CIMA has always been ahead of the curve. He was the first one to give Jack Evans and Matt Sydal international exposure, he saw talent in acts like PAC and Ricochet far before the rest of the world did, and in a strange turn of events, CIMA saw wrestling’s changing landscape and decided to jump promotions. As we gear towards the start of 2019, the cool thing to do seems to be signing a contract with a new promotion. Money and opportunities are being thrown at wrestlers, all so a promotion can claim the wrestler as theirs. CIMA has done the opposite. He split from the promotion that he quite literally built from the ground up, began bouncing around from promotion to promotion, and has ended the year with more buzz than he entered the year with. CIMA, backed by an army of disciples, has quietly shifted the tide in Japanese wrestling.
CIMA entered 2018 fresh off of a 13-month Open the Twin Gate Championship reign with Dragon Kid. To most Western fans, that reign of dominance, which included victories over ten different teams, was looked at as possibly CIMA’s last great run of his career. The Ultimo Dragon trainee entered the year at age 40, and for the past decade has been put on the sidelines with numerous serious injuries. It looked like CIMA was finally entering a post-prime run that he had been able to fend off for so long.
His booking at the beginning of the year indicated such. He was placed in an embarrassing comedy tag at Dragon Gate’s January Korakuen and felt lost in the wilderness of Dragon Gate’s midcard. In fact, his first match of note this year didn’t take place in Dragon Gate, despite featuring both himself and another then-Dragon Gate superstar, Shingo Takagi.
On the Oriental Wrestling Entertainment debut show, Takagi teamed with Zachary Wentz and Dezmond Xavier, both of whom CIMA had recently plucked out of the midwest indie scene to tour Dragon Gate, to take on CIMA, Gao Jingjia, & Wulijimuren, who both came from the OWE dojo that CIMA took over in November 2017.
While this match will finish on no one’s top 10 lists at the end of the year, it is a key match in CIMA’s 2018 journey. This was the first time that OWE trainees had been exposed to the masses, and it became very apparent that CIMA had his hands on a new generation of talent and his mind on a new style of wrestling.
We are not here to fawn over the athleticism of the OWE kids, though I assure you that an article will be written about it one day. It should be added that the next thing CIMA did of note was also away from Dragon Gate, as he took his talents to Tijuana for a lucha dream match with Rey Horus, Extreme Tiger, the Lucha Bros, and Rey Mysterio Jr.
Full match here.
Both of these matches had a certain novelty to them, but are by no means Earth-shattering, mind-numbing, MOTY-type matches. They are fun novelty matches, the former due to the inexperience of some of the people in the ring, and the latter due to the worldly experience of some of the people in the ring.
CIMA would return to Dragon Gate at the end of February to take part in Kotoka’s final tour before he retired due to injury. He was on the losing side of Kotoka’s retirement match and then spent the rest of the month wasting away in multi-man tags before jetting off to Singapore for one match when he teamed with Shun Skywalker.
April 2018 marked the first time since January 2009 that CIMA went a month without wrestling. He was absent from Dragon Gate cards. He was nowhere to be seen, even on obscure foreign indie shows. CIMA was gone.
CIMA bid a farewell to the promotion that he helped build from the ground up on May 4. It took eight minutes for CIMA and the aforementioned Gao Jingjia to defeat T-Hawk and Scorpio X2, who was showcasing his talents to the world for the first time ever. This match felt out of place; a showcase match in the middle of a go-home show for one of the company’s biggest shows of the year that featured three men not on the pay-per view that took place two days later (Jingjia, X2, and CIMA). While CIMA wasn’t even involved in the most buzzworthy spot of this match, it is an important match in CIMA’s 2018 journey. This match, more so than any other match in his career, marked a changing of the guard for CIMA. This change was represented by more than just a change in facepaint and a swap in color palettes, this was a cosmic shift in the world of Japanese wrestling that helped pave the road for CIMA’s path of destruction.
It was announced on May 6 that CIMA was leaving Dragon Gate to focus his efforts on OWE full-time and that he’d be taking El Lindaman, T-Hawk, and Takehiro Yamamura with him. CIMA and T-Hawk would sail off to China for an exhibition match in OWE, then stop in Australia for two brief bouts, before returning to Japan in early June.
CIMA, T-Hawk, El Lindaman, Dezmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz, and a handful of OWE trainees joined together to form the Strong Hearts unit. We saw them plant their flag right as they were exiting Dragon Gate, and seemingly out of nowhere, they began their next quest in Wrestle-1 under CIMA’s guidance.
His first match in the promotion was a jaw-dropping display of brutality. Five stars for fun, if there was ever such a scale. He squashed W-1 homegrown upstart Jun Tonsho in under two minutes. This was the modern equivalent of Koko Ware vs. The Patriot. A dominating display of power and aggression, and in the case of CIMA vs. Tonsho, it immediately changed the direction of the promotion.
His in-ring performance peaked the next month when his new unit invaded Korakuen Hall in a battle against Jun Tonsho, Kaz Hayashi, Masayuki Kono, & Shuji Kondo in an eight-man elimination match on July 18th. CIMA was targeted directly by both Kondo and Tonsho. Tonsho wanted to erase the near-15 second squash that CIMA had bestowed upon him a month prior, while Kondo wanted to add fuel to a near-15 year beef between the two. In fact, it was the first time Kondo and CIMA had shared a ring since December 2004.
CIMA was the first eliminated in this match. Tonsho dropkicked CIMA off the apron, which not only redeemed Tonsho’s embarrassing performance from June, but helped Tonsho become a star in the making to the Wrestle-1 crowd.
Despite CIMA’s early elimination, his fingerprints were all over this match. This felt like a CIMA match, similar to the way that NJPW stalwarts Tomohiro Ishii or Hiroshi Tanahashi have developed their own style of match. CIMA has been working big-time multi-man matches for 20 years, and this was one of his masterpieces. He not only gave his opponents big spots to shine in like the aforementioned Tonsho spot, but he did a masterful job of setting up his own teammates to shine. Gao Jinga, T-Hawk, and El Lindaman came out of this match looking better than when they came in.
CIMA and Tonsho would once again front teams in August. CIMA’s crew would stay the same, while this team Tonsho was aided by Andy Wu, Masayuki Kono, & Takanori Ito. Strong Hearts proved to be a stronger this time, as Lindaman was able to plant and pin Tonsho with a Tiger Suplex this time around.
The month of September signaled world domination for CIMA and his Strong Hearts gang. CIMA would return to The Crash, this time alongside T-Hawk, to defeat Sobernaro and Volador Jr. A week later, CIMA returned to his old stomping grounds in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in an attempt to reclaim the Battle of Los Angeles crown that he once held.
CIMA’s weekend didn’t generate the same amount of buzz that it did for others, perhaps due to his Night One match against Jody Fleisch that was a disappointment, but I put that on Fleisch considering the rest of CIMA’s output this year. He and Joey Janela put together a respectable bout on Night Three. That match will end up on no year-end spreadsheets, but it is a resume builder for CIMA’s singles matches. CIMA did his damage on the second night of the tournament, alongside his Strong Hearts companions Zachary Wentz & Dezmond Xavier.
— Ryan ♻️ (@cozy_superkick) November 27, 2018
Much like the Blood Generation vs. Do FIXER six-man from Ring of Honor’s initial Supercard of Honor, CIMA put together a six-man that stood out from the pack in what was already a marvelous weekend of wrestling. In what can be dubbed as another CIMA-vision match, his trio and the Mexablood team of Bandido, Flamita, and Rey Horus put on what felt like a futuristic six-man match. There was a lot of high-flying, dives, and lucha-inspired offense on BOLA weekend, but none of it was done as crisp, as quick, or as beautifully as what these six men were able to accomplish with this tag match.
CIMA would end his month debuting in Fight Club Pro and Ireland’s OTT promotion, but not before heading back to Japan to once again plant his flag in a promotion. This time it was Dramatic Dream Team, the promotion that has been neck-and-neck with Dragon Gate for the coveted #2 spot in Japan for nearly a decade.
To say that CIMA ascended to the top of the card in DDT would be a falsehood. He showed up and immediately felt like the main event. His second match in DDT was the semi-main event of DDT’s annual Peter Pan show in Sumo Hall. Positioned as a drawing match with DDT’s generational ace, Konosuke Takeshita, CIMA took a building that had been unfriendly to Dragon Gate in the past and tore the house down in a classic against Takeshita. This ticks off the “singles epic” that CIMA needed on his WOTY checklist. The Takeshita match was an excellent display of CIMA thriving under the spotlight and nailing it as the center of attention.
CIMA has spent the last quarter of the year bouncing around Japan, claiming the KO-D Six-Man Tag Titles in DDT with Duan Yingnan and El Lindaman, dominating J-STAGE and K-Dojo, and torturing Jun Tonsho into Strong Hearts recruitment in Wrestle-1, only to kick him out and replace him with Seiki Yoshioka. Truly evil stuff.
CIMA’s case is not for Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Outstanding Wrestler. His case is for the site’s Wrestler of the Year, an award named after Ric Flair and Lou Thesz, two men who dominated territory after territory by drawing at the gate, delivering in the ring, and simply standing out from the rest of their contemporaries. CIMA used the digital age to his advantage. He split from Dragon Gate, who for Western fans, has been harbored behind a frustrating paywall, and split for a new venture with Twitch streaming capabilities, then found himself in the accessible Wrestle-1 and DDT promotions, before ravaging through the most buzzworthy indies of the year. PWG, OTT, and Fight Club Pro have hosted the biggest names in wrestling this year. CIMA, time and time again, rose above the pack.
CIMA’s influence at the gate has been noticeable in the promotions that he’s popped up in like Wrestle-1 and DDT, but his effect on attendance has been most noticeable at the promotion he split from. Dragon Gate, for one of the first times ever, has struggled to put butts in seats. Their smashing success at Korakuen Hall came to an end, the house shows were noticeably down, and their biggest show of the year at Kobe World Hall was the lowest reported attendance in years. CIMA has not only disproved the myth that Dragon Gate draws on the brand name and not the talent, but he has proven that he was the draw as he’s helped Wrestle-1, a company who has always struggled to gain viewers, pull in some of their biggest and hottest crowds ever.
CIMA hasn’t had as many great matches as a WALTER or Will Ospreay this year, but CIMA has held up his end of the bargain in-ring this year, even without really having a great match until the middle of May. By my count, he’s had seven matches at **** or better. That destroys the total of anyone on WWE’s main roster, blows out a big name like Cody, and is right on par with someone like All Japan’s ace, Kento Miyahara. CIMA has also done this while wrestling just over 50 matches this year, and half of those were during his time on Dragon Gate’s death row.
Simply put, there isn’t an area of pro wrestling where CIMA hasn’t excelled this year. Labeling him as a wildcard is unfair, because, in reality, he’s a traveling ace. He doesn’t just show up to places to act as a special attraction; he shows up, plants his proverbial Strong Hearts flag in the ground, and dominates. 2018 saw CIMA get his swagger back. He’s one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, a deserving WON Hall of Famer, and 2018 was his best year yet.
CIMA, before any of his contemporaries, has figured out how to conquer territories in the digital age and that is why he should be your 2018 Wrestler of the Year.