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Reviewing Low Ki’s 20 Years in Professional Wrestling

July 22, 2019 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Low Ki GFW Impact Wrestling

Low Ki has been in professional wrestling for 20(ish) years now. In that time, he has both pushed forward professional wrestling in the ring (producing state-of-the-art matches shockingly early into his career) and has also developed an exceptionally negative reputation from some people for various reasons. This article is not focusing on litigating the reasons that caused the latter but rather on celebrating the former.

For many wrestlers, going 20 years in the business probably means there has been a sharp decline in your work or your body has physically atrophied to the point that it can be hard to watch you perform. Low Ki’s path in the business, whatever else it may have been, has allowed him to mostly stay in tremendous physical shape which has allowed him to mostly deliver in the ring every year he has been in the business.

What follows is me reviewing one match from every year that Ki has been in the business (I also provide links for reviews from that year as well for most years). As you move through the years, you’ll see the various reactions I have had to Ki which ranged from God-worshiping status to complete and utter frustration. When you go through them all though, there is no way to deny his greatness and the significance he played in the business for this amount of time. My only regret was that I was not able to track down the Akebono match from All Japan.

1999 – Low Ki vs. Twiggy Ramirez

You don’t expect much from Low Ki’s early stuff especially when it is with someone named Twiggy Ramirez. Low Ki really did show a ton of a promise though, as his physical skills were clearly there if nothing else. If anything, Twiggy’s work kind of just connects some dots on why Low Ki became who he was as a person years later. Twiggy was a real embarrassment out there. (1/2*)

2000 – Loki vs. Crash Holly

This was interesting just because it was kind of funny to see Low Ki get a showcase to get all of his trademarked offense in. The match failed though for the same reason most short WWF/E matches fail. They are not presented as shorter matches, but instead they are rushed versions of “full” WWE matches. It’s like they feel like a music video of a more traditional WWE music which makes everything feel sped up and soulless. (*)

2001 – Low Ki vs. American Dragon

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This was the finals of the 2001 Super 8.

Watching Low Ki from the 2001-2003 time period makes you think that he must have become the future of professional wrestling. Everything he does looks brutally physical, and he flies around the ring with a speed and intensity that makes every move seem like a potential match-ender. His matches just look dangerous. (He even upped the dangerous factor in this one by doing a Phoenix Splash to the floor. Completely nuts.)

Bryan matched him in nearly every aspect of the match. Both guys worked like they were constantly trying to *win* as soon as possible which forced you to keep your eyes glued to the screen. I loved every second of this one, and I wish this was the kind of the match that defined Ring of Honor’s style for the next decade. Ki eventually won with a Dragon Sleeper that looked like it would rip Bryan’s head off. (****1/2)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Super Dragon

2002 – Low Ki vs. Samoa Joe

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You can watch this match here.

This was a FIGHT WITHOUT HONOR~!

This was one of the best matches in Ring of Honor history. This match was just about two fighters trying to brutalize each other in order to win a match. When that kind of story is being told and it’s executed well, it’s basically the most exciting and compelling form of pro wrestling possible.

On top of that, this was also a brilliant introduction of Samoa Joe to ROH. He looked unique. He looked like a force to be reckoned with. He looked like the future of professional wrestling. It was a classic example of a wrestling “winning” for losing a match. ROH used to be great. (****1/2)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. American Dragon

2003 – Low Ki vs. AJ Styles

This was for Ki’s NWA/UPW/ZERO-ONE International Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Ki always brought a new level of physicality and intensity from AJ during this time period. AJ in turn probably prevented Ki from falling into potentially dull habits. They both brought out the best in each other here and delivered a real gem of a junior title match that Korakuen warmed to immediately. A match like stands out even more in the context of 2019 when junior divisions feel so left for dead at times in major Japan promotions. (***3/4)

2004 – Low Ki vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru

This was for Kanemaru’s GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Both guys had very clear roles in this match which made for compelling work and easy for the fans to go on the ride. Low Ki was faster and more aggressive. Kanemaru would manage to connect on a big maneuver which then forced Ki to continuously raise his game.

It all built to Ki getting Kanemaru up for the Ki Krusher while he standing on the ring ramp, and then he gave him a running one which caused Kanemaru to land in the ring. He followed it up with the Tidal Wave and Phoenix Splash, but Kanemaru somehow kicked out. Kanemaru finally needed a diving DDT and a pair of brainbusters to finally keep Ki down.

This was fantastic. Ki took his best shot at the champ; Kanemaru managed to just barely survive long enough to fend off the challenge. (****)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Samoa Joe vs. Dan Maff vs. BJ Whitmer

2005 – Low Ki vs. KENTA

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I mean, goddamn. You really can forget how hot ROH was if you don’t sporadically go back and watch some of their peak stuff. This match was everything you could possibly want from a Ring of Honor main event. It emphasized athleticism and excitement. You felt like you were watching two of the best wrestlers in the world. They nearly peaked at the exact right time (probably could have shaved a minute or two off the end). They even had a nice and simple in-ring story (KENTA going for the Busaiku Knee) to loosely keep the match together. It’s possibly my favorite match from either guy. Bravo. (****1/2)

Alternate View: Low Ki & Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi & Homicide

2006 – Low Ki vs. Necro Butcher

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This was an absolutely insane match for like 10-12 minutes, but then it went for another fifteen or so and lost a lot of its excellence as a result. It never got bad or anything, but the match basically just steadily ran out of steam for a while instead of building to an exclamation point. This was good, not great. Ki won with a triangle. (***1/4)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Tyler Black

2007 – Low Ki vs. Samoa Joe

PWG Sells Out 2 - The Best of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Volume 2

All Star Weekend
April 8, 2007

Originally reviewed here.

Their ROH Fight Without Honor in 2002 was incredibly both for its quality and its introduction of Samoa Joe to the world of Ring of Honor. The fact that Joe went on to carry the company for the next two years gives that debut match even more significance. Unfortunately, this match was missing just about all the energy that their ROH match had. The physicality and passion from the wrestlers was there. If they condensed the action into a tighter package, they might have generated some emotion. Instead, this just felt there. A match between Samoa Joe and Low Ki should never feel that way. They should never be average, but that’s what this was. A major disappointment. (**3/4)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Chuck Taylor

2008 – Low Ki vs. Chris Hero

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This was finals of the 2008 BOLA.

Originally reviewed here.

The was the finals of the 2008 BOLA. Hero was the PWG world champ at the time. Ki never lost the title in early 2008 but had to vacate it due to a knee injury. This match had an incredibly physical tone that you rarely see in American wrestling. Ki in particular was just laying in the shots and one koppou kick clearly caught Hero full on the nose. The match was worked without clear structure, but that actually worked really well because of the story of these two just being dead on their feet after a grueling tournament. Ki won clean but would would not return to PWG until 2011. (***3/4)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Bryan Danielson, Low Ki vs. El Generico

2009 – Kaval vs. TJ Wilson

This was a real boring battle. They worked hard but got so little value for their effort. This was basically the worst case scenario for a Low Ki match after 2007 or so. He takes the match so seriously and completely forgets to make it fun. [Ki won via Warrior’s Way.] (**)

2010 – Kaval vs. Bryan Danielson

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This was a rock solid match. It had good action, a nice minor story of Bryan going after Ki’s arm, and it provided a satisfying finish without going too long. Once you get past the 2005 KENTA match, it is almost always better for Ki to be in shorter matches. Ki won with the Warrior’s Way. (***1/4)

Alternate View: Kaval vs. Dolph Ziggler

2011 – Low Ki vs. Austin Aries vs. Jack Evans vs. Zema Ion

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The winner of this match would earn a TNA contract.

Despite this match being four years old, this match still feels incredibly fresh. You have four guys who did not interact a ton in their careers going at it non-stop for twelve-ish minutes.  You can really see the benefits of creating proper motivation for the performers and the characters in this match. More to the point, this match highlights how often TNA failed to properly motivate their performers or the character they played over the years. There was a sense of urgency and purpose to this match that you rarely see executed so well or come off as meaning in TNA. With a proper storyline, a spotfest like this can come across as something much more memorable. Very good stuff. Aries won the match and the contract after pinning Ki with a brainbuster. (***1/2)

2012 – Low Ki vs. Jon Davis

Low Ki had a rather notorious WWN run in 2012. He legit knocked out his first opponent, and then the company bragged about it as if it was a good thing. He then had a series of matches with BedxBreakfast Hulk, Bobby Fish, Pac, Generico, and Jigsaw that were pretty much universally regarded as a mixed bag at best. He looked and worked like he did not take his opponents seriously. He was overly methodical a lot of the time. Between all of that and his poor reputation, the question that plague Low Ki’s career reared its head again: is Low Ki more trouble than he is worth?

His run came to an (unscheduled) end in this match, but he at least decided to remind everyone why he might genuinely be the most talented junior wrestler ever. He treated Jon Davis like a respected threat. He worked his ass off the whole time. He won, but he won in a manner that made his opponent more over for surviving and looking competitive in the match. This was Low Ki, best wrestler in the world.

For the last ten plus years, Low Ki has been the most frustrating wrestler still going. At any given moment, he can decide he’s going to be the best wrestler in the world. He simply covers that side of him up 99% of the time. All we can do I guess is to be grateful matches like this existed which motivated him to unleash it. (****)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Kota Ibushi, Low Ki vs. Prince Devitt

2013 – Low Ki vs. Kota Ibushi vs. Prince Devitt

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January 4, 2013

This was for Devitt’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

This was a silky-smooth triple threat match that progressively got more and more exciting right until the finish. The standout was clearly Low Ki. For starters, he worked the whole match in a suit which added a level of badass to everything he did. He was also working like super fun 2005 Low Ki here instead of methodical and boring Low Ki that he has mostly been in the second half of his career. He was working with his brilliant combo of physicality and speed that usually makes him one of the most compelling performers in the work. Kota also worked in his spots, and Devitt was along for the ride. Very fun stuff. (***¾)

2014 – Low Ki vs. Trent?

The fact that Trent? fired off these tweets and then won the match cleanly made this one of the greatest matches in the history of this great sport. (**1/2)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Samoa Joe vs. Kaz Hayashi

2015 – Low Ki vs. Rey Mysterio

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Unfortunately, Low Ki only wants to work a certain way anymore, and all of his opponents must work his kind of match. Ki works incredibly hard in the ring, but his hard work does not pay off these days (if the payoff is supposed to be compelling wrestling).

While he mostly remains a very physical worker, I cannot help but be frustrated by the fact that he no longer works with the sense of urgency and violence that he once did. Now, his matches are much more methodical (and possibly more technically sound), but he has failed to compensate for the lack of excitement with compelling in-ring storytelling.

In this match, we got a slow burn for 20+ minutes where nothing of significance happened for the the first ten minutes or so. They thankfully moved on for that but then did nothing to really make me interested or excited in how they got to the outcome. The final few minutes were a bit more fun, but it was too late by that point for me.

They do get some credit for at least teasing the 619 a few times before Rey finally connected on it. The first attempt failed because Ki ducked out of the way, and Rey then went through the ropes to the floor. (It looked like a botch, but at least it was a cool botch.) The second attempt was thwarted by Ki, as he hit Rey with an enzuigiri mid-move. Rey finally connected on the third attempt and then won the match with a frogsplash. In the end though, that was not enough to make up for the periods of boredom and occasionally awkwardness throughout the rest of the match. (**1/2)

2016 – Low Ki vs. Drew Galloway

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This was the tale of two matches. The first half was pretty wild match with them flying all over the place and both guys trying to kill each other. That portion was predictably excellent.

The second half was very a methodical match, and it felt like nothing happened. That portion was predictably a tad boring and not all that enjoyable.

Then Ki whipped off his tie and tied Galloway’s hands behind his back before kicking his head off twice and then delivering Warrior’s Way to the back of his neck. The second half of the match was completely forgiven. (***1/4)

Alternate View: Low Ki, Homicide, & Eddie Kingston vs. Pentagon Jr., Drago, & Brian Cage

2017 – Low Ki vs. Sami Callihan

This was for Sami Callihan’s AAW Heavyweight Championship.

I still am a believer. I still believe in Low Ki. That often leads me to being disappointed in his modern matches and to feel naive, but this battle reminded me so much of why I still believe.

It also sadly reminded me why he can still be such a disappointment. This match gave us both Low Ki and his dreaded alter-ego, Lol Ki.

There were sequences and moments in this one where Ki was absolutely on fire and looked like the best wrestler in world once again. He was just moving and working with such a sense of danger that you truly felt like someone was going to perish. It was amazing.

While they were not able to maintain that high level of work throughout, the match really went off a cliff in the final minutes. When it came time for Ki to do his duty, he unsurprisingly did not go down easily. Abyss had to show up to help Sami. Sami threw powder in Ki’s face. Abyss gave him a chokeslam from the top rope. That was how Sami beat Lol Ki on this night.

Blargh blargh blargh blargh. Low Ki. You just seem to be nearly impossible to integrate into a promotion in 2017 (and the last ten years unless the promotion had all of the leverage). You just are so fucking extra about everything. Get over yourself. (**1/2)

Alternate View: Low Ki vs. Alberto del Rio

2018 – Low Ki vs. Amazing Red

This was for Red’s HOG Heavyweight Championship.

When we think of “dream matches,” we almost always discuss the idea of them from the perspective of the fans. While that is completely understandable, it would be on occasion valuable to consider a match through a lens of what it means to one of or both of the wrestlers.

In this case in particular, it is possibly necessary to dissect this match with the full knowledge that it was probably the end of Amazing Red’s career. Granted, wrestling careers rarely get to end on a definitive note. Much like modern television and film franchises, the dead in-ring career of a wrestler seemingly gets resurrected time and time again for one reason or another.

That dynamic is undeniably frustrating as a fan. It’s easier and more satisfying for stories to end conclusively. However, fans in general may need to adjust with the times and compartmentalize these things. While Ric Flair may have put on trunks and performed matches after Wrestlemania 24, the story of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair ended in 2008.

The point is that, no matter what follows this moment, one should look at this match as the end of Amazing Red’s story. And in a business that seems like a never-ending nightmare of shameful filth, this was clearly the stuff of dreams.

Low Ki and Red doing one last big match together was an inherently cool idea. However, a truly memorable match does not just stay with you because it’s cool on paper. These two truly set out to do something different.

These two made such an impact on wrestling on the early 2000s because their work felt fresh and innovative. Naturally, they did not just try to recreate an earlier match here. While it would have no doubt been exciting and fun, it would be beneath these two to merely look to their past for inspiration. Instead, they tried to make yet another statement.

The big sequence in the match was the middle portion. They ended up on the stage and proceeded to do what could only be described as an attempt at a fight from a movie in the middle of a wrestling match.

Was it perfectly executed? No.

Did it come about organically? No.

But that does not mean it did not work. These two have a history of stretching limits, and this was right in line with that. The action grabbed you and hooked you in due to it feeling different and innovative (not to claim that these two guys are the first or the only guys to attempt this sort of thing). “Different” and “innovative” should always be two of the words you associate with Red and Ki.

The match did not simply rest on a few stylistic flourishes though. The match also told a wonderful story in both the macro *and* micro sense. Red had somehow never defeated Ki before in a singles match. He wanted this match to test himself both as a wrestler in this particular moment in time but also in the greater sense of his own career.

Could he finally take down Ki?

The in-ring story then beautifully told the larger story of rivalry between these two. Yes, Red was able to use his quickness to get in some impressive offense. But Ki still dominated him and had control for large portions of the fight. Red had to scratch and claw to stay alive while picking his moments to get in some offense.

The strategy eventually paid off. Red got to finish his career by not just going toe to toe with an old rival one final time. He did not just happen to pick up a win as a token victory. This win was hard fought. Red had to survive. He needed to use everything he had to keep Ki down for the three. His hard work finally earned him a victory over one of the most hard-to-beat wrestlers in indie wrestling.

Red’s story gets to end with not him getting a polite round of applause for lacing up the boots one final time. Red got to finish the way he started; he got to look great, he got to be innovative, and he had to do it all while fighting twice as hard to get the success others had. There are few more satisfying conclusions to stories in professional wrestling. (****)

Alternate View: Low Ki & WALTER vs. Jordan Devlin & David Starr

2019 – Low Ki vs. Joey Janela

The story of this match is kind of hilarious. Ki pulled out of a match last year for GCW with Matt Riddle. Why? Probably because he could not bully Riddle around in the ring. The promoter talked about in response how his kid couldn’t go to summer camp as a result or something. Anyway, GCW decides to book Ki for their Homicide Celebration show, and the build is whether or not Ki will show up.

Under those circumstances, it was mildly surprising how the match played out as they did a relatively tame contest. It felt like a television match instead of a big “PPV” match which it technically was. They produced an easy-to-watch battle though that was pleasantly paced. A perfectly solid match! (***)

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Low Ki, TJ Hawke