5-Star Match Reviews: Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 2020
The year 2020 will go down as one of the worst years in wrestling history in terms of attendance, atmosphere, and financial success. As a sport/entertainment medium, a live audience is critical to building the atmosphere.
Even in New Japan (NJPW), with its longstanding stereotype of ‘quiet and studious fans’, the COVID restrictions affecting audience reactions affected the overall quality of matches that took place.
Or did it?
Today we’re looking back at another one of many highly-praised matches from 2020. It took place with a crowd that couldn’t cheer or shout and could only clap to show its approval. And yet, this match was said to still be so great that it broke the scale once again and is now considered one of the best matches of all time. But is it really? Read on to find out.
It’s time to look back at the singles match between Kota Ibushi and Minoru Suzuki from New Japan’s 2020 G1 Climax tournament.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
No real story here, just two guys in the same tournament block fighting for points. The only other important note is that Ibushi did have experience as a kickboxer and he decided to bring that into his match with Suzuki, who is also noted for his work in, and influence on, MMA.
This match originally took place on October 10th, 2020, on the same night as this awesome match between Jeff Cobb and Tomohiro Ishii. This match was rated *****1/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, breaking the scale once again with its (supposed) greatness. Let’s see how well it holds up.
Ibushi and Suzuki spend the first minute hitting very real and very hard strikes and slaps. It looks like it’s going to be a kickboxing match when Suzuki single legs Ibushi. Suzuki tries some grounded holds but Ibushi gets a ropebreak. Back on their feet, both wrestlers trade armlocks and amateur wrestling counters. Ibushi goes for a cross armbreaker but Suzuki counters into a heel hook. Then Ibushi tries ah eel hook of his own but Suzuki tightens his to stop Ibushi. But Ibushi still powers through and locks in his own heel hook anyway, leading to both men using their respective free legs to try and literally kick out. Ibushi rolls to the ropes but then both men take time letting go of their heel hooks. Suzuki literally kicks out first and Ibushi has to expend much more energy escaping Suzuki’s. Suzuki goes for his headstand armbar on the apron but Ibushi blocks and lands a running kick that sends Suzuki into the barricade. Ibushi teases his golden triangle moonsault but Suzuki up and walks back up the entrance ramp and taunts Ibushi to join him there. Ibushi falls for the bait and walks up to Suzuki and they begin trading forearms. Suzuki drops Ibushi with a strong right hand and hits more stiff strikes as Ibushi staggers closer to the ring. Suzuki re-enters first and Ibushi barely makes in at nineteen. Ibushi hits a punch barrage to Suzuki’s gut but Suzuki no-sells and hits a nasty elbow strike that connects with a sickening thud. Ibushi finds himself in a seated position as Suzuki kicks his chest. Suddenly Ibushi’s expression starts going blank and he returns the trash-talk. Suzuki hits Ibushi over and over but Ibushi keeps tanking it all and asks for more. Ibushi tries a forearm combo of his own but Suzuki literally just laughs at him. Suzuki hits a big corner boot and goes for a snapmare but Ibushi blocks. Ibushi lands a standing counter dropkick
Ibushi ducks a slap and hits a martial arts rush. Suzuki fires up and hits another forearm but Ibushi hits back with the same strike combo. Ibushi usually drops opponents with the roundhouse kick at the end of said combo, but not Suzuki. Suzuki grits his teeth and remains standing. Three more roundhouse kicks fail to to the job so Ibushi lands a running boot and finally drops Suzuki. A running PK connects but Suzuki absorbs it like a boss. The same for the next two kicks that connect. Ibushi switches to mocking kicks and pats to Suzuki’s chin but again Suzuki just laughs…and then drops Ibushi with a nasty elbow smash. The referee checks on Ibushi to see if he’s still conscious. Ibushi fights to his feet but Suzuki hits more stiff elbows. Ibushi staggers but keeps going. The two of them switch to trading running kicks. Suzuki tries more elbows. Ibushi roundhouse kicks the side of Suzuki’s head. Both men pop right back up and Suzuki hits another elbow. Both men collapse.
It takes a bit but both men lift themselves up and stagger towards each other. Suzuki laughs like a maniac as he trades elbows with Ibushi again. They hit each other real fast and as hard as possible until both sink down for a brief moment. The exchange switches to stiff palm strikes. Ibushi goes for a big wind-up strike but Suzuki ducks and locks in a sleeper hold. Suzuki goes for the Gotch-style piledriver. Ibushi powers out. Suzuki goes to counter with a sunset flip. Ibushi counters that into a Kamigoye attempt. Suzuki counters the knee strike with a single leg and then full Boston crab. He’s looking to humiliate Ibishi by making him tap to the rookie’s hold. Ibushi counters with a knee to the side of Suzuki’s head. Suzuki blocks a running knee strike and locks in another sleeper. He spins around for the piledriver but Ibushi tries another knee, only for Suzuki to catch it. Wait, no, Ibushi blocks Suzuki and hits a bicycle knee strike. Then Ibushi’s next Kamigoye connects. One, two, and three! Ibushi wins!
Winner after 16:58: Kota Ibushi
This match was great but nowhere near the 5-Star level, much less anything beyond that. It was closer to the Pancrase shoot style of wrestling than it was the modern New Japan style. If you like realistic wrestling that’s more like MMA and less like a soap opera or melodrama, then you’ll like this match.
The main story here was Ibushi trying to match Suzuki’s sadism with his own. Suzuki has this reputation as both a punishing hitter and a dangerous grappling specialist. Whether that reputation is real or fabricated doesn’t matter; it has become a major part of Suzuki’s biggest matches. An aura of danger and fear surrounds him and he backs it up with absolutely vicious elbows that almost rival Misawa’s in terms of power and effectiveness. But Ibushi wasn’t buying into any of that. Ibushi wasn’t intimidated by Suzuki and actually tried to get under Suzuki’s skin just like Suzuki tried to get under Ibushi’s. And Ibushi managed this by absorbing everything Suzuki threw at him. Ibushi knew that Suzuki was goading him and luring him into a trap but he went with it anyway. He couldn’t help himself; his competitive spirit wouldn’t allow Suzuki’s taunting to go unpunished. Once Ibushi realized that doing his usual high-flying shtick wouldn’t work on someone as smart and practical as Suzuki, he shifted gears and began trying to one-up Suzuki. That meant taking ungodly punishment and no-selling it like a boss. Ibushi let Suzuki hit him as hard as possible, as seen (and heard) with Suzuki’s brutal strikes that hit with such a loud impact. Maybe they’re real and full contact and maybe they’re not; but they’re very convincing, especially thanks to Ibushi’s great selling.
Suzuki did a great job as the psychotic sadist that took pleasure in punishing Ibushi for his foolishness. He even took a page out of Ibushi’s playbook by staying still and tensing up to absorb a full-power roundhouse kick. It was obvious that neither of these guys was holding back. They were treating this as a legitimate competition (or at least, as close to a one as it gets in pro wrestling). it was entertaining seeing them survive so much punishment, but being entertaining was a side effect of each wrestler’s primary goal: to win the match and prove to each other how capable and tough they were. Towards the end, Suzuki started tanking these full power running kicks and the crowd could only applaud because of the COVID restrictions in place at the time. Yet it was still very loud applause; had this match taken place under normal circumstances, I’m sure the crowd would’ve given both these guys a standing ovation and thunderous cheers for hitting so hard and enduring so much for their craft.
Towards the end, the match turned into a lesser version of WALTER vs. Dragunov I with the constant trash-talking and increasing stiffness. Both guys just kept escalating in stiffness and brutality since both had shown how much pain they could endure. It did get a bit silly with the high-speed elbow exchange and then what basically amounted to a slap fight. But that’s exactly what Suzuki wanted. He went in that direction to piss Ibushi off and make him swing as hard as possible, only to duck and put him in a sleeper. The subsequent counter exchange was awesome, especially Suzuki’s amazing Kamigoye counter into a leglock that came out of nowhere. It’s just too bad that all the legwork from the opening moments wasn’t followed up on; elsewise that submission hold would’ve actually meant something.
Final Rating: ****1/4
This is a fun match with an interesting story. Ibushi’s usually a spot and story-based wrestler but here he had to literally fight for survival against one of new Japan’s most feared amateur grapplers. He and Suzuki beat each other up so badly that I’m amazed neither of them had a broken jaw, lost a tooth, or suffered a cracked rib. Then again, being naturally tough comes with the territory in New Japan, and that notion of ‘working snug’ is more the rule than it is the exception.
This match is fun to watch but I don’t think it’s some kind of must-see, GOAT epic or anything like that. Most fans would recognize Suzuki from his matches in AEW and his match with Bryan is a bit better than this one while still hitting the same key points and telling the same story as this one. And if you really want to see Suzuki at his best, there’s this match with Tanahashi from ten years ago that really is one of the best matches of all time As for Ibushi, he has had better matches against guys like Nakamura and Tanahashi.
But if you want to kill twenty minutes by seeing two guys almost destroy each other then this match will do the trick for you.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.