Osaka Pro Wrestling: Light Heavyweight Tournament 2024

Osaka Pro Wrestling is part of the origin story of some of Japan’s best and well-loved wrestlers. Its alumni include stars who emerged from the company’s heyday of the 2000s and early 2010s, like HUB and Daisuke Harada, and the emerging new generation who got their first training in Osaka Pro’s children’s wrestling classes, like Konosuke Takeshita and Rina Yamashita. Osaka Pro shows have featured wrestlers as varied as Arisa Nakajima, CIMA, Kota Ibushi, Io Shirai, Masahiro Chono, Dump Matsumoto and Eddie Kingston, to name just a few (really, the list is long!). I’d be willing to bet there are no more than two degrees of separation between Osaka Pro and your favourite wrestler. 

Osaka Pro is more than just legacy however, and the company has been steadily growing in national and international status since its 2022 relaunch under President Zeus. On the 25th and 26th May Osaka Pro will hold its third annual Light Heavyweight tournament, with the winner earning the right to challenge current champion Ryuya Matsufusa at the Osaka Castle Festival on 23rd June. Osaka Pro’s light heavyweight talent, both upcoming talents and veterans, have been a highlight of the refreshed company, making this tournament a great way to get to know its current and future stars. 

The tournament

The Light Heavyweight Championship is a recent introduction, one of several small but meaningful changes made by company President Zeus to mark a new chapter for Osaka Pro. The belt was revealed in March 2022, with the Light Heavyweight Tournament used to decide its first champion, Tigers Mask. The tournament takes a knockout format over two rounds and, for the first time, will not include the Champion as a competitor. 

The tournament will be held on two consecutive days in Azalea Taisho Hall in Osaka. Osaka Pro have yet to announce how the show will be broadcast, as it is often dependent on sponsorship and the terms of their TV deal with GAORA. Previous big shows have been broadcast live on YouTube or released as a clipped digest version around 2 days after the show, and a fuller version available through their monthly GAORA Sports TV show. This article will be updated with the details of how and where to watch the tournament.

The competitors

Left to right: Tsubasa, Yasutaka Oosera, Ultimate Spider Jr, ARASHI, Billy Ken Kid, Yuto Kikuchi, Tigers Mask, Takoyakida.

Tsubasa

3rd time competitor, eliminated in round 2 in 2023. 

Tsubasa celebrated his 50th birthday in 2023, though his greying beard is often the only indication of his age. Inspired by Ultimo Dragon, Tsubasa trained and debuted in Mexico, finally meeting his idol and receiving some training in the Toryumon gym. During a CMLL tour in Japan, he met the founder of Osaka Pro Wrestling, Super Delphin, and became one of the initial roster for the launch of Osaka Pro in 1999.

Although a formidable opponent, and one not to be ignored even at 50, Tsubasa has tended to be more successful as a Tag competitor and has been more often runner up than Champion. That said, he holds the record for the longest reign of the Osaka Pro Openweight Championship, sticking with the company through hard times. His Llave style makes him a threat in most situations, and he’s regularly reiterated his determination to produce the best work he can in-ring. 

Yasutaka Oosera

1st time competitor

Oosera is the sole representative of Osaka Pro’s heel unit, Rogue Nation. Oosera and the current Osaka Pro Champion, Quiet Storm, recently lost in the finals of Osaka Pro’s tag tournament, so Oosera may be looking to prove something here for both himself and his unit. 

Oosera’s crimes extend further than just being a representative of a heel unit, he’s also a traitor. Before joining Rogue Nation, he was the masked wrestler Ares, ‘son’ of Zeus. He left the company in March 2023, with an open offer of return, under his mask or otherwise. He took the offer to heart, returning in January 2024 as Ares, only to unmask and turn on Zeus. 

Oosera’s main promotion has been Michinoku Pro, where he recently celebrated his 7th anniversary. He is yet to win a title, but has challenged for the singles Junior Tohoku Championship and the Osaka Light Heavyweight Championship. As an Osakan-born wrestler he fits well into the new Osaka Pro and has been wrestling more regularly in other Kansai promotions. Given his talent, a singles title at some point feels likely. 

Ultimate Spider Jr

3rd time competitor, 2023 winner

Debuting for Osaka Pro in 2006 and becoming USJ in 2009, Ultimate Spider Jr, referred to affectionately by fans as ‘Spa-san’, is an essential part of the company. He took his debut exam on the same day as President Zeus and is strongly committed to rebuilding Osaka Pro into the company they both loved in their early careers. Like tag partner Takoyakida, he is viewed with a strong affection by both new and long-standing fans. Unlike Takoyakida, he has been less limited by a comedy role and, as he approaches veteran status, he is solidifying his position as a strong competitor in Osaka Pro and elsewhere. He was the winner of last year’s tournament and, up until December 2023, held the Osaka Pro Wrestling Tag Team belts in the TacoSpa tag team. 

USJ is coming back from several weeks away from the ring due to a forearm injury he received during a match in January. He returned to open Osaka Pro’s anniversary show on 14th April but we haven’t seen all that much of him in-ring since his return. He is yet to win a singles title at Osaka Pro or elsewhere and, of his block, has only faced Tsubasa in singles competition, so he’ll be trying to prove last year was no fluke and he can achieve solo success. 

ARASHI

2nd time competitor, eliminated in round 1 in 2023. 

ARASHI is the youngest of the tournament group, both in years and time since debut. Born in Kyoto, he moved to Mexico after finishing high school. He debuted in Mexico in 2022 and started at Osaka Pro in April 2023, very much with rookie status. He hasn’t been consistently aligned with any team but can be found more regularly wrestling alongside the other younger wrestlers or with Tsubasa. When he last entered the tournament, he was only a few months into his debut with Osaka Pro, so he’ll have more experience behind him this time. 

Billy Ken Kid

3rd time competitor, finalist in 2023. 

Billy Ken Kid is a legend. Five-time OPW Champion and five-time OPW Tag Team Champion, he was a core part of the company from his debut there in 2002 to his departure in 2014. He is a two-time winner of Osaka Pro’s biggest annual tournament, Tennozan, as well as a finalist in last year’s Light Heavyweight tournament. One of two competitors in the tournament to have turned 50 in the past year, he still remains a central feature in the roster due to his evident skill and competitiveness. His challenge for the Light Heavyweight belt in January 2024 is still on many match recommendation lists for outstanding matches this year. He also really likes winning.

Billy’s motif is Billiken, a god of good fortune with a famous statue enshrined in Osaka’s Tsutentaku tower. Watching the original Tiger Mask, he was inspired to become a wrestler but, due to his smaller size, decided to train in Mexico. He moved to Mexico in 1995 and wrestled there for several years, including with AAA between 1998-2000. He joined Osaka Pro in 2002. He has been closely aligned with Tigers Mask over his time with the company, as both tag partner and rival. 

Yuto Kikuchi (Red Eagle/Black Eagle)

3rd time competitor, eliminated in round 2 in 2023. 

Kikuchi is the only ‘outsider’ in the tournament as, although he has been an Osaka Pro regular since 2022, he is champion and vying for Ace position at his main promotion Dotonbori Pro Wrestling. Like childhood friend and current Light Heavyweight Champion Matsufusa, Kikuchi got his start in Osaka Pro’s Children’s wrestling classes, under trainers like HUB, Takoyakida, Ultimate Spider Jr and Atsushi Kotoge. He is one of four young Osakan wrestlers who have been identified by Tsubasa and others as the future of Kansai wrestling. Of the four, Kikuchi is the most vocal about saying this himself. 

Kikuchi has been both popular and successful in Osaka Pro. He was a finalist in the first Light Heavyweight tournament and has challenged for the belt, facing inaugural champion Tigers Mask each time. He and Matsufusa have also formed a successful tag team, Kikumatsu, with a strong record in the annual Osaka Pro tag festival. He has won over fans as a ‘super handsome face of the Kansai region’ (his words) and with his cheeky attitude towards his seniors. He has declared himself to be aiming for Tigers Mask yet again in this tournament. 

Whether or not we will see this lighthearted Kikuchi in the tournament is an open question. On 12th May, Kikuchi had a major heel turn in Dotonbori Pro, turning his back on his mentor and on friend and former tag partner, Harutoki. His transition to scary rudo has been fast and impressive. Whether he’ll bring that same character over to Osaka Pro remains to be seen (Oosera retains a different character in Osaka and Dotonbori Pro) but there have been hints in his comments that he feels some resentment towards former tag partners who have failed him. That would include Matsufusa, who lost their semi-finals match in the recent Tag Festival. Winning this tournament would give Kikuchi an opportunity to face his former best friend and exact revenge. 

Tigers Mask

3rd time competitor, eliminated in round 1 in 2023. Former champion and 2022 winner.

As the former champion and major character in Osaka Pro and Osakan wrestling, Tigers is one to watch in any tournament like this. At 47 years old, he has been transitioning to more of a veteran role in recent months, pushing forward the younger generation. Don’t confuse that with not being competitive though. Along with Billy, he can play the role of grumpy old veteran perfectly, and still delivers a level of aggression in his wrestling that younger talents can struggle to match. 

Tigers Mask is named for the Osakan Baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, and wrestled in Osaka Pro from 2001-2014. He has also wrestled under his own name, Atsushi Maruyama, and as Izanagi in All Japan Pro Wrestling. He followed Zeus to his newly launched Osaka Pro in 2022, winning the first Tennozan tournament under the new ownership. He is amongst the most decorated members of the roster in singles championships having been four time Osaka Pro Champion, Open the Brave Gate Champion, OPW Light Heavyweight Champion, two time OPW Owarai Champion, and two time Independent Junior Heavyweight Champion, all under the Tigers Mask name. He’s not done with adding more to that list. 

Takoyakida (The prince of Takoyaki kingdom)

2nd time competitor, eliminated in round 1 in 2023. 

Takoyakida is one of Osaka Pro’s many masked wrestlers and one of six currently permanently masked characters in this tournament. He is slightly unusual in his mask being based on one of Osaka’s famous delicacies, Takoyaki (fried octopus balls). Understandably, Takoyakida has been a comedy character for a lot of his career, but he has had development within that, moving from slightly ridiculous to ridiculous and beloved. He is known for being forgetful, clumsy and generally getting himself into ridiculous situations – forgetting his mask, losing his keys, being late, sleeping through meetings – which his colleagues have learned to accept and laugh about. He still occasionally finds himself being shouted at by the President or his trainer, Tigers Mask, but fans enjoy hearing his (often bizarre) excuses. 

Despite his comedic character, these aspects have become less of a focus of his in-ring work, where he is more of a determined underdog. His tag team with Ultimate Spider Jr, TacoSpa, is genuinely successful and embodies much of what Osaka Pro aims to be – a full variety show that appeals to younger and older fans alike. He would be an outside winner for a tournament like this, having relatively few singles victories in his career, but when he is determined against the right opponent, we can see the Prince he has aspired to be. 

What to watch out for in round one

Tsubasa vs Oosera

Oosera recently beat Tsubasa in the Osaka Pro Tag Festival, so there is potentially a score for Tsubasa to settle. The two are well-matched in their technical styles, so this shouldn’t be an easy victory for either man, but Oosera could choose to rely on some support from fellow Rogue Nation members or less-than-legal techniques. 

Ultimate Spider Jr vs ARASHI

Last year’s winner returning from injury vs the still-rookie trying to find his place. Both have something to prove. USJ has said he wants to meet tag partner Takoyakida in the finals so this will be the first step. 

Billy Ken Kid vs Yuto Kikuchi

Kikuchi has been only talking about facing Tigers Mask in the next round, looking past the Osaka veteran. Billy will not take kindly to being overlooked and has beaten Kikuchi several times, including in Kikuchi’s home promotion of Dotonbori Pro. He may be dealing with a different Kikuchi this time though, as the ‘red eagle’ has become a ‘black eagle’ in recent weeks. 

Tigers Mask vs Takoyakida

This is a classic master vs student match up, and the combination most likely to bring out a serious Takoyakida. Beating the man who called on him to become a Prince would give Takoyakida the confidence to push on and meet his tag partner in the final. Tigers Mask does not lay down easily though, and won’t accept anything less than the best from his student. 

Where and how to watch Osaka Pro Wrestling

The best place to keep up to date with Osaka Pro Wrestling shows and news are through their YouTube channel and their twitter/X posts. Their website also includes regular show updates, match results, how to buy tickets and a webstore (with very cute tshirts). If you are lucky enough to have a GAORA Sports TV subscription, they have a monthly hour-long show, which includes the best matches from recent weeks and months. It usually takes 3-8 weeks from a show taking place to making it onto GAORA Sports. Osaka Pro are increasing their sponsorship and coverage, with their recent 25th anniversary show making it onto Wrestle Universe and full non-scheduled/promotional shows making it onto their YouTube channel. Availability of shows is not yet consistent and often announced close to the show date but that can offer a nice surprise!

If you’re interested in older Osaka Pro Wrestling, GOARA’s YouTube channel has some matches that are free to watch.

Osaka Pro Wrestling are a local-based promotion, designed first and foremost for the people (and especially children) of Osaka, so there is no English language coverage through their official channels. That said, background information often isn’t needed to get into many of their tournaments or characters, as they are designed to be accessible for new fans and younger children.