There’s a nostalgic aura about Kazusada Higuchi, a presence that very few Japanese pro wrestlers can match. The slicked back hair, the cool sumo mannerisms and stoic personality, the nonchalant way he soaks up physical damage. Based on his look alone, Higuchi could fit into any random 90s All Japan six-man tag with no problem.

He’s a big dude with raw, sometimes graceless power, and a ton of potential. The kind of guy you put a prize belt on and let squash the competition for a few months. Sure, he’s still a bit green and awkward, and while he’s good at selling in the moment, he’s not much for long-term continuity – which becomes kind of a running theme in some of his bigger singles matches.

At a shade shy of two years in-ring experience, Higuchi still has plenty of growing room but he’s riding a wave of momentum into a KO-D Openweight Title challenge against the newly crowned Shuji Ishikawa on 9/25.

In anticipation of this matchup, I thumbed through Higuchi’s index of past matches and came up with five of his strongest performances to date. Higuchi has definitely become one of my favorite guys to watch mature in the ring, and I think it’s safe to say that he will become one of Japan’s bigger draws if he continues on his current path. Maybe even a future AJPW Triple Crown champion. Sky’s the limit.

Kazusada Higuchi vs. Yukio Sakaguchi
(DDT, 6/28/15)

Fun power vs. submission match. Sakaguchi scurries around in the early goings, off-loading kicks on the bigger Higuchi until Higuchi catches him with a scoop slam. A lot of Higuchi’s offense is simple but the execution is what makes it effective. The big boots, lariats, sumo-style running shoulder blocks – hell, there’s even an Oklahoma Stampede. I like the way he cranks on Sakaguchi’s head and neck with his hands, like it’s a melon ripe for squashing. There’s also some solid striking here, with Higuchi landing an especially gnarly headbutt. The finish is what makes this match though. Sakaguchi is able to escape the Canadian backbreaker with a sleeper hold and bites down. Higuchi struggles and finally powers out but after a punt kick, Sakaguchi locks on the cobra clutch and Higuchi fights but ultimately collapses in a great moment of selling. Sakaguchi wins.

~Pro-Wrestling Koshien 2015~ Final
Kazusada Higuchi vs. Ryota Nakatsu
(DNA, 8/2/15)

Higuchi is unrestrainable in this one, with Nakatsu doing a number on Higuchi’s arm to moderate success. Nakatsu is another DNA guy I dig. His 1/21 BASARA match with Ikuto Hidaka is probably that promotion’s best match to date. Here, he shows focused arm control on Higuchi, supplementing the submission holds with kicks. Higuchi isn’t quite as smooth as Nakatsu but he brings his “A” power game.  Nakatsu does a great job selling for Higuchi’s offense, especially after that bottle rocket German suplex. The crowd is definitely pro-Nakatsu and he’s able to counter the single-arm powerbomb attempt with a takedown into the cross armbreaker. Lots of hard slaps and a big headbutt by Higuchi to set-up the Todorokiten finish. A step up from their DNA3 match.

Kazusada Higuchi vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
(DNA, 9/22/15)

This is probably my favorite Kazusada Higuchi match and a big part of that is probably the dynamic with Katushiko Nakajima, who holds nothing back. Stiff action right out of the gate with Higuchi wrestling a more appropriate aggressive style and Nakajima rocking him with his signature firecracker kicks. Some of the best facial selling from Higuchi, and Nakajima bumps well for Higuchi. The legwork isn’t the most compelling but serves as more of an interlude in between striking. Higuchi held his own in that department, especially with his hard open hand shots. But Nakajima plays good defense in the end, blocking a couple of lariat with kicks to the arm, surviving a single-arm powerbomb, and blasting Higuchi with one of the hardest PKs in recent memory before sealing the deal with a sweet brainbuster.

KO-D Openweight Title
HARASHIMA (c) vs. Kazusada Higuchi
(DDT, 4/24/16)

As much as this match highlighted Higuchi’s strengths, it also underlined his weakness for long-term selling. This marks his second KO-D Openweight Title challenge after having failed to defeat HARASHIMA nearly a year prior. HARASHIMA spends a hefty chunk of the match working Higuchi’s leg, peppering it with kicks, stomping it, stretching it, evening leg whipping him from the apron in a less-than-pretty spot. Again, Higuchi’s on the spot selling is passable but when it matters, he ignores the pain and keeps on trucking. But as the unstoppable force, Higuchi’s at his best. I loved when HARASHIMA is trying to work him over on the mat and Higuchi powers through to his feet, carries HARASHIMA over to the corner and sets him on the top turnbuckle before coolly walking away. Or when HARASHIMA sends him headfirst into the ringpost and Higuchi absorbs it, snaps, and beats down HARASHIMA. The false finish off the single-arm powerbomb is awesome and HARASHIMA sells it beautifully. The champ retains after back-to-back Somatos.

King of DDT – Quarterfinal
Kazusada Higuchi vs. Shigehiro Irie
(DDT, 6/12/16)

This was taking Higuchi out of his comfort “power vs. submission” zone and into more of a bomb-throwing party against the furball of fury, Shigehiro Irie. Even though he can’t defeat Irie, Higuchi puts in a dominant performance and pulls out some great-looking offense, including a wicked revolution Doctor Bomb. Irie’s come-from-behind struggle really anchors the match though, and as usual, his execution is flawless. I love his cannonball. Short and sweet match, punctuated by a dramatic submission finish.

As unlikely as it is that Higuchi will beat Ishikawa for the KO-D Openweight Title on 9/25, the experience of working one-on-one with a ‘Wrestler of the Year’ contender in Ishikawa will only benefit him on his journey. He’s got the look, the presence, and the arsenal to be a big major league player, and I think once he’s ironed out some of those nitpicky issues, Kazusada Higuchi will be a name worth remembering.