A busy week and the NBA Finals (see my thoughts on my blog) made it tough to keep up, but my morning binge session of the recent nights of G1 Climax action was sublime. I updated the standings below (credit Fightful) and then further down you’ll find my blog-style diary of the events.
October 14th (Block B Night 8)
-SANADA vs. Tanahashi was very good, but I again found myself nitpicking the Cold Skull as his journey continued. It’s a very old WWE beat-writer type habit that I developed when I tried to determine why certain wrestlers were not getting pushed to the level of their perceived talents. Did SANADA skew my perception of him with his pair of outstanding matches with Okada in 2019? I’ve not seen him reach anything close to that level in this tournament, despite rooting for him to win it. Is he more of an Alberto Del Rio? A 3 to 3.5 star match every time out, but not someone suited to regular feature length main-events? Against Tana, I found myself greatly annoyed by his tendency to let go of the Skull End submission so that he can score a pinfall with the Muta Moonsault. Why let go of a sure win? Psychologically, that doesn’t make sense. Of course, the thing everyone always told me when pitching New Japan for my viewership habits is that you can trust that they usually have a reason for various aspects of their presentation, especially the higher profile stuff, which I think labels the SANADA story appropriately. I need to see him knock one out of the park, though. NJPW is the place where amazing matches happen. Amaze me, SANADA!
October 11th (Block B Night 7)
-As much as I dig SANADA, I feel like he has been intentionally held back from the full extent of his capabilities, and I still hold out hope that it was all for the sake of good storytelling, a “finding himself” kind of dynamic that culminates with 6 straight wins, the Block victory, and perhaps more. I can’t wait for him against Tanahashi because that one might force him up to the next level, much like we saw with Shingo bringing that next level out of Okada. Peak SANADA is fantastic, but you cannot help but wonder if there’s a consistent peak level that he is capable of reaching. They touched on this during commentary: in his match with Juice (***3/4), SANADA wrestled a Juice match, not a SANADA match. That has been a running theme for the Cold Skull – he’s a reactionary wrestler, molding his routine into the modus operandi of his opponents.
-EVIL defeating Naito had to happen, otherwise the final two nights for B Block would have amounted to very little drama. I bet that put EVIL haters in an uncomfortable position, rooting for the G1 to stay interesting on that side by hoping for the controversial summer sensation’s victory. I’ve always liked EVIL, but like with his former partner, SANADA, I’m beginning to think more about if he’s got the chops to stay at or near the top. Coincidentally or not, I have nearly fallen asleep during the three biggest matches of EVIL’s career, all this year and recent. I cannot rate EVIL vs. Naito in totality (though its climax was great) because I was nodding off so often. But that’s beside the point I’ve continually come back to about SANADA getting the chance to prove he can get to that next level consistently, as well as the point about the parity in this tournament creating for a must-see final few nights of the G1.
October 10th (Block A Night 7)
-Shingo again stood in the spotlight on the overall 13th night of G1 Climax 30 and he again delivered the goods, in mind immediately suggesting that it is only a matter of time before Shingo is a fixture near the top of the promotion. If you get a chance, go back and watch his face when Okada has the Money Clip fully locked on. Everything great about pro wrestling was encompassed within that awesome final sequence, Shingo willing himself to keep fighting but losing oxygen to his brain thanks to Okada’s now tried and true submission. It is an interesting story to tell, by the way, Okada not using the Rainmaker on purpose and developing new ways to win just because he’s that good, knows it, and therefore can. I felt like this was the match when Okada’s new tools came together and started to click. This was an incredible performance and arguably the match of the tournament (****1/2). Okada getting on track with his best match since WrestleKingdom was great to witness, but the story to me continues to be Shingo. He has stolen the tournament in my opinion.
-Attention will now shift to the final two nights to see who can win Block A. A four-way tie with promises of convoluted, Big 12 Football in 2008 type tiebreakers and accompanying controversy. Sign me up for that kind of drama. Okada. Switchblade. Ospreay. Ibushi. Conceivable for any of them to win frankly. Okada must truly turn it up a notch on these final nights, for the others sharing the leaderboard with him have outshone him to date in terms of performance, aforementioned amazing Shingo match aside.
October 8th (Block B Night 6)
-The SANADA redemption continues in a fringe 4-star match! “The real story is that SANADA is still very much in the mix,” Kevin Kelly said on commentary. Indeed, but at times it felt like KENTA was going to get the best of him and shift the narrative focus back in his direction. I saw some of KENTA’s time in WWE during this one, with the manner in which he played the heel reminiscent of the kind of work I’ve watched for thirty-plus years during the Mania Era. Considering my investment in the Cold Skull’s success, the dirty tactics played right up my emotional alley. As my opinion of KENTA gets reshaped, I find that I like this upper mid-card time stamp better for him than main-event feature length. He seems very well suited to, as my old friend Samuel ‘Plan would say, “help make the show” rather than headline or steal it. I’m genuinely curious now to see if they pull the trigger on SANADA and have him win the Block. The story is there if they want to go all the way with it.
-Tetsuya Naito has had a great tournament. I thought he came into it flat, but his matches have been awesome. He’s been putting in serious work, logging more match time than anyone else by a longshot. I think it’s heated him back up again. The match with Juice Robinson, who basically told a two match story with Tana and Naito that will come to define his G1 and perhaps beyond as he struggles to break into that upper echelon in NJPW, was superb (****1/2). I look forward to seeing what happens with Juice’s future in the company, but Naito’s present and near future now seem rife with possibility. My idea: have him win the Block, lose to Ospreay in the final, and then beat Ospreay at WrestleKingdom. Give Naito the ball for real and let’s see how far he can run with it.
October 7th (Block A Night 6)
-My Top 5 matches of the G1 to date going into the Ibushi vs. Shingo match were Naito vs. ZSJ, Ishii vs. Ospreay, Shingo vs. Ospreay, Ibushi vs. Ishii…definite Top 4…and then probably Ishii vs. Shingo or Ospreay vs. Ibushi. My Top 5 most interesting narratives going into the latter half of the G1 are Ibushi’s quest to repeat, the possible rise to superstardom of Ospreay, the same story as the Assassin for SANADA, clues for the long-term direction of the promotion’s main-event scene, and the unpredictability still being maintained with the parity in the block standings. The main-event intrigued me because I thought it could smash into my Top 5 with a Strong Style dream scenario, as well as add the narrative of Shingo the G1 Climax 30 MVP and breakout star of the tournament.
-And that’s exactly what happened! What a match between Ibushi and Shingo (****1/2)! Theirs is my favorite brand of Strong Style. The quality of the match superb and the story to follow could be as well. Shingo now very much alive in the G1 with 6 points behind Switchblade, Ibushi, Ospreay, and Okada who all have 8 points. It’s getting interesting! Shingo is the MVP of the tournament right now.
October 6th (Block B Night 5)
-Echoing a point made about yesterday’s A Block standings, one of the major takeaways as we crossed the tournament’s mid-point was how wide open things still were based on the points parity. SANADA’s journey has certainly captured my interest. In terms of my engagement with his act and his talent, he reminds me of Sheamus or Cody in WWE circa 2011 and Cien Almas (who I struggle to come around to calling just Andrade) in NXT back in 2016/2017. His style appeals to my wrestling tastes like theirs did, and I find myself championing their causes to make it big and leave a Hall of Fame mark on the industry. I, accordingly, dug that SANADA got to four points by getting his second straight win (*** ½). I anticipate all of his matches from here on if the story is that he will keep winning.
-A writer who used to be a columnist here in his formative years, Sidgwick (now of What Culture), once said to me on social media that he thought Hiroshi Tanahashi was the best wrestler ever. I’ve been slowly working my way through his modern body of work (2012 on) and he makes a very interesting case for how much New Japan needs to start being involved in big picture “greatness” conversations. Tana vs. KENTA was the latest reminder that his legacy building is not complete. Where he is now reminds me of where Shawn Michaels was in 2008-2009, Mr. Consistency with a bunch of really good matches and capable of busting out a classic a couple of times per year. Also, how about KENTA vs. Moxley at WrestleKingdom 15?
October 5th (Block A Night 5)
-I enjoyed the way that the block standings shaped up heading into the Ibushi vs. Ospreay match. Suddenly, it got very crowded at the top, with six wrestlers on six points and another three on four points, well within striking distance. The sports dynamic that NJPW brings to the table has yet to be replicated successfully by a major North American wrestling promotion in my lifetime. AEW has made effort and may get there, but New Japan just gets it in that regard…and I love it!
-Ibushi vs. Ospreay was a battle that was a big deal before the night began, but became an even bigger deal when the standings worked out as they did, as the winner would assume sole position atop the leaderboard. They are quite possibly the two best wrestlers in the world right now, in terms of the sheer volume of their great matches since the start of 2019 and in terms of their pure ability to do so many dazzling things within the squared circle. Disappoint they did not, though the length of the match afforded them only the chance to go so far, leaving plenty in the tank for more rematches down the road. This was third best in their series, but could become someday regarded as the hidden gem of their rivalry (**** ¼).
October 1st (Block B Night 4)
-Three of the five matches were short and sweet, with Zack Sabre Jr. getting a convincing win over Goto, Juice making quick work of Yano (yay), and EVIL taking down KENTA. The length of each seemed to match my anticipation, as I really had no interest in any of those bouts. I rooted for all three winners to emerge victorious, however, so there was that.
-I had a comparable lack of interest in Tanahashi vs. YOSHI-HASHI. It felt like a probable win for Tana and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
-The match that piqued my interest was SANADA vs. Naito. The Cold Skull really fell flat to start the tournament. He looked sharp with fresh attire and hair color, but the wins did not reflect his tournament favorite status, which made you wonder if the losses reflected his lack of favored overall status within the hierarchy of New Japan. A win over Naito had the potential to get him on the right track. You see, SANADA to me is one of the guys NJPW ought to push to the top right now; he is very over, he is very skilled, and he very much delivered in previous main-event level opportunities. But he had to win against Naito; and that’s the beauty of this tournament stylistically – someone like SANADA can struggle out of the gate, then turn it around with a big win and suddenly start barreling again toward big picture success. Was his match with Naito everything that his match with Okada was in last year’s G1? No. The result was the same; he got his win. They left a lot to achieve in regards to in-ring performance, telling a good story of Naito the clearly superior man in a clearly more superior zone than his stablemate. SANADA pulled out the win with his excellent combination of submission hold and high flying, high impact finisher, but he was not necessarily shown to be fully on Naito’s level. I can dig that story long-term so long as it pays off long-term. Very good bordering on legitimately great match due to the storytelling (****).
–B Block standings to date: Naito, Yano, and Juice atop the leaderboard at 6 points apiece, KENTA/ZSJ/EVIL/Tana at 4 points, and then Goto, Y-H, and SANADA have 2 points.
September 30th (Block A Night 4)
-Jeff Cobb is one of the most impressive wrestlers in the world. I have watched enough of his work now, through last year’s G1, season 2 of Lucha Underground, his match with Mox in February on AEW Dynamite, and this year’s G1 to date, that it does not feel like I am hyperbolizing to pay him such a compliment. Legitimacy is not something I care much about in wrestling, but I do look at it as an intangible quality that can really work for some talents, and he is legit. Some of the things that he can do truly amaze me. He’s got Kurt Angle skills in Ishii’s body. Despite his loss to Ibushi (the right call – Ibushi should win it all), I felt that the story of the match was “look how awesome Cobb is.” (***1/4)
-Considering it featured a top candidate for in-ring MVP of the last two years and the guy I’d consider the best-rounded heel in the game right now, Will Ospreay vs. Jay White did not optimize what they were capable of (their match last year when White was IWGP Champ was much better), but it was still a very engaging performance. I was happy to see Ospreay get the win and hand White his first loss, keeping the Assassin’s hopes of winning the G1 very much in play. There were some slick sequences in this one and I found it especially intriguing that Ospreay managed to outsmart the typical villainous routine of White and Gedo. (****)
-Strong Style dreams come true whenever Ishii steps in the ring with Shingo, and the main-event of the overall Night 7 did not disappoint. Admittedly, for a similar reason that I found it so easy to get into Ospreay-Switchblade (the standings and the consequent stakes), I struggled to get into Shingo vs. Ishii (they were a combined 1-5 going into their match). Nevertheless, the sheer of amount of tar that they beat out of each other eventually allowed me to get sucked into the fiction, desiring to perhaps see the winner go on a run that would further justify such a hard-fought victory here. The blessing and the curse of the G1 is the importance of wins/losses. The deeper you get into the tournament, the clearer it becomes who has a real shot at winning, so the guys who face off after losing so much previously form less intriguing match-ups organically. Still, this was a great exhibition of the promotion’s signature style (****1/4).
–A Block standings feature a 5-way tie between Ibushi, Suzuki, White, Ospreay, and Taichi each with 6 points, then Okada with 4 points, followed by Cobb, Shingo, and Ishii with 2 points apiece, and the other Takahashi with 0 points.
September 29th (Block B Night 3)
-SANADA is now 0-3 in this year’s G1. Bummer. I am completely on-board for his redemptive story through the rest of the tournament. Jay White started 0-3 last year and still won the block. The Cold Skull can do it, but what once felt like his time to ascend now feels like they are rewinding his arc and about to edit his presumed journey. A loss to Yoshi-Hashi, who I’ll admit to enjoying in my first ever viewing of his work, was definitely unexpected. This was a really good match, though (***1/2).
-Zack Sabre Jr. might be the most unique wrestler in the world. Every time someone beats him, it feels like a big deal that they have just overcome such a versatile threat. For that reason, I would love to see him rebound from his consecutive losses and make a serious run to win the block. New Japan needs to elevate some guys and ZSJ to me is a far better choice than KENTA, who defeated him here in a 4-star match. I liked KENTA here, do not get me wrong. I paid particular attention to his presentation, including his badass theme music, and I will get myself on board if he is a prominent part of the WrestleKingdom 15 card. You’ll get my train of thought on trying to come around to his talents in this blog. I see him as an other in the Shibata mold, only he is a poor man’s version of Shibata. ZSJ too is an other, but he’s in his prime and has no equal when it comes to what he can do.
-Yano over EVIL is just funny, both on purpose and otherwise. NJPW’s Santino is 3-0 with 6 points. EVIL has not followed up well his surprising summer run, coming across more as a Jack Swagger-esque, “let’s throw this guy in there for a few months just for a change of pace” type than a serious new headliner. There was some backlash against the EVIL push because it came out of nowhere; I like him, but I wonder if NJPW has decided that the consensus opinion of him not being on that level should win out.
-Tetsuya Naito vs. Hirooki Goto just did not interest me, so I turned Night 6 off early. Thought: if you want to reheat Naito, have him be the first champion to win the G1 in two decades.
-Match of the Night for me was Juice Robinson vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi by a hair. The story told was excellent, with Juice scratching and clawing to try and get arguably the biggest win of his career over an aging Tana. Facial expressions go a long way toward endearing me to the New Japan wrestlers because I never hear them cut promos, and both of these guys are great at expressing themselves physically and facially. Juice wanted this one. It was written all over him. He came up short, though. I wonder if he will ever get there. The former CJ Parker has genuinely become an awesome talent. It was unrealistic for Tana to go 0-3 to start a G1, but man I was rooting for Juice to pull it off. (****)