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. We also hope this serves as an introductory guide for those new to Japanese pro wrestling aka Puroresu. Read Part 1 here.
Kotaro Suzuki was one of the first graduates of the NOAH dojo. He debuted for the company in 2001. Early in his career, he would often team up with his mentor Mitsuharu Misawa.
Kotaro would climb the NOAH ranks very slowly. In 2003, he and KENTA placed third in the Differ Cup tournament. After this, KENTA’s career would catapult while Kotaro’s did not advance much. Through his career, he had to adopt two different masks while improving his wrestling. First, he became Tiger Emperor, a nod to Misawa’s days as Tiger Mask. His only noticeable win would be a Mask vs Hair match against Ricky Marvin (whom he would eventually team with):
He then became MushiKing Terry and would finally get a taste of gold, albeit a very short one, after winning the GHC Junior Heavyweight title from Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 2007:
A few months later, he lost the title to Yoshinobu Kanemaru and was back in the tag team competition, with some considerable success, winning the GHC Junior Tag titles twice, including pinning KENTA in 2008 to win the belts for the second time:
Upon his mentor Misawa’s passing, Kotaro Suzuki adopted some of his moves, which proved very helpful in improving his offense, relying less on the high flying tactics, and getting more well rounded.
Ten years after his debut, Kotaro Suzuki can pride himself in being a constantly good performer. Even though his ascension to the higher ranks of NOAH’s Junior division has been very slow, he proved to be patient and hasn’t stopped improving himself through the years. He is the best example of how you can go from an overlooked wrestler to one of the best Juniors in Japan.
One of my favorite matches of him had him facing KENTA in 2009 for the GHC Junior Heavyweight title. That match truly shows how innovative and entertaining he is. He also pulls off some Eddie Guerrero-esque heel antics in this top-level match match:
At 23 years old, Katsuhiko Nakajima is already an 8 year veteran. The “adopted” child of puroresu power couple Kensuke Sasaki and Akira Hokuto, he made his wrestling debut in World Japan back in 2004 at the age of 15, and he has been setting age records ever since.
Just take a look at what he was capable of doing at only 15 years old: MMA win via knockout in only 95 seconds!
In April 2004, Nakajima joined Kensuke Office. Three months later, he debuted in both New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Japan Pro Wrestling. At only 15 years old, he had the chance to face both Jushin Thunder Liger, in Tokyo Dome nonetheless, and the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama.
Before hitting 20 years old, Nakajima had worked in NJPW, AJPW, NOAH, Michinoku Pro Wrestling, Dragon Gate, Big Mouth Loud, Osaka Pro, Zero-One and Ring Of Honor. Here is him taking on one of the baddest men in Puroresu, Katsuyori Shibata, in Big Mouth Loud:
His time in AJPW was full of success. He won multiple tournaments, and also claimed the All Asia Tag Team belts with his mentor Kensuke Sasaki, before going on to win the World Junior Heavyweight belt from Shuji Kondo, becoming the youngest person to ever hold that title.
In recent years, Nakajima shifted his interest full time to NOAH. He has had high profile matches against the legends Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama. Although all losing efforts, he displayed a great deal of perseverance. He then gain gold in NOAH after defeating top star KENTA in 2009 for the GHC Junior Heavyweight title:
A few weeks later, he would defend the title against KENTA in one of the best matches of 2009:
Katsuhiko Nakajima uses a diversified array of kicks and suplexes, as well as the Northern Lights Bomb, innovated by Akira Hokuto. He has been a pro wrestling phenomenon throughout his youth. Wrestling perhaps has never seen anybody so young learn so quickly. Billed as Puroresu’s Supernova, he has never failed to live up to his surname, and at only 23 years old, he still has a lot to add to his already impressive list of accomplishments!
Next up is NJPW’s newest Mr. Charisma, Tetsuya Naito. Originally a soccer and baseball player while growing up, he took an interest in pro wrestling at the age of 18 and joined Animal Hamaguchi’s famous dojo. He represented it at the Takada Dojo submission event in 2004, where he was named Most Valuable Player. This was a huge early boost in his career and a sign of great things to come, as it allowed him to be selected to train in NJPW’s dojo. He made his pro wrestling debut in November 2005 in a “test match” before going back to training at the dojo. It only took him 6 months to make considerable progress and become an official member of the active roster. This is is a video highlighting his progress from 2005 to 2010, with commentary from Masahiro Chono:
As you can see, Naito was a Junior at the beginning of his career, but he made the jump to the heavyweight division, along with his tag partner Takahashi Yujiro. Known as NO LIMIT, they have held the IWGP tag belts in both weight divisions. Naito’s style is very similar to mid-90s Keiji Mutoh, whom Naito considers to be his biggest inspiration in the ring. He oozes charisma and has mannerisms very much similar to his idol. The fans love him although his tactics in the ring don’t always align with the rules. The break up of his tag team, No Limit, has lead to the biggest push of his singles career.
2011 is, without a doubt the best year of his career so far. He defied the odds and made it to the final of the G1 Climax, even defeating IWGP Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi in 5 minutes!
He then faced Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals of the tournament. It was one of the most emotional matches in years!
Soon after the match, as proof of his passion, Naito burst out in tears. Watch out for this future IWGP heavyweight champion. With his unexpected success in the G1 XXI, it might happen sooner than you expect!
Hirooki Goto’s history is filled with a great deal of accomplishments and accolades and very few titles held. Such is the current state of this greatly skilled amateur wrestler. A graduate of Kokushikan University where he recieved a top prize for his amaresu (amateur wrestling) skills, Goto took the admission test to enter NJPW two times. The first time, he passed but had to drop out because of a serious shoulder injury. He gave it another shot in 2002, re-passed and joined the Junior division. He debuted against Ryusuke Tagushi in July 2003 and a couple of months later, he took on Naofumi Yamamoto:
He had the most successful run of all the young lions in NJWP, winning the NJPW Young Lion Cup and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag belts in 2005. He also challenged for the U-30 Title :
Then came 2006. Hirooki Goto went for a one year tour of Mexico and when he got back in 2007, he was looking nothing like a Junior. Here’s a match from that period, where he takes on Heavyweight legend, Keiji Mutoh:
From that point on begun his long journey chasing the IWGP Heavyweight title, which he still hasn’t won to this day. His most recent attempt came just this past June against Hiroshi Tanahashi:
Hirooki Goto is arguably one of the most naturally gifted wrestlers in recent years. He found early success as a Junior, and 8 years after his debut, he prides himself on constantly evolving his training style, even going as far as taking up Karate.
Goto’s matches are everything a fan of heavyweight style could want: lots of hard striking, killer lariats, big moves, etc. Although he is in the main event scene and pulling off great matches every year, he has yet to win the big one. He has perhaps had to prove himself more than any other wrestler before him to be considered one of the top stars of the promotion. Nevertheless, he is one of the best wrestlers that NJPW has, and he is bound to be a great IWGP Heavyweight champion one day.
Behold NOAH’s Ace and one of Japan’s best heavyweights in recent years. Go Shiozaki, with a background in baseball and basketball, entered the NOAH dojo in 2003, and was the only one of his class to graduate. He made his wrestling debut in 2004 and put up against NOAH’s prodigy Naomichi Marufuji in an explosive match!
Shiozaki then began training with Kenta Kobashi, and they formed a very successful tag team together having one of the best matches of the year in 2005 against Sasaki and Nakajima:
From 2006 to 2008, Shiozaki would represent NOAH outside of Japan. He trained under Harley Race, competed in Ring of Honor extensively, and won the FIP Heavyweight title.
2009 was a bittersweet year for Shiozaki. He would form a very successful team with his mentor Mitsuhari Misawa, but tragedy would strike with Misawa’s passing. As Akiyama forfeited the belt, Shiozaki went on to become a GHC heavyweight champion after a very emotional match against Takeshi Rikio. Rikio is the man known for ending Kobashi’s historic GHC reign and was thought to be the next big NOAH heavyweight, but Go had other ideas:
In the mere 7 years that he has been wrestling, Shiozaki made an impact and drew people’s attention from day one. Training with Kenta Kobashi, he has been able to master the lariat, the moonsault and developed some of the stiffest chops in the business today. His Go-Flasher finisher, a modified Final Cut, is something to behold. He is a great technical wrestler and has always had the “it” factor. In the course of 2 years, he won the GHC heavyweight title two times, and is called by many “the next Kenta Kobashi”. Considering how much of a legend Kobashi is, Shiozaki has a lot to live up to, but he sure is on the right path to become one of puroresu’s greatest wrestlers.