Editor's note: the following originally appeared in this week's Figure Four Weekly.
On September 8th, 2013, Keiji Mutoh launched his new promotion WRESTLE-1 into the Japanese pro wrestling landscape. It followed the split of Mutoh and many of his wrestlers from an All Japan promotion that was left in bad shape.
In all honesty, this was the last thing Japanese wrestling needed. The pool was already full and another splintering of promotions just watered things down.
W-1 never really got going to any great degree and -- as recently as last year -- many felt the promotion might not be long for the world. Conversely, Jun Akiyama had steadied All Japan’s ship and built the company up again on the back of a steady ace in Kento Miyahara. Mutoh had tried with different guys in that role, but it never worked out.
The one thing W-1 did have going for it was that they were quietly developing an impressive pool of young talent in their dojo system under the watchful eye of Kaz Hayashi and Shuji Kondo. This year, that youth movement has given the company the identity it’s been looking for -- and right now they are on a major upswing.
Hayashi and Kondo have really taken the reigns as president and vice president of the company, with Muto seemingly taking more of a figurehead position and removing himself from direct involvement. The WRESTLE-1 we’re seeing right now is the Hayashi/Kondo vision, and it’s being carried out by their kids.
Of course, for any Japanese promotion at their level, Korakuen Hall is a huge measuring stick. They have had a string of great shows in the building in recent months and the reactions are getting stronger and stronger from the fans in attendance. The match quality has become really high level and the personalities up and down the card have really clicked with the audience.
On September 2nd, they had a very successful big show in Yokohama that really felt like a coming out party of sorts for both the promotion and the wrestlers. If this were the 1990s, this would be the W-1 show that would be getting passed around in tape trading circles.
They also now have their Miyahara. Champion Shotaro Ashino has been the definition of a top guy this year. Since he won the title from Masayuki Kono in March, he has dominated -- knocking off challengers left and right and really establishing his persona, ring style, and attitude. He now has his own stable and comes off like a star.
Other names to watch for are Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshio (a charismatic babyface), Koji Doi & Kumagoro (a tag team with great chemistry), Daiki Inaba (a no-frills technician with a great look), Andy Wu (a spectacular high-flying masked man), and Takanori Ito (the Japanese Kevin Owens). It might be a stretch to call this the ground floor, but the W-1 elevator is definitely on the rise. It’s time to jump on.