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Picture in your mind what the ideal professional wrestler looks like. Chances are they are tall, at least 6’5″and they have an amazing, herculean physique. They are probably young and good looking, which the face of a greek statue. They probably are tremendously athletic, a very accomplished collegiate or even professional athlete, and they probably do a bunch of cool and athletic moves combining power, agility and grace. That is the ideal professional wrestler.
Tomohiro Ishii does not look like the ideal professional wrestler. In fact, Ishii looks like the exact opposite. Ishii is maybe 5’6″ on a good day, and has a squat, pudgy physique. He isn’t conventionally athletic, and does almost no cool moves in the ring. Actually he only does about five moves; a few clothesline variations, a brainbuster and a rare powerbomb. Oh, and he is 43 years old and looks like a fry-cook.
Ishii though represents the one fundamental rule in wrestling; which paradoxically is that there are no definite rules on what gets over in pro wrestling. You can look like anything and be unathletic, and still get over. In Ishii’s cases he isn’t just over, he is one of the very best wrestlers in the world. How can this be? How can someone who seemingly has everything going against him be one of the best performers in the business?
Wrestling at its core, is not about any of the things that people think about when they think about professional wrestling. It isn’t about guys with huge muscles, or guys doing athletic moves; it is about getting the audience to believe in a character and to react to that character when they are performing.
Ishii has worked for decades trying to perfect his character, one of a tough, no-nonsense brawler that never backs down from a fight. That is reflected in his nickname, “The Stone Pitbull.” The fact that physically Ishii doesn’t look like much has been rendered irrelevant; he has approached each match over the years with the same kind of attitude, and eventually the audience has become to believe it.
That is probably why Ishii, at 43, is currently enjoying the best run of his career. He wasn’t a natural athlete with a great body; those guys will always get pushed early in their careers because promoters think that they can be stars. It has taken Ishii an unusual amount of time for both promoters and fans to understand his character and to really react to his matches.
The fact that he doesn’t really do any cool moves and keeps things extremely simple has also contributed to this development. Some people might look at his move set as redundant and think that he is lazy in the ring, not trying to do anything impressive. The reality is that simplicity is what helps get Ishii over, that and his charisma in the ring and his knowledge of when to sell moves, and when to fire up for his comebacks. When Ishii steps into the ring fans have a certain expectation of what he is going to do; and it does involve doing any flips or crazy moves in the ring. It is going to be punishing the opponent with punches, forearms and headbutts, all setting up a brainbuster or a lariat for the finish. At this point, people understand that and they not only accept it, they look forward to an Ishii-style match.
Ishii works because people believe in him; if you were to put him in street clothes and compared him to someone like Bad Luck Fale, who is a foot taller and 150lbs heavier, it would seem preposterous to believe that he could physically match up against him. That is the thing about wrestling, Ishii isn’t a guy on the street, he is the Stone Pitbull, and people believe in that guy, even if on paper he looks like he would never be able to compete.
Ishii’s rise to the top isn’t a new development, he really got over in his late-30s and has been a notable name in NJPW for the last five years. That being said, he has never gotten a run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Ishii is currently putting on another tremendous performance in this year’s G1 Climax tournament and in contention to win the B Block. Could he realistically win the tournament, head to the Tokyo Dome and win the world title?
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship is the most exclusive world title in wrestling; since 2011 only six men have been able to hold the title. NJPW is an extremely competitive environment and as good as Ishii is, at 43 his ceiling is fairly low for a potential champion. While current champion Kazuchika Okada can’t be champion forever, there is a line of younger wrestlers (Jay White, Testuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi, etc.) who may end up as better long-term investments.
That being said, despite all the talent in NJPW Ishii remains a fan favorites, constantly getting cheered even while competing against the biggest names in the company. A feel-good world title victory for Ishii would get over very well with the current fanbase, and you can’t say that the guy doesn’t deserve it. Maybe he isn’t the perfect candidate, but Ishii has never been the perfect candidate for anything, and yet he has ended up as one of the best.
Must Watch Matches
Tetsuya Naito vs Hirooki Goto: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 6
Jon Moxley vs Tomohiro Ishii: ****1/2 – NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 6
Kota Ibushi vs SANADA: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 7
Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay: ****1/2 – NJPW G1 Climax Tag 7
Jon Moxley vs Shingo Takagi: **** – NJPW G1 Climax Tag 8
Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii: ****1/2 – NJPW G1 Climax Tag 8