To start off with, I want to say that I love Toru Yano. In a world of ultra-serious prizefighters, the Sublime Master Thief stands out as a beacon of silliness and levity that is a necessity in modern wrestling. The best wrestling companies understand that they need to provide variety in order to appeal to all demographics and to keep their shows fresh; and this has led to some of the most amusing and riveting comedy characters being allowed to thrive over the years. The likes of: Santino Marella, Grado and R-Truth have all gained cult followings over the years by building their own niche into every company that they wrestle for, and Toru Yano has added himself to that list over these past few years. The main driving forces behind this, are his performances in the G1 Climax, the Olympic Games of New Japan.
The G1 Climax is known for the outstanding wrestling which it produces every single night. For roughly three weeks, every single day produces five must-see matches, and one of the key pieces of the puzzle is YTR himself. As a comedy wrestler he has established himself as the ‘night off’ for a lot of wrestlers, but he is much more than that. Because of his chaotic style, Yano has firmly ingratiated himself with the fans as the wildcard of the G1, as he can realistically beat anybody on his day, whilst just as easily losing to anybody. Over the past few years, he has prevented the likes of Katsuyori Shibata, Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley from reaching the G1 Finals, as well as scored wins over the likes of Tetsuya Naito, Minoru Suzuki and Kota Ibushi… twice. However, without the proper context of the matches, the magic of Yano can be lost, which is why I wish to go through one of my favourite Yano matches from G1 28: Toru Yano vs Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack Sabre Jr is the furthest thing from a comedy wrestler that you can get. Having trained from the age of fourteen, Zack has morphed into the gold standard for modern technical wrestlers which led to him winning the Wrestling Observer’s Best Technical Wrestler award six years running. It’s important to establish this so that we understand what Toru Yano is up against.
THE REASON TORU YANO WORKS
From the offset, Yano attempts to employ his usual tactics of mayhem, going straight for the turnbuckle pad in an attempt to expose the turnbuckles, but this is thwarted by Zack. However, before morphing into his goofy persona, Yano was a feared amateur wrestler, and is able to use some of these techniques to surprise the Brit. However, this doesn’t last long as Yano reverts back to his old tricks. He forces a rope break from Zack (whilst encouraging the crowd to chant Break! Break! Break!), he goes for the hair and whips Zack into the barricade outside. Whilst Zack has the upper hand when he gets hold of Yano, Yano doesn’t allow the match to be contested on the mat, instead taking the match to the outside and through the crowd. Zack manages to gain an advantage on the outside, wrapping himself around Yano like a cobra, which forces Yano to crawl back into the ring at the count of nineteen. This brings out a loud cheer from the crowd who are backing Yano throughout the match, which is important to note. If the crowd didn’t support Yano, and reacted to his antics with apathy, then the gimmick of YTR wouldn’t be as entertaining as it is.
Zack then outwrestles Yano for a few minutes, placing him in hold after hold, each one applying more pressure than the last. Eventually, Zack and Yano are going back and forth when Zack bumps into Marty Asami, which allows Yano to unleash his signature weapon, a low blow. But Zack sees it coming, uniquely countering by quickly closing his legs and trapping Yano in a roll up for a close two count. The match breaks down from here, as Yano manages to expose the turnbuckle and send Zack flying into it for a close near fall. In the end, Zack manages to get hold of Yano and outwrestle him, rolling him up for the three count to the dismay of the crowd. Zack gains two points and Yano loses, but for at least a few moments, Yano had everyone convinced that he was going to beat Zack. Which is huge. Only a few months earlier, Zack had won the New Japan Cup and challenged Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a losing effort, but he was almost caught by the comedy guy who only wrestles nine or ten singles matches a year. And that is the genius of Toru Yano.
In creating this character, Yano has transformed himself into the ultimate Joker. He can beat anybody without making his opponent look bad, but he can also lose to anybody and not be damaged by the loss. And in doing this, he avoids having to take the scary and often daft bumps that many of his co-workers take. This means that Yano could realistically keep wrestling until his fifties and not feel a thing, which can only be a good thing. Ultimately, this is why I feel that Toru Yano is the smartest man in wrestling.
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