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Thread: Gaijin - Best Americans in Japan

  1. #1
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    Gaijin - Best Americans in Japan

    I thought this could be an interesting topic. From the outside looking in, it always seemed as if the same names tended to come up when thinking about the buys who had done the best work in Japan from the US. Names like Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody always came up, and then Terry Funk would usually come up at some point, too. But I figured this could be a space to explore whether or not there are other names who belong in the discussion, people who maybe weren't there as long to make the same kind of impact but who might have put together some really great stuff...

    Basically, who are we overlooking? Are there great matches you've seen that have flown under the radar? What's the full extent of the discussion for the best American wrestlers in Japan? And just where in this question IS Johnny Ace?!

  2. #2
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    Stan Hansen is probably number one I'd say. Vader is definitely high up on the list. Steve Williams I don't think a lot of people give enough credit too. Your boy Johnny is probably in the top 5. AJ of the newer guys would have to be up there at some level. Don't think Eddie would have become Eddie if he didn't head to Japan.

  3. #3
    The Brain
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    Ok, my top 10 favorite gaijins! I am going to say up front that I'm leaving Kenny Omega out for now intentionally, as I'm a bit burned out on him and don't think I can rank him fairly at the moment. So... feel free to mentally insert him at #1, if you're so inclined.

    10. Matt Sydal

    A prominent member of the Dragon Gate roster before joining WWE in 2008, after leaving the company in 2013 he split a good portion of his time between more Dragon Gate appearances and working with New Japan. Unfortunately that door is now closed to him after the marijuana issue nearly landed him in jail, but still I give a lot of credit to Sydal for helping to bring the Dragon Gate style to the US and influencing a lot of the high flyers of today.

    Recommended Matches:

    Matt Sydal, CIMA, & Ricochet vs. Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, & YAMATO 7/2/15 DG
    Matt Sydal & Ricochet vs. Naruki Doi & YAMATO 7/20/15 DG
    Matt Sydal & Richochet vs. Trent & Rocky Romero 4/10/16 NJPW

    9. Johnny Ace

    Yeah, he was a bit of a joke in the United States (Dynamic Dudes, anyone?) but he has serious credibility in Japan and it's well earned. Though he was never as good as his usual partner Steve Williams, Ace holds up his end of the bargain in all the most famous AJPW tag team main events, even busting out a pretty incredible moonsault on occasion.

    Recommended Matches:

    Johnny Ace & Steve Williams vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi 12/10/94 AJPW
    Johnny Ace & Steve Williams vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi 3/4/95 AJPW
    Johnny Ace & Steve Williams vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama 6/7/96 AJPW

    8. Ricochet

    Another heavy contributor to both Dragon Gate and New Japan, through the 10s Ricochet has featured most prominently in Japan and honed his abilities to their maximum. Some may be split on his exhibition-y bouts with Will Ospreay, even if that's not your bag there's too much amazing stuff from him to ignore.

    Recommended Matches:

    Ricochet & Naruki Doi vs. Akira Tozawa & BxB Hulk 7/21/13 NJPW
    Ricochet vs. Kota Ibushi 6/21/14 NJPW
    Ricochet & Matt Sydal vs. Naruki Doi & YAMATO 7/20/15 DG

    7. Michael Elgin

    Elgin made the transition to Japan in 2015 and experienced a true career revival, just when mixed reactions to a ROH title reign seemed on the verge of stalling his momentum. He has become a mainstay in the upper midcard and one of the most prominent gaijins in the country. And yes, he is Canadian, but I'm taking "American" to mean North American in this context!

    Recommended Matches:

    Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii 8/15/15 NJPW
    Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito 7/24/16 NJPW
    Michael Elgin vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima 8/13/16 NJPW

    6. AJ Styles

    I don't think I buy the argument that AJ Styles is the best wrestler in the world, quite, but there is a real argument for him being the greatest modern gaijin in terms of overall quality and accomplishment. Fans went from dismissing him as another missed opportunity on the TNA roster to regarding him as one of the top performers in the world almost overnight.

    Recommended Matches:

    AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki 8/1/14 NJPW 5
    Kazuchika Okada vs. AJ Styles 7/5/15 NJPW
    Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles 1/4/16 NJPW

    5. Chris Benoit

    Known as "Pegasus Kid" and "Wild Pegasus", Benoit was a key component of the New Japan Juniors division of the 90s, arguably the peak of the company at that time, and put on some truly out of this world performances. Understandably not everyone will want to go back and revisit the man's career, but if we're just talking classic matches this man undeniably has a bushel full.

    Recommended Matches:

    Chris Benoit vs. Great Sasuke 4/16/94 NJPW
    Chris Benoit & Shinjiro Otani vs. Great Sasuke & Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) 10/18/94 NJPW
    Chris Benoit vs. Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) 6/11/96 NJPW

    4. Steve Williams

    One of very few Americans to become a world champion in Japan, it was there that Dr Death found more success than he ever did in America, and with good reason. His overwhelming strength and skill impressed promoters and fans alike. The Backdrop Driver remains one of the most devastating moves of all time. If he had not found himself temporarily banned from Japan due to drug issues in 1995, his career might have grown even more impressive overseas.

    Recommended Matches:

    Steve Williams vs. Mitsuharu Misawa 7/28/94 AJPW
    Steve Williams vs. Kenta Kobashi 9/3/94 AJPW
    Steve Williams & Johnny Ace vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi 12/10/94 AJPW

    3. Vader

    One of the greatest performers of all time made a good portion of his name in Japan, becoming one of very few men of his era to find top level success in both Japan and America. His contributions, especially in the early 90s, are legendary, though he continued to perform well into the 00s.

    Recommended Matches:

    Vader vs. Keiji Muto 8/10/91 NJPW
    Vader & Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Keiji Mutoh & Hiroshi Hase 5/1/92 NJPW
    Vader vs. Nobuhiko Taka 8/18/94 UWFI

    2. Terry Funk

    Said by some to be the greatest overall wrestler in history, his career in Japan is a big part of that argument. Before he was putting Ric Flair through tables or making the next generation of stars in ECW, he was a mainstay of the Japanese championship scene through the 70s and 80s, having long, bloody matches with all the legends of the era. He also contributed to the birth and evolution of hardcore and deathmatch styles later in his career, furthering his contribution.

    Recommended Matches:

    Terry Funk vs. Jumbo Tsuruta 6/17/76 AJPW
    Terry Funk vs. Stan Hansen 4/14/83 AJPW
    Terry Funk & Mr Pogo vs. Masato Tanaka & Hayabusa, No Rope Explosive Barbed Wire Deathmatch 5/5/96 FMW

    1. Stan Hansen

    Another strong contender for greatest wrestler of all time, Hansen was a dream come true for Japanese promoters, a thoroughly "American" giant capable of keeping up with the stiffest and strongest aspects of the Japanese style. Hansen was a smash hit in Japan for most of his career and consistently performed at the top level.

    Recommended Matches:

    Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody vs. Terry & Dory Funk Jr 12/8/84 AJPW
    Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy vs. Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu 12/18/88 AJPW
    Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi 7/29/93 AJPW


    Honorable mention to older talents such as Dory Funk Jr, Lou Thesz, and Karl Gotch for doing some high quality early work in Japan. I also have a soft spot for Abdullah the Butcher, whose brand of craziness was very over and highly entertaining in Japan. Also would be remiss not to mention European talent I couldn't include as "Best American" contenders, but do fit as gaijin, such as Billy Robinson, Andre the Giant, and Will Ospreay.

    Bruiser Brody is a name that gets thrown around, but in my experience his hype doesn't really bear out in his actual matches. If he's tagging with someone like Hansen you'll probably still have a good time, but in general Brody's legend is quite exaggerated in my eyes.

    Eddie Guerrero is a guy who benefited tremendously from his time in Japan in terms of his personal development. I'm not sure he contributed enough to be considered for a list like this, as his only really significant role was as an opponent for Chris Benoit, who was a much bigger deal. He's worth a mention though, as he did some high quality stuff there.

    I feel like we've entered a new golden era of gaijins. Through the late 90s and most of the 00s, there weren't a whole lot of top level Americans working in Japan, but in the last few years there's been a huge increase and I think it's to the benefit of everyone. It did a lot of good for the industry in the 70s and 80s, and I think it will help a whole new generation of performers now, even if the style is not longer as "other" as it used to be compared to American wrestling.

    Interested to hear if I left anybody out, or if anyone disagrees with some of the choices!

  4. #4
    Remember me? Degenerate's Avatar
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    mizfan knocks one absolutely out of the park - this is an awesome list, thanks so much for putting it together! Especially the suggested matches for each one of them. I'm certainly going to search out some of those in my spare time. I don't have much of a list as I'm still a newbie with Japanese wrestling and am trying to stay up to date with current stuff, so it's tough to dip back for extended periods of time for me.

    I did have a question for others who would know more than me - how did other legends that weren't mentioned above fare in Japan? I hear so many stories about Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Mick Foley and others about their time in Japan, but I don't know if they lit it up here in Japan compared to their more well-known runs in the U.S.

    Another topic of discussion that I'd like to bring here is about the current batch of foreigners wrestling in Japan, and who people think will do great here. There's a lot of people doing great work here, like Kenny Omega, Juice Robinson, Will Ospreay and many others. But out of the current bunch of foreigners in Japanese wrestling, I honestly think that Michael Elgin has the potential to reach Vader or Stan Hansen levels of fame here. The times I've seen him in a prominent spot on a New Japan card - last year's ladder match with Kenny Omega at Dominion and this year's Intercontinental Championship match against Naito at New Beginning - he's stepped up and delivered big time. The Japanese crowd, at least in Osaka, show the guy a lot of love. It's a shame he wasn't placed in more high-level matches this year, which I really don't get why. I hope he fares better in 2018.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Oliver's Avatar
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    My immediate knee jerk reaction was Vader or Hansen, which just echoes what others have said I suppose.

    Elgin should be a huge deal in NJPW, and like you I'm surprised he wasn't given a bit more shine this year.

  6. #6
    The Greatest of All Time LWO4Life's Avatar
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    Kenny Omega could be #1 before his career is over and he never joins WWE. I agree he's not top 10 yet, but I really love what he's doing and he's doing it at a higher level than I've ever seen.

    Has Vince McMahon Lost Confidence in Roman Reigns.

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    Honorable mention for Hogan, who wrestled a decent amount in Japan in early 80s before the Hulkamania days. He moved very well for a big man and his matches were very watchable. It's pretty cool to watch. A lot different from his WWF days.

  8. #8
    The Brain
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    Deg, would love to hear your thoughts about any of those matches you check out!

    To answer about the other names you mentioned, as well as I can:

    Ric Flair - Flair was always very much a guest in Japan, though he did rack up quite a few matches over there over the course of his career in the late 70s and through the 80s. You could never really call it his home base which is what kept him off the top 10 list, but he does have a handful of real barn burners over there, including a spectacular match with Rick Martel on 10/21/85, which was actually an AWA vs. NWA Champion match. Also very good is his match with Jumbo Tsuruta on 6/8/83.

    Andre the Giant - Andre arguably didn't have a home anywhere, as his main appeal was from roving from place to place and never staying long enough for crowds to get used to his incredible size, but he too took many trips through Japan and was regarded as a major star over there. I'm actually surprised at myself that I didn't mention the Andre vs. Stan Hansen match from 9/23/81, which is definitely worth going out of your way to watch.

    Mick Foley is a bit of a specialized case. His main contribution over there was to FMW, the deathmatch promotion which blew up in the mid 90s and drew large crowds for a while despite not even having a TV deal. I can't say that Cactus Jack was a focal player there but it was a formative experience for Foley as he established himself as a deathmatch legend. I haven't seen much FMW myself so I can't make any recommendations, but it would certainly be something to check out!

    Loving the Elgin love, he's been great to me over the past few years and is currently a more interesting prospect to me than Omega. I agree Elgin could have been used much more effectively in 2017, but NJPW is so damn skittish about pushing new guys to the main event it's frankly amazing that anyone new gets there at all.

    I can dig the Hogan mention, obviously he was never nearly as big a deal there as he was here but he was popular to a certain extent, and he did have some of his better performances over there if you're talking strictly about using a wider moveset than normal and keeping the pace a bit higher. I like his match with Muta in '93, though I don't consider it a classic or anything.

  9. #9
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    Elgin sure thinks his shit don't stink doesn't he? Lost me as a fan.

  10. #10
    The Brain
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    What makes you say that Eddie? I don't follow wrestling drama too closely.

  11. #11
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    Goes back a while as to him having quite an ego of himself. And now stuff has come out about him and Cobb. And stuff about a sexual assault by one of his students on a female fan. And he called the fan a whore in a PM to someone on Twitter and it got posted and now he's saying it was out of context. Only came out yesterday or the day before.

  12. #12
    The Brain
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    I don't necessarily mind someone having a bit of an attitude, and anyone can have private thoughts about someone they have to work with (referring to Cobb), though I guess these days you run the risk of anything coming out online.

    The sexual assault stuff with his student is more serious. From what I've gathered the story is Elgin was told about the accusation a few months back but didn't take action until it came out on Twitter. It's hard to know the exact details but the situation reflects pretty badly on him no matter how you look at it.

  13. #13
    The story is that one of Elgin's workers from Glory Pro, Sean Orleans, was accused of raping a fan back in February. She told Elgin about it immediately and Elgin pretty much sat on it until the girl decided to take it public a few weeks ago. A Twitter user named Vic Venom (who is a low life creep for all intents and purposes), started slut shaming her and Elgin came to her defense, only for Venom to reveal that Elgin had basically been saying the same things about the girl to Venom in a private DM. After that Elgin sold Glory Pro to two friends and disappeared off Twitter, which was then followed by a conversation coming out where he trashed Cobb behind his back.

    So yeah, it's hard to feel sympathy for him. He's a great worker and all and it wasn't right for whoever to leak his private convos, but so what; that doesn't excuse bad behavior and certainly doesn't excuse what he put that girl through (even if he wasn't involved in the assault). Like Matt I've lost a lot of respect for him and if I were New Japan, I'd steer clear of him for now.


  14. #14
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    To hell with Elgin.

    Listen, I'm old school in a lot of ways. I haze guys in the ring. I toughen my students up. I believe the barrier for entry into pro wrestling is too low and needs to get higher than "has a dream" or "passionate".

    I treat girls like another one of the guys. I bust their proverbial balls and joke around with them. But this Elgin stuff is shit that needs to change. Wrestling isn't a safe space for women, and I'm not talking in the 2017 "don't say things that hurt my feelings" way. I sat in a locker room with my girlfriend recently while ostensibly grown men loudly made jokes about raping people.

    Girls don't get into wrestling. And when they do, precious few stay. There's a lot of reasons for that, but this kind of atmosphere is one.

    EDIT: Sorry, I posted this on my phone last night and didn't want to type anymore.

    There's a lot of reasons that girls don't stick around pro wrestling. I think that the biggest part of it is that they see the glamour of the Bellas...and then come to wrestling school and quickly learn that the majority of pro wrestling ain't that. I think that a part of it is the extra expectations on girls makes it tougher and more expensive on them to be in the business -- I don't have to put in extensions or be made up, I just do a couple of push-ups, run a brush through my hair and throw on a little oil.

    But my girlfriend is one hell of a worker. When we're training, I make a point of working extra stiff with her, she demands that the rest of the boys work stiff with her, and she gives it as good as she gets. Then we step into a locker room of people -- people who stay at my house when they're in town and whom I love literally like family -- and someone makes a joke about "copping a feel" when she does a run-in. She rolls her eyes and takes it in stride, because she loves pro wrestling (and, to be fair, knows that the same guy would make the exact same joke about me, or any of the other men in the room, in that situation), but imagine if she didn't know and wasn't comfortable with these dudes.

    I've seen dudes whip out their dick and wave it around, paying no mind to the horrified chicks in the opposite corner of the locker room.

    It's an atmosphere that's why women don't get in or stay in pro wrestling. It's an atmosphere that I absolutely don't tolerate in my locker room. It's an atmosphere partially fostered by the fact that there aren't many women in pro wrestling, so most locker rooms are a boy's club. And it's an atmosphere that needs to be eradicated from pro wrestling.
    Last edited by Team Farrell; 12-08-2017 at 12:13 PM.

  15. #15
    The Brain
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    Damn, that's worse than I realized.

    Great post, Coach.

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