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Scout Report by Wrestlingscout
30 Men, 20 Years, 1 Country
I don't know why, but I've always been intrigued by lists of "who's the greatest" and while I am certainly no expert on puroresu, I figured I'd do my own list. I decided to go from 1981-2001, twenty years and pick the top thirty male wrestlers (and promoters in some cases). Though I really did this for my own amusement I hope you enjoy:
30. Shiro Koshinaka - Though I've never found him particularly exciting in the ring, Koshinaka has a definite place in puroresu history. He was the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion and held the title three times total and is a former three-time IWGP Tag Champ as well. In addition to a few other Junior Heavyweight championships, Koshinaka was the premier star of Hesei Ishigun in the mid-90s.
29. Yuji Nagata - While I may not have been a Koshinaka fan, I absolutely adore the in-ring stylings of one Yuji Nagata. When I saw him and Ultimo Dragon on WCW, I was blown away. This guy could kick, suplex, and submit - what more can you ask for? While Nagata should break the top ten for the next twenty years, he is still a day late and dollar short. The former head of G-Eggs is certainly a "can't miss" star.
28. Kensuke Sasaki - The protégé of Riki Choshu, Sasaki takes the faster, Westernized style Choshu made famous to the next level. He's had three IWGP Heavyweight title reigns and really came into his own at the end of last year. Though he's been criticized over the years, Sasaki is truly a credit to New Japan as he has managed to carry his load when they needed him to.
27. Jun Akiyama - Just when the Triple Crown seemed within his grasp, the All Japan-NOAH split occurred. Blue Thunder became a thing of the past as Aki changed his look and stepped up his game for his headlining feud with Kenta Kobashi. Though he's still young, Akiyama was the second GHC Heavyweight champ and is looking to be a major player for puroresu in general.
26. Yoshiaki Yatsu - A former Olympic wrestler and partner of Jumbo Tsuruta, Yatsu has seen a lot over his illustrious career from All Japan and Super World Sports to Pride and Zero-One. After boycotting the 1980 Olympics, Yatsu went to New Japan for a while, but soon left as part of Riki Choshu's Ishin Gundan to start Japan Pro, which ultimately led him to All Japan. Here, Yatsu and Tsuruta dominated the tag team ranks. Yatsu was one of many men sucked into the SWS by money, but he would leave and form Social Pro Wrestling. In recent years, Yatsu has competed in mixed martial arts and shoot-style matches, which seem to work well for him.
25. Akira Taue - A former sumo, who became Jumbo Tsuruta's final tag partner and the partner of Toshiaki Kawada. Taue was the first well-known user of the choke slam and though he was a late bloomer had definite effect on All Japan. He captured the Triple Crown on one occasion, but he and Kawada were a dominate tag team and won several tag titles and round robins in their tenure. Though Taue is often seen as the least talented of All Japan's big five, he was truly a popular star for the promotion.
24. Hiroshi Hase - Another former Olympic wrestler, who became part of New Japan, Hiro Hase has been a great talent for New and All Japan alike. After his tour of duty under a mask in Stampede, Hase became one of the first Junior Heavyweight champions. He left with Choshu's Ishin Gundan for Japan Pro, which fell through. He's bounced back and fourth between AJPW and NJPW, though he was a bigger star in the latter. Forming teams with Kensuke Sasaki and rival Keiji Muto, Hase became a solid tag wrestler. Then he made a smooth transition to politics, where he's been for a while now. He remains part of both companies though as a member of Muto's B.A.T.T. group and will probably maintain a spot in puroresu as long as he can compete.
23. Hayabusa - While many of these men have been important as far as coming and going, Hayabusa's staying makes him a true hero to fans of FMW. A gifted athlete, Hayabusa, became the heir to Atsushi's Onita's top spot in FMW. Combining daredevil highflying with hardcore antics, Hayabusa became a cult hero among hardcore fans. Though his body is really beat up, he continues to carry the promotion in the mainevents.
22. Masa Saito - After coming in sixth place at the `64 Olympics, Masa Saito became a pro wrestling star. American fans remember "Mr. Saito" in the AWA, where he won the Heavyweight title. In Japan, he was forever a thorn in Antonio Inoki's side as he was the first serious contender for the IWGP title meeting Inoki in a memorable "Island Death Match." Saito's place in wrestling is often under-appreciated as he was often a fallboy for bigger stars, but it was his skill that made those stars as big as they were.
21. El Ultimo Dragon - After his size held him back in his homeland, Yoshihiro Asai went to Mexico, learned the style, and became an superstar. He returned to Japan and competed in WAR and even held the J-Crown for a time. Dragon also tried his hand at WCW and was quite successful, winning the both Cruiserweight and TV titles twice. Sadly an elbow injury was unsuccessfully repaired and his career was prematurely halted. Instead of rolling over, Ultimo Dragon, who's Gym had been going for a while in Mexico became the springboard for Toryumon. The hot new lucharesu group embodied Utimo Dragon's look, diversity, and ability and it continues to be a success to this day.
20. El Gran Hamada - One of New Japan's biggest losses in the 80s, Hamada left the group for the UWF, but ended up in Mexico. Hamada blended the Japanese and Lucha Libre styles and returned to Japan in 1990 with Universal Pro Wrestling. This company, though short lived, was thee precursor to Michinoku Pro, Osaka Pro, and Toryumon. Hamada remains active and has won a laundry list of titles in numerous weight classes.
19. Masa Chono - After a tour of duty in Europe, Chono along with Keiji Muto and Shinya Hashimoto became NJPW's fastest rising stars. He's really done it all in New Japan winning several tag titles and three of the first four G-1 Climaxes. His career really took off when the nWo came to Japan. Chono's bad ass turn meant he had leadership and ultimately reaped the benefits in the form of an IWGP title reign in `98 and a lengthy tag title reign with Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Chono is still a great entertainer, but his physical tools have vastly disappeared. He continues as a booker and good draw, but his days are limited.
18. Yoshiaki Fujiwara - After never really finding his niche in New Japan, Fujiwara jumped to the young UWF, which he salvaged as Pro Wrestling Fujiwaragume in 1991. The group bragged some good talent and continued to work the shoot-style. His top stars left and formed Pancrase and the remnants became BattleArts. Fujiwara became a traveler headlining at Antonio Inoki's Peace Festival, for FMW, and finally in All Japan. Fujiwara's accomplishments seem somewhat in direct, but he's had his foot in many hot promotions one way or another.
17. Atsushi Onita - All Japan's top junior heavyweight in the 80s, Atsushi Onita seemed destined to fail. After injuring his knee and retiring, he returned in `89 with FMW; a promotion based on bloody death matches. This first garbage group influenced a number of Japanese groups like IWA, W*ING, and Big Japan, in addition to many American Indies. Onita even brought FMW to the US and Mexico, a feat that no puroresu group had attempted at that point. After leaving FMW, Onita promoted AOW and even brought his death matches to New Japan. He is truly a stylistic pioneer.
16. The Great Sasuke - Tiger Mask, Jushin Lyger, Great Sasuke. The torch was passed at the first J-Cup when Sasuke upset Lyger and went onto the finals, but it was for good reason. Sasuke - the founder, president, and top star of Michinoku Pro was a phenomenon. MPW became really hot as Sasuke became the first holder of the J-Crown via a tournament. The promotion's take on lucha libre made it one of the most innovative and exciting indies to ever exist in the whole world.
15. Nobuhiko Takada - Though he was a big star in New Japan, Takada is best remembered as the man behind UWF-International. After being a IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, Takada jumped to the first incarnation of the UWF. He returned to NJPW, but left soon after to start UWFI, which was a success. As the promotion crumbled, Takada challenged IWGP Champion, Keiji Muto, and won. Takada dropped out of sight for a few years, but returned as the major star in Pride, which is currently the top promotion in puroresu.
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