Introduction & Criteria
This article is the first in a series of prospect scouting reports highlighting the top young talent in Japan with less than three years of in-ring experience. Therefore, more experienced top prospects like Konosuke Takeshita, Tetsuya Endo, and El Lindaman will not be featured.
As objectively as possible, prospects will be evaluated on five tools, or criteria, with a score from 1 to 7:
- Offense – Execution, moveset
- Defense – Bumping, selling, kick-outs
- Psychology – Match structure, pacing
- Charisma – Character work, promos, presence
- Intangibles – Environment, pace of development, perceived effort
These rankings will be updated periodically (perhaps quarterly). We’ll start with six prospects that I feel have set themselves apart from the field.
6. Ayato Yoshida
Our first prospect comes from the smallest represented promotion, KAIENTAI DOJO. Under TAKA Michinoku’s tutelage, 24-year-old Ayato Yoshida is already one of the top stars in K-DOJO. Although unsuccessful in his first attempt, he has already challenged for the company’s top title.
Ayato has also been a mainstay in New Japan’s LION’S GATE shows and is currently under the wing of Satoshi Kojima. Their singles match was a highlight of May’s show. Yoshida has the frame to easily become a heavyweight, and I expect that TAKA will be handing him over to New Japan down the road.
5. Kaito Kiyomiya
NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya has also appeared on past LION’s GATE shows, but it appears that is a thing of the past. Kiyomiya was the primary victim of the recent, haphazard booking of NOAH’s tag division. However, he was paired with BJW’s Takuya Nomura in the Global Tag League. I also really enjoyed his recent intense singles match with Nomura on the Tag League Finals show.
NOAH has had a disappointing track record of producing young talent, but hopefully Kiyomiya will be able to steer the company’s new dojo in the right direction. Kaito has excellent fire, a beautiful dropkick, and is developing elbows worth of being called “the future of the Ark.”
4. Yuma Aoyagi
While NOAH’s dojo has struggled in recent years, All Japan’s has started to produce great young talent. Jun Akiyama’s prized prospect is lanky junior heavyweight, Yuma Aoyagi. I don’t expect Yuma to be a junior for too long; he is the tallest prospect on this list at 186 cm.
With All Japan on the rise and his alignment with current ace Kento Miyahara, Yuma is poised to take All Japan to the next level. I loved his World Junior Heavyweight title challenge from January against DDT’s Keisuke Ishii. A natural babyface, Yuma is great at conveying emotion and connecting with the crowd.
3. Takuya Nomura
Despite having less than one year of experience, Takuya Nomura is already among the country’s most popular prospects. He should be a key player in Big Japan’s new junior heavyweight division; a perfect fit for his short-term development.
Nomura is a protege of catch-style freelancer Hideki Suzuki. Consequently, Takuya uses an aggressive UWF-inspired offensive attack. I particularly enjoy seeing him in inter-promotional matches: his battles with his namesake, AJPW’s Naoya Nomura (they were born on the same day) and the aforementioned singles match with Kaito.
2. Kazusada Higuchi
Young talent is also abundant in DDT and its DNA sub-brand. Former sumo Higuchi, is perhaps the most promising. Highchi is not flashy; he is stern and steady. His presence is reminiscent of another former sumo wrestler, Genichiro Tenryu.
The ace of DNA, Higuchi’s excels in high-profile matches on DDT’s main roster. I loved his KO-D Openweight challenge against Shuji Ishikawa from last fall. Higuchi also delivered an excellent performance in winning the cross-promotional New Year’s Eve Tag Tournament with partner BJW’s Yoshihisa Uto.
1. Takehiro Yamamura
Clearly, Yamamura is very quickly become an excellent singles wrestler. He has already had excellent matches with Kagetora, CIMA, Masaaki Mochizuki, T-Hawk, and Big R Shimizu this year. He connects with fans on an extraordinary level through his matches. I have not seen selling bring a fan to tears since Akira Tozawa left for WWE. Moreover, his natural promo ability shines when given the opportunity.
Dragon Gate’s great environmental mix of veteran mentors and other talented youngsters means that Yamamura isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I certainly expect him to win the Brave Gate title before long, and eventually emerge as an integral pillar for Dragon Gate down the line.