Ladies and gentleman, let’s try to dive deep into understanding what makes New Japan such an interesting wrestling company, looking at the characters, and the use of said characters. This may become another series of articles that I will make, but for now, let’s start with the first subject I wanted to talk about, the Stone Pitbull, Tomohiro Ishii.
Sometimes, Professional Wrestling does not need much theatrics or complex stories to get you captivated, involved, moved. Sometimes, all it takes is great performance, and a bit of empathy. This is the main emphasis of Tomohiro Ishii’s character in New Japan. From proving his worth in the early stages of his career with the company, to 2013 where he started gaining more and more recognition, and even to this day, Ishii has built himself through delivering big time performances, earning everything by giving it all. With that being said, how can a man doing so much, so well, is not figuring as one of the top stars, headlining regularly for the big shiny championship ?
The obvious answer would be the age, as Ishii is now 42, it is hard to expect any company to build around someone in his 40’s. Yet, the Stone Pitbull has, and it has now been the case for a few years, become the man to beat if you aim on becoming one of the biggest stars in New Japan, the wall you have to run into, before taking the stairway to heaven. Ask Tetsuya Naito, who has twice been challenged by CHAOS’s member, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2016 and the G1 Climax contract last year. Ask the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, who saw Ishii step in his way on a few occasions, such as in the 2017 New Japan Cup, Wrestling Dontaku and even the first ever G1 Special in USA for the newly created IWGP US Heavyweight Champion during that same year. The two will even meet in only a few hours, in Hiroshima, for Omega’s championship, after Ishii defeated the champion during the G1 Climax.
Guys like Naito and Omega, who were rising to the top, had to face Ishii to become fully worthy of their main event status, as beating him says that one has, at the very least, potential for huge success. Even after achieving this feat, as it is the case with Omega, having his first title defense against someone who is now one of his biggest rivals means a lot in that aspect. Omega has to prove his worth as champion, and defeating Ishii is the perfect way to cement himself, as this match is not just about Omega redeeming himself from one of his G1 losses. There lies Ishii’s importance in helping making stars, which shows how much he’s trusted by the company. Such a role is not being given to anyone.
On a sidenote, a similar faith could await Zack Sabre Jr. The Pro Wrestling Master has managed to capture a win over the Stone Pitbull during the last G1 Climax, which could lead to future encounters with the gatekeeper of New Japan’s main event scene. After all, it does seem like Zack is entitled to have a very bright future.
The ability of putting others over while still remaining as strong, booking wise, as Ishii is, is quite rare. Combining with an obvious willingness to accept such a role makes Ishii even more of a rarity. This way of sacrificing himself makes him earn not just respect from fans, who feel like he’s due to finally win a bigger championship in New Japan than the NEVER Openweight Championship, but it also made him earn that bigger championship win. An Intercontinental Championship run in 2019 would surely be well received, as a reward from the company to one of its greatest assets.
As the gatekeeper, Tomohiro Ishii makes a career out of making other wrestlers shine, while managing to shine himself, sometimes even brighter than his opponents throughout his matches. That is his purpose, and this is also why we may never see him ever holding the biggest prize in New Japan Pro Wrestling, but, maybe we can ask ourselves if he actually needs it at this point, as his role definitely means as much as being the top champion.