I did not want this to be epically longer than it was already becoming, so here is the running diary from Days 1 through 5. New Japan, I might add, has completely taken my focus away from AEW, which is the first time since last year’s G1 Climax that a promotion has done that. The G1 is must-see wrestling TV. If I was Tony Khan, I would actually steal the G1 concept from NJPW and do it in AEW. Think of that happening on Dynamite for two months.
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. (****)