2017 · Kota Ibushi · NJPW · Zack Sabre Jr.

Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr.-NJPW 21.7.2017.

A fun little match featuring some of their “best of” spots, but nothing great. Sabre’s matwork is too loose for him to leave a big impression in control and his pastiche of jiu jitsu and Johnny Saint spots has reached a point where, at least in this match, it wasn’t flashy enough to impress with style or legitimate enough to impress with sheer danger and pain. Almost every big spot here was recycled from a big match these two have had previously, and even when there was something new it lacked in execution (I loved the idea behind Ibushi’s palm strike, but he chest slapped Sabre and Sabre sold it like he hit him in the jaw, it looked ridiculous. You want to see that same spot done right, watch the first Misawa vs Kawada match, there’s a kick which at first glance actually looks like it hit the neck/jaw and Misawa’s selling is of course a thousand times better). Maybe the biggest problem of the match is that lacked the glue to connect everything. There wasn’t a strong dynamic-Sabre going toe to toe with Ibushi in stand up when his offence looks so much worse in that department was ridiculous, they were more focused on getting in counters than getting over a struggle and actually milking the holds, even the finish felt abrupt in that regard, Ibushi just picked Sabre up and slammed him. I still enjoyed Sabre putting on some wacky holds and the little input Ibushi actually got in, but this was disappointing. ***

2015 · Katsuyori Shibata · Kota Ibushi · NJPW

Katsuyori Shibata vs Kota Ibushi-NJPW 29.7.2015.

I soured a little on this match, still thought it was really good, but more despite the 1 counts and the million forearm exchanges than because of them. I think they got over the dumb masculinity of Shibata really well even when sequences would get more complex. The most memorable sequence was the one where he trapped Ibushi in the corner, forearmed him to set up the dropkick, then went for it but Ibushi followed him to the corner and elbowed him. Then, Shibata just bulldozed through Ibushi, and went right back to forearming Ibushi, but Ibushi followed him to the corner, this time kicking him and “stealing” the Dropkick from Shibata. And I think that doing what they did, with Shibata instantly getting up, getting in Ibushi’s face, murdering him in the corner and upgrading his combo by adding various stomps and facewashes made for a better choice than revenging it later in the match. A no-sell spot isn’t really that big of a deal in a crash and burn match like this. Shibata grabbed at Ibushi’s leg several times in the match, and even hit him with a wicked counter forearm earlier in the match, making that damned slap an extremely fitting final transition, and I loved the contrast between Shibata’s hand basically going through Ibushi’s hand and Ibushi’s wacky kung fu punches that came moments before that. ***3/4

2017 · Kazuchika Okada · Kota Ibushi · NJPW · Tiger Mask W

Kazuchika Okada vs Tiger Mask W-NJPW 6.3.2017.

I think they made a mistake here by not making the control segments at the beginning even longer. Like when Okada grabbed a Chinlock and then rammed a Forearm onto Tiger Mask W’s back, you could feel the crowd was slowlly coming alive, and that really felt like a moment where Hayes and Gordy would cut-off the comeback attempts a couple of times, maybe give the faces a little shine before doing so, and gradually increase the heat by teasing the crowd more and more. Here, they just did some stupid cross-chop and Tiger Mask W was in control moments later, and even when he got all of his stuff in they still had time to do some heatless back and forth. If you’re going to have a pedestrian first half of the match, make it so that it serves a purpose in the layout of the match, and it’s not just because the match has to go 25 minutes. The second half ruled-it was nice to see Okada display a more aggressive side of him, and it’s always a joy to see Ibushi’s shootboxing background come into play. The slaps, head stomps and punches ruled as expected, but big spots also ruled, the top rope Tombstone tease was a perfect response to the Springboard Frankensteiner that has become a staple highspot in any bigger Ibushi match, and the top rope Tiger Driver was an unexpectedly satisfying pay-off. Even if the Red Ink may be the dumbest submission ever, and his Elbow Drop a classic example of how how sometimes focusing on form too much isn’t such a good idea because you might lose impact, I think Okada did a relatively good job of adapting to Ibushi and bringing the fight to him. ***1/2

2008 · Katsuhiko Nakajima · Kota Ibushi · Mitsuharu Misawa · NOAH · Ricky Marvin · Taiji Ishimori

Kensuke Sasaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kota Ibushi vs Mitsuharu Misawa, Taiji Ishimori & Ricky Marvin-NOAH 25.10.2008.

A fun mess. Match starts out with Nakajima and Marvin, and while you may expect them to do some contrived junior sequences they instead proceed to just slap the taste out of each other’s mouth, setting the pace and the heat for the match. And it’s not like it was hard for them to sustain that-you get Ibushi pinballing for Misawa, Misawa and Kensuke slugging it out, Kensuke destroying juniors, all intriguing ideas that were executed well (I loved MIsawa saying fuck it mid-strike exchange with Kensuke and tagging out). Misawa is at his most Giant Baba-ish here, at the end of the match he can’t even run halfway across the ring, but anyone other than Kensuke that gets close to him gets elbowkilled. Marvin and Nakajima were unfortunately the heat killers too, as Marvin tried to use more of his more juniorish offence in their next match-up and Nakajima didn’t really know how to react. In an interesting turn of events Ibushi and Ishimori were the ones to get the heat back by doing even more junior stuff, but with fluidity and good execution. It being a six man tag also allows them to incorporate more complicated spots easier without ridiculous set-ups, like Marvin’s ramp run and Ibushi’s sudden Springboard to cut-off the double 619, you don’t even notice that stuff when there’s simulatenous action going on. ***1/2

2016 · Brian Kendrick · CWC · Kota Ibushi

Kota Ibushi vs Brian Kendrick-WWE CWC 26.8.2016.

Another very good match from the CWC that had many of the qualitites you’d want in a workrate match without going overboard in excess with big moves and nearfalls and managing to have a coherent and logical narrative. Ibush outclasses Kendrick in direct showdowns so Kendrick avoids them, and follows up on his first big chance with the neckbreaker on the ringpost rope by dedicating his game plan to attacking Ibushi’s neck. The way Kendrick uses his surroundings at all times was neat and reminiscent of Finlay, and the structure of this match was reminiscent of the kinds of matches Misawa, Kobashi, Takayama, Akiyama etc. would have in NOAH against lower ranked opponents, where they’d throw out everything to try and make you believe they could pull off the upset. They really hit the sweet spot in giving Kendrick enough to produce the drama without it turning into him hitting big move after big move, and I loved the High Kicks Ibushi used to quickly cut him off in the finishing stretch.  ***1/2

2016 · CWC · Kota Ibushi · TJ Perkins

Kota Ibushi vs TJ Perkins-WWE CWC 14.9.2016.

Early on Perkins avoided Ibushi’s kicks by checking them, countering them with a Dragon Screw and so on, did a lot of matwork, really leaving an impression he had come prepared to face Ibushi, as in Ibushi’s last two matches were him just surviving insane bomb throwing. But with them showcasing Ibushi as the favourite to win the tournament, it’d only make sense that it almost didn’t matter if Perkins did all that and went to the trouble of cutting off Ibushi’s dive, Ibushi was gonna get it in anyway. Whereas that dive cut-off felt like a big- elaborate counter-move from Perkins Ibushi doing something like staying on the apron and hitting a Springboard Dropkick after Perkins had tried to set-up a dive with his rope trick looked like it just naturally came to him. The context really makes the finishing stretch work-it would seem bloated and cliche that was how they’d worked every match. But even in the last two big Ibushi matches the big nearfalls were based on novelty and them doing a good job of setting them up and not so much, well, *really* buying into that they were going to end the match. And that was the case here. It didn’t matter how the Sitout Last Ride was used in the rest of Ibushi’s career, in this tournament it was a killshot, and this match was the pay-off that they could have and did afford due to the uniqueness of the tournament. And for Perkins to beat Ibushi at his own game it would take a bunch of bombs of his own, and hitting his biggest bomb over and over again and modifying it and boy did they ever accomplish everything this match could’ve and should’ve been. ****