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  1. IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi - Wrestle Kingdom 9 Shinsuke Nakamura's entrance was Five Fucking Stars! Wow! Hearing Jim Ross' voice out of nowhere was wicked jarring. I forgot he and Striker did this match. It was weird they felt like they were reviewing the match as smart marks rather than as announcers. It was not too distracting, but there were times were both were grating. I may be in the minority, but I prefer Japanese commentary in Japanese matches. There is a certain rhythm the Japanese commentators have with the wrestlers that just works so well. The story of the match is one that I always dig and that is the young, pretty boy trying to prove he can hang with the grizzled vet. Ibushi did a great job varying his attack between fighting fire with fire and working his own game. Ibushi proved here he could hang with the hardest hitter in New Japan as he gave as good as he got with some blistering strikes. Those chops and kicks from him had me ooooohhhh and aaaaahhing as much as those ones from the King of Strong Style. At the same time, he knew if he wanted to win the match he was going to have to rely on what brought him to the dance namely his high flying arsenal, which wowed as much as it did damage. The extra element I really appreciated from Ibushi was his ability to combat Nakamura in gamesmanship. By mocking Nakamura's eccentricities, it added an extra level of chippiness and personal hate that took a great match and made it a classic. Nakamura is a license to print money. He is so over with the Japanese audience. He is a far cry from the apathetic wrestler of the late 2000s. He actually has been able to channel that apathy into a cockiness that people including myself really enjoy. As much fun as he is, he knows when to get down to business. I think he played the grizzled veteran perfectly in this match. When Ibushi mocked his jerky leg in the corner, he made him pay with an onslaught of knees. Nakamura was a great counter wrestler in the 2000s and here it is on full display against the speedy Ibushi using a ground to air missile dropkick to drop Ibushi out of the sky. I thought the beginning of the match did have its flat moments mostly resulting from a lack of struggle. Nakamura ran through his badass knee strikes and then Ibushi used a hurricanarana to keep Nakamura off balance, but that came right after he took a backstabber. The selling and flow just was not always there. The offense was top notch, but there was a bit of let me be ragdoll for you and then you will be a ragdoll for me. The last 5-8 minutes was absolutely world class professional wrestling. When Ibushi missed the Phoenix Splash, Nakamura nailed the Boma Ye knee to the back of the head, but he collapsed to the mat. At this point of the match, I thought the drama in the match went through the roof and never came back down. I love the spot of Ibushi going for the high risk home run, crashing & burning and Nakamura immediately capitalizing with his home run shot. It was a perfect way to level the playing field. Nakamura just started to whip some serious ass and when Ibushi started to fire up you could feel him becoming a man before your eyes. Their strike exchanges were not the boring stand there and let me hit you. They were fighting through each other's stuff. I don't love simultaneous punches, but holy shit did they pull it off perfectly! Really the best use of that spot ever. Also, this match featured a really great use of the rare closed fist. Ibushi was tired of Nakamura's shit and he started to wailing on him. Nakamura shoved the ref into Ibushi, which allowed him to deck Ibushi with a straight right. What a dick and what a great spot. I love Japanese punches because they look like match enders and are treated as such! Ibushi's flying double stomp to a running Nakamura was insane. Then in the climax of the match Ibushi mocks Nakamura's mannerisms in the corner before nailing the Boma Ye knee and Nakamura kicked out. It was just so perfect. You know that Ibushi has the confidence and he can hang with Nakamura, but he just is not there yet. They over reach on a neat in your head, but not in practice move with Ibushi trying to German Suplex Nakamura over the top rope while standing on the top rope. That was Ibushi's big false finish, before Nakamura roared back with a pair of Boma Ye Knees. Absolutely fantastic finish run. Nakamura looked like the best wrestler in the world with his offense and mannerisms. Ibushi proved that he was not just a high flyer and that he could hang in a stand up contest and he had the balls to mock the biggest star in the company. I was not in love with the beginning of the match and I think there have been better matches in 2015, but this was great. ****1/4
  2. This was flirting with Full Five status for me until that awful finish. It really did feel like the culmination of a rivalry that showed a true sense of progression. Hansen guzzled Colon in the first couple of matches just like he always did everyone. The last two matches showed Colon fighting back and here, it was clear he had Hansen's number. The match never would have worked as well as it did without allowing Hansen to be Hansen early in the feud, because his perilous state as they moved from one match to the next became increasingly surreal. All of the extracurricular brawling around the ring didn't bother me, mainly because of what I'd label an iconic visual in wrestling history when the camera panned back to see the overjoyed reactions of fans in the stands. They were working toward the King of All Blowoff Cage Matches, then when Colon went outside, I was kind of in awe of him as a babyface, because he was taking the fight to the bad guys and looked incredible doing it. Unfortunately, a cage match does imply that a finish like that can't happen, and it did anyway, so the feud lacking any clean finishes does hurt it some in my eyes in terms of all-time rivalry status. But as a series of matches, it's only barely beneath that, and this is a near-miss where I really wish I could go all the way. ****3/4
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