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2019 Live Match of the Year: Kota Ibushi v. Tetsuya Naito – G1 Supercard

A few days into 2020 and there are already a few candidates for Match of the Year. Which reminds me: It is time to reflect on last year’s match that shook the foundations of pro wrestling. As a disclaimer: the match chosen was a result of the live bouts the author has personally seen, and has been praised by the wrestling community everywhere.

When it comes to in-ring psychology and a match that simply cannot be topped, Kota Ibushi v. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Title from the G1 Supercard comes to mind.

When I reviewed this match a few days after the G1 Supercard took place inside New York’s Madison Square Garden, there were no words to do it justice. If you didn’t get a chance to watch it you missed out on a masterpiece of a match.

The match represented a lot of things. First off, it showcased the best of New Japan to an American audience inside the sports mecca of the world. Following Jeff Cobb v. Will Ospreay (another great match), the crowd was starting to fade because of lackluster matches. It wasn’t much of an NJPW issue but more of a booking issue thanks to Ring of Honor brass. Once the major singles titles were on the line, everything elevated.

The match also helped make the IWGP Intercontinental Title matter. Following Naito’s first reign with the title in 2016, there wasn’t really anything to write home about when it came to the gold belt. It was being passed around like a hot potato, with Naito getting a chance to hold onto it two more times. The last few reigns were uneventful, minus a feud with Chris Jericho that saw the current AEW World Champion win the title. The only problem was he wasn’t around much to defend it, a la Brock Lesnar. Once Naito won the title back, it was time to start fresh. Ibushi, who never held the title before, felt that Naito’s “tranquilo” attitude towards the belt lessened it, making him the ideal challenger to change all of that.

When motivated, Tetsuya Naito is one of the best wrestlers out there today. As for Ibushi, he can wrestle a broom to a five-star match. The components were there for an epic bout. Both played to their strengths of selling and hard-hitting moves. Naito tested Ibushi’s patience and his neck, knocking him down several times. He outsmarted Ibushi in the beginning, sending him into the crowd to tire him out.

Like he always does, however, Ibushi made a comeback. Rapid fire strikes, moonsaults and kicks were the name of the game. Naito then dropkicked Ibushi so hard he landed on top of his head. Now, Ibushi always seems to get his neck attacked, which almost always results in a story worth watching. Like clockwork, both wrestlers would not stop punishing one another with high-flying moves and calculating counters.

A true highlight was Ibushi hitting a jumping hurricanrana to Naito from the apron to the outside of the ring. That brought the already rapid crowd into a frenzy, and from that moment on, they had the fans in the palm of their hands. Both missed springboard shots and when Ibushi clocked him with a clothesline, you believed anything was possible. Ibushi then hit a deadlift german suplex for a close nearfall, with Naito falling on his head this time.

The next 5+ minutes can only be described as pure and utter chaos. A botched spot dropped Ibushi on his neck, for real this time, but it got the job done. They traded shots and Naito ended spitting on Ibushi and slapped him, resulting in an Ibushi slap. The final sequence was as follows: Reverse Rana, Destino resulting in a near-fall, Destino attempt turned into a head kick, a “This is Awesome” chant, a Nakamura-like Bomaye from Ibushi, another one, a kickout by Naito, powerbomb by Ibushi who held onto the arms of Naito and delivered a Kamigoye for the win.

While Ibushi ended up losing the title back to Naito, the mission was completed. And yes, that match was also a fantastic display of athleticism. While the two won’t fight one another at Wrestle Kingdom 14 to determine who will be double-champion, the idea of them fighting one more time is always something to be excited about.

What was your match of 2019?

Honorable mentions: Ospreay v. Cobb (G1 Supercard), WALTER v. Pete Dunne and Johnny Gargano v. Adam Cole (NXT TakeOver: New York), Kofi Kingston v. Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania)

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Baseball Editor, Misc. Sports Editor. Covers all things combat sports (MMA, Pro Wrestling and Boxing). When he's not writing, Daniel hosts a podcast, The Main Event.
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