With several major names getting inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame from the Japan region in recent years, the ballot is wide open for new candidates to gain major traction and make a run at getting inducted.

In the last several years, performers like Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, and Kota Ibushi, not to mention the addition of the Holy Demon Army to the ballot, have taken up a majority of votes in the region. With all of those acts now inducted, the space is open for the remaining names on the ballot, as well as some newcomers, to break out and potentially get inducted this year.

We asked our staff at Voices of Wrestling to make the case for different names from the Japan region on the ballot, and why they believe they should be getting the nod from voters this year. -Jesse Collings (Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast)

The last decade or so of NJPW has often been viewed as one synonymous era, stretching from Hiroshi Tanahashi’s golden run as the ace of the company, to today’s push of SANADA and other new acts. However, the era has been met with constant challenges. Top wrestlers, including Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles and Kenny Omega left the company. Other wrestlers like Katsuyori Shibata and Kota Ibushi suffered career-derailing injuries. Tanahashi was eventually phased out of the top spot, with Kazuchika Okada rising to that position, supported by Tetsuya Naito, Will Ospreay, and others.

The constant through all of that has been Tomohiro Ishii.

Year after year, G1 after G1, Tomohiro Ishii has delivered compelling in-ring performances, making him one of the most critically successful wrestlers of his time. Ishii has 10 matches rated five stars or better from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. He has 13 matches rated 9.25 or better on Cagematch. He has a mind-blowing 169 matches rated four stars or better from WON, and 140 matches rated 8.0 or better.

Ishii has done this by mastering the simplest elements of pro wrestling. He knows exactly how to sell to get the crowd invested in his struggle, and he knows exactly when to fire up to build the closing stretch of a match. His master of this psychology has allowed him to completely overachieve as a professional wrestler, at around 5’4” with a bad body and limited athleticism, Ishii has no right being one of the best wrestlers in modern history.

None of that ever seemed to matter though, he churned out match of the night performances like a prize hen lays eggs. Despite aging and battling injuries, Ishii remained indomitable as a rock in NJPW, always ready to give out a stirring performance no matter the opposition. He’s done this all despite getting very little push from NJPW–he’s gotten a few mid-card title runs but has hardly been a pushed commodity over the years. His overall record in the G1 Climax, where many fans feel he is the tournament’s greatest performer, is just 42-52.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Ishii, and what truly makes him a Hall of Fame level performer, is his ability to get over in front of different audiences. This has been made especially apparent in recent years with his forays into America and the UK.

For audiences like that of AEW Dynamite, Ishii has shown the ability to get immediately over with fanbases that may not be intimately familiar with him. Ishii comes out, wrestles his straight-forward style, and always, always gets over.

Again, Ishii does that despite not looking like much at all in the ring and never doing flashy moves. He does it all through grit, persistence, and a consistent ability to get an audience invested in the physicality of his matches. He rarely has to change up this formula, which some may dismiss as uncreative, but Ishii is the one with decades worth of great matches and remains an enterprising in-ring force to this day, long after any novelty should have worn off.

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