Ring of Honor made quite the internet splash this morning as they began announcing matches for the first night of their joint shows with New Japan Pro Wrestling, War of the Worlds. One match in particular caught my eye (no, it wasn’t Gedo vs. Delirious which is still amazing), it was Roderick Strong vs. KUSHIDA.
— ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) April 20, 2015
The former Ring of Honor World Champion, the guy they literally call Mr. ROH versus…KUSHIDA? That dude who wears the Marty McFly jackets and teams with Alex Shelley in the TimeSplitters?
If you’re an avid reader/listener to this site, you know my love for KUSHIDA. Hell, head over to our forums and find a post of mine, it’ll become evident quickly. I think KUSHIDA is great and it pains me each and every month to see him stuck in a seemingly endless string of tag matches. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the tag matches he’s in and it’s not as if his partner (Shelly) or their opponents (Young Bucks, reDRagon, Forever Hooligans, etc.) make for bad combos. I just see more in the 31-year-old.
In our NJPW Year in Review eBook, we introduced a new statistic to measure wrestlers: ISHII. This metric was the brainchild of Josh Engleman and measured expected star ratings, match times among other things to come to a conclusion as to a wrestler’s overall worth in a given year. The top five was all guys you’d assume: Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi and A.J. Styles. Interestingly enough, coming in the top 10, 10th to be specific, was KUSHIDA. That’s above guys like Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto, Ryusuke Taguchi, Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yujiro Takahashi and many others.
And yet, he’s seemingly a non-factor. His tag partner, Shelley, was also a high finisher (7th) and, fittingly, he’s receiving an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title shot against Kenny Omega.
KUSHIDA continues to wait his turn.
It’s hard to make sense of someone as obviously talented as KUSHIDA receiving only five non-Best of the Super Juniors TV/PPV singles matches with NJPW since 2013. It’s unfathomable, really.
It seemed KUSHIDA was gaining momentum in the spring of 2014. In April, as part of New Japan’s trip to Taiwan, KUSHIDA received a NEVER Openweight Title shot and unsuccessfully challenged Ishii. The next month, KUSHIDA went stateside with NJPW and battled Jay Lethal for his ROH World Television Championship. Similar to this year’s War of the Worlds, ROH and NJPW put KUSHIDA in a big spot, a big singles match against an established American star.
Also in May, NJPW kicked off their annual Best of the Super Junior tournament, a tourney where KUSHIDA has had success. This year, KUSHIDA made it all the way to the finals before being defeated by Ricochet in one of my favorite matches of the year.
In July, KUSHIDA received a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and in a complete shock to almost everyone watching, defeated Kota Ibushi for the title. He had finally arrived, right? Nope. KUSHIDA was only playing the role of transitional champion and he was defeated in his first defense by the returning Ryusuke Taguchi.
That was KUSHIDA’s last major singles match for the year.
I don’t want to downplay the success KUSHIDA has had on the junior tag level, he’s a two-time champion alongside Shelley and one of the more entertaining acts, but I can’t help question if there’s more unused potential out of the 31-year-old.
Why don’t we see a NEVER Openweight run? Why can’t he have another shot and maybe win a Junior Heavyweight Title or two? The guy flat out knocked it out of the park in every singles match he participated in last year and while the sample size is small, I think it’s significant. Our ISHII metric shows him as one of the top 10 best workers in New Japan Pro Wrestling and everyone seems to agree he’s a great talent and yet, he’s stuck in a spin cycle.
When does KUSHIDA get his turn?