Well, not a damn thing is going on right now in the world of professional wrestling. WWE has descended into a post-Wrestlemania slump, nothing is happening with New Japan until the end of the month, and while Lucha Underground and NXT remain excellent, that’s only two hours a week. Even my favorite wrestling writer, Grantland’s The Masked Man, is writing about basketball.
So with nothing better to do, I’m going to revisit my potential Match of the Year candidates in chronological order. I’ll go through the participants, the story leading to match, and then a recap/analysis of the match. The first match to be considered happened all the way back on January 4th, at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9.
Shinsuke Nakamura: Nakamura, the King of Strong Style, is a weird dude. He’s one of the main stars in New Japan, and head of CHAOS, a heel faction with some great wrestlers. Many people consider him one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. He’s extremely flamboyant, and that’s putting it mildly. His over-the-top mannerisms don’t always resonate with me, and I wonder if something is lost a bit in translation. Despite his campy nature he is a dangerous striker with several strong knee attacks. He is a former IWGP champion, and is synonymous with the New Japan Intercontinental Title. In a lot of ways he has made their IC title just as important as the IWGP title, even main-eventing shows over the IWGP belt. Nakamura’s offense consists of lots of knee strikes, the best facial expressions in the business, and his signature Boma Ye running knee.
Kota Ibushi: If Ibushi can be described in one word, it’d be “pretty.” He has the good looks of an anime or video game character, and uses some beautiful high-flying moves like the Triangle Moonsault and the Phoenix Splash. He has recently moved up into Heavyweight contention after dominating the Jr Heavyweight division, and is fast, athletic, and high-flying. If I were to compare him to a WWE guy, it would be Jeff Hardy from the late 00’s. He’s broken free of the tag team/cruiserweight label, and is just at the cusp of being a main-eventer. One or two big matches and wins would solidify him as a major wrestler in New Japan.
There’s not a huge feud here, just a young kid who wants the title held by the wily veteran. Okay, there’s a bit more, but not much. Ibushi was building momentum, and was all set for the G1 Climax tournament over the summer, but had to pull out due to a severe concussion. Nakamura meanwhile was consistently fighting for and defending the Intercontinental belt. After defending his title at a show, Nakamura, being the overly confident heel that he is, proceeded to cut a promo about how great he is, only to be interrupted by a returning Ibushi. And by interrupted, I mean dumped on the back of his head with a German Suplex. And thus, we have a match set for the biggest New Japan show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom.
IWGP Intercontinental Match: Shinsuke Nakamura (champion) vs. Kota Ibushi
The first time I watched this match was with the English commentary of Jim Ross and Matt Striker. They did very well I thought, but I’m going to watch it this time with the Japanese commentary. I can’t understand a word they say, but they provide an energy and excitement that English commentary often lacks. And this way I don’t have to listen to Matt Striker try to explain “Strong Style.”
Nakamura comes to the ring in an elaborate crown, cape, and jacket. I mentioned he was flamboyant, right? They start with a MMA-style feeling out process with quick kicks and jabs. Nakamura is treating Ibushi like a nobody, and Ibushi is having none of that. Nakamura goes for the Boma Ye early, is countered, and Ibushi mocks Nakamura by doing one of his signature taunts. Nakamura is done messing around, and hits several knees to Ibushi, including a diving knee to the back of Ibushi’s head off while he was hanging off the ring apron. Nakamura stays in control, Ibushi unable to match Nakamura for striking power.
Ibushi starts flying around though and takes advantage, knocking Nakamura out of the ring with a hurricanrana and hitting a beautiful Triangle Moonsault to the outside! Having knocked Nakamura out of his groove, Ibushi attacks with some quick flying moves until Nakamura counters and resumes kneeing the crap out of Ibushi’s head. Another missed Boma Ye leads to Ibushi attacking with a springboard hurricanrana off the top rope, followed by a Dragon Suplex and a standing corkscrew moonsault! Ibushi slams Nakamura into the mat with an elevated sitout powerbomb! Nakamura kicks out, and Ibushi misses the Phoenix Splash. Nakamura hits the Boma Ye knee to the back of the head! Both men are down.
Nakamura stomps on Ibushi’s head, but Ibushi is up, attacking with some stiff punches. Nakamura pushes the ref and counters a clotheline into a cross armbreaker! Ibushi mocks Nakamura after he gets out, and dumps him on his head with a suplex. Ibushi hits Nakamura with the Boma Ye! Nakamura is pissed when he gets up, literally shoving his boot into Ibushi’s mouth. With Nakamura on the ring apron looking into the crowd, Ibushi leaps to the top rope and German Suplex’s Nakamura over the top rope! Holy crap! Nakamura counters another powerbomb attempt with elbows, and hits a diving Boma Ye from the second turnbuckle! Ibushi is up immediately! Both go for a Boma Ye, kneeing each other’s leg! Ibushi stumbles and Nakamura hoists him up on his shoulders and nails him with a firemans carry driver, and another Boma Ye to finally finish off Ibushi.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
This match was the first to show me what a New Japan main event match was capable of, and it wasn’t even the main event! Going into the match the first time, I didn’t know anything about either of these guys, and it was still an awesome match. They did a great job of bringing the viewer in and getting them invested in the match. Rewatching it with a bit more knowledge about who they are has just made it better. It’s easier to see things like the way Nakamura fools around at the beginning, because he does that in most of his matches. Nakamura is so good he can afford to do that, but not against Ibushi. Also a treat was watching Ibushi steal many of Nakamura’s signature taunts and moves, and Nakamura getting progressively more and more pissed off about it.
They gave us a few Holy Shit moments, especially as it ramped up towards the end. The springboard German Suplex Ibushi hits on Nakamura was insane, and something I’ve never seen before. Nakamura had the advantage most of the match when striking, though Ibushi was getting some good shots in towards the end. Ibushi had the advantage when he could fly around the ring, and he cost himself the match when he went for the Boma Ye at the end, colliding with Nakamura’s own Boma Ye. Nakamura, the better striker, was able to recover quicker to hit the final series of moves to get the win. Logical storytelling that progresses during a match, imagine that.
I originally gave this match ****1/2, but I enjoyed it even more the second time around. It’s a damn near perfect match, so what the hell, I’ll give it the full 5 star treatment this time. 2015 is looking to be a very very strong year for Ibushi, and this match was the start of it all.