At King of Pro Wrestling a month earlier, Tomohiro Ishii regained the NEVER Openweight Title and now came face to face with Hirooki Goto. The NEVER Title sort of became the de facto championship for matches where dudes just stiff one another and go to war. Considering Ishii and Goto, that’s what I expected coming into this. I’ve seen them meet in later years and it’s always fun. All three meetings were in the G1, coming in 2015 (****½), 2016 (***½) and 2017 (****).
People wanted them to go to war and that’s just what they did. There were brutal strikes from the opening bell. That’s Ishii’s domain and, though Goto can hold his own there, he got outmatched early. A chop exchange led to him crumpling to the mat in pain. Goto manned up and returned the favor to Ishii in the next few minutes, setting the tone that he would dish out as good as he took. The sheer brutality in this never wavered. Strike after strike. Chop after chop. Lariat after lariat. It seemed to become about more than the title, it was a test of who was manlier. A great exchange saw Goto finally send Ishii down with a lariat, only for him to pop up and return the favor. Goto got up instantly and they took each other out with simultaneous lariats.
With each move someone survived, the crowd got louder and more invested. They continued to stiff each other and I honestly have no idea how they kept the pace they did. Goto nearly decapitated Ishii with a lariat, only for Ishii to kick out at one. That really took the crowd to the next level. Goto put the focus on Ishii’s neck and head, hitting several neckbreakers and USHIGOROSHI (shoutout to Mauro). Ishii had blood in his mouth and I’m not sure if it was something internal or a busted lip. After surviving the very best they could throw at each other, Ishii put Goto down and retained in 17:15.
This is what the NEVER Openweight Title was built on. Two warriors doing battle to not just win, but outlast the other. They worked the crowd into a frenzy and never stopped. It’s the Tomohiro Ishii special. 12-20 minutes of non-stop, hard hitting action and a never say die attitude. Goto gave him everything in his arsenal, but Ishii weathered the storm and retained the gold. A must-see match that’s probably their second best encounter ever.
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