Towards the end of 2014, Kota Ibushi announced that he was moving to New Japan’s Heavyweight Division. Kota was no stranger to Heavyweight competition, he’d competed in the 2013 G1, but he’d done so while still officially a Junior (much like Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi did this year). Now, he was only wrestling the big boys, and for his first challenge? He went after Shinsuke Nakamura’s Intercontinental Title.
As these two kicked things off, there was a feeling that Shinsuke didn’t take Ibushi’s challenge entirely seriously. He’s always presented himself as arrogant, but there was a casualness to the way he approached Kota, treating him as if he expected to blow through him. To a certain extent, that arrogance was backed up by what was happening. While Ibushi had his moments, hitting the Golden Triangle Moonsault for one, Nakamura was in control, and as he started stomping on Ibushi’s head – seemingly knocking him out – it looked like he had things in the bag.
However, if you’re a fan of Kota Ibushi’s work, you’ll know that if you hit him hard, there’s every chance he’ll wake up and hit you harder. As Nakamura continued to stomp on Kota’s head, the switch flicked, and something went dead behind The Golden Star’s eyes. The man who had looked down and out was now snarling, and it was Nakamura’s turn to have the shit kicked out of him. The strikes being thrown in this match look incredible. Every punch, stomp and kick seems to find its way home, slamming into faces and backs of heads. They are so good that you almost have to believe that they’re real because fuck, I don’t see how else you make stomping on the back of someone’s head look that brutal.
Whether they were beating on each other or not, it led to one hell of a closing stretch. Ibushi vs Nakamura had become a fight and both men seemed to be relishing the contest. We got to see Ibushi use the Bomaye, only for Nakamura to kick out at one while Shinsuke’s flying version of the move from the top rope saw Kota no-sell it, rolling to his feet with a smile on his face. There was a real sense that these two wanted to hurt each other and a feeling that any one of these strikes could knock someone out at any moment.
That’s exactly what happens too. After surviving the Flying Bomaye, Ibushi and Nak charged towards each other, both going for knees and ending up slamming their legs together. As they reel back, it’s Nakamura who recovers quicker, getting Ibushi up for a Samoan Driver. As Kota struggled back to his feet, a stiff knee came crashing in, and there was no getting up from that one.
Ibushi vs Nakamura is an incredible match and showcases both men at their best. I missed most of Shinsuke’s New Japan run, so watching stuff like this is a nice reminder that he was an incredible wrestler before he went to New York and stopped caring. Meanwhile, I think the way this feud shaped Ibushi has been proven by time. He still holds Nakamura up as one of his Gods, and this is littered with moments that will become staples of his career. As he heads towards his first Wrestle Kingdom main event, you can’t help but view this as one of the matches that set him on his way, and that alone makes it worth a watch.
Watch Nakamura vs Ibushi: https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00248_1_13