For the past eight years or so, the NJPW G1 Climax has been hyped up as the premier wrestling tournament in the world. New Japan’s annual round-robin contest has been said to showcase the best pro-wrestling in the world, with all of the wrestlers giving it their best in each and every match.
That has been true in some cases. Going back in time, I’ve seen some truly outofthisworldwrestling matches over the years that have made watching the G1 completely worth it. There have also been afewdisappointments as well over the years, with a lot of hype and praise going into matches that, in hindsight, weren’t all that good.
So which category does this match fall into? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at the singles match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi from the 2013 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 G1 Climax has been the premier annual wrestling tournament for a very long time. These days, it usually lasts around a full month, with the two blocks alternating days on which they wrestled. But when this match took place, things were different. Back then, both the A and B block wrestled on the same nights, so the wrestlers got very little time to rest between matches.
Because of that, everyone had to deal with even more pressure. Although everyone in the tournament had to deal with this, it was particularly challenging for Ibushi. This was his first G1 and he looked to make a name for himself and shake off his baggage as a junior heavyweight and ‘that crazy DDT guy’. To do that, he had to overcome several high-profile challengers, including his opponent here, Nakamura.
Nakamura was in his prime as a wrestler and was in the midst of the best run of his career. Ever since he transformed into the walking performance art piece that is ‘Swagsuke’, he stole the show night after night. But beneath that weird new persona was the same martial arts-inspired ass kicker that had been there since 2002. Nakamura hit brutally hard and achieved minor success in MMA. That combination made him especially dangerous. He loved to bully his opponents in the ring and get under their skin to the point that they’d make rash decisions. That worked in Nakamura’s favor because he’d either hit them brutally hard or lock them in a punishing hold and then win.
So not only was Ibushi out to show the world that he was more than a junior spot monkey, but he also had to deal with an obnoxious and dangerous Nakamura. But could he do it? Could Ibushi the outsider somehow survive Nakamura’s deadly strikes and avoid getting caught in one of the King of Strong Style’s mind games? There was only one way to find out.
This match originally took place on August 4, 2013, on the same night as this twelve-minute slobberknocker between Shibata and Ishii. This contest was originally rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. That aside, I’ve heard a lot of good things about it in other places as well, so let’s see how it holds up.
Both wrestlers are very tense as they circle each other in martial arts stances. Ibushi lands a quick kick and dodges a knee strike but Nakamura rushes him to the ropes. They trip each other down and dodge high-impact kicks from each other to set the tone for the rest of the match. Nakamura gets Ibushi against the ropes and does his mocking ‘head-in-his-opponent’s-gut’ taunt to get in Ibushi’s head. Ibushi rashly charges as Nakamura hoped so Nakamura counters into a grounded sleeper attempt. Ibushi wrestles out and tries to keep a guard to avoid Nakamura’s lethal knees, but Nakamura pounces on him with some grounded headlocks until Ibushi gets to the ropes. Nakamura fires away with kneelifts to Ibushi’s stomach and goes for a running kick. Ibushi ducks and dropkicks Nakamura over and out to the floor. He goes to the top rope for his triangle moonsault. But Nakamura gets to him first and kicks his face in. Ibushi falls off the top rope onto the apron and then to the floor.
Nakamura’s in control as he punishes Ibushi with knees and launches him into the barricade. Ibushi hits hard and another running strike sends Ibushi out into the crowd. Nakamura drags Ibushi onto the apron and lands a running kneelift/diving knee to the neck combo. The ref reaches the count of sixteen when Ibushi rolls into the ring. But when he does he finds himself at Nakamura’s mercy. Nakamura gets a two-count off a kneedrop and locks in a deep headlock until Ibushi reaches the ropes. Nakamura slaps Ibushi like a smug d**k and Ibushi starts getting angry. He slaps Nakamura so hard the sound echoes through the arena. Nakamura no-sells, so Ibushi hits him again. This time Nakamura hits more brutal kneelifts and then lands his Good Vibrations corner stomp. Nakamura goes to the opposite corner and charges. But Ibushi bounces up and lands a back elbow followed by a backflip kick. Ibushi follows with a springboard dropkick that gets two. A roundhouse kick/shooting star/second-rope moonsault combo also gets two. Ibushi goes to whip Nakamura into the ropes. Nakamura counters with a kneelift and a counter spinkick. This time Nakamura charges. But he runs into a snap Frankensteiner and falls to the floor. Ibushi jumps onto the apron…and lands a springboard corkscrew moonsault to the floor. Crazy move. Ibushi pins in the ring but only gets two.
Ibushi climbs to the top rope but Nakamura cuts him off with a kneelift before he can do anything. Nakamura follows with a running knee to Ibushi’s gut and pins for two and then lands more brutal knees. He goes for a stiff kick. Ibushi catches and then elbows his leg. The two men start trading stiff forearms. Ibushi eats a particularly hard one and sinks to the floor. But then he powers up and lands a martial arts rush. Nakamura manages to block a spinkick and boots Ibushi in the back of his head and follows with a high-angle backstabber. He follows with a grounded sleeper with bodyscissors. Ibushi tries to reach the ropes so Nakamura ties up his arms. Ibushi answers by reaching the ropes with his foot. Great escape.
Nakamura reapplies the sleeper as Ibushi gets to his feet. He drops Ibushi with the inverted Exploder and starts setting up the Boma Ye. Nakamura charges. Ibushi counters with a roll-up into a German suplex. Nakamura counters into his own pin for a one-count. Ibushi gets up first and lands a dragon suplex. Nakamura ducks a roundhouse kick but opens himself up to a standing corkscrew moonsault splash for another two-count.
Ibushi walks into a kneelift as he charges towards Nakamura. Nakamura goes for a diving knee strike but Ibushi cuts him off and lands a springboard hurricanrana for two. Ibushi teases a Last Ride powerbomb. Nakamura blocks and goes for a fireman’s carry. Ibushi escapes and connects with a roundhouse kick. Last Ride connects. Ibushi pins but only gets two so he goes to the top rope. Phoenix Splash…connects…with Nakamura’s knees. BOMA YE! Both men collapse.
Nakamura gets up first and literally kicks Ibushi from the middle of the ring into a corner. He starts stomping the s**t out of Ibushi, hitting as hard as he can. Ibushi responds by firing up and connects with palm strikes. Nakamura tries blocking but his guard falls apart. Ibushi connects with a stiff right hand. Nakamura answers with a knee strike. Ibushi blocks it and lands a huge wind-up clothesline. Ibushi signals the end and roundhouse kicks the back of Nakamura’s head. One, two, thr – no, Nakamura kicks out. Ibushi pulls a Nakamura and stomps on his opponent’s head. He puts Nakamura on the top turnbuckle and tries a Phoenix-plex. Nakamura fights out and lands a diving knee strike. And then another. And then lands a second running BOMA YE. He pins. Ibushi kicks out at one. Nakamura charges one more time. A third, full-power Boma Ye connects. One, two, and three! Nakamura wins!
Winner after 19:18: Shinsuke Nakamura
Given its original rating, I was expecting something amazing here. But that’s not what was on display. This match was…good. Not amazing or must-see; just good. If you like Nakamura or Ibushi, it’s worth watching. But if you’re not too sold on either guy, there are better matches of theirs to see first, which I’ll get to.
The match told a simple story. Ibushi was the plucky underdog looking to move up to the heavyweight class. But to do that, he had to get past a still-taking-this-seriously Nakamura, who was as dangerous as they got back then. Nakamura did what he did best here and toyed with Ibushi during the early goings, which made it easier for the crowd to rally behind Ibushi. But as hard as he tried, Ibushi just wasn’t at that level yet. He landed his cool moves here and there and tried to surpass Nakamura, but couldn’t shift into that final gear. He teased going to that desperation dark place, but didn’t get there in time, nor did it translate into much. Sure, he hit a few quick palm strikes and a sick lariat, but that wasn’t enough to shake Nakamura of his confidence. Nakamura goaded Ibushi into swinging wildly, and used that rashness and anger to shotgun blast Ibushi’s head in with Boma Ye knee strikes. With that result, Nakamura proved that he was still as dangerous as ever and used his weird gimmick to lull his opponent into a false sense of security, while Ibushi did a solid job of taking an utter thrashing and looking great in defeat.
And yet, this match just doesn’t hold up that well. This is one of those cases where reviewing things at random and not chronologically causes a match to suffer. In this case, this 2013 contest is completely overshadowed by the Nakamura-Ibushi rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 9. That match was an improved version of this one in every conceivable way. Everything this match did well, that later match did better. They went to greater lengths and hit higher highs than they did here. Because of that, this match comes across as completely inferior. It’s impossible to look at this match without comparing it to that one. And while this match did have some positives about it, the WK9 match renders this one largely forgettable.
The only real difference here is that Nakamura does a bit more mat wrestling and seems to rely more on his amateur side in the opening minutes. Aside from that, though, there isn’t anything truly exceptional here. Nakamura brutalized Ibushi here but did a better job of it at WK9. Ibushi survived getting mauled and seemed to go to that dark place to show off his craziness here, only for that little sub-story to be explored better and in more detail in their later rematch. Even the explosive ending sequence that New Japan has become famous for reached around a 9 here and a 10 in their later match.
Final Rating: ****1/4
If the Wrestle Kingdom 9 match between these two wrestlers never happened, there’s a good chance this match would look much better in hindsight. While it might’ve been great live, we know now that they took the winning formula they started with here and improved upon it significantly soon afterward. As a result, this match, while strong for a throwaway match, doesn’t really hold up that well.
Then again, this should tell you how great these two wrestlers were/are. Many wrestlers would claim such a contest as the best of their careers; but for Nakamura and Ibushi it was just another day at the office. They told a great story here, but they knew that they could do more and go further. This was like an appetizer for what they could do; the real main course wouldn’t come for another year and a half.