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Taiji Ishimori: Jr. Heavyweight Stalwart Doesn’t Get Enough Respect

2 years ago

Taiji Ishimori: Jr. Heavyweight Stalwart Doesn’t Get Enough Respect

By: Nathan Sartain

Nowadays, New Japan’s Jr. Heavyweight division is in a healthy place: El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi are two genuine aces primed for title runs and tournament wins whenever needed. Robbie Eagles and DOUKI are exciting, developing talents consistently outdoing their previous work. But what about someone like Taiji Ishimori? For all his importance to both NOAH and his current home, the veteran can often feel overlooked, even underrated, by the broader fanbase.

Put simply, “Bone Soldier” is a reliable hand. Ishimori is a consistent performer, one who warrants his status as a main-event talent, and is capable of a great match with just about any of his contemporaries. You’d think that a man who took part in arguably the premier Best of the Super Juniors final of the modern era would then get some well-earned respect, yet at times that’s not the case.

A shift seems to be taking place. When the Bullet Club’s marquee junior pinned Hiromu Takahashi during the New Japan Road tour, the 39-year-old felt like a bona fide star. Then, when Ishimori forced the returning hero Kushida into tapping out just a couple of weeks later, he appeared unstoppable. “If others want to be tested, step up,” the Jr. Heavyweight Champ stated on July 4th, confident in his ability to displace any willing challenger.

Before now, Ishimori’s title reigns felt imbued with a sense of impermanence. He was the proverbial transitional champion, placed in the top position with the intention of eventually getting someone else over. Believable at the apex of the division, sure, but did anyone really see “Bone Soldier” as someone who could carry his peers to new heights?

It’s doubtful, yet at the same time, perhaps they should have. For Taiji Ishimori is not just this current, brazen incarnation who carries himself with the swagger of an elite-tier talent, he is a wrestler deserving of a seat at the head of any table, proven by his storied career which has seen the accolades roll in without pause. You don’t become a three-time GHC Junior Heavyweight champion, six-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion, X Division champion, three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion, and a NEVER 6-Man Tag Team champion for no reason.

After all, this is a man who, despite some of the fair criticism that can be leveled at him, genuinely has it all. With his stylish hair, toned physique, and sometimes understated charisma, Ishimori has the presence of a star, albeit packaged in a 5’4” frame.

Again though, it’s worth considering the difference in “Bone Soldier” during his ongoing run with the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title, and his previous history with the belt. In 2019, Ishimori’s first outing with the strap, there was a feeling of untapped potential. Dispatching the departing Kushida in relatively quick fashion, the Bullet Club star could have easily then run the gambit on the division, growing his stock and showing himself as a panjandrum of the company. Instead, there were to be just two successful defenses over the next three months, with the short-lived reign put to an end in a sub-ten-minute threeway in Madison Square Garden that saw Dragon Lee claim the spoils. Positively, the 39-year-old did defeat the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger prior to dropping the belt, but it’s difficult to deny that it felt like more could have been done to add some excitement to Ishimori’s debut tenure at the apex of the Juniors.

Such a sentiment would soon ring true again, with Taiji Ishimori’s second stint with the title seemingly existing purely as a vehicle to free up Hiromu Takahashi for a Best of the Super Juniors tournament win, and a reclamation of the very belt the popular LIJ man had dropped to its current holder. So, when the aforementioned happened, “Bone Soldier” had seemingly slipped into the role of a trusted seasoned performer, someone able to be heated up at will, but just as easily kept away from the big boys when necessary.

Or at least that was once the case. As outlined earlier, things have changed for Ishimori. On the back of his shock victory against El Desperado for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight strap, the longest reigning GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion went into this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament ready to prove a point. And that he did, picking up six wins in his block while putting in noteworthy performances against the likes of Ace Austin, Alex Zayne and Francesco Akira.

Then, against the odds, “Bone Soldier” retained his title against the tournament winner in a reversal of his Wrestle Kingdom 15 misfortune, before sticking a pin in returning star KUSHIDA’s homecoming ambitions. “It’s reborn” was the phrase commonly used by Ishimori upon his arrival at New Japan, but perhaps it’s more apt now: the man who looked as though he might have passed the point of displaying a championship belt around his waist has become a Junior Heavyweight kingpin.

For the 20-year veteran Taiji Ishimori is no longer a benchwarmer. He is turning into the cliched unstoppable force, ready to “test” any adversary. Heading toward his longest reign as IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champ, it’d be wise to keep an eye on Bullet Club’s “Bone Soldier,” because he may just have a few more tricks up his sleeve.


Written by:

I'm a recent journalism graduate of Liverpool John Moores University and based out of the UK. As a freelance journalist, I've covered everything from live music to Korean soccer and of course professional wrestling here at Monthly Puroresu. I also operated as the primary social media manager throughout MP's second year, working hand in hand with Thom on growing the audience 10x.