This week, Voices of Wrestling contributors Andy LaBarreGerard Di TrolioMichael 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: Towa Iwasaki, Tsugutaka Sato, Oji Shiiba & Honori Hana

Thank you all for joining us this week, for reading along, the feedback and more. Talking amongst ourselves, we realize this is a series that could be a regular thing, so don’t be surprised if it comes back at some point. We hope that you have learned about some exciting new wrestlers to check out, support and track as they continue on their path to Championships and more.

Towa Iwasaki
Home Promotion: ZERO1

Towa Iwasaki

When ZERO1 hits, there are few things better in all of pro wrestling. Having a unique roster of hard-hitting veterans (Otani, Takaiwa, Tanaka, etc.), champions who have probably murdered people (Kohei Sato, Yuji Hino) and unique foreign talent has made ZERO1 one of the most consistently fun and easy promotions to follow over the past decade or so. In each given year, ZERO1 usually has only about 10 shows that make television with maybe a few extra matches released on YouTube. Almost always hovering around 2 hours, and featuring clipped undercards, these shows are usually a breeze to watch, offering a glimpse of dudes who really go all out for little to no crowd.

Towa Iwasaki has benefited tremendously from working with the talented vets in ZERO1, and from a pure in-ring standpoint, is likely among the top 3 best wrestlers on this entire list of 20. Standing at 6ft, 220lbs, Iwasaki is on the cusp of having that “superstar” look and “star” run. His gear is basic, as is often the case in ZERO1 – where gear and physique aren’t quite as important as in-ring talent, but he is able to carry himself like a serious threat. Easy comparisons in-ring point toward Hideyoshi Kamitani and Ryuichi Kawakami, but there is a hint of Kazuchika Okada as well, not only in look – but match structure, moves and working at a similar speed. Iwasaki can throw a mean lariat, a nice flying Busaiku-style knee and his backdrop hold is the perfect finishing maneuver for him. Whether he gets experience outside of ZERO1 or not will do a lot for his career – he would slot in beautifully in the BJW Strong division, or in the upper midcard of NOAH. If his steady booking in ZERO1 is any indication, however, he’s there for the long haul. He is a former ZERO1 United National Heavyweight Champion and currently sits in this spot where he is able to beat most of the “2nd tier” ZERO1 stars, but can’t quite beat the top guys. With Kohei Sato out of the door, expect Iwasaki to be champ before long. – Andy LaBarre

Recommended Match: Towa Iwasaki Vs. Yuko Miyamoto – ZERO1 Chojin Festival II (6/6/2020)

Tsugutaka Sato
Home Promotion: Free Agent

Tsugutaka Sato

Sato is one of several Wrestle-1 Dojo graduates that decided to eventually go freelance even before the promotion went belly up. He debuted in September 2017 and left Wrestle-1 at the end of March 2019. Since then he’s popped up in 2AW, Just Tap Out and Dragongate, but has appeared the most in All Japan and Zero1. He even promoted his own produce show at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring in December 2019 that drew a respectable 220 people to see him in the main event in a singles match against Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshio. 

Sato has the height, nice hair and boyish good looks that could make him a force to be reckoned with. He is developing into a nice power wrestler with a beautiful Lariat and an impactful Pump Handle Powerslam.

The next few months could turn into very important ones for his career. He is still working Zero1 he is going to be competing with castoffs like the other ex-Wrestle-1 guys for bookings in other promotions. While Sato has given some solid performances this year, he is going to have to take it to the next level if he wants a full-time spot given the number of wrestlers out there that are looking for jobs. – Gerard Di Trolio

Recommended match: Tsugutaka Sato vs. Zeus – AJPW (5/5/2020)

Oji Shiiba
Home Promotion: Dragongate

Oji Shiiba

It’s difficult to live up to expectations, and even more when you have to live up to expectations carried over from family members. Oji Shiiba (23, 2 years pro) came into the promotion as the younger brother of the now-retired Kotoka and said his goal in wrestling was to fill the void that Kotoka left in Dragongate. Shiiba made his debut in December of 2017 and was one of the last rookies to debut in DG with “traditional” black shorts and short shoes (some rookies since, like Kota Minoura and Masahiro Inoue have gone traditional. The majority nowadays debut with full gear). After Kotoka announced his impending retirement the next month, Oji would adopt his brother’s gear and mannerisms for the remainder of Kotoka’s career. 

After Kotoka retired, Oji Shiiba struggled to become his own wrestler and move out of the rookie stage. He got his own gear, dialed back the tributes to his brother, and lost a bunch. Then suddenly, he suffered a terrible knee injury. His last match for 13 months happened in his native Kunamoto. In the meantime, generational peer Ben-K won the Dream Gate and Strong Machine J debuted and won his first title in record time. 

When he returned in September of 2019, Shiiba found himself in an incredibly tough situation: the Dragongate dojo had one of its most prolific periods of producing exciting upstarts, and now he had to find his place amongst this competitive setting. He hasn’t had a ton of ring time due to the extenuating circumstances, but the time he’s had has impressed: tremendous charisma for someone at this point, adaptability to circumstances and match types, and developing a solid all-around match style. I don’t think he has the ceiling as high as some other young Dragongate wrestlers; you just can’t make up for the lost time in development. Oji can end up being an excellent wrestler and a great piece of the Dragongate roster. After his lost year due to injury, maybe Oji can fulfill the void Kotoka left and then some. – Michael Spears

Watch: Jason Lee, U-T & Oji Shiiba vs Kota Minoura, Yosuke Santa Maria & Ho Ho Lun – DG (6/13/2020)

Honori Hana
Home Promotion: SEAdLINNNG

Honori Hana

When Honori Hana officially debuted in December of 2019, she had a typical rookie experience, losing decisively to veteran Arisa Nakajima.  This wasn’t just any rookie debut, as upon conclusion Hana became the first SEAdLINNNG trainee to ever properly debut for the promotion.  SEAdLINNNG has seen growth year over year and they have evolved from a promotion largely built around random dream matches into a fully-fledged promotion with multiple titles, storylines, factions and now, their own rookies.

Unfortunately, just a few matches after her debut the empty arena era began, and SEAdLINNNG stopped running for three months. Even so, Honori Hana has a lot going for her, namely that she is being trained by Nanae Takahashi and Natsuki Taiyo.  While those names might not be familiar to your everyday wrestling fan, Takahashi and Taiyo spent a number of years in the early 2010s in the STARDOM promotion where they helped train the likes of Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Hojo, Saki Kashima, Arisa Hoshiki and many others. They have the pedigree, and in a small promotion like SEAdLINNNG that currently only has five wrestlers on their official roster, Honori Hana is sure to get a lot of time and attention. Hopefully, she will use that to her advantage and soon become one of joshi’s top stars. – Taylor Maimbourg

Recommended Matches: Honori Hana vs. Mei Suruga – Sendai Girls – 3/28/20

Honori Hana vs. Haruka Umesaka – 3/23/30