Tomohiro Ishii vs. El Desperado (NJPW New Japan Cup N1 6/16/20)

Match Reviews

There are many ways to have a great match in the COVID-era. The best approach, of course, is not to try and remind all promoters out there that holding shows anywhere in the world even now is grossly irresponsible. That’s #1 which probably makes Roman Reigns the actual Wrestler of the Year with Sami Zayn at a close #2.

Barring that, workers can try to focus on a more technical matbased approach. Daniel Bryan, Drew Gulak, and Timothy Thatcher have shown how effective this can be. Matwork is something that requires so much focus and attention to begin with that it often drowns in lively crowds. Played to a mostly empty arena, a viewer at home has the chance to zone in on the action. Truly elite level workers can combine this kind of detailed oriented work with the larger, more bombastic spots that can dazzle people into forgetting the emptiness.

Ishii and Desperado don’t do that here. Instead, they just brute force their way into greatness.

Early on, it’s exceedingly clear that neither Ishii nor Desperado have made any adjustments to their style. It’s pretty clear that this is the match they would have worked if they were in front of an audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that but there are some things exposed by that choice. Desperado’s early heat segments lose a lot of steam because he’s preoccupied with taunting and posing for a crowd that isn’t there. He works a much slower and methodical heat segment than befits the empty arena. It doesn’t work because no one’s in the room to fill the dead air with boos.

Luckily Desperado’s in there with Ishii and that guy will just beat four stars out of anybody. Ishii brings his usual fire and brutal offense to this but this time gets to add limb selling to the work. Where I know Ishii much more for his ability to subtly portray cumulative damage, I thought his limb selling was done exceedingly well here. Hell, we even get a mid-powerbomb crumble spot which might be one of the best things I’ve seen in wrestling all year.

The real meat of this match is the lengthy extended finishing stretch where Desperado pulls out every trick he knows to try to put Ishii down. It’s incredibly convincing too. There’s exposed turnbuckles, low blows, and of course the bad knee. But the big man just won’t stay down. Ishii is a force of nature and it’s always a wonder to see him work when the gears are switched on. Stiff strikes and brainbusters. I loved it.

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