In addition to excellent matches and an incredible number of highly talented wrestlers, I love watching independent wrestling to see people develop and grow and get a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars today. I’ve previously featured Timothy Thatcher, Dalton Castle, and Nicole Savoy in my first The Future is Now blog, Su Yung, Leah Vaughn (then Leah von Dutch) and Takumi Iroha in my second, and Courtney Rush, Matt Riddle, Shayna Baszler, and Rhia O’Reilly in my third.
This time I’m going to narrow the focus a bit, doing a feature on some of the young Joshi stars that made huge impressions on me during my trip to Japan at the beginning of this year.
Professional wrestlers can start (much) younger in Japan than the US, leading to some interesting situations with standout young talent already being established and accomplished veterans while still in their teens, in addition to young rookie talent getting an early chance to develop into fully rounded performers. All of the wrestlers in this column are 20 years old or younger.
This column is long overdue and in some ways outdated, but I decided it’s still worth it to share my impressions as they were when I saw these athletes live. I’ve added some further context where needed, but for the most part the following information and opinions are rooted in the beginning of 2016.
It’s easy to tell that the (seemingly) diminutive Kyuuri already has an extensive understanding of her craft. She’s an amazingly smooth, masterful submission wrestler who always seems the equal to her often larger and more experienced opponents. Even in her frilly, bright green gear (that reminds my niece of Tinkerbell) Kyuuri conveys a sense of being a competent threat to her opponents in a way beyond several wrestlers I’ve seen with far more time in the business. If she continues to acclimate and excel as much as she has so far in her 3 years in wrestling, this 18 year old is easily going to be a huge star by her mid-twenties despite her size. An ICE Cross Infinity Championship reign for her sooner rather than later would be entirely justified.
Yuuka is another young star whose instincts far outshone her 2 years of experience and 17 years of age. She carried herself in a way that made an immediate impact, including a ring style that showcased hard strikes and fierce determination in a thoroughly compelling manner.
Unfortunately Yuuka has spent the latter half of this year on hiatus for undisclosed reasons. But is still listed as part of the Ice Ribbon roster on their webpage, so here’s hoping she will return at some point. Of the wrestlers I was previously unfamiliar with she left perhaps the greatest impression, and she certainly has the potential for a big career ahead of her if she continues.
Kotori is a 18 year old wrestler based in the Gatoh Move promotion who has an exuberance and enthusiasm to her wrestling that’s downright contagious. She’s a captivating performer and more than held her own in all the matches I saw, usually against opponents with a great deal more experience. Her unique charisma and already well honed skills and instincts will certainly only continue to develop and expand as her career goes on beyond its current 3 years.
I’d like to finish this feature talking about two wrestlers who are on the other end of what I mentioned in the opening than those discussed so far. In contrast to showing poise and skill beyond their experience, these wrestlers already HAVE an incredible amount of experience at an extremely young age.
First is Riho, who like Kotori currently works for the Gatoh Move promotion. She began wrestling an the age of 9 and thus has an astonishing 10+ years in the business at only 19. A natural, likable underdog, Riho effortlessly rallies the crowd behind her with a bright personality and expert timing and execution in her wrestling. She is so masterful at her role I actually get the impression branching out a bit in terms of style and opponents would be good for her, as she comes across as someone who has all the tools to succeed at anything she wanted to.
Finally we have Tsukushi , another example of the unique situations in which a very young wrestler can already be a long established veteran. At 19 years old she’s already been wrestling for over 6 years, and it shows in her instincts, polish, and overall performance.
Tsukushi’s extremely smooth in the ring and knows how to make her offense look believable, even though she’s usually smaller than her opponents (often quite significantly). Her ring style is generally strike and high-flying based, so she approaches the size disadvantage in a distinctly different way than what I mentioned about Kyuuri. She comes across as a threat even when at first glance it seems she should be horribly outmatched, which is both a result of and a testament to her experience and devotion to her craft.
She’s always a stone’s throw from Ice Ribbon’s main title and is an invaluable utility player that can help the less experienced wrestlers, elevate others into title contention, or challenge the reigning champion herself to establish their worthiness. Tsukasa Fujimoto is the ace of Ice Ribbon, but Tsukushi is just as important to the promotion at present. And given her age they could build the promotion around her (and others mentioned here) for a long time to come.
Narrowing this list was tough, as I saw numerous young talents with bright futures.
Maruko Nagasaki might have been the most surprisingly impressive wrestler I saw relative to her experience. She was clearly still “earning her stripes” so to speak, but was solid in the ring and held up her end of matches so well I was shocked to learn she had debuted only 3 months prior to my seeing her wrestle. Also, Kurumi was recovering from injury during my trip, so I haven’t seen her wrestle yet. From what I understand if I had she would have been a certain inclusion in this list.
There are some excellent young wrestlers outside of my favorite promotions that I didn’t get to see as much of as I would have liked, so hopefully my path will cross more with wrestlers such as Sareee, Meiko Tanaka, etc going forward.
That all for now. Hope I’ve brought a new wrestler or two to attention, and everyone mentioned is well worth checking out.