KUSHIDA, the Ace of New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight division. A tremendous wrestler with a style that can be effective against many opponents, he managed to become one, if not the standard bearer of the division. I will break down some of the reasons why I think it could be the right time for him to move up, as well as doing the same for him staying a Junior, and give my final thought on if it may or may not happen.
Let’s begin with what may be the main point of this thought process. I believe KUSHIDA has accomplished almost everything possible as a Junior Heavyweight. He won the singles championship five times, won the tag team championships twice and is also a two-times winner of Best of the Super Juniors tournament. He even won the Super J-Cup in 2016, and the Super Jr tag tournament in 2012. That’s only his accomplishments in New Japan, because in AJPW, he won the U-30 tag team tournament with T28 ( who is known as BUSHI now).
Basically, the only thing KUSHIDA could aim for now as a Junior, is climbing the all-time ranks in the history of the Junior division. As he is now 35, he still has time to try to climb the ladder of the Juniors history, so let’s see what are the goals he could aim for, which could be the reasons why he doesn’t move up :
- Passing Tiger Mask (who sits at 6) in the total reigns with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship, becoming second all-time behind Jushin Thunder Liger with 11.
- Entering the top 10 in longest reigns with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship. KUSHIDA is 11th all-time with 257 days as champion. He could, at the very least, aim for the seventh place, where Koji Kanemoto sits with 278 days as champion.
- Passing Prince Devitt in combined defenses of the championship. Devitt is third all-time with 15, KUSHIDA sits at 8 as he is 8th all-time there. This is, to me, the highest he can go, but let’s not exclude the second place held by Minoru Tanaka, with 20 defenses.
- Lastly, he could move up at least to 6th in the combined days as Junior Heavyweight champion. Shiro Koshinaka is currently 6th, as KUSHIDA is right behind him. Koshinaka has 702 combined days as champion. Since KUSHIDA is at 596 days so far, he could pass him with one last long run with the championship.
Now, looking at all these achievements KUSHIDA could get, I have to remind everyone reading some aspects that may prevent him from reaching them. First of all, back to his age. KUSHIDA is currently 35, which means he’s slowly but surely getting to the end of his career. Obviously, as I said before, he still has time, but to reach these accomplishments, and not even all of them, he will most likely need a lot of it. Depending on the injuries he may or may not suffer, his longevity will of course be impacted as well.
Second of all, the Junior division in New Japan has a lot of talents who are younger than him. Will Ospreay (25), Marty Scurll (30) and Hiromu Takahashi (28) are all younger and, if everything goes well for each of them, they will most likely get at least one or two runs with the Junior Heavyweight championship. Keeping it with the younger guys, both members of current tag team Roppongi 3K, SHO (28) and YOH (30), could potentially become big time players in the Junior division in the future, as solo stars. Lastly, Taiji Ishimori (35), El Desperado (34) and BUSHI (35) are three wrestlers that will most likely keep on being important pieces of the division, especially Ishimori, who, since his return to New Japan, seems destined to become champion at some point in the future.
Let’s also mention other options such as Dragon Lee or ACH, basically most of the other participants of this year’s BOSJ, potential future New Japan full-time wrestlers if they ever commit to them, as well as some of the young lions who will, for some of them, be Juniors after the excursion process.
The historical point being now taken care of, let’s actually go into why KUSHIDA could move up from Junior Heavyweight to Heavyweight.
Let’s take a quick look back at what may have been KUSHIDA’s biggest rivalry as the Junior Ace, his rivalry with Kenny Omega from 2015. This rivalry is probably the biggest thing that happened to Kenny, as a Junior, since he joined the Bullet Club, and it may be the same for KUSHIDA, as he cemented his status of Ace during that period, winning his first BOSJ tournament and defeating Omega twice for the championship. This rivalry could potentially be renewed if KUSHIDA ever moves up. I won’t go into some fantasy booking, but I can think of at least one way to re-ignite the fire between these two individuals. Also, as they managed to have at the very least good matches, if we consider the three they had between Dominion 7.5 and Wrestle Kingdom 10, especially considering Kenny’s growth, the match quality can only go higher.
My second point focuses on KUSHIDA’s wrestling style, especially his MMA roots. As a Light weight in ZST, KUSHIDA had 8 matches, and won 6 of them. With 2 draws, that means he is undefeated in MMA, and he even won the ZST Genesis Light weight tournament in 2004. You may wonder why I bring this up, but this is to point out the fact that KUSHIDA, with his ability to submit his opponents in both Pro Wrestling and MMA, can probably hang with wrestlers who are heavier and taller than him. Last thing, if you actually wonder about size and weight, let me just say that Zack Sabre Jr, who is approximately the same weight as KUSHIDA, competes with the Heavyweights in New Japan, as a submission and mat wrestling based worker… Kind of like KUSHIDA, who can do similar things as well as using speed and even some high flying moves.
The last point I could add is the desire for new challenges. Becoming more of a Junior Heavyweight legend is already quite the achievement in itself, but if we consider that KUSHIDA will definitely be remembered as one, if not the best Junior Heavyweight of his generation, he could wish to leave his mark as a Heavyweight, too.
I will now end this article by saying that everything depends on what KUSHIDA’s goals are. Personally, I hope he at least thinks of moving up, because I truly believe he is able to make wonders happen as a Heavyweight. And again, as he is 35, I feel like the time is right if he decides to move up, but it is also not necessary for him to do that.