In 2013, a scrawny Konosuke Takeshita was named “Rookie of the Year” by Tokyo Sports one year after his debut. In 2014-15, he spent much of the time wrestling with his former Happy Motel compatriot, Tetsuya Endo, winning the KO-D Tag Team titles on two separate occasions. But he was also coming into his own as a singles threat, reaching the finals of the 2015 King of DDT tournament against Yukio Sakaguchi. Kenny Omega dubbed him the “future of DDT” so is it safe to say the future is here and now? Or is DDT trying too hard to fill the void left behind from Kota Ibushi’s departure?

There’s no denying that Konosuke Takeshita has had one hell of a year thus far. On his 21st birthday, he captured the KO-D Openweight Title in a match against Daisuke Sasaki, earning him the distinction of being DDT’s youngest big money champ to date.

While the match itself wasn’t all that spectacular, the moment was indeed the biggest in Takeshita’s young career.

What he may lack in personality, he more than makes up for with his fire and intensity. His ring awareness and selling continues to improve as he finds his singles rhythm, his growing confidence bolstered by an impressive physique and a powerful offensive arsenal. Dipping into the All Japan waters and working with hard veterans like Jun Akiyama will only help round out the rougher edges. The future’s bright for Takeshita but it’s a future that will no doubt lead to bigger opportunities on bigger stages.

In another mid-year examination, let’s take a look at what I consider his five best performances of 2016.

KO-D Openweight Title
Isami Kodaka © vs. Konosuke Takeshita (1/3)

This was Takeshita’s first shot at the KO-D Openweight Title, pitting him against the scarred up 10+ year deathmatch vet, Isami Kodaka. There is a shyness about Takeshita here, perhaps a nervous energy, as he begins to find his self-confidence in working sans Happy Motel. Yet despite this, Takeshita comes off as a beast of a kid, strengthened by Kodaka’s selling of his offense. Takeshita throws mean suplexes and lariats with such brute force that Kodaka has to adapt his style early on, playing the role of the wily, scrappy fighting champ who must rely on catch-style submissions to keep Takeshita grounded. While some of Takeshita’s nervousness trickles into the dynamics, there’s obvious potential for greater things beneath the surface, and in losing, he only gets stronger.

KO-D Tag Team Titles
Konosuke Takeshita & Tetsuya Endo © vs. Shuji Ishikawa & Daisuke Sasaki (3/21)

This was a graduation match of sorts for Takeshita, and one final, spot-filled hurrah for Happy Motel. Takeshita gets to showcase his raw strength with a little more poise, delivering squat-style suplexes and really laying into his strikes. There’s a point in the match where his lariats are bouncing off Ishikawa like cheap plastic lightsabers so he puts some mustard into his step and flattens him. The interactions between the two were a bright spot in the match, foreshadowing and building to future match-ups between the two (including the upcoming title match at Peter Pan 2016). The last gasp submission struggle between Takeshita and Sasaki added a dose of drama and unpredictability, highlighting what makes Sasaki such a great, underappreciated worker. With his tag team on the shelf for the foreseeable future, Takeshita begins his journey to the KO-D Openweight Title.

Hokkaido Big Way! Sapporo Special Singles Match
Shuji Ishikawa vs. Konosuke Takeshita (5/8)

As far as sub-five minute matches go, this was highly entertaining and gives Takeshita a dickslap of momentum heading into his title match and victory on June 29. It also serves as a teaser trailer for the full-length epic showdown between he and Ishikawa scheduled for Peter Pan 2016.  Takeshita looked strong and confident for all four minutes and change, rushing headlong into a bomb-tastic sprint of super stiff offense. So he wins the strap off Daisuke Sasaki, what’s next? His strongest singles performance of 2016.

KO-D Openweight Title
Konosuke Takeshita © vs. Yuko Miyamoto (7/3)

Fast forward exactly six months from his first title challenge against Isami Kodaka and now you have his first title defense against Kodaka’s tag partner and veteran deathmatch connoisseur, Yuko Miyamoto. Miyamoto adapts a similar submission-based approach, working the leg to keep the powerful Takeshita off his feet. The leg work isn’t particularly flashy but it’s practical, sometimes being as simple and effective as an elbow drop to the back of the knee. Here, Takeshita is able to flex his selling chops a bit more, doing a good job of keeping the work relevant throughout the match. But a big part of what makes Takeshita engaging is his explosiveness and the way it translates into his offense.

During the home stretch, Takeshita is half collapsing into Miyamoto’s elbow shots, half mad dogging him, before he blow ups on Miyamoto with a flurry of pissed off elbows. Add to that a beautifully-executed finish and you’ve got all the ingredients of a damn fine title defense. But there ain’t no rest for the fighting champ.

KO-D Openweight Title
Konosuke Takeshita © vs. Tetsuya Endo (7/17)

A commanding performance from Takeshita built around the emotional impetus of Happy Motel’s dissolution. This time, it’s Takeshita working a body part, wrecking Endo’s arm in an aggressive manner, at one point punting Endo’s arm away as he reaches out for the ropes. Endo’s selling really elevated the match and actually carried over into his striking, to which Takeshita continually eggs him on to a breaking point. By the end of this thing, the exhaustion is pouring into their strike exchanges, bubbling up to a heated burst of elbows and slaps. The match has its hiccups, but it helps solidify Takeshita as a no-nonsense powerhouse athlete.

A victory over his “more popular” former partner and a successful defense over Toru Owashi should be the big confidence boost Takehsita needs heading into his rematch with Shuji Ishikawa at Peter Pan. Will Endo’s involvement in DAMNATION play a part? Possibly. But if Takeshita can hold onto the belt through the end of the year, 2017 could no doubt be a career-defining year for him.