Photo Credit: WrestleZone & New Japan Pro Wrestling

New Japan Pro Wednesday: 2018 Year End Awards & More

New Japan Pro Wednesday Year End Awards

The following Year End awards are the sole selection of NJPWed Editor Ross W Berman IV. Holed-up in an ivory tower on Chicago’s North Side, he has taken stock of the past year in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and has decided on the truly standout moments, wrestlers & matches of 2018.

The Kazuchika Okada Award For Best Wrestler: Hiroshi Tanahashi

This might be the last great year of Hiroshi Tanahashi’s career. While his flame is far from flickering, there are few people in any company that had the year such as The Ace. Entering the year as IWGP Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion, he bested Jay White in a solid Wrestle Kingdom 12 bout, before losing the belt to Minoru Suzuki in a truly breathtaking, heartbreaking match. Sidelined with a leg injury, Tanahashi sat out much of the early-spring, returning at The New Japan Cup. It was in the New Japan Cup that Tanahashi turned in stellar match after stellar match, finally losing a classic Cup finale against Zack Sabre Jr.

Tanahashi then challenged Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestling Dontaku, determined to stop Okada from breaking Tanahashi’s record of 11 successful title defenses. Tanahashi was unsuccessful, but it was easily one of Okada & Tanahashi’s best bouts in their storied rivalry.

Tanahashi’s 2018 didn’t truly take shape until August. Tanahashi won the 2018 G1 Climax, defeating Kota Ibushi in a blistering match. Tanahashi then went on to defend his Tokyo Dome Challenge Certificate up against Kazuchika Okada at Destruction In Kobe, and Jay White at King Of Pro Wrestling, besting both men. At the beginning of the year, Zack Sabre Jr. said that Hiroshi Tanahashi was “held together by hairspray and athletic tape.’ Now he is on track to face Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the Tokyo Dome.


Despite losing for the majority of 2018’s first half, Tanahashi’s losses were things of pure beauty. This is wrestling in 2018. A winning record doesn’t always make for the best year. Many had a great year, but Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 2018 had a whole other aura about it.

Runner Up: Jay White

This is essentially Jay White’s debut year in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The Switchblade character had his debut match at Wrestle Kingdom, against Hiroshi Tanahashi. That was how is main NJPW run started.

Let me run through the list of people that Jay White has beaten in 2018, his debut year as Switchblade:

  • Kenny Omega
  • Kazuchika Okada
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi

After he beat arguably 3 of the top 4 wrestlers in NJPW, he was brought into NJPW’s version of the NY Yankees, CHAOS, until he was taken under the wing of Gedo, and turned into the leader of the Bullet Club. Jay White is set to be one of the top heels in all of New Japan in 2019, and it was a rocket-propelled 2018 that put him there.

2017 Winner: Kazuchika Okada    2017 Runner Up: Kenny Omega

Best Match Of The Year: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega, Dominion 6/9/2018

There’s no debate. This match was the blow-off of blow-offs. This match was longer than most prestige dramas on cable. This match was a television event, in every sense of the word, and it delivered in every way possible. After a rivalry that broke hearts, rating systems, and bones, this was the end of the rivalry that dominated 2017/2018. There’s no other match like it. There probably shouldn’t be for a long time.

Runner Up: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Wrestling Dontaku 5/4/2018

Speaking of era-defining rivalries, in a year that gave us THREE Okada/Tanahashi matches, the first was truly the best. Okada has never looked this dominant against Tanahashi, and the way it turned many of the rivalry’s tables put it in that rarified air. This breathed new life in a book that was long thought closed.

2017 Winner: [Okada/Omega category] Dominion 2017

2017 Runner Up: [Okada/Omega category] [TIE] The Other Two

2017 Winner: [Non-Okada/Omega category] Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, G1 Climax 2017

2017 Runner Up: [Non-Okada/Omega category] Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi, Power Struggle 2017

Ric Flair Award For Most Heartbreaking Moment: Hiromu Takahashi’s Injury

Hiromu Takahashi had finally won back Mr. Belt. Hiromu Takahashi was on his way to a banner year. It all ended with one Dragon Bomb. Hiromu Takahashi’s absence from Los Ingobernables de Japon has been seismic. His rare updates on his condition grow more hopeful, with his most recent self-portrait showing his head attached to his body, after many updates where it was not. The fact that Takahashi was voted into the Top 5 in Tokyo Sports MVP Award shows just how impressive his 2018 was, until he was suddenly gone.

Runner Up: CHAOS Coup

The New York Yankees are no more. CHAOS has been shaken to its core, with the defection of Gedo, Jado & Jay White. Now what remains of CHAOS is blending with Taguchi Japan, leading to Yano & Makabe reviving the Most Violent Players. One of NJPW’s longest running faction has been bleeding out since September and it has been tough to watch.

2017 Winner: Bad Luck Fale Murders Daryl Takahashi in Cold Blood.

2017 Runner Up: Katsuyori Shibata ends his own career.

Ed Leslie Award For Most Divisive: Chris Jericho

Some people love Drunk Uncle Chris Jericho, yelling at turtles and calling Tetsuya Naito “a f*ck.” Some people do not. Some people love Chris Jericho’s Alice Cooper Makeup and his various hats. Some people do not. Some people like that he just kinda shows up whenever he wants. Some people do not. I think you see where I’m going with this. People either love or hate him.

Runner Up: Tama Tonga

Some people love that Tama Tonga picks fights with literally everyone on the internet. Some people love the fact that he turned the G1 Climax into a game of “how can I get fined, punished or possibly suspended?” Some people love that he took Bullet Club back from the colonizing forces of The Elite. Some people do not.

2017 Winner: Katsuyori Shibata    2017 Runner Up: YOSHI-HASHI

The Ten-cozy Award For Best Tag Team: EVIL & SANADA

EVIL & SANADA are such good singles wrestlers that it’s almost criminal that they’ve been trapped in the tag division this long. This was a great year for them. They won at Wrestle Kingdom at the beginning of the year. They won World Tag League at the end of the year. They put in performance after performance, in great tag match after great tag match. Hopefully someday they’ll break free. Until then, they are the premier tag team in NJPW.

Runner Up: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

The Suzuki-gun juniors have been the longest reigning IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions in some time. While they’ve almost exhausted every rivalry in the Jr. Tag Division, they’ve been stellar, frustrating heels.

2017 Winner: Roppongi Vice    2017 Runner Up: War Machine

The Hirai Kawato Award For Best Young Lion: Shota Umino

Son of Red Shoes Unno, Shota Umino has every bit of fire, charisma, and skill required to be a big deal someday. Much like the namesake of this award, all of his potential is still very raw, and excursion will sure to shape him further, but currently he has all the required parts to be a future legend.

Runner Up: Ayato Yoshida

Yoshida is something of a blue chip prospect. His kicks and offense are stiffer, and a bit more unique than the usual Young Lion. He is a standout nonetheless. It’s just much less clear what exactly his character requires.

2017 Winners: [TIE] Hirai Kawato & Katsuya Kitamura

The Kevin Kelly Award For Best Commentary: Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly carried the English broadcasting team on his back for all of 2018. There were points where he was literally training people on-air. He did so with grace, personality & professionalism. A true class act.

Runner Up: Chris Charlton

Author Chris Charlton is a well-spoken, knowledgable mind, and his calls in 2018 have been nothing short of legendary. He deserves all of the money in 2019, as long as there is also money for Kevin Kelly.

2017 Winner: Don Callis    2017 Runner Up: Kevin Kelly

The Kenny Omega Award For Best Gaijin: Will Ospreay

Ospreay’s matches have been second-to-none for sometime now, but as he nears closer to graduating to the heavyweight division, he looks like a true-blue superstar. While his in-ring style is going to ultimately be the end of him, his star is burning bright, and there’s no denying that he had a killer year.

Runner Up: Zack Sabre Jr.

Zack Sabre Jr. committed fully to NJPW in 2018, and he already feels like a pillar of the company. Winning the New Japan Cup sealed him as a bonafide main event talent, and his Sakura Genesis match with Kazuchika Okada proved that it was no fluke. A stellar G1 Climax, as well as a vicious run through World Tag League assured that ZSJ is firmly in NJPW to stay.

2017 Winner: Beretta    2017 Runner Up: Jeff Cobb

NEXT PAGE: Road To Tokyo Dome Results, More