5-Star Match Reviews: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW G1 Climax 2016

njpw ishii okada 2016

Few wrestlers active today have managed to achieve as much fame and success as Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii. Both of them are world-famous for their incredible talents and their seemingly-endless lists of tremendous matches.

But there’s a big difference between them: Okada was groomed for the coveted top spot whereas Ishii was not.

Okada had to fill the monstrous boots made for him when he was made into the Rainmaker and he grew into them better and more quickly than anyone ever expected. As for Ishii, his rise to superstardom came from sheer will alone. He spent years languishing in the lower card and would’ve stayed there had he not began having awesome and brutal wars over lesser titles in 2012 and 2013.

Nowadays, both of these wrestlers are regarded as two of the best in-ring performers still active. Interestingly, both of them are in the same stable and thus have fought each other very rarely. But what were the results when they did face each other? Read on to find out.

Today we look back at the classic singles match between Okada and Ishii from the 2016 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.

The story

After Shinsuke Nakamura left New Japan, his CHAOS stable was suddenly left without a leader. But instead of that role going to someone that had been in the stable longer – such as Gedo, Toru Yano, or Ishii – it went to Okada. There were good reasons for Okada to be chosen as CHAOS’s new leader: he was an incredible wrestler, he was IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and, he had finally beaten Hiroshi Tanahashi to become the unquestioned ace of the entire company. If there was anyone deserving to lead a faction, it was Okada.

But where did that leave Ishii, one of the founding members of CHAOS? Well, once again he was relegated to second and third-tier situations. Despite his long tenure and loyalty to CHAOS, no one saw leadership qualities in Ishii. He was a soft-spoken beast that let his actions to the talking for him (and boy did he do a great job with them). And while that was all well and good, it meant that Ishii would once again be overlooked in terms of drawing power and big title feuds. That was disappointing for many people since Ishii had developed a genuine and loyal fan following that wanted to see their boy get the recognition he deserved. It isn’t hard to argue with them; since 2013, Ishii’s résumé has been one long list of kicked asses and smashed skulls.

Maybe the wrestling gods were aware of Ishii’s plight and thus blessed the fans with a chance for Ishii to get a chance to vent his frustrations. In the G1 Climax tournament, all faction associations were set aside and every wrestler was out for themselves. Teammates, including Okada and Ishii, were set against one another in randomly-selected brackets. It was only a matter of time before the CHAOS leader and his trusted wrecking ball crossed paths and faced off one-on-one.

This was a big match-up for CHAOS and New Japan in general. Okada and Ishii had spent years teaming together but had only faced each other twice beforehand. Both of their previous encounters were in G1 Climax tournaments (2013 and 2015) and Okada won them both. So Ishii hoped to finally score a win over Okada to prove that he wasn’t a pushover for the champion.

Not only that, but both wrestlers had to win here to improve their scores if they wanted to advance in the tournament. Ishii had already lost to Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Hirooki Goto, and Hiroshi Tanahashi. He couldn’t afford another loss under any circumstances. But things were much more serious for Okada since he was also the world champion. The tournament had already started badly for him because he lost his first G1 match to Naomichi Marufuji, which guaranteed Marufuji a title shot. Okada needed to bounce back to ensure no one else would do the same, especially since he still had to face Hiroshi Tanahashi in the coming days.

The match

This match originally took place on August 8th, 2016.

Okada gets a clean break on the ropes and pats Ishii mockingly. He applies another headlock and Ishii send shim into the ropes. Ishii hits a lariat out of nowhere and pins. One, two, kickout. He follows with a sliding lariat this time. Okada kicks out at two again. Ishii goes for a Brainbuster. Okada lands behind him and goes for the Rainmaker. Ishii ducks and they trade elbows. Ishii rushes Okada into a corner. Okada ducks and lands his reverse neckbreaker to the knee. Both wrestlers collapse. This went from two to eleven really damn fast.

Both wrestlers take about a minute to recover until Ishii strikes first with chops. Okada hits some elbows and lands a snapmare to prepare for his running basement dropkick. But Ishii gets up right behind him and lands a powerslam. Ishii channels the ghost of Shinsuke Nakamura from their G1 match two years earlier and kicks Okada’s head mockingly. Okada fights up to a sitting position and demands that Ishii chop him. Ishii obliges and Okada fights with everything he’s got just to get up. Now Ishii trash-talks and asks Okada ‘is that all you got?’ and Okada fires back with more elbows. But Ishii shuts him down with a head-butt and more brutal chops. The crowd chants for Ishii as he brawls some more with Okada. Ishii sends Okada into the ropes but Okada holds onto them to block a lariat. Ishii charges but runs into a boot but he tanks it, charges, and runs into a flapjack. He hits some elbows, gets his Irish whip reversed, and drops Ishii with a back elbow, and then lands his basement dropkick and pins Ishii for a two-count.

Okada goes right back to Ishii’s neck with a corner elbow/DDT combo. A huge running uppercut gets Okada a two-count so he goes to the top rope. But before he can play Randy Savage, Ishii gets up and charges, forcing Okada to jump down. Ishii ducks a boot and lands a Backdrop suplex. He decimates Okada’s chest with a massive chop/elbow combo and sends him into the opposite corner. Okada blocks a charge and dropkicks Ishii from the top rope. Ishii falls awkwardly and jams his leg in the corner ropes. But Okada doesn’t relent as he whips Ishii into the barricade and then boots him over it. But Okada’s not done punishing Ishii. He pulls a Randy Orton and lands a draping DDT on the ringside mats.

Okada foregoes the count-out victory and tosses Ishii back into the ring at the count of fifteen. He slams Ishii and lands his diving elbow drop. Rainmaker pose. No, Ishii gets up and chops Okada in the throat. Twice. But he wants to inflict more punishment. German suplex. Big corner lariat. Folding powerbomb. Ishii pins but all those big moves only land him a two-count. Ishii channels the fans’ chants and goes for another running lariat. Okada hits first with his greater reach and boots Ishii’s arm. Ishii spins around for a discus lariat. Okada counters with a Heavy Rain AA slam. Great sequence.

Both men get up and Okada boots Ishii’s face. But Ishii tanks it like a boss and asks for more. he blocks a second kick and goes for a head-butt but Okada hits an uppercut. Ishii blocks a tombstone, hits an elbow and avoids Okada’s trademark dropkick. Then Okada dodges a sliding lariat and lands another big boot. Ishii staggers. Okada lands some uppercuts and runs to the ropes. Ishii cuts him off with a dropkick of his own. Top-rope superplex. Okada kicks out. Sliding lariat connects. Another kick-out. Ishii goes for the sheerdrop Brainbuster. Okada blocks with a knee in midair. Ishii counters and tries again. Okada escapes and dropkicks the back of Ishii’s head. Both men collapse again at the fifteen-minute mark.

Okada hits first with a massive running shotgun dropkick and follows with three consecutive basement dropkicks, all of which get another two-count. He goes for a tombstone but Ishii resists and blocks by stomping on Okada’s toes. One-two elbow smash combo by Ishii. Okada reverses an Irish whip and connects with his standing dropkick. He hits so hard some spit goes flying out of Ishii’s mouth. Okada goes for the Rainmaker. Ishii ducks and hits an enzuigiri. Okada wobbles as Ishii charges for a lariat. Okada ducks and lands a German suplex. Rainma – no, Ishii goes for his own lariat first. Okada ducks that and tries his again. Ishii ducks, ripcords, and head-butts Okada into oblivion. Thunderous applause for Ishii. He signals the end and scoops Okada up. Wait, no, Okada counters into a Tombstone. But Ishii blocks that and gets Okada up. Sitout Tombstone Piledriver. Followed by a running lariat. it’s over. The referee counts one, two, thr – no, Okada kicks out at 2.99! Sheerdrop Brainbuster connects! One, two, three! Ishii beats Okada!

Winner after 18:43: Tomohiro Ishii


Ishii matches are so refreshing because they’re pure adrenaline-filled wars. He doesn’t care about things like psychology, working a limb, pacing or the ebb and flow of the story. No, Ishii goes into a match to fight like a man and hit his opponent and get hit until one of them stops moving. He goes from zero to sixty in short order and doesn’t stop until he hits the finish line. His big singles matches are spectacular in that regard, as was the case here.

There was maybe twenty or thirty seconds of slow-paced warming up before Ishii unleashed hell. Within the first minute he launched himself at Okada and took the fight to him like only Ishii could. He really was a human wrecking ball here as he destroyed Okada bit by bit while absorbing Okada’s biggest moves with little-to-no ill effect. Okada quickly found himself on the defensive and struggled deeply to regain control of the match. He did manage that a few times with his trademark head-and-neck-targeting key spots like his DDT, neckbreakers, and dropkicks. But even with those moves and his constant attempts at the Rainmaker, Okada looked like he was a step behind Ishii. Of course, that was by design. Ishii knew he was in the ring with the company’s ace, their golden goose. If he wanted to win, he had to wrestle his style of match and force Okada out of his comfort zone, which he did.

Ishii spent most of the match beating the ever-loving s**t out of Okada and throwing bomb after bomb after bomb. He knew from the beginning that he had to drop Okada with everything he had to win, hence the non-stop bomb-fest. He even tried his hand at some minor mind games by absorbing Okada’s offense and asking Okada to hit him as hard as he could. And once Okada did that and Ishii stayed alive, it was pretty much over for Okada. The only question that remained unanswered was whether Okada would’ve lost the match had he hit the Rainmaker. He had done a solid enough job softening up Ishii’s head and neck so a successful Rainmaker would’ve been believable as the end of the match.

And yet as fun as this match was, it was missing something. Looking back at it, Okada didn’t come across as Ishii’s equal here, but as a support player. Ishii dominated the match so much that Okada became an afterthought. Part of that came from the overall disappointing performance Okada put in here. There wasn’t anything overtly wrong with anything Okada did; it just seems like he didn’t do enough to keep Ishii at bay. Even with the terrific closing counter sequencing that has made Okada famous, this match lacked tension, which came from a lack of believability in Okada’s chances. If we were to take booking and other ‘external’ factors out of the equation and focus on the wrestling alone, Ishii was way better than Okada here. But the tension or belief that Okada would win came not from the wrestling he displayed, but from those same ‘external’ factors as his ace status and company importance.

I can’t help but compare this match to Ishii’s match with Tanahashi from three years earlier. Both matches were similar in that Ishii was a massive underdog that the fans wanted to see win against the company ace. Ishii won both that match and this one, but they were two different journeys. In the earlier match, Tanahashi quickly shifted gears to wrestle as heelishly as possible to make Ishii shine like a diamond. Here, Okada didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary aside from skip his submission holds and trade bombs with Ishii, which was fine yet a bit deflating. Even though both matches were (and still are) great, Tanahashi told a better story with Ishii than Okada did. There was more drama in the Tanahashi match and greater catharsis in the end. Okada simply didn’t go far enough to sell the idea that Ishii was on his level whereas Tanahashi went out of his way to give the fans what they wanted and make Ishii into an underdog hero. The wrestling and athleticism was fine here, but in terms of story and drama, Okada didn’t give as much emotional weight to Ishii’s relentless assault or his own comeback as Tanahashi did.

Final Rating: ****3/4

From a booking perspective, this was a fun underdog story with Ishii fighting from beneath. Even though his matches are as formulaic as any wrestler, Ishii has found himself a niche in wrestling. He somehow manages to be an underdog and a monster hoss at the same time (which is made even funnier considering how small he is), and his smash-mouth, no-nonsense style is as entertaining as it is simplistic. Regardless of who his opponent is, there’s something fascinating about seeing this short, oddly-proportioned little man beat the tar out of people much bigger than him while he absorbs an inhuman amount of punishment. Those positives were all on full display here, so I would strongly recommend watching it if you’re in the mood for a wrestling match that’s straightforward and doesn’t have any needlessly-complex backstory to it.

And yet, the match does have some flaws that takes it out of that 5-star level. It was basically a one-man show, such was the imbalance between Ishii’s strong performance and Okada’s average performance. Yes, this was an average performance by mid-2010s Okada standards. He was so good at the time that even though he did all his usual great stuff his performance here was a bit underwhelming. Even though he was and still is amazing wrestler, he very much played second fiddle to Ishii, who mopped the floor with him in one of the most one-sided wars in modern G1 history.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my regular 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.