5-Star Match Reviews: Kota Ibushi Vs. Kenny Omega – NJPW G1 Climax 2018
The year 2018 was the year of Kenny Omega. He had been hyped up over the prior two years as a future legend and, according to many fans, he proved that in 2018. Throughout the entire calendar year, Omega was said to steal the show and put on one epic match after another. Many have sung his praises as the best wrestler alive. But at the same time, just as many people have lambasted him for one reason or another.
Words used to describe him have included ‘the greatest’, ‘terrific’, ‘insane’, ‘GOAT’, among others. He has also been described as ‘overrated’, ‘frustrating’, ‘gesticulating’, ‘polarizing’ ‘goofy’, and so on. As someone stuck in the middle, and as someone that has seen both greatness and disappointment from Omega, I figured it was time to look back at another one of Omega’s (supposed) 5-star-plus matches to see if it lived up to the hype.
To that end, let’s look back at Omega’ big G1 Climax match against Kota Ibushi from 2018.
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.
Ibushi and Omega go way back. They were partners for many years across Japan’s independent scene and especially in the Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) promotion. for a long time, DDT was to Japan what Chikara and PWG have been to the US: a smaller federation that featured usually smaller and more agile wrestlers and didn’t always take itself too seriously. They were very successful there until Ibushi split from Omega and signed with New Japan full-time in 2013. Over the next five years, Ibushi spent in junior heavyweight matches (where he thrived because he was seriously good) and as an on-again-off-again G1 participant and midcard title challenger and holder. He did his own thing and wasn’t really involved in NJPW’s big faction warfare story for a long time.
Meanwhile, Omega joined New Japan in late 2014 as part of the Bullet Club. Omega started off as a comedic junior heavyweight that wasn’t always taken seriously. Then in 2016, the Bullet Club lost AJ Styles and Omega dethroned him as its leader. From there, Omega began a major rise to the top that peaked with his legendary Wrestle Kingdom match with Kazuchika Okada. despite losing, Omega proved to be a force to be reckoned with, and spent the rest of 2017 chasing the title and being in top matches more often than not.
Fast forward to 2018 and things are a bit different. Omega found himself caught in a power struggle within the Bullet Club as he drifted closer to his friends The Young Bucks. but while they had been friends for years, they too found themselves at odds with Omega once Cody Rhodes came to New Japan through Ring of Honor. Cody sought to take control of the Bullet Club away from Omega and backstabbed him following a big match while the Bucks stayed out of this. But just before Cody would finish Omega off, out came Ibushi to save his friend. After six years apart, the Golden Lovers had reunited. They became arguably the most dominant tag team in New Japan and spent the next several months teaming together. Ibushi was even there to congratulate Omega when he defeated Okada at Dominion 2018 to become IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
But then came August and that friendship had to be put on hold. Both Omega and Ibushi found themselves in the same bracket in the annual G1 Climax tournament. Expectations were high for Omega since he was going in as champion. He had already lost one match to Toru Yano (NJPW’s resident troll) and another in a hard-fought battle against Tomohiro Ishii. To make sure he advanced, he had to win his final match. But his opponent was Ibushi, his longtime friend.
With such a deep personal history between these two wrestlers, fans were expecting a classic. No one knew Omega better than Ibushi and Omega was said to be on a roll as the ‘Best Bout Machine’. But could he do it again? Could Omega put on another classic and defeat his closest friend? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on August 11th, 2018. It was originally rated *****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. With such high praise, certainly this was and still is an amazing historic classic of a match. But is it? Let’s take a look.
A technical exchange starts the match and ends with Ibushi flipping up following a shoulder tackle. Ibushi lands a quick dropkick and teases a dive but Omega chops him before he can do anything. Ibushi uses the rope to avoid an Irish whip so Omega lands another hard chop to the chest. Omega lands a successful whip but Ibushi counters with a massive kick to his chest. Omega blocks a second kick and charges, but gets knocked down with another roundhouse kick. Ibushi follows up with a plancha but Omega does the commonsensical thing and just moves out of the way. Omega follows by slamming him into the guardrail and then back-first into the edge of the ring. Back in the ring, Omega lands a Kotaro Crusher running facebuster for the first two-count as he gets a sudden burst of cheers from the audience.
Ibushi no-sells multiple stomps so Omega answers with a dropkick to his face. Ibushi answers that with a snapmare and a soccer kick to the base of Omega’s neck. Omega tries to copy that move but Ibushi blocks and lands a second massive kick. Things get heated as the two men trade strikes as the crowd chants along. They go back-and-forth until Omega push kicks Ibushi hard into a corner. Ibushi flips over a charging Omega and lands a snap powerslam. He goes for a second-rope moonsault but Omega gets his knees up. Omega follows with his ‘you can’t escape’ slam/moonsault combo but Ibushi returns the favor and gets his knees up. He tries to take advantage but Omega lands a snap Frankensteiner. Then Ibushi lands the same move on Omega and Omega bails to ringside. Ibushi goes for his Golden Triangle moonsault splash but Omega cuts him off and drags him onto the ring apron. Omega goes for a dragon suplex. Ibushi elbows out. Omega hits back and attempts a One-Winged Angel (OWA). Ibushi escapes and tries an over-the-rope suplex (shades of THAT match with Nakamura). But Omega counters. He pulls Ibushi down…and piledrives him into the ring apron.
After recovering a bit, Omega lands a missile dropkick to the back of Ibushi’s head followed by a fisherman knee neckbreaker for two. Omega goes for a V-Trigger knee strike. Ibushi dodges and teases a German suplex. Omega escapes and tosses Ibushi into the ropes and follows with a successful V-Trigger knee (1). He goes for OWA. Ibushi fights out. Omega counters with a deadlift German suplex and pins. Ibushi kicks out but eats another V-Trigger (2) for his defiance. Omega goes for a Tiger Driver but Ibushi escapes, so he answers with a running tornado DDT and follows that with a suicide dive to the floor.
Omega goes to the top rope but Ibushi counters with a backflip kick. Ibushi teases a top-rope powerbomb but Omega powers out, only for Ibushi to answer that with a springboard Frankensteiner for another two-count. Ibushi’s athleticism is amazing. Ibushi connects with the Golden Triangle moonsault to the floor.
Ibushi goes for another springboard kick but Omega catches him on his shoulders for OWA. Ibushi escapes and lands a martial arts rush followed by a thunderous kick and a moonsault knee splash. Damn, that looked exceptionally brutal. Ibushi goes for his Kamigoye knee strike finisher. Omega sidesteps but gets kicked in the head. Ibushi goes for a Last Ride Powerbomb. Omega escapes and goes for a V-Trigger. Ibushi blocks one but can’t block the next one (3). Ibushi fights out of a dragon suplex so Omega wheel kicks his neck. That’s followed by another V-Trigger (4), but this time in the corner. Omega goes for the top-rope dragon suplex (as a callback to his first match with Okada). They both fly off but Ibushi lands on his feet. Both men lariat each other and neither one goes down. And again. Omega knees Ibushi’s hand and then lands another V-Trigger (5). Ibushi avoids another dragon suplex and lands a German suplex of his own. Omega gets up and charges but walks into a half-and-half suplex that dumps him on his head. Ibushi follows with a vicious lariat. Both men go down. Ibushi gets up first and connects with the Last Ride Powerbomb. One, two, no, Omega kicks out. Ibushi lands his Kamigoye knee strike. One, two, thr – no, Omega survives.
Ibushi pulls his kneepad down and goes for another Kamigoye. Omega holds onto Ibushi’s leg for dear life and then starts getting up in defiance of Ibushi’s stiff strikes. Ibushi grabs Omega’s wrist and the two trade elbows while basically locked together. Back-and-forth they go. Omega gets the upper hand as Ibushi starts staggering. That is, until he fights back with a big kick. But Omega ducks another one and hits another V-Trigger (6). Ibushi goes to one knee but gets up and lands a desperation strike combo. Omega answers with a, you guessed it, V-Trigger (7). He charges again but Ibushi knocks him down with a vicious kick to the side of the head. Ibushi goes to the top rope. Phoenix Splash…misses. Omega follows with a V-Trigger (8) and a double underhook piledriver for a close two-count. Another V-Trigger (9). Omega goes for OWA. Ibushi fights out and tries to land a poisoned frankensteiner. But Omega catches his legs and lands an inverted Ganso Bomb. Good God Almighty what a vicious move. Omega pins again but Ibushi still kicks out. How is Ibushi not dead?
Omega lands a V-Trigger (10) and attempts a top-rope OWA. Ibushi elbows out and double stomps Omega’s neck. Awesome counter. But Ibushi’s not done. Tiger Driver 2001! Diving Tiger Driver! Ibushi pins. Omega kicks out once again. There’s only one thing left to do. Exposed-knee Kamigoye. Ibushi pins. One, two, three! There’s the match! Ibushi advances to the finals of the G1!
Winner after 23:13: Kota Ibushi
What a disappointing match. This was hyped up as an epic and historic dream match but failed to deliver. Despite being loaded with high spots and insane, flashy moves, the match lacked a soul. Everything came across as empty and lacking any real meaning. If you’ve seen one Kenny Omega big match, you don’t need to see this one.
Everyone tried to build this as a titanic clash between two wrestlers that hadn’t had a major match together in many years. At first, the match looked like it was going in that direction. They wrestled in a way that suggested they knew each other well. The first half of the match was filled with dodges, counters, reversals and other back-and-forth changes in control. And of course, there was the match-long story of Ibushi escaping the OWA, despite being the only person to have ever kicked out of that move.
Unfortunately, the match took a different turn after the apron piledriver. From that point in, it descended into every Omega match to have taken place before it. Omega spammed V-Trigger knees like he was being paid for each one (which is probably true), and wrestled in a way that emphasized style over substance. Watching Omega here, he gave the impression that he was desperately trying to get all of his shit into one match. And in doing so, made each pinfall seem less credible than the one before it, instead of more likely to end the match. He just wasn’t captivating; instead, he was formulaic. He stayed in his comfort zone and wrestled the same match he had wrestled many times before and it showed. Instead of bringing out something special for an opponent as important to him as Ibushi, Omega did his usual indy shtick, which consisted of selling inconsistently, landing the same combo of moves, and not really having a plan beyond ‘big move, big move, big move, pin, repeat ad nauseum’.
The real star of this match was Ibushi. He managed to mix his usual Omega-inspired batshit insanity with some realism and seriousness. When he hit Omega, he hit hard and he did a great job of suggesting he was actively fighting to win instead of holding back against a close friend. He also took an ungodly amount of punishment here, including multiple head spikes that rivaled 1990s All Japan in terms of brutality. Lastly, Ibushi did a much better job of telling a story of building up towards an exciting conclusion. He actually had a strategy here that went beyond spamming the same move like in a video game. He wore down Omega’s neck, caught him off guard with one surprise move after another, and then hit him with a maximum-strength Kamigoye to win. It was the right decision to have Ibushi win here, especially since Ibushi went on to have an outstanding singles match with Hiroshi Tanahashi the next night.
Final Rating: ****
This is easily one of the most overrated matches in modern memory. While it has some good qualities in the form of great high spots and insane bumps, those don’t have the same oomph as they used to. There’s an inherent sense of diminishing returns that you get with Omega matches, regardless of whoever he wrestles. You see the same big moves over and over and their effectiveness and ability to excite wears off. And even though Omega is undeniably a well-conditioned wrestler, his matches – like this one – tend to leave a lot to be desired.
Omega has had better matches than this one. Ibushi has also had better matches than this one. Hell, they’ve had better matches together, both as opponents and as partners. Ultimately, this match was incredibly overhyped and not really going out of your way to see. All its best qualities can be found in other matches, both involving these two and not.
Thanks for reading.