Kota Ibushi and Tomohiro Ishii are two of the most enigmatic wrestlers in the industry. Their paths to the top have been uniquely atypical, especially in the context of Japanese wrestling culture. This, along with the fact that both have a genuine claim to be up there with the best wrestlers in the world, has served to heighten the popularity that both men have with fans (locally as well as internationally).
Ibushi in particular is an anomaly in today’s wrestling climate. He is a man that walks to the beat of his own drum, and revels in the creative freedom that he has managed to allow himself to garner. He can be found having a 5 star classic one night, only to wrestle a comedy-based match in the forest shooting fireworks at his opponent the next. This is no more so evident than his stint having full-time contracts with both NPJW as well as Dramatic Dream Team (the promotion where he made his debut in 2004 and cut his teeth as a wrestler) from 2013 to 2016. In NJPW, he showed off his prowess in serious scenarios, whereas DDT allowed him to take the edge off and have the crazy matches that he became famous for. With all that being said, it is when he is really switched on and focused on having an excellent match that he can truly show that he is one of the best around.
Ishii, on the other hand, has also had a peculiar rise to the top. Starting his career in 1996, he was a journeyman in the wrestling business for many years. Over the years, however, he began to build up a cult following as a bruiser which originally grew in Tokyo, only to spread throughout Japan. This following led to the beginning of a push for Ishii in 2012, having spent 8 years as a mainstay on the undercard in NJPW, where he main evented his first match in the promotion, challenging Hirooki Goto for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. It was in 2013 where his popularity really exploded however, to the point that he beat Hiroshi Tanahashi (the Ace of NJPW) and Katsuyori Shibata in his first 2 matches in that year’s G1 Climax – the latter being a bonafide 5* match that epitomised what ‘Strong Style’ is. He has sustained this in the years since, becoming the ultimate gatekeeper on the upper midcard.
When both Ibushi and Ishii were booked into the B Block of this year’s G1 Climax, their match against each other was earmarked as one of the matches to look out for. They had already had 2 excellent matches against each other in the past, and it was felt that this upcoming match would end up topping the others. The excitement that the fans had for this match was evident in the entrances and staredown before the match, where an audible buzz could be heard and felt. This buzz only increased when the match got underway, as both men charged at each other immediately after the bell rang, clashing in the middle of the ring. Both men then bounced off the ropes consecutively, only to be hit with a strike from the other man. They then proceeded to attempt a number of strikes on each other, only for each one to be dodged, with the stand-off that ensued garnering rousing applause from the audience.
Both men then exchanged an intense battle of forearm strikes, which Ishii came out on top from. Having garnered the upper hand, Ishii continued to work on Ibushi, hitting him with a headbutt followed by a series of chops in the corner. He invited Ibushi to return the favour and hit him with a number of forearms, only to no-sell them and hit Ibushi with a huge chop to send him flying back into the corner, hitting him with some more chops in the process. Ibushi then returned with forearms to Ishii’s head, followed by a kick to Ishii’s mid-section, but one single forearm sent Ibushi crashing back to the mat. Ibushi finally managed to create some distance, however, after he hit his opponent with a dropkick in the middle of the ring, followed by a snap hurricanrana that sent Ishii to the outside. He then followed up with a plancha onto his opponent, after which he pointed to his favourite place in any arena – the balcony – dragging Ishii there with him.
Ishii went for the powerbomb on the floor, but Ibushi countered with another hurricanrana. He then proceeded to climb the balcony and, after hyping up the crowd even more, hit an incredible moonsault off the balcony onto Ishii. He then dragged Ishii back to the ring, hitting a springboard dropkick to the back of his opponent’s head, followed by a dragon suplex for the 2 count. He then hit another series of stiff midkicks, after which he stomped Ishii’s head. This served to fire Ishii up, who got up, no-sold another midkick by Ibushi, and sent him crashing to the mat yet again with another forearm to the head.
An amazing sequence followed, as Ishii took proceedings to the turnbuckle to hit a stalling suplex from the second rope. Ibushi incredibly got up straight away, however, only for Ishii to immediately follow up with a suplex, which Ibushi also got up straight away from, with a crazed look in his eyes! Ishii then tried one more suplex, but Ibushi landed on his feet, and rushed at Ishii and hit him with a forearm to the chest that barely made Ishii flinch, allowing him to hit Ibushi with a headbutt. Ishii then rushed at his opponent to hit a lariat, only for Ibushi to counter with a suplex that Ishii himself immediately got up from. Ibushi then hit a high kick on Ishii, dodged out of a clothesline, and followed up with a Pele kick that finally dropped both men, once again garnering them a huge ovation from the fans.
As both men got up, Ishii landed a series of strikes to Ibushi’s face, who returned the favour with a huge slap to Ishii’s own face. Ibushi then followed up with a lawn dart, sending his opponent face first into the turnbuckle. He then landed a series of kicks to Ishii, taunting him to get up, to which Ishii obliged as both men engaged in a war of hard slaps to each other’s face that Ibushi came out on top from. He then continued to slap and kick a fallen Ishii, until Ishii got up and starting chopping his opponent in the throat! He then slapped and kicked a fallen Ibushi himself, until Ibushi got up and starting PUNCHING Ishii in the throat! Ibushi then followed up with a huge lariat and the Last Ride powerbomb for the 2 count.
Ibushi looked to finish things off with the Kamigoye, but Ishii countered with a series of headbutts. Ibushi replied with a headbutt of his own, and hit a bridge straitjacket German suplex for the 2 count. He then went for the Kamigoye again, but Ishii rolled Ibushi up and hit him with a Kamigoye of his own! He then followed up with a Last Ride of his own, but Ibushi incredibly kicked out at 2. Ishii then turned Ibushi inside out with a lariat, but Ibushi just about managed to kick out again at 2. Feeling he had victory in his grasp, Ishii went for his Brainbuster finisher, but Ibushi managed to turn it around and hit a Brainbuster of his own…only for Ishii to stand up immediately afterwards!! After blocking several of Ibushi’s strikes, Ishii then hit an enziguri, but Ibushi merely stumbled before hitting Ishii with a Bomaye…but Ishii kicked out at 1!!! Ibushi was incensed, and knew he had to finish this off once and for all. After both men exchanged further strikes, from which Ibushi finally came out on top, he proceeded to hit the Kamigoye for the victory.
That. Was. INCREDIBLE! It was an all-out war between both men, a symphony of violence if I have ever seen one. This has solidified the fact that, in my eyes, both men are up there with the best in the world, and it was undoubtedly the best match of the G1 up till that point. My hope is that Ibushi will go on to win his block, as well as the entire tournament, to face his partner Kenny Omega in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 13, and this win has definitely sent him on his way to do that. If you haven’t watched this match yet, stop what you’re doing right now, and watch it.