The Beautiful Thing Compares: Ohtani and Heidenreich


Shinjiro Ohtani (also sometimes spelled Otani) debuted in 1992, and was arguably the best all-around worker in the world in 1996. He is currently the top star in the Japanese Independent promotion ZERO-ONE MAX, and he has made a successful transition to the Heavyweight ranks after years of wrestling as a Jr. Heavyweight. Ohtani has held prestigious titles in many different organizations, including but by no means limited to the WWF Light Heavyweight Title, WCW Cruiserweight Title, WAR International Jr. Heavyweight Title, UWA Jr. Heavyweight Title, and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. In addition to being a great singles wrestler, Ohtani formed memorable tag teams with Wild Pegasus, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, and Masato Tanaka and he has held almost as many tag titles as singles titles. Ohtani has wrestled in several legitimate MOTYC (Match of the Year Candidates, or to put it more simply, great matches).

John Heidenreich (Also sometimes spelled Thirdenreich) was a member of the 1992 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. He received a WWF developmental contract in 2002. He was arguably the world’s least compelling wrestler in 2004. He is currently on the receiving end of a huge push in WWE, despite having no appreciable talent in the ring. Heidenreich held the NWA Intercontinental Tag Titles for a week in October of 2002. His tag team partner was the equally gifted Nathan Jones. Heidenreich has yet to work his first MTTB (Match That Doesn’t Blow).

In this week’s column, I’d like to take a look at these two very different workers, from the perspective of The Various Aspects.

Pure Wrestling:

Ohtani’s 8/4/96 J Crown semi-final match vs. Ultimo Dragon demonstrates that Ohtani’s mat wrestling is just as exciting to watch as his high flying. It is among the first matches I recommend to people who want to see classic wrestling at its very best. His 1/29/96 UWA Title match vs. El Samurai may be even better, but it’s really hard to find.
A plus

It’s conceivable that Heidenreich actually does not know a wristlock from a wristwatch, but I’d guess that he does know what a wristwatch is, so if he ever figured out what a wristlock was he would likely be able to differentiate between the two.
E minus

Advantage: Ohtani.

Power Wrestling:

Ohtani has never had a classic weightlifter’s physique, but he demonstrates impressive explosiveness in the ring. His Dragon Suplex has a similar impact to Dynamite Kid’s Snap Suplex and his Spiral Bomb (Spinning Power Bomb) is a very effective power move that Ohtani has used as a finisher for years.
C plus

Heidenreich is a huge, muscular guy, and he is almost certainly a legit strongman, but he doesn’t have the kind of muscle thickness and density that make Batista and Snitsky so visually intimidating. His big power moves often seem to be sloppily executed, and they lack the kind of snap and impact that made Vader vs. Sting, for example, so exciting to watch.
C minus

Advantage: Surprisingly, Ohtani


Shinjiro Ohtani comes across as a mean-spirited dick who genuinely enjoys hurting and humiliating his opponents. He tends to start out matches with precise strikes and mat wrestling, only to lose him temper and resort to brawling and high-risk tactics when his more careful offense fails to put his opponent away. His brawling has really improved in the last few years, likely as a result of working extensively with Tanaka, one of wrestling’s great slugfest artists.
C plus

Heidenreich’s interminable punch-fest vs. The Undertaker at the last Survivor Series was, in all sincerity, the most utterly boring match that I sat through in 2004.

Advantage: Ohtani.

High Flying:

Ohtani is the master of the Springboard Missile Dropkick, Springboard DDT, Springboard Spinning Heel Kick, and Springboard Plancha. His airborne offense is quick and crisp, and he really understands how to work it into a match.
A plus

Heidenreich likes to throw punches.

Advantage: Ohtani

“Air” Heidenreich


This might be the point at which the joke stops being funny and starts being kind of sad.

Ohtani is a masterful ring general and an all-time great heel. If you have seen Starrcade ’95, you may remember Ohtani’s match vs. Eddie Guerrero. I would imagine that the majority of the people in the audience hadn’t seen Shinjiro before, but he managed to establish himself as a heel before the first lockup. In addition to his ability to use psychology to turn an audience against him, Ohtani is one of wrestling’s best in-ring storytellers. His matches almost always have a tangible sense of build and flow.
A plus.

The reason that this is sad is that I’m not sure if someone like Heidenreich would even be able to appreciate the psychological aspects of an Ohtani match. Obviously, I’ve never spoken to Heidenreich about this, and it’s entirely possible that he’s a student of mid-90s All Japan and Bill Watts era Mid-South matches who is limited by the WWE style, but based only on what I’ve seen him do in the ring, this seems unlikely. Heidenreich does have some idea of how to play a bad guy, at least.
D minus

Advantage: Ohtani

Bumps and Selling:

Ohtani makes just about everyone he works with look like a legitimate threat to win. He does this by bumping like a madman and using facial expressions and body language to communicate pain, anger, and exhaustion. As I’ve stated above, in most of his matches there is a point at which he becomes frustrated and shifts into full-on dickhead heel mode, but unlike many wrestlers who incorporate a kind of Superman comeback, Ohtani always remembers to keep selling his exhaustion and frustration even after he “Bitchmasters Up.”

I understand that, in order to get his character over, Heidenreich pretty much had to no-sell everything Funaki or Shannon Moore threw at him. Still, until I see him make somebody look good, I’m going to consider him a lousy seller.

Advantage: Ohtani


This is a pretty unfair comparison, so I’m not going to grade it. New Japan and Zero-One are both territories that work a style that is stiffer in general than WWE style. Still, it really says something that two smaller wrestlers like Liger and Ohtani seem to be just half a step away from killing one another in many of their matches, while two legit giants like Heidenreich and Undertaker seem to be playing paddy-cakes by comparison.

High Spots:

Ohtani’s big moves are not silly looking and contrived, they are quick, intense, and deadly looking. The Swan Dive DDT he hit on Wild Pegasus in their 3/20/96 match is one of the most awesome high-impact flying manoeuvres I have ever seen.

John Heidenreich once drove a truck into a hearse, I think.

Advantage: Ohtani

The Fun Factor:

Ohtani’s matches are always entertaining. His facial expressions are among the best in wrestling history, and it is by no means necessary to understand Japanese in order to appreciate the disdain he feels for his opponents and the frustration and anger Ohtani feels when he loses control of a match. He has, however, never done a series of sketches about “Little Shinjiro.”
A minus

Heidenreich has done a series of sketches about “Little Johnny.” They led nowhere. His matches so far have been like entertainment black holes, sucking all life out of the unfortunate people who are stuck watching them.
F minus

Advantage: Ohtani


Ohtani has never really had the look of a champion. He went from being too skinny to being a little chubby without ever quite looking all that muscular or athletic. He wears plain black trunks and boots. He isn’t all that handsome, nor is he unusually ugly. He does, however, have a very expressive face, which he puts to great use in his matches.
D plus

John Heidenreich is very tall, muscular, and mean looking. He has kind of an unusual physique, being ripped but not very powerfully built. The real problem that I have with his look is that it doesn’t fit his character. He behaves like a homicidal maniac, but he dresses in shiny red MMA gear. I miss the days of guys like Rick Rude, Jake Roberts, and King Kong Bundy, who had gimmicks, wrestling styles, and outfits that were carefully matched to their physiques and their characters.
C minus

Advantage: Heidenreich

Prison Sex Angles:

Shinjiro Ohtani has never, as far as I know, simulated sweaty man love with an announcer on camera.

John Heidenreich has.
F minus minus

Advantage: RD Reynolds


Ohtani rules.

Heidenreich… doesn’t rule.

So, no surprises in our first edition of “Let’s Unfairly Compare an All Time Great With a Big Green Stiff.” I hope I’m not the only person who found this amusing.

To be fair, there’s still plenty of time for Heidenreich to develop as a wrestler.

If you want to see some Ohtani goodness for yourself, I’d recommend getting this DVD from IVP Videos. It’s got a ton of great matches from ’95 through ’97, which were arguably Ohtani’s peak years.

If you’ve got a fever and the only cure is more Heidenreich, he’s fighting ‘Taker again on Sunday!

If you’re already an Ohtani fan, you can pimp some of his matches in this thread.

If you enjoyed this at all, please use the link below to let me know which wrestlers you’d like me to compare next.

Thanks for reading!


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