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    Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Cafe Puro (12/21/15): The Other MVPs of Wrestle Kingdom

    An advanced Merry Christmas to you guys! This week, we will continue our look on Wrestle Kingdom, and this time, we will focus on the guys that have benefitted from being key players of the event over the years. MVPs, so to speak (and not the Montel kind).

    It is easy to say that these guys, in some form or another, have improved their career stock even more because of their involvement in the January tradition. And it shows even after the event itself, when they are booked well during the rest of the year.

    Here's the catch: we will not focus on the usual suspects, and by that, we mean Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Okada. There is no question that they are the prime faces of the company and bonafide main event players. As such, their main spot at Wrestle Kingdom is justified. For this installment, we will look at the other stars that have greatly benefitted from being involved in Wrestle Kingdom and have become significant players in the industry.

    Tetsuya Naito

    There was no question that his career is destined for greatness, and New Japan management seems to agree. Ever since returning to NJPW from. His (awful) TNA stint and (amazing) CMLL excursion in 2009, he won the IWGP Tag Team Championships alongside Yujiro Takahashi in a 3-way match in 2010, and has since been put in big time matches since then. As the Stardust Genius, he fought Jeff Hardy for the TNA Heavyweight Championship (in a heavily panned match) and a dream Genius vs. Genius match against the legendary Keiji Mutoh (who was also known as the "GENIUS" as Mutoh, and besides his other persona, The Great Muta). He also had a title opportunity against Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and a special singles match against AJ Styles.

    Now under the "El Ingobernable" persona, the reinvigorated Naito will face Hirooki Goto at Wrestle Kingdom 10. After years of being underappreciated (also known as the "John Cena treatment"), his career has transformed for the better and will carry that momentum as the star he deserves to be.

    Prince Devitt

    He may be known today as Finn Balor, the Demon and NXT Champion, but in his past life, he was Prince Devitt, the Jr. Heavyweight kingpin.

    While he was involved in past Wrestle Kingdoms (including that 6-man tag match that involved AJ Styles), it was only in 2010 when Devitt finally got featured as a big time talent, defending the Jr. Tag Titles with Apollo 55 partner, Ryusuke Taguchi, in a match against CMLL's Ultimo Guerrero and Averno. Then in 2011, he fought against DDT's Kota Ibushi for the Jr. Heavyweight Championship in what is a dream bout that came about from the Apollo 55 - Golden Lovers (Ibushi and Kenny Omega) rivalry). 
    He went on to become a dual holder of the Jr. Heavyweight and Jr. Tag Titles, and had defenses against the No Remorse Corps in 2012, and in a 3-way bout against Ibushi and Low Ki in 2013. While his last WK match was in 2014 against Ibushi, who would finally beat Devitt in the event, it was also that night when he would officially debut the body paint gimmick, something he would eventually carry over in the WWE and in NXT.

    Kota Ibushi

    Speaking of Kota Ibushi, it would be an injustice if we did not even bother including him in this list. Besides his matches with Devitt at the event, which are must watch bouts in their own right, it would be in 2015 when he would debut in the event as a heavyweight. And his opponent: Shinsuke Nakamura in the now-classic front runner for Match of the Year. That match officially made Ibushi a big time main eventer, as evidenced by his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against AJ Styles in the main event of Invasion Attack, with the event said to have been sold out.

    Toru Yano

    This is a very unusual choice, no question. After all, why would a man who knows how to make DVD sales and known as a thieving cheater in the ring be considered an MVP in New Japan's biggest event?

    Let's not forget that he has a unique charisma about him, a formerly hated heel that suddenly became a sympathetic face without changing much of who he is. A guy like him even managed to make Kazushi Sakuraba, one of the greatest MMA fighters who ever lived, join CHAOS.

    And because of that unique charisma, New Japan has enough faith to pair him up with special guests from other organizations every year. Two years ago, he teamed up with The Great Muta of Wrestle-1. Last Wrestle Kingdom, he teamed up with the dynamic Naomichi Marufuji of Pro Wrestling NOAH as well as TMDK (Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste). And this coming WK10, he will team up with Ring of Honor's most decorated tag team, #DemBoys, The Briscoes (which we will cover next week).

    He may be an unusual fit for today's New Japan, but that's exactly why he remains a valuable asset to the company after all these years.

    Karl Anderson

    Bullet Club's leader is this generation's Masahiro Chono as the best tag team specialist in the world, bar none. And this is why he remains a central figure in the IWGP Tag Title scene after all these years since 2010. As one half of Bad Intentions (with Giant Bernard), he was involved in one of the greatest tag title reigns in wrestling history, which included defenses in Wrestle Kingdom in a 3-way against Muscle Orchestra (Manabu Nakanishi and CMLL's Strong Man) and TNA's Beer Money at WK5, and a special tag title match against the reunited TenKoji at WK6. At WK7, he teamed up with Hirooki Goto as "Sword and Guns" and were gunning (ha!) for the titles. As one half of Gallows and Gun, he was involved in the last two tag team title bouts at WK against KES in WK8, and Meiyu Tag in WK9, and they will defend their titles again at WK10 against GBH.

    It is only a matter of time before he finally gets a singles title run, but until then, he remains a maestro in the tag team scene, a win for New Japan, that much is sure.

    Next week, we will finally look at all the matches for Wrestle Kingdom 10, along with the predictions!

    Who else did you think can be considered as an MVP at Wrestle Kingdom? Sound off in the comments!

    Images from NJPW

    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (12/21/15): The Other MVPs of Wrestle Kingdom Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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