wrestling / Video Reviews

Every Match Dave Meltzer Gave 5+ Stars To (2015-2016) Review

June 26, 2019 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
Shinsuke Nakamura Kota Ibushi Wrestle Kingdom 9
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Every Match Dave Meltzer Gave 5+ Stars To (2015-2016) Review  

For those who are catching this series on the backend, here are all of the entries if you’re looking to catch up:


When you’re finished reading the endless entries in this series, pop on over to Twitter and give me a pity follow @JakeStPierre411

IWGP Intercontinental Title: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9.

While my opinions on wrestling are rarely anything you could consider “different”, for years this was the one match I could never quite believe the hype for. The bout always felt a little bland and unresponsive to me. That’s not to say that belief was rational, but I’m sure there are forum posts out there of me declaring how little this match lived up to its later accolades. Then I realized I’d made a fatal flaw when watching it; listening to Matt Striker commentate over it. Even fundamental, common sense evades me at times.

This is just one of those matches where you don’t need English commentary to understand where it’s going, because the story Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi told is about as simple as it gets. Kota Ibushi is the good looking up-and-comer in the Heavyweight ranks, challenging the perennial Intercontinental Champion, and being as much of a prick and a nuisance as possible in his attempts to win the title. He attempted to get into Shinsuke’s head by incessantly mocking him, and it only seemed to backfire on him when he dared to go for Bomaye, only pissing the champion off more than actively contributing to his mental duress. I especially loved the way this match devolved into almost-sloppy trading of stomps and kicks and slaps because it had gotten so personal. Not because Ibushi tried to sleep with Nakamura’s wife or anything, but because he took the lower route in trying to win the match by mocking Nakamura, who – while usually laid back and flamboyant – was infuriated at the mere thought of that happening, so he decided to stoop to Ibushi’s level and just throw leather at him. And even when Nakamura pretty clearly came out of the match the better man, he still made Kota Ibushi look like a million bucks. Kota was game the entire way through, willing to fight Nakamura’s battles of high-impact striking, or go his own route and use his high flying to get the upperhand.

There’s a lot of fantastic wrestling in the world today, but there aren’t many wrestlers in that world who can tell this basic a narrative in such a nuanced, gripping way. And I feel a little silly for this match not clicking earlier, but I suppose it’s better late than never. I still can’t find it in my heart to give this match five stars, just because there’s a bit of mental warfare about it, and if I can’t call a match five stars without having to convince myself, it just isn’t. I try to let my gut make those decisions impulsively, because it means I’m more passionate in my choice. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is almost as perfect as wrestling can realistically get, and not many matches you’ll ever see can touch this one for sheer quality. ****3/4

NEVER Openweight Title: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma
NJPW New Beginning in Sendai 2015.

The mastery in which these two work this high-octane, brawling style is a wonder. There are a lot of guys out there who try to mimic this style and fail spectacularly due to their neglect of actually delving into the details of why guys like Ishii are so damn good. Sami Callihan has had trouble with this a lot, for example. They go out there and trade elbows and chops and expect the crowd to go mental. Sure, that’s a part of why this match was so good. You had near minute long exchanges of chops and elbows and this molten hot audience was just over the moon.

But motions do not a great match make. There needs to be a demonstrable reason for those strikes to hammer home. This match is a classic example. The Sendai audience had Tomoaki Honma to root for, one of the most entertaining and well-booked babyface characters of the decade. He lost much more than he won, but he was so damn gutsy and charismatic that the crowd was hanging on his every movement to see if that one Kokeshi or that one lariat could be the one that brought him to glory. Ishii worked on top beautifully, but still doing a great job of being his ever-so-reliable badass babyface self. He was defiant in the face of Honma’s stiffest shots, and instead of wilting under the pressure he just gave it back to Honma tenfold. That’s the Stone Pitbull’s entire M.O. Ishii – despite Honma’s best effort – was just the tougher, stronger, and more powerful wrestler. Heart doesn’t get you the world even if every audience Honma works in front of adores him unconditionally. They were talented enough to stretch that simple story out over 25 minutes, and never once did it even think of threatening to drag.

The selling, the peaks and valleys, and general heat of this match were just damn near perfect. I definitely could have done without those thudding headbutts in the last couple minutes knowing where Katsuyori Shibata’s career now stands, and there comes a point when it’s hard to reward a match for something like this in hindsight. Beyond that though, this was masterful and a match I think any wrestling fan should be required to watch if they even so much as think of besmirching the Stone Pitbull or Tomoaki Honma, especially if a lot of your exposure to Honma has been his shoddy post-injury output. Their styles came together spectacularly. ****3/4

G1 Climax Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
NJPW G1 Climax 25 Finals.

While I don’t think this held the emotional impact to really hammer home its classic nature, this was still the sort of New Japan classic main event that you can’t help but gawk at as a pro wrestling fan. It pitted two equally matched wrestlers, both legends of their time, and made them fight for a prized possession; the ultra-impressive win of the G1 Climax, but also a potential main event at the Tokyo Dome.

Tanahashi was attempting to fight Father Time and reclaim his throne from Kazuchika Okada, but first he had to go through Shinsuke Nakamura, one of New Japan’s most consistently elite forces. And he had to struggle his way through an expertly paced matchup to achieve it. Tanahashi tried several different strategies in the early parts of the match, trying to just make Nakamura less explosive as it wore on. He tried a simple headlock. He tried working the knee. None of it stuck to a lasting degree though, meaning that even though Nakamura had taken some damage, he was never beaten to the point where his explosiveness was compromised to a real degree. Tanahashi threw everything at Shinsuke and even hit him with the High Fly Flow, but Nakamura was so tough that even that didn’t put him down at first. Tanahashi instead had to get crafty, improvising by hitting a short High Fly Flow crossbody as both were stranded on top, before he finally was able to string together the killer sequence that netted him the victory.

It’s small tactical threads like that that can put a match over the top. It’s when wrestlers have to go out of their way to change something up and surprise their foe to actually have a chance, and that’s exactly what Tanahashi did. It’s making adjustments. You see it in fights like Marlon Moraes and Henry Cejudo from the latest UFC (as of this writing) event. It’s this realism and attention to strategy and detail that writes the Tanahashi legend. Like I’d alluded to earlier, I think this was a little devoid of the impact that a big rivalry would have given it, but that’s apples and oranges. Not everything is a storied life and death narrative. It’s still the perfect cap to an incredibly grueling tournament and both men should be commended to the moon and back for what they turned out here. ****3/4

IWGP Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada © vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10.

And Kazuchika Okada’s big win against Tanahashi at the Dome ends up being, predictably, an all-time classic match. It took every significant storyline piece of their previous meetings, and collected them all into a match that doubled both as a Greatest Hits piece, as well as the perfect culmination to one of the best feuds in the history of the pro wrestling medium.

Both men came into this match with a wealth of knowledge of the other. Tanahashi was well aware of the danger Okada presented, especially when it came to his signature Rainmaker. Okada knew that – despite the aforementioned threat of the Rainmaker – he couldn’t go to that well too often. Last time he tried spamming the move against Tanahashi, he lost. See Wrestle Kingdom 9. One of my favorite pieces of psychology of the whole feud in fact, is Okada’s subtle timing of his moves to make them mean the most. For instance, in the WK9 match, Okada was only able to hit the dropkick once. It was masterfully timed, but it was too little too late. He put too much stock into another move, and it backfired because Tanahashi knew it was coming. Here, he used that and a whole host of different maneuvers – missile dropkicks, the Tombstone, even the High Fly Flow – to keep Tanahashi guessing. He did things ever so slightly differently, and when you throw off Tana like that, you’ve got a damn good chance of beating him. Okada fought fire with fire and out-maneuvered Tanahashi just as Tana did Nakamura in the match that brought him to this dance.

And then there was the added wrinkle of stealing each other’s finishers, which was probably the most significant character spot since Tanahashi’s fake injury in the King of Pro Wrestling match. It didn’t lead to some grand finale, but it was an incredibly fun little detour from their “usual” match. It played off the WK9 match with Tanahashi actually hitting the Rainmaker this time, but really it also just kept things fresh, I guess you could say. But that’s not to say there was anything “stale” here. T

That leads us to perhaps my favorite part of the match; the finish. The booking of this encounter was incredibly easy to follow. Okada hasn’t beaten Tanahashi on the big stage of the Tokyo Dome, and this was perhaps his best chance to do so. And instead of hitting one Rainmaker and calling it good, he completely and utterly massacred Hiroshi Tanahashi with four Rainmaker lariats. This was a clean, decisive, obvious win. There was no doubt after this match finished who the better man was. There was no need for a rematch and there was no intrigue. Kazuchika Okada was a better fighter than Hiroshi Tanahashi, and that ended the feud. There’s something to be said for such a big ending. It doesn’t bury Hiroshi Tanahashi. He’s bulletproof. He can lose to almost anyone and still be a huge star, especially the man who’s taking his top spot.

I’ve said a lot about this rivalry throughout these last two reviews. It’s a feud on par with Misawa vs. Kawada, Misawa vs. Kobashi, Flair vs. Steamboat, Joe vs. Punk, McGuinness vs. Danielson, and really any tandem you want to throw out there. It’s 100% the defining rivalry of the decade for New Japan Pro Wrestling and has made Kazuchika Okada into a bonafide superstar, and Hiroshi Tanahashi into an all-time great, and a legend. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime program, and there was no better match to formally end it with than this one. *****

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii
G1 Climax 26.

The wrestling world simply does not deserve Tomohiro Ishii. This bowling ball of a man was 41 years old here, and 2-3 years on he still works harder than 95% of the youngest wrestlers to have the best match on every show. He doesn’t particularly look like a wrestler, isn’t very large, nor does he have the best technical acumen; but he doesn’t need to have any of that to be great. He’s a superb psychological worker in the sense that no matter who he’s working against and what that wrestler’s style is, he can blend his own idiosyncracies in with a guy like Okada, who doesn’t normally do the knockdown, drag-out fights. He doesn’t carry the guys, but can adjust ever so slightly to a less furious style while still not betraying what brought him to the dance. It helps that Okada is so ridiculously great, because I really did enjoy the smoothness he brought to even out the insanity of Ishii. He’s like Randy Orton, but actually worth spending your money on. He was forced to fight Ishii at his own game and tried his hardest, but once the Pitbull had him dragged into the fight, Okada didn’t stand much of a chance. It’s an easy story, one supplemented by the tremendous efforts of Tomohiro Ishii especially into coming a credible win against the perennial top dog. ****1/2

Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito
NJPW G1 Climax 26 – Day 18

There is a very good chance that on this night, in this match, in front of this crowd, Kenny Omega was the very best professional wrestler in the entire world. This was a dramatic portrait of a man who put the weight of the world on his shoulders, and not only did he succeed, he blew away even the most generous of expectations with one of the very best wrestling matches I have ever seen.

To be quite honest, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint WHY this match was so good. Was it because Kenny Omega did a magnificent job of selling the knee, even when the match intensified? Was it because they managed to look like they’d peaked three times, only to bring the crowd to an even higher fever pitch with every sequence afterwards? Or was it because Tetsuya Naito took every single insane bump he could to get Kenny Omega as the superstar he was? Those are pieces of the puzzle, sure. But one of the major parts of why this match ended up so incredible was how IMPORTANT it felt.

It really felt like Kenny Omega was fighting for everything. He was fighting for the G1, to prove himself to fans, and internal and external validation. Kenny Omega wrestled like this match meant everything to him, and that was especially blatant against a guy in Naito who doesn’t care about anything unless he feels like it. It was a beautiful clash of ideals. You could even tell Naito was overwhelmed by the fury of Kenny Omega, given that any time he found himself in trouble, he was forced to go after the bum knee he worked on earlier in the match. But Kenny Omega just wanted it too much, and he wrestled the match of his life to get to the G-1 Finals.

There are so many story threads in this match that deserve to be mentioned because they were so perfectly timed and executed – like Kenny not being able to hit the One Winged Angel due to his knee until the last second – but I won’t go into for the sake of brevity, and hopefully as motivation for whoever reads this to seek this match out. If you’re a NJPW fan there’s a chance you’ve already seen it as it gives you critical insight into the Kenny Omega we all know and love. But even if you’re not an NJPW viewer, this is one of the very best matches of the decade thus far and has something for everybody: be it selling, flying, or maniacal nearfalls. If watching this match didn’t get you going to see Omega vs. Okada, then what are you watching wrestling for? It doesn’t get any better than what we got here. *****

Adam Cole & The Young Bucks vs. Will Ospreay, Ricochet, & Matt Sydal
PWG Battle of Los Angeles 2016 – Stage Two.

I really have no clue what I could write here to do this match anything resembling justice. It’s a struggle. It’s one of those matches you just have to sit back and appreciate closely, without thinking of some poetic way to spin it in your head. And let’s face it; this match ain’t that heavy on psychology. It doesn’t have Ricky Morton selling. I didn’t have the gut feeling that I get when I see a ‘five star match’ like a Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. It frankly doesn’t even look like a fight by even the most generous loosening of the definition. But guess what? It’s still breathtaking.

It deserves all the credit in the world for being the pinnacle of its style, and these six men just pulled a virtuoso performance in front of a crowd that had unbearably high expectations. You put this match on paper, and that Reseda crowd is going to expect the world of you. And make no mistake, these men pulled the ultimate rabbit out of their hats.

The finishing minute – without hyperbole – may be the most well-crafted sequence of wrestling I’ve ever seen. This match ended at exactly the right moment, in the exact way it should have, with the sort of grandiose finale that normal wrestlers just could not pull off. Often times, wrestlers will build to a beautiful crescendo but ruin the peak by going too long and sucking all the energy out of their previously raucous match. There was none of that here, and it might be the most perfect example of peaking this side of Dennis Reynolds. So while I will freely admit there isn’t much of a narrative to pick out of this match’s core, you’re going to have to look hard to find anything in the genre as intelligently formatted.

Did this match polarize people? Of course. They’re always going to say that matches like these are “killing the business”, or look like a choreographed dance more than a wrestling match. That’s fine. Everyone has their opinion, and wrestling is one of the more subjective artforms out there so it’s hard to really hold that against anyone. Unfortunately, wrestling fans are historically awful with accepting the concept of subjectivity, but it’s the thought that counts. Whether the style appeals to you or not, you have to respect that these six men went out in front of 400 fans in an American Legion Hall to have what very well could be their magnum opus. From where I’m sitting, this is far and away PWG’s match of the year for 2016 and furthermore, a breathtaking, exhilarating, and almost-perfect example of how beautiful the art of pro wrestling can be. *****

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
It's beginning to feel like an exercise is breaking vinyls to harp on these matches. They are rated five stars by a single person, sure, but it starts to hit me harder as these encounters seem to either hit that benchmark, or sail just beneath it. New Japan finds itself the undisputed king of this column, and with good reason. I can only think of a match or two that I'd even add to the list myself, which is something I can't say about a lot of previous outings. So it's quite clear to me that every single one of these matches comes with the highest of recommendations if you've managed to avoid them for this long.