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[2014-05-03-NJPW-Wrestling Dontaku] Tomohiro Ishii vs Tomoaki Honma

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Easily the best match in Japan this year by a huge margin. Ishii’s just been having great matches all year and finally they give Honma a chance to showcase himself in a big singles match and he doesn’t disappoint.


Everything in this match worked. Everything. Not a single thing I didn’t enjoy. I particularly loved Honma’s crazy diving headbutt off the top to the floor, Honma’s deadlift brainbuster, Honma’s fire thunder driver and the king sized brutal finishing stretch.


I think it’s also worth noting that Ishii is probably the best Japanese wrestler at taking a DDT and at selling a shoulder after a huge release German suplex.

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My interest in modern New Japan has been reinvigorated by attending a live show in Lowell last Friday. Here's what I had to write about Ishii and this match against Honma in February of 2015:

 

I thought you'd be taller. 

Ishii reminds me of Arn Anderson or 1980's Bret Hart more than just about anyone else. In that, he is a midcarder who can have an entire match unto himself. He basically plugs his opponents into his formula and produces dramatic, hard-hitting classics. For Honma, he put over how close NJPW's miracle underdog could come close to winning a match by showing his vulnerability through his trademark neck/shoulder selling. For Naito, the struggling hot new upper midcard babyface badly needed credibility with the fans and by standing tot to toe with the stiff powerhouse Ishii he re-earned the fan's respect and his career while not fully rehabilitated is back on track. For Ibushi, he had a great heavyweight vs. junior heavyweight match where Ibushi showcased not only his high-flying offense, but his nastier side too. When I say formula, I don't mean every match is same, but rather Ishii uses his spots in the match how the context dictates to enhance his opponent and himself. You know there are going to be a lot of strike exchanges and that somehow Ishii will be dumped on his head. What separates Ishii from his contemporaries is his commitment to selling his neck/shoulder injuries to build drama in the late match strike exchanges and have you wondering how he will pull this one out.

 

For all the great positive attributes, Ishii does represent the New Japan style moreso than probably any other wrestler. Having watched a lot of Japan 2008-2009 and reading what New Japan critics had to say, I was terrified that NJPW was just filled with strike exchanges and endless nearfalls. I have found that not to be the case at all. It is a minimum of one strike exchange, but usually no more than two and even more importantly, these are matches that build to a satisfying conclusion without a barrage of nearfalls watering down the finish. What I found interesting is that my nightmare New Japan was found in Ishii matches when Ishii seems to be the unifying force of all New Japan fans. It is easy to see why he is the big tent candidate when he combines great offense with selling. But calling a spade, a spade, he relies on strike exchanges way too much especially in the beginning of match are very boring. He is also the king of the nearfall and the one count. Don't get me wrong, I have been impressed with Ishii and I think he is the best midcard wrestler in the world. I just thought it was interesting that New Japan wrestler everyone loves is the most New Japan-y of all the wrestlers on the roster.

NEVER Champion Tomohiro Ishii vs Tomoaki Honma - NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 5/3/14

 

I am a total sucker for the underdog Tomoaki Honma character. After he hit that crazy diving headbutt onto the floor and he gets into the ring and goes crazy, you just can't help but you root for a guy that wants to win so bad and is putting out such great positive energy. Ishii to his credit, he did a great job making Honma not just look like a credible challenger, but like someone that could really win the match. Early on, Ishii was in full control by using high chops and seemed to underestimate Honma with little kicks to the head. The turning point came early when Honma scored a DDT out of a lariat attempt. Until the end of the match, Ishii was digging himself out of the hole. Ishii did a great job modulating his selling. You knew the DDT hurt him, but it was not a blinding or insurmountable pain yet. He was able to recover with a backdrop driver. Then Honma hulks up after a lariat. I loved the urgency of this part of the match with each one following the other into ropes to cut the other other off with a strike. It really felt the match was going to be decided in that sequence and BANG! Honma nailed Ishii with a suplex that dumped on his head. Now that shoulder/neck pain just became excruciating and he powders. Honma presses his advantage with that crazy headbutt from the top rope to the floor where he bounces off the floor. God Bless Death Match Wrestlers! Honma is pumped, I am hyped and the crowd is whipped into a frenzy. He hits the top rope headbutt in the ring!!! Can he do it? One-Two-No! Ishii hits a desperation lariat, but clutches his shoulder and collapses. He can't take advantage. Two bulls ram into each other with Ishii winning. Ishii hits his powerbomb, but can't put the underdog away. Ishii goes for his Brainbuster finish, but the tenacious Honma will not be denied. One of the best suplex struggles ever (only to be topped by their one at G-1 Climax), Honma avoids the Brainbuster with a knee to the top of the head and hits one of his own! Honma Driver! C'mon ref! That was three, how much money do you have on this! Ishii is deadweight and collapses twice. Honma crashes and burns on the diving headbutt. Ruh Roh! Ishii drills him with a wicked Zidane headbutt to the head and a German suplex levels the playing field. During the strike exchange, it looks like Honma has Ishii on the ropes, but Ishii manages to hit an enziguiri, a sliding lariat and then his Brainbuster to quash the dreams of Honma and children everywhere. This was a superb performance by two great wrestlers that understood their characters. Ishii went a different route than the usual beat the underdog down and let him comeback. Instead, he got his ass handed to him and looked like he was dead to rites, but was able to fight through the pain to hang onto the title. Ishii never looked weak. It just so happened that the DDT and suplex injured him badly, but he kept fighting. The crowd was so excited for the possibility of Honma winning it never felt like Ishii babyfaced himself by fighting from underneath. I think I like the Shibata match a tad bit more, but this was tons of fun also. ****1/2

 

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This was even better than their great match February the next year. More concise, a little more urgent, a little more struggle to earn everything. What a fantastic babyface performance from Honma, and for a guy who is always thought of as an underdog, Ishii is equally good working on top. Even stuff that can be boring for this style, like the trading forearms, came at key moments and lead to important momentum changes. Even the little moments post match in this were perfect. Damn what a performance from both guys.

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