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    Sunday, December 30, 2018

    31 Days of Wrestling (12/30/18): Golden Star Versus Stone Pitbull

    Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2018 produced for us.

    Here's the thing about an Ishii or an Ibushi singles match: at some point in those sickeningly heart-pounding seconds, one or both competitors will do a spot that will make you clench and think about healthcare in Japan.

    Now, think about what happens when you put these two in a match together.

    Main-evented by Kenny Omega and SANADA, Day 10 of G1 Climax 28 featured the 18-minute slobber-knocker between two of New Japan's go-to guys for artful danger. The match last July 28 was arguably the best match either man had that tournament, perhaps with the exception of the Ibushi-Tanahashi finals and Ishii-Goto.

    Ibushi and Ishii headed things off with stiff exchanges from the opening seconds of the match. The 43-year-old (!) vet bullies Ibushi with forearms until a lariat allows his younger opponent to carve an opening with the space between them. Ibushi attempted to get himself banned from another wrestling venue by moonsaulting off another, smaller, balcony amongst the crowd. 

    The advantage Ibushi created from this moonsault and various other attacks to Ishii's neck were negated by the fact that A) Ishii has no neck (joke), and B) Ishii is nicknamed the Stone Pitbull for his capacity to take nuclear-force hits like they were nothing (not a joke).

    After this point, the two varied their attacks by playing off each others' playbook, with Ishii going to the top rope and pulling off a Kamigoye of his own, and Ibushi "snapping" to match Ishii's relentlessness.

    Rocky Romero said it best: "When you put these two guys in the ring together, you always get something special." Ten days into a grueling tournament that had tougher fights ahead for both men, you'd think they'd go slow, but no; the second half of the match was as hard as you could get.

    Ibushi returned Ishii's earlier disrespectful kicking and paid the price when Ishii resumed his slapping and kicking of Ibushi's head. Their back-and-forth brutality elicited gleeful claps, shortness of breath, and awed shouts from an anticipatory crowd. Japanese and English commentary teams shouted and were stunned into stillness. This was Day 10's match of the night, and it wasn't even the main event.

    Aichi was (figuratively, too polite for literally) on their feet, cheering until Ibushi survived Ishii's last barrage of strikes to lock his hand around Ishii's wrist and delivered the Kamigoye for the win. 

    While definitely a tournament favorite, this match turned off some, even the biggest "fighting spirit" fans, as Ibushi and Ishii's propensity to kick out of moves that would end other matches looked ridiculous at times.

    Ishii's highs outmatching Ibushi's highs in terms of length and impact may also overshadow Ibushi's win for some. But the thing about Ishii is that he is a wrestler who never needs to win to be a true professional. Winning against him in a singles match is akin to renewing your right to call yourself a pro wrestler. As Matt Seese over at Fansided wrote of Ishii:
    "Everyone knows, from his opponents to the announcers to the fans watching live or at home, a win over the Stone Pitbull means more than most any other win because he makes you earn it. If you don’t hit him hard enough, he will mock you because that’s disrespecting him. 
    He wants his opponent to endure the struggle he has gone through to get to this point, and if they are mentally and physically tough enough to survive and win, then they truly embody the fighting spirit that Ishii has made a career out of."
    Being an Ishii fan is slightly more painful than being an Ibushi fan. Following the careers of both men means you are constantly on the edge of screaming at your device of choice while they put themselves in situations that no sane man would willingly put themselves in. Whether that screaming is out of sadness or joy depends on their chances of surviving that spot to win the match. If you're an Ishii fan, it's most likely a combination of the two: Ishii will survive to wrestle, not win another day.

    (By the way, if you are a new Ishii fan, might you be interested in a Reddit forum dedicated to the Stone Pitbull himself?)


    31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2018.

    Read our previous entries:

    21. T•IT•A F•IG•HT (Meiko Satomura vs. Mercedes Martinez, Round 2 of 2018 Mae Young Classic)
    22. When Excellence Meets Assassin (Jake De Leon vs. Tengu, PWR Live: Homefront)
    23. Johnny Survivor (Johnny Mundo's Survivor: David vs. Goliath stint)
    24. Ken Warren Walks the Path of Gold (PWR Path of Gold 2018)
    25. Golden Love and War (Kota Ibushi vs. Kenny Omega, G1 Climax 2018)
    26. The Storm in the Sky (Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai, Mae Young Classic)
    27. WWE's New Playground (WWE Greatest Royal Rumble)
    28. Viva El Rey (Rey Mysterio vs. Andrade Cien Almas, SmackDown Live, November 6, 2018)
    29. The Birth of Monday Night Rollins (Gauntlet Match, WWE RAW, February 19, 2018)
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    Item Reviewed: 31 Days of Wrestling (12/30/18): Golden Star Versus Stone Pitbull Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Rie_Takumi
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