Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii
G1 Climax 23 Block A Match
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/17/2018) Like so many matches from the summer of 2013, this one represents a time and a place to me.
If I woke up on the morning of August 2, 2013, it was on a futon in a house that wasn’t mine. I say “if” because chronic insomnia is like that. It makes your days run together, reducing your memory to a slurry of half-formed images and muted feelings. It robs you of your ability to function. It erodes away at the things that make you feel human.
Maybe I went to work that day and maybe I didn’t. I was in college at that point, only a few days away from the beginning of my junior year. Berea is a work study college wherein all students occupy a part-time labor position in some capacity on or around campus, which, along with a variety of grants, funds, and scholarships, pays off their tuition. Even though we were between semesters and I wasn’t taking summer courses, I was still able to work over the break at my usual position in Recycling. Recycling was part of the grounds crew and entailed that my coworkers and I gathered recyclable materials from around campus, sorted them according to their composition, and shipped them off to be melted down, chopped up, and formed anew. We also handled the four dozen-odd public trash cans littered around campus, since they were always accompanied by shiny blue recycling containers. It was a dirty job and I loved it. During breaks we were paid extra, skyrocketing all the way up to federal minimum wage. With how insomnia often left me too exhausted to even try to go to work, it was barely enough for me to cover rent and left me with next to nothing for food.
I’d been homeless for six or seven weeks over that summer. If you know me well enough to be reading this you probably don’t need a refresher on what that was like. If you don’t know me then I’ll put it plainly: when I could sleep I did it in gas station bathrooms and on the front porches of random houses. I ate out of dumpsters because I needed proof of address to get food stamps or solicit the food bank. I didn’t want to steal because people had trouble enough around those parts. Primum non nocere and all that.
Whether I went to work or not, I remember limping down to campus in the evening. I had no want for entertainment, as the school provided all students with a laptop and several buildings on campus stayed open 24/7 for security reasons, giving me a steady stream of good Wi-Fi. I didn’t watch a lot of wrestling during college and especially not that summer, but what I did watch meant the world to me. I skipped meals to buy Dragon Gate iPPVs off Niconico. Sympathetic friends sent me PWG DVDs through the mail. I gathered in chat rooms with hundreds of strangers to watch New Japan on Ustream.
I can still sort of remember the first time I watched this match. I remember the lingering tang of the cheap pizza sauce from the Little Caesars I fished out of a dumpster. I remember that it was always a little too cold in the college post office and the blast of humid air from whenever someone would walk in made me feel like a slab of defrosting meat. I remember thinking Tanahashi’s face looked real puffy in his entrance here and that I hated his fucking face.
I talked a few days ago about how I really used to dislike Hiroshi Tanahashi. That hadn’t changed by 2013, of course. It’s hard to really get a handle on where that distaste came from but I guess that’s just what youth is like. It made me hate this guy who was on top for so long and made me fall in love with a career nobody who always put in 110%. Tomohiro Ishii wasn’t someone I was deeply familiar with by this point but he instantly seemed like my kind of guy. Gruff, stocky, to the point, full of fire and determination. What’s more, people loved him. Korakuen was going nuts for him here, electing to chant his name over the name of the most popular guy in the company, the guy who essentially carried the promotion on his back for the last six years. It’s hard not to join in with all that energy.
As much as these people are on fire for Ishii, it’s funny to hear them quiet down at points here when he takes control of the match. I imagine it’s because of expectations. “Of course Tanahashi would fight back,” you can hear them say. He’s the ace, the one in a century talent. He lost his first match of the tournament last night and this was such an obvious bounce back, a gimme Korakuen main event against a popular career nobody in his first G1. Even Tanahashi seems to think he’s got it won already. He spends more time grimacing at the scores of people chanting for Ishii than going after the dude’s legs or avoiding his strikes. This lack of focus doesn’t pay off for him as badly as it did against Okada since Ishii is nowhere near that level, but the man has momentum behind him. As he survives Tanahashi’s feeble targeting of his perennially-bad shoulder and avoids his biggest moves, you start to doubt convention. You start to think miracles can happen.
This match isn’t an all-timer. It plays with the themes of Tanahashi’s struggles against the rising tide he’s been stemming for years but doesn’t explore them as fully as bigger main event matches on bigger shows this year. It lacks direction in the first half, in a way that loses the crowd for decent stretches of time. So much of it fails to leap off the page the way that something like the Invasion Attack match did. Despite all that, I still love this match for what it gave me five years ago and what it gives me today. Today it offers the bitter realization of what happens when someone who effortlessly waltzed through his youth on smarts and charm sees everything fall apart all around him. Five years ago it gave a Hoosier scumbag with bags under his eyes the joy of seeing a guy he inexplicably hated get dropped on his head as people sing for his destruction. Even if this match has holes in it, those gifts are worth treasuring. Sometimes, in our darkest days, they’re all we have to hold onto.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: I know people treasure Shawn/Taker the way this match gave me light in a dark time. I wish I could say it did that for me.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25