New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax
Louis Bright Raven's thoughts and opinions on the 1st NJPW tournament to be held in the U.S
Thoughts on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax in Dallas Texas this past weekend (July 6, 2019).
It is a historic event for the company marking the first time the tournament has been held outside of Japan and the first to be held in the United States. (I would like to see NJPW spread this out so that they have one week of the tournament in Mexico, too, someday.) This location actually set things up for some interesting match results, too.
Match 1: Roppongi 3K Vs. Guerrillas of Destiny
The overall speed and choreography of the match was solid. RP3K was clearly the team being showcased even though they were selling GoD’s power based moves and playing Faces in Peril most of the match. Many people online are saying that the right team ‘went over’ (won the match) because of GoD’s higher profile as dual world tag champions in two promotions (NJPW and Ring of Honor), but I respectfully disagree. I don’t think an RP3K victory would have hurt GoD’s credibility at all and it would have set the stage both for a feud down the road to further showcase Sho and Yo but would have set the stage for some of the matches later in the evening. I wish what they’d done with RP3K Vs. Guerillas of Destiny was made it a non-belt match and had 3K get a surprise win and a future shot at the NJPW heavyweight Tag Belts (3K are what are referred to as ‘juniors’ I.E. smaller sized guys in the company, for those unfamiliar with the business), and then had GoD hit them with the way they actually finished the match out of frustration.
Still, it’s an average show starter match. Grade: B
Match 2: Shota Umino and Tomohiro Ishii vs. Ren Narita and Jeff Cobb
Honestly, I watch NJPW weekly and I didn’t know who Umino or Narita even were (apparently they are “Young Lions” AKA training to be full-time wrestlers in the NJPW dojo training center whom the company thinks are good enough to be seen on TV). But if a regular follower like myself doesn’t know them, that probably isn’t a good sign for the Texas or new viewer audience. These two should have been having matches on TV on regular New Japan over these past couple of weeks to familiarize us with them before a major show – the first G1 tournament on American soil in the company’s history.
But the story is really about Ishii and Cobb, who are going to be feuding in the tournament but since they are in a different ‘block’ of the tournament that starts in Japan next week, this match was supposed to be a warm up / preview to next week’s real match (hence the Young Lion tag partners for each of them). The striking between Cobb and Ishii was fierce and the match did what it’s supposed to – put their match next week over – but was it really necessary? Most NJPW fans know of both performers and would have been excited to watch them next week, regardless, and new viewers got to see the two powerhouses, sure, but I wouldn’t say that casuals are going to tune in next week just because of this match to see them go one on one.
Match 3: Yoshi-Hashi and Hirooki Goto vs. Chase Owens and Jay White
Again, to me, this is a wasted match, just padded time on the card. Yes, the “point” of the match is to preview Goto / White for next week’s B Block of the G1 tournament. But the ‘highlight’ star in the match is Chase Owens, who largely has not been seen in matches on NJPW on AXS TV as he is still sort of a Young Lion himself, or just debuted a little while ago and hasn’t really built his reputation all that much, in my opinion. So okay, you’re giving him some spotlight – why not just have this as Yoshi-Hashi vs. Owens? I don’t think we need to ‘build up’ interest in the B Block, personally. Everyone in the tournament is badass and we’re all looking forward to seeing them, I don’t think we need “previews”.
Match 4: 6 Man Tag Match: Los Ingobernables (Tetsuya Naito, Bushi, and Takagi Shingo) Vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Juice Robinson, and Toru Yano.
This match was done for two reasons: One was to feature Liger, who is in his retirement tour this year at age 54, and it makes sense to have him in what may be his final appearance in the U.S. but I would think he could have put over a younger guy for the promotion. The fans remember Liger from decades ago when he was in WCW in the early 1990s, and a single showcase match would probably have been a better use of him for the new viewers, even at his age. The other reason was again to highlight a match for next week’s B Block show, between Robinson and Takagi.
The match was well done, highlighting the latter. I think Naito vs. Yano’s part (Yano is a comedic wrestler who pranks his opponents for wins and usually gets his butt kicked by anybody remotely promoted in the company) was well done. Didn’t like the finish of Yano low-blowing Bushi for a roll-up victory, as it seemed to come out of nowhere. But I guess Bushi had to be the one to take the loss for his team because Naito is too big a name and they want Tagaki to look strong for next week. I guess I’d have just preferred a Liger / Bushi singles match.
Match 5: G1 A Block Tournament Match: Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer
NOW business is about to pick up. Only I wasn’t expecting it to, because Lance Archer hasn’t really been on the radar in NJPW as of late due to a back injury that required surgery, and the only time I’ve seen him is when he’d been tag teaming with Davey Boy Smith Jr. as the Killer Elite Squad and they haven’t exactly been profiled much on NJPW as of late due to Archer’s injury. Archer was sporting a new hairstyle that looked goofy as hell, but his physical size was reminiscent of WWE’s Drew McIntyre. Ospreay is one of NJPW’s top rising stars of the Junior Heavyweight division so I expected Ospreay to make short work of him, as Archer has largely been a ‘jobber’ (the guy who regularly loses) as a singles competitor in NJPW in recent years. However, this show is taking place in Archer’s hometown of Dallas Texas, so he’s presumably amped up and ready to put on a show for his hometown crowd.
And DAMN, did these two put on a show. Apparently, they had competed in non-televised matches before and had tore the house down, which is why they paired them up here. And I can see why. Archer was selling and bumping like mad to put over Ospreay’s aerial offense, while Ospreay looked like he was getting destroyed anytime the larger man hit any moves himself. There were a couple of times where Ospreay hit Archer too high and should have kicked Archer in the chest or back, and so it seems like Archer takes way too many kicks to the head and should have gone down for the loss in the overall story of the match. But because I think everybody expected Ospreay to win, the finish of the match where Archer just blows him up for the victory was such a surprise ending to a solid match it was pretty much the best match of the night. I have no doubt that had this match taken place over in Japan, Ospreay would have come out the victor. But it doesn’t hurt Ospreay to lose because he’s a junior and ‘hot’ in the promotion overall, and it gives Archer some much-needed credibility in the tournament as he has not been utilized as a singles competitor much on NJPW American TV all that much. I hope they book Archer for 3-4 more wins against the rest of the block in the tournament. Archer’s getting near the end of his career at age 42 and having had multiple knee and back surgeries, and while I get this was his hometown, he deserves more push after that performance.
Match 6: G1 A Block Tournament Match: Evil vs. Bad Luck Fale
Well, I have to say I’m not much of a fan of Fale. Over 350 pounds and reasonably semi-agile for his age and size, but he doesn’t sell his opponents’ moves for crap. The match was a mess, throwing in all kinds of weapons that should have DQed both wrestlers and the whole thing should have been thrown out with no points to either wrestler. Evil did all the work, the voice-over work for storytelling by announcer Kevin Kelly is what really put Fale over as he explained how Fale cheated all during the tournament last year and this is likely to be similar tactics. Fale is crap and given how he got himself DQed in over half his G1 matches last year, I question why NJPW wasted a slot in the tourney for him when they have much better available talent on their roster. I really feel bad for Evil, because he deserved a better match. No doubt it was next to impossible to deliver a match anything close to the one Ospreay and Archer just had before them but having those two matches back to back really highlighted how bad this match was.
Match 7: G1 A Block Match: Sanada vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Well, this was expected to be a strong match. ZSJ, like Ospreay, is one of the hottest young stars in the world of pro wrestling right now. Sanada’s been building a solid reputation in NJPW the past year and is a fan favorite. Both men are superb “chain” (able to counter the opponent’s move and/or flow between multiple move sets quickly and logically) and submission style wrestlers, and Sanada’s also a decent power guy for his size. (ZSJ is long and lanky and often looks like a scarecrow in terms of muscularity, but his thinness is part of what gives him his agility and means to function as a chain wrestler). They are in many ways a perfect match up for each other.
The psychology of the match was well done. The choreography was very nice. Lots of well designed counters and reversals throughout the match, Sanada getting some power moves in but not enough to put ZSJ down for the count, ZSJ not being able to put Sanada away with any of his torturous submissions (and to be clear to readers who are unfamiliar with these performers, ZSJ is so dominant in submissions that he has been known to go through entire tournaments submitting everyone he faces without suffering a loss himself as seen in the 2018 New Japan Cup Tournament, so the fact that Sanada can survive the onslaught really puts the story over). Sanada defeating Sabre with an unexpected bridging roll up for the pin not only gave us a match akin to the Ospreay / Archer match given ZSJ was heavily favored given his recent successes in tournament competition, but it gives Sanada another push towards stardom which he deserves because he s sort of been a background guy in Los Ingobernables behind Naito and frankly I think Sanada s potentially the better overall wrestler than Naito, but Naito s character is what keeps him at the fore.
GRADE: A. (I would have preferred the match ended with a proper finisher than how it ended, but that s the only thing I can really downplay.)
Match 8: G1 A Block Match: Kota Ibushi vs. Kenta
I m going, to be honest. This was about three hours into the show, and I just ate dinner and usually when I eat dinner, I fall asleep briefly and sadly, this was the match that suffered for it. This is partly why I wished they d kept the non-tournament matches off the TV and just started the show later with just the tournament matches. I would have planned things differently and eaten earlier, but when you have a four-hour show, it’s difficult. It’s very annoying because this match was easily the most anticipated on the card because of Kenta s return to the ring. Kenta is a high profile guy who actually made it over to the WWE for a time (which is rare for New Japan wrestlers who aren’t Americans), and his return to the promotion received a huge ovation. Ibushi has been gaining momentum in the promotion as of late in the singles competition, especially since Kenny Omega isn’t holding him back as a tag team partner anymore now that Omega is in All Elite Wrestling. (And yes, I m sorry, but Omega was definitely holding Ibushi down; their brief reunion as the Golden Lovers brought eyes back on Ibushi, but once eyes were on him, anybody could see he doesn’t need Omega to get over with the audience.) So having slept through most of it, I had to wait to see a replay on the internet before I wrote this.
The match starts out really well, looks almost more like an MMA match with them trading kicks to one another. Kenta was really hampered in the WWE due to injuries and frankly the WWE just not knowing how to use him (he s a strong style striker and WWE wanted him to be a spot monkey I think because he s a smaller guy). THIS is the Kenta we were all wanting to see. He takes over and really does a number on Ibushi in the early third of the match. Ibushi is a high-level striker in his own right, but Kenta is almost putting Ibushi through a striking clinic, which is really building Kenta up in the match. Midway through the match Ibushi starts to make his comeback, teasing some nasty spots that they don t go through with (and I kind of have to say thank you for that – too much chance of one or both guys getting hurt), but the outside the ring stuff (Kenta double stomping Ibushi over the guardrail) I wish they hadn’t done. Yes, I know Kenta is a badass and will use anything he can to win, but it sort of takes the badassery they d just done in the ring already and diminishes it, because now it’s implying neither guy can get the edge in the match without resorting to questionable tactics and spot moves. They quickly get back in the ring and go back and forth on both strikes and finishers… probably a good 2-3 minutes too long, in my estimation but I think they were trying to go for as close to the time limit for the match as possible. Kenta hit the Go To Sleep finisher at the end too low (in the lower chest instead of the face) because I think he knocked Ibushi loopy already with the head kicks just prior. It was not a good version of GTS, but Ibushi sold it well. It was a great match to bring Kenta back with and it should return him to prominence in the company and I hope it brings WWE viewers who liked him or even those who thought he was overrated to come watch him where he can shine. This is what you should have gotten in WWE from Kenta. I originally fell asleep just as the match started and woke up right at the GTS finisher. Glad I went back to watch the whole thing. It wasn’t quite as good as the two A grade matches because Kenta was just a little too dominant for that, in my opinion, but it was a top-level mach.
GRADE: A – (Would have been even higher if hey had let Ibushi be a little bit more competitive but man did he take a beating to put over Kenta.)
Match 9: A Block Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
This was your main event, but let s be honest – this is an old feud and Tanahashi s been so wrecked body wise these past few years that while he s still an amazing performer, this match was never going to measure up to Ospreay / Archer, Sanada / ZSJ, or Kenta / Ibushi. It was only there because of the rivalry and the fact that Okada and Tanahashi are two of the top 4 stars in the company right now, and the best way to present them was against each other for the first time in the U.S. So I get the story logic and the business logic of the matchup, it really didn t mean much to me. The match was their usual match. I’ve seen this enough times that unless they take it up several notches to make it akin to Ric Flair / Ricky Steamboat Chi-Town Rumble historical level match, it just gets boring because you know what they re going to do. And this did. The match went 22 minutes plus and probably could have been told in half that time, but they ran the Fale / Evil match way short (understandably – Fale could never go a 20+ minute match I don t think, especially not with all the weapons and crap involved) so I guess they had to fill the time somehow?
Both performers did fine, in so far as it goes. Typical Okada / Tanahashi matchup, no surprises, solid stuff, just since we ve seen it so often, it falls flat.
Also this match s booking was obvious from the start that Okada was going to come out victorious, which was not a good thing, because Okada is the company s world champion. I think the IWGP Champion shouldn’t even be in the tournament, as the whole point of the tournament is to determine a new #1 contender, but they always allow this in NJPW because they claim they will let the Champion pick his next opponent if he wins the tournament – well, gee, seeing as he just beat 2/3rds of the competitors t win the tournament, whose he gonna pick – one of the losers from the other block group he didn’t t get to face? So this is a major story and booking problem in my opinion.
To recap: The show only had one bad match (Fale / Evil), and there were three amazing matches. It could have done without the early tag matches as none of them really told stories for the future as they should have, just mini-highlights for next week s other block of G1 competitors and the show would have been aces, but the tags and the Fale/Evil match to bring the overall showdown from an A grade show to a B grade ultimately.
OVERALL SHOW GRADE: B+
My hope is that since Kenta and Okada are in the same block, that Kenta gets pushed through to main event against him, ultimately.