Remember Nickelodeon GUTS back in the ‘90s? You know, Mike O’Malley commentating while a bunch of kids flounder around a big wave pool.
Well, imagine if GUTS survived, evolving slowly from “action sports” to “professional wrestling” competition, where the coveted glowing piece of the Aggro Crag is now the GWC Singles Championship.
In 2004, Guts Ishijima made that childhood dream a reality with the formation of GUTS World Pro-Wrestling in Tokyo, Japan, the spiritual successor to Nickelodeon GUTS and Global GUTS. Really. No, not really, but can you imagine if O’Malley was still doing the English commentary?
GUTS World is a small independent promotion that has been producing monthly wrestling shows for over 10 years. One of the promotion’s shining standouts is 31-year old Tatsuhiko Yoshino. With seven years of wrestling experience across the indie scene, Yoshino is a jack of all trades. He’s one of the most well-rounded wrestlers out there and has incredible in-ring awareness.
While you often see Yoshino working a utility role on the Big Japan undercards, he’s a major player back in his home promotion, having held all the titles GUTS has to offer. Whether it’s five minutes or half an hour, Yoshino works that time wisely, making every movement count. In an independent scene often stymied by a lack of psychology and consistency, it’s refreshing when someone like Yoshino comes along, adding substance to the indie glitz.
If this is your first introduction to Tatsuhiko Yoshino or GUTS World, I’ve put together a list of recommended matches to help you two get acquainted.
GWC Title: Tatsuhiko Yoshino (c) vs. Daisuke
(GUTS World, 3/28/15)
Back in October 2014, Yoshino defeated Kenichiro Arai for the GWC Title and in December of that year, Yoshino and Daisuke wrestled to a 60:00 time limit draw with the title on the line. The two would square off again in March 2015 with a much different outcome. This match has a very modern independent vibe to it, incorporating a variety of techniques. There’s a little bit of everything here, including a little booty humping action in the corner. Yoshino is clearly the better wrestler of the two but Daisuke’s no slouch and brings the flash. Yoshino goes after the neck after an awesome rope-hung DDT and when Daisuke’s working the leg, he’s in the zone. Neat things like going with Yoshino’s momentum on an enziguri attempt to maintain control of the leg. On the way home, there’s a stretch of flip-flop offense where all that prior limb work kinda goes out the window but it’s mindless entertainment and after some hard elbows from Daisuke, he picks up the win and the title following a sliding elbow.
Tatsuhiko Yoshino vs. Yuko Miyamoto
(GUTS World, 7/19/15)
I will always hold a place in my heart for Yuko Miyamoto’s non-deathmatch matches and when paired up with Yoshino, you know you’re going to get some down home quality wrestling. Yoshino had a pretty good match against Miyamoto’s partner, Isami Kodaka, on 4/7/15 for a Mr. Gannosuke Produce show but between the two, I preferred this one, due in part to Miyamoto’s antics. Yoshino works the holds early on, forcing Miyamoto into some pretzeled predicaments before the veteran takes control. Miyamoto was so methodically fun in this match. I mean, during a camel clutch, he tries to suffocate Yoshino by covering his mouth and pinching his nose shut. Yoshino fights for a German suplex hold and after a superkick, he’s able to deliver it but Miyamoto manages to catch the referee’s hand before he can count three! Then he uses the ref’s own hand to strike Yoshino before trying to sneak the win with the Gedo Clutch. After surviving a moonsault press in a great false finish, Yoshino falls to the Fire Thunder Driver.
GWC Title: Daisuke (c) vs. Tatsuhiko Yoshino
(GUTS World, 12/5/15)
While their 3/28 match was an exhibition of styles, this felt more complete and substantial. It told a similar narrative but everything fell into place a bit more neatly. This is a great example of Yoshino’s awareness, as he stays on Daisuke’s every move in the early goings to keep the advantage. Yoshino again focuses his attacks on Daisuke’s neck, at one point hitting a sweet swinging neckbreaker onto the knee. Daisuke’s selling is also a definite improvement over their previous match. At one point, he bridges back with a sickle hold but can’t maintain it due to the strain on his neck. Daisuke works the leg again and keeps it relevant throughout the match, using it as a means to spoil Yoshino’s comeback attempts. Yoshino is all about the little things, which I appreciate as a fan — simple stuff, like rolling into the corner or out to the apron as a defensive measure after Daisuke targets the leg. The hard sell after blocking the frog splash was really great, too. The back-and-forth duck and counter dance into the crossface hold was a nice callback to the prior neck work, and Yoshino’s Michinoku Driver II was cringeworthy. I loved the suplex exchange near the end with Daisuke fighting for a dragon suplex, and that last act of desperation by Yoshino as he tries to grab Daisuke to prevent the final nail in the coffin. This is my favorite kind of junior heavyweight wrestling.
Tatsuhiko Yoshino vs. Seiya Sanada
Yoshino outshines Sanada on the mat and shows off his incredible sense of timing and
awareness in an otherwise routine match. Sanada isn’t the most captivating wrestler but his opening back-and-forth exchanges with Yoshino were crisp and tight. But Yoshino is wrestling on a different level. For example, during the overworked headlock takeover –> legscissors dance, Yoshino counters Sanada’s legscissors with a cradle for a two count. Or perhaps the best moment in the match came when Yoshino plants Sanada with a DDT and on the kickout at two, he seamlessly catches the leg mid-kickout and transitions into a single leg crab hold, trapping the arm as Sanada reaches for the ropes. Beautiful stuff. Outside of some slick flash pin attempts from Yoshino, the finish was kind of obvious with Sanada going over with the grounded dragon sleeper.
Tatsuhiko Yoshino vs. Minoru Tanaka
(GUTS World, 4/24/16)
This is probably Minoru’s best match of the year to date, if that means anything to anyone. He woke up caring and here, he plays the scuzzy, cocky faux-shoot-style vet to Yoshino’s
hometown boy, working the arm in classic Minoru fashion. Great control from the vet as he ducks Yoshino’s counter attempts to keep the arm in check and forces him down to the mat, with Yoshino selling Minoru’s arm work really well. There’s a silly little spot where Minoru spins into position to receive a top rope dropkick spot but the action’s good all-around and Minoru keeps bringing it back to that injured arm. Minoru busts out some main event-level offense, like his wrist-clutch fisherman buster from the top rope, but Yoshino is persistent, getting in a couple of flash pin attempts and cradles, and a last gasp Michinoku Driver II off the ropes.
In the end, however, Minoru brings this thing full circle and submits Yoshino with the Minoru Special in a solid, likely under watched match-up.
Tatsuhiko Yoshino isn’t likely to fill gymnasiums and be a major superstar on a major stage but he’s no doubt one of the most talented, underappreciated guys wrestling in Japan today.
When it comes to in-ring awareness, a term that gets loosely thrown around, Yoshino is masterful, laying out all the subtle nuances that can easily be ignored by the ADHD wrestling fan. It’s the little things that go a long way and for Yoshino, these little things help define and differentiate him from the ordinary herd.