(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Tomohiro Ishii vs Taichi – NJPW G1 Climax 2019
No one in modern wrestling is better at making short matches exciting than Tomohiro Ishii.
The guy is all action and no nonsense. He doesn’t waste time with theatrics, gimmicks, feeling things out, or even submission holds. He’s like a machine with simple programming: keep hitting until the enemy stops moving. He’s straightforward but effective. And over the past decade, that simplicity has translated into some surprisingly great matches.
But what happens when the Stone Pitbull takes on a guy who looks like a joke on the surface but is actually much more dangerous than his appearance suggests? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-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.
By this point almost everyone reading this knows who Ishii is. But the same can’t be said about Taichi, who is one of the strangest wrestlers in New Japan. On the surface he doesn’t look like much; he lacks any imposing physique, he isn’t that impressive statistically (he stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 220lbs), and he doesn’t have an intimidating face (then again, one could say almost the exact same things about Ishii and boy does HE ever punish people for judging a book by its cover). And from what I’ve gathered, part of his gimmick is that he dresses up like some sort of opera singer complete with half facial mask and frilly clothes. And when he’s in the ring, one of his biggest spots, apparently, is to pull his pants off like Naito or Cesaro.
So why is he seen as anything more than a bad lower-card gimmick? Well, he’s the only student of Toshiaki Kawada, and that fact almost completely makes up for his strange gimmick.
In his prime, Kawada was arguably the best wrestler on the planet and possible the stiffest ever aside from maybe Stan Hansen. Kawada was the most vicious striker I’ve ever seen wrestle; he mastered the art of blurring the line between ‘worked’ combat and full-contact striking and sold more realistically than pretty much every wrestler to enter a ring over the past four decades. He has an extensive catalogue of amazing and must-see matches, while Taichi…doesn’t.
Kawada, like his compatriots Misawa and Kobashi, wrestled at such an elite level that even if he taught his student everything he knows, said student would never measure up. Misawa’s protégé Marufuji did in his own way. Kobashi’s protégés KENTA and Shiozaki more or less escaped their mentor’s shadow. But there was no way for Taichi to live up to Kawada’s legendary reputation. Kawada was vicious, believable, and based on how he wrestled, sometimes downright cruel. Marufuji once described Kawada as the one who taught All Japan trainees “how to feel fear”. Taichi was nothing like his mentor; he didn’t have the cruelty, the aura, or even the menacing look in his eyes. He had his mentor’s moves, but that didn’t mean much.
Because of this sense of inferiority, Taichi was left with the impression that no one took him seriously or gave him the credit he deserved. And so, on this night, he decided to really force people to acknowledge him, albeit with his actions instead of his words.
But could Taichi win? Could he put on a good performance worthy of his mentor and beat the Stone Putbull, a man so tough and to-the-point that he hit like a human wrecking ball? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on August 11, 2019. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
The bell rings and Taichi drops Ishii with a clothesline. That’s followed by a Dangerous Backdrop for a 2.5-count. We’re ten seconds in and Taichi almost won already. Ishii escapes a powerbomb so Taichi boots him in the face. Ishii also blocks another Backdrop so Taichi boots him again. the crowd chants for Ishii as Taichi kicks Ishii’s chest. The ref makes sure Ishii can continue as Ishii struggles to get to his feet. Ishii manages to bounce out of a corner with a shoulderblock but Taichi boots him back down. Like his mentor, Taichi punts his opponent’s spine. but unlike with Kawada, Taichi’s kicks don’t leave his opponent on the mat writhing in pain. Instead, Ishii absorbs them and powers up. Taichi responds with a kick to the hamstring and then charges, but Ishii counters with a scoop powerslam.
Ishii misses a corner charge and Taichi hits an enzuigiri. Ishii blocks a Buzzsaw kick and hits a big elbow smash followed by a German suplex. Both guys get up and Taichi hits another running kick. But not only does Ishii stay standing, he demands that Taichi kick him harder. Taichi wins a kick/chop exchange but Ishii reverses a corner whip and hits a lariat. Ishii follows with a stalling second-rope superplex for a two-count.
Ishii charges for a lariat but Taichi blocks, he tries a lariat of his own but Ishii ducks and hits a Backdrop of his own, only for Taichi to get up immediately…and then walks into a lariat. Ishii hits a sliding lariat for a two-count and goes for a vertical suplex. Taichi escapes and kicks Ishii’s face but it has little effect, yet his follow-up corner enzuigiri hurts Ishii a lot. Taichi goes for a running lariat this time but Ishii lariats Taichi’s lariat arm. Taichi ducks an enzuigiri and hits a Buzzsaw kick to the side of Ishii’s head. that’s followed by an Ax Bomber lariat. One, two, Ishii kicks out.
Ishii fights out of a powerbomb but runs into a high kick. Taichi follows with both an enzuigiri and a gamengiri, and then hits a Last Ride Powerbomb. One, two, Ishii kicks out again. Now the crowd’s rallying behind Taichi. Taichi rips off his pants and teases a thrust kick. Ishii dodges but Taichi goes for his Black Mephisto (White Noise) finisher. Ishii escapes and tries a powerbomb. Taichi escapes but Ishii lariats his arm on a high kick. Taichi lands another boot to block a lariat. Ishii spins around for a discus lariat but it has no effect. Both guys trade stiff strikes until Ishii drops Taichi with a head-butt. Massive running lariat by Ishii. The referee counts one, two, and – Taichi survives. Ishii attempts a Sheerdrop Brainbuster twice but Taichi blocks both attempts. Taichi lands a hook kick, a spinkick, a high kick, and a Dangerous Backdrop. But Ishii still manages to get up using the ropes. He staggers around and walks into another gamengiri. But Ishii shakes that off and charges…into another Backdrop. One, two, and – Ishii kicks out yet again. Taichi tries another thrust kick. Ishii blocks and hits an enzuigiri of his own. But Taichi shakes that off and lands a thrust kick followed by Black Mephisto. One, two, and three! Taichi beats Ishii!
Winner after 11:56: Taichi
That was a short but intense match. There were no formalities, niceties, feeling out processes, or moments of filler. This was like a competitive back-and-forth match between 2012-2020 Brock Lesnar and cheerful cowboy Brock Lesnar. It was fun while it lasted. I couldn’t call it a MOTYC by any stretch; and yet, if you’re short on time and just want to see two brutes throw hands, feet, and suplexes, this is the match for you.
It was a perfect example of doing the right amount of moves in less time. There’s this overwhelming obsession with length and grandeur that has plagued pro-wrestling for years now, so for this match to go in the opposite direction makes it so refreshing. Ishii and Taichi started at full speed and just kept going with bombs until one of them ran out of gas first. And even though this match was right up Ishii’s alley, Taichi was the one that shined more. He wrestled seriously and with a purpose. It was clear he was trying to win clean and force the fans to believe in him. The story was that he felt underappreciated by the fans; but instead of sulking and brooding over it, he gave the fans something to believe in. And so he took it to arguably the toughest man in the company and took everything he had. Taichi left this match on Ishii’s level, which is saying something. Even with some of his milder theatrics, he was serious and focused as he avoided, counters, and pummeled Ishii at every turn.
But best of all was that it marked a much-needed shift for Taichi. His gimmick up to this point was that he won most matches via shenanigans or due to interference. But he didn’t do so here. He understood the seriousness of the situation and wanted to prove a point so he left his comfort zone and took the fight to Ishii. Of course, a big part of this match’s strength came from the fact that Ishii was involved. The guy is simply awesome as the soft-spoken hard-hitting brute that requires excessive force to bring down. He was entertaining while hitting Taichi and he was entertaining while getting hit by Taichi. Ishii took a ton of punishment from Taichi and forced Taichi to go the extra mile just to beat him. Once the match was over, Ishii looked like his usual monstrously-tough self while Taichi had perhaps the best match of his career. All in a compact twelve minutes with high-impact bombs and brutal-looking offense.
Final Rating: ****
This was fun for what it was. Sometimes you can tell the same story with less time and fewer moves, as seen here. The whole point of this match was for Taichi to show that if he was motivated and wanted to show off his talents by wrestling cleanly, he’d get the appreciation and adulation from the fans he yearned for so deeply. It didn’t need to go thirty minutes, twenty, or even fifteen. Both Taichi and Ishii were so good at what they did that they managed to tell the story they wanted to sell in under twelve minutes while still making people believe they were both tough as nails for putting themselves and each other through so much punishment.
All in all, this is a surprising little gem of a match hidden among much better matches from the same tournament. Then again, when Ishii’s involved, nine times out of ten you’re guaranteed an entertaining match, even if it’s on the short and simplistic side.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.