The man behind at Puroresu Spirit, BushidoRX, is allowing me, DylanZero, to start a new (hopefully) regular feature on here going with a look at a week’s worth of matches of a particular wrestler, spanning big moments of an entire career. To start off with, I’m taking a look at one of my favorite pro wrestlers who also happened to start one of my favorite promotions. There’s a great bio of his full career here on the full site here: http://puroresuspirit.net/puroresu-legends/yuki-ishikawa/ – But the brief version is Yuki Ishikawa is a well respected shoot style pro wrestler and trainer, who started his career in an incredible story after travelling to America after nothing more than finding a picture of Karl Gotch at his house, finding him and convincing Gotch to train the young Ishikawa (as related by him himself on his blog and translated on his personal FB page). He’s gone on to train many in his style and teach his secrets to inspired young minds with an appreciation of Hybrid wrestling, from his own company and abroad.
These posts will be made daily on the facebook page with them all being collected and hosted here on the website at the end of that week. [BushidoRX]
Here I’ll be looking at 7 matches that encapsulates different points of his journey throughout this week to this point. Now keep in mind these aren’t just “The best 7 matches of his career”, my intentions are more to provide a snapshot of different points of his career all throughout, not easy for someone who’s been around since ’92! To describe his style would be extremely hard hitting, pretty technical, and avoiding many clichés of traditional pro wrestling. Along the lines of a next gen Tiger Mask 1, Fujiwara, Maeda, combination of those guys, etc. etc. The most mainstream descendant of his style that comes closest might be…Katsuyori Shibata or Minoru Suzuki. (I feel ridiculous even making that comparison though) So fans of the be sure to give this underrated legend a look! As well as to keep up with his upcoming work in promotions like RJPW since the impotus for choosing him as the first wrestler for this was his return to puroresu less than a week ago.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa, Day 1
Now finally the first match I am looking at today took place just after a year to the business, after extensive training with the aforementioned Gotch, as well as the Malenko family of wrestling, Ishikawa returned to his native Japan and trained even further under the legendary Yoshiaki Fujiwara and his promotion, Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi. He competed for over a year before getting to main event his first show in PWFG in late ’93, taking the place of many predecessors before him as the upstart native vs tough guy foreigner. Kozlowski is a standout amateur wrestler who trained for the Olympics as late as 2008 and whose twin brother Dennis took home the Silver Medal in the ’92 Barcelona games. He didn’t last long in pro wrestling, but was a standout here representing the USA on Japanese turf and even at such a young age Ishikawa gets everything he can out of him, getting both men’s best PWFG matches here and showing signs of much greater things to come for our protaginist Yuki Ishikawa.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa, Day 2
Yesterday we got the basics down for our main man going over his training with Karl Gotch and the Malenko family, leading to his debut and first career main event in PWFG. He continued down his path for 2-3 years becoming a renowned star in the company, but due to financial problems and “questionable circumstances” Ishikawa followed his convictions and led an exodus of the entire roster, years before All Japan’s troubles, to start his own company, christened “Fighting Investigation Team Battlarts” (Hereby referred to as it’s known name BattlARTS) where he mixed the more shoot style elements of his predecessor seamlessly with pro wrestling cadence. He main evented many shows in BattlARTS history but early on the company was still finding its’ feet in terms of perfecting its’ style…
Which brings me to today’s match. Not the first appearance of Ishikawa against his greatest rival Ikeda (Trust me, more on him later) at all but definitely the match where things really felt like an explosion of a true rivalry. With the heroic team of Ishikawa & Otsuka taking on the bruisers in Ikeda & Ono, this isn’t similar to something like Volk Han shoot style where everything is flawless and shown off, this match is about the fire the two teams show while beating the stuffing out of each other and in my opinion the first truly great Bati-Bati style match. Ono & Ikeda again were great antagonists, Ishikawa was a hard hitting fighter and Otsuka built up well to finally catching his nemesis in Ono (including busting out a move you’d never expect to see in this style of match but done in the most logical way possible), this is a great introduction to the “true” Yuki Ishikawa, BattlARTS, & shoot style as a whole with 4 of the company’s biggest stars.
Match: Yuki Ishikawa & Alexander Otsuka vs. Daisuke Ikeda & Takeshi Ono (October 30th, 1996)
Week of Yuki Ishikawa – Day 3
Carl “Greco” Malenko vs. Yuki Ishikawa (4/24/98)
Here is one of my favorite matches in an already pretty sweet year of wrestling worldwide, Ishikawa taking on an old adversary in one of the men he trained with. Another trainee of the great Malenko family, in fact Dean & Joe Malenko’s shoot stepbrother, with dad Boris pulling Carl off the streets as a youth and turning him into a top flight wrestler. Carl Malenko didn’t have the varied pro wrestling moveset of Dean, but as a pure technical wrestler Carl was actually quite a bit more skilled, and it shows here in this match. Ishikawa again returns to his role from the first match of the week as fiery native, but is so much better early on from his PWFG days, the striking, grappling, desperation shown here is elite level from both men and adds so much to an already great technical match. Tremendous wrestling as well as on the shorter side in terms of match length. Stay tuned for the post match as it plays into the feud I will touch on tomorrow. (Though sadly the ’98 specific Ikeda/Ishikawa match isn’t easily available but I promise I’ll deliver some good stuff! As well as to get into some of Bati-Bati’s struggles) Enjoy the match.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa – Day 4
Oh yeah, now the getting’s getting real good. I highly encourage everyone to check this match out, as it’s one of my favorites in both men’s careers as well as BattlARTS as a whole. I’m talking about our Strong Style Hero Ishikawa taking on his now for sure enemy in Daisuke Ikeda on August 29th, 1999. Now, I just want to start off by saying these two have a ton of acclaimed matches in the three year span of 1997-1999 so I would definitely recommend all of them as there is far from a consensus favorite, but in particular the September 1st, 1997 and May 27th, 1998 matches are worth going out of your way to watch. Alas if I did every great Ikeda/Ishikawa match this would be the month of Ishikawa instead of just a week.
At this point things were going very well for Ishikawa. For a Japanese indy fed BattlARTS had a small, but passionate fanbase as well as solid backing from different sponsors. We’ll see how long that healthiness lasts for the company. (Hint: It’s not long) But anyway, Ishikawa had really been solidified as the Ace of the promotion in the last year, by winning BOTH of BattlARTS’ top tournaments at the time in 1998, the Young Generation Battle League (similar to the G1 Climax of NJPW fame) with a win in the Grand Final over respected Austrian shooter Viktor Krüger, as well as a win in the first ever “B-Cup” (A special tournament held under B-Rules in which no strikes are allowed) over the legendary but improbable Bob Backlund.
Now onto this feud and match, For the most part their rivalry wasn’t about any particular prize they were going after as BattlARTS had no titles it promoted as it’s own or anything like that, just the once a year Young Generation Battle League, it was simply about hate and heated fights with each other. However this match is the combination of the grudge and the prize as it’s the Final of said tournaments. This match differentiates itself from their other wars with a bit more technical stylings and matwork…in addition to it being a hate filled war of course. There really is a looming sense of both men “taking too much” and things feeling close to a knockout at any time. It’s the real deal and check it out linked in the comments.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa – Day 5
It needs to be said but like I mentioned BattlARTS was nearing a very down period as an ironic result of gaining prominence, while Ishikawa, Malenko, & Katsumi Usuda stayed pat seemingly everyone else got poached to bigger companies, including Minoru Tanaka to NJPW, Ikeda to AJPW (almost immediately NOAH), Mitsuya Nagai to AJPW, Mohammed Yone to NOAH, and Alexander Otsuka to MMA full time. With the top of the card eroded the fanbase dwindled. On top of that later on a bad fight in MMA promotion PRIDE against Rampage Jackson (in which Rampage tried a shoot Piledriver that could have seriously injured Ishikawa had it worked), a falling out with it’s main co-promoters in Zero1, and just the general downturn of the economy and interest in wrestling, all led to BattlARTS to close it’s doors for years in late 2001 in a situation that was impossible to deal with. But it wasn’t the end for BattlARTS yet or Ishikawa! Tomorrow I’ll get into Ishikawa’s best non-BattlARTS match, as well as the eventual rebirth of Ishikawa’s beloved company and what he was up to in the meantime. Until then as mentioned enjoy this great match between bitter rivals Ishikawa & Ikeda in the comments.
After BattlARTS’ closing, Ishikawa (as well as most of their roster) drifted around without a home, but Ishikawa always found time to stay busy. In 2002 Ishikawa returned to ZERO-ONE MAX to participate in their Fire Festival, having a respectable run and finishing tied for 2nd in his Block, but didn’t last beyond a few months in that company, and after a brief hiatus the following year had a few week run with All Japan again not climbing the ladder to much of note. And after running a one off BattlARTS’ 7th Anniversary show in 2003 and competing sporadically in several random promotions such as upstarts like Riki Choshu’s World Japan, things were looking very up in the air…
At least they would have been, had he not been like a mad shoot style scientist behind the scenes training many of the young men that would help lead him and his company back to life. Many of which would join him in the short lived sports entertainment/shoot style hybrid promotion Big Mouth Loud, which was a doozy of a company in itself, let me tell you. But pieces were falling into place, not the least of which was a spiritual successor to BattlARTS and a continuation of the Bati-Bati style springing up, led by none other than Ishikawa’s eternal rival Daisuke Ikeda. Fu-Ten started in 2005 and with the man in charge, it’s grassroots fanbase were already in heavy speculation about a potential collision between Ikeda and Ishikawa after half a decade apart, and they definitely keep us waiting long, as we’re about to look at the main event from Fu-Ten’s very first show and certainly Ishikawa’s best match outside his own company.
If the last match between these two was an attempt at working more mat-based and showing technical style, this was them simply having an all out war. There’s really no way around it. These two gave each other a beating they’ll never forget. The likes of the more “mainstream” purveyors of this reputation like Shibata, etc. could never compare to something like this. If you’re a fan of that style there’s no doubt about it, this is a must watch.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa – Day 6
After years of training and working an extremely lax schedule, in 2007 Ishikawa decided to bring BattlARTS back for another round, albeit under a bit more of a budget based around DVD sales of their shows, which were only held sporadically from this point on. In 2008 the BattlARTS revival was a critical success with some of the better matches you’ll see from late 2000s Japan, and possibly the two most acclaimed centered around Ishikawa himself. (A 4-on-4 elimination match in April, and a tag featuring veteran Ikuto Hidaka, and my favorite two Ishikawa trainees, Munenori Sawa & Yuta Yoshikawa from August. Unfortunately the lack of YT/DM availability leads me to steer clear though if you know where to look they’re easily available. With players like those 4 the company was able to sustain itself as a lowkey indy promotion for a little while, but even by 2010 they had lost some of their key players with Malenko & Otsuka gone and Yoshikawa’s unexpected retirement the writing was on the wall for the company. Things went on for a good while until late 2011 when the company again closed it’s doors…but it’s still not done yet!
Anyway Ishikawa had another match vs Ikeda on BattlARTS’ final show (which is great and available in the same place as the two above) but again availability and just the fact that we’ve seen him vs Ikeda a couple of times already I picked out the best match I could find from BattlARTS’ last year.
Ishikawa/Hideki Suzuki vs. Daisuke Ikeda/Super Tiger II – Feb. 27th, 2011
This match really isn’t a career one or overly important to him, but it’s really great! The eternal rivals brought the beef as usual and beat each other senseless as always, but the climax to the match centered around Ikeda squaring off with Hideki (Who was actually my original ideas for this project and is one of my favorites). Super Tiger is a trainee of the original Tiger Mask and also does very well here. Lots of cool suplexes from Hideki really balance out the usual wild fighting that our heroes bring. Regardless a fine answer for the last year of BattlARTS.
Week of Yuki Ishikawa – Day 7
Friends, what a journey it has been looking through one of my favorite wrestlers and his company which is also one of my favorites. Thanks to all that have read thus far, and hope everyone enjoyed the series, but here we are with it coming to an end for now, though hopefully Ishikawa can join companies with bigger internet profiles and be a hard hitter wherever he goes. Welcome back and hopefully we all get to see his return match featuring greats like Alexander Otsuka and Daisuke Sekimoto.
But anyway, picking up where I left off previously BattlARTS closed down as a promotion in late 2011, just over a decade after the original closing. The following year he mainly competed in the aforementioned Sayama project, Real Japan Pro Wrestling, with occasional one-offs in Fu-Ten and even for some reason, Joshi Puroresu group Ice Ribbon fighting Miyako Matsumoto (a girl…but a very solid wrestler to be fair) But recently he got a great opportunity for over the past year before his recent return, he’s taken his craft overseas all the way to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, as a head trainer and partner with an unlikely source in someone Ishikawa helped early in his career, former WWE wrestler Santino Marella. As a trainer for the Battle ARTS Academy, he’s trained countless numbers of the Canadian indy scene as well as put his influence on talented US-based wrestlers who travel around the area, such as EVOLVE World Champion Timothy Thatcher. The Academy has essentially been a training ground for much of it’s existence but recently has taken a step in becoming something closer and more akin to BattlARTS in Japan by running sporadic full shows, and the match here is a testament to that.
Taking place in November of last year, Ishikawa wrestles in BattlARTS Academy’s 4th official show titled “PUSH”, facing off against his latest student, Sansyu. At this point in his career Ishikawa is a clean 47 Years old, but we see even here truly taking the young man to school as Ishikawa is often the one pushing the pace harder and shows something I’ve often admired. His love and passion for wrestling shines through in every match with how much effort he gives. He’s such a great example and an improvement upon his predecessors in that regard. There are tons of headbutts, big strikes, great submissions and general violence that make this great, with Ishikawa even at one point hitting a huge backdrop suplex. What a great thing it is to see Ishikawa not only still rocking, but also helping to keep the great BattlARTS style alive with the importance of technique fading away in the more sports entertainment-centric world of wrestling in Japan today, and hopefully Sansyu as well as the other Academy students keep pushing forward.
Final thoughts: I consider Yuki Ishikawa one of the 20 or 30 best wrestlers purely in the ring ever, despite unfortunately never getting as much spotlight as many others. I wrap up this piece by quoting a 2008 interview Ishikawa with longtime puroresu expert Dave Ditch that was about his extremely hard hitting and stiff matches with Ikeda and really just in general and why he is so hard on himself and his opponents especially that encapsulates his philosophy and career on the whole:
“Because we are not hitting each other, we are hitting the fucking stupid people in the world who think that pro-wrestling is fake like a trained monkey show. They say that pro wrestling kicks are fake so it is not painful. etc. Once they see our fight, they have nothing to say. They watch our fight like a fool with their mouth open with surprise. So our violent fight is not only for our opponents but for the f-ing people that make light of BATTLARTS. Our fight is anger towards people who make light of us.”