The Weight of Legacy – ISHIN vs Mochizuki Junior
In perhaps no other storytelling medium is legacy as important as it is in wrestling. There are no different installments or clear breaks in continuity. The beginning and end of a character’s journey are marked by the abilities and limitations of a real person’s body as they grow, age and get injured. Having someone new carry the mantle forward is a very natural point to arrive at. Fans can indulge their nostalgia, wrestlers can honor those who inspired them and stories that ended too early can find some continuation.
There are many ways to achieve these goals. Gear references are a popular one, as is signature move inheritance, but perhaps the most intense form of tribute is the legacy gimmick – the direct continuation of an old character in some way.
It is a great sacrifice to essentially give up a part of yourself, a part of your possibilities, to allow someone else the chance to fight on through you. In Japanese wrestling, the people most willing to make that sacrifice outside of comedic imitators are often the wrestler’s own children, known as “2nd Generation Wrestlers”.
2nd Generation Wrestlers are not that common outside of Lucha Libre. Wrestling is not exactly a family business, after all. But Dragongate Japan Pro Wrestling managed to secure all of three in recent years. Mochizuki Junior, son of company pillar Masaaki Mochizuki, Strong Machine J, son of NJPW legend Super Strong Machine, and ISHIN, son of the wrestler couple Ishinriki and Utako Hozumi. All three of them came up through the dojo system, just the same as everyone else. But all three of them were also strongly marked by their parentage in the expectations and opportunities afforded to them.
All of this forms the framework of what may well become one of Dragongate’s most defining rivalries one day. A tale well worth following from the very beginning.
ISHIN, formerly known as Ishin Iihashi, was following a predetermined path from the day of his debut.
In the young wrestler’s first televised appearance, Ultimo Dragon himself introduced him, as well as his brother Riki, to the Dragongate audience by specifically promoting their parentage and their status as legacy wrestlers. They were referred to as “Pro Wrestling Thoroughbreds”, even, an outright novelty.
Of course, their gimmicks capitalized on this. ISHIN’s name was taken from his father, while his gimmick as the “2nd Generation Juliana Fighter”, with his dancer-esque pink feather boa and fan, came from his mother. Riki inherited their father’s gimmick instead and the brothers were presented as a set, fighting all of their initial matches as a tag team.
Their teamwork was excellent and thanks to their legacy, so were the battles they were given.
They may not have been at the top of the card, but they were mostly spared the unspectacular 8 man matches some of their fellow rookies had to contend with and instead allowed to shine in regular tag team bouts against names as prestigious as Naruki Doi or YAMATO. At one point, they were even granted a match against the reigning Twin Gate champions Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka. Victory was still out of the question, but it was clear that the promotion was putting a lot of stock into the Iihashi brothers. They had a bright future ahead of them. Perhaps even tag team gold in a year or two.
As it happens so often, especially in wrestling, life had other plans.
Riki suffered a nasty injury that took him out of commission for a significant amount of time. Suddenly, Ishin was standing on his own, the incomplete half of a legacy wrestling gimmick, hastily shoehorned into whatever match could fit him. It was a vast difference. The marketing, the press interviews, even the theme song he used, it had all been focused on the Iihashi brothers. Not Ishin Iihashi, the singles wrestler. All future plans came to a screeching halt. With Riki’s return date unclear, his brother would have to find a new place in the promotion and for the time being, it would certainly be on a far lower rung than it had been so far. Ishin accepted that fate without complaint and tried to make the best out of the situation.
Ultimately, Riki decided that wrestling wasn’t for him after all and quietly retired before ever making his return.
Ishin’s state of limbo had now seemingly turned from temporary to permanent.
Where was he to go from here?
Blood of Champions
While one of Dragongate’s young 2nd Generation Wrestlers may have been struggling, though, another was quickly rising through the ranks. Dragongate legend Masaaki Mochizuki had revealed one of the 2022 rookies to actually be his son and had brought the promotion’s original heel faction back together for the explicit purpose of pushing his child to the moon.
Where Ishin’s father was mostly absent from his wrestling life, Mochizuki Junior could not have a single match without his dad getting involved on his behalf. His look, his style, his presentation, it all heavily borrowed from his lineage. Due to a whim of Ultimo Dragon’s, he was not even given a separate name. He was the son of a stage parent, through and through.
But despite this, despite how much weaker and more dependent Junior was, his achievements began to outstrip Ishin’s at a rapid pace. With his father’s help, he became the youngest person to ever hold the Open the Triangle Gate Championships, all while Iihashi had not even gotten his first win.
That was too much.
Ishin demanded a singles match against Junior on the next Korakuen show. There was no way he was going to lose to some daddy’s boy in a fair one-on-one fight. In all the uncertainty of his current situation, he knew one thing for sure: Champion or not, Ishin Iihashi was stronger than Mochizuki Junior. But once again, while Ishin came alone, Junior had his father in tow. And Mochizuki Sr. was certainly not willing to sit idly by while his child was getting beaten up. Thanks to his involvement, Ishin was once again defeated and humiliated. Mochizuki decided to pile it on even further, implying that Iihashi was just essentially, genetically, inferior to his son.
It was only at this point that Ishin’s father finally decided to make his appearance. He and Mochizuki got into an argument, which eventually resulted in Ishin challenging the Mochizuki family to a tag match: Father and son vs father and son. This way, with the odds evened, he would prove himself superior once and for all.
And with Ishinriki’s help, he did finally triumph, getting his very first victory by pinning Mochizuki Sr. in the semi-main event at Korakuen Hall. Sitting on his father’s shoulders, he was finally able to reach for the future he had been longing for.
Unlike Junior, though, Ishin could not rely on his dad carrying him much longer. Ishinriki was significantly older than Mochizuki Sr. and his retirement was fast approaching. Therefore, for both his and his father’s sake, Ishin had to make the most of this victory. He demanded a challenge for the Triangle Gate, the one thing Junior still had over him. His wish was granted. He, his father and old family friend Don Fuji would get their chance at Dangerous Gate 2022. Ishin was ready to put everything into it.
Unfortunately, his best efforts were not good enough. He was still doing well against Junior, but now that Mochizuki Sr. was actually taking him seriously, Ishin found himself outmatched and ultimately pinned.
Failure was not all that came from this challenge.
After fighting it out and witnessing the full talent of each others’ children firsthand, Mochizuki Sr. and Ishinriki reconciled. Further than that, Mocchy was so impressed with Ishin, that he outright requested for him to join his faction, M3K. He did not ask Ishin himself, however. Ishinriki was the one asked and he was the one who agreed. While Ishin would not be fully joining the stable right away, he would enter a trial period to see if he and Junior could be a good team.
Some fans at the time jokingly likened the situation to an arranged marriage, given how little input the children were actually allowed. And that may not be such an unfitting comparison when it comes to the ways they felt about it.
Despite everything up to this point, M3K put a lot of effort into making the arrangement work. They got Ishin matching entrance gear, his own scooter, they teamed with him on every show.
Mochizuki Junior, for his part, was surprisingly enthusiastic about being his partner. Sure, they had been at each others’ throats until now, but for someone largely surrounded by only his dad and his dad’s friends, getting to be with a wrestler closer to him in age was an exciting prospect. He was determined to look on the bright side of this.
Ishin, however, was not quite so happy. He had built up so much resentment towards the Mochizukis, made surpassing them his most important mission, and now he was just supposed to let go of it all of a sudden? This decision had been made for him, he had been forced on this path and he was just supposed to obediently follow it? But he did not want to go against his father’s will, either. This was his one ticket out of the bottom card. There was no other way forward.
In the face of these complicated feelings, the loudness and energy that he had once prided himself on began to fade. Ishin became quiet and withdrawn, refusing to emotionally engage with Junior or any of his other new teammates. He would compete in matches with them as he was asked to, he would join their little scooter entrances, but they could not force him to actually participate in any teamwork. That was the only rebellion he could muster.
Still, Junior did not give up. No matter how much Ishin ignored him, no matter how much he got hurt, he kept reaching out to Iihashi. Just like in the shounen anime he adored so much, love and friendship would be victorious in the end.
And bit by bit, his efforts bore fruit. Ishin was not willing to entirely come out of his shell, but he began to show little signs of appreciation. Maybe he would offer a quick fistbump before hastily leaving. There was a part of him that cared after all.
By the time that The Gate of Destiny 2022 rolled around, it seemed like the young wrestler might finally be coming to accept his new home. He was willingly tagging and working with the other M3K members and while he was still less lively than he used to be, his attitude had softened. Finally, after achieving victory on one of Dragongate’s biggest stages, he asked Junior to give him his M3K T-shirt. Perhaps this event felt like an appropriate time to accept the fate that was dealt to him. Junior was clearly overjoyed.
But there was still more to come that night.
Just Can’t Help We Were Born This Way
During much of Ishin’s time in M3K, something else was afoot regarding the Mochizuki family. Mocchy Sr.’s former star student, the charismatic and violent Shun Skywalker, was taking umbrage with Junior’s upbringing.
Mochizuki himself had expounded a philosophy of improvement through pain, through humiliation, during Shun’s training. He had signed the young wrestler up for a wide variety of matches that he could not possibly win for explicitly that purpose, some of them so brutal that Skywalker’s memory partially blacked out. All for the sake of strength, that “Glory Covered in Scars”, which Mochizuki’s entrance theme is named for. And yet he would deny that strength to his own son, coddle him, poison him, ruin his potential? Shun could not believe it. Only the most toxic of helicopter parents would do such a thing. He held nothing back in taking Mochizuki to task for this perceived misdeed.
Certainly, Skywalker’s words may have stemmed in large part from resentment over his own complicated past with his former teacher. But they struck a chord with Ishin. He was struggling by himself, constrained by the destiny he was born into. And he had to watch Junior being easily carried to accomplishments that he had to fight tooth and nail to achieve. Hearing someone give words to his darkest and most bitter thoughts must have felt cathartic. Here, finally, somebody was telling him that his struggles had value, that they would make him stronger than Junior would ever be.
Regardless of how unpleasant Skywalker’s personality was, he always made very clear that things like parentage meant nothing to him. All that mattered was power. And he was very open about wishing to teach that power to any young wrestler willing to learn.
But of course, that path was not Ishin’s to walk. His road had already been laid out for him. He would become a member of M3K and Junior’s tag team partner, like their fathers had decided. Maybe one day, they would even win the tag championships that he was never able to hold with his brother.
Junior, meanwhile, had more important things to focus on. He would be facing his toughest challenge as a Triangle Gate champion yet. A defense against two previous Dream Gate holders in the aforementioned Shun Skywalker, as well as KAI. Joining them would be a mysterious new member, only announced as “Masked Z”. It would be on Gate of Destiny 2022, the same show as Ishin’s formal induction to M3K.
Encouraged by his success in finally getting through to Iihashi, Junior went into the fight with confidence. If he could win over his most bitter rival, then he could certainly win this.
Perhaps Skywalker had been right about one thing: Sweet and sheltered as Junior was, he had no idea what was coming.
In the end, there was only one person “Masked Z” could have been, only one person someone as vindictive as Shun would choose as his partner over the more established members of his faction.
Ishin shed more than just one mask that day. Gone were the smiles, the pink feathers, the facade of complacency. All that remained was a cold, distant young man trying to destroy the cage he was trapped in at all costs.
With his new submission finisher, the Death Penalty, he choked Junior unconscious while Shun made Mochizuki Sr. watch from only a few feet away. This was strength. This was what stepping off the beaten track could grant.
After the show, “Masked Z” made clear on social media that he would be dropping his last name. Ishin Iihashi, the 2nd Generation Wrestler, was no more. All that remained was ISHIN.
No Looking Back
This was far from the end of the story, of course. ISHIN symbolically defaced his M3K shirt, Junior gorged himself on comfort food for a day and after that it was back to work.
Neither of them could afford to stop moving.
Since then, ISHIN has been properly establishing himself as a member of Z-Brats, the bad kids of Dragongate. Whatever it takes to win, he’ll do it, both for himself and for his associates. As is custom with that belt, he did not end up holding the Triangle Gate for long. Fans are speculating that he might be looking to the Brave Gate, the middleweight title, in recent days.
Junior, meanwhile, has been trying to gain a little more independence from his father, growing out his hair and outright refusing his help at one point. He is still far from standing on his own two feet, but he is getting there.
The two of them have briefly crossed paths on a couple of occasions, each time more intensive than the last. It is very clear that those difficult emotions are still far from settled. But so far, what future awaits them is still an open question.
If their story continues, though, it is likely to become the Shingo Takagi vs BxB Hulk of a new generation.
Make sure to keep your eyes on them.
Follow Kay’s wrestling writing at https://kayasinkayfabe.com/