It would be impossible to name the best international star of all time, it's purely subjective. One could say Muta or Kobashi in the modern era and Rikidozan or Baba in the classic era.
I'd like to discuss someone who's been on top for a while now and in more than one area of the world—Masato Tanaka.
Most North American fans will know him from his time in ECW. His matches against Mike Awesome are my personal favorite series of matches between any two wrestlers. They were the definition of brutal. Both suffered incredible damage over the course of those matches. Powerbombs over the top rope through tables, powerbombs off the top rope, really any type of powerbomb you can think of.
Tanaka holds the distinction of being one of the very few Japanese talents to hold a major American singles title (The ECW World Heavyweight Championship) in the past twenty years outside of the run of NWA title reigns by Japanese talent in the 90's.
Tanaka stayed in America for a little while after ECW working for Major League wrestling but soon returned to his native Japan.
In Japan, Tanaka is known for his work in FMW. An infamous promotion that had some of the craziest deathmatches we've ever seen. His feud with Mike Awesome is what got both men over to ECW to show the U.S fans what they're all about.
Tanaka was a fan favorite not just because of his style but because of the fact he just never seemed to quit. He kept coming back—it was that fighting spirit and toughness which made him a favorite. And one of my personal all time favorites.
After leaving the States following his run in ECW he came to Pro Wrestling ZERO-ONE following an impressive bout with ZERO-ONE president and legend Shinya Hashimoto. Over the past few years, Tanaka has established himself as the face of the company. His team Emblem with Shinjiro Otani was one of the best in recent memory.
Tanaka won the now ZERO1-MAX Fire Festival an incredibly three years in a row which is their top singles tournament. This further established Tanaka as the ace of of the company.
Tanaka's 2008 was in my opinion the best a wrestler had in Japan. He crossed over into New Japan Pro Wrestling and had a series of just absolutely incredible matches. If you think Japanese crowds are quiet, watch the Tanaka vs. Koji Kanemoto match from ZERO1-Max from last summer. The crowd was nothing short of dying on each move. An incredibly contest between both men and my favorite match of the year.
Tanaka used this momentum and his ZERO1-Max World Heavyweight Championship, a belt he held for almost a year, to face Yuji Nagata inside New Japan. These matches were brutally stiff and at times bloody.
While they had a match at Wrestle Kingdom III at the Tokyo Dome this year, it was the previous encounter between the two that stands out. Nagata ended up beating Tanaka for the belt inside ZERO1-Max but that didn't stop Tanaka from continuing his dominance inside the company.
Tanaka was back on top earlier this year which lead to a bout with legendary Toshiaki Kawada in October. Kawada and Tanaka battled back and forth with the belt on the line in perhaps Kawada's best match in years. Kawada took the belt but it didn't come easy.
Before I wrap things up I didn't even mention maybe the most important thing about Tanaka. If you remember his time in ECW you'll remember him being a stocky tank like wrestler. Thick and built like a short powerhouse. In the past few years, Tanaka has shed weight and doesn't even look like the same person.
Not only did this man master the hardcore style, but now he has mastered the traditional stiff puroresu style as well. He really is a master of his trade and an underrated legend in the business. A champion on multiple continents and able to change his style completely in the latter stages of his career.
Tanaka is only 36 years old and due to the style change he has no doubt added time to his career. I hope that he finds himself in New Japan full time as a serious title contender. They need someone badly and Tanaka is the perfect choice.
The man known as "Dangan" or bullet, really is one of the best international wrestlers not just of today, but of the past twenty years.