With 2015 approaching conclusion, Tokyo Sports released their annual awards for professional wrestling, arguably the most prestigious pro-wrestling awards outside of the Wrestling Observer year end awards, and the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. The yearly Tokyo Sports results are most always interesting, giving us a degree of insight into the lens through which Japan, or perhaps only a subsection of their media, observed the year’s wrestling landscape. There were several surprising results, most stemming from the usual effort to include all of the major promotions with NJPW, NOAH, Stardom, Big Japan, and Zero-1 featuring. AJPW did not finish, as they have failed to do for the past several years, and neither did Wrestle-1. More surprisingly, however, Dragon Gate wasn’t at all represented for the first time in three years.
Following New Japan’s upsurge in 2012, the most prestigious of the Tokyo Sports awards, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, has gone to the reigning IWGP Heavyweight champion at the time of the vote — this remains so in 2015. There was by no means a definitive candidate in this category, as is the case globally, with Tanahashi, Okada, and Nakamura all standing strong. Tanahashi, fell off for several months this year when feuding with Toru Yano, after dropping the IWGP Heavyweight Title to AJ Styles, whilst Okada had a two or so month long programme with Bad Luck Fale, which was sub-par in comparison to his other work. In the proceeding months, however, Okada worked and drew well with Styles before eventually reclaiming the title, and had a good G1 leading into the new year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Okada will probably win the award again next year too, as his upcoming Tokyo Dome main event with Tanahashi should be the stage to cement his place as the new ace of the promotion. As 2015 MVP, Okada ties Jumbo Tsuruta and Hiroshi Tanahashi with three MVP awards, but should he win next year, not only will he surpass those two awards wise, but will also tie Keiji Mutoh and Genichro Tenryu. How much the Tokyo Sports MVP Award truly means for career analysis is the subject for a separate discussion, however.
Ludicrous as it will at first seem, Match of the Year went to Genichiro Tenryu versus Okada, note however that Tokyo Sports favours high-profile matches featuring historic figures over match quality. Still, they are fairly inconsistent in this preference. In 2011 voters awarded the prize to an All Together match featuring Kobashi, whilst the 2013 prize went to Nakamura/Ibushi, the year of Kobashi’s retirement, which was far higher profile than Tenryu’s. Attempting to follow the pattern would lead one to believe that Nakamura/Ibushi from the Dome would have claimed this year’s prize, but there always exists a disparity in the reference frame of Japanese and foreign fans — Tenryu-Okada wasn’t a great match in most every reference frame I can imagine. At the same time, it was an historic match, one that we may view in hindsight as an important milestone in Okada’s career, and with this in mind, coupled with the at times quirky nature of the awards, the outcome should not come as a surprise.
Yuji Okobayashi took the Fighting Spirit Award, which I always think of as a prize for the Sekimoto, Ishii, Okobayashi, Sugiura, and Honma types that epitomise the idea of fighting sprit, taking punishment and working through pain, often times in order to produce great matches. Daisuke Sekimoto, Atsushi Onita, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Yuji Nagata are all past winners.
The closest analogue to the Observer the Most Outstanding award, the Performance Award, went to Minoru Suzuki, who has certainly spent more time as a main eventer this year than the last several, but hasn’t been churning out a great deal of outstanding matches in NOAH either, at least compared to other candidates like Kota Ibushi, Daisuke Sekimoto, and Tomohiro Ishii. Despite the fact that Suzuki is the New Japan invader in NOAH, this was Tokyo Sports’ way of getting that promotion onto the awards list, as they have done over the past several years in various categories. Alternatively, other candidates, some of whom are mentioned above, may have split the vote.
Depending on your preferred translation, Tomoaki Honma either won the Best Technical or Best Technique award, in one of the stranger outcomes on this year’s list. Previous winners include Shinsuke Nakamura, CIMA, Kota Ibushi, BxB Hulk, Masato Yoshino, and Shingo Takagi, none of whom work a style remotely similar to Honma’s. Even if Suzuki has been brawling his way through the majority of 2015, I can’t help but think that the winners of the Most Outstanding and Best Technique awards should have been switched — as there is an argument for Honma as the year’s best in-ring performer in Japan.
Io Shirai, current Staredom Tag Champion won the Joshi Award, which was a fair decision from what I have read. Meiko Satomura from Sendai Girls was also very strong this year. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment on any deeper level, as I have seen very little Joshi this year.
Even when accounting for some of the other eccentricities of the awards, the strangest outcome on the entire list is far and away Atsushi Onita & Chigusa Nagayo (combined age of 109) as your 2015 Tokyo Sports Tag Team of the Year — a team who had a grand total of one match this year — a single match! By this logic Suzuki and Murakami were eligible, who wrestled twice as many matches this year, as are Yoshihiro Takayama & Yoshiaki Fujiwara. I suspect that this award in particular represents a major disconnect between Japanese and foreign fans, or more specifically, Tokyo Sports Awards voters and fans outside of Japan. This is especially true when the “Barbed Wire Current Blast & Double Blast Bat & Double Blast Chair Embattled Hell Mixed Tag Match” with Nagoya & Onita versus Dump Matsumoto & Taru in Zero-1, probably had more letters in its title than fans in attendance. The New Japan tag division may have atrophied to a shocking degree, but it cannot explain why this team won over most any regularly teaming duo in Japan.
Tenryu won the Distinguished service award. There was no Rookie of the Year Award, I suspect due to a lack of quality candidates, although All Japan and DDT have cultivated some good fresh talent this year.
The 2015 Tokyo Sports awards are as coherent to a non-Japanese fan or Tokyo Sports reader as any of the last three or so years. There were most definitely some head scratchers, but the most important award, MVP, made sense to me as a fan, as did Performer, Match, Joshi, and Fighting Spirit, the others produced varying degrees of confusion, but are explainable — this is, apart from the Tag Team of the Year award, which seemingly defies all reason.
- Most Valuable Player Award (MVP): Kazuchika Okada
- Match of the Year: Genichiro Tenryu vs. Kazuchika Okada
- Joshi Award: Io Shirai
- Best Tag Team: Chigusa Nagayo & Atsushi Onita
- Distinguished Service Award: Minoru Suzuki
- Fighting Spirit Award: Yuji Okabayashi
- Technical Award: Tomoaki Honma
- Outstanding Performance: Minoru Suzuki
- Achievment Award: Genichiro Tenryu