Every summer New Japan Pro-Wrestling blesses the wrestling fandom with their annual G1 Climax tournament. That tournament brings about the best singles matches NJPW has to offer and leads to match-ups not seen throughout the rest of the year.
And while some tournaments have been hit or miss (2020 and 2021 were disappointing), every G1 from 2013 to 2019 has had at least one amazing, must-see match. Although many wrestlers have put on career best matches during the G1, there’s one guy whose career had such a massive upswing that he has been named the MVP of the G1 more than anyone else: Tomohiro Ishii.
This tiny man went from being a perpetual undercarder to one of the most exciting singles wrestlers in not just New Japan, but all of Japanese wrestling. Something happened in 2013 that flipped a switch and turned him into arguably the most exciting brawler in the world. And today we look back at another one of the epics that helped build that reputation of his.
Today we revisit Ishii’s match with Shinsuke Nakamura from the 2014 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.
This match took place during the 2014 G1 Climax. Prior to 2015, wrestlers in both tournament brackets wrestled on the same nights instead of on alternating nights. Because of that, the wrestlers had much less time to rest up between matches. That put additional pressure on everyone, especially considering how hard-hitting the New Japan style was.
This was a special match because Nakamura and Ishii were stablemates at the time. Both were founding members of the CHAOS stable, and Nakamura was the group’s leader since its inception in April 2009. That made sense; even though he debuted much later than Ishii, Nakamura had more main-event experience and championship success. As such him leading CHAOS was the logical choice.
For most of the year, Nakamura and Ishii teamed together as part of NJPW’s perpetual stable warfare concept. The only times they weren’t together were in title matches, which for them was often because Nakamura was a frequent world title challenger/defender. But Ishii didn’t have the same luck because he was still on the lower end of the totem pole. So even though Nakamura and Ishii spent most of the year fighting side-by-side, any tension or disagreement between them could only be settled in the G1.
And so, fans were treated to something historic. This was the first time ever that Nakamura and Ishii were to face off one-on-one. They had been on opposing sides in tag matches before, but never in singles competition. Plus, both of them had been in the same stable for almost five full years. Even in the most tight-knit of groups, there must’ve been at least something between them that would lead to a great match. Was it jealousy? Bitterness? The promise of glory? Or the simple desire to see two brothers have a “friendly” fight to see if they both deserved their current roles?
Needless to say, this was going to be great.
This match originally took place on August 1st, 2014, on the same night as this memorable G1 match between AJ Styles and Minoru Suzuki. This contest was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, and I’ve seen many people praise it elsewhere as well. Let’s see how well it holds up now.
Ishii gets the early advantages with some clean breaks on lock-ups. They trade holds and armlocks until Nakamura gets Ishii to the ropes, at which point he mocks him with his head-in-gut taunt. Nakamura offers a handshake but Ishii walks up to him and slaps him in the face. That angers Nakamura and he hits some stiff kneelifts and the match speeds up big time. Ishii counters an Irish whip and lands a powerslam. He goes for a sliding lariat but Nakamura ducks and goes for the Boma Ye/Kinshasa. Ishii ducks that, leading to a stalemate.
Ishii takes the fight to Nakamura with forearms until Nakamura knees him into a corner. Nakamura goes for his vibrations foot choke but Ishii grabs his foot and hits a stiff elbow. Ishii charges but Nakamura forces him back into a corner and drapes him on the top rope. Nakamura charges for his running kneelift. Ishii dodges and goes for a lariat off the apron. But Nakamura dodges and kicks Ishii’s head. Draping DDT by Nakamura. Now he lands his good vibrations foot choke. But that’s not enough. Now Nakamura wants to put Ishii in his place. He starts kicking Ishii’s head in mocking fashion and challenges him to get up. Ishii does and pushes forward despite several kicks from Nakamura. Ishii no-sells and gets right in Nakamura’s face with his own trash talk. They trade stiff forearms. Both men stagger and Nakamura goes to one knee. Nakamura hits harder and gets Ishii on the top turnbuckle. He connects with a running kneelift and pins but only gets two.
Nakamura attempts his reverse Exploder suplex but Ishii powers out. Ishii blocks not one but two kicks and hits some elbows and hits a chop to the throat. Ishii doesn’t hold back and lands some more and follows with a corner lariat. He follows with a delayed second-rope superplex and pins but Nakamura kicks out. Folding powerbomb. Nakamura kicks out again. Ishii charges for a lariat. Nakamura counters with a sleeper hold. Ishii tries to counter with a Backdrop suplex. Nakamura blocks and switches to a front chancery. Ishii tries to counter into a Brainbuster. Nakamura blocks that too and connects with the inverted Exploder. Nakamura teases the Boma Ye but Ishii dropkicks him mid-pose. Both men collapse.
The fans chant for Ishii as he trade forearms with Nakamura once again. Ishii charges into a corner but Nakamura boots him and lands a second-rope dropkick. He tries the Boma Ye again. Ishii hits first with a running lariat. Both guys drop once again. Ishii gets up first, lariats the back of Nakamura’s head, and then uses the inverted Exploder on Nakamura for a two-count. Ishii charges for a running lariat. Nakamura ducks and goes for a German suplex but exposes himself to Ishii’s elbows, so he tries another sleeper. But Ishii throws him off and charges for the lariat again. Nakamura counters with a flying armbar. Ishii blocks it by clasping his hands together. But it’s no use. Nakamura locks in the hold. Ishii squirms until he gets to the ropes.
Nakamura kicks Ishii’s now-weakened right shoulder and lands an enzuigiri as Ishii tries to trap one of his legsa. Nakamura charges this time. Ishii answers with a left-arm lariat. He follows with a right-arm lariat this time and pins. One, two, Nakamura kicks out. Ishii attempts a Brainbuster. Nakamura blocks it with a knee to Ishii’s head in midair. Ishii dodges two Boma Ye’s and head-butts Nakamura. Sliding lariat connects. Nakamura barely kicks out. He blocks another Brainbuster attempt so Ishii hits another stiff forearm. Ishii charges but Nakamura gets his foot up. Ishii catches that leg but Nakamura lands a successful kick with his free leg, followed by a Backstabber. Boma Ye to the back of Ishii’s head. Nakamura can’t pin right away due to the exhaustion from taking Ishii’s attacks.
Both men charge at each other and collide in the middle of the ring. Ishii taunts Nakamura and hits him with a lariat. Nakamura sells it but doesn’t get off his feet. They smash each other with more forearms. Ishii mocks Nakamura some more, tanks some elbows to the face, and then unloads a one-two elbow combo. Nakamura absorbs those and slaps the taste out of Ishii’s mouth. Ishii answers with an enzuigiri. Nakamura staggers and hits a Boma Ye. Ishii kicks out at one! Diving Boma Ye. Ishii kicks out at two. Nakamura charges for one more. Ishii catches his leg and lands another head-butt. Both men charge. Nakamura hits first with a fourth Boma Ye. One, two, three! There’s the match!
Winner after 15:14: Shinsuke Nakamura
There’s a very good reason why the Wrestling Observer’s readers voted Ishii the Best Brawler from 2014 to 2019. He was so great at putting on these intense and brutal hoss fights despite looking like a fire hydrant in bike shorts. And once again, he pulled out another career best performance here when he went to war with his stablemate Nakamura in one of the best under-fifteen-minute matches of the past twenty years.
The story here was that Nakamura acted cocky when facing his CHAOS underling and wanted Ishii to bring out his best. That arrogance nearly cost him the match since Ishii was more than happy to oblige. Ishii did here what he does best: he threw bombs at his opponent while taking an equally savage beating. But Ishii isn’t like everyone else. He does something special that makes his fights more captivating. Ishii takes a beating and refuses to sell at first, but then it hits him afterwards. He’s fully aware of the pain his opponent’s causing him but refuses to show it until he can’t hide it anymore and then sells like he’s in extreme pain. He is strong style fighting spirit personified. He keeps pushing forward and demands his opponent hit him with their best, and he fight hard both to withstand the damage they deal and to win the match.
That’s exactly what happened here. After a subdued opening two minutes without much flair, things kicked into high gear almost on the flip of a switch. Nakamura decided to annoy Ishii and goad him into bringing out his best, which only served to poke the bear. Ishii had enough of Nakamura’s nonsense and took the fight right to him in typical Ishii fashion: with stiff strikes and high-impact bombs. There was no complex scientific grappling or gradual limb damage; this was a brawl. A stiff, no-nonsense brawl.
Nakamura tried to maintain control with his superior height and reach advantage. But Ishii was like a boulder rolling down a mountain gaining speed. He kept going and going and going, hitting harder each time and stopping Nakamura each time he thought he had the match won. And as the match progressed, the fans got more behind Ishii because he was so convincing in his role. He was channeling fighting spirit so well that he was somehow both a believable underdog and a heroic conqueror at the same time. People wanted to see Ishii have another epic G1 win like he did against Shibata the year prior.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Ishii’s one-dimensional strategy, while being entertaining and logical, exposed him to easy manipulation from Nakamura. Ishii’s tendency to throw bombs and running attacks allowed Nakamura to bide his time and let Ishii gain some steam until he found the right time to strike. That happened when Nakamura landed a flying armbar and nearly tore Ishii’s arm off. Ishii realized he had a weakened lariat arm, but swung with it anyway because, as I mentioned earlier, his whole gimmick was that he refused to let anyone see that he was in pain. So he tried to soldier on as if nothing had happened, but that approach failed. Nakamura got his opening and gradually began to withstand Ishii’s bombs one after another. Ishii’s first successful lariat got him a two-count since it was already weakened due to the armbar. His next one didn’t even take Nakamura off his feet. Ishii resorted to hitting anything that he could, but his lack of technique was still his undoing. Nakamura was able to find counters for Ishii’s biggest moves, and when he couldn’t, he took a page out of Ishii’s book and just absorbed big strikes. Nakamura did eventually get his win, but Ishii remained defiant until the very end. That forced Nakamura to basically use the wrestling equivalent of a stick of dynamite to blow up the rolling boulder before it flattened him.
It was a terrific story, though not a perfect one. Even though everything in it was sound, the match lacked a certain something needed to make it to that elite level. Maybe it was the crowd; they made some noise but they weren’t screaming wildly or anything. Maybe it was the silliness of the action. Despite featuring two badasses that trash-talked each other and refused to go down, some of their interactions were a bit comical and over-the-top. Or maybe it was the overall story of the match being undercut by a somewhat flat finish. Ishii did such a masterful job being the underdog while still asking Nakamura ‘is that all you got?’ that Nakamura’s sudden victory dampened the atmosphere. Whatever the case, there’s some small element (or maybe a group of them) that makes this a near-flawless fight instead of a perfect one.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Any time Ishii’s given the freedom to do what he does best, you’re in for a great match and that’s what happened here. He’s one of the few New Japan wrestlers with an actual gimmick, and that gimmick is that he’s a human boulder that hits brutally hard and takes an ungodly amount of punishment that he tries his best to hide. That dynamic meshed incredibly well with Nakamura’s arrogance and superiority, which led to one of the most exciting fifteen-minute you’ll ever see.
It’s not Ishii’s best match (that would be this fight), nor is it Nakamura’s (that honor goes to this match). But for two guys that never faced off one-on-one before this, you’d think they had faced each other hundreds of times, such was the greatness of their chemistry here.