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LONG STORY SPORT

The Top 10 Must-Watch Young Wrestlers of Today

Over the past couple months I've been counting down who I think are the best young wrestlers in the world today. The rules are simple! You must have been born anytime after January 1st, 1998 and you've got to be at least 18-years old as of writing this series.


So without further ado, let's see who cracked into my Top 10! If you enjoy this blog post, please consider subscribing at the bottom of this blog.

 

10

Masha Slamovich

Impact Wrestling
Birthday - 6/18/1998 in Moscow, Russia
Debut Year - 2016
Major Accomplishments - Impact Knockouts Tag Team Champion (1x, CURRENT), AAW Women's Champion (1x, CURRENT), FIGHT LIFE World Champion (1x, CURRENT), CFU Undisputed Champion (1x, CURRENT), GCW World Champion (1x), West Coast PW Women's Champion (1x), VPW Women's Champion (1x), Key to the East Title Tournament (2022), Battle of Coacalco (2022), FIGHT LIFE World Title Tournament (2023), Queen of Indies (2023)

This might come off as a bit hyperbolic, but I think it's true so I'm going to say it anyway. There is no wrestler on this list who's had a more unique career than Impact Wrestling's Masha Slamovich. Not only does she come from a country that is not known for giving us many wrestlers, Russia, but she was born in Moscow, trained under the legendary Chigusa Nagayo in Japan, and became the first woman to win the GCW Heavyweight Champion, which is a unisex belt previously held by the likes of Nick Gage, Matt Cardona (FKA Zack Ryder), and Jon Moxley.


But that just scratches the surface because Masha Slamovich is one of a few women in the American indie scene who works as often if not more often against male talent. In fact, over the past year she became the second ever announced woman to participate in PWG's famed Battle of Los Angeles tournament, along with fellow Impact wrestler Jordynne Grace who became the third, and she was the first woman to ever take part in wXw's 16 Carat Gold Tournament. To me, she's become this generation's Candice LeRae, who broke ground a decade prior when she started regularly competing against men on a regular basis as well.


The sky is the limit for Slamovich. I expect her to continue to make history whether for Impact, GCW, or for any other company around the world. Who knows? Maybe we'll see her compete in All Japan's Champion Carnival or even NOAH's N-1 Victory one day.

 

9

Rising HAYATO

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Birthday - 2/24/1999 in Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan
Debut Year - 2016
Major Accomplishments - BBW Tag Team Champion (1x), OPW Tag Team Champion (1x)

Rising HAYATO's name is incredibly appropriate if you ask me because he is truly one of the biggest RISING stars in the entire Japanese men's wrestling scene today. Since starting his career in 2016, the Ehime native has wrestled for a number of companies up until this point, but he's made the biggest impression so far with All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he's been a regular since 2020.


HAYATO is one of AJPW's most popular junior heavyweights on the roster, even though he has yet to win any champions or tournaments as of writing. Not only was he able to become so well liked because he's a terrific high-flying wrestler, but also because over the past year he's found a way to best show off his magnetic personality. Having realized that he's probably not "Junior Ace" material, HAYATO has leaned into this new enigmatic persona that has done wonders for his career. Just last year, he was still showing up to matches looking like a reject from the Power Rangers, now he looks like an 80's hair metal guy, and the fans have absolutely eaten it up.


This one change has done absolute wonders for Rising HAYATO's career with All Japan, as he's earned two shots at the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight title as well as one for the promotion's top tag team belts. Additionally, HAYATO became a founding member of All Japan's newest babyface super faction, "Zennichi Shin Jidai", a group that also includes top stars Kento Miyahara and Yuma Aoyagi, junior ace Atsuki Aoyagi, the promotion's booker Shuji Ishikawa, and super rookies Yuma Anzai and Ryo Inoue.


It's amazing to see how one quick character change has done to Rising HAYATO's prospects moving forward. There was a time when I viewed HAYATO as just another guy, someone who faded into the background on most shows. But now, he's become a prominent face on a roster filled with terrific young talent.

 

8

Mei Suruga

Gatoh Move
Birthday - 5/30/1999 in Kyoto, Japan
Debut Year - 2018
Major Accomplishments - Asia Dream Tag Team Champion (2x, Current), Princess Tag Team Champion (1x), Futari No Princess Max Heart Tournament (2021)

One thing that every wrestler has done to make it on to this list is that they've all done one thing to help them standout in a scene filled to the brim with hundreds of talented workers. Looking back at the list do far, Masha Slamovich has become well known for wrestling in almost as many intergender matches than anyone else, and Rising HAYATO has crafted a novel character for himself. For Mei Suruga, she's been able to to do so by wrestling in just about every major scene imaginable.


Since she made her debut back in 2018, the "Apple Girl" has competed everywhere from the Ichigaya Chocolate Square in Tokyo to Arena Mexico in Mexico City, and everywhere in between. She even once competed in "The Mecca" of all pro wrestling itself, the Knights of Columbus building in beautiful Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, the same place where I met Suruga earlier this year!


It's perhaps because of her worldwide wrestling resume that she's crafted a very well-rounded wrestling style. She takes a lot of her current moveset from the high speed style, meaning she'll utilize her quickness and body control to turn the tide of combat, but she's also become well versed in both lucha libre and even some technical mat work. Additionally, she's a great tag team wrestler, whether in her main tag team "Best Bros" with Baliyan Akki, or her now former duo with the recently retired Sakisama.


Emi Sakura has one of the greatest training trees of all time, one that includes the likes of Riho, Hikaru Shida, and Tsukasa Fujimoto, but we might one day consider Mei Suruga to be her greatest student if she continues to improve on her game in the years to come.

 

7

Kota Minoura

Dragon Gate
Birthday - 12/30/1998 in Hashima, Gifu, Japan
Debut Year - 2018
Major Accomplishments - Open the Triangle Gate Champion (4x), Open the Twin Gate Champion (1x), King of Gate (2023)

Dragon Gate might not be my favorite promotion to watch right now, but they might be the best men's promotion in the world at crafting a roster filled with some of the most amazing in-ring lucha styled pro wrestlers in Japan. Guys like Shun Skywalker, Yuki Yoshioka, and the aforementioned Madoka Kikuta have all proven that "lucharesu" will continue to be a prevalent style in Japan for years to come. But one guy who might be the best of the bunch is my number seven pick, Kota Minoura.


The 24-year-old has experienced quite a bit over his five-year career, but it's been since he took the reigns as the leader and crown jewel of the Gold Class stable when he finally started to blossom into the top star he is today. The former Open the Triangle and Open the Twin Gate champion had always been a pretty successful singles competitor since 2021, but in 2023 he established himself as a true force in one on one contests. In fact, according to Cagematch.com, Minoura sports an 11-3 record in singles bouts, only sporting loses against current world champ Madoka Kikuta and BIG BOSS Shimizu.


Minoura employs a mostly technical move set which includes many different suplexes and throws. He isn't afraid to take to the skies of course, but most Minoura matches will see him attempt to ground his high flying opponents. The only times I see him get in trouble are when he takes on opponents who aren't as reliant on the lucha libre roots of Dragon Gate, as evident by the guys he's lost to this year. Still, even though he's more of a technician as I said, that doesn't mean that Minoura isn't exciting, because he really is. Kota is one of those guys who's so charismatic that he can make even a rest hold or test of strength sequence an interesting watch. If you're someone who enjoys wrestlers who make everything feel important in the ring, than this guy is absolutely for you.


With his recent success in the King of Gate tournament, which saw him win it all for the first time, I think it's only a matter of time before the gold star of Gold Class will finally reach the pinnacle and win the beautiful Open the Dream Gate championship.

 

6

Yuma Anzai

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Birthday - 5/15/1999 in Annaka, Gunma, Japan
Debut Year - 2022

The only way I can fully explain just how special Yuma Anzai is not only to his home promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling, but to the Japanese wrestling scene as a whole, is to talk about how he was introduced to all of us. Anzai made his debut on September 18th, 2022 in a singles match against the legendary Yuji Nagata midway through All Japan's 50th Anniversary event held in front of over 4,700 people inside the Nippon Budokan, aka Budokan Hall. While he lost that match, because of course he would, the fans instantly grabbed onto the debutant, and his star was born that night.


Anzai has spent the rest of his rookie year in wrestling being one of the most exciting wrestlers to watch in the promotion. Not only is he already a very talented worker, having already had some barn burners against guys like Nagata, Suwama, and Kento Miyahara, but he's seen his star rise thanks to the combined efforts of AJPW and NOAH, where Anzai recently competed in the N-1 Victory and had more great contests against guys like Manabu Soya, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Go Shiozaki.


This kid wrestles like a man who's been doing this for years, and I'm confident that he will one day hoist the Triple Crown championship and become the superstar that All Japan dreams he can be. If he can continue to connect with the fans the way he's already been doing, then who knows where he will go?

 

HONORABLE MENTION

Maika

Stardom
Birthday - 3/24/1998 in Fukuoka, Japan
Debut Year - 2019
Major Accomplishments - Goddesses of Stardom Champion (1x), Artist of Stardom Champion (2x), Future of Stardom Champion (1x), Goddesses of Stardom Tag League (2023)

While her birth year isn't listed in any official Stardom literature, I've recently found evidence that suggests that Donna Del Mondo's resident judoka Maika was born in 1998 and therefore eligible for inclusion on this list. So while I can't add her to the list because that would require a lot more work than I'm willing to do, this is where she would fit if I had found that information earlier. And I couldn't be happier because Maika is one of my favorite wrestlers in the Joshi scene.


The former TAKA Michinoku trainee started her career in 2019 for the Just Tap Out promotion. After proving to be more than ready for bigger challenges, she was picked up by Stardom in early 2020 and immediately became a founding member of the aforementioned Donna Del Mondo faction, along with Giulia and Syuri. She has since gone on to win a few pieces of silverware, including the Artist, Goddesses, and Future of Stardom belts, and just this past week, she and Megan Bayne won this year's Goddesses of Stardom Tag League.


The thing that makes me a really big fan of Maika is her wrestling style. She's a pure powerhouse who utilizes judo throws, lariats, and slams in order to gain the advantage on her opponents. And while she's not yet won any major titles in Stardom as of writing, she's been in the hunt for a few years now. In fact, when I started watching Stardom in January 2021, she was in the first World of Stardom title match I ever saw. Since then, she's competed in two more World of Stardom and one Wonder of Stardom title matches.


I really hope that we see Maika compete for and win one of the two main titles in Stardom in the near future, but if neither are in the cards right now, I'm more than ready to see her hold the tag belts once again.

 

5

Mio Momono

Marvelous
Birthday - 5/30/1998 in Chiba, Japan
Debut Year - 2016
Major Accomplishments - AAAW Champion (1x), WAVE Tag Team Champion (2x), Sendai Girls Tag Team Champion (1x)

Last year I made a list counting down the seven wrestlers I'd try to sign if I was in charge of Stardom and my number one selection on that list was Marvelous speedster Mio Momono. At the time, the then 23-year-old had already proven to be so talented to me that I would go out of my way to purchase pay-per-views if I saw her on the card, even if she was in the opening tag team match.


Since I posted that original list, Momono became a bonafide singles star after she became linked with challenging for the famed AAAW championship. After she was unable to win the at-the-time vacated strap in December 2022, she would go on to defeat Chikayo Nagashima to win the belt, which she would hold for a few months over this past summer. While her reign was nothing to write home about, what it did do was get more people to learn and appreciate her almost boundless talent.


Standing at 4'11", Momono is the shortest wrestler on this list. But what she lacks in size and strength, the Chigusa Nagayo trainee more than makes up for in speed, elusiveness, agility, and most importantly, tenacity and will. To put it simply, Momono would be incapable to be a heel because she's got underdog mega babyface written all over her. Not only that, but I think that she's capable of being an ACE for just about any company that would give her the chance, whether that's Marvelous, Sendai Girls, SEAdLINNNG, or maybe even Stardom someday.


I know I sound like a preacher right now, but Mio Momono is one of those rare wrestlers who deserves to be celebrated and talked about, because she has the talent to be a massive star in the pro wrestling world if she was given the chance.

 

4

Atsuki Aoyagi

All Japan Pro Wrestling
Birthday - 12/7/1999 in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
Debut Year - 2019
Major Accomplishments - AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Champion (2x), Tenryu Project United National Tag Team Champion (1x), Tenryu Project United National Tag Team Title Tournament (2023)

Earlier today, I talked about Rising HAYATO and Yuma Anzai, two guys who have been apart of All Japan's strategy to fill their roster with exciting young talent. While those guys have shown tremendous promise over their careers so far, Atsuki Aoyagi has risen past promise and has had some tangible success already.


The soon to be 24-year-old is already a two-time World Junior Heavyweight champion, a belt previously held by legends like Masanobu Fuchi, Yoshinari Ogawa, Ultimo Dragon, and Kenny Omega. His 188 days as champion might not be totally impressive, but the list of guys he's defended the title against are a who's who of strong competitors in his weight class. His first reign alone featured wins against five former champs; Tiger Mask, Minoru Tanaka, Hikaru Sato, Kaz Hayashi, and Kotaro Suzuki. It was with his first reign that AJPW basically announced that Atsuki was at the very least tapped to be the next Ace of the promotion's junior division.


Atsuki has also found some success working in tag teams. Over my time watching, Atsuki has had two main tag partners, Rising HAYATO and his own older brother, Yuma Aoyagi. His partnership with his brother has proven fruitful in the past, as the duo have previously held the tag belts over in the Tenryu Project promotion.


In between the ropes, Atsuki Aoyagi has become one of Japan's most impressive high-flyers, on the level of someone like WWE's Axiom or AEW's Darius Martin. If he's able to remain healthy, I'm positive that Aoyagi will continue to be a featured act not only in All Japan, but perhaps anywhere in the Japanese scene, especially in places like GLEAT, Tenryu Project, and maybe in NOAH. Who knows, maybe he'll wrestle long enough to become the third man to achieve the junior heavyweight grand slam, which is to win the junior heavyweight title for All Japan, New Japan, and Pro Wrestling NOAH. By the way, the other two to complete this rare feat are Naomichi Marufuji and Minoru Tanaka.


Nevertheless, if you have any time, I'd highly recommend checking out some All Japan and see what all the fuss is about with Atsuki Aoyagi.

 

3

Suzu Suzuki

Stardom
Birthday - 9/2/2002 in Miyazaki, Japan
Debut Year - 2018
Major Accomplishments - ICExInfinity Champion (1x), Regina Di WAVE Champion (1x), Princess of Pro Wrestling Champion (1x), Artist of Stardom Champion (1x), Women's Current Blast Princess Tournament (2021), Triangle Derby I (2023), 5STAR Grand Prix (2023)

It's amazing to think that just two short years ago, Suzu Suzuki was one of those wrestlers who I wish I could watch more often but was wrestling for a company that was difficult to access, that being Ice Ribbon. Luckily for me, Suzu left Ice Ribbon in late 2021 and soon found herself wrestling more and more for Stardom, first as an outside invader with the rest of the Prominence crew, and later as a surprise entrant in the 2022 5STAR Grand Prix.


Watching her have absolutely fantastic matches month after month was really exhilarating for me, as I'm sure it was for many Stardom fans at the time, but all of that caused me to want for Stardom to do the right thing and sign Suzu to a contract or at the very least keep her around on a regular basis as a freelancer.


Well 2023 was the year of the "Violent Prodigy" because not only did she sign with Stardom, but she's swiftly become one of the promotion's top stars, culminating when she became the youngest competitor to win Stardom's 5STAR Grand Prix and earn a shot at the top title in the company, the World of Stardom championship. She would follow that with a finals appearance in the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League, which she and Mei Seira would lose to Maika and Megan Bayne.


Similar to her fellow podium finishers, Suzu Suzuki will undoubtedly be a key factor in the major storylines for several years to come in Stardom and I for one cannot wait to see what's in store for her. Will she win the top title in Stardom at the end of December? Will she join a faction or create her own? And when will she have her next classic match? I'm sure the answers to those questions will come in short order.

 

2

AZM

Stardom
Birthday - 10/1/2002 in Tokyo, Japan
Debut Year - 2014
Major Accomplishments - High Speed Champion (2x), Artist of Stardom Champion (3x), 10th Goddesses of Stardom Tag League (2020)

She might just miss the number one spot on here, but AZM might be my favorite wrestler on the planet right now. The 21-year-old is the PERFECT embodiment of speed, flight, and body control, and she still finds ways to tweak and improve her game all the time. The 10-year vet in the squared circle, yes you read that right, has crafted an impressive resume over her career so far. Not only can she say that she been a co-trios champion with current WWE Women's Champion Io Shirai, but she can also brag that she's the greatest High Speed Champion of all time, at least since that title was introduced to Stardom.


Not only is her trophy cabinet impressive, but AZM has also become one of the best bout machines in all of wrestling over the past two years. This year alone she's had some absolute bangers against the likes of Giulia, Maika, Momo Watanabe, and Utami Hayashishita, but beyond that she's capable of getting the best out of anyone she stands against in the ring. She was in Stardom's best match of 2023, which was the Queen's Quest/Oedo Tai cage match back in June. And if all of that wasn't impressive enough, she also took part in the first ever women's match on a NJPW Sakura Genesis pay-per-view in an IWGP Women's title match against Hazuki and Mercedes Mone.


The only thing holding AZM back from taking this award and running with it is that she's yet to crack into the very top of Stardom's hierarchy. She's STILL yet to compete in any match for either the World of Stardom or Wonder of Stardom titles, and she hasn't won the Goddesses of Stardom tag belts as of writing either. Once she's able to win one of those belts and break into the main event scene in Stardom, I don't see how AZM can't be number one in the future.


The one good thing is that at 21, AZM's got plenty of time to do just that.

 

1

Utami Hayashishita

Stardom
Birthday - 9/14/1998 in Amami, Kagoshima, Japan
Debut Year - 2018
Major Accomplishments - World of Stardom Champion (1x), Goddesses of Stardom Champion (2x), Artist of Stardom Champion (1x), Future of Stardom Champion (1x), EVE International Champion (1x), SWA Undisputed World Women's Champion (1x), Goddesses of Stardom Tag League (2018), Trios Tag Team Tournament (2019), 5STAR Grand Prix (2020)

Finally we get to my number one pick and I couldn't be happier because Utami Hayashishita is not only the BEST young wrestler on the planet based on a variety of metrics, but you could argue that when healthy she's the best women's wrestler in the business today. And while that might sound hyperbolic to some of you, this is Long Story Sport, the blog where Hyperbole is a way of life.


To start, Utami has already had one of the most successful careers in Stardom's history. She's a former World of Stardom, Goddesses of Stardom, Artist of Stardom, and Future of Stardom champion, a 5STAR Grand Prix and Tag League winner, and one of the rare Stardom lifers who's won a title outside of the promotion, in Utami's case the EVE International title. She's basically done everything a Stardom wrestler dreams of doing, and she's done them all incredibly well. In fact, I think that her run with the Red Belt in 2021 was the best reign I've seen with said belt during my time watching the product.


But while having a decorated trophy cabinet and some memorable title runs will definitely help Utami's case for topping my list, there are a few other tangibles that push her over the top. Utami was also trusted with leading one of the most prominent factions in Stardom's history, that being Queen's Quest, which was previously created by Stardom legend and WWE Women's Champion Io Shirai (now known as IYO SKY). She's also been viewed by the promotion as being the future Ace of the company who's destined to usher Stardom into a new era of growth.


It's because of these reasons, and frankly because she might be the best big match wrestler 25 years old or younger, that make Utami Hayashishita my easy choice for the best young wrestler in the world today!

 

FULL LIST


50 - Megan Bayne - Freelancer

49 - Mochizuki Jr. - Dragon Gate

48 - Tomoka Inaba - Just Tap Out

47 - Takeshi Masada - DDT

46 - Jordan Oliver - Freelancer

45 - Yurika Oka - Sendai Girls

44 - Starboy Charlie - Freelancer

43 - Takuma Fujiwara - Freelancer

42 - Ryohei Oiwa - NJPW

41 - Mei Seira - Freelancer


40 - Jacky Funky Kamei - Dragon Gate

39 - Nathan Frazier - WWE (NXT)

38 - Hanan - Stardom

37 - Mariah May - Freelancer

36 - Ricky Knight Jr. - Freelancer

35 - Billie Starkz - Freelancer

34 - Hikari Noa - TJPW

33 - Dragon Dia - Dragon Gate

32 - Tiffany Stratton - WWE (NXT)

31 - SB KENTo - Freelancer


30 - Titus Alexander - Freelancer

29 - Riko Kaiju - SEAdLINNNG

28 - Kosei Fujita - NJPW

27 - Leon Slater - Freelancer

26 - Haruka Umesaki - Diana

25 - Komander - AEW

24 - Suzume - TJPW

23 - Luke Jacobs - Freelancer

22 - Roxanne Perez - WWE (NXT)

21 - Nick Waybe - AEW


20 - Miu Watanabe - TJPW

19 - Hook - AEW

18 - Daniel Garcia - AEW

17 - Kyle Fletcher - AEW

16 - Francesco Akira - NJPW

15 - MIRAI - Stardom

14 - VENY - Freelancer

13 - Madoka Kikuta - Dragon Gate

12 - Starlight Kid - Stardom

11 - Momo Watanabe - Stardom


10 - Masha Slamovich - Impact

9 - Rising Hayato - AJPW

8 - Mei Suruga - Gatoh Move

7 - Yuma Anzai - AJPW

6 - Kota Minoura - Dragon Gate

Bonus - Maika - Stardom

5 - Mio Momono - Marvelous

4 - Atsuki Aoyagi - AJPW

3 - Suzu Suzuki - Stardom

2 - AZM - Stardom

1 - Utami Hayashishita - Stardom

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