Both NJPW and DDT put up free matches this week that contain one of my favorite wrestlers! They’re extremely different matches, which show two very different (but equally enjoyable) sides of him.
NJPW’s free match this Monday is Kota Ibushi vs Jay White from the G1 Climax 29 Final on August 12, 2019. Remember, you only have until next Monday (Japan time) to watch this one! Since it will vanish, I’ll put the full description under a cut. I originally watched this match live as it aired, and I was very nervous, haha, because so much was riding on this one.
Explanation and links
This match is pretty straightforward: Ibushi is the babyface hero desperate to achieve his dream, and Jay is the slimy heel desperate to win whatever it takes. Ibushi isn’t always such a pure babyface—he has a very cruel side (often dubbed “murder Ibushi”) that tends to come out when his opponents provoke him too much, but Jay delights so much in tormenting him, it’s easy to root for Ibushi here.
The G1 Climax is NJPW’s most important tournament, and this is the final, so winning it is a pretty big deal. For Ibushi, winning would get him one step closer to his dream of winning the IWGP Heavyweight belt. For Jay, winning it would mean he’s the second ever gaijin wrestler (after Kenny Omega) to win this tournament. The prize on the line is a contract granting the winner the right to challenge for the IWGP belt in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, NJPW’s biggest show of the year.
There’s a deeper narrative thread also running beneath this match, and it’s the main reason why I was so invested in it, even though the commentary never acknowledges it. Winning the IWGP Heavyweight belt was so important to Ibushi, it was the reason why he chose to sign with NJPW instead of following Kenny to AEW. The Golden Lovers didn’t want to tell another story about one of them feeling overshadowed by the other.
There are echoes of this story throughout this G1 final. In 2018, Ibushi also made it to the finals, but even with Kenny in his corner supporting him, he wasn’t able to win. This year, Ibushi walks out alone. This is in stark contrast to Jay, who brings the entirety of Bullet Club out with him, including Kenta, who freshly joined the faction earlier that night after turning on his “wrestling soulmate” Katsuyori Shibata (wrestlers betraying their soulmates is a bit of a theme for Bullet Club). In 2018, Ibushi was sort of peripherally part of Bullet Club for a time (at least, he effectively married into it), but here, they’re fully his enemies.
I don’t know if this match will be nearly as compelling to anyone else, but I was desperate to see Ibushi win, both because I wanted him to be able to achieve his dream, and I wanted him to show to the world that he was on Kenny’s level and that the two of of them are truly the best in the world so that when the Golden Lovers do reunite, they can finally team up without ambition and jealousy eating away at them. (Kenny actually did watch this match, and the end of it affected him, too, but that’s a story that was told in a different company in a different country).
If you want to watch this match, it’s available with English commentary or Japanese commentary! It’s a decently long match, so just remember that it will disappear on Monday (Japan time)!
The other free Kota Ibushi match this week is very different! It also has a lot of stakes to it, albeit a very different kind.
Here is Kota Ibushi defending his KO-D Championship against Yoshihiko (a wrestler who is a blow up doll) in DDT Pro Wrestling on March 21, 2015, four years before the match linked above.
This match is rather infamous. Some clips from it went a bit viral a few years ago, and some wrestling fans absolutely loathe the existence of it because they think it’s “killing the business” by exposing that pro wrestling matches aren’t actually real fights. Personally, I love it because it’s 1) extremely funny, and 2) extremely cool. There are some genuinely awesome stunt fighting moments in this, and it takes a lot of athleticism and skill to essentially wrestle an entire match by yourself!
If you enjoy Yoshihiko and want to see more of him, here’s a very recent match of his from September 26, 2021. This one has Japanese commentary, so it’s an excuse for some listening practice if nothing else, haha!
Part of the thrill of this match is Yoshihiko’s tag partner: Jun Akiyama. Akiyama is a very established wrestling legend who is known primarily for his work in respectable promotions like AJPW and NOAH. He’s in DDT now, though, and during his KO-D title reign, he fully solidified himself as representing DDT, comedy ridiculousness and all (I wrote about this transformation in several posts on my gif blog because there’s nothing I love more than serious wrestlers doing ridiculous comedy stuff).
Believe it or not, there’s a bit of a story leading into the match linked above, though nothing too involved. Akiyama first appeared with Yoshihiko at the very end of the CyberFight Festival supershow in June, and a photograph of Akiyama with Yoshihiko slung over his shoulders made the cover of 週刊プロレス that week.
A couple months later, they announced that the two of them would be tagging together in an upcoming match. Akiyama made a surprise appearance in a match in September, coming to Yoshihiko’s aid disguised as Yoshihiko’s handler (sometimes a person dressed all in black participates in the match to help Yoshihiko execute certain moves, but this person sort of both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time in kayfabe). The post match comments for this one were really funny, haha. If your Japanese listening comprehension isn’t good enough to catch them, a translation is in here.
Akiyama and Yoshihiko’s opponents are Harashima, the ace of DDT, and Kazuki Hirata, who is known more for his dancing in the ring than his wrestling ability (in kayfabe, at least). He is a very skilled wrestler, though, and really proves it in this match. Some moments here are really special.
Yoshihiko and Hirata are going to have a singles match soon. On October 12, I think? But I don’t know if that match will end up on youtube or not.
Also, sort of an interesting side note: apparently half of the people accessing the new Wrestle Universe streaming service so far have been overseas fans, which is amazing for a company that produces almost entirely Japanese content with almost no subtitles! It just goes to show how much of pro wrestling transcends language. Takagi is promising to add more English content to the service, so DDT, TJPW, and NOAH will likely continue to become even more accessible if your listening comprehension isn’t quite there yet.