2021 has been a big year for brother tag teams. While the Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers have been tearing it up in AEW, three new pairs of siblings have debuted in major promotions across the wrestling world. The Creed Brothers are making an impact on the revamped NXT and Japanese-American former sumo wrestlers, twins Jun and Rei Saito, started their careers in All Japan Pro Wrestling earlier this year. At Dragon Gate‘s Dangerous Gate show this week, two more siblings stepped into the squared circle, Riki and Ishin Iihashi. Aside from being brothers, the Iihashis have another biologically built-in gimmick: both of their parents were pro wrestlers too.
Riki (25) and Ishin (23) are the sons of Ishinriki Koji, a sumo wrestler who joined the kayfabe world in the 1990s and worked for promotions including SWS, WAR, and IWA Japan. Their mother is Utako Hozumi, who wrestled from 1989-1994, primarily in LLPW. That makes the Iihashis the first “thoroughbred” wrestlers, using the term used by Dragon Gate and the Japanese media, in the country’s history.
Dragon Gate being Dragon Gate, they incorporated the Iihashis’ heritage into their debut act in a more fun and lighthearted way than the term “thoroughbred” might suggest. For their first match as a tag team (Riki had previously performed on a trainee show called Dragon Gate Future), the Iihashi brothers paid tribute to both of their parents. Their theme song starts by referencing sumo, but most of it is based on their mom’s entrance music—music from Juliana’s Tokyo, a trendsetting nightclub in the early ’90s, whose style she emulated for the gimmick Juliana Utako.
The references don’t stop at the theme song. While both Iihashis reference their dad (their ring names are each half of his sumo name), Riki, who more closely resembles Ishinriki, goes further with the tribute, wearing similar gear and using his dad’s signature camel clutch, Alcatraz. Meanwhile, Ishin enters the venue with Juliana’s-style accessories, a hot pink feather boa and matching fan.
It’s the allusion to their mom that makes this debut stand out from those of other legacy wrestlers. That’s not only because there are fewer children of wrestler mothers in the business than of wrestler fathers, but because you have to respect a guy showing up to his first wrestling match ever with such feminine-reading entrance gear and owning that look without trying to play it off as a joke. The references to Utako and her club girl gimmick aren’t presented as or hinted to be lesser than the references to Ishinriki and his traditionally masculine gimmick. It’s all in good (and respectful) fun.
Tributes to their parents aside, the Iihashi brothers’ debut versus Don Fujii and Yasushi Kanda is a strong one. Riki and Ishin trained for over a year before this match and they look like they have their wrestling fundamentals down, including facials and selling. The match is a solid entry into the classic genre of Japanese wrestling match that is middle-aged men beating up spirited trainees who manage to get in some offense but are ultimately doomed by their inexperience. Both Riki and Ishin’s performances and the way Dragon Gate promoted their debut make it look like they could be future stars.
The Iihashi brothers debut in Dragon Gate
- Riki and Ishin are pretty good at wrestling for their experience level
- Riki and Ishin have a good understanding of wrestling-emoting and playing to the crowd
- The sumo x '90s club combination is very powerful musically
- The sumo x '90s club combination is very powerful, fashion-wise
- It's good and endearing to show respect for your mom
- I don't know how long Ishin is going to keep the feather boa and fan but if he does, this is extremely in the wheelhouse of costumes Dragon Gate fans are into
- Their look as a tag team is also like if you split Magnum Tokyo's look between two people which, again, is very powerful
- Nepotism is bad
- (This is a 9/10 for a debut match, not for wrestling matches in general, just to be clear)