Welcome to the Fischbeckmann15: a monthly tracker on the Wrestler of the Year race for 2020. In this series, me, Thomas Fischbeck, and my co-captain Jack Beckmann will be your proverbial guides through the shaky waters of professional wrestling each month.
We’ll both keep tabs on the top contenders for the Wrestler of the Year award and give match recommendations for every major player in the race. The goal here: to highlight the top workers in the world and also to expose you, the reader, to some matches or perhaps even wrestlers whom you may not have seen any of. I know there were matches that my partner Jack recommended that I haven’t watched, and I’m sure the opposite was true as well. Think of this series as your handy dandy guide to keep up to date with all the major players in the race, and a way to look back at the end of each month and see what you may have missed. Alright, I’ve been rambling for long enough, so let’s get onto the lists with myself first.
Please note: these lists were created on January 31st so don’t consider anything that took place after that date.
Thomas: Perennial Wrestling Omakase guest (check out the most recent episode!) Thomas Fischbeck watched an absurd amount of wrestling in January – over 200 matches from well over a dozen promotions! Even he didn’t get to everything, though, so if you think he’s left someone out that deserves to be on the list – shoot a tweet @rasslinratings – let’s have a conversation! Alright, onto the list!
Honorable Mentions: Susumu Yokosuka (Dragon Gate), Yuki Ueno (DDT), Naomi Yoshimura (DDT), Masaaki Mochizuki (Dragon Gate), Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)
#15 – Daisuke Harada (NOAH)
- w/ HAYATA, Tadasuke, YO-HEY & Keiji Muto vs. Atsushi Kotoge, Chris Ridgeway, Kotaro Suzuki, Yoshinri Ogawa & Doug Williams
- vs. Minoru Tanaka – NOAH, 1/12
- vs. Chris Ridgeway – NOAH, 1/25
- vs. Hajime Ohara – NOAH, 1/30
- vs. Dick Togo – NOAH, 1/30
HAYATA vs. Yoshinai Ogawa for the junior title from NOAH’s 1/4 show may have been the top NOAH junior match of the month, but the promotion also ran their annual junior tournament: the NOAH Global Junior League, and the MVP of that was undoubtedly Daisuke Harada. Harada had a pair of great matches against Minoru Tanaka and Chris Ridgeway that made their way to NOAH’s Youtube page, and then put in a masterful performance at the finals Korakuen. The former champ sold his ass off for Hajime Ohara, and then worked a great underdog story match against Dick Togo in the finals. Harada remains one of the most under the radar awesome guys in the world, and I am beyond excited for his junior title challenge.
#14 – Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW)
- vs. Chris Jericho – NJPW, 1/5
Tanahashi’s case rests solely on the Jericho match, another one I think is up there with the most underrated of the year, it certainly got lost in the shuffle on a stacked Wrestle Kingdom weekend. He’ll have a chance to add another big bullet point to his resume should he and Kota Ibushi ever get that tag title shot that was teased back on January 6th. If not, we’ll have to wait for the New Japan Cup to see more from the Ace.
#13 – Yuji Hino (ZERO1)
- vs. Yuji Okabayashi – ZERO1, 1/1
- w/ Akira Hyodo & Yuji Okabayashi vs. El Lindaman, Shingehiro Irie & T-Hawk – BJW, 1/13
- w/ Akira Hyodo & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daichi Hashimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani & Takuya Nomura – BJW, 1/13
Yuji Hino was someone that I think could have had a reasonable WOTY case last year if only more matches made tape, so hopefully we see some more stuff of his in 2020. I loved the Okabayashi 1/1 match, and his tag work with Okabayashi has continued to be excellent as well. Unfortunately, if I had to guess, I figure he’ll hang around this 10-15 range for most of the year because of a lack of depth, similar to 2019.
#12 – Hiromu Takahashi (NJPW)
- vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW, 1/4
- w/ Ryu Lee vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Naoki Sano – NJPW, 1/5
- w/ BUSHI vs. SHO & YOH vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori – NJPW, 1/6
Hiromu Takahshi back in New Japan has been great, and while I’m definitely not the high man on the Ospreay match, I thought it was tremendous and one of the most fun matches of 2020 thus far. Hiromu certainly has an excellent shot of skyrocketing to the top of these rankings with an upcoming title defense against Ryu Lee at the New Beginning in Osaka, that rivalry always has MOTY potential.
#11 – Daniel Makabe (Freelance)
- vs. Curt Stallion – NSW, 1/4
- vs. Kevin Ku – SUP, 1/5
- vs. Judas Icarus – 3-2-1 BATTLE!, 1/10
My out of left field pick for this list is one of the top guys going on the US indies right now, Daniel Makabe. Makabe’s look might not please some (ahem, Joe Lanza) but he is a fluid worker that works creative, interesting spots into his grappling, and all three of these matches are worth checking out, especially the Icarus one.
#10 – Will Ospreay (NJPW)
- vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW, 1/4
- w/Robbie Eagles, Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Lance Archer, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW, 1/6
- vs. Dowie James – MCW, 1/11
The Hiromu match sticks out as the crown jewel on Ospreay’s resume to me, although others are *much* higher on the James MCW match than I am, so I’d say that’s well worth checking out as well. Ospreay gets a big semi-main event spot against career rival Zack Sabre Jr. on February 2nd, and if that lives up to what it could be Ospreay will surely climb higher in the top ten.
#9 – Yuji Okabayashi (BJW)
- vs. Yuji Hino – ZERO1, 1/1
- vs. Daichi Hashimoto – BJW, 1/2
- w/ Akira Hyodo & Yuji Hino vs. El Lindaman, Shingehiro Irie & T-Hawk – BJW, 1/13
- w/ Akira Hyodo & Yuji Hino vs. Daichi Hashimoto, Hideyoshi Kamitani & Takuya Nomura – BJW, 1/13
Okabayashi was one of the few guys I think had a legit case to be Wrestler of the Year in 2019, but he failed to get the hype he deserved. He kicked off 2020 on the right foot though, with the match of the day on January 1st and 2nd, it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll be able to get back in the BJW Strong Heavyweight Title picture to continue building his case.
#8 – Hikaru Sato (AJPW)
- vs. Kagetora – AJPW, 1/2
- vs. Susumu Yokosuka – AJPW, 1/3
- w/ Yuki Ishikawa vs. Fuminori Abe & Jake Lee – AJPW, 1/19
Hikaru Sato has had just a masterful start to 2020. The Yokosuka match is the most underrated of the year so far, and his Battlarts style tag against JIN on All Japan’s 1/19 house show isn’t far behind. I don’t expect him to keep up this level of output as he is now squarely out of the junior title scene, although I certainly hope he does.
#7 – Jake Lee (AJPW)
- vs. Kento Miyahara – AJPW, 1/3
- w/ Koji Iwamoto vs. Ryouji Sai & Takashi Daimonji – AJPW, 1/10
- w/ Fuminori Abe vs. Yuki Ishikawa & Hikaru Sato – AJPW, 1/19
Come at me if you must, but Jake Lee is really great. The guy showed a fire against Kento Miyahara that was lacking in many of his previous big matches, and while he came up short there, he followed it up with a pair of tags well worth checking out later on in the tour. A good Carnival could see Lee keep his name in this conversation for a while.
#6 – Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH)
- vs. Go Shiozaki – NOAH, 1/4
- w/ Hitoshi Kumano, Junta Miyawaki, Minoru Tanaka & Naomichi Marufuji vs. Hao, Kenou, Masa Kitamiya, Nio & Yoshiki Inamura – NOAH, 1/30
Kaito lost his title on January 4th against Go Shiozaki, but he had the best match of his life in the process. With a big main event spot against Takashi Sugiura for the National Title coming up, I’d expect the future ace to keep his momentum going and hang around the top of this ranking list for a while.
#5 – Kento Miyahara (AJPW)
- vs. Jake Lee – AJPW 1/3
- w/ Yoshitatsu vs. Yuma Aoyagi & Danny Jones – AJPW 1/19
My 2019 wrestler of the year checks into the first 2020 installment of the list at #5. I thought the Lee match was underrated, but it didn’t touch either Dome main event or Go-Kaito. With another Triple Crown defense against Yuma Aoyagi coming up, I’d expect Kento to keep up this momentum and potentially climb in the rankings next time they drop.
#4 – Go Shiozaki (NOAH)
- vs. Kaito Kiyomiya – NOAH, 1/4
- w/ Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH, 1/5
- w/ Katsuhiko Nakajima & Shuhei Taniguchi vs. Hideki Suzuki, Kazuyuki Fujita & Takashi Sugiura – NOAH, 1/30
Go had a pair of bangers on NOAH’s 1/4 and 1/5 Korakuens, and he’s got another opportunity coming up just over a month from now when he defends his newly won GHC Heavyweight Title for the very first time against KAZ mf-ing FUJITA. What a match.
#3 – Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
- vs. Jay White – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW, 1/5
Ok, Kazuchika Okada is the frontrunner for Wrestler of the Year, but if anyone is going to catch him, it will probably be Tetsuya Naito. He only comes in at #3 here because I preferred Ibushi’s White match to Naito’s, but with a red-hot KENTA defense coming up and then a bevy of first time matches on the horizon, I expect him to overtake the #2 spot very quickly, and for this to be a very good year for Naito fans.
#2 – Kota Ibushi (NJPW)
- vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Jay White – NJPW, 1/5
Ibushi’s match with Okada got somewhat lost in the shuffle after Naito’s all-time classic with the Rainmaker the next day, but Ibushi-Okada would be the MOTY frontrunner in any normal year. Unfortunately, the Golden Star is sick at the moment, but hopefully Ibushi gets better soon and adds some more stuff to his resume soon be it tag work with Tanahashi or some high end singles work in the New Japan Cup.
#1 – Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
- vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW, 1/5
- w/Robbie Eagles, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Lance Archer, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW, 1/6
Kazuchika Okada is going to be hard to catch. The rainmaker currently holds my #1 and #2 matches of the year. Now, he’ll probably stay away from the IWGP Title for a little while, but even then, it’ll be hard for anyone to keep pace with him if he stays on his game, especially if he has a great G1.
Jack: And now it is time for Jack’s top 15 of the month. He hasn’t watched quite as much as Thomas, but he’s watched around 150 matches for the month. Outside of BJW and Stardom, though, he would consider himself up to date on pretty much everything else puro wise, and has probably seen more US-based stuff than Thomas has. You can follow him on Twitter @packerman120. Without further ado – here’s his 15 (with some honorable mentions first, of course).
Honorable Mentions: Go Shiozaki (NOAH), Jordan Devlin (WWE), Hikaru Sato (AJPW), Jon Moxley (AEW), Tyler Bate (WWE)
#15 – Daniel Makabe (Freelance)
Daniel Makabe was never a guy that particularly impressed me in any way whatsoever. I thought his look was shit and his work wasn’t much better. However, upon watching three of his first 2020 matches (those being the three Thomas recommended), something clicked with me with him that hadn’t before. He still has a horrendous look, but his work is very clean, blending striking & grappling in a very satisfying way. My favorite Makabe match of the year so far came against Kevin Ku in SUP, although the Stallion & Icarus matches won’t leave you feeling like you wasted your time, either. Definitely a wrestler to keep eyes on in the incredibly depleted US indie scene.
#14 – YAMATO (Dragon Gate)
- w/ Ben-K vs. Gamma & Masaaki Mochizuki – DG, 1/11
- w/ Ben-K vs. Big R Shimizu & Eita – DG, 1/12
- w/ Ben-K vs. Masato Yoshino & Susumu Yokosuka – DG, 1/15
- w/ Ben-K vs. KAZMA SAKAMOTO & BxB Hulk – DG, 1/15
YAMATO has always been one of my favourite Dragon Gate wrestlers dating back to when I started casually watching the promotion in 2017. While his Dream Gate run may have not been the best – I’ve continued enjoying his other work since then. YAMATO’s role in 2020 is part of Team Dragon Gate in the 3-way generational war that is currently dominating the promotion. More specifically, YAMATO’s 2020 so far has been spent teaming with Ben-K in the tournament to determine the new Open The Twin Gate champions. YAMATO & Ben-K have clicked very well together, leading to me being ***¾ or higher on all four of their tournament matches. Dragon Gate is as hot as it’s been for awhile now, so one can only hope YAMATO’s current momentum continues with it.
#13 – Ben-K (Dragon Gate)
- w/ YAMATO vs. Gamma & Masaaki Mochizuki – DG, 1/11
- w/ YAMATO vs. Big R Shimizu & Eita – DG, 1/12
- w/ YAMATO vs. Masato Yoshino & Susumu Yokosuka – DG, 1/15
- w/ YAMATO vs. KAZMA SAKAMOTO & BxB Hulk – DG, 1/15
I use a formula to determine my WOTY, as does Thomas, and if it were actually correct, YAMATO & Ben-K would be tied. However, YAMATO has an extra match being calculated because of the existence of Hiroshi Yamato. I could go and fix this, but that’s more effort than I’m willing to put in for my dopey wrestling formula. Thus, Ben-K is one spot higher! I’ve enjoyed Ben-K’s role in his tag team with YAMATO a bit more anyways, so his placement one spot higher is one I agree with. I hope I’d agree with it, it is my list after all! Ben-K may not be Open the Dream Gate champion anymore, but he still is a major player in Dragon Gate’s future, and sure to be a major part of their plans for 2020 and the decade to come.
#12 – Susumu Yokosuka (Dragon Gate)
- vs. Koji Iwamoto – AJPW, ½
- vs. Hikaru Sato – AJPW, ⅓
- w/ Masato Yoshino vs. Punch Tominaga & Keisuke Okuda – DG, 1/11
- w/ Masato Yoshino vs. Jason Lee & Yosuke <3 Santa Maria – DG, 1/12
- w/ Masato Yoshino vs. Ben-K & YAMATO – DG, 1/15
What I wrote about the two wrestlers prior can also be applied to Yokosuka. His tag team with Masato Yoshino has been the secondary standout of the tournament to me, and Yokosuka also benefits from his newfound role as AJPW junior champion. In the mini-tournament held on the New Year’s Korakuen shows, Yokosuka had great matches with both Koji Iwamoto & Hikaru Sato that helped place him at #12 on my list.
#11 – Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW)
I, like Thomas, have Tanahashi in my top 15 based solely off of the Jericho match. Jericho had begun to grow stale for me in New Japan, with the Okada match coming across very flat to me, but with this match I once again was all on-board with everyone’s favorite rocker dad wrestling under the lion mark. Of course, it takes two to tango, which is where Hiroshi Tanahashi comes in. Tanahashi was the perfect foil for Jericho, and the two ended up having a fantastic match as a result of that. Tanahashi’s case could have been helped by more of the NJPW USA tour making tape, but we likely won’t see those shows until 2030 anyways, if at all.
#10 – Chris Jericho (AEW)
- vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW, ⅕
- w/ Ortiz & Santana vs. Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus & Marko Stunt – AEW, 1/22
And one spot above Hiroshi Tanahashi we find Chris Jericho, Tanahashi’s Wrestle Kingdom opponent. Jericho lies above Tanahashi solely because of the AEW six-man vs. Jurassic Express. Said six man wasn’t a special match or anything – I had it at ***½ – but when you’re dealing with small sample sizes, sometimes that’s all you need. I expect Jericho to quickly fall out of my list, but for now, he can enjoy his spot at #10 in my first list for the first edition of the Fischbeckmann 15.
#9 – Daichi Hashimoto (BJW)
- vs. Yuji Okabayashi – BJW, ½
- w/ Hideyoshi Kamitani & Takuho Kato vs. Kazumi Kikita, Kosuke Sato & Ryuichi Kawakami – BJW, ¼
Those who may not know me personally may not know my undying support for Daichi Hashimoto. Is it a little bit ironic? Absolutely. That being said, I think people are unfairly harsh towards the son of the legendary Shinya Hashimoto. Sure, Daichi may look like shit, and it is impossible to ignore that it sometimes sounds like he’s getting mauled by 30-50 wild boars when he’s selling, but the man is very capable of putting on great matches when needed to. Anyone who doubts this needs to watch the January 2nd strong title defense versus Yuji Okabayashi. In this match, Daichi has one of his best performances to date, as he turned into a strong style aficionado to defeat his much beefier opponent. With his next title defense coming against budding ace Takuya Nomura, Daichi Hashimoto very well may remain on this list for months to come. Let’s just hope this momentum continues and doesn’t sputter out like other years (cough, 2018, cough).
#8 – Jake Lee (AJPW)
A quick aside before I talk about Jake Lee – I’m only putting recommended matches for wrestlers whom I do not share with Thomas, unless I really enjoyed a match that he didn’t. Saves me and you, the reader, a lot of time doing it that way. Anywho, Jake Lee has finally showed flashes of what we’ve all been waiting for from him for the longest time – charisma – since the start of the year. Lee’s title challenge against Kento Miyahara was an instant MOTYC, and he proceeded to have fun matches on the house show tour as well. Lee may be firmly in the rear-view mirror with the pushes of Yuma Aoyagi & Naoya Nomura the clear priority, look for him to be in fun undercard tags with his stablemates in JIN. Will this finally be the year Jake Lee breaks out? Probably not, but one can hope!
#7 – Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
While I may not have thought the January 5th main event against Kazuchika Okada was the legendary match everyone else thought it was, Tetsuya Naito earns his spot at #7 based solely on that match. Now that he is the IWGP Heavyweight champion, Naito will have every opportunity to climb this list as the year goes on. WIth a title defense vs. KENTA looming, we can only wait and see to see what Naito delivers on what should be a signature run with New Japan’s top two championships.
#6 – Yuji Okabayashi (BJW)
Yuji Okabayashi rules. There is not much more to say than that. I can’t remember the last time he’s disappointed in a big spot, as the big beefy boy consistently delivers when asked to. He places higher than his Big Japan counterpart as a result of his excellent ZERO-1 match on New Year’s Day vs. Yuji Hino. Okabayashi may have even placed higher if I’d have had a chance to watch the 1/13 Big Japan show, but #6 is still impressive nonetheless. Look for Okabayashi to have another monster year should he continue to stay healthy.
#5 – Kento Miyahara (AJPW)
Synergy with Thomas here as Kento Miyahara also checks in at #5 on my list. I mentioned it while talking about Jake Lee, but everyone needs to watch the AJPW match between the two, as it will certainly end the year as one of the top 25 matches in my book. With a title defense vs. Yuma Aoyagi looming, look for Miyahara to continue to maintain his high place on this list.
#4 – Kota Ibushi (NJPW)
I may be shot for this opinion, but I preferred Kazuchika Okada’s match against my #4 – Kota Ibushi – more than his match against Tetsuya Naito the next night. I felt that the Ibushi match peaked higher, and it featured Ibushi delivering one of the best singular performances I’ve seen in quite awhile. When Ibushi snaps, it’s a beautiful sight to behold, and it’s a sight we got to behold in said match against Okada as well as against Jay White the following night. Both of those matches contribute to Ibushi’s placement at #4.
#3 – Hiromu Takahashi (NJPW)
Hiromu Takahashi fucking owns. His match against Will Ospreay is my current MOTY, with it also being my one and only five star match for the year. The Sasuke Special sequence in that match is one I will never forget, with it being one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in my time watching pro wrestling. Now that he is junior champion once more, Takahashi will have every opportunity to contend for WOTY in the first year of the 2020s.
#2 – Will Ospreay (NJPW)
As they always say, it takes two to tango – and with Hiromu Takahashi, his partner is Will Ospreay. Ospreay places at #2 based on the Takahashi match, as well as his match in Australia vs. young prick Dowie James. Like Thomas, I may not have been as high on that match as others, but I think it is nonetheless another great match to add to what is already shaping up to be an incredible year for my personal favorite wrestler.
#1 – Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
Surprise, Okada wins again! It’s hard to deny the greatness Okada has shown this year so far – two back to back MOTYC’s against Kota Ibushi & Tetsuya Naito has him firmly placed at #1 on my list. Should Okada continue to have a great year, something we know he is capable of, my 2020 WOTY may be wrapped up very early. Pro wrestling is pro wrestling though, and you never know what will happen!
Thank you for reading the inaugural edition of the Fischbeckmann 15! Look forward to more experimentation with this concept as the months continue, as Thomas & I look to both give updates on not just who we think the best wrestlers of the year are, but to showcase the best wrestlers & matches of any given month as well. Special thank you to Thomas as well for letting me jump in on his idea, and without any further wait – the combined top 15! We thought it was important to have two voices for this series to sort of balance each other out, and now that you’ve read each of our individual takes, here is the finished product of that experiment.
(1 point for an honorable mention, 2 for #15, 3 for #14, etc, with highest ranking being the tiebreaker)
- #1 – Kazuchika Okada (NJPW) – 32 points
- #2 – Kota Ibushi (NJPW) – 28 points
- #3 – Tetsuya Naito (NJPW) – 24 points
- #4 – Kento Miyahara (AJPW) – 24 points
- #5 – Will Ospreay (NJPW) – 22 points
- #6 – Hiromu Takahashi (NJPW) – 19 points
- #7 – Yuji Okabayashi (BJW) – 19 points
- #8 – Jake Lee (AJPW) – 19 points
- #9 – Go Shiozaki (NOAH) – 14 points
- #10 – Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH) – 11 points
- #11 – Hikaru Sato (AJPW) – 10 points
- #12 – Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW) – 9 points
- #13 – Daichi Hashimoto (BJW) – 8 points
- #14 – Daniel Makabe (Freelance) – 8 points
- #15 – Chris Jericho (AEW) – 7 points