were all nobodies at one point of their careers. They were all virtually unknown, unsure of how their career might turn out. This is a look back through some of their stories, highlighting the very humble beginnings of some of the world’s best wrestlers. We see how, over the years, their different styles and experiences have molded them into the best performers of their generation.
Kenta Kobayashi, better known as KENTA, started his career in AJPW at the age of 19. After training under Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama’s watch he debuted in 2000, against none other than his future tag team partner and rival, Naomichi Marufuji.
During his very short stay in AJPW, he also had a match with Yoshinobu Kanemaru (competing in Bermuda shorts and boots). Here is that match from June 9th, 2000:
Kobayashi, competing in red trunks with no kneepads, showed a lot of fire despite having a style that didn’t involve any of his current moves. He mainly relied on picture perfect dropkicks, chops and planchas to try and pin Kanemaru. He still held his own, and kicked out of multiple pins by the more experienced Kanemaru.
A few months later, he along with the vast majority of the AJPW roster, followed Mitusharu Misawa and moved to the newly created promotion: Pro Wrestling NOAH. Misawa put a lot of focus on building a good Junior Heavyweight division and Kobayashi was obviously one of the great talents on hand. His 1st match in NOAH occurred the day after the opening on August 6th, 2000 against Satoru Asako:
He was sidelined the remainder of that year by an injury. When he returned in 2001, he was simply known as KENTA.
Ten years later, KENTA is one of the world’s best Junior heavyweights, having competed in some of the most memorable matches of the 00s, especially against or with his best friend Naomichi Marufuji. Their October 29th, 2006 match was the explosive beginning of one of the hottest feuds in pro wrestling’s recent history. It was also the first time a junior match was NOAH’s main event. Both Marufuji and KENTA were vicious and refused to say die. It’s a great display of athleticism, resiliency and the desperation to win. KENTA is one of the hardest hitting wrestlers in the world and has his fair share of amazing moves, especially the well-known Go-2-Sleep, which KENTA innovated himself:
In 2011 goes, KENTA is now the charismatic leader of NOAH’s vicious No Mercy (NMC) faction, and he’s leading none other than Kanemaru. The same wrestler who back in 2000 used to suplex him all over the place. KENTA has evolved very well indeed.
Naomichi Marufuji had his start in the AJPW dojo as well. Starting in 1998 at 18, he was reportedly trained by the late Mitsuharu Misawa. He spent the first two years of his career on the low end of the food chain. Marufuji moved with Misawa to Pro wrestling NOAH upon its creation. It was there he began his path to success in the Junior Heavyweight division. He impressed early in his career with his amazing high-flying abilities and innovative techniques. Nicknamed the “Junior Genius,” he got an early taste of the gold by winning the WEW ‘World Entertainment Wrestling’ tag team title with Tamon Honda on October 22nd, 2000. Two months later dropped the titles to Kodo Fuyuki and Tetsuhiro Kuroda. This is one of Marufuji’s earliest matches available in video in the internet. It introduces us to the Shiranui, the amazing headlock /Backflip/reverse DDT that Marufuji created early in his career. It also shows what a natural he was, already oozing charisma and and showing tremendous athleticism. Here is the highly enjoyable match from the now defunct promotion:
In 2001, Naomichi Marufuji participated in one of the first matches for Zero-One, against Naohiro Hoshikawa. The crowd instantly loved him, and he returned the love back by pulling off a breakthrough performance!
It wouldn’t take him long to finally get the recognition he deserved and dominate the NOAH Junior Heavyweight scene. By December 2001, he won the GHC Junior Heavyweight title!
Ten years after his first NOAH win, Naomichi Marufuji went on to become the first wrestler to hold every title there is in that company: He was a GHC Junior Tag Champion with KENTA, GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, GHC Tag Team Champion with Minoru Suzuki and Takashi Sugiura, GHC Heavyweight Champion, and GHC Openweight Hardcore Champion.
He’s also the first wrestler to win the Jr Heavyweight title in NOAH, NJPW & AJPW! He also went on excursions to Germany, Austria, the UK and the US. However, 2006 was truly the golden year for Marufuji. Besides his great match against KENTA, that won them accolades from all around the world, Marufuji got a shot at the GHC Heavyweight belt facing Jun Akiyama. He was able to realize his dream and win the Heavyweight gold. At the end of that match, he thanked his mentor Mitsuharu Misawa.
Highly unpredictable and very smart in the ring with some of his moves and reversals, amazingly fit and the innovator of the Shiranui and Tiger Flowsion, he is one of the best wrestlers in the world, with tons of charisma to back it up.
He is now the vice president of Pro Wrestling NOAH, and should hopefully make his return to the ring by the end of this year.
At 31 years old, a 13 year old veteran, a natural from his early beginnings, he has done it all, and brilliantly so!
Takashi Sugiura debuted the same year as KENTA. His ascension in the wrestling ranks is interesting, as he initially competed as a Junior Heavyweight, albeit an older one, as he was already 30 at that time.
His Zero-One match against Alexander Otsuka is quite phenomenal for the simple fact that Sugiura was barely a 4 month rookie at the time. He busted open Otsuka’s head with a headbutt, that Otsuka delivered! Sugiura was unphased! And gave him a double Karelin Lift before spearing him! Impressive to say the least:
His jump to the heavyweight division was meant to be. The guy was too much of a beast and he was knocking juniors dead left and right. This match and further proof of how a “junior’ Suguira was too much of a bad ass to not put on a few more pounds and search for heavyweight glory. NJPW BOSJ 2003 Semi-Finals against Koji Kanemoto.
10 years after his match against Otsuka, Takashi Sugiura proudly holds the privilege of winning the NOAH gold in both the Junior and Heavyweight divisions (something only he and Marufuji have done). Takashi Sugiura also recently had one of the longest Heavyweight title reigns in Japan, with a record breaking 581 day GHC title run. With his extensive amateur wrestling background, he has often been described as the Japanese Kurt Angle, and his hard hitting strikes have only gotten better with time. My favorite Sugiura match showcases how technically great he is. This is his title defense against Morishima. It’s especially great especially knowing that the Morishima once beat him a few days earlier in 99 seconds!
Takeshi Morishima debuted for AJPW back in 1998. Aged 20, he was trained in their dojo by Akira Taue and Mitsuharu Misawa. One of his first matches for the promotion had him facing Maunakea Mossman, later known as Taiyo Kea. Morishima was significantly lighter back then and put on a good 6 min match:
One has to wonder if people watching him back then had any idea of how much weight he would put on later in his career. Considering he might have been around 230 lb at the time, his desire to become a bigger and more dominant heavyweight pushed him to bulk up to 330 lb!
Ten years after facing Kea, Morishima found himself a former ROH World Champion, which came as a surprise as he was an outsider who was seemingly just booked to compete in the company for a few weeks. He’s still remembered as one of ROH’s most dominant champions, proving seemingly invincible during his reign. In the same time frame, he was working back and forth between the US and Japan and moved up the ranks of his home promotion NOAH. Eventually he faced his mentor Mitsuharu Misawa for the GHC heavyweight title. The match was impressive and showed how much Morishima had evolved. Misawa had a hard time putting down his younger and bigger opponent, and was forced to bust out not one but two Emerald Frosions. But Morishima absorbed all the punishment and pinned Misawa for title!
Morishima was able to challenge himself and put on a drastic amount of weight in order to dominate the heavyweight division. He is highly praised for his brawling skills, and has one of the most devastating lariats and dangerous backdrops in pro wrestling history. He successfully represented his promotion in the US, gaining the love of the hard to please ROH audience, as well as touring in Europe and Mexico! He is one of the most dynamic monsters in wrestling today.
Shuji Kondo got his start in Toryumon in 2001. Toryumon, run by Ultimo Dragon, was Dragon Gate’s predecessor. Kondo was among the 2nd class of graduates from Toryumon. Toryumon 2000 Project, or T2P for short debuted on November 13, 2001 and became known for its use of the six-sided wrestling ring. T2P wrestlers primarily used a submission based style called Llave, spanish for “Key”, the lucha libre term for submission locks.
Here’s a match of Shuji Kondo showcasing his submission wrestling skills. Notice that he actually looked like a Junior back then.
A few years later, after leaving -Dragon Gate, Kondo joined All Japan Pro Wrestling, and went on to become one of the largest, if not the largest Junior competitors in the world. His moveset would put almost any heavyweight to shame. Shuji Kondo does not just spear his opponent, he either does a lifting spear into a spinebuster, or a lifting spear into a side slam. He relies on powerbombs, slams, suplexes, and a destructive lariat to defeat his opponents.
10 years after his debut, weighing 103 kgs, he is one of the most physically impressive Juniors in the world. Having a match against Shuji Kondo is truly a hazard to your life, as any of the challengers to his AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Title can attest, as he held the belt for nearly a year and a half. Here’s a match where he tries to recapture that title, against none other than Naomichi Marufuji in 2008:
And that’s all for now, look for Part 2 of Puroresu Evolution Shortly!