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2019 PW Awards: Rookie of the Year

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Admittedly, 2019 was the first time I’ve ever actually watched a Young Lions Cup, so perhaps this is more or less the standard, but this year’s YLC was absolutely jam-packed with talent and potential. Just about every man in the competition impressed but there were several stand-outs: Shota Umino is obviously the guy who caught most people’s attention, with good reason, but Karl Fredericks has all the makings of a star, Alex Coughlin is tough as nails with one of the most vicious knife-edge chops I’ve seen in a while, and Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura both have incredible explosiveness and technical ability paired with an innate understanding of ring psychology. Which makes it all too easy to overlook our choice for 2019 Rookie of the Year: Ren Narita.

I first saw Ren at G1 in Dallas–which I was lucky enough to attend live–in a tag match with Jeff Cobb against Shota Umino and Tomohiro Ishii and I was struck by how well-rounded a competitor he already was and how well he understood the *why* of everything he was doing in the ring and the importance of the little things—e.g. really cinching in his side headlocks and rear chinlocks so they don’t just look like rest holds. In particular, the time he got to spend in the ring Ishii was incredibly compelling as he perfectly played the improbable underdog babyface scrapping and clawing and ultimately actually getting in some nice shots on Ishii including one monster suplex that popped the crowd big time. You also really got to see a nice glimpse of his rivalry with Shota on display in this match which carried over into their confrontations during the YLC and came to a head with an excellent league match between the two at Blue Justice IX that put both men’s technical abilities on full display before ending in controversy. This was also the beginning of a character arc that ultimately ended with Narita leaving Noge Dojo to join Shibata’s LA Dojo—a great move for Narita and one that I sincerely hope will lead to a very fun feud with Shota when he returns from excursion.

TL;DR: Ren Narita is quite possibly the most complete, well-rounded Young Lion of the current crop. He’s fast and explosive, his technical grappling ability is off the charts, and he understands psychology and does all the little things incredibly well. The future is incredibly bright for this young man and I can’t wait to see what he does going forward.

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