NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Togi Makabe
I didn’t come into this PPV knowing anything about either of these performers, nor the concept of the NEVER Openweight championship — which one enterprising Twitterer referred to the Bad Mother Fuckers division — but I fell in love with both of them afterwards. Much like the previous affair, this was a brutal slugfest with little regard from the performers for their own well-being (while still managing to work as safely as was reasonable given the context) that could be held up as the standard for HOSS fights.
What was more incredible the sheer brutality of the exchanges, however, was the visual story they told — which was aided even more by JR and Striker, who started to really elevate their work as the action slowed down and they (read: mostly JR) became more familiar with the rhythms of the matches — of two men unwilling to back down mounting evidence that suggested such actions would not just be prudent but borderline necessary.
From the headbutt exchanges to the seemingly casual, and surprisingly rhythmic, tosses of hosses across the ring, this match had it all and if not for the incandescent brilliance of the final two matches — which will likely be on everyone’s short list for match of the year — would have been easily the best match I’ve seen in months, and one of the better matches of the last year without equivocation.
Which is what was made parts of this PPV ultimately scary as a lifelong WWE fan: it felt like everything I’d ever known was a lie watching this match. If these two performers were capable of these feats at their ages — Ishii is in his late 30’s, and Makabe his early 40’s — and their size, why, exactly had I been watching lumbering fools pretend to be giants for so long. Ultimately, this feeling would subside –which we’ll get to later on — but this was without a doubt the first time I felt insecure in the argument that nearly everything the WWE does is right, and more importantly, exemplary of doing the best they can with what they have.
If these two men, relative unknowns in the world of North American wrestling — this is particularly true for Ishii, who has been a rising star in Japan for seemingly ever (according to the quick bits of research I did on him immediately following the first viewing of this match), while Makabe is a former IWGP Heavyweight champion, but nearly at the level of the Nakamuras, Tanahashis and Okadas of the world — could do what they did to one another, while also telling a compelling story entirely through their sheer physicality, what excuse does the WWE to not do the same?
And while there are, of course, any number of factors that preclude the WWE from doing things EXACTLY like this — tougher travel schedules, only enough super destructive hosses to go around and a genuine fear of concussions that seems (to put it nicely) to have been lost in translation — this was the first match of the night where I wasn’t just happy to have access to this show, to be able to see every piece of work either of these performers had ever done, but felt a deep rooted desire to tell everyone I knew about these things I had seen. And if that’s not the definition of “Bang For Your Buck”, I don’t know what is.
Match 1.0 | PPV 3.35