Throughout the week leading into December 31st, we are taking you back to some of Dave Meltzer's top-rated matches of the past year, starting with the five star matches and ending up with a seven star classic.
15 matches got the five star treatment while six matches garnered ratings above that level.
What follows is an edited version of Dave's writeup from the match from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, available in full for subscribers. Also, we want to give a big shoutout to Cagematch.net who makes research for this list ridiculously easy.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi
NJPW G1 Climax Finals | August 12, 2018
"Tanahashi beat Kota Ibushi in the finals on 8/12 at Budokan Hall in Tokyo in a match that many regulars in Japan called one of the greatest matches in the history of the building which covers an incredible amount of ground. It was a masterpiece of a match, probably Tanahashi’s best ever performance when it comes to fire and being a babyface. Ibushi on that night, and through the tournament, showed that he is one of the most physically talented and greatest in-ring performers of the incredible modern generation.
Ibushi was trying to become the first wrestler in history to win all three major New Japan singles tournaments: the Super Juniors, New Japan Cup and G-1. Kenny Omega was in Ibushi’s corner while Katsuyori Shibata was in Tanahashi’s corner. Both were very animated in encouraging and lending instructions and giving it a real feeling, not that the guys needed any help.
It was a total Tanahashi crowd even though Ibushi is the classic babyface that usually would be the crowd favorite against the established legend in this situation. Tanahashi blocked a dropkick but Ibushi changed into a double foot stomp on the apron. Tanahashi dropkicked him to the floor and teased the high fly flow to the floor but Ibushi jumped in the ring. Ibushi went for the lawn dart but Tanahashi turned it into a sling blade. There were some incredible striking exchanges and one of the longest and most brutal hard slap fests. Really, very few matches feel like a movie and this was one of them.
Tanahashi skinned the cat into the ring but Ibushi caught him in the Omega style spike power bomb. Tanahashi did the dragon screws into the Texas cloverleaf, but Ibushi struggled before making the ropes. Tanahashi hit the high fly floor to the floor. Ibushi barely beat the 20 count in. Ibushi did a top rope Asai moonsault. Ibushi came back with big moves like a springboard missile dropkick and half nelson German suplex. He went for the kamagoye but Tanahashi cradled him. Then Ibushi hit the bom a ye (Kinshasa).
There’s another layer of story here and the American announcers really shined, improving throughout and peaking with this. The story is that to Ibushi, Tanahashi is God. That isn’t meant as God like to Americans, but like God of Pro Wrestling like Karl Gotch or Lou Thesz. Tanahashi is what Ibushi always strived to be and that played into the story because at times in the match the feeling of Tanahashi as the untouchable God played with his mind. But his closest to God hero was Nakamura, so the idea he was using the finisher of one God to beat God, but Tanahashi escaped. They had another unreal striking exchange. Perhaps the peak was Ibushi slapping the hell out of Tanahashi, who kept walking forward showing some of the most incredible fire ever, and Ibushi feeling intimidated by who Tanahashi was and what he represented to him.
There was a striking exchange that Ibushi ended with a sick lariat. There was another that Tanahashi was losing, and then came back with one European uppercut after another. Tanahashi did a straitjacket German suplex for a near fall. Tanahashi went for a high fly flow but Ibushi got his knees up, and then Ibushi hit the bom a ye (Kinshasa), did a standing moonsault landing with both knees on Tanahashi’s chest and then hit other spots teased earlier, most notably the lawn dart. This was huge because everyone knows that Ibushi did this move to Tanahashi before and Tanahashi ended up with a neck injury that put him out of action. This created incredible drama. It did look safer than before, but there is still an issue with the lengths these guys go. Notably, there were so many hard slaps and even though they don’t knock you out, that kind of repeated head trauma is exactly what we’ve learned is bad in the long run.
Ibushi also hit the power German, and instead of taking it nearly on his head like Naito did, Tanahashi took it on his shoulder, which also was a risk. Then came the last ride power bomb and Ibushi did a straitjacket German suplex. He went to finish with the kamagoye but Tanahashi reversed into a twist and shout, followed by a dragon suplex, a high fly flow to the back. Tanahashi went to follow with the regular high fly flow, but Ibushi became the first person I can recall ever to get to their feet after a high fly flow, so Tanahashi instead did the crossbody.
Then Tanahashi hit the high fly flow for the pin with the idea it took three high fly flows to win his third G-1. After cheering for Tanahashi, a big Ibushi chant broke out. There was a staredown of sorts in the ring, but Omega took Ibushi to the back, and he was crying heavily from the emotion, to leave center stage for Tanahashi.