NJPW G1 Climax 28 Final results: Tanahashi and Ibushi battle in instant classic

The Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling is heading back to Wrestle Kingdom to challenge for the IWGP heavyweight title after defeating Kota Ibushi in an instant classic to close out the 2018 G1 Climax. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi entered the 2018 G1 Climax as a man barely clinging to his status as the Ace of NJPW after losing to Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP title earlier this year. Few expected him to make the run he did and find his way into the G1 Finals against Kota Ibushi. But a magnificent match with Okada saw him escape the A Block with a draw. The only thing standing in his way of appearing in the main event of WK 13 was Ibushi, who blazed through the stronger B Block and beat fellow Golden Lover and IWGP champion Kenny Omega to punch his ticket to the finals.

MORE: G1 Climax 2018: Wrestling media world selects fantasy G1 tourney participants

The narrative of Golden Lovers squaring off at Wrestle Kingdom was a tantalizing dish for pro wrestling fans, but Tanahashi refused to step aside and closed a brilliant G1 run with an 8-1-1 record and a third G1 Climax trophy.  

The match? Just as epic as you would expect it to be. The 41-year-old proved that he still has it with another classic match under his belt as the old guard simply wasn’t ready to give up his spot to the hungry lion Ibushi. One could argue that it was indeed Ibushi’s time to be elevated into the main event picture. However, there was something special about seeing Tanahashi upend Ibushi with Omega getting a ringside look at one of the greatest talents that New Japan Pro Wrestling has ever seen.  

It was obvious that this would be special as Tanahashi had Katsuyori Shibata in his corner while Ibushi had Omega in his. The crowd inside of the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo was on absolute fire just from the visual of the superstar talent in and out of the ring. 

The match started off with some grappling as Tanahashi focused his attack on Ibushi’s legs to impair the high-flying striker’s mobility and powerful kicks. When Ibushi countered a low Tanahashi dropkick with a double stomp on the edge of the apron, all bets were off and the match hit a fevered pitch and only climbed as it progressed. 

Once back in the ring, Ibushi attacked with strikes and blasted Tanahashi with kicks to the chest. Tanahashi eventually caught one of those kick and hit a vicious dragon screw leg whip. 

Knowing that Tanahashi would not be deterred from his assault on his legs, Ibushi did everything he could to avoid taking damage. A corner dropkick by Tanahashi was immediately met with a double stomp as soon as the Ace landed on his stomach. After a dropkick sent Ibushi outside, Tanahashi was cut off attempting a dive but reversed a lawn dart with a sling blade.

The early portion of the match was all about Tanahashi using his veteran knowledge to cut off any and all comeback attempts by Ibushi. For the most part, it worked. A wicked forearm exchange appeared to swing the momentum in Ibushi’s favor but was once again cut off with a gut punch and a leg kick by Tanahashi. Ibushi ducked a clothesline that sent Tanahashi outside, but the veteran’s attempt the skin the cat was well scouted by Ibushi, who picked off Tanahashi and spiked him on his often-injured neck for a near fall. 

Once again, it appeared that Ibushi had the momentum on his side and sought to drive Tanahashi down with a last ride powerbomb. But Tanahashi’s expert preparation saw him again cut off Ibushi’s push with a pair of dragon screw leg whips and a Texas cloverleaf that severely slowed Ibushi down. Although Ibushi would escape and roll to the outside, he was met with a Hi Fly attack. 

Finally, after so many of his comeback attempts were intercepted, Ibushi smartened up and reversed a sling blade attempt with a hurricanrana that sent Tanahashi outside. Keenly aware that his opponent had scouted all of his trademark moves, Ibushi went away from the golden triangle moonsault and instead caught Tanahashi off-guard with a springboard 180-degree moonsault. 

With the tide officially turned, Ibushi went for a top rope hurricanrana. Tanahashi slapped him in an effort to slow down the Golden Lover. However, rather than allow Tanahashi to recoup, Ibushi immediately sprang back and nailed the top rope ‘rana that sent Tanahashi onto his neck. After Tanahashi kicked out of a dragon suplex, Ibushi again moved swiftly and tried to hit his opponent with the Kamigoye. This time, Tanahashi was one step ahead and dodged the knee for a roll up and a near fall. Ibushi popped up and cracked Tanahashi with a bomaye. 

The crowd was white hot but probably wasn’t prepared for the third gear that this match hit. 

Tanahashi reversed yet another last ride attempt and met Ibushi with a slap. This played right into Ibushi’s wheelhouse and resulted in an absolutely brutal exchange of palm strikes with Ibushi getting the better of the exchange and crushing Tanahashi with a front kick that sent him into the corner. 

With the former champion down and seemingly out, Kenny Omega screamed for Ibushi to finish him off. Instead, Ibushi wasted too much time and allowed Tanahashi to get to his feet and fire off a thudding slap. Ibushi tore into Tanahashi with palm strikes, but the Ace pressed forward, eating everything that Ibushi hit him with. It was a powerful scene with Ibushi stunned that the seasoned veteran could take his best shots. Yet another vicious exchange of slaps ended with Ibushi firing off a lariat that turned Tanahashi inside out. 

Fatigue was now a factor as the two exchanged strikes from their knees. Eventually, Tanahashi got to his feet and shredded Ibushi with European uppercuts. 

The final stretch was a frantic one where both tried to close the show with their best. A High Fly Flow from Tanahashi was met with knees from Ibushi in a callback to an earlier matchup between the two. Ibushi hit the same moonsault into double knees that crushed Kenny Omega in the B-Block final and went for a lawn dart for good measure. A second rope German suplex was quickly followed by a last ride but Tanahashi wasn’t ready to call it quits yet. Another Kamigoye attempt was sniffed out by Tanahashi but Ibushi held the grip and nailed a straitjacket suplex. Ibushi went for another Kamigoye but ate a pair of twist & shouts from Tanahashi. Ibushi’s high kick was well scouted and countered with a Tanahashi dragon suplex for a near fall. With Ibushi dead to rights, Tanahashi nailed a trio of High Fly Flows to polish off Ibushi in an epic encounter and win his third G1 Climax. 

Everything about this match was handled brilliantly as the old dog outsmarted his opposition and mustered up the machismo to pull off what was possibly a huge upset by winning the tournament.  

Was this the best match of the G1? Perhaps. Ibushi-Ishii might have a say in that. Nevertheless, it was a monumental encounter that sets up a possible Wrestle Kingdom showdown between Tanahashi and Omega. The narrative is rather simple: Omega will want revenge after watching Tanahashi snuff out his best friend’s G1 dreams while Tanahashi goes for what will possibly be a final run at the IWGP world heavyweight title. There’s also the narrative that Omega will want to prove himself to be the greatest IWGP heavyweight champion of all-time. However, he absolutely needs to knock off the reigning Ace of the company in order to take those steps. This match only heightened the expectations for WK 13’s main event. 

Grade: A+

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