IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
The second in the Holy Trinity of matches that made this one of the best shows your correspondent has ever seen managed to be the perfect alchemy of what makes NJPW and WWE great individually — a point obliquely referred to by JR when he made clear his feelings that Nakamura “could be a star anywhere” with a little extra salt (as Matty T. puts it) tossed WWE’s way — and was, in your correspondent’s opinion the best match of the evening.
Both performers told a story in actions that felt more like brutal interpretative dance than a wrestling match, filling the viewers (even a first time viewer’s like yours truly’s) mind with a clear history not just between the two performers but of the two performers. Ibushi is clearly an up-and-coming star who has begun to learn the power of aggression in this form of storytelling, but Nakamura — along with Okada — was a the kind of revelation that one feels when they hear their favorite band for the first time. As much a showman as consummate (and consummately brutal) professional wrestler, his stage presence alone is enough to make him the toast of Tokyo — or quite frankly, any city in the world — before you even scratch the surface of his singularly genius in ring work.
Like the smart kid in the back of class who pulls straight C’s then aces the final, Nakamura carries himself with a full comprehension of his considerable gifts without insisting upon them outside of the palpable confidence he has in his ability to rise to the occasion. Counterbalanced perfectly with Ibushi’s relative naivete in this realm of self-actualization, watching him work through this issues in the match alongside Nakamura did exactly what it was supposed to: it cemented him as a major star in the making.
A high-flyer perhaps sans non-Neville equal, Ibushi also worked an extremely intelligent match, keeping up step for step and move for move with Nakamura and even mocking his exaggerated style to great effect throughout the contest.
But, ultimately, the truly transcendent moments of this match came towards the end, as business began to pick up (which JR ironically did not, at least to my recollection say at any point) and the match finished on a exhilarating back-and-forth that left nearly everyone gasping for air out of excitment. While many will point to the final match on the card as the diamond in its crown, this feels like the match that will stick me with longest, and not just because (unlike the main event) it told an entire self-contained story that left me wishing for more, or because of the bonafide star (in my heart, and even in the hearts of other significantly more familiar with him) it made of Ibushi even in defeat. It’s that this match reminds you not what professional wrestling should be, but what it can be.
Match 1.0 (Match of the Night Bonus +.2) | PPV 6.4