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31 Days of Wrestling (12/10/15): Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi

Welcome back to 31 Days of Wrestling, Henrinites—our year-end celebration of the matches from all over the pro wrestling world that best shaped and defined 2015 in our hearts and minds as the wrestling fandom. We're going back to the well with the #2 promotion in the world, New Japan Pro Wrestling.

#10: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 9

There's absolutely no denying that 2015 may very well be NJPW's biggest year so far. This year, more wrestling fans around the world became exposed to the high quality that is the globe's #2 wrestling promotion—soon to be the undisputed #1 if WWE continues to slide down the way it is right now—through its biggest PPV of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 9. It certainly helped that there was an English broadcast that helped put everything that was going on in better perspective for non-Japanese fans.

But the real hook was not Matt Striker and Jim Ross on commentary. It was the match that became a lot of new fans' first taste of the real brilliance NJPW had in store, down in its deepest vaults, from its most talented stars: the IWGP Intercontinental Championship match.

Resident NJPW writer Lance Ong has written at length before about the greatness of current IC champion Shinsuke Nakamura and how he elevated what was originally a second-tier title into a main feature, so we'll spare you that background trip.

Nakamura walked into Wrestle Kingdom 9 as champion, ready to defend his title against popular rising star Kota Ibushi (who ended up not accomplishing too much this year, but that's another story) and they did not disappoint.

Keen observers will note that NJPW matches, especially big-time bouts, have a pretty standard formula: start slow, usually with mat wrestling, and gradually turn up the intensity until the finish is a mad frenzy of devastating moves. That usually results in solid matches so long as the wrestlers themselves are good hands, but could get boring after a while. 

Thankfully, Nakamura and Ibushi decided to loosely adhere to the formula, beginning the match in a way worthy of their respective real-life shoot fighting backgrounds. The match turned out to be a wonderful strikefest that didn't stray too far into NEVER territory, mixing in big spots at the right times—never too much at once, even in the finish—to milk maximum drama. The even pace allowed both champion and contender to shine and prove why they belong in this spot on the show.

What better way to begin the year than to set a bar for the kind of action you could expect? Even if you don't always agree with their booking decisions, you can't say you don't come off watching an NJPW show satisfied. That sentiment might very well be all the company needs to dominate the scene next year, although it will be ironic if they do lose Nakamura to WWE, who is reportedly interested in him. 2016 is going to be an interesting year.


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