In 2022, suspension of disbelief in professional wrestling is heartbreakingly obscure. Years of dirtsheets, Vince Russo and WWE's Reality Era, among other things, have firmly put the kibosh on something that began its slow, painful death in the '80s.
Given how commonly known backstage terminology and many tricks in the ring are now, modern wrestlers have it hard.
Long gone are the days where smoke, mirrors and public commitment to one's character were often enough to rile up fans. While many have settled for wilder, crazier, more choreographed styles and hardcore antics to keep folks guessing, there are others still trying to keep things grounded.
From strong style nuts tagging each other for real to mat-based technicians making human pretzels, wrestlers are delving into the old guard and combat sports for ideas. The results have been (mostly) great in the last few years with a renewed interest in technical wrestling and psychology gradually taking hold.
Some have criticised the more hard-hitting work out there of late for going against the traditional worked nature of the industry. Others, however, appreciate that, sometimes, the rules must be bent in order to keep the "It's still real to me dammit," attitude alive...
10. Tomohiro Ishii
CHAOS' grumpiest member captured fans' imaginations after years of relative obscurity in 2013. His stout frame, surly demeanour and bruising brutality allowed him to become the rarest of characters: a lovable heel underdog. Strong style wars with Masato Tanaka, Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi put him on the map as a cult hero, a status he has enjoyed ever since.
'The Stone Pitbull' is a truly relentless brawler. His forearm shots look jaw-jacking and his headbutts are cringe-inducing. The realism of his offence lies in a fine blend of stiffness and timing, allowing him to appear as if he's really rocking his hapless foes.
The convincing nature of his wrestling is enhanced by his selling. The manner in which Ishii reaches for his neck after suplexes is alarming and might even fool less jaded viewers into believing a disaster has occurred. How he fights through submissions and strikes ensures he looks both tough and devastated, allowing his opponent's offence to appear deadly without slowing the match down. Clearly in pain, the slowed Ishii will often pause and crumble mid-exchange as he buckles under the weight of his foe's punishment.
Now 46, Ishii has grown into a weather-beaten babyface veteran. Still as no-nonsense as ever, he put on some sterling battles with the likes of Jay White and Zack Sabre Jr. in 2021. His grounded, gritty style of wrestling remains an immersive joy to watch. Aside from when he wrestles EVIL that is...