The perennial loser won the least important title in NJPW and it was a beautiful reminder of why we love this bizarre world of professional wrestling.
“2020 has had many moments, but I’ll remember this one forever.” – Kazuchika Okada.
The overwhelming affection shown for YOSHI-HASHI the night he won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (alongside Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii) will be fondly remembered as an inescapably wholesome occasion. It is a story that transcends wrestling and resonates worldwide, the tale of the underdog finally getting his spotlight. Only for YOSHI-HASHI, being an underdog might be seen as an upgrade.
The match itself was thrilling. YOSHI-HASHI, Goto and Ishii versus Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano and SHO in an all Chaos affair. The downtrodden 6-Man titles were the spotlight of New Japan’s four consecutive nights in Korakuen Hall and there was an eagerness from fans waiting to see who would win and which streak would be broken. Would YOSHI-HASHI earn his first ever championship or would Okada win his first title other than the IWGP Heavyweight Championship? Thankfully we now joyously live in a world in which YOSHI-HASHI is a champion!
Wearing his heart on his sleeve as he always does, post-match YOSHI-HASHI delivered a rousing and motivating speech about the struggles of life and the importance of not giving up. Even though Okada was on the losing team, he couldn’t keep his big cheesy grin hidden very long and personally put YOSHI-HASHI’s new title around his waist for him, the look of adulation and pure happiness impossible to feign.
Even the menacingly quiet Ishii was outspoken and supportive backstage, “people can say what they want. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you get there. From now on, he’ll [YOSHI-HASHI] prove all the haters wrong.”
YOSHI-HASHI was never destined to find glory in NJPW. A constant misfire, he failed twice to join the New Japan dojo and was only accepted on his third attempt because two others dropped out. Since debuting more than 12 years ago he has challenged 12 times for 5 different NJPW titles unsuccessfully. Not unlucky for YOSHI-HASHI, on the 13th time of asking he has now struck gold.
His entrance music plays for over a minute (I timed it) before he makes his way through the curtain to middling fanfare. He always looks unsure of himself, seemingly wondering if he forgot to turn the cooker off at home. His submission finisher, the “Butterfly Lock”, is often mocked by fans. He doesn’t have the best look, he isn’t the best talker or the best wrestler. By all accounts he is extremely average. So why has there been this rapturous outpouring of love for YOSHI-HASHI winning an unimportant title?!
He is the lovable younger brother you want the best for, but you always tease. Endearing, persistent, oddly charming and hopeful. You may laugh at him when he falls but you’re also right there to help him get back on his feet. He may be a dork but he is our dork!
A walking contradiction – a man that doesn’t invoke any particularly strong reaction yet brought the wrestling community together in unanimous and exuberant agreement, all delighted to see him as a champion. He has brought a never before seen level of emotion to the 6-Man titles that have been victim to consistent mistreatment in the past.
The NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships have been an afterthought since they were introduced at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016. The titles have seldom held any meaning, often bouncing from odd combinations of teammates and treated with little reverence. Of the 19 different teams to have held the titles, 11 of them had zero successful defences and 2 teams held the titles for only a single day!
The 6-Man titles do not carry the gravitas of the more prominent titles, but for at least one glorious night the belts that sit at the bottom of the NJPW hierarchy were the most important titles in the world. Okada knew that this could be a turning point for the titles and that something magical had taken place, saying “I believe the value of the NEVER 6-Man titles have increased.” These titles have never witnessed a more powerful reaction than they are witnessing now.
These are the moments we relish as a wrestling fans. In this make-believe and superficial kayfabe world it is the authentic and organic moments that stick with us and we remember for a lifetime. Those hard fought dreams coming to fruition against all the odds. The physical performance of wrestling is just one brush of the multi-faceted art – the true crux is how wrestling makes us feel.
It’s something we often forget. Sometimes we may take wrestling too seriously (says the man writing about it!) and be more interested in what happens outside of the squared circle, that desire we all have to peek behind the curtain. Yet I couldn’t possibly tell you of anything in my years of being a wrestling fan that has stuck with me that is not intrinsically linked to the wrestling ring itself. There is no backstage news that is entangled in my memory but I could quickly provide you a thorough list of times a match or promo has made me feel something, and YOSHI-HASHI is now firmly part of that list.
Here’s to YOSHI-HASHI! For reminding us of the special joy that only wrestling can bring and getting us drunk on his glory. If YOSHI-HASHI can become a champion, then there is hope for us all. Kampai!