2008 Puroresu Central Awards
Total Votes: 54
Keiji Mutoh - 29 votes
Keiji Mutoh had one of the best years of his career in 2008, which says a lot as he is a multiple time heavyweight champion and a multiple winner of the MVP Award voted by Tokyo Pro. Mutoh was only pinned one time all year in singles competition, which was in the All Japan Champions Carnival, and won both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the All Japan Triple Crown. He was also credited as being one of the main factors to the boost in New Japan's attendance and television ratings during his reign as IWGP Heavyweight Championship from April through the end of the year. Going into 2009, Mutoh still held both major titles and was set to main event the New Japan Tokyo Dome event on January 4th. Keiji Mutoh had the most landslided victory in the 2008 Puroresu Central Awards, further demonstrating his dominance in 2008.
Second place: Shingo Takagi, 8 votes
Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino - 15 votes
Given the nickname "Speed Muscle," Doi and Yoshino set the bar for tag team wrestling in Japan in 2008. Doi and Yoshino defeated their opponents not only due to their individual abilities, but also because they work perfectly together as a team. Going into 2008 they held the Open the Twin Gate, and even though they lost the title they won it back again to become the first pair to hold the title twice. They also entered the year as the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, but would lose the titles in January. In the summer they took part in the Summer Adventure Tag League, and won the tournament for the second straight year. Thanks to their title accomplishments and the high quality of their matches, Speed Muscle edged their competition to take home the award.
Second place: Taiji Ishimori and KENTA, 13 votes
Taiji Ishimori - 14 votes
In another close race, Taiji Ishimori barely beat YAMATO of Dragon Gate as the Breakout Star in Puroresu. In the start of his career, Ishimori appeared to be too much of a high risk wrestler to ever find success in a large promotion, but in 2008 Ishimori continued to prove everyone wrong. As a regular in Pro Wrestling NOAH, Ishimori teamed with KENTA to win the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (his first major title) and won the Nippon TV Cup Jr. Heavyweight Tag League. Besides his tag team success, he also got another shot at the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Championship (this time at the Budokan) but he came up short. In SEM, Ishimori took the role as teacher as he battled many of the younger wrestlers in NOAH, a step up from 2007 when he was the wrestler fighting the veteran to help his progress. A star poised to win his first major singles title in 2009, the sky is the limit for one of the most exciting young Jr. Heavyweights in Japan.
Second place: YAMATO (Dragon Gate), 13 votes
New Japan Pro Wrestling - 25 votes
While most wrestling promotions continued to suffer in 2008 due to the overall stalling growth of wrestling around the world and the global economical recession, New Japan had its first profitable year in recent memory and achieved ratings success not seen since the late 90s. Staying level in Japan is hard enough, but to see such a dramatic increase showed the strength of New Japan's booking and stars. The year started bright with Shinsuke Nakamura winning both IWGP Heavyweight Championships, but the year really took a turn when Keiji Mutoh of All Japan invaded to take the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Mutoh as champion was better for the promotion then anyone could believe, but beyond Mutoh, New Japan had a handful of hot feuds (led by Iizuka vs. Tenzan and the ZERO1 feud) and a solid tag team division to give a complete card. Young stars Naito and Yujiro electrified crowds as NO LIMIT took over the Jr. Heavyweight division, and New Japan enjoyed its best attendance numbers since the early 2000s. The promotion appears to be on a serious upswing and hopefully they will continue to grow in 2009.
Second place: Dragon Gate, 11 votes
ZERO1 vs. New Japan - 22 votes
Part of the reason for New Japan's success in 2008 was a hot feud with ZERO1. While the feud only had two main event matches in New Japan during 2008, they frequently were part of the semi-main event not only in New Japan but in ZERO1 as well. New Japan wrestlers took part in the Fire Festival and ZERO1 wrestlers took part in New Japan's Best of the Super Jr. Tournament and G1 Climax. Masato Tanaka was the main tormentor of New Japan, and he defeated Koji Kanemoto in the spring as well as Manabu Nakanishi. New Japan would get the upper hand in October, with Yuji Nagata winning the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship. With Nagata still with the title as 2008 ended, the feud will continue in 2009. With a solid storyline, the feud lasting the entire year, and an entertaining in-ring product the New Japan vs. ZERO1 feud easily took home the award.
Second place: NOAH vs. Kensuke Office, 9 votes
Naomichi Marufuji vs. KENTA, Pro Wrestling NOAH on October 25th - 9 votes
In another close vote, Marufuji and KENTA pulled it out to win the Match of the Year Award. Their battle on October 25th was historical for a number of reasons. First, it was the first time in wrestling history that the All Japan Jr. Heavyweight Championship and the GHC Jr. Heavyweight Championship were both on the line in the same match. It was also the first time the Jr. Heavyweight Championship was the main event at a Budokan event. Finally, it was the first time that Marufuji and KENTA wrestled in a 60 minute match. All these factors were important, but the biggest reason Marufuji and KENTA took home the honor was the match was wildly entertaining and kept the crowd on the edge of their seats for the entire match. KENTA and Marufuji kept the match interesting by mixing in new moves, high flying moves, and high impact moves evenly throughout the encounter. The 2nd and 3rd place matches were considered by many to be better in-ring, but they couldn't overcome the historical relevance of Marufuji vs. KENTA on October 25th in NOAH.
Second place: Mashimo and Madoka vs. MEN's Teioh and Shinobu - Big Japan on May 23rd, 8 votes
Event of the Year
New Japan "Destruction" on October 13th - 16 votes
To get the "successful" portion out of the way, New Japan "Destruction" sold out Sumo Hall, which is no small feat considering wrestling in general had not rebounded in popularity after falling in previous years and Sumo Hall is a large venue. As far as entertainment, New Japan "Destruction" was from top to bottom the most entertaining and diverse card of 2008. The event had an exciting Jr. Heavyweight match (NO LIMIT vs. Minoru and Prince Devitt), a bloody grudge match (Iizuka vs. Tenzan), a Match of the Year Candidate invasion championship match (Yuji Nagata vs. Masato Tanaka), and a hot main event (Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Keiji Mutoh). All three title matches delivered and the crowd stayed into the entire card. The All Japan Champion Carnival card also had a hot crowd and a great main event, but it wasn't as complete an event as New Japan "Destruction." The last big event for New Japan in 2008, it set the promotion up for a great 2009.
Second place (tie): All Japan Champion Carnival on April 9th, 9 votes
Keiji Mutoh and Kenta Kobashi - tied with 8 votes
It is fitting that these two would share the award, as they deserve it for very different reasons. Kenta Kobashi made his return in December of 2007 from being out due to having cancer, and wrestled for the first half of 2008 before missing time due to an unrelated elbow injury. Keiji Mutoh had a fine year in 2007, but was mostly a support player in the main event as he seemed to be in the twilight of his career. In 2008 though he had a great re-birth as he won both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the All Japan Triple Crown, giving Mutoh one of the best years of his career at the young age of 46.
Naomichi Marufuji - 7 votes
In 2008, Marufuji had a number of great matches as he continued wrestling a hybrid heavyweight and jr. heavyweight style. On the heavyweight side he often won matches with power moves such as the Pole Shift, but he also still used his high flying moves to weaken his opponents. The end result was an always entertaining encounter as Marufuji battled hard from the minute the bell rang. Amongst his best matches in 2008 were singles matches against Shuji Kondo in All Japan and his 60 minute draw against KENTA in October. Keeping a 60 minute match entertaining for its duration is no small feat, and him being able to do that showed his growth in 2008. Few wrestlers in Japan put forth as many entertaining matches as Marufuji, and here he edged Hiroshi Tanahashi by one vote to take home the award.
Kota Ibushi and Yuji Hino - tied with 4 votes
Ibushi and Hino both wrestled for smaller promotions in 2008, Ibushi for DDT and Hino for K-DOJO. Ibushi has taken part in Pro Wrestling NOAH in past years and has gotten more exposure then Hino, but even with a few appearances in the bigger promotions he generally stays in DDT. In DDT, Ibushi put on entertaining high flying matches for years, but he has also shown a great ability for shoot-style wrestling as well, showing that he is more then just a one trick pony. Yuji Hino had a great year in K-DOJO, as he went from mid-carder to STRONGEST-K Champion (K-DOJO's top championship) in a very short amount of time. He held the STRONGEST-K Championship for four months, with his biggest win coming over Madoka, before losing the title to Kengo Mashimo. Besides being successful in the ring, Hino got great reactions from the crowd in 2008 and at his current pace it is only a matter of time before he breaks into a larger promotion.