And so it begins.
The 2013 G1 Climax was the perfect storm. A resurgent New Japan was peaking, the shows were accessible live worldwide for the first time ever, and nearly every night the shows were off the charts incredible. There is very little dispute that it was the greatest G1 ever. It was probably the greatest wrestling tournament ever. It was the prime contributor to what very well may have been the greatest month of in-ring action in professional wrestling history.
A year later, we may be looking and the last hurrah for the two year run of live wrestling from Japan. USTREAM, the undisputed top quality streaming service for wrestling iPPV’s, will officially be out of the iPPV business on October 1. We’ve become spoiled. Twenty years ago, we would run to the mailbox and hope a package of VHS tapes with months old shows was waiting for us. Ten years ago, we were impatiently refreshing YouTube or infecting our computers with viruses from sketchy torrent sites for shows that were a couple of weeks old. Before USTREAM, most major shows were popping up within days, but we were still at the mercy of a scattered few sources, and there would be dry periods of weeks or sometimes even months where no puro would emerge. There are still a few major New Japan & Dragon Gate shows that have never seen the light of day to this day.
Maybe down the road, a new live streaming method will emerge. I think eventually that’s a certainty. Technology doesn’t move backwards, it always moves forward. Hopefully whatever replaces USTREAM will be just as reliable, but based on the track record of other services, i’m not confident.
That though, is a problem for another day. With this tournament set to wrap up well before the September 30 deadline (we may even get a couple of more live iPPV’s in September, who knows), New Japan offered up all 12 shows of the G1 tour for $160, or $110 if you ordered early. Each event is also available on an individual basis, for either $25 or $15, depending on the quality of the card.
Unlike the brutal schedule of last years tournament, with only one day off, this years event is spread out over two weeks, and each wrestler involved also has one show off. Last year, two men failed to make it to the end, and several others toughed out bad injuries to limp to the finish. The effects were still being felt months later. We’ll have to see if the new format helps in that regard. I asked one person who has participated in the last few G1’s what they thought of the new format, and he said he loved it, specifically pointing to the extra days of rest. So if nothing else, the new format seems to have helped morale. With the added days off, will they be willing to work as hard as they did last year? Can we really blame them if they don’t?
If the first night was any indication, the plan is to have another killer tournament.
1. Block A: Bad Luck Fale vs Tomohiro Ishii – Fale keeps gaining weight, which might not be a good idea for a guy who never really moved all that well to begin with. Ishii is pretty much the perfect opponent for Fale, because he sells very well, takes great bumps, portrays a great underdog, and is strong enough to toss Fale around if need be. This was slow & methodical, and Ishii was pretty great selling for the monster. Ishii slipped out of a Bad Luck Fall, and a hit a belly to back suplex for two that really popped the crowd. Fale has been watching his WWE Network as he used the old Vinnie Vegas snake eyes, then hit a big lariat, but Ishii popped up at one. Ishii was making his big comeback, but got caught and Fale hit the grenade. Ishii kicked out, but then Fale hit the Bad Luck Fall for the win. That move is super protected, so even Ishii wasn’t surviving that. This was a good opener. ***
2. Block A: Shelton Benjamin vs Doc Gallows – Neither guy was over so the crowd was really dead. I thought Shelton put on one hell of a performance here, selling his ass off for Gallows for 90% of the match. Gallows, who I thought would do great in New Japan, has been a major disappointment. He wasn’t moving very well here. He did throw some cool looking punches, so there is that. Shelton hit a jumping knee and followed up with the Paydirt to win this out of nowhere. Crowd popped for the upset. Really good effort out of Shelton, but the indifferent crowd hurt it. **1/2
3. Block B: Karl Anderson vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan – Here’s the thing about Tenzan. It’s not his fault that he probably shouldn’t be in this thing. He moves at half speed, but he knows what he’s doing and he always tries hard. This started slow, but the closing stretch was very good. Tenzan missed a moonsault, and for the sake of his body he might not want to do that every night. Anderson hit the Gun Stun, and the crowd was shocked when Tenzan kicked out. So was I. Tenzan went back up to the top and hit a diving headbutt. He locked on the anaconda vice, but Anderson escaped. Tenzan used a uranage, locked on another anaconda vice, and Anderson TAPPED. This shocked everyone. Surprisingly good. **3/4
4. Block A: Satoshi Kojima vs Yuji Nagata – These guys are real wildcards, because while they aren’t going to win or even make the finals, they are high enough on the pecking order to beat anybody. This was two manly men beating each other up. In what was a first half theme, we had some tremendous selling from Kojima. The working shoes were on, and both guys were putting in great effort. Kojima caught Nagata’s foot a corner boot attempt, and went for his lariat, but Nagata returned the favor by blocking with a kick. Kojima immediately went for another lariat, and this time it landed, for the win. Solid veterans, solid match. ***
5. Block B: Minoru Suzuki vs Toru Yano – Having these guys in the same block has to be Gedo & Jado trolling us all. WE ARE TAPPING OUT, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP. On the bright side, they burned this off right away on night one. It was also super short, as after a couple of minutes of the usual brawling, Yano won with a roll up. Probably for the best that it was booked this way, and now i’m 100% convinced this was a troll job. *
6. Block B: Yujiro Takahashi vs Tetsuya Naito – I think Naito is having a really great under the radar year. He’s had some great matches with Ishii, Fale, Okada, and finally looks all the way back from his knee injury. Yujiro is the new internet whipping boy, but I like him just fine, and these two always seem to have good matches together. This was another. Naito has spent the entire year putting people over and making them look like a million bucks in the process, and he did it again here. Something tells me this is a cool down period for Naito before they try another big push. Following a couple of sloppy performances, Yujiro was back to himself and held up his end just fine. He won it with his new buckle bomb/Miami Shine finishing sequence. Good match. ***
7. Block B: Togi Makabe vs Hirooki Goto – This was manly men beating each other up, part two. Makabe went right after Goto before the bell, which set the tone. If you are looking for a move by move break down, here it is: These men took turns beating each other up. Makabe survived a Ushikoroshi, and Goto rolled out of the way of a King Kong Knee Drop. Goto used a reverse Ushikoroshi, which is a great looking move, but again Makabe kicked out as the crowd started getting behind him. Goto hit the Shouten Kai, and that was too much for Makabe to overcome. Strong match between MEN. ***1/4
8. Block A: Tomoaki Honma vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Honma without question should have been included in the field to begin with, but his last minute inclusion came at the expense of the concussed Kota Ibushi, who they are telling a long term story with against the heavyweights, and who was primed to have some great matches. Honma is unquestionably going to deliver in his place though, and in an entirely different way. Tanahashi went for a cheap shot on a rope break right away, which basically told the crowd “we know you want to cheer your ass off for Honma, so do it & go crazy”. Subtle heel Tanahashi is always fun, and against a guy like Honma it worked even better. I don’t know how many matches Honma is going to win in this thing, but when he does win one, the roof will blow off. He has that unteachable ability to sympathetically get people behind him. I can’t even come up with a good American comparison. Maybe Tommy Dreamer, but roughly a thousand times more effective in the role. Poor Honma was missing falling headbutts all over the place. For the finish, Honma escaped a dragon suplex attempt but Tanahashi hit a straight jacket German instead for two. He went for a slingblade, but Honma ducked and turned it into a cradle attempt and got a two count. Honma then used a dragon screw, and wound up for a lariat that Tanahashi ducked and turned into a dragon suplex. Honma no sold because FIGHTING SPIRIT, but got hit with the slingblade as he was powering up. Tanahashi then went up for the high fly flow, and finished him off. I have a feeling Honma is going to steal a lot of shows on this tour. ****
9. Block A: Katsuyori Shibata vs Shinsuke Nakamura – Some cautious wrestling (as in, actual grappling) early on, which ended with a Nakamura kick to the face out of the corner. Shibata recovered, and from the apron used a side headlock to yank Nak by the neck over the top rope to the floor. Jeez. Shibata slapped him around at ringside for a bit, then tossed his carcass back in and used a figure four. Things got real stiff later when Shibata trapped Nak in the corner and attempted to decapitate him with some brutal forearm shots. This match was violent. There were several transition spots that were simply kicks directly to the face. Nak used a kinda sorta Boma Ye/sliding knee variation thing to ground Shibata, and then set up a full on Bome Ye, but Shibata countered with a wicked dropkick, which again looked like it took Nak’s head off. Shibata then used his pal KENTA’s (or is it “Kenta” now?) Go 2 Sleep, and then a penalty kick for the win. This is exactly the kind of match you want these two to have with each other, and it made me badly want to see a 25-minute version on a big show. ****
10. Block B: AJ Styles vs Kazuchika Okada – Gedo was wearing an Okada shirt that looked like a cheap screen printed t-shirt you would get at a boardwalk that said TOO AWESOME DROPICK. Fantastic. The winner of this would have a key head to head win and huge edge in Block B, since these guys are realistically the only two who can win it. The early going was Okada doing clean breaks and dominating the action, to establish that despite losing to Styles over & over, he is really the better wrestler when things are fought fair. AJ finally gained control with a dropkick that sent Okada to the outside, where they did one of the coolest spots of the night. Okada whipped Styles towards the guard rail for what looked like would be the generic bump you see in nearly every New Japan match, but AJ leaped over the rail instead. As AJ was celebrating his brilliant maneuver, Okada did a running cross body block over the rail and floored him. Some real good back & forth action from there, including Okada hitting his big dropkick to knock Styles off the top turnbuckle to the outside. They did a ref bump, and I swear I heard the collective groan of every person watching. I should note that there had been no Bullet Club presence at ringside at any time in the show up to this point. Yujiro ran in, and tried to use the Tokyo Pimps, but Okada escaped and dropkicked him into next week. Nobody else ran down, so that was the extent of the B.S., which wasn’t that bad. Okada reversed a Styles Clash into a piledriver in a cool spot. AJ ducked one Rainmaker and hit a Pele Kick, but Okada used another and finally got his win over Styles. Okada talked some shit to AJ in post match, basically saying he was coming for that title. Gedo said this was going to be the summer of Okada. This was another awesome match, and all three of the final three bouts were great in different ways. ****
Great show. The only match that wasn’t good was the short Suzuki/Yano bout. If this years G1 ends up half as good as 2013, this will still be a tremendous two weeks. Based on what we saw on this night, it looks like this year has a chance to be just as good as the last, even if all of the bouts on the awesome second half run, which were all very good to great, came up just a tad short of crossing over into being really, really great. This was one of the better shows of the year, and I have a feeling a few of the upcoming stops will top it.