The first month of 2022 brought a ton of notable things from the world of professional wrestling. WWE started off the year with a surprisingly watchable "Day 1" show on New Years Day and wisely followed that off with a grocery list of dumb decisions, including trademarking the name of a Nazi officer and giving said name to one of their top wrestlers, and later booking the most boring Royal Rumble match in it's long and mostly storied history. New Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH teamed up for a fun one-night inter-promotional war, which concluded with two fantastic, must-watch multi-man tag team matches. AEW continued to do their thing; hosting a few really great matches while also building up a few potentially interesting storylines and some utterly uninteresting ones. Game Changer Wrestling held a terribly disappointing pay-per-view inside the hallowed Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan and essentially obliterated the hype they cooked up in the past year. And Impact Wrestling, formerly the laughing stock in the American scene, held the best show on this side of the planet.
And so with that being said, I decided I'd start a new segment on this blog where I cover my favorite things from the world of pro wrestling. Every single month, I'll go over my favorite wrestler, tag team, faction, match, event, and promotion. I will include honorable mentions where applicable and will attempt to explain why I've selected each winner in agonizing detail.
Keep in mind that I don't watch everything, I keep my watch list limited only to shows I know I'll probably enjoy. If you're a fan of AEW, Stardom, or Dragongate, you'll probably see something you agree with on here. However, if you're looking for any mention of anything from Mexico, Europe, or WWE, you probably won't. I'm not writing anything off, but just be aware that this isn't comprehensive.
These selections are entirely subjective and in no way the objective truth, but I will try my best to change your mind, or even mold your entire taste in wrestling with these monthly "best of" posts. So without further ado, let's dive into my Best of Wrestling awards for January.
FAVORITE WRESTLER: Dragon Dia (Dragongate)
This might seem like a random pick, but to me, Dragon Dia was the obvious choice for this past month's favorite wrestler. The young high flyer finished 2021 in unfortunate fashion after he was sacrificed by his former stablemate Shun Skywalker and forced to unmask in the ultimate show of defeat back in early December. He disappeared after that and was persona non grata for around a month. Yet even though he was missing from the show itself, his defeat served as the catalyst of one of pro wrestling's most fascinating storylines over the past two months, that being Skywalker's descent into insanity, and later villainy. Skywalker's calculated backstabbing of his once loyal friend caused the rest of the "Masquerade" stable to lose faith in, and start to hate their leader. This culminated on January 12th, when after a very strange six-man tag, Skywalker finally turned on his dejected comrades and joined Dragongate's chief villain group, R.E.D.
All of the sudden, and in one of the most awe-inspiring acts of one-upmanship I've ever seen in a squared circle, a freshly unmasked Dragon Dia emerged once again, skateboard in hand, and successfully defeated Skywalker's new stablemate SB KENTo for the company's second-highest singles championship, the Open the Brave Gate title. Exactly one day later, Dia and his new best friend, Yuki Yoshioka took out R.E.D.'s H.Y.O. and SB KENTo to win the company's tag team championships, the Open the Twin Gate titles.
Inside the squared circle, the 23-year-old Dia has consistently impressed and even amazed me with his incredible agility and perfect cadence as a babyface, or good guy wrestler. He's equally captivating in singles matches as he is while working with the enthralling Yoshioka, who is quickly establishing himself as one of my favorites in the promotion as well. Dia also has the best finisher in the game right now.
It remains to be seen where the "Infinite Carat Diamond" will go from here, as he's already a double champion, but I think he can fit in anywhere on the card right now. His stock as a wrestler has exploded to the point where he could conceivably battle for a world championship down the line, just as Stardom's Starlight Kid proved after she underwent her own character change last year. If nothing else, I think Dia will continue to be one of the sport's most impressive wrestlers on the rise and will take one step closer to becoming the face of Dragongate. And if nothing else, Dia's ascent is no better catalyst to start watching DG.
Katsuhiko Nakajima (NOAH)
Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
Shun Skywalker (Dragongate)
FAVORITE TAG TEAM: Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka (Dragongate)
I'll be honest, I didn't see too many great tag teams back in January, but even so, this choice was a no-brainer. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka teamed up and won the Open the Twin Gate championships last month in what was their first-ever match as a tag team. Dia and Yoshioka had previously been bitter archrivals for the better part of a year, and thanks in large part to that white-hot animosity they once held for one another, they've displayed sublime chemistry to the point where it feels like they've teamed up for years, instead of weeks.
Dia is the perfect "babyface in peril", which is to say that he's absolutely phenomenal at playing the good guy who's constantly getting out-muscled and beaten up while also gaining more and more support and sympathy from the crowd. Additionally, he's equally good at exploding in random acts of flippy violence at a moment's notice.
Yoshioka, on the other hand, plays a brilliant "muscle" in the duo. His offense is crisp and violent and serves as an excellent complement to Dia. He's certainly not the bigger star of the two, but he's got enough appeal as a wrestler that he's certainly going to pull in his own fan base and make the duo more popular.
There's not a whole lot more to say here, to be honest. Dia and Yoshioka are an exciting new tag team that seems destined to hold on to their gold for a good while. Who knows what will happen after that, but it'll definitely be interesting and worth checking out.
Down below I've included the very match where Dia and Yoshioka won the tag titles.
Hazuki and Koguma (Stardom)
Shotaro Ashino and Suwama (AJPW)
Malachi Black and Brody King (AEW)
FAVORITE FACTION: Prominence (Freelance)
Late last year, Risa Sera, Suzu Suzuki, Akane Fujita, Mochi Miyagi, and Hiragi Kurumi all elected to leave the Ice Ribbon promotion and hit the road as a freelancing quintet called "Prominence". Since they made that decision, the deathmatch connoisseurs have paved a road filled with broken tables and bloodied bodies as they've run rampant in basically every major company that hosts co-ed wrestling in Japan, including DDT and GLEAT, as well as both the comedy sideshow called Gake No Fuchi, Ice Ribbon, and in their own produced show from January 16th, both of which can be watched on Wrestle Universe.
Led by one of the world's most underrated wrestlers, Risa Sera, and flanked by the best under-20-year-old in the game in Suzu Suzuki, Prominence's whole modus operandi is that they're trying to elevate the deathmatch style within women's wrestling, which hasn't been celebrated all too much, if at all, since the glory days of the original FMW in the 1990s. While you'll find that there are some really talented women working within that style right now like Rina Yamashita, DASH Chisako, Hikari Noa, and the legend Mayumi Ozaki, this group features the best of the best as far as I'm concerned.
They capped off their first full month as a unit on the 29th when they made their shocking debut during Stardom's "Nagoya Supreme Fight" event, which we'll get to. After an early match on the card, Risa, Suzu, and the rest of the crew invaded the show to call out Stardom's Giulia, who had famously joined Stardom after walking out of Ice Ribbon under controversial circumstances. They then kickstarted what is sure to be a brutal war with Giulia's "Donna Del Mondo" faction over the next few months.
I might not be the biggest fan of deathmatch wrestling as a whole, but in their short time in the scene, Prominence has already etched their name as my favorite faction currently working in the sport. I can't wait to see how they continue to develop both as individuals and as a unit.
Donna Del Mondo (Giulia, Syuri, Maika, Himeka, Natsupoi, MIRAI, and Thekla) - Stardom
R.E.D. (BxB Hulk, Kai, H.Y.O., Shun Skywalker, SB KENTo, Diamante, HipHop Kikuta) - Dragongate
STARS (Mayu Iwatani, Hazuki, Koguma, Hanan, Saya Iida, and Momo Kohgo) - Stardom
FAVORITE MATCH: Go Shiozaki vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (NOAH The New Year, 1/1)
There were three matches this month that all could've made it on this list. Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay had a war for the ages that absolutely met the lofty expectations of a Wrestle Kingdom event on January 5th, and recently, Mayu Iwatani blew me away yet again with her war against Giulia in the semi-main event of Stardom's "Nagoya Supreme Fight" show. But in my heart of hearts, there was no way that this award wasn't going to go to the excellent GHC Heavyweight Championship match between Go Shiozaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima.
Shiozaki sports the best chop in all of pro wrestling next to the artist formerly known as WALTER, and Katsuhiko Nakajima has the most devilish kicks I've ever seen since the all-time legend Toshiaki Kawada. So when you combine both those elements and you place them in a Pro Wrestling NOAH main event for the promotion's top prize, you're going to experience violence, pain, and utter joy.
These two beat the breaks off each other for just a shade over 30 minutes and it never got bored for one moment. They brilliantly brutalized each other with their respective arsenals of destruction, and then in a crescendo of destruction, midway through the match, Shiozaki suplexes Nakajima from the entrance ramp and down onto the hard ground at ringside. It was a crazy highlight to a match that was all about who was the Face of NOAH. And while he fought for all he was worth and then some, the former prized student to NOAH's founder, Mitsuharu Misawa, was unable to withstand the relentlessness of the GHC Heavyweight champ. For now, it seems, Nakajima is the Face of NOAH, and he earned that right in blood, sweat, and tears.
Check out the match down below!
Shingo Takagi vs. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 1, 1/4)
Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 2, 1/5)
Los Ingobernables de Japon vs. KONGO (NJPW/NOAH Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 3, 1/8)
Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia (Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight, 1/29)
FAVORITE SHOW: Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight (1/29)
For practically the entire month, my choice for the best show was going to be NOAH's excellent show from New Year's Day, a show that was capped off by my match of the month I just talked about. But leave it to Stardom to once again steal all my attention when they held their excellent "Nagoya Supreme Fight" show on the 29th. The show was filled to the brim with matches that covered practically every style in modern-day Joshi, or Japanese women's wrestling for the uninitiated.
If you want a fun match pitting two highly entertaining mid-carders, Thekla vs. Mina Shirakawa is for you.
If you want a fast and thrilling tag team clash, then check out Himeka and Maika vs. Hazuki and Koguma.
If you love the classic New Japan style from the past decade, then I'm not sure you could do better than Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia.
And finally, if you want to see the best physical wrestling Joshi has to offer at this moment, the main event between MIRAI and Syuri should totally be on your watch list.
But it wasn't just the sublime wrestling ability and the fun stories told up and down the card that put this over the top. No, it was the shocking arrival of Prominence to Stardom that did. When these five deathmatch wrestlers arrived and made it known that they wanted to go to war with Giulia and Donna Del Mundo, I'll admit that I decided to make this my show of the month right then and there. Stardom is brilliant at taking chances and doing the unexpected, yet this turn of events was a step even I couldn't fathom. Booker Rossy "Hat Man" Ogawa continues to challenge his audience, but we allow him to do so because more often than not, each storyline concludes in a way that is rewarding, exciting, and interesting.
Down below I have shared a video where you can watch Prominence's "invasion" and first interaction with Giulia.
NOAH The New Year 2022 (1/1)
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 2 (1/5)
Impact Wrestling Hard To Kill 2022 (1/8)
Dragongate Open The New Year Gate 2022 Night 4 (1/12)
FAVORITE PROMOTION: Stardom
Before I go into why I decided to pick Stardom, which is probably the least surprising choice given how I crowned them my favorite promotion in 2021, I want to briefly mention that Dragongate was very close to winning this award based on their storytelling alone. They're handling of Shun Skywalker's descent to the dark side and the ascent of Dragon Dia has been must-watch television as far as I'm concerned, and the continued rise of the promotion's numerous rookies to more established positions has been great to watch as well.
But even so, Stardom did one thing that the flippy boys from Kobe (that's what I call Dragongate sometimes) didn't do in January, and that's hold a major event in a large arena. Stardom's aforementioned January 29th show in Nagoya pushed the promotion to the number one spot this month, albeit by a hair.
Before their Nagoya show, the major story within Stardom was that they had continued to acquire new talent. Thekla, the promotion's lone gaijin (foreign wrestler), was able to connect with the live crowd almost immediately because she's weird and entertaining. MIRAI, who I used to enjoy watching in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling last year as Mirai Maiumi, has totally fit in as a powerhouse judo-styled worker and had a star-marking performance against Syuri on the 29th. And Momo Kohgo, who hasn't proven too much inside the ring as of writing, but has displayed an unquestionable underdog aura already.
Where Stardom also overtook Dragongate was in it's in-ring product. While DG has boasted a few pretty solid matches so far, Stardom has already notched three Match of the Year candidates, all of which occurred during the second half of the month. The Iwatani/Giulia match deserves a special mention as it was my third favorite match from January. And lest we forget that Stardom FINALLY earned a match on the main card of New Japan's legendary Wrestle Kingdom event, and knocked it out of the park.
I've only written two blog posts where I've mentioned Stardom, and I feel like I've run out of the words to describe how exciting it's been to watch their product. It genuinely seems like nothing can disrupt their upward trajectory, and with some new storylines beginning, it's safe to say that they'll continue to be in the running for Promotion of the Month for the foreseeable future. If you've learned ANYTHING from reading this, please for the love of God watch Stardom.
Pro Wrestling NOAH
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Featured Image Credit - Twitter.com
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