On a weekend stacked with mid-to-high quality wrestling shows, Big Japan’s Ryogokutan 2016 saw the crowning of the promotion’s youngest Strong World Heavyweight Champion in Hideyoshi Kamitani. The 24-year-old baby-faced wrecking machine is full of the kind of adolescent fighting spirit any humble Japanese crowd can get behind. He throws Mack Truck shoulder blocks, slaps on magnetic side headlocks, and his finishing backdrop suplex is awesomely cringe-worthy.

There’s nothing ostentatious about him, in fact, his simplicity is a big part of his charm and effectiveness. He’s far from perfect but when he’s on, he’s on, and the emotion he conveys is raw and genuine.

Kamitani spent most of 2012-2014 as a whipping boy but last year, he shed some of the baby fat, boosted his self-confidence level, and stepped up his game, capturing the BJW Tag Team Titles with Ryota Hama and challenging big boss hoss Yuji Okabayashi for the BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title in December.

The road to Ryogokutan 2016 wasn’t all smooth pavement. Up until July 24, the year 2016 wasn’t particularly kind to Kamitani. He was defeated by Shuji Ishikawa in the final of the Ikkitousen Strong Climb, suffered an injury that kept him out of All Japan’s Champion Carnival, and lost the tag straps to Twin Towers on 5/30.  

Alas, all was not lost, as young Kamitani earned another shot at Okabayashi and the BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title after beating Daichi Hashimoto in an underwhelming match on 6/9. So has Kamitani had a strong year? Well, yes and no. Let’s take a look at some of his “on” matches in a mid-year review and what I consider his five best performances of 2016 (so far). If you’re unfamiliar with him, I would recommend his 2/15 AJ Phoenix match against Naoya Nomura as a template for the dominant side of Kamitani.

Ikkitousen Strong Climb – Block A
Hideyoshi Kamitani vs. Atsushi Maruyama (3/31)

Before reaching Ishikawa in the finals, Kamitani had to get through a bunch of other guys and this was my favorite of his tournament match-ups. Atsushi Maruyama is a great utility guy. The former Tigers Mask knows how to heel it up in the ring, and plays the cockroach that Kamitani can’t quite stamp the life out of. The build to Kamitani’s devastating backdrop suplex was well-done, with Maruyama clinging on for dear life and finding creative ways to counter out, like BITING Kamitani’s forehead. Fed up with Maruyama’s evasion, Kamitani lariats the hell out of him before finally hitting his awesome backdrop for the win. Kamitani comes away looking mighty, thanks in part to Maruyama’s performance, and builds up a little more momentum en route to Ishikawa Town.

Ikkitousen Strong Climb – Final
Hideyoshi Kamitani vs. Shuji Ishikawa (4/10)

The heart of this match is Kamitani’s will to survive and his endless struggle to topple the wall of pain that is Shuji Ishikawa. He gets the early advantage on the veteran but Ishikawa is able to bring him down to this world…a world of fold-up chairs. The midsection of the match feels a bit disjointed but then we get to the meat and potatoes: the striking. Kamitani connects with some killer elbows and Ishikawa fires back with his Rainmaker-style headbutt. The final stretch of the match oozes with drama and fighting spirit, as Kamitani takes bomb after bomb, including a Splash Mountain Bomb that I legitimately thought was the “Game Over” screen, and survives…just a little longer. Things get nasty for the finish, as a frustrated Ishikawa straight up punches Kamitani in his chubby face and puts him down for good.

Following his loss, Kamitani is sidelined with injury and returns in May only to lose the BJW Tag Team Titles to Ishikawa and the other Twin Tower, Kohei Sato. He says “sayonara!” to Hamatani and begins to reinvigorate himself as a singles guy. His win over Hashimoto gives him a booster shot of confidence, which becomes obvious in the build-up to his title match with Okabayashi.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title Prelude
Hideyoshi Kamitani, Daisuke Sekimoto & Ryota Hama vs. Yuji Okabayashi, Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato (6/29)

As a point of reference, I would recommend the six-man tag from 5/29. But things between Kamitani and Okabayashi are much more heated here. To the point that Okabayashi knocks one of Kamitani’s teeth out. Those exchanges take center stage, with everyone else in supporting roles. The Twin Towers are always fun bully enforcers and when Kamitani goes looking for revenge against the two, it generally backfires (see Ishikawa’s off-the-ropes headbutt and Sato’s big bad elbows). The time limit expires during the final back-and-forth between Kamitani and Okabayashi, which steers us to the spiritual successor to this match…

Hideyoshi Kamitani & Daichi Hashimoto vs. Yuji Okabayashi & Yasufumi Nakanoue (D-RIZE, 7/5)

Here, Kamitani is at his most comfortable. He plays smarter defense and doesn’t hold back on the stiffness, bloodying Okabayashi’s chest with hard open hand slaps. Conversely, he sells well for Okabayashi’s offense, including the “dreaded” Argentine backbreaker spot. This match had not one but two time limit draws, both of which had plenty of fire and emotion, especially with that scary lariat spot in the last five minutes that damn near kills Kamitani. A strong, well-rounded performance from Kamitani and a warning to Okabayashi that he’s gunning hard for the gold.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title
Yuji Okabayashi © vs. Hideyoshi Kamitani (7/24)

The culmination of all the dueling shoulder blocks and chops, this was about as visceral as it gets. There was nothing pretty or flashy about it. A compelling and at times, uncompromising narrative of Kamitani digging in his heels to scratch and claw his way to the title. The big boss Okabayashi was perfect in his role as he tries to break Kamitani’s spirit (and body), smashing any momentum Kamitani starts to generate. The early lariat spot was sold like death and even when Kamitani recovers from it, there’s still a long uphill battle. There’s plenty of brutal shots fired from both men, and by the end, Kamitani’s will to survive is undeniable. It takes TWO big backdrops to dethrone the king but it’s no doubt the crowning moment of Kamitani’s young career and I think from here on out, we will see a new Hideyoshi Kamitani, full of confidence of focus.  There’s no doubt that Shuji Ishikawa will step up to try and spoil Kamitani’s party pending a successful Ryuichi Kawakami defense on 8/21, but this time, Kamitani will (hopefully) have his revenge.