5-Star Match Reviews: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega – NJPW G1 Climax 2018
Every year, many wrestling fans watch the G1 Climax to see great pro-wrestling. for several years now, the G1 has been a hotbed of great matches. Some of them have been so great that they’ve been immortalized as not just the best matches in the tournament’s history, or even the best matches in New Japan history, but as the best matches of all time.
Today we’re looking back at one such a match. When it first took place, a lot of fans called it the best match of the year (which is saying a lot given how crazy 2018 was). Even though it had some flaws and obvious mistakes, people still hailed it as something special. now, with over three years of hindsight, let’s look back to see how great it really was.
It’s time to revisit the G1 singles match between Kenny Omega and Tomohiro Ishii.
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 New Japan’s annual G1 Climax round-robin tournament. Omega was the favorite in his bracket because he was both world champion and because he was in the midst of what many called the best run of his career. He was on fire and that led to both many wins and many great matches. In fact, going into this match, Omega was undefeated in the tournament. He had already won in matches against Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto, Tama Tonga, Juice Robinson, SANADA, and Zack Sabre, Jr. But awaiting him in his next challenge was Tomohiro Ishii.
Ishii is quite possibly the best example of ‘never judge a book by its cover’ in modern pro-wrestling. He’s a short, balding midcarder that looks like a fire hydrant in bike shorts. But make no mistake about it: this fire hydrant can kick anyone’s ass. Ishii is famous for taking ungodly beatings and still persevering. And while that has been and can be said about many wrestlers, Ishii’s the best at telling that story. So many of his opponents underestimate him and think he’ll be a cakewalk, only for Ishii to withstand almost everything they have to offer. Most wrestlers are therefore forced to go the extra mile just to beat him. And even if they beat him, he leaves them with enough battle scars to make them respect him.
But despite Ishii’s reputation, his career success wasn’t as strong. Even though he was respected and in some cases feared, he was a respected and feared midcarder. His big wins were few and far between and most of his singles runs involved lower-card titles. Most of his biggest wins against aces and champions were seen as flukes. Here, Ishii hoped to change that. He hoped to channel the fans’ admiration into not only a big win against Omega, but also a future world title shot.
This match originally took place on August 4th, 2018. It was rated *****1/2 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. In other words, it’s claimed to be better than almost every match from the past forty years. But is it really? Let’s find out.
They lock-up and Omega pushes Ishii to the ropes. Omega slaps Ishii’s balding head in an over-the-top manner so Ishii powers him to the ropes on their next lock-up. Omega ducks a chop and slaps Ishii’s head in the same way again. He slaps Ishii square in the jaw and hits other different strikes. But Ishii doesn’t even flinch. Ishii does one of those ‘go on, hit me again’ taunts and Omega does. Ishii fires back with a nasty head-butt. Omega starts running the ropes and collides with Ishii on a botched leapfrog, leading to a stalemate. Omega hits some corner chops and sends Ishii into the opposite corner but Ishii charges back out and lands a big shoulder tackle. Omega ducks a sliding lariat. Ishii ducks a V-Trigger. Omega walks up to Ishii and mocks him some more. He goes for a suplex. Ishii reverses and drops Omega. Ishii returns the favor from earlier and hits Omega with chops and head slaps. Omega rakes Ishii’s eyes and smashes Ishii into the turnbuckle but Ishii gets right in his face. Omega answers with a DDT and then hits his ‘You can’t escape’ fireman’s carry slam/moonsault combo for a two-count. He follows with a camel clutch-style facelock and twists Ishii’s face and neck in the process. After a while, Omega kicks Ishii’s spine but Ishii sits up and asks for more. And in a rare display, Ishii actually smiles. He smiles as Omega punts him as hard as possible. Ishii no-sells those kicks and stomps, jumps to his feet, and chops Omega’s throat. Omega hits back with a chop of his own and sends Ishii into the ropes, but Ishii reverses the Irish whip and hits a powerslam. Omega goes flying into a corner.
Ishii hits a chop/elbow combo in the corner and goes to whip Omega but Omega counters, Ishii ducks a clothesline and hits a backdrop suplex for a two-count of his own. Ishii goes for a powerbomb but loses his balance and Omega escapes. Ishii hits a forearm and charges but Omega lands a snap hurricanrana and sends Ishii to the floor. Suicide dive. Omega tosses Ishii into the ring and lands a legdrop bulldog for another two-count.
Omega goes for a piledriver but Ishii rushes him into a corner and hits more chops. Omega fires back with one gunshot-like chop but Ishii tanks it like a boss so Omega spits in his face. Omega hits some forearms. Ishii doesn’t even flinch. Omega keeps trying. Ishii floors him with a massive elbow of his own. Suddenly Ishii starts feeling the pain in his own neck from Omega’s offense and slumps over. He sends Omega into a corner but Omega manages to kick Ishii first. Omega charges out. Ishii ducks and German suplexes Omega into the turnbuckle pad. Nice.
Ishii lands a superplex and pins for a two-count. He signals for Omega to get up and charges for a lariat but Omega ducks and hits a running swing DDT. Omega goes for a dragon suplex. Ishii head-butts out. Omega lands a V-Trigger knee strike and goes for another Kotaro Crusher bulldog. Ishii ducks and hits a German suplex and then powers up. He runs to the ropes for a lariat. Omega gets a boot up. Ishii spins around it and decks Omega with a discus lariat. Followed by a sliding lariat. All targeting Omega’s neck. One two, Omega kicks out.
The crowd starts really waking up as Ishii goes for a Brainbuster but Omega blocks and hits an elbow smash. Ishii blocks a One-Winged Angel and actually tries that move on Omega. Omega escapes and hits a spinning wheel kick to the back of Ishii’s head. Ishii falls face-first into the corner. V-Trigger #2! Ishii collapses down but Omega doesn’t pin. Ligerbomb. Ishii kicks out. Omega pulls Ishii up a bit and hits his third V-Trigger. That’s followed by another. Ishii looks like he’s unconscious but Omega continues to stall and play around. He hits a 5th T-Trigger. But Ishii stays put. He doesn’t sink down, scream, or even budge. He tanks a full-contact knee and fires up like an absolute madman. V-Trigger #6. Ishii hulks up and Ishii lariats him on the ropes. Ishii charges for another lariat but Omega meets him on the opposite ropes with V-Trigger #7. Omega charges, ducks a lariat, and hits V-Trigger #8. Snap dragon suplex connects. Ishii fights up to his feet. Both men charge each other. Omega hits first with a lariat. One, two, and – NO, Ishii survives. Omega signals the end and goes for the OWA. Ishii head-butts out and hits his own dragon suplex. Ishii charges, Omega goes for a snap Frankensteiner and – no, Ishii counters with a powerbomb. Both men collapse. This is pure lunacy.
Both wrestlers get to their knees and trade strikes with Omega hitting forearms and Ishii landing head-butts. Omega hits a few forearms and Ishii staggers and fights hard to stay on his feet. Then Omega lands a chop to the chest. Big mistake. Ishii fires up again and hits some one-two elbow smash combos. Omega responds with a bitchslap and a poisoned Frankensteiner. Another brutal head-spike. V-Trigger #9. Ishii rolls onto the apron. Omega springboards and lands a double stomp from over the rope. Both men fall to ringside.
Omega tosses Ishii into the ring and goes to the top rope. Missile dropkick to the back of Ishii’s head. That’s followed by an Aoi Shoudou cross-legged fisherman neckbreaker to the knee. Omega pins but only gets two again. Both men are now bleeding from the mouth. Omega goes for OWA. Ishii escapes and tries to lift him up into a Tombstone. Omega escapes and lands a backslide. He goes for yet another V-Trigger. Ishii catches Omega’s leg and goes for a head-butt. Omega hits first with an elbow and then charges. Ishii sidesteps to avoid a V-Trigger and tries a German. Omega lands on his feet. V-Trigger #10. One, two, Ishii kicks out again. J-Driller double-underhook piledriver. Ishii kicks out again at 2.9 this time! The crowd is now firmly behind Ishii. Omega pulls down his kneepad for his next knee strike. V-Trigger #11 with the exposed knee connects. One, two, and thr – Ishii kicks out yet again. Omega tries the OWA once more. Ishii elbows out into a crucifix driver. Sick counter. One, two, Omega kicks out. Ishii powers up again and charges for a lariat. he hits but Omega protect his head with his arms. Ishii answers with an enzui lariat to the back of Omega’s head. Followed by two more lariats. Ishii charges again. Omega ax handles Ishii’s arm and hits v-Trigger #11. Omega charges again. Ishii hits a pop-up head-butt. Followed by another full-power head-butt. LARIATO! One, two, and th – no, Omega kicks out. Ishii goes for a Brainbuster. No, Omega counters into a Brainbuster of his own. Ishii kicks out at one! Omega charges again…and runs into another lariat. Omega escapes another Brainbuster attempt but eats another head-butt. V-Trigger #12. Ishii answers with an enzuigiri. Omega swings one last time. Ishii counters. Sheerdrop Brainbuster connects. Ishii pins. One of Omega’s shoulders lifts up off the ground. One, two, and three! The match is over!
Winner after 22:42: Tomohiro Ishii
There are so many different words to describe that match: bonkers, insane, ludicrous, brutal, violent, exhausting, high-octane, surreal, stupendous, stupefying, the list goes on. This was something else. It was one of the wildest New Japan-style fights in a long time and easily one of the best matches in the already-stacked calendar year that was 2018.
The story was that Omega was much more cocky and obnoxious than usual. He had a long history of being silly, but he put that aside for the most part once his main-event push began. But he brought that back out here because, to him, Ishii wasn’t shit. To Omega, Ishii was still a lowly midcarder that had no chance of beating him. So he mocked Ishii to his face, only for that ploy to blow up in his face as Ishii proceeded to beat him bloody. Maybe that was Omega’s secret plan all along; he’s probably aware he has some detractors and used that fan dislike (along with Ishii’s unyielding fan support) to turn this into a fantastic and cathartic underdog story for Ishii. Ishii’s story has been one of never-ending hope. He seems to rack up big wins against top guys almost every year in amazing performances. And even though he has yet to really win the big one, he has wrestled so well (including here) that maybe he, like Kane in WWE, doesn’t need to be champion to be respected and admired.
In terms of the actual wrestling, well, that’s where things get a bit weird. Ishii did here what Ishii does best: SMASH! Ishii is a straightforward wrestler: despite being short he hit brutally hard and withstood inhuman punishment. The way he sold was amazing; he tried so hard not to show even the slightest bit of pain or exhaustion but that was too difficult. Still, he beat Omega up badly by throwing him around and hitting like a runaway freight train. It’s clear why Ishii’s such an entertaining wrestler these days: his tenacity and brutality make him look like an underdog and a superhero at the same time. It’s an unusual combination, but Ishii makes it work. He can have more or less the exact same match with any opponent and it’ll still be awesome.
Omega, on the other hand, went a bit off the rails here. While he still showed tremendous conditioning, timing, and skill, he seemed a bit more unchained compared to Ishii. Ishii competed in a way that made everything he does seem logical and necessary. Omega was the opposite: he was excessive, self-indulgent and repetitive. Not only did he spam V-Triggers like this was his Dominion match with Okada, but his wrestling structure almost came across as a checklist. Seriously, creating a bingo game out of a Kenny Omega match is the worst thing you can do because you’ll win easily in every match, including here. Even though his moves look cool and make psychological sense – he constantly hits his opponent’s head and neck with brutal precision – he veers into overkill territory way too often, as he did here.
The last ten minutes of the match, while undeniably crazy with the constant counters and how-can-he-survive-that-and-still-keep-going brutality, were also a bit too wacky. There was this long sequence of Omega just spamming knee after knee, head spike after head spike, only for Ishii to not only get up but get up instantly. Ishii withstood so much punishment and kept kicking out of Omega’s biggest moves yet he didn’t adjust his strategy. He still kept checking moves off his list instead of skipping moves that he should’ve realized weren’t working. In a weird sort of way, this match reminded me of that dreadful Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend Hell in a Cell match from 2019. In that match, Rollins spammed stomps and they had no effect. Omega did the thing here with his V-Triggers and Ishii tanked all of them. Because of that, both Rollins’ stomp and Omega’s V-Trigger should no longer be taken seriously by anyone. When you overuse a move like that and they still don’t win you the match, it goes beyond diminishing returns. The move should be retired at that point because no one’s going to believe it ends matches; and if by some miracle a wrestler does lose to that move, it makes them look weak for doing so.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Even with a few flaws in execution and Kenny Omega being, well, Kenny Omega, this match is still fantastic. It’s just not as historically great as some people might’ve argued when it first took place. Ishii managed to do something special here: not only did he score a huge singles pinfall over the world champion, but he took (almost) everything Omega had to offer and survived. And Omega was the same. This was as surreal as it gets in pro-wrestling. These two men survived unbelievable shitkickings from each other but one man managed to hit hard enough to keep his opponent down long enough to win. Ishii barely survived and not only did he get two more points in the tournament, but he earned a world title shot that would take place a few months later.
Is the match violent? Yes. Is it brutal? Yes. Is it unrealistic? Absolutely. Do both wrestlers go well beyond the realm of possibility to make you believe they’re both superhumanly tough? For sure. And even though it’s a bit silly and excessive, that sort of match is needed from time to time. Although realism in pro-wrestling is always a great thing, sometimes one needs a bit of the opposite as well to suspend disbelief.
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.