Yuki Ishikawa vs Timothy Thatcher
Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany
(reviewed 03/13/2019) I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies recently and by ‘recently’ I mean ‘basically forever’. Throughout human history our physical forms have understandably been a frequent fixation in art, science, and philosophy. From Ātman to Erasistratus’ studies of the heart to Michelangelo’s David all the way up to object-oriented ontology, humanity has constantly attempted to appreciate and understand what, how, and why it is. Wrestling, as a crude amalgamation of combat and narrative increasingly fueled by consumerist standards of appearance, has a lot to say about what it’s like when the tangible extent of our beings—necessarily imperfect—are pressed forcefully into one another. I think this match is a good example.
Physically, Yuki Ishikawa and Timothy Thatcher couldn’t look much less alike. Not only does the American tower over his hero and mentor with a 6’3” frame, Thatcher also appears to be sculpted from granite. His muscles are full, his sinews tight, his every piece locked perfectly in place. He is a machine designed to tear lesser men apart limb by limb. Ishikawa, already several years into his 50s, simply cannot compare. He is slighter, flabbier, so much slower in his movements, so much less impressive visually. At a glance, one would believe that a match between these two couldn’t be competitive.
The thing about bodies is that our individual experiences with them are rarely, if ever, uniform, comprehensive, or wholly positive. As often as his size and strength benefit him here, Thatcher’s physical power begets unfamiliarity with his own form. He might be able to muscle Ishikawa up for slams the smaller man can’t duplicate but Ishikawa, small even by puroresu standards, understands the benefit of the unassuming and exploits openings Thatcher doesn’t realize he’s allowing. Repeatedly Ishikawa is able to slip into simple holds to wrench control from Thatcher’s hands, using his prevalent position on the mat to pull out a brilliant reversal. When Thatcher mounts him, Ishikawa snakes his ankles into a vise grip. When Thatcher applies a head and arm choke, Ishikawa hammers his elbow into the man’s ear. When Thatcher tries to use his massive wingspan to escape to the ropes, Ishikawa lithely bends the man’s tree trunk legs into place for yet another hold, stacking Thatcher’s strengths against him.
Time and again over a thirty year career Ishikawa has used his undersized body, his meager physical gifts, as a fulcrum against the spectacular and superhuman. With it comes an intimate understanding of himself, inside and out. Bell to bell he shows little emotion in the ring, offering no chink in the armor for Thatcher to exploit. Ishikawa’s sole outburst comes late in the match, when he can feel momentum building behind him and fears it slipping between his fallible fingers. He’s been able to mount the American for the first time, raining down blows from above. When Thatcher tries to force a rope break, Ishikawa twists him this way and that, doubling back a kneebar to lock an arm in place and fumbling to trap the other arm as well. Dramatically the big man reaches the ropes all the same, leaving Ishikawa sullenly whispering curses to himself.
For a man whose success in the ring consists of quelling inner urges, overcoming material weaknesses, and exerting his will over larger opponents, it’s a moment of great thematic weight, a very human moment. Despite his best, most thorough efforts Ishikawa is frustrated once again by his physical failings. Even for the greatest wrestlers in history, the spirit is willing and the flesh remains all too weak.