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#MustWatchMonday (4/11/16): A Short Primer on Seiya Sanada


On April 10, 2016, at NJPW Invasion Attack, a couple of things happened that sent puroresu circles buzzing with excitement. First, Tetsuya Naito, after ten long years of injuries and failed pushes, has finally latched on to a gimmick that resonated with audiences, and culminated in him winning his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Second, and very much related to Naito, was the debut of Seiya Sanada in NJPW, as a member of the Los Ingobernables de Japon stable.

Now I get what you're thinking: Who is Seiya Sanada, and why should I be excited about his debut in NJPW?

Seiya Sanada is a 28-year-old wrestler, who debuted in 2007 for Jun Akiyama's incarnation of All Japan Pro Wrestling (not to be confused with the mid-90s AJPW that featured the big four of Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue). His career started off fairly well, with him winning the Samurai TV Triple Arrow tournament a few months after his debut with Kensuke Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima. 

After a few years of opening matches and unsuccessful tournaments, Sanada eventually won the All Asia Tag Team Championship with fellow rising star Manabu Soya in 2010. They held the titles for 204 days, eventually losing it to the visiting tag team from BJW, Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi—also known as Strong BJ—in an excellent match. The two teams feuded over the belts for the next few months, with Sanada winning and losing the title to this team once more before concentrating on his singles career. After two unsuccessful Champions Carnival runs (the AJPW equivalent of the G1 Climax), Sanada finally started to gain traction as a singles wrestler, reaching the finals of the 2011 edition of the tournament, though losing to Yuji Nagata.



Sanada stayed somewhat prominent in AJPW for the next few years, becoming the inaugural GAORA TV Champion—the secondary singles title in AJPW—until 2013. He then tendered his resignation from AJPW, joining an exodus led by Keiji Mutoh into his new promotion, WRESTLE-1, which began a working relationship with American-based promotion TNA

In 2014, Sanada won a 20-man battle royale to determine the number one contender to the TNA X-Division Title, and at W-1 WRESTLE-1 Outbreak, Sanada won the X-Division title against Austin Aries in a decent, but not spectacular match.



Following the win against Aries, Sanada successfully defended his X-Division Championship against Seiki Yoshioka and Christopher Daniels, before announcing that he had signed a dual-contract with TNA and WRESTLE-1. Sanada started out strong in his TNA debut, defeating Tigre Uno in a three match series for the X-Division Championship, and also retaining the belt in a 6-way ladder match against Crazzy Steve, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Manik and Tigre Uno. His prominent role in TNA was only temporary, however, as questionable booking and an ill-advised heel turn left him floundering on the undercard, until his departure from TNA in April of 2015.

After bouncing around a few more American independent promotions, Sanada eventually went back to Japan as a freelancer, wrestling primarily for BJW, where he began to recover some of his momentum while reminding people of the potential he still had. He participated in the 2016 BJW Ikkitousen Strong Climb, the BJW equivalent of the G1 Climax and had a good showing, beating up-and-coming talents Daichi Hashimoto and Hideyoshi Kamitani, who are both being groomed to be important names in the BJW Strong Division. His first match in the tournament, however, was against the man synonymous with the Strong Division, Daisuke Sekimoto. The match wasn't too long—only around 12-13 minutes—but featured both men constantly trying to one up each other, mirroring moves and showing off how versatile both these wrestlers were. Personally, it was this match that got me watching Seiya Sanada again after his botched run in TNA, so take from that what you will.



That's pretty much who Seiya Sanada is, so why should you care about his debut? 

With the departures of Nakamura, Styles and Ibushi, NJPW was in desperate need for talent to fill out their roster, and while having names like Will Ospreay and Ricochet is great, it's only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Seiya Sanada's debut in NJPW, and in such a prominent role, is a promising indication by NJPW that they're finally ready to start moving on from the dated thinking of only pushing homegrown talents, and are now willing to sign top wrestlers who may have gotten their start somewhere else. 

Secondly, Seiya Sanada has the look that NJPW looks for in its top stars (i.e. Okada and Naito), and can keep up with the high standards of wrestling NJPW is known for. Finally, debuting in NJPW gives Sanada the best chance to live up to the potential people have seen in him and still see in him, because as great as BJW and WRESTLE-1 are, it doesn't provide the reach nor a big enough stage for Sanada to continue to grow.

If we were to try and make a comparison to WWE, in puro circles, this would be almost equivalent to CM Punk's debut, an outside talent who was given an important role to fill right away, and giving him the platform to display his full potential.

What do you think about Seiya Sanada's debut in NJPW? Do you think NJPW will sign more free agents? Leave a comment below!

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Brandon Sy is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics currently based in Sydney. Since he wasn't allowed to watch wrestling as a kid, he's been overcompensating ever since. Despite being a huge fan of Japanese wrestling, he still holds a soft spot in his heart for WWE's Kane. He's good for recommending matches from pretty much anywhere, whether it be Japan, Europe, the US or Mexico. He'd be ecstatic if you watched Dragon Gate though.

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