Two years ago, Takuya Nomura made his in-ring debut for Big Japan Pro-Wrestling. Possessing the cheekbones of Kairi “Sane” Hojo and the rebellious spirit of Akira Maeda, Nomura was a natural right out of the gate, quick to incorporate little nuances into his matches that take other guys years to figure out. A young, overconfident striker, gifted with the art of transition, whose hungry ground game and awareness would only improve as his confidence level rose. Granted, Nomura was trained in part by Hideki Suzuki, the last disciple of catch-as-catch-can legend, Billy Robinson, and one of the best pro wrestlers currently working in Japan. The two would have a number of match-ups during Nomura’s first year, with Suzuki working each very differently as if to continue educating his student.

10. Takuya Nomura vs. Hideki Suzuki (BJW, 7/9/16)

After their initial “feeling out” bout in June, Nomura wrestled Suzuki again on July 9, 2016. Here, he showed a lot more fire and conviction; a nagging thorn in Hideki’s side who wouldn’t give out, stubbornly slipping through his mentor’s fingers. He slaps his way out of predicaments, finding counters to Suzuki’s offense, like a backslide for a European uppercut. Suzuki would eventually get the better of him, wearing Nomura down with a crab hold before putting him away with his signature double arm suplex.

9. Takuya Nomura vs. Kazuki Hashimoto (BJW, 9/7/16)

The other part of his training came from Kazuki Hashimoto, a former footballer known for his hard kicks. Hashimoto, freshly returned from severe injury, took on Nomura on September 7, 2016. Nomura’s spunk is evident in his trainer, who doesn’t hold back with his strikes, salting the wounds a bit with boots and smacks to the face. While Hideki Suzuki is cool and composed, Hashimoto is dismissive and condescending. He shoves him to a breaking point, and Nomura takes him down with open hands and works the arm, showing good control even with his irish whips. Hashimoto would strike and submit his way to victory but Nomura came away a little more poised in his step.

8. Takuya Nomura vs. Naoya Nomura (AJPW, 11/27/16)

In November of that year, Nomura opened All Japan’s biggest show of the year in Sumo Hall, challenging AJPW’s own rookie Nomura in Naoya Nomura. There was enough energy and adolescent aggression to light a small fire, as both young boys had an opportunity to showcase their growth. Takuya overwhelmed Naoya with snug kicks, knocking him down with a high swing before rolling him up for the pinfall, earning him his biggest victory to date.

7. Hideki Suzuki & Takuya Nomura vs. Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato (BJW, 12/18/16)

In less than a month, Nomura would wrestle the single most important match of his rookie year at Death Vegas 2016, one of BJW’s annual events. He teamed with Suzuki to take on the formidable Twin Towers, Shuji Ishikawa and Kohei Sato. The tag team match served as a huge platform for Nomura to showcase what he had learned over the past year. Undoubtedly excited, Nomura would sometimes slip and fall from kicking so hard but the facial expressions and the desperation of his strikes really sold his struggle to overcome two certified badasses.

The Twin Towers were unmerciful, holding nothing back, but Nomura wouldn’t be bullied. He went toe-to-toe with the Big Dawg, and in his final confrontation with Sato, he gave everything he had, kicking him harder and harder, his eyes wild with fear, before Sato finally collapsed. He’s able to show the little things he’s picked up along the way, like when’s got Sato in the armbar and grabs the leg as Sato struggles free, turning it into a pin attempt. Even in defeat, Nomura’s pride remained fierce, as he slapped Ishikawa’s handshake away.

6. Takuya Nomura vs. Hideki Suzuki (BJW, 4/10/17)

This is the master Suzuki at work, the sensei schooling the student in the art of fake fighting. One might look at this match as punishment for Nomura, who doesn’t get much oxygen while Hideki smothers him on the canvas. But this is Hideki trying to get him to find and work out a solution to the problem. Suzuki asserts his dominance, grinding his taped wrists across Nomura’s face, covering his mouth with his hand. When Nomura cries out, you can feel for him as Suzuki bends him to his will. At one point, Suzuki hooks Nomura’s leg and pries him open like a tuna can from his defensive position in order to apply a rear choke. They work the fans into believing Nomura has an answer but his kicks aren’t enough and when he tries for an armbar, Suzuki breaks it, spoiling the crowd’s anticipation. Toward the end of the match, or squash, Hideki eases up on Nomura, encouraging him to fight with more spirit — only to later submit him with the double wristlock.

5. Go Shiozaki & Takuya Nomura vs. Yuji Okabayashi & Kaito Kiyomiya (Fortune Dream 4, 6/14/17)

On June 14, 2017, Kenta Kobashi produced his fourth “supercard” event, Fortune Dream from Korakuen Hall. These shows are hoss conventions, where big beefy men from all across Japan try to impress the Kobashi with the power of the chop. Go Shiozaki, the bastard successor to Kobashi, teamed with Nomura to take on Yuji Okabayashi and NOAH’s young hopeful, Kaito Kiyomiya. While Shiozaki and Okabayashi spent the majority of the match making pepperoni pies on each other’s chests, Nomura took on a new role in his exchanges with Kiyomiya: that of the veteran. Although mostly overshadowed, Nomura was able to establish his own sense of dominance in the ring, in a match brimming over with testosterone and adrenaline.

4. Takuya Nomura vs. Hideki Suzuki (KakiRide, 8/14/17)

KakiRide was a benefit show in support of Masahito Kakihara, who has been suffering from malignant lymphoma since 2014. The event saw the return of Kakihara to the ring, in a Yoshiaki Fujiwara-dominated sparring session, but everything else was fought under “UWF Rules”, meaning points deducted for rope breaks, knockdowns, and penalties. Suzuki once again battled his former student under this new ruleset, and once again, schooled him on the mat. Nomura, however, didn’t allow himself to become enveloped completely in Hideki’s offense, and fought back. He let loose flurries of strikes and snagged Hideki’s arm, maintaining control long enough to force Suzuki to the ropes. It was his way of heeding advice and taking a stand, albeit brief.

3. Hideki Suzuki & Takuya Nomura vs. Kohei Sato & Kazuki Hashimoto (BJW, 12/30/17)

Toward the end of 2017, Nomura began to solidify his identity as Takuya Nomura, the dick. He teamed with Suzuki for Big Japan’s year end show, took everything Hideki had taught him about being a real tough man and applied it to Sato and Hashimoto. He was born into this match kicking, stepping up to Sato and slapping the spit from his lips. Sato, of course, dishes everything back twice as hard but Nomura doesn’t back down. When he’s in there against his former trainer Hashimoto, Nomura works the mat with the coolness of his teacher and doesn’t let up with his knee-jerk kicks, stopping their strike exchange with a big headbutt. Suzuki lets him finish the match out against Sato, in an approving nod of his past mentorship, as Nomura “officially” graduates to the next level of his career.

2. Takuya Nomura vs. Fuminori Abe (BJW, 1/17/18)

One couldn’t find a better-suited challenge to Takuya Nomura’s newly-founded confidence than Fuminori Abe. Abe — a young protégé of hybrid-shoot-stylist, Munenori Sawa — wrestled (or outwrestled) Nomura in January of this year for Big Japan. He worked to exploit Nomura’s weaknesses on the ground, and neutralize the kicks he can often rely heavily on. The frustration becomes obvious, in Nomura’s retorts and attempts to secure some sort of influence over the direction of the match. But as he begins to build momentum, Abe cuts him out at the knee and reaffirms his place behind the wheel. Nomura’s anger fuels his strikes and by the end of the match, they’re both exhausted and staggered. Nomura peppers him with open palms and manages a calf lock but Abe finds an escape and traps Nomura in the octopus hold for the submission.

1. Takuya Nomura vs. Yuya Aoki (BJW, 3/21/18)

Last month, the now heavyweight Nomura entered his first “IKKITOUSEN ~ STRONG CLIMB”, a biannual round robin tournament held by Big Japan. In a match against current young phenom, Yuya Aoki, Nomura fully channeled and embraced the unruly fighting spirit of Akira Maeda. He not only adopted Maeda’s signature capture suplex, crossface chickenwing, and high kicks, but the veteran attitude as well, shoving Aoki around with little regard. This feeling of self-identity not only made for a stronger in-ring performance but it also fanned Aoki’s fires, which led to the rookie putting on his strongest performance to date. Aoki folded Nomura up with a German suplex and landed just as many hard blows as Nomura threw but Nomura needed to put Aoki down, to submit him, and earn his respect and admiration.

Takuya Nomura isn’t likely to win any tournaments or titles in the near future but he continues to win the hearts of Japanese and Western fans alike with his undying devotion to the craft. While professional wrestling continues to shift toward a hyperstylized rendition of itself, Nomura is a bearer of tradition and a much-needed breath of fresh air.

At 24 years old, Nomura still has decades of development and achievement, with all the right in-ring tools at his disposal. It’s the warrior spirit of Nomura that cannot be taught or replicated, a spirit largely diluted or absent from modern wrestling but still strong within the few that acknowledge it.