Welcome to Wrestlers of the Month 2021 Issue #1 - January! Each month, Pro Wrestling Musings contributors and invited outside content creators will vote on the wrestlers of the month.
Voters are invited to make picks based on who, to them, were the best wrestlers of the month based on non-kayfabe criteria. The criteria, of course, will vary from person to person however many of these picks will be made based on in-ring performance, character work and how much individuals are entertained by the wrestlers as a whole.
Without further adieu...
This month's votes were dominated by 3 wrestlers, in fact only one other man received more than one first place vote; Edge. Let's take a closer look at the 3 best wrestlers of January 2021.
1. Shingo Takagi
Shingo Takagi takes Pro-Wrestling Musings' best wrestler of January 2021 after two amazing matches in the same month. Two matches that are rated as the two highest rated matches of 2021 on both Grappl and Cagematch.
Shingo opened the month on night two of Wrestle Kingdom 15 with a match that, for many, stole the show. His hard-hitting encounter with Jeff Cobb raised the profile of the NEVER Openweight Championship to the point that many now consider it the second title in New Japan. The title is now synonymous with Shingo who has redefined what this title means in NJPW. No longer a championship to throw on someone for the sake of it. It now represents opportunity and pride.
It is somewhat poetic then that the man who took the title off him later in the month was Hiroshi Tanahashi. A wrestler who has very little left to prove for his legacy. Tanahashi has won it all and yet all everyone was talking about after Wrestle Kingdom was his knees and whether he’s finished. In a brilliant match with Shingo, The Ace proved he still has what it takes to win titles. Best represented in winning the one Japan-based championship that had eluded to that point.
That moment was wonderful for Tanahashi but outside of kayfabe it arguably said more about Shingo Takagi as a performer. It is down to Shingo’s great work over the last year, earlier in the month against Cobb and in the match with Tana itself to elevate that title to the point where it means as much as it does for Tanahashi in the story.
2. Kota Ibushi
If we were voting with our eyes, asking ourselves who looks like a winner, Kota Ibushi would be number one. Alas even with two of the prettiest championship belts in all of wrestling awarded to him by the prestigious New Japan Pro Wrestling and all the abs a man could ever want, Kota Ibushi is beaten to first place by the Dragon, Shingo Takagi. With that being said it's still worth spening time on Kota Ibushi's career defining January 2021.
There was a time, a couple of years back, when there was some concern over Kota Ibushi's ability to wrestle NJPW-length big matches. Apparently, the problem was some difficulty around becoming damagingly dehydrated... Well with just over 79 minutes of intense main even wrestling that worry seems to be one confined to history as Kota Ibushi bettered Kazuchika Okada's 75 minutes over the two nights of Wrestle Kingdom 14.
Ibushi has long been poised to ascend to the top of the New Japan mountain, this being the end of a three year odyssey, and didn't he do it in style? This wasn't 79 minutes of 2020, New Japan main events, Ibushi's wins over Naito and White are the 4th and 5th highest rated matches of January 2021 on GRAPPL. He also sold continuously for his opponents building a true underdog feel to his triumph with match offence totals of 34% and 33% respectively.
Here's to hoping Kota Ibushi's 2021 carries on much in the same vein as it has begun!
By Craig William (@Craig PWMusings)
3. Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega's January was a bit of a lull, relatively. He only had a fantastic major-network main-event world-title defense against very arguably the most talented high flier in the world today, Rey Fenix. And was the starring attraction of the main event of a competitor's pay-per-view. Oh, and he brought back the original Bullet Club! (Okay, I exaggerate.) In any other competitor's career, a month like January would have to be considered a milestone. But as Omega never tires of reminding us, he is on a higher level.
No, a month like Omega's January can only possibly qualify as a lull in the context of a calendar like Omega's-- back in December he ended Jon Moxley's dominant World Title reign, and then shocked the wrestling world by invading Impact Wrestling... and now in February, he looks to be obliterating the Forbidden Door between AEW and NJPW.
As his guru and fellow Winnepegian Don Callis likes to say: they're about making history. The two of them claim that they've changed the business twice (taking credit for Jericho's NJPW run and for Tony Khan starting AEW) and that they're going to change it a third time, and that may sound like boilerplate bluster, but at this point, can you really doubt them?
Best of the Rest
Jay White has honestly done some of the best work of his career in the month of January 2021. Most would consider his match with Kota Ibushi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom night two to be his best match to date and his promo after the event is genuinely one of the best promos of all time. His spell of inactivity maybe explains why he’s not in the top three, but he definitely deserves a shout. Not to mention one of the best works in modern wrestling that had New Japan fans panicking on Rumble night like it was 2016 all over again.
January 2021 was the month where Bianca Belair’s enormous potential was finally realised when she won a brilliant Royal Rumble match after impressing on SmackDown of late. After two years of false dawns when fans thought Belair would ascend to the next level and realise her potential, the fed finally pulled the trigger. Let’s hope they’re not shooting blanks.
Hiroshi Tanahashi proved he can still hang with the emerging generation when he defeated Great-O-Khan at Wrestle Kingdom as well as the current generation when he defeated Shingo Takagi at The New Beginning in what is highest rated match of 2021 on both Grappl and Cagematch. The Ace’s body may be showing the negative effects of age, but his mind is showing where his advantage comes in hand as demonstrated against Takagi. Don’t bet against Tana, he still has a few aces up his sleeve.
Voting - 3 points for a 1st place vote, 2 for a 2nd and 1 for a 3rd.