I can't believe I had Ono down at #92 on my Greatest Wrestler Ever ballot last year. He'd be stupid high if I had to rejig it today. At this point there are less than ten wrestlers from Japan I'd rather watch. He was so, so good.
Takeshi Ono v Yuki Ishikawa (Battlarts, 6/18/00)
I'm on an Ono/Battlarts kick right now and it may be colouring my perception, but I thought this was truly phenomenal; like one of the best sub-ten minute matches I've ever seen. Ono is one of the all time greatest at swarming a guy and he was unbelievable in this, going after Ishikawa at the bell and not relenting for a second, just crawling all over him, blasting him in the face -- he was a ferocious little machine. All of the punches and kicks looked immaculate, but it was the way he was leaping into those leglocks that impressed me most. He was grabbing them from absolutely everywhere and you know you're onto something when even Ishikawa looks like he's struggling to contain you. It led to an amazing bit where Ishikawa finally managed to hold onto him as Ono went for maybe his eighth crazy rolling kneebar of the match, hoist him in the air and drop him on his neck with a huge German suplex. Ishikawa for his part was excellent as well. You know his matwork is going to rule and he was countering in slick and awesome ways, usually by grabbing limbs and bending them at more angles than there existed joints to be bent at. There was one part as well where he'd just taken a shot to the face - could've been a kick, a punch, a knee, it was hard to keep track - and he came out smiling, like the extent to which this match was not a monkey show pleased him greatly. I would need to play-by-play this whole thing in order to note down everything I liked about it because I thought it was tremendous from start to finish. Seriously loved it.
Takeshi Ono v Ryuji Hijikata (Battlarts, 3/14/01)
I didn't really care one way or the other about Hijikata and his fighting spirit business, but Ono was outstanding again. He looks like one of the best wrestlers in the world in 2000/20001 and yet he mostly seems to be dicking around in barely-spotlighted undercard fights. Surely the one major blemish on Yuki Ishikawa as a booker/human being. Hijikata jumped Ono before the bell here, running him into the barricade before throwing him into the first row, and as Ono made his way into the ring for the first time he had this "okay so we're doing that, are we?" look on his face and you get a little giddy at what you fully expect him to do. Naturally he went and kicked the shit out of Hijikata. Some of his selling towards the end was incredible, like the crumpled sell of a lariat and the way he made it back to his feet like a cobra in answer to the snake charmer's punji. And like most dealings with a cobra, Hijikata wound up getting bit when he came too close.
Takeshi Ono v Hiroyuki Kotsubo (FUTEN, 4/24/05)
It's already been established that Ono can work a pretty, pretty, pretty good four minute match, but Kotsubo is very much not Ikeda and there's only so much Ono can do with a guy like that in four minutes. Kotsubo didn't flat out suck or anything -- he has some solidish wrestling, and he at least made the matwork look somewhat competitive even if Ono's scrambling was much quicker. I mean, if you've seen enough Ono then you get the sense he could turn loose and Kotsubo would not be able to fight off that armbar or heel hook. Kotsubo's main problem is that he doesn't hit hard, and when you're i) in FUTEN and ii) against Ono, that problem tends to be magnified. His German suplex never had much snap and looked more like a throw, then his lariat was kind of a grazing love tap, and Ono is supposed to sell that as a near KO after we've seen him take cannons from the Battlarts crew for years. Then Ono kicked him in the face and backfisted him into the 22nd century and you conclude that Takeshi Ono is far too precious a treasure to be showing up on tape once every other year to be wrestling Hiroyuki Kotsubo for four minutes.