The 2nd Annual Puroresu Representin’ Awards Preview Part 2: Most Improved/Breakout Wrestler
With the 2nd annual Puroresu Representin’ Awards right around the corner, it’s time to preview each category ahead of the voting and assembling of the polls to determine the winners. In this part I’ll preview the second category-Most Improved/Breakout Wrestler Of The Year. This categyro honors wrestlers who have shown considerable improvement, really moved up the ranks, or truly broke out of the pack after being stuck in the lower or mid-card ranks over the past year. Note that while it does help here, having won a title is not a prerequisite. This is a category that I expect, with regards to my favorites, to go right down to the wire because of major cards coming up, but in the meantime I’ll take a look at some of the early contenders in my book. This category has separate ballots for men & women.
PS-note to commenters: VOTING HAS NOT STARTED YET! DON’T POST YOUR VOTES YET! Hold it in for about 3 more weeks!
Men, with some of how they got here:
KUSHIDA (New Japan)
Past Year Highlights: Jumped from SMASH to New Japan and went from meddling in the up-and-coming small indy to the big show, and immediately established himself as a Jr. Heavyweight contender, now seems to be positioned on the fringe of the top tier. Came up short in an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title shot but remains solidly in contention.
Seiya Sanada (All-Japan)
Past Year Highlights: Won the All-Asia Tag Team Title twice with Manabu Soya, then began a steady climb through the singles ranks, culminating with a surprise Champions Carnival run. Will get a Triple Crown shot on the final day of the grading period.
Manabu Soya (All-Japan):
Past Year Highlights: Won the All-Asia Tag Team Title twice with Seiya Sanada and became one of the top tag team stars in the promotion. Got the better of brother Takumi upon his debut in a few matches.
Past Year Highlights: Finally broke through the glass ceiling and won the All-Japan World Jr. Heavyweight Championship after coming short before. Established himself as one of the promotion’s top Jr. Heavyweights.
Shuhei Taniguchi (NOAH):
Past Year Highlights: Steadily climbed through both the singles & tag team ranks, and although he did not win any titles he has gone from jobber/lower carder to the fringe of the top-tier. Slowed down briefly near the end of the grading period by injury.
Kotaro Suzuki (NOAH):
Past Year Highlights: After lots of tag team success, finally had his singles breakthrough with a record-threatening GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title reign. (He can set the all-time successful defense record this weekend)
Pac (Dragon Gate)
Past Year Highlights: Became the Jr. Heavyweight to beat in Dragon Gate and has been seemingly unbeatable since winning the Open The Brave Gate Title. Also shot up the tag team ranks with stablemate Masato Yoshino, including winning the Open The United Gate Titles.
Yasushi Kanda (Dragon Gate)
Past Year Highlights: Greatly improved as a singles wrestler, coming up just short in the annual KING OF GATE tournament but still earning an Open The Dream Gate Title shot.
Kuuga/Asian Cougar (Osaka Pro)
Past Year Highlights: After mostly being a tag team standout, broke out huge in the singles ranks and had one of the longest Osaka Pro Singles Title reigns yet-8 months.
Past Year Highlights: Shocked the joshi world by stopping Kaori Yoneyama’s seemingly unstoppable reign as JWP Openweight Champion and breaking through into the elite singles ranks. Also won the High Speed Championship. Held both titles simultaneously for nearly 3 months.
Hanako Nakamori (JWP):
Past Year Highlights: Found a new home for herself in JWP after being a freelancer following Ito Dojo’s shutdown. After some MMA time as well, re-devoted herself to wrestling and is starting to have some success in JWP in a short time.
Yumi Ohka (WAVE):
Past Year Highlights: Finally started getting taken seriously as a wrestler thanks in part to her forming the Black Dahlia heel faction. Also finally got the better of GAMI in a singles match series in WAVE.
Kagetu (Sendai Girls):
Past Year Highlights: Perhaps took the biggest leaps possible, going from still-perennial jobber to finally winning some matches all the way to the JWP Jr. Championship & POP Championship.
Tsukasa Fujimoto (Ice Ribbon):
Past Year Highlights: Truly broke out this past year, holding all 3 of Ice Ribbon’s major titles-SIMULTANEOUSLY for a time-and has a chance at the longest ICEx60 Singles Title reign ever (but she must beat Emi Sakura this weekend first). Has become the new face of the promotion-and more than just a pretty one.
Chii Tomiya (Ice Ribbon):
Past Year Highlights: Finally started getting taken more seriously as a wrestler, especially in singles ranks. Scored some big wins along the way and won her first title-the 19 Pro IW19 Singles Title-late in the grading period.
My early favorites/picks:
Men: This truly won’t be settled until the end, and the final days will influence my final choice. But right now it’s a clear-cut race for me, and it’s between Seiya Sanada & Pac. If Sanada wins the Triple Crown on July 31 or doesn’t look totally awful against Suwama, he’ll probably clinch my vote. But Pac will be hard to overlook and all he’s accomplished after finally breaking through. Dark Horse: KAI. He’s been a breakout-in-waiting these last couple years and it finally happened. Shocker Special: Taniguchi. Becoming the heavyweight version of KAI-he’s right about to the glass ceiling and ready to break through, although it might take someone finally being able to pry the GHC Heavyweight Title away from Takashi Sugiura. Good luck.
Women: As impressive as Fujimoto has been, my front-runner is definitely Kagetu. When the grading period started she had only one career win, maybe two. She was nothing but a jobber in Sendai Girls and elsewhere. Now she’s got the top Jr. Heavyweight joshi title and has had a very solid 4 month reign. And she’s still got youth on her side (she’s still only in her teens). She clearly took the biggest jump up in my book and will be my head-on favorite. Dark Horse: Fujimoto. Shocker Special: Yumi Ohka. She’s not a novelty act and GAMI’s whipping girl anymore.
The final ballot will be posted at the end of July.