December 5, 2005 was the day I became a man. That was the day of my Bar Mitzvah, where I read from the Torah, shook a lot of hands, and partied like nobody’s business. A Bar Mitzvah is very much a graduation ceremony in the Jewish community. It is a stepping stone, a pathway to the next step of life—adulthood—and all of the responsibilities that come with it.

2016 has become YOSHI-HASHI’s Bar Mitzvah. It’s his stepping stone, his opportunity to grow as part of the New Japan roster.

Who is YOSHI-HASHI? Or rather, who is the YOSHI-HASHI that we know him to be?

To put it bluntly, YOSHI-HASHI is a loser. Pure and simple. He’s the member of CHAOS that takes the pin so Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, and Tomohiro Ishii don’t have to. He’s the member of CHAOS that doesn’t get the pin when his team wins. “Loose Explosion” is written on the ass-end of his tights like some sort of cruel joke.

Singles matches? Very funny. He’s lucky to get three or four a year, let alone win any of them. One wonders why Okada and the rest even tolerate him being in their stable. That’s the YOSHI-HASHI we know him to be: A loser.

But that is not the YOSHI-HASHI that 2016 has brought to light. No, there is something different about this YOSHI-HASHI: He’s grown.

YOSHI-HASHI’s first sign of growth came when he had his own feud. At New Japan’s Invasion Attack in April, Tetsuya Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship thanks to the interference of freelancer Seiya Sanada. Going under the moniker of SANADA, he joined Naito’s stable Los Ingobernables de Japon in order to bolster their ranks in their war against Okada’s stable CHAOS.

SANADA found himself a rival in YOSHI-HASHI. They have a history together, dating back to 2005 when they both took New Japan’s entrance exam. Both failed, but while SANADA left for All Japan Pro Wrestling, YOSHI-HASHI stuck with it and eventually got into New Japan. Now SANADA had returned and YOSHI-HASHI, rightfully, was pissed off. All those years he had spent in the Dojo as a Young Lion, all those years of training and travel; he had earned his spot on the roster. And this son of a bitch SANADA thinks he can just waltz into the company, join Naito’s group, and think he has the run of the place? Not if YOSHI-HASHI has anything to say about it.

So the two faced off in a series of tag matches. YOSHI-HASHI, the man FIRED UP, took the fight to SANADA. And every time they faced off in the ring, SANADA calmly and easily locked YOSHI-HASHI in his Skull End submission and made him tap out. Every time. The Cold Skull simply had the Head Hunter’s number at every turn.

After a few months, Dominion came around. The team of YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii versus the team of SANADA and BUSHI. At the conclusion of an exciting match, it once again came down to YOSHI-HASHI and SANADA. But this time, things would be different. SANADA did not make YOSHI-HASHI tap out. This time, it was YOSHI-HASHI who made SANADA tap out with a submission move of his own, the Butterfly Lock. Not only did YOSHI-HASHI win the match for his team, but he won it by beating his rival in the middle of the ring. He had gotten his revenge. And Ishii looked on like a proud father.

When wrestlers have feuds, they have a purpose; they have a goal. And it is so much easier to care about a wrestler and their journey when they have those goals. YOSHI-HASHI’s feud with SANADA gave him a purpose. It made him into more of a complete wrestler. He wasn’t just another body that eats the pin; he had a reason to fight, a reason to win. We cared about YOSHI-HASHI, more so than we ever have.

His second point of growth concerns the G1 Climax. This year was YOSHI-HASHI’s first year in the annual tournament. Like Fredo Corleone, he had been passed over year after year, lumped in with the likes of Captain New Japan and Manabu Nakanishi. The closest he had come to prominence in the G1 was a non-tournament match against Michael Elgin on the final day of last year… which he promptly lost.

But 2016 would be different. Thanks to his feud with SANADA and Los Ingobernables, YOSHI-HASHI was now in a much more prominent position than he was before. He had grown. So into B Block he went with the likes of Kenny Omega, Katsuyori Shibata, Michael Elgin, Tetsuya Naito, and others. Still, this is YOSHI-HASHI we’re talking about. A win in a tag match is one thing. But singles matches? Could he win those?

The first night for the B Block, YOSHI-HASHI pinned Kenny Omega. HE PINNED KENNY OMEGA! With a brand new finishing move, no less. Omega, the cocky veteran, underestimated his opponent and wound up eating Karma, the name YOSHI-HASHI gives his version of Shingo Takagi’s MADE IN JAPAN. It was the biggest win of his career, bar none, and it immediately set a precedent for the rest of the tournament. YOSHI-HASHI was not going to be some easy pushover. He was not going to be an easy two points. YOSHI-HASHI was a contender, he was a threat. If he could beat Omega, he could beat anybody.

YOSHI-HASHI would go on to beat EVIL and Katsuhiko Nakajima; his final tally would be six points. He came last in the B Block, but this was by no means a crushing defeat. YOSHI-HASHI is known to lose pretty much all of his singles matches, except here he didn’t lose all of his singles matches. Hell, the man beat Omega, one of the top heels in the company, in his first G1 match ever. And EVIL and Nakajima are no cakewalks either. One is a meaty hoss with spooky laser fingers. The other is nicknamed “The Genius of the Kick.” Why? Because he kicks the shit out of people. That’s why. YOSHI-HASHI beat those guys. He proved that he belongs in the G1 Climax. Try making that statement about YOSHI-HASHI a year ago, or even six months ago.

My third and final example of YOSHI-HASHI’s growth has not happened yet. When Kenny Omega won the G1 Climax, he earned the right to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in January. As the last few years have shown, Omega will have to defend his #1 contendership along the way, most likely against his opponents in the G1 that managed to beat him. During a press conference, Omega named his first challenger: YOSHI-HASHI.

And that’s how YOSHI-HASHI wound up with a main event singles match on a New Japan show.

Yes, the main event of Destruction in Hiroshima on September 22 will be Kenny Omega versus YOSHI-HASHI with Omega’s Wrestle Kingdom contract on the line. Think about that. Seriously, stop reading this and THINK ABOUT IT.

YOSHI-HASHI will be wrestling in a singles match in the main event of a New Japan show. This is not a “Road to” show either, this is Destruction for crying out loud. Sure, it’s not as important as Wrestle Kingdom or King of Pro-Wrestling, but it’s still an annually-held event. It still has a name. He’s not in a multi-man tag with Okada and Ishii; the match is focused on him. Can he beat Omega again? Was the G1 win really a fluke, or proof of something more?

I firmly believe, as does any sane human being, that Omega is going to beat YOSHI-HASHI at Destruction. Let’s not get crazy here. But that doesn’t mean YOSHI-HASHI is going to lose like a geek. We know from his G1 wins and his win over SANADA at Dominion that YOSHI-HASHI is going to put up a fight. He’s not going down easy. He wants to prove that he’s not a fluke. YOSHI-HASHI beat Omega before and god dammit, he can beat him again!

YOSHI-HASHI’s 2016 has been remarkable. For so long the guy was written off as the CHAOS whipping boy. He was a loser. But this year, he became more than that. He found a purpose. He found a spotlight. He found growth. I don’t know where the rest of the year will lead YOSHI-HASHI. All I know is that he will venture forth not as a loser, but as a wrestler. Mazel Tov!