“I’m scared because of how violent it could get.” – Kevin Kelly, 2019
One of the biggest wrestling stories of the summer of 2019 was John Moxley’s newfound freedom from WWE. He had said some less-than-positive things about his former employer, and wanted to be less restricted in what he said and did. Luckily for him, New Japan Pro-Wrestling gave him an opportunity to vent his frustrations by signing him to the most prestigious annual wrestling tournament in the world, the G1 Climax.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Moxley was in the B-Block of the G1, and he had to face each other block member once. He had several big challenges awaiting him in his block: fan favorite and former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito, cruiserweight-turned-heavyweight Shingo Takagi, and Bullet Club leader Jay White.
But there was one person that would prove to be the true ultimate challenge: the Stone Pitbull Tomohiro Ishii.
Ishii is something of an anomaly in NJPW. He debuted back in 1996 and spent over fifteen years doing little to nothing. Most of his matches during that period consisted of insignificant opening matches and inconsequential multi-man tag team matches. Then, seemingly out of nowhere beginning in 2013 (when NJPW introduced the NEVER Openweight Title), Ishii starting having these marvelous matches with pretty much everyone.
Like Okada before him, he experienced a sudden transformation in his match quality and became this amazing wrestler that dazzled audiences. Since then, Ishii has gone from being a forgettable lower-carder to a central figure in NJPW’s upper mid-card feuds, and has been a staple of their international tours and cross-promotional ventures.
And the reason for Ishii’s popularity is simple: Ishii does not give a single f**k.
Simply put, Ishii is a damage sponge, taking a ton of damage and dishing out incredibly stiff punishment. He hits as hard as possible and can take a ridiculous amount of punishment. He’s one of those soft-spoken ‘actions speak louder than words’ sort of wrestlers, and people love him for that.
(Author’s note: I have been in-person to ROH/NJPW shows and can confirm Ishii’s popularity. It doesn’t matter who his opponent is; the majority of fans will cheer for him and chant things like ‘Ishii’s gonna kill you’ and ‘f**k him up, Ishii, f**k him up!’. I have also had the privilege of shaking his hand and can confirm his hands feel like coarse stone).
So in this contest, the unchained Jon Moxley went against the Stone Pitbull. Would Moxley be able to continue his undefeated streak in NJPW, or would Ishii simply outlast him by absorbing everything Moxley could dish out and remain standing?
Ishii gets in and immediately gets in Moxley’s face. They’re nose-to-nose and look like they’re genuinely mad at each other. The crowd roars in excitement and appears to like Ishii over Moxley.
This is a deathmatch, which means weapons are allowed. The bell rings and they start brawling wildly. They exchange heavy strikes and Moxley ducks an enziguri and Ishii avoids a kick. They’re so into this fight they brawl while the ring announcement is underway. You don’t see that very often.
They elbow each other back and forth and Ishii gets the upper hand with a shoulder tackle but Ishii gets up right away. Ishii charges but gets scoop slammed by Moxley. Moxley tosses Ishii ringside and they brawl into the crowd and Moxley smashes Ishii’s head into a metal exit sign in the crowd as they cheer (with some boos as well).
Moxley chops Ishii so hard he flies over a guardrail and they go deeper into the crowd. Moxley hits hard knees as Ishii can barely stand up. Clothesline by Moxley keeps Ishii down and barely capable of responding. Moxley drags Ishii down the steps and they make it to the general ringside area. It’s at this point that the referee starts counting because apparently, they don’t have a count once people actually go into the crowd.
Moxley stomps away as fans chant for Ishii and a few people shout Moxley’s name. Moxley stomps at Ishii’s head but Ishii starts to no-sell them and ‘hulk up’. But as soon as Ishii starts showing signs of life, Moxley fires back with forearms across the face and gets a two-count.
Moxley applies an STF and then transitions into a double arm stranglehold to keep Ishii grounded. He gets another two-count as Ishii gets his foot o the rope. Moxley continues with sick chops to Ishii’s chest, and you can hear him say, ‘there’s more where that came from, bitch’. Moxley hits a third stiff chop, but Ishii summons his inner Kobashi and no-sells it. But Moxley is having none of that and forearms him back into the corner and then tenderizes Ishii’s chest some more.
Moxley whips him into the opposite corner but Ishii charges back out with a shoulder tackle and suddenly they’re face to face again. Moxley goes for another running shoulder tackle, but Ishii hits his own that sends Moxley down instead. Ishii hits his own chops to Moxley in the corner as revenge from before. Moxley reverses an Irish whip and clotheslines Ishii in the corner. He goes for a suplex, but Ishii reverses it into a vertical suplex of his own. They’re both down as the crowd applauds and continues to cheer for Ishii.
Ishii is up first and kick Moxley in the face mockingly. Moxley doesn’t like this and responds with forearms to the face. But he must’ve forgotten that Ishii’s head is made of diamonds, because Ishii spits at him and asks for more. Moxley indulges in his request and hits several really hard forearms, but Ishii eats all of them like they’re gentle taps and hits one huge forearm that sends Moxley down.
Ishii tosses Moxley out of the ring and whips him into the steel ring barricade. He tries this again but Moxley reverses it, sending Moxley to the barricade. Moxley uses this opportunity to grab two steel chairs. He tosses one to Ishii as the crowd cheers. Ishii picks the chair up and they have a chair duel that Moxley wins before tossing his chair into Ishii’s face. The crowd starts chanting ‘Moxley’ and then he picks up a table at the ten-minute mark.
Moxley tosses Ishii onto the apron and tries to slam Ishii onto the table but Ishii blocks it. Moxley then attempts a piledriver on the apron but Ishii powers out once more. Moxley goes into the ring and hits a stungun on Ishii’s neck, and then tries a running attack, but Ishii’s diamond head blocks his attack. Ishii attempts a vertical suplex over the top rope as the fans scream but Moxley reverses it, only for Ishii to land on his feet. Ishii runs but Moxley tries a kick, it gets blocked, and Moxley answers with an elbow and a shotgun dropkick that sends Ishii out of the ring. Moxley follows up with a nice suicide dive. He gets up first and grabs a steel chair and starts wailing on Ishii’s back.
Moxley raises the chair and attempts a running overhead chair strike, but Ishii, being the total boss that he is, punches the chair into Moxley’s face. That was great. Now it’s Ishii’s turn to wail on Moxley with the same chair and then places him on the table. Ishii ascends the top turnbuckle and hits a diving splash that sends them both crashing through the table. You don’t see that often in NJPW and Ishii almost never does anything from the top rope. That’s how badly he wants to beat Moxley
Ishii’s in full control as he hits a second-rope superplex for a two-count. He tries a sliding clothesline but Moxley cradles him for a two-count. Moxley attempts the exact same move but Ishii counters with a nice German suplex that sends Moxley staggering. Ishii tries a running clothesline but Moxley ducks that and hits his own German suplex, only for Ishii to be up instantly. Ishii charges, but Moxley cleaves him with a huge lariat at the fifteen-minute mark.
Moxley’s up first and attempts a running kick, but Ishii blocks hit and hits a huge enziguri followed by a successful sliding lariat that only gets a two-count. Ishii attempts the sheerdrop brainbuster but Moxley counters by biting Ishii’s forehead. I hope he has good dental insurance because that’s like biting into rock. Moxley hits a Regal knee sending both of them down. both of them get to their hands and knees as they start doing junkyard dog-style head-butts to each other in the middle of the ring. They keep head-butting each other as they get to their feet, and they have a brief nose-to-nose stare-down. Ishii starts staggering after the head-butt exchange and Moxley appears to have gotten the better of that exchange.
With Ishii on his hands and knees, Moxley begins mocking him from a standing position, only for Ishii to launch himself upwards with a huge head-butt to the chin that sends Moxley staggering once again. Ishii charges at Moxley who tries to hit a lariat, but Ishii absorbs that like it was nothing and returns with his elbow flurry. Moxley hits one elbow that sends Ishii back down, and both of them are looking exhausted. Ishii blocks another Regal knee and tries a lariat, but Moxley counters that into a big uranage slam that gets a 2.5-count. He hits the Regal knee again but that also gets a 2.5 as the crowd applauds. One fan tries to get a ‘Moxley’ chant going but it’s drowned out by the louder ‘Ishii’ chant.
Moxley signals the end as he attempts the Deathrider DDT but Ishii powers out. Ishii tries another running lariat but again Moxley attempts the Deathrider and lifts Ishii, but not enough to fully connect with the move as Ishii counters with a short-range lariat that would make Okada proud. Ishii signals for Moxley to get up and hits a huge running lariat but Moxley kicks out. Ishii again tries for the brainbuster but Moxley reverses that into a third Deathrider attempt but Ishii blocks it again so moxley head-butts Ishii, but Ishii answers with a stiff elbow and a stiff head-butt of his own that sends Moxley down.
Ishii hits a running lariat to the back of Moxley’s head followed by one to the chest, but Moxley pulls an Ishii and absorbs that second one without even flinching. They have another stiff strike exchange and Ishii tries a finishing strike, but Moxley rolls through and hits a snap Deathrider but it gets a 2.8 count. That was a great sequence.
We’re at the 20-minute mark as Moxley pulls down his knee sleeves, exposing his knees fully, and hits another Regal knee. Moxley hits the full Deathrider (with elevation and everything) and the referee counts one…two…three.
Winner after 20:36: Jon Moxley
This was a very fun match to watch. Moxley brought his A-game against a huge test of an opponent and managed to come out victorious. Meanwhile, Ishii was Ishii, which means he was awesome in his actions. His offense always looked brutal and he kept it simple like he always does. Ishii is a brawler, and he keeps things that way by only ever doing a handful of moves, yet he does those moves perfectly and does an excellent job of reversing out of big moves and creating tense finishing sequences. These two had great chemistry in the match and it showed. Moxley especially deserves praise here for being able to hang with one of the toughest wrestlers in NJPW and working a style that’s so unlike what he might’ve been used to stateside.
That said, this match wasn’t perfect. The crowd brawling seemed anticlimactic and neither Ishii nor Moxley used it to full effect. Crowd brawling is rare in NJPW in general, so when it’s done it should have an extra ‘oomph’ factor. Aside from Ishii getting his head slammed into an exit sign, there was nothing particularly special about this sequence.
Contrast this with the match between Hiromu Takahashi and Taiji Ishimori from last year’s Best of Super Juniors finals match. They opened with ridiculous crowd brawling that ended with Hiromu getting thrown down a flight of stairs. While crazy and not recommended, it added a sense of urgency and drama to the match immediately because out of nowhere, Hiromu was in trouble and had to fight from underneath.
In this match, Ishii took the biggest bumps while in the crowd, but even those didn’t affect the later parts of the match that much. Ishii was still able to head-butt his way out of most situations without any apparent ill effects. I also had an issue with the pacing in this match, especially the speed at which both Moxley and Ishii ran in this match. Despite taking more and more damage as the match progressed, neither of them really sold the exhaustion that much beyond a few moments of staggering.
If they were really exhausted from taking so much pain, they would be moving more slowly towards the final minutes of the match. Yet Ishii didn’t show any slowness in his bursts of speed and Moxley was still able to move fluidly and execute his moves without hindrance, despite at one point eating a chair in the face. I understand that’s part of the style, but there’s always room to sell stuff from earlier and slowing down at least slightly without it taking away from the drams of the closing sequence.
Final Rating: ****1/2
While I did enjoy this match, it cannot be labeled as five stars or perfect to me. They both did a fantastic job in creating a tense, unpredictable match that couldn’t be ‘telegraphed’, the structural issues in the match’s layout and the execution were far from flawless. That said, this is arguably Moxley’s best match since leaving WWE and deserves being watched just to see what he’s capable of.
Ultimately, Kevin Kelly was scared of how violent this match could get, but it never really reached that level where his fears would really come true.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.