As the calendar flips over to December, along with the cavalcade of festivities comes time to decide our respective Wrestler of the Year. I’ve shortlisted five names who are in the running for my Wrestler of the Year selection, with each being featured in their own piece. My second pick is the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Shingo Takagi
Shingo Takagi: The Case To Be 2021 Wrestler of The Year 2021
In 2021, Shingo Takagi has been the Dragon breathing the ever-present fire of match of the year contenders, and guiding NJPW through the plethora of issues it’s faced over the year. Whether it be in IWGP World Heavyweight or NEVER Openweight Championship clashes, New Japan Cup or G1 Climax outings, Shingo has impressed near endlessly.
The Best In The World
It’s no secret that Shingo Takagi is one of the best wrestlers in the world. So, it’s no wonder that he stands as a true Wrestle of the Year candidate now that 2021 nears its end. Even before Shingo became entranced with the Lion Mark, he showed the highest-quality by producing Match of the Year entries inside his former home of Dragon Gate. Now, firmly a fixture of Japan’s premier promotion, Shingo has produced a spectacular list of matches against some of the world’s best.
He began his great year in fitting fashion by facing Jeff Cobb at Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 2 (Jan 5), in a successful defence of his NEVER Openweight gold. If that wasn’t enough, he eclipsed his match against Cobb with another stunner – this time opposite the Ace of NJPW at New Beginning in Nagoya (Jan 30). Shingo showed his immense ability to adapt to his opponents in these two killer matches, as while Cobb and Hiroshi Tanahashi are starkly contrasting opponents, the match-ups were both Match of the Year standard.
From a January bookended by classics, Shingo’s next exuberance of class came in March’s New Japan Cup. Defeating Kazuchika Okada (March 6) and Hirooki Goto (March 14) in forgotten about gems, he rapidly progressed to the showpiece final against Will Ospreay (March 21).
Even though Shingo was on the wrong end of the tournament’s climaxing fall, he impressed in an MVP-esque run. The Dragon was breathing the fire which kept New Japan going through a mess of questionable, and outright disgraceful, booking decisions.
Shingo Takagi returned to NJPW’s main events, this time for a stint that is yet to end, as he challenged Will Ospreay for the newly christened (and highly controversial) IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. At Wrestling Dontaku (May 4th), Shingo wrestled what in my book was a 5-star match against Ospreay. Yet again the Dragon showed his fiery intent to be the world’s best. Perhaps he’s managed just that.
As a seeming curse encapsulated the World Heavyweight Championship, with both inaugural champion Kota Ibushi and subsequent holder Will Ospreay relinquishing the belt due to injury, Shingo was sent to the rescue. In the prized main event slot of NJPW’s key Dominion show (June 7), the Dragon overcame the Rainmaker and became IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
He hasn’t looked back since.
With the strap firmly around his waist, Shingo enchanted the Tokyo Dome faithful with another clash against Hiroshi Tanahashi (who was stepping in for the injured Ibushi). The Wrestle Grand Slam show (July 25) had a few worthwhile watches, but none got near the lofty, sky-skimming heights of the Dragon’s date with Tanahashi. They didn’t quite outdo their New Beginnings outing, but it remains one of the best matches this year.
Even though EVIL dampened proceedings in a painstakingly poor match at Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome (September 4), Shingo remained on his impenetrable course.
Of course, G1 Climax 31 followed. Shingo had too many great matches to bother naming them all, but the tournament’s opening night (Sept 18) showcased the best of a glorious bunch. Facing off against the ferocious Tomohiro Ishii in a bout much akin to two bulls locking horns in a fury filled clash, Shingo kicked off the G1 with some much-needed fireworks. This battle housed more intensity, fury and brutality than most – exactly what you’d expect from Shingo vs Ishii in a high-profile headline position.
After the close of the G1, Shingo crusaded to avenge his loss to tournament star, Zack Sabre Jr. At the aptly named Power Struggle (November 6), Shingo managed to see off the Brit in a match that truly rivalled their G1 clash in its technical prowess, energetic excitement and thrilling exchanges.
Given New Japan’s yearly schedule, Shingo hasn’t had a high-profile match since his fantastic victory over ZSJ. So, while other candidates have surged in the latter months of the year, most of Shingo’s Wrestler of the Year work was done much earlier in the calendar.
Regardless of when in the calendar Shingo proved his excellence, he did just that. In the zodiac 2021 is the year of the Ox, but in pro wrestling, it’s been the year of the Dragon. Shingo Takagi has proved time and time again that he’s one of the best ever, and with an undeniably world-class resume, it’s becoming hard to argue he isn’t at the very least New Japan’s Wrestler of the Year.