KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app)
Soft spoken, serious, brash, athletic, driven, future singles champion. All of these words and phrases have been used to describe SANADA of LIJ (Los Ingobernables de Japon). Rightfully so, as 2017-2018 has been a groundbreaking period for the “Cold Skull” of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In that time frame, Sanada has reached achievements such as winning the 2017 World Tag League tournament with fellow LIJ member Evil, winning the IWGP Tag Team titles with Evil at New Japan’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 12, earning an IWGP Heavyweight Championship opportunity at the New Beginning In Osaka against Kazuchika Okada, and entering the 28th edition of the G1 Climax tournament as one of the favorites to win the B Block. Those achievements in Sanada’s career have not come easy. The road to success for Sanada has been full of roadblocks along the way, but as they say, pressure creates diamonds.
Sanada began his professional wrestling journey in 2005 when he failed to pass an introductory test to earn a spot in the NJPW Dojo. Sanada was not alone during the introductory testing period, he was joined by future New Japan stars Tetsuya Naito and Yoshi-Hashi. After failing to earn a spot in New Japan, Sanada found a home with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Being trained by Keiji Mutoh (otherwise known as The Great Muta), Sanada called All Japan Pro Wrestling his home from 2007-2013 where he learned to perfect his craft with guidance from many Japanese wrestling legends such as Yuji Nagata and Kensuke Sasaki.
For the next two years until 2015, Sanada spent time wrestling for a promotion that was run by his trainer, Keiji Mutoh, called Wrestle-1. During his time in Wrestle-1, Sanada received two opportunities to challenge for the TNA (Total Nonstop Action) World Heavyweight Championship against current WWE champion, AJ Styles. Although unsuccessful, Sanada soon earned an opportunity to challenge Austin Aries for the TNA X-Division Championship on Mar. 3rd, 2014. Sanada rose to the challenge and was successful against Aries to become the new TNA X-Division Champion. The day after he became champion, Wrestle-1 announced that Sanada will be leaving to wrestle for TNA full time during his excursion in Canada.
On Mar. 9, 2014 Sanada made his TNA debut wrestling alongside his mentor The Great Muta and Yasu to defeat Chris Saban, Christopher Daniels and Kazarian. Over the next year, Sanada would lose the X-Division Champion to Austin Aries and debut a villainous character, “The Great Sanada”, where he would turn on his mentor and align himself with James Storm and Abyss, forming the stable The Revolution. The rest of his time in TNA was uneventful to say the least, when he was eventually let go by the promotion on Apr. 16th, 2015. Sanada then found work wherever he could, wrestling for promotions such as Chikara and Global Force Wrestling before signing a contract for New Japan Pro Wrestling in April of 2016.
Helping Tetsuya Naito defeat Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and aligning himself with Los Ingobernables de Japon was certainly one way to announce his presence as an impact player in New Japan. Sporting a new look and an “all business” demeanor, Sanada let the world know that he intends to make waves in his native country of Japan. A man of very few words, Sanada let his in-ring skills speak for him. With elite athleticism, a dark, anti-authority personality, and establishing a reputation of putting opponents to sleep with the “Skull End” submission finishing maneuver, Sanada quickly started to gain the admiration of the Japanese fans.
As noted earlier, Sanada is starting to rack up achievement after achievement. His list of accolades is growing by the month and I think I speak for a large majority of the NJPW fans out there when I say the sky is the limit. Sanada is technically eliminated from the 2018 edition of the G1 Climax tournament, but not without fantastic performances against top names such as Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, and Kota Ibushi. At 30 years of age, Sanada is just starting to enter the prime of his career. His work with Evil makes them one of the most feared tag teams in the promotion so there isn’t any rush straying away from the tag team division. However, when he does decide to to focus on a singles career, I believe the transition will work out very well in his favor.
With the elite athleticism that Sanada has, the devoted fan base he has, and the reputation amongst the current crop of superstars to be one of the most skilled in-ring performers in the company, I believe it’s only a matter of time until Sanada stands atop the NJPW world.
NOW CHECK OUT THIS PREVIOUS COLUMN: NEW JAPAN FOCUS: The Emergence of Juice Robinson – Where he came from, what’s working for him lately, and where he could go from here