Welcome to the Fischbeck 15: a monthly tracker on the Wrestler of the Year race for 2020. In this series, I, Thomas Fischbeck, will be your proverbial guide through the shaky waters of professional wrestling each month.
In this series 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. 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 list!
Please note: these lists were created on May 31st and thus don’t consider anything that took place or made tape after that date.
The Honorable 15 (from 30th to 16th): Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW), Daichi Hashimoto (BJW), Yuki Ueno (DDT), Naruki Doi (DG), Hikaru Sato (AJPW), Shuji Ishikawa (AJPW), Daniel Makabe (FREE), Shingo Takagi (NJPW), Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH), Hirooki Goto (NJPW), Yuji Hino (ZERO1), Kenny Omega (AEW), Takashi Sugiura (NAOH), Susumu Yokosuka (DG), Hiromu Takahashi (NJPW)
#15 – Keisuke Ishii (DDT)
- w/ Shuhei Washida vs. Ken Ohka & Shuichiro Katsumura – DDT, 1/19
- w/ Kota Umeda vs. Daiki Shimomura & Masato Kamino – BASARA, 1/22
- vs. Yumehito Imanari – DDT, 2/24
- vs. Kouki Iwasaki – DDT, 3/21
Ishii has appeared on a couple empty arena DDT shows, although mainly in undercard roles. I hope he picks up where he left off when DDT’s Ganbare sub-brand, which he is the champion of, will host their first no fans show on June 3rd. Until then, I really do believe this guy is the most underrated wrestler in the world, so check out the recommended stuff.
#14 – Daisuke Sekimoto (BJW)
- vs. Chris Dickinson – GCW, 2/5
- w/ Kohei Sato vs. Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto – BJW, 2/11
- w/ Yuji Okabayashi vs. Masato Tanaka & Takashi Sugiura – ZERO1, 3/1
- w/ Kohei Sato vs. Shingehiro Irie & Yuji Okabayashi – BJW, 3/3
Daisuke Sekimoto plummets down the rankings not because of inactivity, mostly because he’s just not been hitting it lately. The Daichi Hashimoto world title match was “meh” at best, their rematch in the Strong Climb wasn’t much better, and his NOAH Tag League performance was subpar. Hopefully he can get back on track as more promotions begin to open up.
#13 – Will Ospreay (NJPW)
- vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Dowie James – MCW, 1/11
- vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW, 2/2
- vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – RevPro, 2/14
Inactive, although it speaks to Ospreay’s resume that he remains in the top 15 without a recommended match from March-May
#12 – Go Shiozaki (NOAH)
- vs. Kaito Kiyomiya – NOAH, 1/4
- w/ Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH, 1/5
- w/ Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Takashi Sugiura & Kazuyuki Fujia – NOAH, 2/16
- w/ Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Minoru Tanaka & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH, 3/22
I didn’t love the Fujita title match, the tag league run was fine but disappointing, and now the next GHC Challenger is Akitoshi Saito… really!? I can’t wait for fans to return because with NOAH’s roster, Go could have some really fun title matches, but empty arena NOAH is just not working right now.
#11 – Kohei Sato (ZERO1)
- vs. Towa Iwasaki – ZERO1, 1/1
- w/ Shinjiro Otani vs. Masato Tanaka & Yuji Hino – ZERO1, 2/9
- w/ Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto – BJW, 2/11
- vs. Yuji Hino – ZERO1, 3/1
- w/ Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Shingehiro Irie & Yuji Okabayashi – BJW, 3/3
Essentially inactive outside of a pretty good Chris Vice title match. I’m interested to see where Sato goes after playing the transitional champ role between Hino and Vice. I’m also hyped for whenever he and Sekimoto can team again, they’ve been one of the best teams in the world thus far this year. A title defense against Kodaka and Nomura, who teamed up in a winning effort on the Strong Climb finals, would be awesome.
#10 – Katsuhiko Nakajima (NOAH)
- w/ Go Shiozaki vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH, 1/5
- vs. Shotaro Ashino – W-1, 2/12
- vs. Hideki Suzuki – NOAH, 2/16
- w/ Go Shiozaki vs. Minoru Tanaka & Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH, 3/22
- vs. Takashi Sugiura – NOAH 5/5
I said NOAH empty arena was bad. But! there was one exception: Takashi Sugiura and Katsuhiko Nakajima from May 5th. The two went out there and tore it up, delivering perhaps my favorite no fans match to date. It was long, but it was hard-hitting throughout, and Nakajima came across looking like an unstoppable monster badass. I’m not thrilled with Nakajima’s first challenger for the GHC National Title: Masao Inoue, but once fans return we could see a ton of interesting matchups on the horizon, Daisuke Harada and Kenoh are two that instantly come to mind.
#9 – Masato Tanaka (ZERO1)
- vs. Chris Brookes – DDT, ⅓
- w/ Yuji Hino vs. Kohei Sato & Shinjiro Otani – ZERO1, 2/9
- vs. MAO – DDT, 2/23
- w/ Takashi Sugiura vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi – ZERO1, 3/1
- vs. Yukio Sakaguchi – DDT, 5/9
Finally cracking the top ten is twitter’s favorite wrestler of the year: Masato Tanaka. Tanaka has been putting in really good work all year in ZERO1 and DDT, but hadn’t, in my opinion, had that killer singles match yet. That changed this month. Tanaka’s empty arena sprint with Yukio Sakaguchi was the best of what empty arena should be: Short, hard hitting, and intense. It was unique, and kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the bout. Make sure to check it out, along with Tanaka’s upcoming title defense at Peter Pan against Tetsuya Endo, which is sure to be great.
#8 – Suwama (AJPW)
- w/ Shuji Ishikawa vs. Ayato Yoshida & Jake Lee – AJPW, 2/6
- vs. Kento Miyahara – AJPW, 3/23
- w/ Kento Miyahara & Zeus vs. Jake Lee, Shuji Ishikawa & Yuma Aoyagi – AJPW, 4/6
- w/ Shuji Ishikawa vs. Kento Miyahara & Yoshitatsu – AJPW, 5/5
The Triple Crown champ checks into these rankings at #8. His performance in All Japan’s 60-minute six-man tag draw was great, tostling with his normal tag partner, Shuji Ishikawa. The two’s tag work this year has been really good after a slow start on the New Year’s Wars show, and the title win vs Kento is still one of my favorite matches of the year. With the Carnival officially back on, I think Suwama has a good chance to stay high in these rankings, if not climb higher.
#7 – Isami Kodaka (BASARA)
- w/ Daiki Shimomura & Minoru Fujita vs. Akiyori Takizawa, Naoki Tanizaki & Ryota Nakatsu – BASARA, 1/14
- w/ Toshiyuki Sakuda vs. Alex Colon & Danny Havoc – GCW, 2/4
- w/ Yuko Miyamoto vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Kohei Sato – BJW, 2/11
- w/ Ryuichi Sekine vs. Banana Senga & Tsutomu Oosugi – BASARA, 2/18
- w/ Daiki Shimomura vs. Ryota Nakatsu & Naoki Tanizaki – BASARA, 3/24
- w/ Takuya Nomura vs. Akira Hyodo & Yuji Okabyashi – BJW, 4/26
- w/ Yuko Miyamoto vs. Akira Francesco & Kento Miyahara – AJPW, 4/30
It’s been said for years, but Isami Kodaka is the most diverse, skilled wrestler in Japan. The guy can work 90’s All Japan/modern NJPW King’s Road main event style, traditional NJPW shoot style, death match, you name it, the guy can do it. While he hasn’t peaked as high as some of the people on this list; he’s been incredibly consistent, with 14 matches I have rated ***½+ and seven at ****+.
BASARA, his home promotion, doesn’t get mainstream attention, so he’s flown under the radar, but believe me when I say if you check him out, you’ll come away impressed. Kodaka also had one of the best matches of Danny Havoc’s career back during GCW’s February Japan foray, so make sure to check that out as we remember Havoc, who tragically lost his life just a few days ago.
#6 – Kota Ibushi (NJPW)
- vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Jay White – NJPW, ⅕
- w/ Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata – NJPW, 2/22
#5 – Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
- vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW, ⅕
- vs. KENTA – NJPW, 2/9
Naito and Ibushi slide due to inactivity, but the Wrestle Kingdom main events were both so amazing that they remain in the top ten on the basis of those alone. The good news, though, is it seems a New Japan return date is probably closer than some realize.
#4 – Jake Lee (AJPW)
- vs. Kento Miyahara – AJPW, 1/3
- w/ Fuminori Abe vs. Yuki Ishikawa & Hikaru Sato – AJPW, 1/19
- w/ Ayato Yoshida vs. Shuji Ishikawa & Suwama – AJPW, 2/6
- w/ Koji Iwamoto vs. Black Menso~re & Takao Omori – AJPW, 2/11
- w/ Shuji Ishikawa & Yuma Aoyagi vs. Suwama, Kento Miyahara & Zeus – AJPW, 4/6
Alright, you’ve read about Keisuke Ishii, and Isami Kodaka at #7, but Jake Lee at #4 will probably end up being my most controversial take. Hey. The dude rules. Get over it. His Miyahara match is one I’ll never forget and one of my favorites of the year, the Battlarts style tag with Fuminori Abe was unique and awesome. His all-asia run with Koji Iwamoto never missed, and his other stuff teaming with JIN this year has been great, not to mention his performance in the six-man draw, and his recent stuff with Shotaro Ashino has been beautiful. Lee is a legit #4, and I think he remains the favorite to win the Carnival, and the Triple Crown, when that tournament returns this fall.
#3 – Yuji Okabayashi (BJW)
- vs. Yuji Hino – ZERO1, 1/1
- vs. Daichi Hashimoto – BJW, ½
- w/ Takuya Nomura vs. Daichi Hashimoto & Hideyoshi Kamitani – BJW, 1/26
- w/ Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Masato Tanaka & Takashi Sugiura – ZERO1, 3/1
- w/ Shingehiro Irie vs. Daisuke Sekimoto & Kohei Sato – BJW, 3/3
- w/ Akira Hyodo vs. Isami Kodaka & Takuya Nomura – BJW, 4/26
I mean, what is there to say about Yuji Okabayashi, he’s had amazing tags with four different guys already this year, great world title matches in three different promotions (his 2AW stuff just missed the recommended list but is worth checking out), and he’s got an Ayato Yoshida main event coming up on the next 2AW show which I can’t wait for. Yuji remains a strong contender for WOTY.
#2 – Kento Miyahara (AJPW)
- vs. Jake Lee – AJPW, 1/3
- w/ Yoshitatsu vs. Yuma Aoyagi & Danny Jones – AJPW, 1/19
- vs. Suwama – AJPW, 3/23
- w/ Suwama & Zeus vs. Jake Lee, Shuji Ishikawa & Yuma Aoyagi – AJPW, 4/6
- w/ Akira Francesco vs. Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto – AJPW, 4/30
- w/ Yoshitatsu vs. Suwama & Shuji Ishikawa – AJPW, 5/5
I’ve given eight matches the ol’ notebook rating during the empty arena era. Kento Miyahara has been in three of them. I wasn’t sure if Kento’s charisma, which is largely based on fan reaction would translate to empty arena, but it has. His facials and mannerisms have made him far and away the biggest star of this empty arena era, and he’s closing in on the #1 spot in this list. The Lee and Suwama matches are must watch, and it’s worth checking out all of the recommended tags as well.
#1 – Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
- vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW, 1/4
- vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW, 1/5
- w/ Hirooki Goto, Kota Ibushi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata – NJPW, 2/22
Ya know, when Kazuchika Okada had two of the best matches I had ever seen on back-to-back nights in early January, I said it would take something wild for anyone to catch him as wrestler of the year. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting a global pandemic, but one more month of inactivity and I think Kento and Okabayashi have a good shot at overtaking the Rainmaker before the midway point of the year, which would’ve been unthinkable to me just a few months ago.
So there’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Shoot me a tweet @rasslinratings on twitter and make sure to come back next time as I have a special idea for the year’s midway point!