Five years ago, Kenny Omega was teaming with Kota Ibushi in DDT, and tearing up PWG, as the future Best Bout Machine in exceptional performances that slowly informed a persona he had not yet marketed nor perfected.
Johnny Gargano was generating buzz on the U.S. Independent scene as a standout technician, but hadn't yet began the emotional, circuitous NXT arc that saw him become the bleeding heart of the brand. Will Ospreay's breakthrough PROGRESS arc was well underway, but the incredible raw talent was years from the refinement of his current form as a spectacular talent with genuine depth.
Tomohiro Ishii was firmly established as a performer of impeccable selling and pacing, but hadn't quite developed his mastery of the New Japan epic; his matches in 2014 were brutal, exhilarating sprints, but in 2019, he can sustain attention with the very best at the main event level. Daniel Bryan had perfected his interpretation of the broader WWE style, but was on injury-enforced hiatus; now, after an improbable, outstanding return, he is on such excellent form that his more nuanced work draws as much - if not more - effusive praise.
Now, they comprise the elite class of professional wrestlers.
But what about five years from now?
10. Shota Umino
Shota Umino is so good that 'Shota Umino is going to be an exceptional main event talent one day' is a Hot Take.
He has already shown prodigious instincts for wrestling as a Young Lion, which is a huge indication of his potential. The Young Lion by design is only permitted to use a set number of moves, in order to reinforce the fundamentals of pacing, footwork, and projection, and they are also mandated to wear black, under the mentality that only the quality is visible. And Shota's quality is.
Instantly targeted by fans for his fire and ability to pull them into his matches, of course NJPW recognised this, too, by making the unusual and telling decision to pair him with Ace Hiroshi Tanahashi in this year's New Japan Cup. In yet another exceptional year for the art, this was, lowkey, perhaps the most impressive match.
Using virtually none of the resources that inform the drama of a big league contest, Tanahashi and Umino crafted a lesson in meaning, building towards a simple roll-up spot, from nothing, that in storylines would have meant everything to Shota's career.
His other high-profile pairing, his delightful association with Jon Moxley, coaxed the deadpan star potential within.