We know you exist.
People are out there, buying Headhunter merchandise. They are waving pretend staffs while watching his entrance on NJPW World. Someone might even have a tattoo dedicated to him. Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. He has fans, and he is good, and everyone needs to know why.
YOSHI-HASHI is everything and nothing. He has an exotic nickname, but no personality. He can work, but went over a decade as a pro without a championship. He worked his way back from a brutal head injury, but the injury occurred when he slipped and fell during a run in.
When you watch New Japan Pro Wrestling, there is the chance to see some of the best wrestlers in the world on any given night, like Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, and Kota Ibushi. There is also the chance to see someone who will have (or already has) an argument for being the best wrestler ever in Kazuchika Okada. They’re legendary figures on the screen. There is awe in seeing them, whether you are cheering or booing.
And that is not the space that YOSHI-HASHI occupies.
Sports crave narrative, and that can be woven out of many different threads: transcendent dominance, good vs. evil, connections to history, or, like in the case of YOSHI-HASHI, overcoming adversity. This is a man who did not make it into the New Japan dojo on his first two tryouts. He had to wrestle over 50 times before finding victory (in a tag match), and almost a year and a half before he won a singles match. He has never held a singles title, and only last year grabbed his first ever championship, the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (teaming with Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii). This is his place, and it is a key piece of what makes him enjoyable.
No one wants to root for a loser, but dropping matches doesn’t necessarily make someone a loser. After the fall that resulted in a fairly bloody head injury, YOSHI-HASHI returned with the “Get Back Up” catchphrase, and it really seemed to suit his character better than any of the other gimmicks he had worked with before. He is a wrestler who fails in ring often. But, he fights, he has support of his stable mates in CHAOS, he has returned from rejection and injury, and he keeps pushing to live his dream. He is a perfect everyman. He’s one of us out there in the wrestling ring.
When he finally grabbed gold last summer, YOSHI-HASHI had this to say:
Finally! Finally! I’ve finally won a belt! […] as I always say, it can all change in an instant. Life is full of ups and downs. That’s what makes it so damn interesting. I finally made my dream come true. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now. But this isn’t only about me. For anyone who might be going through hard times, I hope that everything can change in an instant for you. Even if you fall at some point, you just gotta get back up. I hope tomorrow brings something better for all of us. Because no matter what brings you down, it can all change in an instant.
Being a professional wrestler is hard, but YOSHI-HASHI is able to do it. He doesn’t need to dominate, he needs to be like us, so that we can see ourselves in him, and see ourselves in the ring. “Get back up” isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s a message. There’s love there, and even though it is layered under defeat, silliness, and inconsistency, we can see it. We just have to look for it. We know it exists.