September 19th and 20th marked the beginning of the 30th G1 Climax, New Japan’s annual round-robin tournament. Both nights took place from Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium and featured huge main event matches to kick things off with a bang. A Block saw Kazuchika Okada take on Kota Ibushi in a rematch of last year’s block final, while B Block saw the long-awaited rematch between Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how both cards played out!
Night 1 – A Block
Opening Contest – Yuya Uemura vs Yota Tsuji
Match time – 6:57
This wasn’t too much outside of your usual young lion opener. A great showcase of both men’s in-ring fundamentals – fundamentals that both men have practically mastered after two years in the Young Lion system.
Yuya Uemura was the clear standout for me, putting on a relatively dominant performance and bringing the record between the two to 1-1-1. There was some strong, well-executed offence throughout. The strikes connected well, and their force was really shown to the live crowd and viewers at home, as the noise of skin hitting skin reverberated around the near-silent 8,000 seat arena.
Things came to a close with a very well applied Boston Crab, which was really milked by both men to fire the crowd up. Tsuji eventually submitted to bring a good opener to an end.
WINNER – Yuya Uemura (Boston Crab in 6:57)
G1 Climax 30 A Block – Will Ospreay vs Yujiro Takahashi
Match time: 7:34
This was a weird one to watch for me personally. Many westerners object to the inclusion of Will Ospreay in this year’s field, while some have chosen to appreciate him as the excellent in-ring worker he is and acknowledging his controversial past as little as possible. I fall into the former category. But that’s not important. I’m not here to try and convince anyone of anything, I’m here to talk about wrestling.
So, now that’s out of the way – this was a decent affair. 6 months away from the ring hasn’t really slowed Ospreay down much (if at all)and the fact that he managed to have a good match with Yujiro is a real testament to his ability.
Things picked up in the closing 2-3 minutes, with Yujiro hitting some decent offence and Ospreay displaying some of his trademark spots. A fun end saw Ospreay avoid Tokyo Pimps, connecting with a Hidden Blade to Takahashi’s face before quickly hitting the Storm Breaker for the win.
This wasn’t anything too special, but it served its purpose of showcasing Ospreay well. It was short enough to enjoy, clocking in at just under 8 minutes.
What didn’t serve its purpose, however, was Ospreay cutting a relatively cocky promo about being the best in the world. Did the promo increase investment in Ospreay as a potential G1 finalist? Probably. Was it necessary? I don’t think it was – especially when you look at the position of this match on the card.
WINNER – Will Ospreay (Storm Breaker in 7:34) – Ospreay advances to 2 points
G1 Climax 30 A Block – Taichi vs Jeff Cobb
Match Time: 12:47
The worrying trend of me enjoying Taichi matches continued with this fairly strong outing against Jeff Cobb. The first half of the match wasn’t really anything to write home about in all honesty. A bit of Taichi targeting Cobb’s leg. A confusing spot with the timekeeper’s hammer being used which somehow didn’t cause a DQ. Not much else.
The second half, however, was very strong. More strike based offence from Taichi, some power-based offence from Cobb. It really played to the strengths of both men. Taichi eventually picked up the win with Black Mephisto, picking up the clean win and advancing to 2 points.
WINNER – Taichi (Black Mephisto in 12:47) – Taichi advances to 2 points
G1 Climax 30 A Block – Minoru Suzuki vs Tomohiro Ishii
Were we expecting anything other than a great match from these two? I don’t think we were. After all, the G1 is the Ishii showcase tour, while Suzuki has been putting on consistently excellent work all year.
Things got delightfully violent from the offset, turning the gear up to 10 and staying there for a beautifully paced, sub-15-minute war – possibly setting the tone for the rest of both men’s G1 campaign.
Everything about this was wonderful, from the headbutts, to the slaps to the face, to the pure fighting spirit from both men. A very early runaway pick for match of the tournament. I can’t see much coming close to it in execution, although there are some potential show stealers on paper.
WINNER – Minoru Suzuki (Gotch Style Piledriver in 13:00) – Suzuki advances to 2 Points
G1 Climax 30 A Block – Jay White vs Shingo Takagi
This was a very good contest.
Jay has not missed a beat in terms of his move execution and psychology. The usual sitting down/falling to the floor is a simple yet effective thing. Shingo was, as usual, excellent; the perfect opponent for Jay to go up against in his return to Japan.
Takagi sold a back injury very well throughout, something I hope becomes a narrative throughout the tournament. He played the underdog face to an extent here, with an easily-exploitable injury and a natural uphill battle with Gedo’s presence on the outside. He did a great job.
In a nice change of pace, Gedo interference did not lead to a direct end to match in the way it normally does. Instead, he was laid out by Shingo which allowed Jay to capitalise with a low blow. A backdrop suplex and near fall followed, which marked the beginning of the end. Switchblade hit a variant of Prince Devitt’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ (1916, for those only familiar with the Prince’s work as Finn Balor) before connecting with the Blade Runner for the 3 count.
WINNER – Jay White (Blade Runner in 19:28) – White advances to 2 points
MAIN EVENT – G1 Climax 30 A Block – Kota Ibushi vs Kazuchika Okada
This certainly was a match, wasn’t it?
Honestly, this wasn’t great. It followed the standard Okada formula of a slow opening 5-10 minutes, with a slow build to the intense closing sequence. That would’ve been fine if the end didn’t come from out of nowhere. There was some good offence/selling from Kota Ibushi, who picked up the win with a shock Kami-Goye just after the 20 minute mark.
This wasn’t on the level of their Wrestle Kingdom encounter from earlier this year. Nor was it to the standard of their A Block final from last year. A match that really should’ve delivered and set the pace for their block fell flat.
Maybe this was due to the absence of Okada’s Rainmaker and the sequences that can be built around it. Maybe it was because of the one finisher ending when many of us have become accustomed to false finishers in high stakes matches. Perhaps it was simply because of the insanely high standards that we had set as fans. I don’t know.
A Block Standings after Night 1
|Kota Ibushi||2 Points|
|Will Ospreay||2 Points|
|Jay White||2 Points|
|Minoru Suzuki||2 Points|
|Jeff Cobb||0 Points|
|Tomohiro Ishii||0 Points|
|Kazuchika Okada||0 Points|
|Yujiro Takahashi||0 Points|
|Shingo Takagi||0 Points|
Night 2 – B Block
Attendance – 2,640
Opening Contest – Yota Tsuji vs Gabriel Kidd
Match Time – 9:15
Much like the opener from the night prior, this was a pretty decent contest. Gabriel Kidd continues to impress, a 7-year vet who has really proven himself all over again after reporting to Shibata at the LA dojo. It’s only a matter of time before he goes on an excursion and comes back a megastar.
This wasn’t overly flashy and followed the usual Young Lion match layout. Some strikes, a suplex or two, some hyping up of the crowd and a Boston Crab finish. Some may find it somewhat formulaic, but that’s what makes the Young Lion system so great – the guys learn everything to the point of mastery before moving onto anything too big.
WINNER – Yota Tsuji in 9:15 – Boston Crab
G1 Climax 30 B Block – Juice Robinson vs YOSHI-HASHI
Match time – 15:57
So, it turns out that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. It was really nice to see Juice back after spending the majority of the year away from New Japan events. It was even nicer to see him perform just as well as the other gaijins, despite the extended absence.
YOSHI-HASHI put on a great showing too, selling Robinson’s offence while connecting with some strong stuff in his own right. The Butterfly Lock is always applied pretty well, this was no exception. I loved how YOSHI transitioned away from the hold into a backstabber and a Swanton Bomb, His escape out of Juice’s first attempt at Pulp Friction was super smooth. Really great to see.
Juice did eventually get the win though, connecting with the Hand of God twice before connecting with Pulp Friction.
Good stuff overall. I’m very interested in how both men progress in this tournament after great showings in the block opener.
WINNER – Juice Robinson (Pulp Friction in 15:57) – Juice advances to 2 points.
G1 Climax 30 B Block – Toru Yano vs SANADA
Match time – 6:16
This was fun, all things considered. In a time where crowds are practically forbidden from being vocal at live events, comedic wrestling runs the risk of sinking like a lead balloon. But somehow, Yano and SANADA made it work.
Yano was, of course, the driving force behind a lot of the matches’ light hearted elements as we’ve come to expect. SANADA played his role well, trying to catch Yano out with some technical offence instead of allowing himself to be drawn into the Sublime Master Thief’s out-of-ring shenanigans – a mistake that has proved fatal for many in the past – especially in G1 season.
Cold Skull was brought to the outside of the ring eventually, which allowed Yano to capitalise. The King of Pro Wrestling used a concealed roll of wrist tape to tie his adversary to Yuya Uemura, which led to the count out victory.
This was almost de ja vu.
Yano once again caught out one of the favourites to win the block – he did it with Naito, White and Moxley last year, he’s already done it with SANADA this year.
What earns this match its low rating isn’t the content. Not at all. It’s the length of the match. As fun as it was, I feel there could’ve been more to it. It was a pretty fun affair, overall.
WINNER – 2020 KOPW Toru Yano (6:16 via countout) – Yano advances to 2 points.
G1 Climax 30 B Block – Hirooki Goto vs KENTA
Match time – 17:15
Much like Okada vs Ibushi from the opening night, I went into this match with extremely high expectations – expectations I thought were justified when knowing how excellent both can be. And much like Okada vs Ibushi, those expectations were not met.
I’m not saying this was in any way a bad match. I’m simply saying it underdelivered as a result of the lofty expectations that I had set. KENTA did some solid work on the shoulder to set up the GAME OVER submission (which did eventually give him the victory) that Goto sold exceptionally well.
Goto did adopt a similar gameplan as the match progressed, but his execution wasn’t as effective as KENTA’s.
All in all, this was fine. A strong win for KENTA (which we should expect a lot of in this tournament considering he holds the right to challenge briefcase) and a logical one at that. As with other wrestlers who have experienced a limb being targeted thus far, I hope Goto continues to sell the arm – it could keep him looking strong in some defeats.
WINNER – US Title Right To Challenge Holder KENTA (17:15 via GAME OVER) – KENTA advances to 2 points.
G1 Climax 30 B Block – EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr
Match time – 15:54
I think I can say without much doubt in my mind that this was EVIL’s best showing since before the lockdown. I’ve long said that The King of Darkness works much better as a competitor in more concise battles instead of drawn out ‘epic’ matches that go long for the sake of going long.
Zack, after spending the majority of his New Japan tenure as a key heel, was the face here and worked a more power-based, EVIL-style match pretty well. Some of the attempts made to ground the bigger man were thwarted by the former double champion, who used heel tactics to escape and bring things back into his control.
The match was partially spoiled by the Dick Togo interference that we’ve come to expect from Bullet Club EVIL, but ZSJ made it work, getting a huge reaction from the Osaka crowd as he fought off both men and avoided all heel moves from there on out.
A great closing sequence led to the European Clutch from Sabre for the win – a shock (but surely welcome) victory in the eyes of many people.
WINNER – Zack Sabre Jr (European Clutch in 15:54) – ZSJ moves to 2 points.
G1 Climax 30 B Block – Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
Match time – 27:16
This was excellent.
I don’t think I can recall many matches from the past 5 months that have gotten me this emotionally invested. I was like a child, innocently watching these larger than life performers fight for supremacy with pure joy. I forgot about all of the politics. All of the internet complaints. For just over 25 minutes, I watched 2 of my all time favourites put on one of the best New Japan matches of the past 2 years.
Tanahashi entered this tournament with a chip on his shoulder. He’d had a disappointing year, and was on the verge of falling off the edge as the rest of New Japan’s top talent passed him by. Naito entered as the double champion, the cocky leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon. I think in the back of our minds, we knew who was winning; but the Ace made us all believe that he could pull it off on a number of occasions. Even LIJ fanatics such as myself found themselves wanting – nay, needing – Tanahashi to pick up the win.
This wasn’t a pure strike-fest. This wasn’t a high spots encounter to pop the crowd. This was an excellently paced, brilliantly executed story. Tana’s usual targeting of the leg was sold well by Naito, there were some great counters, and Tana showed glimpses of the prime ace that he once was, hitting the High Fly Flow to the outside of the ring and hitting multiple twist and shouts.
At around the 25 minute mark he connects with the first High Fly Flow on a standing Naito, before immediately going back to the top to finish the job. The crowd are electric, the investment in Tanahashi is at its highest. And in one moment, it all goes away, and the realisation slowly sets in that our beloved Ace is not winning. Naito puts things away quickly, hitting some (somewhat sloppy) Destinos to get the 3 count and the win.
While this didn’t have quite the same level of intensity as their trilogy in 2017, the two men put on something truly brilliant here. While Naito’s execution of his big moves was poor a lot of times, he played his role well and really helped his opponent build momentum. That’s all he really needed to do.
Very, very good stuff all around.
WINNER – Tetsuya Naito (Destino in 27:16) – Naito advances to 2 points.
B Block Standings after Night 1
|Tetsuya Naito||2 Points|
|Zack Sabre Jr||2 Points|
|Toru Yano||2 Points|
|Juice Robinson||2 Points|
|Hirooki Goto||0 Points|
|Hiroshi Tanahashi||0 Points|
Overall, this was a great weekend of wrestling. Naito vs Tanahashi was probably the best New Japan main event since Wrestle Kingdom; the two have excellent chemistry with one another and Tanahashi proved he could still be turned to as the Ace of New Japan – one that is desperately needed right now with the absence of Kazuchika Okada and the lack of current main event faces outside of Ibushi. I’m completely invested in his tournament run, even at the age of 43 he remains one of the most emotionally compelling performers, the quintessential babyface, in wrestling.
A Block came out all guns blazing too, with Suzuki starting his tournament with an emphatic statement victory over Tomohiro Ishii (who remains the de facto flag bearer of the NEVER division despite not holding the title since last August), Jay White getting a big win over the consistently excellent Shingo Takagi and Taichi building momentum ahead of a pretty tough G1 schedule.
It was an excellent opening weekend, one that got me (and surely others) hyped for the upcoming month of tournament action.
What did you think of this weekend? Let us know!