2009 Puroresu Central Awards
Total Votes: 82
Mitsuharu Misawa and Keiji Mutoh - tied with 18 votes
Out of 82 accepted ballots, 72 gave a winner for the Mitsuharu Misawa Award. It is almost unbelievable that after the tallying was done two wrestlers would tie for an open award, with the man the award is named after winning with who many consider the top ambassador to puroresu after Misawa's passing.
Mitsuharu Misawa's role in 2009 was as much before his death as after it. Prior to his death he was working hard on getting over the young Go Shiozaki so he would be ready to lead the promotion once Misawa retired. This included winning the Global Tag League, as even though Misawa was in no physical condition to have such long matches he did it so he could help Shiozaki's career. Also as the President of Pro Wrestling NOAH, the promotion for the first time in years had a legitimate heel stable and the younger wrestlers were getting a chance to lead. After his death, his influence on puroresu included the debating of forcing wrestling to take medical leave when injured. Obviously this came about for terrible reasons, but it was still an impact that Misawa had on puroresu. Keiji Mutoh spreads the puroresu love in other ways. Besides being the President of All Japan and leading the promotion, he also appears regularly on TV and in commercials. He also was able to get Funaki to return to pro wrestling, which improved the promotion's visibility. Both Mutoh and Misawa are true ambassadors to puroresu and not only in 2009 but throughout their careers have done a significant amount to spread the puroresu love.
Wrestler Of The Year
Hiroshi Tanahashi - 27 votes
With 10 more votes then his nearest competitor (who also happens to be his biggest rival), Tanahashi easily takes home the Wrestler of the Year Award. Tanahashi earned this award mostly in the first half of the year. He started 2009 by defeating his mentor Keiji Mutoh for the first time in the main event of the Tokyo Dome for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He lost the title briefly to Nakanishi but won it right back, and overall he held the championship for 179 days in 2009. In the G1 Climax he reached the semi-finals, but was injured and was forced to vacate the title. Once we returned, his attempt to win back the title from Nakamura failed. While his second half belonged to the 2nd Place winner of this award, winning at the Tokyo Dome put Tanahashi over the edge as he follows his mentor as the winner of the Wrestler of the Year in 2009.
Second Place: Shinsuke Nakamura (17 votes)
Apollo 55 - 21 votes
With no heavyweight team dominating the scene, this award was between the top Jr. Heavyweight tag teams from New Japan and NOAH, with the New Japan team of Apollo 55 edging out Kanemaru and Suzuki. Ryusuke Taguchi and Prince Devitt began teaming in 2008 and won their first championship together in 2009, as on July 5th they defeated Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. They held the titles for the rest of 2009, defending it three times and putting on exciting and fast paced matches that kept the fans on the edge of their seats. They even teamed together in the G1 Tag League, a tournament normally designed for heavyweights, and they surprised many by reaching the finals before losing to Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson. Apollo 55 proved that they aren't just one of the top Jr. Heavyweight tag teams in Japan, but one of the top tag teams overall.
Second Place: Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Kotaro Suzuki (17 votes)
Fujita "Jr." Hayato and Kazuchika Okada - tied with 14 votes
This was by far the closest vote, with five wrestlers within 3 votes of each other. The winners couldn't be more different, with one being the future ace of a small promotion and the other being a future star of one of the largest promotions in Japan. Hayato won Michinoku Pro's main title (the Tohoku Jr. Heavyweight Championship) on December 12th, 2008 and he held the belt until September of 2009. With his in-ring ability and crowd support, Hayato is sure to be the ace of Michinoku Pro for years to come if he chooses to stay in the promotion. Okada had a very different year, as in New Japan it takes much longer to move up the card then it does in Michinoku Pro. Still, Okada really impressed the fans with his participation in the New Japan vs. NOAH feud, and in 2009 he went from virtually unknown to one that people are expecting to help lead New Japan in the future.
Third Place: Naoki Tanisaki (13 votes)
New Japan Pro Wrestling - 34 votes
In the most lopsided win of the 2009 Puroresu Central Awards, for the second straight year New Japan wins the Promotion of the Year. And it is easy to understand why, as in the Puroresu Central Awards they also had the Wrestler of the Year, Tag Team of the Year, Feud of the Year, and Event of the Year. Many were afraid that New Japan would lose some of their momentum from 2008, but they managed to not only maintain it but surpass it with a popular feud against NOAH along with the CHAOS vs. GBH feud. There was very little downtime as something was always happening in the promotion, whether it be Nakanishi finally winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship or Makabe finally winning a major tournament. The rest of the order was also the same as 2008, with Dragon Gate in second and NOAH in third.
Second Place: Dragon Gate (19 votes)
New Japan vs. NOAH - 29 votes
New Japan and NOAH started their feud on January 4th and continued all the way to the end of the year. They started with a bang at the Tokyo Dome, with Misawa and Nakamura mixing it up for the first time along with Nakanishi and Akiyama in singles action. NOAH's Sugiura took front stage as he brutalized Okada, challenged Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and invaded the G1 Climax. Go Shiozaki also played a big role as he fought with New Japan's Hirooki Goto. Battling in both NOAH and New Japan, the crowds loved the interaction and with Marufuji winning New Japan's Super J Cup in December for a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship the feud appears to be far from over.
Second Place: KENTA vs. Nakajima (14 votes)
KENTA vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima, NOAH on March 1st - 20 votes
In 2009 KENTA and Nakajima matched up many times and had a number of great matches, but the match on March 1st topped them all and for the second straight year KENTA is in the Match of the Year. This match had everything: drama, big moves, a hot crowd, and a decisive ending. Interestingly, these two wrestling against each other also came in second place, and if I had included another KENTA/Nakajima match on the ballot they might have come in 3rd place as well. KENTA and Nakajima have great chemistry and have fought so many times they have counters to their counters, all leading to a fluid and entertaining match every time. Look for them to face off more in 2010.
Second Place: Kensuke Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Go Shiozaki and KENTA, NOAH on June 22nd (16 votes)
Event of the Year
New Japan at Tokyo Dome on January 4th - 27 votes
The biggest wrestling event each year in terms of attendance, the New Japan Tokyo Dome event on January 4th also delivered in terms of in-ring quality in 2009. The main event of Mutoh vs. Tanahashi was a "years in the making" match that saw Tanahashi realize his destiny and beat his former mentor for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Also on the card saw the start of the very popular New Japan vs. NOAH feud, as well as Misawa's last appearance in New Japan. Yuji Nagata and Masato Tanaka also tore the house down in their singles match. While there were certainly some duds on the card, the combination of the big event atmosphere, NOAH invading, and Tanahashi finally beating Mutoh helped this event win the Event of the Year Award.
Second Place: NOAH "The Second Navigation 2009" on March 1st (14 votes)
Masakatsu Funaki - 22 votes
On June 10th, 2009, Keiji Mutoh of All Japan shocked the puroresu world with the announcement that Masakatsu Funaki was returning to professional wrestling. Originally only announced to take part of Mutoh's 25th Anniversary match in August, Funaki ended up signing a contract with All Japan and he wrestled there on every tour for the remainder of the year. He instantly rekindled his feud with Suzuki and his in-ring ability didn't seem to have lost a step since he left professional wrestling in the 90s. A popular MMA fighter, Funaki joining All Japan raised awareness of the promotion and the palpable passion he shows during his matches made him an easy winner for this award.
KENTA - 11 votes
With the top two matches of 2009, it isn't a surprise that KENTA was also voted as the Worker of the Year in Puroresu. Few wrestlers in Japan have more exciting matches then KENTA, as he blends fast paced action with strong and sometimes sickening strikes. Giving 100% in every match, KENTA had great matches in 2009 with wrestlers ranging from other Jr. Heavyweights like Nakajima to heavyweights such as Akiyama and Kawada, showing that regardless of the style he can adapt and captivate a crowd. With a change of the guard taking place in NOAH, expect for KENTA to have more success in 2010 as he has proven he has what it takes in the ring to entertain the fans.
Fujita "Jr." Hayato - 9 votes
How can a wrestler win the Breakout Star and Best Kept Secret? By being in a small promotion with little TV time and very little buzz. Lots of wrestlers got votes in this category but Hayato won because he had a great year but most people have never seen any of his matches. Oddly, his biggest profile match happened after voting was over, as his match against Kanemoto in New Japan on December 23rd has gotten very positive reviews and it is possible that New Japan will bring him back in the future. But if you have not seen any of Hayato's matches I'd recommend it, he is a great striker and can win with a variety of submission holds, making his matches almost always entertaining. 2009 was a big year for Hayato, and he is poised for an even bigger one in 2010.