(05/03) Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Tomoaki Honma

New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fukuoka Kokusai Center (Fukuoka, Japan)
NEVER Open Weight Championship

My issues with Ishii have always centered on his tendency to push things too far – too many strike exchanges, too much no-selling, too many fighting spirit spots, too many kick outs, too many big moves, and so on. He is far from the first wrestler to fall into that trap and he will be far from the last. It was never an issue of Ishii not having good stuff; it was a matter of being able to consistently utilize that stuff in an effective manner.

Given that he executes in that regard far better in this match, I think it be one of my favorite – if not my favorite – Ishii matches of 2014 (and 2013 for that matter).

I think a big difference maker is that Ishii works Honma like a mid-card champion trying to make another mid-carder look good in defeat. That’s in relatively stark contrast to the way Ishii has presented himself for much of the prior year. For most of 2013 and into 2014, Ishii wrestled as the underdog challenger who felt he needed to demonstrate his toughness, refusal to quit, and hard-hitting ways over and over again in order to be taken seriously. Now as the NEVER Champion and working guys lower on the NJPW pecking order then himself (KUSHIDA in Taiwan and Honma here), it feels like he is wrestling more in the role of the champion. He sells more for his opponents, plays to their strengths, and what has resulted thus far are two fine, mid-card title matches.

The big difference from a micro standpoint was the decision to work chops instead of forearms and elbows. When two guys are hitting each other over and over with mediocre to weak forearms and elbows to the head but barely register any signs of pain, my reaction is that the strikes must be ineffective. My reaction is not to think how tough the wrestler(s) must be to withstand the onslaught. Enough promotions in enough different eras have presented forearms, elbows, and straight punches as moves that at least stagger the opponent for that outcome to be the expectation. Chops – largely thanks to Ric Flair matches – have been more widely presented as a move that wears down rather than knock down. In that regard, my pro wrestling sensibilities have a much easier time accepting extended back-and-forth chop exchanges rather than the forearm exchanges. It might seem like a small change, but it made a world of difference in my viewing experience.

Ishii did a heck of a job selling the neck/shoulder (the first time I really saw Meltzer’s point on him being a good seller) and making the string of near falls matter. I’ve seen too many Ishii matches where I thought he was made to look good at the expense of his opponent, but that didn’t happen here.

Homna was game as well and really high energy. His diving head butt from the tope rope to the floor was absolutely nutty, but not altogether unsurprising for a 37 year-old former Big Japan guy who is getting his first opportunity in a long while to shine in New Japan. He clearly wanted to make the most of it and did so partially by trying to kill himself. New Japan has a freshness issue at the top of the cards and spotlighting Honma in the G-1 (like they did with Ishii last year) might not be a bad idea. He is over and is competent as a mid-card babyface.

I liked this match a lot. It was a different match from the Naito matches and more my speed, so it might even be my favorite Ishii match from this year.

Japan Singles | Watch It | Quality

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