- Hustlers and Heatseekers (Intro & Part 1): voicesofwrestling.com/2020/07/13/hustlers-and-heatseekers-japans-next-wrestling-stars-part-1
- Hustlers and Heatseekers (Part 2): voicesofwrestling.com/2020/07/14/hustlers-and-heatseekers-japans-next-wrestling-stars-part-2
- Hustlers and Heatseekers (Part 3): voicesofwrestling.com/2020/07/15/hustlers-and-heatseekers-japans-next-wrestling-stars-part-3
This week, Voices of Wrestling contributors Andy LaBarre, Gerard Di Trolio, Michael Spears and Taylor Maimbourg delve into the world of Japanese wrestling and shine a spotlight on some of Japan’s top prospects.
Today’s lineup: Maria, Hideki Okatani, Tatsuya Hanami & Kento Kobune
Home Promotion: Marvelous
Chigusa Nagayo is most well-known from her time spent in All Japan Women’s Crush Gals, one of the most famous tag teams of all time. However, in the past 25 years, she has carved out a space as one of the best wrestling trainers in the world. Starting all the way back in 1995 with GAEA Japan’s stellar first rookie class, which contained future legend Meiko Satomura, Nagayo’s training methods have continued to produce wrestlers that have played a big role in the growth and development of the joshi scene.
One of Nagayo’s newest protegees is Maria, who debuted at the tail end of 2018, but has already shown she has the potential to be Nagayo’s next great charge. In less than two years, Maria has shown that she is the epitome of why Nagayo is so well regarded. Maria never takes a match off, giving 100% in each and every match and never holding back on her opponent. Although she is still young and her move set is limited, Maria brings a ferocity to the ring that often gives her matches the feeling of a knockdown, drag-out brawl. In a typical match, you can expect brutal slaps, thudding strikes and wince-inducing kicks. This in-ring brutality also influences Maria’s personality, as she is often standoffish and won’t back down from a challenge, even when she’s overmatched or underskilled. Even though Marvelous is one of the smaller promotions in the joshi landscape, Maria’s skill has not gone unnoticed as she has appeared in a number of other promotions, even in prominent roles, like in SEAdLINNNG where she is part of Las Fresa de Egoistas, one of the bigger factions in the promotion. With other promotions already taking notice of her, Maria could end her career as one of Chigusa Nagayo’s best students, even amongst stiff competition. – Taylor Maimbourg
Recommended Matches: Maria vs. Chihiro Hashimoto – 1/28/19
Maria vs. Nanae Takahashi – 6/23/19
Maria vs. Mei Hoshizuki – Sendai Girls – 3/28/20
Home Promotion: DDT
As of this writing, Hideki Okatani has only had 13 matches, with 12 of them being losses. His only win was against fellow DDT rookie (but still his senior) Keigo Nakamura on 6/20. Despite this, those who keep up with DDT have been rumbling about this stellar 19-year old. His look is generic at this point, with boring teal and brown shorts – but his dozen performances in the ring have been good enough to warrant an inclusion into Jun Akiyama’s new DDT stable alongside Mizuki Watase and Makoto Oishi.
For his age and experience, Okatani is one of the more exciting true rookies in recent times, with a real smashmouth, never-give-up style. Though he is currently undersized, and doesn’t have a lot to go off of, every time he is in the ring, his underdog charisma and toughness really stand out. DDT undercards can be a mixed bag, depending on your own tastes – but if you want to get in on the ground floor of an exciting rookie who likes to kick ass and is excellent at getting his own kicked – you have gotta check out Hideki Okatani. – Andy LaBarre
Recommended Match: Jun Akiyama, Makoto Oishi & Hideki Okatani Vs. Konosuke Takeshita, Yuki Iino & Shunma Katsumata – DDT TV Show #8 (6/27/2020)
Home Promotion: 2AW
Hanami is the future of 2AW. The company has its fair share of aging names like Kengo Mashimo and Shiori Asahi and quite a few other wrestlers already in their thirties. Ayato Yoshida is likely the only other wrestler on their roster who has the potential to become a major breakout star, already working in other promotions. Though Hanami doesn’t have the ceiling Yoshida does, he has potential to carve out a strong niche for himself in 2AW, a company that has no problem pushing juniors like Hanami into the main event.
Hanami has a good amount of natural charisma and already has great facial expressions in his matches. He’s got a few high flying moves, but the main focus of his offense is that of a technical wrestler. At this stage of his career, he’s still mostly eating pins in tag matches, but he takes a beating very well and manages to build sympathy with the crowd through it. Right before the global pandemic, Hanami really began to increase the number of outside bookings he took. Look out for him in a number of other promotions like All Japan, Big Japan, Michinoku Pro and FREEDOMS once things begin to open up a bit more. – Gerard Di Trolio
Recommended Match: Tatsuya Hanami vs. Kengo Mashimo (2AW, June 9, 2020)
Home Promotion: Dragongate
Normally there would be hesitation to put Kento Kobune (20 years old, rookie) on this list. He only debuted in December 2019, and is at the forefront of a dojo class that is clawing for available ring time. Kobune has left an impression, however, and his first eight months in wrestling can be the beginning of a career that’s very special.
Over most of 2019, Kento Kobune engaged in five-minute wars with his classmates on DG NEX shows, the company’s monthly series focusing on younger wrestlers. He’s been clearly pushed at the forefront of this new batch of rookies as he was the first member of his class to get personalized merchandise. It’s clear Dragongate sees something special in him.
Kobune comes from a Judo background, and he has displayed that well. Open the Voice Gate co-host Case Lowe has described him as a younger Naruki Doi and the resemblance is easy to spot. Kento Kobune is built like an absolute tank like Doi, and is likely to end up like a similar style of explosive youngster. It’s going to be interesting to see how Kobune develops and how it compares to his other four classmates. Currently, Kento Kobune is at the front of his class and fans already can see him as someone who main events Kobe World in five year’s time. – Michael Spears
Recommended Match: Gamma, Kento Kobune & Taketo Kamei vs Ben-K, Jason Lee & Problem Dragon (2/7/2020)