There is no promotion on earth that I prefer over Battlarts, excluding Golden Age All Japan of course. The oft-perfect mix of shoot and pro style makes Battlarts the style, which by all rights should dominate the future of wrestling. If one were to inquire about the essence of Battlarts, there is only one direction to steer them to, Daisuke Ikeda and Yuki Ishikawa. Minoru Tanaka may be more successful and a better overall worker, and Alexander Otsuka may be more versatile, but no two men were more responsible for the creation of the Battlarts style, and no two men personified Battlarts like Ikeda and Ishikawa did. Whenever the two met in the ring whether it be in a tag or singles match, they brought unmatched intensity to the encounter and seemed to click with each other no matter the circumstance. Recently, the topic of the best Ikeda vs. Ishikawa singles match has been debated, so I have decided to tackle the topic and give my thoughts about the two best matches between the two, which are also both among the top matches, if not the top matches in Battlarts history, 5/27/98 and 8/29/99.
Daisuke Ikeda vs. Yuki Ishikawa 5/27/98
Right off the bat this match has a feel to it that is much different from most Battlarts shows as the rather large crowd is real hot for the match. The two men meet in the center of the ring and Ishikawa floors Ikeda with a real headbutt, which both men sell perfectly. Ikeda proceeds to set the tone for the match by slamming Ishikawa with some stiff kicks to the leg before going head hunting and taking Ishikawa down with a nasty kick right to the face. Ikeda is obviously the quicker of the two and the more explosive striker, particularly with his kicks. Ishikawa has the edge in power and is better on the mat, so as soon as he can he takes Ikeda down to the mat to slow him down and take his strikes out of the equation. Once back on their feet, Ikeda ruthlessly batters Ishikawa with stiff kicks right to the face, but Ishikawa counters and gains the advantage with punches of his own which happen to be among the best punches in all of wrestling. This leads to Ishikawa locking on the Octopus which Ikeda frantically works to escape from, quickly getting the ropes. You can see the Fujiwara training in Ishikawa as he is great at getting a submission attempt from any position he is in, leverage advantage or not. The transitions are set up extremely well as both men set them up masterfully. At one point Ikeda manages to reverse and Octopus attempt and lock Ishikawa in his own Octopus hold, which gets a big pop from the crowd, but Ishikawa is quickly able to escape and bring it back down to the mat. Ikeda manages to trap Ishikawa in a triangle choke, which Ishikawa sells beautifully by gagging and gasping for air. At about the eleven-minute mark, they start getting into some great near fall spots revolving around Ishikawa working on Ikeda's arm and Ikeda pummeling Ishikawa with brutal kicks. It was really nice to see Ikeda sell the injured arm and use his other arm while nailing Ishikawa with a lariat. At one point Ikeda knocks Ishikawa down for four standing eight counts in a thirty second span. The stiffness of Ikeda's kicks is only matched by Kawada, Takada, and a few others, but I have never seen anyone take them as often and as perfectly as Ishikawa does here. Ishikawa withstands the barrage and stands up face to face with Ikeda in the center of the ring and grins while Ikeda stares at him in disbelief wondering how Ishikawa could still be in this match, and how he could have a second wind left in him. The battered Ishikawa gains the advantage and goes for the win with a backdrop suplex followed by and enzuigiri and then locks on his Octopus hold. Ikeda desperately looks for a rope as the crowd senses the match is coming to an end. But Ikeda has fight left in him and is able to break the hold from his weaker opponent and floor Ishikawa with a beautiful spin kick. Ikeda smells blood and goes in for the kill throwing kicks to the body of Ishikawa, but Ishikawa proceeds to block them all and perfectly anticipate Ikeda going up top with a kick and turn it into a leg bar that sends Ikeda sprawling for the closest rope, another great near fall. Ikeda gets up with a look of exhaustion on his face which quickly turns to pain as Ishikawa goes after the legs of Ikeda with kicks trying to neutralize the weapons that have done so much damage to him throughout the course of the match. A backdrop suplex leads to another great near fall as Ikeda barely gets a rope to break a wristlock. The crowd is incredibly hot at this point and is enthralled by the great sequences these two men are working and fully prepared for either man to get the win at any time. Ikeda gets to his feet first and nails Ishikawa with a lariat using the arm that hasn't been worked on. Ishikawa gets up at 7 ¾ only to get absolutely obliterated by a spin kick from Ikeda that may be the stiffest worked kick I've ever seen, it was completely brain jarring, but only sent Ishikawa down to one knee. Ikeda finishes off Ishikawa with one more kick the head that sends Ishikawa and his glazed over eyes down to the canvas for good, giving Daisuke Ikeda the win in eighteen minutes fifty-one seconds. The crowd is more than appreciative for the efforts of both warriors and suddenly the tape ends without seeing Ishikawa get to his feet. It's almost fitting as I cannot see Ishikawa getting up from the beating he took, and it follows the main story of the match which was Ishikawa hitting the canvas from a brutal barrage of kicks from Ikeda.
Daisuke Ikeda vs. Yuki Ishikawa 8/29/99
This match is the finals of the Young Generation Battle Tournament, the annual tournament run by Battlarts to crown the symbolic kingpin of the promotion. Although this is one of the bigger shows Battlarts runs all year, the crowd is pretty much non-existent, probably the usual Battlarts crowd of 300. Ikeda is sporting a band-aid on his upper lip that looks like a moustache and is a perfect target for Ishikawa to focus on. Match begins slowly with both men feeling each other out, but knowing full well what the other is planning for this match. Ishikawa displays his prominence on the mat and Ikeda brings his usual stiff kicks, but they do not have the same snap to them as in the past. About five minutes in and the two are already working fairly dramatic near falls from submissions before the two go toe to toe exchanging stiff punches and kicks in the middle of the ring, neither man backing down. Make no mistake about it, these two are gods among men when it comes to stiffness. Ikeda maniacally peppers Ishikawa with kicks, even when he is on the ground being administered the eight count. Never one to go down without a fight, Ishikawa takes the fight right back to Ikeda with big punches and varying submissions that provide some near falls. Once back on the attack Ikeda goes after Ishikawa with a kick sequence similar to what he used to KO Ishikawa in the 5/26/98 match, but Ishikawa manages to block and absorb the majority of the shots and nail his trademark enzuigiri. In actuality, Ishikawa missed on his first attempt at the enzuigiri, but scored big time with the second leading to Ikeda getting up at 7 ½. Back on the mat Ikeda nearly gets the win with a triangle choke followed by a backdrop suplex, but Ishikawa is able to clear his head and get to his feet, ready for another offensive explosion from Ikeda. Ishikawa weathers the storm of kicks, lariats, punches, and a poorly executed brainbuster and regains the advantage by taking it to the mat and slowing down Ikeda. Ikeda barely gets the ropes and avoids an Ishikawa victory via wakigatame and uses the momentum change to get a near win of his own with a choke sleeper on Ishikawa which he sells like he is locked in a deep trance. It's odd to note that at sixteen minutes into the match, the lip of Ikeda is still in one piece, no blood at all. One would think that Ishikawa would focus in on that target, but he hasn't really gone after at all. The two battered warriors meet in the center of the ring once more to exchange stiff shots with each other. Punches and kicks are raining down until Ikeda puts Ishikawa on the canvas with a Low Ki-esque jumping kick that really rocked and dizzied Ishikawa. Ikeda smells blood and lands three lariats that would make Stan Hansen smile. Ishikawa manages to get to his feet and land an enzuigiri, but Ikeda pounces on Ishikawa while he's still on the ground and locks on a wristlock for the closest fall of the match thus far. Just when you think Ishikawa is done, he comes back and gets Ikeda in a choke sleeper after a vertical suplex for another dramatic fall as Ikeda gets to the ropes. Desperate to end the match, Ikeda hits a beautiful deathvalley driver that is easily one of the best in the business, and then goes right into an udehishigigyakujujigatame for the win at nineteen minutes fifty-nine seconds. Nice pop from the small crowd for these two great wrestlers who embrace and show the respect for each other that is obvious from their in ring work with each other.
If asked to name the top two Battlarts matches ever, I would quickly reply with the two matches I have just covered which I'd put just ahead of Minoru Tanaka vs. Naoki Sano from 1/30/00 because they are the essence of the Battlarts style, while the other is technically superior to at least one of the Ikeda/Ishikawa matches if not both. That being said, I think that I can easily say that the 5/26/98 match is superior to the 8/29/99 match and also the best Battlarts match ever. The stiffness level in the 5/26 match is on a level unto it's own, with it's only possible peers from the style being from the heyday of UWF-I, even that may be a stretch. The kicks that Ishikawa takes from Ikeda are the kind you may see in a K-1 fight, their like is not something that should be seen in a worked match, but they are, and Ishikawa takes them all, what a man. It may sound as if I am overstating the stiffness of the match, but I will stand by statements and challenge anyone to tell me that this was not one of the stiffest matches they have seen. Ikeda did not have the same snap to his kicks in the 8/29 fight as he did in the 5/26, Ishikawa made them all look good, but they were not brain jarring like the earlier match. Ishikawa was fought both matches nearly identically, which is a good thing in this case as he was nearly perfect in both. Ikeda was perfect in the first match, but seemed a little off in this match, but off for Ikeda is still far better than most. His matwork was fine but he was not as explosive and energetic as in the earlier match. Perhaps it was the fact that the first match had such a larger and hotter crowd that made the near falls in the first match more meaningful and dramatic. Both matches had many sections where one man was locked in a submission and was barely able to get to the ropes or break the hold, but the near falls in the first match were more dramatic due to better selling of the struggle and the hot crowd reacting to it. They played off and to the crowd expertly in the first match; it's just unfortunate that they didn't have the same type of crowd to drive them in the 8/29 match. Selling is something that Battlarts is not known for, but there are a few instances in the first match where Ikeda smartly sells his arm that has been worked on, by using the other arm for lariats and punches. A little subtlety as selling is not necessarily what makes either match great. Don't get me wrong, both men, particularly Ishikawa sell a lot, but it is mostly the selling of exhaustion and concussion, than a particular body part after a submission. I don't think there is one nuance where the 8/29 match can be put ahead of the 5/26 match, but don't take this as an indictment of the 8/29 match, more of praise for the 5/26 match which is the epitome of Battlarts, and the flagship match for the promotion built on the capable backs on Yuki Ishikawa and Daisuke Ikeda.