On February 22nd, NJPW announced that Hiromu Takahashi had suffered a torn pectoral and will be missing shows for the next 5 to 6 months. As of the time of writing, it’s unclear whether NJPW will have Takahashi vacate the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title, or if he’ll hold it until he returns (one would have to assume the former, though).
Hiromu’s absence creates a power vacuum in the junior division. There are only about 12 wrestlers healthy and able to travel to Japan given current travel restrictions, so the company has limited options when it comes to filling Hiromu’s shoes during his recovery.
Though the options are limited, the wrestlers available are each strong in their own rights. Here are 5 wrestlers who could hold Hiromu’s spot as the juniors’ top star.
Sho is traditionally a tag team wrestler; he’s one half of the tag team Roppongi 3k along with Yoh, who’s been recovering from a torn ACL since the 2020 New Japan Cup. Since his partner’s absence, Sho has proven himself to be a talented singles star, even going so far as capturing title shots for both the IWGP Jr title and the NEVER Openweight title. He’s gained a lot of popularity with the fans during this time, as well. NJPW could capitalize on his momentum by pushing him further and keeping him in the title picture.
Ishimori was the Jr champion up until Wrestle Kingdom, where he suffered a loss to Hiromu. An interesting facet of Ishimori’s character is his envy of Hiromu’s spotlight, and his disdain for the company’s clear favoritism. Now that Hiromu is out, Ishimori could seize this opportunity and prove his worth to the division. This would require some multitasking on his part, though, as Ishimori is currently holding the IWGP Jr Heavyweight tag titles alongside El Phantasmo.
Rocky recently issued a challenge to himself to capture the IWGP Jr title before October 28, his 40th birthday. He’s another fan-favorite who’s been putting in a lot of work for NJPW, both in Japan and in the US. Seeing him chase and capture the Jr title would be a welcomed, feel-good story that I think fans would love. It could also create feuds between Rocky and his long-term nemesis Bushi, or his protégé, Sho.
A title reign from Bushi could be a very welcomed presence in NJPW, given the injuries to LIJ, maybe the most adored babyface faction today. He’s also been in Hiromu’s shadow, so this could be his chance to establish his independence again. Of course, it’s hard for anyone who teams with Hiromu to not be overshadowed, but Bushi hasn’t had a lot of success on his own as of late. Additionally, he’s only held the Jr title once, back in 2016. Another run with the title could be really beneficial for both Bushi himself, and for the fans who will surely miss Hiromu dearly.
Since Dragon Lee has been unable to travel to Japan due to the pandemic, El Desperado has stepped up to be Hiromu’s primary rival. Their relationship is complicated, to say the least, but what can certainly be said is that his feud with Hiromu has greatly raised El Desperado’s profile. After the 2020 Best of Super Juniors, he’s proven himself to be extremely capable in the main event spot. Now might be the most opportune time for El Desperado to capitalize on that potential and finally capture the Jr title.
Hiromu Takahashi is undoubtedly the top star of the junior division. His injury is a great loss to NJPW. Hiwever, Hiromu has endured worse and will surely return even stronger than he was before. In the meantime
We at Nearfalls wish him a smooth and speedy recovery!
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