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Match Of The Week: Kota Ibushi Vs. Tomohiro Ishii

The best match of NJPW's G1 Climax so far?

It's been a big week in wrestling, but not necessarily in terms of match quality. The first episode of WOS Wrestling's new series hit UK screens, with veteran Rampage Brown snatching the title from fan-favourite Grado. In PROGRESS, Travis Banks' cowardly ways finally caught up with him, as he shockingly lost his championship to WALTER.

In WWE, open signs of hostility between Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman have dominated headlines, while on SmackDown, Charlotte Flair returned to help best pal Becky Lynch - simultaneously lowering the Lass-Kicker's chances of defeating Carmella at SummerSlam.

That's not to say there haven't been good matches; they've just faded into the background amidst such storyline-based developments.

However, one bout has managed to stand out regardless. Predictably, it came courtesy of New Japan's ongoing G1 Climax.

Let's talk about Ibushi vs. Ishii.

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Background: Heading into this bout, both Kota Ibushi and Tomohiro Ishii sat on four points - with a 2-2 record in the tournament so far. Ibushi started strong, battling to hard-earned wins against Zack Sabre Jr. and Juice Robinson. However, he slipped soon after - a surprise, given his pre-tournament status as one of the overall favourites.

An entirely avoidable loss to Toru Yano preceded a far more understandable one against the immensely talented SANADA.

Ishii managed to defeat Yano, but was undone against Zack. His loss to Tetsuya Naito was a heavy (but understandable) blow, but redemption came in the form of a five-star victory over Hirooki Goto. This is somewhat par for the course in terms of our expectations of Ishii - not a favourite to win the tournament, but a constantly strong presence nonetheless.

The pair's respective matches against Toru Yano can be seen as indicative of both men's respective attitudes throughout their careers. Ibushi is one of the most naturally gifted wrestlers in the world, but has often been criticised for lacking focus and revelling in silliness. His cheap loss to Yano could end up being the easily-avoidable banana skin that scuppers his G1 chances, whereas Ishii resorted to cheap tactics in order to secure a win over his cunning stablemate.

This was out of character for such an honourable babyface, but also a sign of the Stone Pitbull's drive and determination to win. Ibushi cannot honestly be paid the same compliments.

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The Match: The pair begin with a furious exchange. It's important for two reasons; yes, the G1 Climax is important, but there's a sense that this intensity means more than that. Ishii and Ibushi may both be very dangerous competitors, but they're also opposites - one compact and hardy, the other a flashy pretty-boy. Throughout this bout, there's a feeling that both are fully aware of this.

Ishii eventually wins the strike battle, beating Ibushi down into a crumpled heap in the corner of the ring. The Golden Star attempts to fire up multiple times, but his opponent keeps pounding away. Finally, Ibushi takes control with a gorgeous Dropkick, and kicks the match into his preferred higher gear.

A Hurricanrana sends Ishii rolling to the outside, and Ibushi follows him with a big plancha. They brawl into the crowd, the cameras and lights struggling to keep up, and Ibushi reverses a Powerbomb into a Hurricanrana on the concrete floor. Their dimly-lit surroundings are more reminiscent of the younger man's days in DDT, where he often wrestled ludicrous matches in houses, forests, and city streets.

More than comfortable outside of the ring, Ibushi takes full advantage with the match's most memorable spot. He clambers up to the second level of the crowd, teeters precariously on the railing for a moment, and launches himself into an incredible Moonsault onto his opponent.

Ibushi is now in total control, but doesn't relent, nailing a Missile Dropkick to the back of Ishii's head. He lays in a few kicks, which would usually be a good idea - but not against the Stone Pitbull. Ishii takes this as a challenge, and therefore an excuse to fire up as only he can.

Again, Ishii is the better striker, dropping his foe with a monstrous Forearm. They head up top and Ibushi is hurled halfway across the ring with a jaw-dropping Deadlift Superplex - but simply pops back up to his feet.

If this happened in most matches, it would be ludicrous, but the no-sell makes total sense in context. Big New Japan matches often see examples of 'warrior spirit', where competitors shake off big moves to deal out more punishment - before feeling the effects later on. Ibushi and Ishii are both renowned for their resilience - particularly the latter - so we can hopefully also forgive what happens next...

The pair trade Germans, each Suplex brushed off with disdain by the recipient. They simply continue to trade moves, until eventually a Pele kick by Ibushi lands, and all the punishment catches up to both men. They lie exhausted in the middle of the ring, giving the crowd some much-needed breathing room.

Predictably, once they rise, the strikes immediately begin flying again. This time it's Ibushi's turn to win an exchange of stiff blows, ringing Ishii's bell with a huge slap, before lawn-darting him into the corner. The Golden Star then sets about eating away at his opponent with little kicks and slaps to the head, more designed to humiliate than hurt. It's an arrogance reminiscent of Okada - or Okada before his confidence was shot at the hands of Kenny Omega.

Somewhat predictably, the strikes only provoke Ishii into action - and he punishes Ibushi's insolence with a series of heavy chops to the throat. He follows up with kicks and slaps of his own, these ones very much designed to hurt his opponent. Startlingly, Ibushi rises from the corner like a zombie and punches Ishii full-force in the throat.

He hits several more, and a Lariat for good measure, before finishing Ishii with the Last Ride. Except it doesn't finish him, the Stone Pitbull kicking out with milliseconds to spare.

Ibushi looks to actually finish the match with his Kamigoye knee strike, but Ishii counters both attempts - the second with a Kamigoye of his own! He steals another of Ibushi's signature moves - the Last Ride - but now it's the Golden Star's turn to kick out. Ishii's now past the point of caring about finishing moves, and simply lays out Ibushi with a massive Lariat. Ibushi, in fairness, is past the point of caring about losing, and again kicks out in the nick of time.

Ibushi now digs into Ishii's playbook, hitting a huge Brainbuster...which the Stone Pitbull doesn't even sell, popping up and hitting an Enziguri to stay in the match. Ibushi answers back with a Nakamura-esque knee to the back of the head, which only earns a one count.

Possibly sick of these shenanigans, the Golden Star wipes out his opponent with a merciless head kick, a Kamigoye, and mercifully ends the war.

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Aftermath: At the time of writing, Ibushi has picked up one further win after this match, while Ishii lost his next bout.

Ibushi toppled Hirooki Goto in another excellent bout, while Ishii frustratingly fell to the heelish antics of Tama Tonga and his Firing Squad allies.

The Golden Star has somewhat reignited his chances of winning the whole shebang, although with tag partner Kenny Omega still undefeated, he's relying on results elsewhere playing into his hands. Ishii, on the other hand, has no mathematical chance. Once again, one of the strongest, most popular members of the New Japan roster finds himself with no chance of challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

The future seems bright for Ibushi. Whether he wins or loses, he's a good bet for some of next year's most exciting bouts and storylines. A clash between himself and Omega could easily headline Wrestle Kingdom, and although a title run might be slightly out of reach for now, he stands a better chance than most.

Ishii, on the other hand, could be seen as in a rut. He continually puts on some of New Japan's best matches, yet always finds himself overlooked in favour of flashier, more over-the-top personalities. Ibushi's biggest obstacle to success in Japan has - until now - always been himself. Ishii has walked a far more conventional path, and still hasn't been allowed to break through to the next level. It must be maddening, especially when you lose against somebody who could be seen as your very antithesis.

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]