The land of the rising sun has always been synonymous with great professional wrestling action. The country of Japan has undoubtedly produced some of the best athletes and entertainers the sport has ever seen. So, listing such a talented group of individuals in a numerical way really isn’t fair, as almost all fifty of the Japanese stars you’ll find within could be interchanged with one another (depending on who you ask). I tried to be as neutral and unbiased as possible when choosing which names went where, as my own personal list would probably look vastly different from this one. With that said, I approached putting this list together with almost every facet of each person’s accomplishments, transcendence power, character, skills, talents, cultural status, and over-all popularity in mind. So, without further ado, here’s a ranked list of the fifty greatest Japanese wrestlers of all time!
#50 / MASAYOSHI MOTEGI
As a staple of Big Japan Pro Wrestling, IWA Japan, W*ING, and several independent promotions, this hardcore wrestler was no stranger to great success in his prime. Most recognizable for his run as W*ING Junior Heavyweight Champion in the early nineties, Motegi would defend the championship in Japan and across the pond, in Eastern Championship Wrestling. He would tour the United States with the Headhunters and gain world-wide popularity very early in his career. A testament to his talent would be proved through an appearance in the 1995 Super J-Cup, collecting the greatest junior talents in the world at the time. Not to mention, he also innovated the Rolling German Suplex!
#49 / SUPER DELFIN
For helping to popularize the comedic style of professional wrestling in Japan at the same time being establishing himself as one of the top junior heavyweights in the world, Super Delfin easily makes this top fifty. After a brief start in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Delfin would make his way to Mexico to hone his craft and become more familiar with styles beyond strong style Puroresu. There, he would gain measurable fame, and by the time the first-ever Super J-Cup rolled around in 1994, Delfin was a top choice to compete in the tournament. Super Delfin would be a star in CMLL, Michinoku Pro, and even Toryumon Mexico. In 1998, Super Delfin would establish a comedy-based, regional independent promotion, Osaka Pro Wrestling, with great success. The company runs today, hold shows for a devoted legion of fans world-wide. Super Delfin continues to blaze trails inside and outside of the ring, moving on from Osaka Pro and establishing his newest promotion, Kaisen Puroresu (Seafood Pro Wrestling), a company with exclusively seafood-related characters!
#48 / HIROOKI GOTO
Developing himself as a NJPW mainstay for the past ten-plus years, Hirooki Goto is no stranger to success in the business he loves. Goto is only one of a handful of Puroresu stars that has been able to transition from a successful junior heavyweight wrestler to a successful heavyweight wrestler within the ranks of New Japan. He is a two-time World Tag League winner, with two different partners, a one-time junior tag team champion, a one-time heavyweight champion, a one-time G1 Climax winner, a one-time Young Lion Cup winner, and a two-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion… And that’s just in Japan. He also competed in the United States-based, Total Nonstop Action promotion and fought in the World X Cup as a part of team Japan. Though his team would be defeated, Goto would gain a small following in America. Goto would briefly wrestle in Mexico, where he would transition from a junior heavyweight to a heavyweight contender. His travels would lead him back to Japan where he continues to thrive and put together a lasting legacy of great skill, discipline, and heart.
#47 / MR. GANNOSUKE
Helping to further deepen the legitimate wrestling talent in Atsushi Onita’s Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling promotion, Mr. Gannosuke was having classic battles with many stars across the nineties. After a healthy run in FMW, Gannosuke and a handful of other FMW staples would jump ship to the ultra-violent regional promotion, IWA Japan. Moderate success would bring Mr. Gannosuke and his mentor-turned-partner, Tarzan Goto, the IWA World Tag Team Championship and the NWA World Tag Team Championship. Gannosuke would see his most successful years with FMW in a second and final run there, where his legendary feuds with Mr. Pogo, Masato Tanaka, Ricky Fuji, Tiger Jeet Singh, Cactus Jack, Tracy Smothers, The Gladiator, The Great Sasuke, and most famously Hayabusa, would unfold. He would even go so far as to challenge Hayabusa for the brief use of his mask and name, and beat him to become Hayabusa II! Gannosuke was a staple of FMW at a time when many, many eyes were on the promotion and he rightfully deserved his spot towards the main events with he sense of storytelling and audience reactions. Synonymous with Hayabusa and the company they helped put on the map, winning all of FMW’s championships at least once, and his dedication to the current revival of the company all solidify Mr. Gannosuke’s place on this list.
#46 / HIROYOSHI TENZAN
First working with New Japan Pro Wrestling during the early nineties, Hiroyoshi Tenzan would become famous around the world in a few short years. He’d win the Young Lions Cup in 1993, and head to Europe for almost two years to hone his craft and expand his horizons. By the mid nineties, Tenzan would reach world-wide television with his run in World Championship Wrestling as a part of nWo Japan, challenging the likes of Randy “Macho Man” Savage and others that opposed the New World Order. As the innovator of the Anaconda Cross, Anaconda Vise, Anaconda Buster, Mountain Bomb, and Buffalo Buster maneuvers and submissions, Tenzan is nothing short of a professional wrestling trailblazer. He fought them all and tagged with even more. In fact he and Satoshi Kojima are known as the only tag team in history to win the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League in All Japan Pro Wrestling and the G1 Tag League in New Japan Pro Wrestling! He’s a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a record eleven-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, a three-time G1 Climax winner, a three-time G1 Tag League winner, one-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and one-time NWA World Tag Team Champion… and the list really goes on and on. The guy is still a big-time star for New Japan today and his accomplishments, accolades, and innovations speak for themselves.
#45 / THE GREAT KABUKI
Widely known as the first professional wrestler to utilize the Asian Mist, The Great Kabuki paved the way, over the course of three decades, for Japanese professional wrestlers to make a unique splash in the United States. After feuding with stars like Jimmy Valiant, Abdullah the Butcher, Dusty Rhodes, “Gentleman” Chris Adams, Genichiro Tenryu, Bruiser Brody, and the Fabulous Freebirds, The Great Kabuki quickly established himself as a great and icon ‘evil foreigner’ character. By 1994, Kabuki would even earn himself a spot in the WWF Royal Rumble match. Kabuki spent most of his notable career stateside, for World Class Championship Wrestling, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and many branches of the Nation Wrestling Alliance. Co-founding IWA Japan, being well-known for his devastating application of the Martial Arts in pro wrestling, and carrying the mystique of a mysterious legend are all things The Great Kabuki can lay claim to. Championships, feuds, and mist aside, The Great Kabuki was the quintessential bad guy and that’s something that transcended any language barrier!
#44 / KOTA IBUSHI
As perhaps the youngest Puroresu star on this list, former karate champion Kota Ibushi has accomplished what many can only dream of. Starting out in the smaller Japanese promotion of Dramatic Dream Team in 2004, Ibushi quickly made a name for himself as one of the most athletically inclined professional wrestlers in the world. Ibushi would bounce around for a few years before travelling across seas to briefly compete for Ring Of Honor in 2008, tangling with such talents as Davey Richards, Claudio Castagnoli, Austin Aries, and The Briscoe Brothers! He’d also reach Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Chikara, and Evolve before heading back to brighter horizons in his home land. His big break would come through his work with New Japan Pro Wrestling by 2009 up until today. Ibushi has put on countless five-star matches with talents young and old, foreign and domestic. The “Golden Star” is able to pull off moves most mortal men wouldn’t dare try. With just over ten years in the business, Kota Ibushi is rather well-decorated with a championship list a mile long. Among the distinctions, a three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, one-time Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, Best of the Super Juniors in 2011, New Japan Cup winner in 2015, one-time IMGP World Heavyweight Champion, three-time Ironman Heavymetalweight Champion and on, and on, and on… Look, point is, keep an eye on Kota Ibushi. In a few more short years, I’d be willing to bet he ranks eons ahead of number forty-four on the greatest of all time!
#43 / GRAN HAMADA
Beginning his career as one of the first New Japan Dojo trainees, Gran Hamada would have his work truly cut out for him, as his size greatly held him back. As a young upstart in Japan during the early 1970s, Hamada would flounder due to his lack of size, nearly giving up on a business he dreamed to be a large part of. Deciding that the only way he’d be able to make it as a pro wrestler was if he changed his style to fit his size, Hamada would make the pilgrimage to Mexico, where he knew that true talent always levied more than mass. Realistically, he’d become known as the first Japanese wrestler to fully adopt the high-flying Mexican Lucha Libre style and bring it back to Japan to great success. Mexican fans and promoters would adopt Hamada, giving him the nickname of ‘Gran’ (great) early on in his career, as a show of their deep respect for the performer he was becoming. By the time he left Mexico, he had reached a legendary pinnacle in the foreign country. His successes would carry him through a career that carved out spots in All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michinoku Pro, Universal Lucha Libre, Extreme Championship Wrestling, and even the World Wrestling Federation! Hamada paved the way for individuals like Ultimo Dragon, Jushin Liger, and Hayabusa who all fell into the Japanese-Mexican hybrid style Hamada built the blueprints for.
#42 / NAOMICHI MARUFUJI
After training under Satoru Sayama in his Super Tiger Gym, he’d quickly establish himself in the very respectable Pro Wrestling NOAH. Shortly after, as arguably one of Pro Wrestling NOAH’s most famous stars, Naomichi Marufuji would become no stranger to greatness. He’d venture occasionally to Ring of Honor, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, making him a well-traveled, rounded, and versatile talent. To say he could strike, grapple, and trade submissions with the best of them would be a drastic understatement! It should be noted that Naomichi Marufuji is the only professional wrestler ever to win Junior Heavyweight Championships in all three major Japanese Promotions. By 2006, Marufuji would become the first wrestler to win all five Global Honored Crown titles in NOAH and became the lightest GHC Heavyweight Champion of all time, a feat not to be taken in stride. Three years later, Marufuji would be appointed as NOAH’s vice president, alongside Kenta Kobashi, in the wake of Mitsuhara Misawa’s death. Taking over for a man like Misawa would prove to be a huge undertaking, but Naomichi Marufuji would make that happen and then some. Otherwise, he’d make major waves in New Japan, becoming a one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and a back-to-back Super J-Cup winner in 2004 and 2009. Working great programs with Bryan Danielson, Samoa Joe, KENTA, and Nigel McGuinness in America, becoming a decorated champion around the world, and forging one of the greatest Japanese wrestling careers of all time rightfully places Marufuji on this list!
#41 / BULL NAKANO
Bull Nakano is one of Japan’s most iconic professional wrestlers of all time, gender aside. Nakano epitomized Japanese toughness in the ring, and was a feared competitor for over a decade. Beginning her career at the tender age of fifteen, Nakano would first make her mark in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling. In 1985, two years after her debut, she would win the All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Championship, which she would hold for the next three years! After experiencing great success in Japan early on in her career, Nakano would make the jump to North American and her stock and skill would skyrocket. She’d briefly wrestle for the WWF before heading to Mexico where she would be twelve other women to become Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre’s first World Women’s Champion! After a successful stint in Mexico, Bull Nakano returned to the World Wrestling Federation by 1994. She would work a lengthy and memorable program with Alundra Blayze for the World Wrestling Federation Women’s Championship, only further cementing her legacy as a world-traveled performer. Finally, Nakano would end her career in World Championship Wrestling against long-time rival, Madusa (Blayze), by 1997. With a look that was instantly recognizable around the world, a style that was just as rough and tough as the men’s, and an ability to create a buzz around championship matches, Bull Nakano gracefully takes her place on the list of the greatest ever!
#40 / YOSHIHIRO TAJIRI
Heralded as “The Japanese Buzzsaw”, Yoshihiro Tajiri quickly became one of the most famous Japanese wrestlers in the world, not just for his work in Japan, but for his work in American promotions like Extreme Championship Wrestling and the WWE! Over the course of his long and prosperous career, he has worked for nearly every notable promotion on the planet within the last thirty years. In that time, he has won several notable championships, started promotions (including SMASH and Wrestling New Classic), and had a hand in training many stars in both Japan and the United States. Among those championships include the Big Japan Pro Wrestling Junior Heavyweight Championship, Combat Zone Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre World Light Heavyweight Championship, Extreme Championship Wrestling World Television and Tag Championships, and several tag and cruiserwieght championships within the WWF/WWE. With a signature snap and quickness in his offense tied with pinpoint accuracy and deadly intent, Taijiri is easily one of the most iconic and recognizable Japanese wrestlers active today.
#39 / GRAN NANIWA
Perhaps underrated by most casual Puroresu fans, the “Great Crab” Gran Naniwa was once a highly regarded and one of the most popular talents in Japan. He first rose to great popularity in the original promotion he worked for, Michinoku Pro Wrestling. Due to the exposure in Michinoku pro, and how the public enjoyed his highly comedic style (much different for the time, as comedy wrestling in Japan wasn’t yet very popularized), he was asked to be a part of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s second installment of the Super J-Cup tournament. This huge honor wouldn’t be wasted, as Naniwa only further increased his popularity and stature in the Puroresu community. Following his Super J-Cup appearance, Naniwa would be granted a few United States excursions with Extreme Championship Wrestling. He was also a vital part in the starting of Osaka Pro Wrestling, when he, Super Delfin, and several other established Michinoku Pro talents were part of a mass exodus. Before his untimely death in 2010, Naniwa became one of the most loved characters in Japan, paving the way for comedy wrestlers in Japan as well as stateside for years to come.
#38 / SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Reaching pop culture icon status in Japan is no easy feat, due to the fast-paced lifestyle. In Japan, Shinsuke Nakamura is a pop culture icon. Nakamura has been widely regarded as one of the most charismatic and well-skilled wrestlers in the world, known for his over-the-top mannerisms and deadly striking. Experiencing his greatest successes in New Japan Pro Wrestling led Shinuske to transcend the land of the rising sun. He would make frequent visits to Ring Of Honor wrestling, featured as one of Japan’s greatest talents. He has tried his hand in Mixed Martial Arts and even been featured in music videos… And as a multiple IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, G1 Climax and G1 Tag League Winner, and even a New Japan Cup Winner, Nakamura reached the highest of levels within the Japanese wrestling community. As such, in 2015, Nakamura made the jump to the United States, where he now holds WWE Championship gold, the NXT Championship! In a relatively short amount of time, Nakamura has established one of the greatest Japanese Wrestling careers of all time.
#37 / HIRO MATSUDA
Debuting in 1957, Matsuda was an originator. Though most causal wrestling fans my not directly recognize this name, they should. Hiro Matsuda had a large hand in training some of the most popular and well-known wrestlers in the world. Stars like Hulk Hogan, Keiji Mutoh, Paul Orndorff, Scott Hall, Lex Luger, Ron Simmons, and Bob Orton Jr., are all direct students of this feared and legendary Japanese wrestler. Hiro Matsuda was a trainee of Rikidozan, Japan’s most respected wrestler of old, and Karl Gotch, one of the greatest catch-style wrestlers of all time. With such a trainer, Matsuda himself became a well-respected professional trainer. So much so, that early on, he formed a very close friendship with Antonio Inoki (who would later become on of Japan’s most beloved wrestling athletes). Making his name in the United States, primarily with the Nation Wrestling Alliance’s Florida promotion, he won several championships including the NWA Southern Heavyweight, Junior Heavyweight, and Tag Team titles. Matsuda would pass in 1999, leaving a legacy of greatness behind.
#36 / SHINJIRO OTANI
The junior heavyweight division of professional wrestling was a tough, extremely competitive, and rapidly advancing division in the early nineties. Carving out a path all your own and being set apart in such a division was a very difficult feat, one which Shinjiro Otani was able to complete. As a rising star for New Japan Pro Wrestling at a time where the United States was calling upon their ranks for talent, Otani was granted a great opportunity through his skill. After only four years as a pro, Shinjiro Otani would be crowned the first World Championship Wrestling World Cruiserweight Champion, defeating “Wild Pegasus” Chis Benoit in the tournament finals in 1996. Through his career, he’d win the coveted J-Crown distinction as well as becoming one half of the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions! Following his time in New Japan and WCW, Otani would join in the co-founding of Pro Wrestling ZERO1 in Japan to much success. He is a mutli-time champion including several IWGP, NWA, ZERO1 championship accomplishments. Otani has gone down as one of the most important and influential junior heavyweight wrestlers of all time.
#35 / HIROSHI HASE
Before his fruitful political career, Hiroshi Hase was lighting up professional wrestling canvases for the better part of twenty years. Two years before starting his professional wrestling career, Hase represented Japan proud and finished ninth in the Greco-Roman wrestling tournament of the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. Trained by the equally legendary Riki Choshu and Stu Hart, Hase had a promising career in front of him from the outset. While in Stampede Wrestling, he would capture his first taste of gold in the Stampede International Tag Team Championship shortly after his debut with the promotion. He would venture back to Japan, to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he would quickly capture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship twice. Hiroshi Hase would then venture to the then Soviet Union to be trained in Sambo, which would further round out his signature wrestling move set (including the innovated Northern Lights Suplex). After moving through the junior ranks, Hase would find himself in the elite group of wrestlers that were able to successfully graduate from the junior ranks to the heavyweight class. He’d work most of his career in New Japan, have classic battles and encounters with some of the greatest Puroresu stars of the 1990’s. After working briefly for All Japan Pro Wrestling, Hiroshi Hase would retire a former multiple time IWGP Junior Heavyweight and Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, and Hall Of Famer (Stampede Wrestling and Wrestling Observer Newsletter)!
#34 / MASATO TANAKA
Whether you know him from Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling or Extreme Championship Wrestling, “Dangan” Masato Tanaka is a man worthy of respect and recognition. Trained by the deadly and respected Atsushi Onita, Tanaka quickly moved up FMW cards following his debut in 1993. Earning his place in FMW through death matches and battles with barbed-wire, Masato Tanaka would also earn his nickname of “Dangan” or “Bullet” for his explosiveness, speed, and power. His hardcore hybrid style would see Tanaka innovate several moves, including his signature Dangan Bomb, Diamond Dust, and Shotgun Stunner. It would be his style that would attract American audiences, leading Masato Tanaka to Extreme Championship Wrestling, where he’d see even more success, feuding, tagging, and meshing flawlessly into the land of extreme. Through his long and prosperous career, Tanaka continues to steam on today as a stable of the Puroresu scene in Japan. For winning almost all offered championships in Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, capturing the Extreme Championship Wrestling World Heavyweight and Tag Team Championships, fighting with more heart than fear, and innovating a violent arsenal of moves, Masato Tanaka lands on the list of the greatest ever.
#33 / TIGER MASK IV
With a gimmick as honored as the Tiger Mask one is and knowing who has donned it before you, living up to its prestige is not something to take lightly. Yoshihiro Yamazaki understood this, and accepted anyway. Since then, he has become one of the most talented, respected, and decorated Puroresu stars still active today. Wearing the mask since 1995 makes him the longest reigning Tiger Mask of all time, even longer than the original! With training from the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, and The Great Sasuke, Yamazaki formulated the perfect Puroresu-Lucha Libre blend. Debuting in Michinoku Pro and winning an established championship within his first three months quickly established Tiger Mask IV as a highlight in the promotion. With Michinoku Pro, he’d win many championship accolades before ascending to a larger promotion. After a few short years, Tiger Mask would make the jump to New Japan where he would immediately become on of the promotion’s greatest Junior Heavyweights. He’d go on to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship six times, the Best of The Super Juniors tournament winner twice, an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, and even the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship twice. He is well known in Japan, Mexico, and the United States and has had legendary matches in each of the three countries. With a long and honored career behind him, any future Tiger Mask is going to have a tall order to fill… Tiger Mask IV has truly set the bar of talent, respect, and skill it takes to don the mask!
#32 / KAZUSHI SAKURABA
Kazushi Sakuraba is arguably the most accomplished wrestler on this list. His a legit MMA legend, Puroresu staple, and at nearly fifty years old and still active, one of the most well-conditioned Japanese athletes of all time. He was the first of only two Japanese Mixed Martial-Artist champions ever to compete in the UFC. In MMA, he lives under the nickname of “The Gracie Killer”, as he has defeated four of the famed Gracie family. In fact, Sakuraba was the first man to ever defeat Royce Gracie in MMA history. He has countless accolades in MMA, including several tournament wins, PRIDE titles, and UFC distinctions. Transitioning into the Puroresu community was a natural fit and Sakuraba thrived in several MMA-Puro hybrid promotions before joining New Japan Pro Wrestling. Being a part of several high-profile matches and teams has cemented his legacy in the sport and Sakuraba remains to be one of the greatest ever… And most legit Puroresu competitors of all time. Easily.
#31 / KOJI KANEMOTO
Establishing a strong basis in Judo before being recruited by the New Japan Dojo, Koji Kanemoto started his Puroresu career ahead of the curve… And in 1992, just two years after his debut match, he’d don the Tiger Mask gimmick as the third incarnation of the beloved and legendary character. As Tiger Mask III, Kanemoto would carve out one of the best and most iconic mat-based and striking games in the industry. Following a successful stint as Tiger Mask, Koji would wrestle under his own name to reach even further success, squaring off with some of the most elite junior heavyweight wrestles in the world on a regular basis. It was around this time that he’d become the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion to defend the championship in the United States. Over the course of the last thirty years, Koji Kanemoto has built his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential Puroresu stars of all time. As the innovator of the Koji Klutch, winner of several titles across nearly every notable promotion in Japan (including becoming IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion fives times), wrestling the world over (including the USA, Mexico, Japan, and many parts of Asia), and lighting up the wrestling scene in during his peak in the early two-thousands, Koji Kanemoto secures his spot as number thirty-one on this list. He also happens to be one of my personal favorites!
#30 MANAMI TOYOTA
Our second women on this list made her professional debut at the age of just sixteen in 1987. Manami Toyota first cut her teeth in tag team competition with Mima Shimoda as one half of the Tokyo Sweethearts for All Japan’s Women Pro-Wrestling. After a quick two years, she would battle her way the the All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling Championship and set herself apart from all other women in the promotion for her dramatic and impact fueled in-ring style. In fact, Toyota was directly responsible for some of the most innovative aerial maneuvers and grapple offense in all of Japanese wrestling, including creating such jaw-dropping moves as the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, the deadly Victory Star Drop, and being able to jump effortlessly (and with no hands) to the top round and out to the floor… Seriously, look some of those up. As she became one of the Joshi community’s hottest commodities through the early and nineties, even earning an astounding seventeen five-star matches between 1991 and 1995 as rated by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Manami Toyota would transcend regular popularity as a Joshi Puroresu star and be recognized as a true legend. After receiving Legacy Awards, and even a Hall Of Fame induction on behalf of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, making her mark in every established Joshi promotion during her prime, and even crossing the borders to the United States (for Chikara), Manami Toyota is a women of the ring and Japanese legend you should know and love.
#29 / SATOSHI KOJIMA
Strap yourselves in, as Satoshi Kojima has a how list of reasons why he made the top thirty of this list. Firstly, and perhaps most impressively, Kojimi was the first man (of a very select few since) that actively held both New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship and All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Triple Crown Championship. Second, he is one of only three men in the history of the sport to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the Triple Crown Championship, and the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship in his career! And his team work? Well, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan became the first team to win both New Japan’s G1 Tag League Tournament and All Japan’s World’s Strongest Tag Determination League in the same year! Between the three promotions (NWA, NJPW, and AJPW), Kojima has held an astounding seventeen championships. Satoshi Kojima, who was trained by the incomparable Stan Hansen and New Japan Dojo, truly embodies the definition of strong style spirit and continues to let that fire lead him today, as he is still an active Puroresu star in Jew Japan Pro Wrestling at the age of forty-six. Perhaps most known for taking charge of his career, delivering some of the most precise ring work in the business, and becoming successfully decorated to the highest degree in both tag team and singles competition, this list just would not be complete without “Strong Arm” Satoshi Kojima.
#28 / JUN AKIYAMA
Starting first as a Judo student and freestyle amateur wrestler came with their advantages. especially for Jun Akiyama. So much so, that he’d make his debut against the fabled Kenta Kobashi in 1992. After slowly ascending the ranks in All Japan Pro Wrestling, he’d quickly find himself thriving in the tag team division of the company alongside his original partner, Takao Omori. Akiyama would later seek out the partnership of his very first opponent, Kenta Kobashi. The two, making up the team ‘Burning’, would go on to win the All Japan’s World’s Tag Determination League Tournament back-to-back in 1998 and 1999. After earning himself a master status among the All Japan ranks, Jun Akiyama would join his friend Kobashi in an exodus from the company to form the new Pro Wrestling NOAH promotion in 2000. Over the years he’d stay with NOAH, he’d capture the Global Honored Crown Heavyweight Championship three times, Global Honored Crown Tag Team Championship three times, and the Global Tag League distinction in 2011! Akiyama would wind his way back to All Japan in 2013, quickly winning the title that alluded him during his first run with the company, the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (twice). Jun Akiyama is also an in-ring innovator, as he is responsible for Blue Thunder Driver and Exploder ’98 (and in all fairness, he was the man to really popularize the Exploder Suplex in general). So, as a multi-time tag team champion across two of Japan’s top promotions, veteran, the current president and co-booker of All Japan Pro Wrestling, and another Japanese innovator, Jun Akiyama is a man more than worthy of a greatest ever nod!
#27 / HAYABUSA
After a rough start in Japan on the independent scene, a young Eiji Ezaki headed to the promise land of Lucha Libre, Mexico. It was in Mexico when Hayabusa’s legacy truly began, as he further learned under the tutelage of Rey Mysterio, Sr. to become “The Flying Assassin”. Touring all the major Mexican promotions would eventually gain Hayabusa a moderate level of fame, so when he decided to return to his homeland, he’d be one of the hottest new talents on the scene. To round out his aerial arsenal, he’d accept further training from Ultimo Dragon, a staple of Puroresu at the time. Will all the skill and truly beautiful aerial work down pact, Hayabusa would head to Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. Hayabusa would stay completely loyal to FMW, even declining such offers from New Japan Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation, and World Championship Wrestling! Over the course of nearly ten years, Haybusa would earn mainstream notoriety for being one of the best wrestlers in the world, even while staying in the relatively small promotion that FMW was. He’d go on to win all the promotions titles at least once and have legendary and outrageously dangerous bouts with the likes of Atsushi Onita, The Gladiator, and Mr. Gannosuke that would further revolutionize the sport and bring a real sense of athleticism to Japanese deathmatches. Eventually, Haybusa would become a cultural icon. He’d be featured in films, music videos, video games both in Japan and America. Unfortunately, by 2001, Hayabusa would make international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Hayabusa would be forced to retire after a career ending injury. In retirement, he’d release three solo singing albums, do some acting, and aid in the revival of his beloved Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling as an executive. Hayabusa became famous due to innovated moves like the Falcon Arrow and Phoenix Splash, two moves which are still used by stars near and far today (not nearly as well, of course). For all his contributions to Puroresu and for inspiring a whole legion of wrestlers that would follow over the years, Hayabusa lands at number twenty-five on this list.
#26 / LIONESS ASUKA
Debuting in 1980, Lioness Asuka was an instant success. In All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, she’d quickly capture the All Japan Women’s Junior Championship in a year and the All Japan Women’s Singles Championship the year after. After a very successful singles run, Asuka would team up with Chigusa Nagayo to form the Crush Girls. The Crush Girls would go on to become a huge mainstream attraction for AJW in the mid eighties. In fact, the team was so wildly popular, their appearances on mainstream television in Japan would constantly bring in ratings over twelve for the programming and even lead the team to record top ten singles! After a legendary run, the two would split and feud for a few years over the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship (one of the oldest titles in Japan, dated back to 1937) which Lioness Asuka would capture by 1989. After twenty-five years in the business, nagging injuries would force Lioness Asuka into retirement. Although by then, she had won over ten different championships across several companies, innovated the Towerhacker Bomb, and been inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame. The Crush Girls are widely considered to be the most successful female tag team of all time, and Lioness Asuka was a very large part of that.
#25 / MASAHIRO CHONO
Masahiro Chono is easily one of the most recognizable names on our list for even the slightest Puroresu fan. Chono spent the better part of thirty years building a career around being one of the best heavyweight wrestlers of all time. He is a former member of the nWo and made several notable appearances for World Championship Wrestling. He is also a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, as Chono spent most of his career competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling. But, far before that, Chono was trained by the best of the best in Stu Hart, Lou Thez, and Antonio Inoki. This start-studded training staff would lead Chono to win the Young Lions Cup shortly after his debut. Following this win, he’d wrestling across Europe, America, Canada, and Puerto Rico to further establish his skills. By 1990, Chono would win the IWGP Tag Team Championship alongside his debut opponent, Keiji Mutoh! One year later, he’d square off with Mutoh and defeat him to become the first winner of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament. In 1992, Masahiro Chono would win the G1 Climax and NWA World Heavyweight Championship simultaneously, and throughout his career, Chono would win the G1 three more times after that! Masahiro Chono has also won the IWGP Tag Team Championship a record seven times with two different partners, the Super Grade Tag Team tournament twice, and the G1 Tag League tournament once. He has also been a booker and adviser for both New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as All Japan Pro Wrestling and Inoki Genome Federation. To top it off, Masa also resides in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. Chono is also responsible for innovating several moves including multiple variations of the STF, the FTS, and STS. Chono is one of Japan’s greatest exports and has been widely considered to be one of the greatest Puroresu stars of Japan.
SO, THAT DOES IT FOR THE FIRST PORTION OF MY LIST!
STAY TUNED TO WRESTLING RECAPS AND LOOK OUT FOR PART TWO OF THE FIFTY GREATEST JAPANESE WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME!
What do you guys think of the list thus far? What would you change? Who do you think will be number one? Let me know by taking the discussion to the comments below, or check out Wrestling Recaps on Twitter and Facebook. It has been a tough choice thus far, and with the top twenty-five names around the corner, I’m sure the choices are going to become even harder!
And as always, thanks for reading.