(03/06) Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi

Ota War Gymnasium (Tokyo, Japan)

New Japan headlined its 42nd Anniversary show with a singles match between two of its singles champions. Long gone are the days where the IWGP Jr. Champion could be considered the second most important title holder in the promotion. The Intercontinental title, at least for now, has leaped far ahead of it in importance, while the junior title languishes as somewhat of an afterthought. Still, for a promotion that has leaned so heavily on its junior heavyweight division at times throughout its history, it sort of feels right that New Japan would headline anniversary shows with junior heavyweight champion versus heavyweight champion showdowns.

Okada and Ibushi matched up last summer at Sumo Hall for DDT right after the G1 Climax. It was a solid match with a good dynamic of Ibushi trying to make good in his home promotion. It didn’t wow me or anything, but I liked the story and the ‘home versus away’ feel of it.

With Ibushi under NJPW contract and the match taking place in a New Japan ring, the story of their DDT match obviously wouldn’t work here. Despite being the junior champion, Ibushi still works this match as the underdog but not immediately. The opening minutes are worked evenly, with Ibushi probably being spotlighted a bit more. Ibushi wins a knuckle lock sequence and Okada later takes a big back bump on an Ibushi kick.
Ibushi throws some nice forearms in this match, which I think is an underrated part of his game. They tease the Okada top rope drop kick early on in a nice sequence where Ibushi blocks the attempt, jumps off the turnbuckle and charges at Okada now in the other corner, gets back dropped over the top rope, and drop kicked to the floor by Okada. That sequence serves to transition Okada onto offense.

Okada works over the neck with his usual stuff for a bit, including a hanging DDT from the guardrail to the floor. Okada’s neck-focused work has gotten incrementally better over the past year. Honestly, his entire game has gotten incrementally and noticeably better over that time period. I think he was always better than Tanahashi in the sense he clearly had far more upside and better offense, but now he seems to be undisputedly so.

It was the focus on the neck in the 4/7/13 Tanahashi match that I thought made that match easily the best of the Tanahashi/Okada 2013 series and Okada has just gotten better since at filling up a body of a match with neck work to setup the Rainmaker. Here he throws some kicks to the neck and a nice neck-wrench of sorts to chew up some time.

When writing about Ibushi’s match versus El Desperado last month, I think I noted that Ibushi seems to do better in big matches where he can bump big and dig into his impressive flying spots as opposed to a regular television match where he tries to get by without doing that stuff. He just does not have enough good “other” offense to fill in the gaps. In a big match like this where he can and does pull out the big guns like his great spring board moonsault to the outside and nearly killing himself bumping on his neck off of an Okada running dropkick, he works much better. I guess that is true for a lot of guys who have good high spots but might be lacking in other areas.

There was a lot of Ibushi mirroring Okada’s moves down the stretch, beginning with a big cut-off drop kick that the crowd ate up and climaxing with a Rainmaker reversal into a pair of lariats of his own. Ibushi pulled out even more his big moves late for near falls (Phoenix splash and top rope hurricanrana among them). I thought the best part of the stretch run was how when Okada reversed the tombstone attempt into his shoulder breaker move they got the desired effect of a sudden momentum swing. Ibushi was rolling but was still the underdog and like champions in any arena are often able to do, Okada was able to swing the momentum back the other way in one fell swoop.

There is a one count kick out after the shoulder breaker, but I didn’t hate it. In context, it was just a shoulder breaker with nobody bought as a near fall anyway. Okada pounced back on him right away and put Isbushi down in short order after, so I thought it flowed better to the next segment than a lot of late match, one count kick outs tend to do. It wasn’t quite the match flow killer for me that it can be.

Dave Metlzer loved this and you can see why. He values highly athletic matches and this was certainly that. Add in the counters, the aping of finishers, and the smooth execution and it is not hard to see why this is a match that some people will love. On first view, I wasn’t blown away but it was certainly very good. The stretch run was good but not great and while Ibushi’s big game offense beats his normal match offense, he is still not someone who I want to see control this much of a match. Okada, however, clearly is one of the better wrestlers in the world right in terms of total package and has gotten there in very short order.

Going to definitely watch this again but on first view I am not sure I see it as a surefire MOTYC.

Japan Singles | Watch It | Quality & Hype

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