If the Wrestling Observer is to be believed, 2018 was the best year in pro wrestling history. Not only did include the first and only 7-star match, but there were more 5-star matches in that year than any other year prior. Both 2018 and 2019 featured TWENTY 5-star matches as rated by the Observer. Clearly, that must mean that pro-wrestling has reached its highest peak ever.
Or does it?
Today we revisit one of those highly-praised matches from 2018. It took place during New Japan’s annual G1 Climax and featured two of the toughest, yet for many people, underappreciated, wrestlers on their roster.
It’s the G1 Climax singles match between Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii.
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.
NJPW’s wrestlers spend the bulk of the year in multi-man tag matches due to the roster being divided into several factions locked in a never-ending war for supremacy. These are usually composed of six-and-eight man tag matches, with the bigger stories saved for special singles matches or title challenges. And because NJPW really emphasizes this stable warfare, singles matches among stable members are incredibly rare.
Except during the G1 Climax.
During that annual tournament, stable loyalty is put aside in favor of singles glory. All wrestlers in the tournament look to achieve personal success, regardless of whoever they face. Because of this, singles match-ups between stablemates can and do happen. This brings us to this match.
Going into the match, both Goto and Ishii were members of the CHAOS stable. They had teamed together on many occasions and had less than ten singles matches together over the previous ten-year period. Going into this match, Goto had two points while Ishii had four, go Goto was looking to catch up in his tournament bracket. Goto was also the NEVER Openweight Champion, which is a title Ishii was after.
This match originally took place on July 21st, 2018.
The bell rings and Goto applies a tight headlock. Ishii sends Goto into the ropes and neither man moves on a shoulder tackle. Goto dares Ishii to run the ropes and we get MULTIPLE immovable object spots. Neither man falls or backs down off several shoulder tackles. They go back-and-forth with elbow smashes and Ishii demands Goto strike him in the neck. Goto obliges and they have an INSANELY long elbow strike exchange that Ishii wins. Another shoulder strike exchange ensues and ultimately, Goto manages to knock Ishii down for the first time in the match.
Ishii counters an Irish whip into a corner and powerslams Goto. He lands some brutal chops and kicks, and an angry Goto fires back with an open hand slap to the chest. But Ishii doesn’t even flinch; in fact, he asks for more. Goto slaps Ishii’s chest some more. Ishii fires back with a big chop. Down goes Goto. Ishii taunts Goto to get back up. Then, the soft spoken yells out ‘what’s the champion gonna do?’ And Goto gets up and fights back. Ishii chops and charges, Goto does the same and confuses Ishii, Ishii ducks a clothesline and charges, walks into a fireman’s carry but then escapes. Crazy sequence. Goto dodges a corner clothesline and lands a huge one of his own. Followed by a spinning wheel kick in another corner and a back suplex for a two-count.
Ishii fights out of a fireman’s carry so Goto kicks him in the chest. He tries to tank it but falls to the mat. Goto lands some more. Ishii starts hulking up the strong style way. He no-sells those kicks as the fans rally behind him. Ishii pummels Goto with a strong elbow smash. Ishii with chops and elbows in the corner. Goto reverses an Irish whip and charges but Ishii drops him. Ishii goes for a Backdrop but Goto elbows out. Both men charges, criss-cross and duck each other. Ishii runs into Goto at full speed. Neither man goes down. Ishii ducks another clothesline and lands a German suplex. Goto gets right back up and drops Ishii with a kick. Sleeper hold by Goto. In the middle of the ring. Ishii gets a second wind and throws Goto off his back. Lariat by Goto. Ishii doesn’t budge. Goto charges with another lariat. Ishii remains immobile. Then Ishii charges with his own lariat. Goto doesn’t budge either. Goto lariat. Ishii stands. Ishii lariat. Goto stands. Goto lariat. Both men refuse to go down. Another Ishii lariat. Another Goto lariat. Ishii lands one more. Goto refuses to move. Ishii charges. Goto drops him at last. But Ishii gets back up and drops Goto. Goto gets back up. Double lariats. Neither man goes down. A second set of lariats. Both men remain on their feet. They charge at each other again. Both men go down. This is one of the manliest wrestling matches I’ve ever seen.
Goto gets up first and applies a sleeper but Ishii punches his way out. Goto answers by bitchslapping Ishii. Man, he must have a death wish or something. Ishii answers with a flurry of left-right elbow combinations. Goto tries to answer with a head-butt. Ishii elbows him instead. Followed by a head-butt of his own. Corner lariat by Ishii. Delayed superplex. Goto kicks out. Ishii sets Goto up for the sliding lariat and charges. Goto tries to cut him off. Ishii tries to counter into a Backdrop suplex. Goto counters into the Ushigoroshi (fireman’s carry knee neckbreaker). Big clothesline by Goto. Inverted GTR. Goto goes for the regular GTR (inverted headlock lariat backbreaker). Ishii counters into a suplex. No, Goto lifts Ishii up instead. Ishii lands on his feet behind Goto in the GTR position. He’s going for Goto’s finisher. Wait, no, Goto counters. No, Ishii counters again. Goto escapes. Discus lariat. Ishii ducks it. Backdrop suplex. Christ, this is amazing!
Both men charge at each other with lariats and once more, neither man goes down. Ishii lands one clothesline but Goto hits Ishii’s arm. Goto blocks an enzuigiri and charges, but runs into a massive lariat from Ishii. One, two, NO, Goto kicks out. The crowd erupts in cheers for Ishii.
Ishii goes for the sheerdrop brainbuster, but Goto counters into Shouten Kai (sitout suplex side slam) for a VERY close two-count. Now the crowd chants for Goto. Massive chest kick by Goto. He goes for GTR, Ishii escapes. Then they trade head-butts. Enzuigiri by Ishii. Sliding lariat. Goto kicks out. Sheerdrop Brainbuster. One, two, three! That’s it! There’s the match!
Winner after 18:15: Tomohiro Ishii
That was one of the manliest, hardnosed fights I have ever seen in a wrestling ring. These two wrestlers packed so much raw intensity into under twenty minutes. It wasn’t even that complicated of a match. They spent most of it hitting big moves and countering each other’s most effective maneuvers, which in turn led to one of the most satisfying hoss fights I have ever seen.
There was absolutely nothing in the way of traditional wrestling psychology here. Nor were there any fancy moves or artistic acrobatics. Instead, it was a straight-up tough guy contest between a perennial upper midcarder desperate to break into the main event and an angry fire hydrant in bike shorts. It was pure strong style madness, and it was fun as hell to watch.
This match highlighted Ishii’s greatness as a straightforward monster brawler. He was tough-as-nails here, and went toe-to-toe with Goto without backing down. Not only that, he asked for more and took Goto’s attacks like a man. And Goto tried his best to keep up with Ishii, but that proved to be impossible in the end. Both men left this match looking way better than how they went in. Goto looked like a much tougher bastard for being able to withstand Ishii for so long, and Ishii was, well, Ishii. The guy was monstrously tough and got more mileage out of doing maybe five or six different moves than any other modern wrestler around.
That said, this match did have some minor flaws. While the fighting was great and the counters were awesome, they came at the expense of pure drama. Everything was done at such a blistering pace that it never felt really…real. Both Goto and Ishii spent most of the match no-selling (but in a good way that makes them both look like badass tanks); and when they did sell, like off the multiple clotheslines or head-butts, they staggered around and fought through it in a way that came across as almost cartoonish. And neither man really slowed down despite taking so much punishment. They sprinted around the ring with the same level of energy and speed during the final stretch as they did at the beginning. There was no sense of exhaustion or accumulation of damage here. If you skipped ahead to the last three minutes of the match, you’d think they were just starting things off based on how they were moving around.
Final Rating: ****3/4
While I think this match was a fantastic display of resilience and macho toughness, I don’t think a 5-star rating is appropriate here. There is lots to enjoy here if you enjoy all-out wars involving two angry bulls smashing each other until one goes down. And while it more than delivered on that front, I think it lacked that special something to really bring it to the next level.
What this match really demonstrated is how good NJPW’s G1 Climax tournament is at bringing out the best in all of its participants. Goto and Ishii are by and large way lower on the pecking order, yet they fought like their lives were at stake here. They gave it their all here, and this was still very early into the tournament, so both men had lots of battles awaiting them. The fact that such a random, inconsequential G1 singles match can bring out such effort from two combatants speaks volumes to how important that tournament is and how NJPW gives its wrestlers the platform they need to really showcase what they can do.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.