The man who we all thought was going to be the victor in 2018 came out on top this year, defeating Jay White in the finals of the G1.
That being, of course, Kota Ibushi.
Kota finished the tournament with 14 points, leading A Block and only losing to Evil and KENTA. Those losses were his first two matches and he turned it around, winning seven straight matches including a decisive victory over the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, who also finished on 14 points.
He seemed to make quick work of his opponents in the early portion of the G1, most matches lasting between 10 and 15 minutes. His later matches were testing – all being north of 20 minutes – with the final hitting the 31-minute mark. He fought Jay White with an injured ankle after The Switchblade and Hirooki Goto attacked him following his victory over Okada. They used this brilliantly in the match itself, getting the fans fully behind Ibushi – he demonstrated his stellar character work as the injured, yet resilient babyface.
Ibushi is an extraordinary talent, wrestling since 2004 when he debuted in DDT as a solo star. He started teaming with Kenny Omega in 2009 to create the Golden Lovers. In the same year, he won the King of DDT and went on to win the KO-D Openweight Championship, as well as the KO-D Tag Team Championship with Kenny. He would go on to win the Openweight Championship two more times, and the Tag Team Titles four more times (once more with Kenny, three times with different partners).
The Golden Star also started his New Japan journey in 2009, participating in the Best of the Super Juniors where he lost in the semi-final to Prince Devitt. He would participate in the BOSJ 2010, which he lost again to Devitt in the semi-finals. Ibushi received a bit of revenge when he and Kenny would defeat Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi, collectively known as Apollo 55, to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships, his first title in NJPW. With this victory, he also earned a shot at Devitt’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, due to him pinning Devitt in the title match. They competed at Wrestle Kingdom V, in which Ibushi was unsuccessful. The Golden Lovers would lose the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships back to Apollo 55 at Fantastica Mania 11, but Ibushi didn’t give up there. He entered the 2011 BOSJ, winning after a six-match win streak in the round-robin, defeating Davey Richards in the semis and Taguchi in the final to earn another shot at Devitt and his Junior Heavyweight Title at Dominion 6.18. At the event, Ibushi would win his first Junior Heavyweight Title and would defend it until he was stripped of the title, after dislocating his left shoulder.
He returned at Dominion 2012 in a six-man tag match victory, challenging Low Ki for the Junior Heavyweight Title, which he would win on July 29th, only to lose it back to the same man on October 7th at King of Pro-Wrestling. It was in 2013 he began to appear in the main event scene, and in the higher weight class. Kota was announced as a special participant in the 2013 G1 Climax as well as being the first wrestler to sign a professional contract with both DDT and NJPW. He returned to the junior division after the G1 to defeat Devitt for the title at WrestleKingdom 8. He would defend the title against Nick Jackson, Taguchi and Ricochet, who had won the 2014 Best Of Super Juniors but lost the title to Kushida on July 8th, also receiving a concussion in that match which pulled him out of the G1.
Now a full-time heavyweight wrestler, Kota attacked and challenged the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura after his injury. He competed for the title at WrestleKingdom 9 in a losing effort. The Golden Star gained some momentum back winning the 2015 New Japan Cup before choosing the face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles at Invasion Attack in a losing effort. After the G1 2015, he herniated a disc in his neck in November, sidelining him indefinitely. He announced his resignation from the company the following February.
In 2016, Kota was announced as one of the participants for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, receiving some additional limelight from Western audiences. He made it to the semi-finals, beaten by the eventual winner TJ Perkins. It was announced during the tournament that he had signed a contract with WWE but he later denied this, announcing he was only offered one from the company. After the Classic, he was set to team with Hideo Itami (or as we know him now, KENTA) in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Classic on NXT. He teamed with TJ Perkins instead after Itami was injured, making it to the second round being defeated by SAnitY.
Ibushi would return to NJPW, first as Tiger Mask W, then as himself in 2017 again entering the G1 Climax. He became embroiled in the Bullet Club Civil War after Cody attacked him at New Year Dash 2018 before being stopped by Kenny Omega. Ibushi returned the favour, as he saved Kenny from an altercation with the members of the Bullet Club at The New Beginning in Sapporo, officially reuniting the Golden Lovers. They won their return match against Cody and Marty Scurll at Honor Rising, before beating the Young Bucks at Strong Style Evolved. He would not be classed as a member of the Bullet Club until Dominion 2018, the event that Kenny Omega won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Ibushi, Omega and The Bucks would embrace in the ring, forming a sub-group called the Golden Elite. He would compete in yet another G1, making it to the final after he defeated tag partner, Kenny Omega, before losing to Hiroshi Tanahashi. He had a short-lived reign as NEVER Openweight Champion, defeating Hirooki Goto for the title, before dropping it to Will Ospreay just one month later at WrestleKingdom 13.
After speculation that he was joining AEW alongside Kenny, he committed his future to NJPW being announced as the first competitor in the 2019 New Japan Cup. He won his first-round match against Tetsuya Naito but lost to Zack Sabre Jr in the second. He was granted an IWGP Intercontinental Championship match against Naito, which he won at the G1 Supercard earlier this year. He would lose the title back to Naito at Dominion, before embarking on the journey to the top in the G1.
With this win, he has become the first name in New Japan to win the G1 Climax, the Best of the Super Juniors and the New Japan Cup which is an impressive feat considering how many competitors are in each competition.
I really do hope that Ibushi wins the big one at WrestleKingdom next year because he fully deserves it. A fantastic striker able to hit you with any part of his body, as well as being an extremely brilliant mat wrestler. He has a great connection with the fans, and now he’s out of the shadow of Kenny Omega, I believe he can become the ‘Ace’ of NJPW, taking the mantle from Tanahashi.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @George_Geal_. Thanks for reading!