2020 started off in the biggest way imaginable for New Japan Pro Wrestling by having their annual Wrestle Kingdom event extended across two nights at the Tokyo Dome.
Tetsuya Naito sits firmly on the throne right now, but who else should we be keeping an eye on throughout 2020?
Wrestle Kingdom 14 set the wrestling world ablaze with unforgettable matches and Tetsuya Naito finally reaching the climax of his almost never-ending quest. But now I’m taking a look at the rest of 2020 and more specifically, who I think we should keep an eye on in 2020. Whilst some of these names are already stars in their own right and most had an incredible 2019, I think they’ll all be blowing roofs off in 2020.
Young Lion Cup 2019 winner, World Tag League competitor and leader of the LA Dojo, Karl Fredericks is not your average Young Lion. Under the tutelage of The Wrestler Katsuyori Shibata, Fredericks has quickly put himself at the top of the Young Lion pack. Where most Young Lions keep to their structured move-set and very rarely add anything new, Fredericks has made himself stand out with one of the best dropkicks in wrestling today and certainly the most unique. Add to that a Super Mario elbow drop, a wicked spinebuster, an extra bit of flair on the rest of his move-set and the confidence to back it all up inside and outside the ring and it adds up to a future mega-star of NJPW. He started off 2020 on the winning side at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and New Year Dash and now has the golden ticket chance to compete in singles action during the New Beginning in USA tour.
During the tour he will come up against YOSHI-HASHI and Jeff Cobb, where he will definitely be proving his worth and hoping to pick up monumental wins. 2019 surprisingly saw Shota Umino, as a Young Lion, enter the New Japan Cup and I’d love to see Fredericks entering this year. Whether Fredericks foregoes the black trunks and black boots in 2020 is up for debate, but regardless of if he marches through 2020 as a Young Lion or graduates into his own character, one thing is for sure, you will hear the name Karl Fredericks a lot in 2020. Long live the king.
Robbie Eagles debuted with NJPW in 2018 but he really got to strut his stuff in 2019, entering the Best of Super Juniors tournament for the first time, the Super Junior Tag League for the second consecutive year and challenging Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in his home country of Australia. He ended 2019 on a huge high by pinning the returning Hiromu Takahashi (Hiromu’s first match in more than 18 months), with a shocking rollup. Could that victory over Hiromu lead to a near-future IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship shot, seeing how Hiromu defeated Ospreay for the title at Wrestle Kingdom 14?
At the very least I expect Eagles will be in the running to win the Best of Super Juniors and I would expect to see him teaming up with Will Ospreay again to form Birds of Prey and go after the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. While it may be too soon for the Aussie to pick up the big Junior gold I can definitely see him earning his first NJPW championship, perhaps as soon as February 6th when he challenges for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. With his mix of high-flying and submission style wrestling, a springboard sniper dropkick to the leg that leads into the Ron Miller Special, 2020 will no doubt see Eagles soaring to greater heights in a New Japan ring.
The Maori Warrior who followed the Young Lion path, Toa Henare joined the New Japan Dojo in 2016, competing as just Henare until Wrestle Kingdom 12 (January 4th 2018) when he re-debuted as Toa Henare. In my eyes he had the unenviable task of not going on an excursion to develop himself and gain that refresh, instead of going from Young Lion to main roster member in front of our eyes, not giving fans that excitement of a big return after being absent from NJPW. Since then the proud New Zealand native has been proving just how solid he is and how much he belongs in a New Japan ring. Chances have rarely come for Henare to prove himself outside of the usual tag-team action, but on those occasions, he has taken full advantage.
Most recently his singles match against Shingo Takagi saw the Korakuen faithful rooting firmly for Henare in a great 10-minute match. Henare has even said that Shingo lit a fire under him and in 2020, that fire rises. A great start to 2020 has already seen Henare gain a pinfall victory at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and I hope that next on his list will be a shot at the NEVER Openweight Championship, which could be the moment that cements Henare as a singles competitor and firmly lets fans know just what he is about. Combine that with a good run in the New Japan Cup or being included in the G1 Climax and Henare could definitely make 2020 his year.
New Japan faithful hear me out! I know Shingo Takagi had an incredible 2019; winning his Best of Super Juniors block without a single loss, followed by one of the absolute best Junior Heavyweight matches of all time vs Will Ospreay. He then went from Junior to Heavyweight and competing in the G1 Climax with memorable matches against the likes of Naito, Moxley, Ishii and Goto… But the only way is up for Shingo in 2020, starting with him challenging Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship on February 1st. I don’t think Shingo is a name very-well known to wrestling fans outside of Japan but I expect that to change in 2020.
In the same way that Will Ospreay is known by fans worldwide, regardless of which promotions they watch, I think Shingo can become a name synonymous with fast, hard-hitting wrestling. He is equipped with some of the nastiest lariats you will see in any ring, namely his Pumping Bomber, and what seems like rockets attached to his wrestling boots; I have seen Shingo send many wrestler’s heads flying into the crowd throughout 2019. If he knocks a few more heads off their shoulders in 2020, Shingo will be a name every wrestling fan knows.
Zack Sabre Jr. is incredibly well established in New Japan now but surprisingly has yet to hold any NJPW gold. Could that change in 2020? Zack has been affiliated with the British Heavyweight Championship for the majority of his time since debuting in NJPW in 2017, although it is not officially a New Japan title as it belongs to RevPro in the UK. His crowning achievement was winning the New Japan Cup in 2018 but he was unsuccessful when challenging Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship might be out of the grasp of Zack for now but it is plausible that we see him challenging for and even winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at some point this year. Although there is also a good chance we see him running for Prime Minister in the UK instead. He has proven himself as a credible threat to every wrestler on the roster, with his submission wrestling techniques that few, if any, can replicate. Zack is one of my favourite wrestlers to watch because you truly never know how or when one of his matches may finish – just watch any of his matches against SANADA. What might start out as a simple submission can quickly turn deadly, forcing his opponent to give up. And his arsenal of pinning combinations is the most impressive in wrestling today, with the Technical Wizard often winning by unique pins such as the European Clutch. It can’t be forgotten that he has the Zack Driver in his back pocket too, Zack’s variant of the Michinoku Driver, a move (I think) he has only hit twice but attempted on numerous occasions.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH.