The ever-growing reach of the internet has made the wrestling world smaller. Fans are more likely to share and read thoughts on the web about the things they enjoy and that has carried over to pro wrestling in a huge way. Independent and foreign promotions have become far more popular in the United States over the past decade due to having more access to new products. WWE will always be the king of the industry and the home base that fans care most about, but the other styles and buzz about the top superstars across the world will pique the interest of fans wanting to learn more.
We are seeing more Asian wrestlers get a chance in today’s WWE, especially with the Japanese wrestling product growing in popularity. Hideo Itami and Shinsuke Nakamura were signed to NXT with huge fanfare due to being two of all the time great Japanese stars. Fans knew all about them before they even debuted in WWE, since it is easy to find their greatest matches and moments with a quick internet search. The partnership between Ring of Honor and various Japanese promotions have also helped things. Many of the current WWE stars were in ROH battling some of the greatest imports from Japan in spectacular matches that made them all more valuable.
The WWE is looking to appeal to Japan with the latest signing of Nakamura and the WWE Network being available in the country now. While the language barrier may make it tough, the talent in Japan is so good that we have faith they will be able to translate their actions through the art of wrestling. Besides, many of the younger Japanese stars know English since it has become a more important subject in schools there over recent years. The concept of NXT is to create attraction shows of the best talent from all over the world working their way up to the main roster and many Japanese performers deserve that opportunity.
15 Taka Michinoku
Nostalgia will kick off the list as we look at a former WWE Light Heavyweight Champion during the Attitude Era with Taka Michinoku, who still wrestles at a high level in Japan. The memorable in-ring performer was one of the most popular Japanese stars in WWE history and could be brought back for a short nostalgic run. There’s no doubt Michinoku could hang with most of the top wrestlers today and still give us a great match. Everyone loves reliving their fond memories and Taka doesn’t look like he’s lost a step over the years. Most of the talents on this list are in their prime or rising stars, but Michinoku gives us the rare case of a credible talent we all remember.
14 Minoru Suzuki
You would be insane to even fantasy book the scenario of Minoru Suzuki competing in a WWE ring just a year or two ago but things are changing and anything can happen these days. The introduction of NXT has seen many foreign stars get signed and Jushin “Thunder” Liger was even booked for a big match at TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015. Suzuki is 47-years-old but one of the most influential and underrated wrestlers of his time in Japan. The veteran is still delivering outstanding matches and could be used effectively for one or two big matches in NXT. We have learned than anyone with the right talent has a chance to appear these days.
13 Naruki Doi
The ability to get over in a North American wrestling promotion is often difficult for Japanese wrestlers. Between the language barrier and difference in wrestling styles, it is sometimes harder to get across the art but Naruki Doi is a case of a wrestler doing well in the new environment. Doi has toured the States with various short runs in TNA, Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA. The talented speedster can fly around the ring like Barry Allen but shows the intelligence to slow it down at the right points in a match. Doi would be a superb addition to NXT and add more depth to the thriving promotion.
12 Nanae Takahashi
Many pundits regard the Japanese women’s wrestling style as being superior to women’s wrestling in the United States. Wrestling historian and expert Dave Meltzer has argued that Japanese women’s wrestling has delivered some of the greatest bouts in history, bar none. The addition of Asuka in NXT has given us a small glimpse at how great the talent pool is. Nanae Takahashi would be another wonderful addition to the women’s division in NXT. The veteran has been one of the better Japanese female workers for a few years and has appeared on a few Ring of Honor shows in 2015, including an impressive outing against ODB.
11 Hirooki Goto
Hirooki Goto is in a weird place in NJPW right now. As seen with AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, the New Japan contracts aren’t heavily discussed or leaked like we see with other wrestling companies. We can assume the bigger stars like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada are locked into long term deals, but the rest of the roster is in a transitional period with everyone trying to become a bigger name. Hirooki Goto is being pushed as one of the next big NJPW stars for good reason but is likely someone in a position to broker a deal with WWE. If New Japan views Goto as being good enough to replace Nakamura, you know how good he is and WWE should strike while the iron is hot with the incoming Japanese talent.
10 Taiji Ishimori
Pro Wrestling NOAH has seen a sad decline over the last few years. With hot momentum and a working relationship with Ring of Honor from 2005-2010, NOAH was viewed as arguably the most entertaining wrestling product in Japan but today they are trying to rebuild under the regime of New Japan running things. While the company is not on the level of NJPW or Dragon Gate, they still employ many great talents such as Taiji Ishimori. The extremely skilled junior had memorable matches against Daniel Bryan, Eddie Edwards and various other relevant American wrestlers in the past. Ishimori is a diamond in the rough and would be a big signing for WWE.
9 Tetsuya Naito
New Japan’s hand being forced to further build new stars following WWE’s raid of some of their biggest names has led to the stock of Tetsuya Naito rising. Naito was being featured in a more prominent heel role in 2015 but he is expected to get elevated even higher in the promotion’s pecking order now. Naito's work is quite impressive with the skill of adapting to his opponent and being able to gel with any style. WWE looks to employ all different performers with various sizes and skill sets, so it’s a huge bonus if someone is good at adapting to their opponent more than in other companies.
8 Manami Toyota
This may sound insane on the surface since Manami Toyota is 45-years-old and nearing retirement, but she’s the greatest female in-ring performer of all time. Toyota is still going and has the legendary reputation to make a surprise appearance in NXT become a big deal. The idea of Toyota facing Sasha Banks, Bayley or Asuka could create one of the biggest moments in NXT history and further fuel the momentum of the Divas Revolution. Considering WWE used the Japanese wrestling history of Jushin Liger at TakeOver: Brooklyn and has a pulse on the women’s wrestling world when scouting for NXT, Toyota would be a great fit for a big match or two.
7 Masato Yoshino
Masato Yoshino is a Dragon Gate star that has appeared in TNA and ROH at various points when touring the States. One of the very rare Ring of Honor “five star matches” rated as being perfect by Dave Meltzer featured Yoshino competing in a six-man tag match at ROH Supercard of Honor 2006. Yoshino has a world of talent and has consistently been one of the standout stars in Dragon Gate. WWE has indeed upped their Japanese wrestling talent by adding Hideo Itami and Shinsuka Nakamura but Yoshino would provide a different dynamic with Dragon Gate’s being a bit more exciting to many fans of puro.
6 Go Shiozaki
As one of the best-rounded wrestling performers in Japan, Go Shiozaki is technically a freelancer and should have been on WWE’s horizons years ago. Shiozaki was a regular in Ring of Honor for a year and excelled as a top star to the American audience. Many current WWE stars such as Daniel Bryan, Austin Aries, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn all faced Shiozaki in superb matches. ROH from 2006 to 2008 was a true proving ground for the top wrestlers in the world and we’re seeing how great they are today in WWE. Shiozaki showed us he can hang with anyone and would be a welcomed signing by WWE.
5 Katsuyori Shibata
There are very few wrestlers in the entire industry today that are as tough as Katsuyori Shibata. The term strong style defines Japanese wrestlers as hitting harder and stiffer than we are used to in wrestling. While it may not be always true, it’s definitely accurate in the case of Shibata. Many compare Shibata to Hideo Itami but he may be better at the current stages of their careers due to his great all around work leading to classic matches quite regularly. New Japan’s G1 tournament has seen Shibata stand out as a star the last few years and WWE should take note by adding him to the roster.
4 Naomichi Marufuji
Despite the Japanese wrestling world being more noteworthy and relevant to American fans, not all of the talents are appreciated. Naomichi Marufuji may be the most underrated of all those names considering how long he has been delivering fantastic matches on a regular basis in Japan. The work of Marufuji is typically in NOAH but he is as talented as anyone in New Japan. Marufuji stood out as a top level wrestler in Ring of Honor as one of the more popular Japanese imports during big shows. As history has showed, talents performing at a high level in Ring of Honor during that 2005-2008 time frame are good enough to excel in WWE.
The most underrated talent in New Japan right now is KUSHIDA. Between his accomplishments in the juniors singles and juniors tag divisions, KUSHIDA has established himself as a premiere performer but gets lost in the shuffle of NJPW’s hierarchy. The promotion doesn’t treat the juniors division as credibly as the heavyweights and KUSHIDA has not been booked on the level of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada or Shinsuke Nakamura despite quite frankly showing enough to be elevated there. KUSHIDA would work absolutely perfect in WWE’s system as he appears to be even better in the American wrestling world when getting over at ROH shows during NJPW’s trips.
2 Akira Tozawa
Akira Tozawa is one of the most exciting wrestling talents in the business today with a tremendous personality and great in-ring work. The work of Tozawa is mostly featured in Dragon Gate as one of the promotion’s top stars but American fans love him for his performances in PWG. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla has become an independent wrestling juggernaut over the last couple of years and Tozawa has delivered classic matches against the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Zack Sabre Jr. The style and personality of Tozawa would be tailored made for the NXT environment and give them another star player with the current core ready to get called up to the main roster.
1 Kota Ibushi
One of the hottest wrestling talents in the world right now, who has the right momentum and timing to join WWE, is Kota Ibushi. Many believe Ibushi is the best high-flier in the business and he can surely provide excitement like no other today. The knock used to be that Ibushi was too one-dimensional but he has become a better all-around performer as seen in his classic match against Shinsuke Nakamura in 2015. Ibushi has left NJPW and the strong belief is he’s hoping to be the next signing for NXT. The upcoming WWE Cruiserweight tournament with talents from all over the world seems like the perfect way for Ibushi to debut and become an instant breakout star.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!