Tomohiro Ishii for IWGP Intercontinental Champion

1/3 man, 1/3 fridge and 1/3 Stone Pitbull. Tomohiro Ishii has cultivated a reputation as one of the best wrestlers in the world. A stalwart of the cerulean blue New Japan ring with a solid résumé to his name.

Credit: NJPW

Given the legacy that Ishii has created for himself, it’s astonishing that he has only challenged for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship once, an opportunity against Hirooki Goto in 2012. It is criminal that Ishii has not had a healthy reign as IWGP Intercontinental Champion.

For Ishii to end his career without holding the IWGP Intercontinental Championship would be a huge injustice.

For almost 16 years Ishii has flown the New Japan banner. He holds the joint record for NEVER Openweight Championship reigns at 5. He is a former IWGP Tag Team Champion. His unmatched presence during the G1 Climax tournaments earn him praise every year as the MVP (Mr G1 Climax). Fans voted him the best brawler for 6 consecutive years from 2014-2019 and the best brawler of the decade in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards.

Ishii already has a decorated career and has done more than most wrestlers ever will. But Ishii is more than merely being like “most wrestlers.”

Credit: NJPW

Ishii elevated the NEVER Openweight Championship onto its own pedestal alongside Katsuyori Shibata, Togi Makabe and Hirooki Goto. It was once a title that had little spectacle or meaning until the significant work of the aforementioned men grew it into a fighting championship, a personification of strong style, a proving ground for the powerful. It’s a testament to Ishii that he was essential in raising the prestige of the NEVER title.

Ishii has developed his own brand as a modern day throwback to the style he grew up watching. The 80s and 90s style of Japanese wrestling, inspired by his trainers Genichiro Tenryu and Riki Choshu. Growing up nourished and influenced by the origins of strong style and fighting spirit.

If you look up the word “brawler” in a dictionary, there’s a picture of Tomohiro Ishii.

He is a violent poet. A symphony of blunt forearms, chops, headbutts and lariats. There is complexity to his straightforwardness and beauty to his brutal brawling. One of the best examples is his G1 Climax 23 match with Shibata, a 12 minute war that earned them the coveted 5 star rating.

Ishii doesn’t make compromises in his work, if something isn’t providing the desired results he simply does it with more ferocity. He has on occasion shown his varied scope within the squared circle, entirely capable of wrestling a more technical style but he keeps his range compact, constantly being the best brawler in the world. A cinder block gifted with legs and arms, intent on punishing any who stand in his way.

Willing to take a barrage of hits just so he can throw one haymaker back and devastate his opponent and break their spirit. Rarely vocal outside of the ring but constantly throwing verbal jabs at his opponents inside it, telling his opponents to hit him with their best shots so he can shrug it off to invoke fear and doubt.

Synonyms for Ishii include; reliable, consistent, and dependable. Seldom does he have a bad match or an off night. He has the skill to bring excitement to what might appear to be a mundane match.

Credit: NJPW World

Uncompromising resolve and wrestling ability aside, Ishii has his own way of entertaining when not busting brains. His unwillingness to participate in any antics is always comical, refusing to fist bump Ryusuke Taguchi or participate in a Kazuchika Okada selfie.

How is it that such a proven competitor has seemingly hit a ceiling with the NEVER Openweight Championship? He often falls under the category of underrated due to his lack of high profile wins and sparse time in the spotlight. When everybody agrees that he is underrated, it’s safe to that he is not underrated but undervalued instead.

For many, Ishii is fully deserving of holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Since January 4th 2011 only 7 different men have held the crowning title in New Japan. It’s a belt held in the highest regard and carries with it a distinguished air. Since its inception 33 years ago, only 29 different wrestlers have reached the pinnacle of New Japan and been crowned Heavyweight Champion. It’s improbable Ishii will join the legendary list, but that isn’t a slight to Ishii, it’s an an insight to the rarity of the title itself.

However there is the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. For the most part it is the second most prominent title but it has many times been the most noteworthy. Shows are main evented by an Intercontinental Championship defense, even Wrestle Kingdom. The IWGP titles are on their own level and it’s a level that Ishii reached years ago. It’s saddening that he has never even gotten close to winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

Since its inception in 2011, only 14 different men have held the Intercontinental title, again emphasizing the importance New Japan puts on their top belts. It is an impressive list of previous champions that would only be bolstered by the addition of Ishii.

Credit: NJPW

Ishii’s deceivingly small stature (5ft 7in) often makes him an underdog despite the tough presence he evokes. It’s a combination that only works because of the intensity Ishii brings with him. This uncommon pairing of small height with big brawn has always made Ishii stand out. It’s a marvel to see him hoist a super heavyweight for a brain buster.

The thrill is in the chase and having Ishii chase after the IWGP Intercontinental Championship would make for a magnificent story. It would almost be a waste to have him earn it in his first attempt; let him come close and just miss out, making the eventual win immensely sweeter. It’s a trope that has been executed countless times, but when it is handled correctly there are few moments better.

An Ishii reign as IWGP Intercontinental Champion writes itself. A veteran finally getting what he deserves and in turn unwilling to give it up, his pride forcing him to take on all challengers. It doesn’t need to be a record breaking reign but it does need to see Ishii have his name written down in the New Japan history books.  

Give the Stone Pitbull some prestige!