Inside Pulse Wrestling Puroresu Year End Awards 2005


With the American Awards being given out, us puroresu people (Kevin Wilson, Gordi Whitelaw, and David Ditch) thought it would only be fair if puroresu got the same treatment (while David Brashear shoots out the lucha version of the awards!). So we put our heads together and made our own picks for the Best of 2005 in Japan!

Best Promotion
Ditch, Kevin, and Gordi – NOAH

Kevin: In order to find the best promotion, you have to look at a number of factors. In 2005, no promotion showed the growth and popularity that NOAH did over their main rivals New Japan, All Japan, and Dragon Gate. NOAH had the hottest event of the year with their successful Dome Show in July and put on consistently entertaining cards from January to December. They have a strong Jr. Heavyweight division headed by KENTA and a solid tag team division. With Kobashi, Akiyama, Taue, and Misawa, NOAH has a strong core of universally respected wrestlers that still can perform in the ring. Finally, NOAH now has a strong group of young wrestlers ready to take NOAH to the next level, and Go Shiosaki is one of the most promising young wrestlers in Japan. Ditch, Gordi, and I are not claiming that NOAH was perfect, Rikio’s title run in 2005 was disappointing and any time the main belt is a question mark it reflects poorly on the entire promotion. But NOAH was strong enough to still put on great cards and increase their fanbase even with a less then popular champion (although who could have easily followed Kobashi?), and they are our pick for best puroresu promotion for 2005.

Best Event
Kevin and Gordi – NOAH Dome Show (7/18)
Ditch – NOAH 11/5

Kevin: You can read my full review of the event here, and what I said back when I reviewed it still holds true. From top to bottom, this is arguably one of the best wrestling cards I have personally ever seen. It had a fantastic junior heavyweight match, a classic heavyweight battle, and a very entertaining tag team title match. Even though Kawada vs. Misawa was not the epic battle some had hoped for, it was still a tough and hard hitting match and it was great seeing those two go at it again. Sasaki vs. Kobashi was one of the top wrestling matches of the year in Japan, and KENTA finally winning the Jr. Heavyweight Championship was a big moment. Between the excitement radiating through-out the arena and the quality matches put on in the ring, NOAH hit a home run in the big dome show in 2005.

Ditch: I haven’t seen the full All Japan 7/26, but I’m confident in going with this pick. Not only does it have my puro match of the year, but it also has a rocking tag title match, an emotional main event, and an entertaining undercard tag. I went in-depth on Taue vs Rikio in one of my recent columns, but to summarize it was good enough not to spoil the crowd’s love of Taue and his big win. Morishima & Yone vs KENTA & Shibata was great action with loads of stiffness and hate topped off by a hot finish. Akiyama & Koshinaka vs Suzuki & Marufuji was quite good for an unhyped midcard tag, featuring a lot of fun spots and some good intensity. Honorable mentions (all NOAH) include the 8/19 Korakuen event (not just because I was there), 12/4 Yokohama (good main event and three good undercard tags), and of course the 7/18 Dome show (something for everyone, huge card, biggest and best Dome crowd in years).

Best Singles Wrestler
Ditch, Kevin, and Gordi – Kensuke Sasaki

Kevin: Even though all three of us agreed on this one, I don’t think it was an easy victory for Sasaki. To be blunt, Sasaki didn’t fare well in his big matches in 2005. He lost to Kobashi at the NOAH Dome Show. He lost to Kojima when he went for the Triple Crown. He lost to Great Muta in the World-1 Tournament. He also was not active in New Japan, his home promotion that would have been the most likely to give him big wins. But if you look beyond the losses, Sasaki had a great year. He helped along Nakajima, and together they had some great tag matches in All Japan and NOAH. Sasaki was able to show a different side when he wrestled in Dragon Gate and worked with the Florida Brothers (read below to find out more about them). Even though he lost to Kobashi, it was an epic battle that many consider the best of the year, and his tag match with Nakajima on 11/5 is also highly praised. His first full year as a freelancer, Sasaki went to All Japan, NOAH, and Dragon Gate and left a strong impression in all three promotions. With his Kensuke Office starting its own shows, look for Sasaki to continue to dominate the field in 2006.

Best Tag Team
Ditch – Sasaki and Nakajima
Kevin – Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiosaki
Gordi – The Florida Brothers

Ditch: My runner-up tandem of Kobashi & Shiozaki was better match for match, but Kensuke Office wins through quantity. Wrestling regularly in numerous promotions and having one good match after another puts them ahead of the pack. They’re able to mix it up thanks to the young/old, junior/heavy dynamic and both of them having varied movesets. Whether it be strike exchanges, move combinations, double-teams or the occasional aerial maneuver, they’re reliably fun on offense. Nakajima makes a good whipping boy and Sasaki is good with the hot tag, vital for the standard tag match structure. I often find that tag matches make Japanese wrestlers leave their worst traits behind, from finisher overkill to poor selling, and this team is great in no small part because they lack big flaws.

Kevin: I have always been a mark for Kobashi, I can’t deny that, but Go Shiosaki thoroughly impressed me for someone his age and every tag match I saw with these two was very entertaining. The “old vet/young grasshopper” matches in general were fun this year and lead to great moments when the young inexperienced wrestler gets the upperhand on the opposing veteran. Kobashi is a great teacher for Shiosaki and they compliment each other nicely. As you can see, all three of us disagreed on this category, which is mainly because there was not one dominating team in 2005. But I don’t think that any team had as many fun and popular matches as Kobashi and Shiosaki did in NOAH.


The Florida Brothers may not, technically, be the best team in Japan, but they are certainly the most ridiculous. They wrestle out of Dragon Gate, which is a very successful Indy promotion that emerged from Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon. The Brothers’ gimmick is that they went to Florida to train after an unsuccessful run in 2003, and returned to Japan completely Americanized. Michael Iwasa and Daniel Mishima have gone the old school route of living their gimmick, to the point where they now speak Japanese with thick “foreign” accents. Although they went through a brief period in 2005 where they wrestled more seriously, their matches usually feature hilarious Los Guerreros-style Lying, Cheating, and Stealing as well as Ebessan-esque self-referential meta-wrestling comedy. The June 2005 matches where they were joined by Florida Express member Ken Skee (an American wrestler who looks a LOT like our 2005 Japanese Wrestler of the Year) rank very highly among the most entertaining matches I’ve ever seen. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, WHOA! S’top! Tha! Myooozick!

Best Match
Kevin and Gordi – Sasaki vs. Kobashi, NOAH Dome Show 7/18
Ditch – Sasaki and Nakajima vs Kobashi and Shiozaki (NOAH, 11/5)


This may have been the most controversial match of the year, in terms of Internet opinion. Everyone agrees that Destiny’s semi-main event had that rare “Big Match Feel” to it. It was one of the last few true dream matches left among the various Japanese stars of the 1990s. No one disputes that the match was very hard-fought, and we were all impressed with the amazing heat that it drew from the Tokyo Dome crowd. A large number of people, however, felt that the Fighting Spirit segment went on far to long, and for them the match felt like little more than an overblown Festival of Hard Chops. I completely disagree, and this why: In the quarter finals of the 1998 G-1 Tournament, Shinya Hashimoto and Genichiro Tenryu had a classic match that consisted almost entirely of the two men chopping each other much harder than is generally considered possible. It was one of the greatest exhibitions of Fighting Sprit in the history of Pro Wrestling. A week before NOAH’s Tokyo Dome show, Hashimoto died suddenly of a massive brain hemorrhage. Sasaki and Kobashi rank with Hashimoto among the greatest exponents of Fighting Spirit in Puroresu. It is extremely likely that both men admired Hashimoto and were saddened by the news of his death. It makes perfect sense that they should have included an extended striking sequence in their match as a tribute to their fallen colleague. I don’t think that the match was great despite the dozens and dozens of chops that were thrown, I think it was great in large part because of that sequence.

Ditch: Simply stellar. Well-paced, great action from bell-to-bell with all four matchups being utilized to the hilt and everyone looking better at the end. Shiozaki and Nakajima are the two best Japanese wrestlers to debut between ’03 and ’05 because they’re not only good at taking a beating but also credible going toe-to-toe with big heavyweights. The crowd’s reactions tell the tale because on paper pre-adult junior-sized Nakajima is no match for the almighty Kobashi yet he gets sold for thanks to his high-end kicks. The Kobashi vs Sasaki sections were a bit tighter than their dome match, and also played off the dome with their initial interaction. A match that I feel will hold up well with time, is universally enjoyable, has some great spots and great fundamentals… the more I think about it the more I’m sure that this is the best thing out of Japan in ’05. Honorable mentions go to Kobashi & Hashi vs Akiyama & Kanemaru on 8/19 that I loved live, the KENTA vs SUWA classic on 9/18, and the badly underrated Ryo Saito vs Milano Collection AT match from Dragon Gate on 1/14. All three of those should also appeal to anyone reading this.

Breakout Star
Kevin and Ditch – Katsuhiko Nakajima
Gordi – Katsuyori Shibata

Kevin: Nakajima was all over the place in Japan during 2005. One of the most successful sub-18 year olds in the history of puroresu, Nakajima is benefiting by being a freelancer under Sasaki. Most wrestlers his age are stuck in dojos or slowly working their way up a card. Nakajima, on the other hand, consistently has matches against the top tier of wrestlers since he teams with Sasaki. True, he usually loses, but not before he gets his shots in. From All Japan to NOAH to Dragon Gate to Zero-One MAX, Nakajima awed the crowd with his strong kicks and beautiful German suplex. Since he is so young, Nakajima still has time to improve, which makes it all the more impressive that he has such a strong fan base already. When he gave Kobashi a picture perfect release German suplex last November, the roof of Tokyo Nippon Budokan was blown off as the crowd roared with excitement. Already a champion (he won the All Asia Tag Team Championship with Sasaki), Nakajima proved that he has what it takes in 2005 and will continue his rise to the top in 2006.

Gordi: Shibata debuted in October, 1999, and despite never having won a title or a tournament, he was on the receiving end of a giant push in 2004 as a successful MMA fighter and one of New Japan’s top young lions. He might, therefore, seem a strange choice as my 2005 Breakout Star of the Year. I would guess that Shibata already broke out for a number of people last year, but I never really got into him until he left New Japan. Whether the jump was real or worked, after reportedly clashing with management and subsequently jumping to BIG MOUTH LOUD, Shibata really seemed to come to life as an arrogant, dangerous, unpredictable heel. BIG MOUTH LOUD is a New Japan splinter promotion, so it’s likely that Shibata will end up back with Shin Nihon in the future, but in the meantime he has been growing as a worker while fighting for various other promotions including WRESTLE-1, Riki Pro, and Pro Wrestling NOAH. Frankly, it was seeing him beat the crap out of Mitsuharu Misawa live in Yokohama that made me see the light. Shibata is the angriest and fiercest young bad-ass wrestling in Japan today.

Biggest Storyline
Ditch – Choshu takes over New Japan
Kevin – Inoki sells New Japan shares to Yukes
Gordi – Satoshi Kojima becomes the first ever Quadruple Crown Champion by beating his former tag team partner Tenzan on February 17, 2005, after beating Kawada the day before to take the Triple Crown.

Ditch: Choshu taking over New Japan is not the biggest storyline in terms of drawing value or for producing great matches, but rather as a symbol of New Japan’s changing fortunes. Choshu-ism is in many ways ‘realism’, with fewer big names brought in and fewer big shows so that the money stops bleeding out. A focus on putting over New Japan’s ‘home’ talent instead of Inoki pet projects. In general a return to solid pro-wrestling, the kind that New Japan was able to do when unburdened by politics and the kind that got NOAH to number one. Honorable mentions go to the jump of the freelancers (Sasaki/Suzuki/Tenryu) to NOAH from New Japan, due to how important that was in NOAH’s quality and drawing ability.

Kevin: Since he created New Japan in 1972, Inoki has always been a major influence on the promotion. After he retired from the ring, he continued having control in the back and directed New Japan. While many of his decisions were questionable (most blame him for the use of MMA wrestlers and New Japan wrestlers getting beaten in MMA fights), he always has bleed New Japan and fought for its success. When the announcement was made on November 13th that Yukes was buying out Inoki and would have majority control of New Japan, people were shocked. Even though Simon Inoki (Antonio Inoki’s son-in-law) is still the president, for the first time Antonio Inoki himself no longer had control of the promotion that he had created. Problems immediately rose, as the Inoki Office (which Inoki also was losing control of) pulled Fujita from his title match at the January Dome Show. While no one knows for sure what Inoki’s future holds in New Japan, we do know that his decision-making days are over for the time being, and that New Japan will be a very different promotion in 2006.

Gordi: Kojima beat his former tag team partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan for the IWGP title on February 17, 2005, after beating the legendary Toshiaki Kawada the day before to take the Triple Crown. In so doing, he became the first man in history to simultaneously hold the World Heavyweight Titles for both New Japan and All Japan. I don’t know if Kojima was the best possible choice for this amazing honor, and I don’t believe that the booking of this storyline was anywhere near as good as it could have been. That being said, in kayfabe terms this has to be seen as the most amazing achievement in the history of Japanese wrestling. From a personal perspective, it feels like a much bigger deal than Jericho winning the first ever Undisputed Heavyweight Championship in North America, if for no other reason than the mind-numbing politics that must have been involved in setting up Kojima’s match with Tenzan. Following Kojima’s journey was one of my greatest pleasures as a Puroresu fan this past year.

Biggest Surprise
Ditch – Kawada’s involvement with NOAH
Kevin – Brock winning the IWGP
Gordi – Kawada agrees to wrestle Misawa one more time

Ditch: Though there had been hints, the sense was that with Kawada having wrestled everywhere except NOAH that Kawada and/or Misawa were unwilling to work together. Their (final?) match was the big draw for the dome show, and sadly it isn’t being followed up on because PRIDE won’t let Kawada wrestle outside of its control. Honorable mentions for the IWGP vs Triple Crown match and Taue’s GHC win.

Kevin: When I say this is the biggest surprise, I don’t mean after the match was announced, but in the months prior to it happening no one thought Brock Lesnar would be in Japan. As recently as the summer of 2005, WWE mentioned Brock on their website and strongly hinted that he would be returning soon to the ring for them. New Japan scored a coup when they got Brock signed first and the court battles between WWE, New Japan, and Brock are still on-going. Now New Japan has the big foreigner they have always enjoyed having (Vader and Norton are classic examples), but as of 1/5/06 it is still unclear how active the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion will be in Japan.

Gordi: I never dared to hope that Misawa and Kawada might meet in the ring again. I marked out like a little girl when I heard that they would. Even though the actual match ended up being overshadowed by Kobashi vs. Sasaki in my opinion, the joy I felt on hearing that the Greatest Rivalry of All Time was being resumed was more than enough to make this my Surprise of the Year.

Biggest Disappointment
Ditch – Rikio’s GHC title reign
Kevin – The crumbling of All Japan
Gordi – Kawada leaves All Japan

Ditch: He was supposed to be a golden boy, but wound up in one disappointing match after another. Not only was every match but the Taue title change forgettable or overtly bad, but even non-title matches he had were heatless and dull. Rikio had maybe his worst full year to date when it should have been his best. Dishonorable mention for Fujita’s title win and Kawada being held out of NOAH and New Japan by PRIDE.

Kevin: Mine ties in a little with Gordi’s answer below, so I will just mention the aspects that don’t deal with Kawada (even though him leaving All Japan was a big piece of the problem All Japan now has). After building up Giant Bernard and Jamal for most of 2005, it was a huge blow to lose both of them in December. Combine that with Akebono no longer touring, and there are really no wrestlers that are legitimate contenders for Kojima’s Triple Crown. Now it also seems that Team 3-D, who were heavily pushed in the fall of 2005, might not make many more tours either. Mutoh is going to have to elevate wrestlers quickly or sign new wrestlers soon otherwise All Japan is in serious trouble.

Gordi: After years of near-worshipful devotion to my collection of 1990s All Japan Matches, I finally got to see some live AJPW action this year, at the finals of the Real World tag Team Tournament in Tokyo. Sadly, there was not a single match on the entire card that I would rank as anywhere above average in terms of in-ring action. By staying with All Japan after the Great NOAH Exodus, Kawada essentially kept the promotion alive. With him on the cards, there was a virtual guarantee that at least one match would be great. This is no longer the case. My favorite wrestling promotion of the 1990s is now, under the control of Keiji Mutoh, pretty much devolving into Japan’s home for Sports Entertainment.

Best Foreigner
Kevin and Gordi – Jamal
Ditch – Alex Shelley

Kevin: There really were not many strong foreigners in Japan this year, mainly for the reasons that Ditch lists below. But Jamal, in All Japan, worked his way up the card and even had a Triple Crown title shot in 2005. He also reached the finals of the Champions Carnival and was a big part of RO&D. He won gold as well, and held the All Japan Tag Team Championship for a good percentage of the year. Maybe he was a little too good, as Vince snatched him back up and he is expected to return soon to WWE.

Ditch: Though I respect Jamal, I can’t pick what I haven’t seen. My pick is Alex Shelley, who demonstrated just how great he can be in Zero-One where numerous other indy stars like CM Punk couldn’t make the transition well. Low Ki didn’t do much, Scott Norton was hardly there for the second half of the year, and Danielson wasn’t in Japan at all, so this year’s field was pretty poor. I won’t begin to fathom why anyone thinks Lesnar deserves this.