365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
When I think of January 4, I think of wrestling at the Tokyo Dome. After all, New Japan Pro Wrestling has held an event every January 4 since 1992–a tradition dating back 30 years and counting. I’ve followed NJPW regularly since Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016, so to find a noteworthy Wrestle Kingdom match I hadn’t seen I went back to 2015 for this contest between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi fromWrestle Kingdom 9.
New Japan World offers this match with original and English-language commentary; Kevin Kelly provides the latter in a recorded version after the fact. I opted to watch the original version, because the version with Kelly slightly dampened the volume of the live crowd. You might be able to find alternate broadcasts online as well.
Nakamura is in his fourth reign with the Intercontinental Title, which he’s credited with elevating from a midcard title to a more prominent, coveted championship. This also eventually sets the stage for New Japan unifying the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Titles.
Wrestle Kingdom has had some wild entrances through the years and here, Nakamura heads out in an amazing oversized gold crown and red cloak befitting his “King of Strong Style” moniker.
If you like wrestling matches where the intensity builds throughout, this is the one for you. From his entrance through the post-match you witness the massive charisma of Nakamura. He’s oozing overconfidence as the match begins, trying for his finishing knee strike (called the Kinshasa in WWE but known as Bomaye in New Japan) mere moments into the match.
If you’ve only seen Nakamura’s WWE work, including his matches in NXT, don’t miss this match. Nakamura’s presence is captivating here, whether he is on offense delivering some brutal-looking knees and strikes (more on those later), selling or playing to the crowd. At one point about eight minutes in, Ibushi tries to make a comeback but Nakamura arrogantly and literally brushes off his forearm strikes.
We’re several years removed here from the Ibushi who won consecutive G1 Climaxes and captured both the major IWGP titles at Wrestle Kingdom in 2020. You see the potential, though. Ibushi is the brash young upstart here; after all, he made his challenge for this match by attacking Nakamura from behind with a German suplex. In this match, he starts mocking Nakamura’s mannerisms, including his quivering “Good Vibrations” foot choke in the corner. He does some of the flying you come to expect from Ibushi at this stage, including a spectacular moonsault where he leaps from the mat to the top rope in a single bound, then vaults onto Nakamura at ringside.
Once these two shift to throwing strikes, that intensity I mentioned reaches a new level. A head kick by Ibushi drops Nakamura in a heap. After Ibushi misses a Phoenix Splash, Nakamura hits a Bomaye on the third attempt — this time to the back of the head — and then starts stomping the life out of Ibushi as he crawls for the apron. Ibushi responds with some straight punches (a real rarity in modern NJPW) and soon these two are teeing off on one another with strikes that blur the line between a predetermined pro wrestling match and a legitimate fight in all the best ways. Wrestlers watching and reading this should take note of how Nakamura makes the most of a single punch, delivered out of “Red Shoes” Umino’s viewpoint after he shoves the referee into Ibushi.
In the midst of the back-and-forth slugfest, Ibushi continues his mockery, mimicking Nakamura’s mannerisms and delivering his own Bomaye, which Nakamura kicks out of at one! This sparks a spectacular finishing stretch that is so compelling I won’t even chronicle it so you can watch it, and savor it, on your own.
Final Rating: 9.6
This is an incredible match. It tops all of the Wrestle Kingdom main events I’ve seen from Ibushi in recent years, and it’s immediately my favorite Nakamura match ever. One criticism I have about New Japan is match length. It’s expected now that an NJPW main event is going to go about 30 minutes or more, whether it’s a major event or a “Road To” show. This match has all of the athleticism and drama you see in current New Japan epics, but with none of the filler to pad the length. A beautiful example of pro wrestling as sport blended with art that you should not miss.
We hop in the Wayback Machine to the Pacific Northwest in 1980 for some eight-man tag action.