We Need to Talk About…YOSHI-HASHI

Photo: NJPW

Ah, YOSHI-HASHI. Perennial underdog, perpetual disappointment to Hirooki Goto, and CHAOS’s answer to the question of what would happen if Paula Deen banged a Super Saiyan. The Headhunter hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this year, or any year so far in his career. This week, we’ll explore the reasons why.

The Good:

YOSHI-HASHI is, if anything, relatable. He’s Everyman, with ridiculous hair. His fierce loyalty to both his company and his faction are well-documented and commendable. He personifies perseverance, be it in finally gaining admission into NJPW on his third attempt, or by continuing to face opponents considered out of his class, who defeat him again and again. Like most members of CHAOS, YOSHI-HASHI remains devoted to the faction founder Shinsuke Nakamura, despite Nakamura’s departure for WWE in January of 2016. The fact that YOSHI-HASHI briefly feuded with Los Ingobernables de Japon’s SANADA over a perceived lack of loyalty to NJPW sums up his character rather nicely.

Photo: NJPW

In 2005, both YOSHI-HASHI and SANADA tried out for spots in the NJPW dojo. Both failed the introductory test, and while SANADA sought, and found, opportunity elsewhere, YOSHI-HASHI continued his efforts, eventually earning a coveted NJPW dojo spot on his third attempt passing the introductory test. SANADA was disloyal, selfish, and unworthy of any position in NJPW, as far as YOSHI-HASHI was concerned. That his devotion was so blind may have proven counterproductive to his ultimate goal never occurred to the Headhunter, and in a world of self-centered individuality, the fact that his focus on something bigger than himself, be it his company or his faction, is refreshing.

When YOSHI-HASHI participated in his first G1 Climax tournament in the summer of 2016, fans were legitimately excited for him. “YOSHI-HASHI is people!” spread across wrestling social media, and the idea that the guy whose role had been taking the pin in CHAOS tag team matches was finally advancing up the ladder struck an appealing chord. How could it not? Most of us know, deep down, that we aren’t star material. We do, however, certainly expect some form of pay-off for our hard work, and humans in general enjoy seeing this happen for deserving others.

YOSHI-HASHI’s clean victory over Kenny Omega in the opening round of the 2016 G1 confirmed that Tacos was, in fact, people, and that he might actually be going places. The story wrote itself. YOSHI-HASHI may have been out of his comfort zone, but he had a job to do, and he was going to complete the quest. He looks remarkably like a hobbit anyway, so the parallel with Frodo leaving the Shire to confront the unknown as the reluctant hero would have worked for him.

Finally, how can anyone not love this entrance music???

The Bad:

The line between scrappy underdog and pitiful loser can be a fine one, and YOSHI-HASHI has strayed to the wrong side of that line more than once. The win/loss record that follows him does not inspire confidence. His first singles victory in NJPW came in the opening round of the 2010 Best of the Super Juniors tournament, but he lost every other tournament match. While on excursion to Mexico in CMLL in 2010 and 2011, he lost almost all of his matches, including a “hair vs. hair” match against Rush. His return match to NJPW at Wrestle Kingdom VI ended in a loss to Kazuchika Okada in less than five minutes. Teaming with Okada in subsequent World Tag Leagues brought a three win/three loss split (2012), finishing second-to-last in the block (2013), and four wins/three losses (2014). Tacos has also failed in his attempt to claim both the NEVER Openweight title and the Heavyweight Tag Team titles over the course of three days (2014). After a shocking upset victory over Kenny Omega in the opening round of the 2016 G1, YOSHI-HASHI finished last in his block, with three wins and six losses.

As 2016 came to an end, YOSHI-HASHI unsuccessfully challenged for Kenny Omega’s Tokyo Dome main event heavyweight title match contract, the Heavyweight Tag Team titles, and the 2016 World Tag League. 2017 was no kinder to Tacos, with losses to Adam Cole for the ROH World Heavyweight title, the NEVER Openweight title, and the IWGP United States Championship title. He finished the 2017 G1 Climax tournament second-to-last in his block. Wow. That’s a lot of high-profile losses. Hirooki Goto may have a reputation as a big match choker, but YOSHI-HASHI can’t seem to win much of anything. You aren’t really an underdog if no one believes in you. YOSHI-HASHI has a major credibility problem.

This is not to say that every wrestler needs an Okada-esque win record in order to succeed. Hiromu Takahashi lost most of his CMLL matches against Dragon Lee, including matches for his mask and his hair. That said, fans remember those matches themselves as spectacular, and neither man looked the worse for a loss. The same cannot be said of YOSHI-HASHI matches. If you can honestly remember the last time that you forced your non-wrestling friend to watch a YOSHI-HASHI match with the hope of converting him because YOSHI-HASHI was just that awesome, then you have found something that most of us have not. Please share it!

The moves. Oh, boy, the moves. It’s not just that YOSHI-HASHI doesn’t have memorable moves. He doesn’t have moves that look like they work. It’s hard to feel much excitement for a high-angle lariat. Or a drop kick on an opponent caught up in the ropes, where only one foot even lands. Or for a submission hold that doesn’t look like it should submit anyone:

Photo: NJPW

There’s just not much going on here to make one shout at the TV screen, “Tag in YOSHI-HASHI, for the love of gods and men! Tag him in!!!”

Finally, regardless of what the man is really like, YOSHI-HASHI’s facial expressions and body language usually indicate that he would rather be anywhere but near a wrestling ring. He always seems anxious just walking to the ring and doesn’t seem terribly happy at the idea of interacting with fans. In short, he doesn’t seem like he enjoys being a wrestler very much. If anything, he comes off as annoyed. None of this may be true at all, and his history with NJPW certainly implies that it isn’t. Even so, super-arrogance and casual disdain for fans is one thing, in an Okada-Miz-Rock sort of way. That’s not happening here. This is more of knowing that he isn’t that good at what he does, being a bit ashamed of it, but failing to improve or change.

Photo: NJPW

The Possibilities:

This is a tough one.

If YOSHI-HASHI suddenly employed a fighting style that completely defied his look (in the mold of Goto, Ishii, or Shibata, for example), then he could make that work. That’s not a likely or realistic answer, though. One doesn’t completely change a fighting style overnight.

At the risk of going to the well once too often, a straight-up heel turn might help Tacos. Let him embrace all of his shortcomings and acknowledge the fact that, at the same age as Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito, he hasn’t been able to even stand in their shadows so far. He could have a Prince Devitt-sized chip on his shoulder about proving that he isn’t worthless, to the point where he starts taking shortcuts, and flatly cheating to win. This attitude, and the behavior that it drives, could even result in YOSHI-HASHI leaving (or getting kicked out of) CHAOS for betraying a stablemate (probably Goto) for the sake of a victory.

YOSHI-HASHI has always been the ultimate sidekick, but he hasn’t been openly angry about it. Maybe he should be. He’s in a faction with a large number of people who don’t really connect with one another and who rarely defend each other. How does he feel about that? He can still get the big wins, like over Kenny Omega in the G1, or when he defeated Pete Dunne in RevPro, but he should have more of them, and have at least some follow-up. Instead of just beating a guy one time as a fluke, actually beat the same guy more than once.

Everybody isn’t a top card player. That’s fine. YOSHI-HASHI could do better than he is, but his changes will need to be somewhat extreme.

NOTE: The “We Need to Talk About…” series of articles has nothing to do with “good” booking, ratings, draws, or other topics only of serious interest to promoters. It’s pure speculation, playing “What if,” and nothing more. Wrestlers perceived as floundering, hopelessly misused, or misunderstood are the subject, and while differing opinions are always welcomed, hateful jerkassery is not.