MOST BIZARRE MATCH OF 2020
Written by Deb (@codenamedeb)
2020 was understandably a weird year for wrestling. I don’t really need to elaborate much on that note (I hope I don’t). The last thing I want this this write-up to be is a recap. There is one match however, that sticks out to me as one I’ve needed to talk about but somehow managed to miss out on, even going so far as to make a 52-minute video essay and somehow still not touching on it.
The most bizarre wrestling match of 2020 to me was not born out of a creative compulsion for adapting to a no-crowd era, or spike a TV rating, or even with that outright intention of basing its USP on solely its unique-ness. On the contrary, it was born out of arguably the most traditional avenue of this pseudo sport we adore so much. It was not born in the face of external factors but merely because it simply needed to come into existence. Because it made sense for two athletes.
Kota Ibushi fought Taichi on the last day of the A block brackets in the 30th rendition of the annual G1 Climax tournament. I don’t believe heading into this match, literally anyone watching would have though we would be having so much fun experiencing it. I don’t believe heading into this match, I knew that I would be pondering over those important questions about wrestling some four months after it took place.
“How did it come to be?”
For people that need to be reminded, this match gained notoriety for a few days for its insane stats of consisting only of kicks. For seventeen straight minutes. Just kicks. And it would have arguably gained a lot more if it were not over-shadowed by the actual tournament finals itself and the historic win of Ibushi.
A total of 153 strikes being thrown in a match is wild. With literally no pinfall attempts until the very end when one of the opponents deemed it fit for the match to be over. If the stats show anything, it is that this is no normal wrestling encounter.
Taichi entered the ring serenading the audience with his soulful lip-syncing abilities as usual, while Kota Ibushi headed straight into the ring without looking away from Taichi one bit, knowing what he was getting into. And what he was getting into was the wrestling equivalent of a “One Night Stand” if I’m allowed to get real for a second(ooo I am going there).
For most parts of the year before G1 Climax took place, Ibushi saw himself deeply engrossed in a personal feud over the tag titles alongside his “god” Hiroshi Tanahashi, against the team of Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.
Before even being denied and defeated by the Dangerous Tekkers who took advantage of Tanahashi being the weak link of their team, Ibushi faced a loss at the hands of Taichi in the year’s New Japan Cup, kickstarting the year of dominance the Suzuki-gun player would go on to have.
There was just one problem, however. Taichi cheats in order to beat Ibushi that night, and if there is anything Ibushi refuses to let go, it is being cheated on. Ibushi would go on to deal with “second-hand” humiliation being associated with Tanahashi who ate the pinfalls against the opponents and broke up with him at the onset of G1(mutually). An important moment for their chemistry as before this, Tanahashi was a god to Ibushi, who has now been reduced to a relic deserving of his sympathy and pity.
Taichi found his own moment of peak in the Grade-1 tournament going as far as to defeat his stable leader Minoru Suzuki, signifying his rise on the ladder.
Both having achieved highs of their own at this stage, Ibushi and Taichi meet on the semi-final night right before Ibushi was to head on to the finals. The terms are dictated by Ibushi. I let you kick me. And then, you let me kick you. Pretty straight-forward. A student of Toshiaki Kawada, Taichi takes on the challenge and with a brave face and determination, lands his hardest looking strikes onto Ibushi who reciprocates in kind.
From allowing each other to brutalize their left leg to sitting with their backs facing their kicks now, they stopped at nothing to showcase what they desired. Taichi fighting to prove his dominance and Ibushi fighting to satiate his arrogance. There is a moment in the match where Taichi breaks the code of honor hitting a back Suplex to Ibushi. Ibushi responds not by hitting him back, but by verbally reprimanding him. Either stick to the game or there is no point. Taichi takes full cognizance of his mistake.
I felt an extraordinarily strong showing by Taichi especially, here. A far cry from the man who would play head games, he steps up to an opponent desperate to find his next big rival. This is the point where I started thinking about the timing of this encounter. Ibushi is at a stage where he seemingly finds himself to be all alone without a spiritual ally for the first time in a long while. He had a coming-of-age teenage romance with Kenny Omega, a dangerously scandalous bond with Tetsuya Naito and finally a forbidden romantic endeavor with his senior Hiroshi Tanahashi. But all of this was the past. Where Ibushi stands currently is a state where he is somewhat all alone. Omega is in a different part of the world dealing with his own band of partners, Naito was busy dealing with the ordeals of being at the top and Tanahashi was already dealt the final blow by Ibushi himself.
What we got on this night was a rite of passage of sorts. Ibushi realizes the position that Taichi has found himself in after all these years. And he cares. Which is why he gives him a fair shot. To level up to an Ibushi who is unhinged and face that energy. For all its worth, this was Taichi’s moment to shine and to fill that spot in Ibushi’s heart that was yearning to be occupied.
But that is not how rivalries work. Rivalries like relationships, are heavily two-sided. Not only do the two sides need to be on the same wavelength, but they also need to accept each other. A one-off feud has no reason to translate into a rivalry just based on the merit of being a good feud. The core of any rivalry that we can think about is acknowledgement. The recognition of the fact that through one another, can the two break away to the next level.
In this match, Ibushi accepts Taichi by having this weird kick-fest with him to begin with, but that does not have to mean it is the right moment to begin a fated rivalry. Maybe he realized there is something Taichi needs to accomplish before that. And he gives him time to deal with everything else before coming on to him.
There is a sense of self-sabotage about willingly getting your leg brutalized right before a finals match where everything is at stake. To think that Ibushi had everything to lose and Taichi nothing, tells us just how much he is ready to care. I could say he has this same dynamic with his final’s opponent SANADA as well, about whom he has stated multiple times that if “Seiya Sanada” were ever to make a return after breaking away from LIJ, his arms would be wide open to accept him.
It is this profound and spiritual arrogance that makes the timing of Taichi vs Ibushi a thing of art. After showcasing how he was ready to open his heart up to that one person, he goes on to arguably experience the moment of his career, being a two-time G1 Climax winner. The match with Taichi preceded the highest of highs that an emotional Ibushi could achieve but it also preceded the lowest of lows when a cunning Jay White tricks Ibushi into thinking he is the one that can fill that space finally. Jay does not just comply to Ibushi’s impulses the way Taichi does. Infact, he goes on to cheat, and take away Ibushi’s G1 championship rights, his place and his pride.
And that is what made Taichi vs Ibushi special to me. It was not fated. It was not destined. It was a hand passed to a wrestler finally breaking out. It was also a failure. A venture being realized too soon perhaps. But for all its worth, it was the most intriguing match that I had ever seen Taichi take part in. To prove he is worth it. And for many of us, he is.
Since I have already teased the relationship Ibushi shares with Kenny, Naito, Tanahashi and Jay, I think it would be fair to mention my recent video essay that does a complete breakdown of these rivalries and the themes behind them that Ibushi evokes.
While my initial plan was to include this piece into the eventual video but finally writing this made me realize why I chose not to in the first. It is a story still being fleshed out compared to every other tale that has had its phases to look back on. That being said, consider this to be the “Lost Pages” to “The Romantic Misadventures of Kota Ibushi”.