As wrestling has evolved over time, promotional allegiance has become something many people identify with. Many years ago, when my wrestling fix was being largely neglected by what was being presented in the US, I found my niche with the other New Japan fans who fell in love with the presentation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. To me, New Japan Pro Wrestling was the greatest in-ring product in the world, and the schedule was something I could follow with ease. The G1 Climax is perhaps the greatest tournament in the history of wrestling, and that is where the legend of the greatest mid-carder the sport has ever known truly began.

The first Tomohiro Ishii match I ever watched was his match vs. Katsuyori Shibata in the 2013 G1 Climax, a match that would become synonymous with the intensity and nightly potential for greatness that embodies G1 season to this day. Because of the hype, I skipped a few days just to watch this match, and I couldn’t help but fall in love. Ishii and Shibata threw themselves at each other, giving us perhaps the best G1 match of all time and a match that few could ever even pray to replicate. When you think of the G1, there is a strong argument to make that outside of finals matchups it has become the defining match of the tournament. That honor belongs to only two men, and Ishii is one of them.

Trying to go back through Ishii’s great match list is an exercise in futility. Spanning a decade, I would easily take the last ten years of Ishii’s career, and the singles matches therein against any other wrestler you might show me. It’s one thing to be consistently good, there’s a place for that in any promotion, but to be consistently great is something to be celebrated. If I asked you to name a big spot where Ishii disappointed, you would be left scratching your head for a while and by the time you found an instance where it happened, it’d be against a far inferior opponent. For years, Ishii has been the gritty underdog, a man always batting above his average and delivering moment after moment, even without the spotlight afforded to other stars.

When people tell the story of New Japan Pro Wrestling through its golden period, I would argue that it is impossible to tell it accurately without mentioning Ishii and the night-in, night-out greatness he brought to the table. Tomohiro Ishii was an obstacle, a stone wall you had to fight your way through to make it to the top. He was a spoiler in the greatest tournament of our sport, a man who pinned every star in the promotion in a meaningful spot. On any given night, Ishii could grit his way to a victory against a hapless opponent, and he kept that aura despite losing most of his matches. Ishii could enter a match at 5-1 or 1-5, and the air of danger never left. You knew he could win, you knew he could lose, and you knew whatever the outcome was he’d be taking a piece with him.

Sometimes I think people underestimate Ishii’s longevity as a top performer, and I think the Wrestling Observer has some very unique statistics regarding Ishii that help with his case.

For one example, did you know that Ishii is the only wrestler to have a top ten placement in the most outstanding wrestler award every year since 2013? Those nine placements only place him under Kenta Kobashi, Bryan Danielson, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Benoit, all of whom are in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.

Did you know he won the Bruiser Brody award six times in a row, second only to Mick Foley’s ten? This kind of resume would be grounds for inclusion alone, but delving deeper into his historical greatness as an in-ring competitor paints an even more compelling picture.

Tomohiro Ishii is, simply put, Mr. G1. Between the years of 2016 and 2022, he leads the way with 34 GRAPPL-rated 4+ star matches, with only great contemporaries such as Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada mustering more than 20 in that same time frame. The average rating for an Ishii G1 match stretched over this time frame comes out to 3.966 stars per match, which is also the highest among all New Japan wrestlers in that time frame. If we look at this same period of time, we will find that he was the top performer in 4/7 years, and placed second in two more. His lowest rating in that time frame? A measly fourth. The worst G1 year for Ishii in this time frame is a year your favorite wrestler would kill for, a year that would single-handedly define the career of plenty of wrestlers who’ve made it into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.

Going right back to statistics directly plucked from the Wrestling Observer, between the years of 2016 and 2022, Ishii had 45 matches that were four stars or better in the G1 alone. In that same period of time, he mustered five matches that were rated five stars or better. This is omitting all the excellent work Ishii has done historically outside of G1 season, or in G1’s outside of the period of time we discussed above. Anyone with this level of quality output should be considered for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, anyone who overdelivers to this level consistently should be an absolute shoe-in, and I would wager that we will rarely if ever see this level of quality output matched or rivaled again.

The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is often paraded around as a matter of who drew the biggest house, and how long a wrestler stayed on top. Ishii isn’t getting in on either of those criteria, he was a late bloomer who came into his own late in his career and found a way to parlay that into one of the greatest careers the sport has ever seen. I’ve seen many wrestlers who used a belt or their place on the card as a crutch, the anticipation of their match and the perception of their greatness built up by external factors instead of their in-ring contributions.

Ishii isn’t that guy, every ounce of notoriety he has at this point in his career was earned through constant greatness, and for making that the hallmark of an Ishii singles match. Sometimes when people vote in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, I wonder if they forget about the first word. Wrestling. If someone is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, then it would seem to me that’s a hall of fame they should become a part of.

Oftentimes in fiction, we find ourselves attached to the underdog. We find a mid-carder in the story that resonates with us, a character who overperforms their part and endears themselves to you in a way that shoots well above their intended role in the story. For me and many other New Japan fans, Ishii is that character. Through blood, sweat, and a litany of injuries the Stone Pitbull has captured the hearts of the New Japan fanbase in a way that he was never intended to. In doing so, he compiled one of the greatest in-ring resumes of all time and was arguably the most consistent in-ring performer of New Japan’s golden era. The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is meant to immortalize great wrestling, and I know when I hear that iconic siren and snarl combo blaring from my screen, that’s exactly what I’m in store for.