by Nate Dimit
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi
Wrestle Kingdom 9 - 01/04/2015 - New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Pro Wrestling is a professional wrestling promotion that offers this:
In addition to this:
New Japan Pro Wrestling is arguably the No. 2 wrestling promotion on the planet right now. WWE is a monopoly, a conquering giant, and the gap between WWE and New Japan (NJPW) is sizable. WWE is a global entertainment empire. They put on shows worldwide, they put out their own line of films, their superstars sell clothing lines at K-Mart, and on top of all of that, they’re publicly traded on the stock market. NJPW is technically Japan’s answer to the WWE’s product; however, they exist in a completely different universe. Think Marvel vs D.C. or Microsoft vs Apple. Sure, both companies offer comic books and computers but they come in different packages. WWE and NJPW both offer professional wrestling, but what separates the two goes a lot further than just the language barrier.
The two companies tend to make a good complimentary pair. WWE focuses more on their storylines and visual presentations, while NJPW has a tendency to center their efforts more on their intense in-ring action and to-the-point promos. WWE is fantastic at creating individual moments whereas NJPW puts on a more cohesive story through their matches. I get the same feeling from watching a WWE storyline reach its (hopefully logical) climax as I do watching a 5-star performance from NJPW. Another simple comparison to make is that the WWE presents itself as a television show: 3 hours of primetime cable TV every Monday. They care about ratings while matches and segments align themselves for commercial breaks to happen. NJPW presents their product as more of a legitimate sport. Yes, they’re both fake fighting and the winners and losers are predetermined, but in the realm of New Japan, their characters are affected by their outcomes. There are plenty of WWE matches that simply exist to entertain the audience and there’s nothing on the line. The wrestlers involved are generally non-plused by who wins or loses these matches. This is a rare occurrence in NJPW. Wrestlers are driven to win in order to move up the card, win coveted championships and earn more money. Think of why a UFC fighter would want to win their fights.
Japanese crowds are also completely opposite from WWE’s. Japan’s crowds are respectful and appreciative of what they are witnessing. They stay quiet until it’s appropriate to react, and they go bonkers when they do. Meanwhile, bored WWE fans chant for the TV announcers and former legends.
NJPW’s matches also lean towards the stiff side. “Strong style” is a technique often utilized that is a mix of strong strikes and legitimate submission and grappling holds. Two competitors will take turns chopping each other in the chest and be tied up into a pretzel within 30 seconds. One of their previous chairmen and owners, Antonio Inoki, would often hire legitimate MMA fighters and in return, send his wrestlers to MMA camps to train. Turns out that this isn’t exactly a two way street, but that’s a story for another piece. The strong style helps make matches look a little more “real,” which really adds into the whole aesthetic of NJPW being presented more as sport.
I hate to admit I don’t keep up with New Japan Pro Wrestling as much as I should. I’m not as well-versed in their rich history as I am with American pro-wrestling, but I know their roots are deeply entrenched with mixed martial arts. It’s a little more difficult to obtain and watch live - legally - as opposed to turning on the USA Network at 7:00 on a Monday night. Their live pay-per-view events usually start around 1am Saturday night and can run for 4 or 5 hours; not exactly a time I’m looking to stream a live show on my laptop. I do keep up with results from their events and will go out of my way to find a match I hear great things about. Luckily for us North American fans, we were offered a reasonable solution.
Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling (GFW) offered Wrestle Kingdom 9 on American pay per view for a sensible price on a Sunday night, a night American pro-wrestling fans are more accustomed to. Additionally, they contracted the legendary Jim “JR” Ross and former WWE announcer Matt Striker to call the show in English. GFW pulled out all of the stops in hopes to hook in new fans and I hope they succeeded. Now, on to the show.
Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan’s Wrestlemania. It’s their biggest event of the year that culminates months of storylines and acts as a bit of a season finale.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi met once in 2013 in what was regarded as one of the best matches of the year. They faced off during the G1 Climax, a round robin tournament that takes place every summer. I had watched this match prior and could tell the two had chemistry in the ring and I was prepared for them to work together once again.
Kota Ibushi is the younger of the two competitors and the challenger for Nakamura’s championship, the IWGP Intercontinental title. The Intercontinental Title is NJPW’s secondary title. It’s on a slightly lower tier than their Heavyweight championship, but it’s held in high regard and it’s presented as a legitimate championship. The WWE also has an intercontinental championship, but usually that title is kept on wrestlers in the middle of the card. New Japan’s Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts can take turns as the main event at their shows and nobody bats an eye.
Ibushi has worked all over the world honing his craft as a high flying wrestler. He’s trained in lucha libre, karate and boxing, all of which tie into his in-ring style. His character is a fiery young upstart, looking to upstage the veteran Nakamura and pave the way for younger, hungrier wrestlers looking to take over the top spots of the promotion. The crowds are behind Ibushi and go crazy for his high flying maneuvers. Since his previous match with Nakamura, Ibushi has graduated from NJPW’s Jr. Heavyweight division to their Heavyweight section due to a concussion and extended time off. Ibushi has held his own against many of New Japan’s top stars. Ibushi reminds me a lot of Rey Mysterio. They’re both smaller and faster than many of their opponents with tons of crowd support backing them. Ibushi and Mysterio also both play the role of scrappy underdog well.
I don’t want to downplay Ibushi, he’s absolutely a credible challenger, but Nakamura’s entire character operates on a different plane of existence than many professional wrestlers.
Shinsuke Nakamura is on a completely different level.
Nakamura’s been in NJPW for over 10 years and is the veteran in this match. He’s a multiple time Intercontinental and Heavyweight champion and a winner of the G1 Climax tournament. He wrestles a style that’s a combination of mat wrestling, “strong style” and mixed martial arts. He’s been known to be a high flyer on occasion as well. He’s technically sound in the ring but what really sells him is his character. Nakamura has claimed himself as the “King of Strong Style” while many fans refer to him as the “King of Swag.” As much as I hate to use that word, his swagger really is off the charts. I’ve heard him referred to as the Danny Brown of wrestling, an apt comparison. He really presents an electricity similar to The Rock. Nakamura can play either hero or villain with ease while holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. His “boma-ye” finishing move is a brutal knee strike directly to the opponent’s head.
Their bout was a fantastic mix of everything I like to see in a match: physicality, high flying action, dramatic near-falls and innovative moves. These two beat the hell out of each other and really sold the fact that both of them wanted to win. Ibushi wants to unseat the champion and move up the ranks. Nakamura wants to teach the young lion a lesson and prove he can’t beat the master. Their match had that “big fight feel” that only comes along so often in the world of wrasslin’.
Ibushi makes his entrance by being launched out of the stage, Rey Mysterio style.
Nakamura comes out adorning a crown in a subtle reference to King Zarkon from Voltron, and a nod to his “King of Strong Style” nickname.
As the veteran, Nakamura controlled the flow of the match and the organization of high spots and moves. Nakamura starts out with a handshake and a sign of respect. Ibushi responds and Nakamura goes right for the attack. Dastardly. The two go back in forth in the ring some more and Ibushi begins to steal some of Nakamura’s moves and mannerisms. I should mention the addition of having English commentary was a great perk for me during this show. The Japanese shows are watchable and can suffice on just in-ring action alone, but being able to have moves called and backstory elaborated on was excellent. JR was on his game for play-by-play, while Striker was serviceable with his color commentary.
Ibushi continued the match by pulling out every trick in his arsenal. Roundhouse kicks, standing backflips, and this jaw-dropping move:
After some more back and forth action Ibushi sets up for the move of the match - a springboard german suplex from the outside of the ring:
This move was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, fully cementing New Japan Pro Wrestling as leagues ahead of any other promotion, and Ibushi as a top-tier talent. Of course, there’s a lot more to that than just flashy moves, but in the psychology of the match Ibushi tried something unheard of in order to try and get the win, and the championship.
Unfortunately, Ibushi got slightly too cocky and missed his finisher, a top rope 450 degree splash, Nakamura took advantage of this opening and punished Ibushi until he picked up the victory.
Nakamura wins and continues his reign as a fighting champion while Ibushi comes out of this looking like a new star, even in defeat. Ibushi fought valiantly, if - and when - they have a rematch down the line, the win for Ibushi will mean even more. They packed a lot of action and story in just a mere 20 minutes. Nakamura further cements himself as a Japanese wrestling legend while also helping pave the way for Ibushi.
Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, noted long-time wrestling critic and journalist rated this match 5 stars, a rating he doesn’t hand out too often and I’m inclined to agree. There’s been a bit of time since the match happened where the buzz has died down a little, but if there are better matches or better shows in store then we, wrestling fans, are in for a treat in 2015. This is a match I’ll be talking about for years. This is a match I want to show my kids someday, if I ever have any.
A good match is a match that’s enjoyable at the time but in the grand scheme of things could end up forgettable. A great match is something timeless and classic that I want to watch again sometime in the future. This is one of those matches I watched twice in a week. Truly showing why New Japan Pro Wrestling calls themselves “King of Sports.”