As we entered into Day 4 of the 2014 NJPW G1 Climax, several themes had developed. The guy nobody wanted in the field, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, was having one hell of a tournament, far exceeding even the most optimistic expectations of how he could perform. Shelton Benjamin at 3-0 had emerged as the early “miracle run” guy, like Yujiro Takahashi last year, and Taichi in the Best of the Super Juniors earlier this year. The shows to this point were all balanced, with good stuff throughout, with Day 2 in particular being solid from start to finish. All three shows ranged from good to excellent, with some even calling Day 1 a show of the year contender.

About the only thing this tournament was lacking so far was a strong, blow away match of the year contender. Day 1 had three excellent matches, and each night has had its share of quality stuff, but what was still separating this year from last was the nightly run we saw in 2013 of at least one truly awesome, stand out MOTY contender on nearly every show.

Could Day 4 deliver the first true MOTY contender of the tour?

1. Block A: Bad Luck Fale (4) vs Satoshi Kojima (2) – Fale has been the lousiest worker in the tournament so far. The longer his matches go, the more he’s exposed. In an indirect way, the stock of Shinsuke Nakamura has gone up as a result, since somehow Nakamura was able to get two good matches out of him earlier this year. Kojima is a guy who is consistently underrated, and has been for many years. It’s actually pretty remarkable how well he’s performed a this stage of his career, especially compared to other guys from his era who are still around. What was apparent right off the bat, was that this crowd was hot. This was pretty good when Kojima was on offense, and dragged when Fale was in control, which has been the theme of Fale’s bouts. Kojima being all wobbly legged, even when in control, was a nice touch. Kojima put him away with the Cozy Lariat. Kojima worked hard and it ended up OK. **3/4

2. Block A: Shelton Benjamin (6) vs Davey Boy Smith Jr (2) – Everybody is waiting for Shelton to go on the long losing streak, like Yujiro last year when he started off hot. DBS has had good matches with Nakamura and Shibata so far. They shook hands before the match. DBS dominated with some grappling, and was in full control before Shelton slipped out of a powerbomb attempt and scored with a superkick. In a super cool spot,  DBS appeared to be on the verge of tapping to an ankle lock, but he powered out and countered in to a sharpshooter. Shelton shocked the world again, hitting another Paydirt and moved to 4-0. This was a good match. Solid grappling, nice counters, and Shelton continues to not only win, but perform well in the limited time his matches are getting. I enjoyed this. This made me want to see something longer from these two. They shook hands again after the match. **3/4

3. Block B: Minoru Suzuki (0) vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan (4) – Tenzan has been the big surprise of the tournament from a performance standpoint, working his ass off and delivering above expectations. Suzuki has really only had one real match so far, with a day off plus the short “match” he had against Yano on night one. This was looking like a dud but picked up as it moved along. The story was Tenzan fighting off multiple Gotch Piledriver attempts, and Suzuki slipping on the choke from tricky angles. Tenzan never had any real sustained momentum here, which fits the broader story being told so far in his tournament. Suzuki used the Saka Otoshi, which is a brutal looking side facelock/judo takeover combo that looks like it kills the guy taking it, followed up by a ground choke and Tenzan immediately tapped. Great finish, with the idea being Suzuki had to figure out another way to win since he couldn’t land the piledriver. ***

4. Block B: Hirooki Goto (6) vs Toru Yano (2) – This looked like a squash, with Goto attacking before the bell, and quickly setting up the Shouten Kai, but Yano slipped out and cradled him up for the win. Too short to rate, but this was a ton of fun. NR

5. Block A: Tomohiro Ishii (2) vs Tomoaki Honma (0) – I liked this better than the match at Wrestling Dontaku. This was GREAT, worked exactly how these two men should have worked a match against each other, and was pretty much everything I want out of a wrestling match. Two of the best in the world today (maybe THE two best in the world today), in a total slug fest, filled with emotion, an awesome crowd, tremendous near falls, incredible drama, top notch facials, mannerisms and selling…I mean, what else could you possibly want out of a professional wrestling match? They even found a way to take a slight botch, and work it into a compelling spot that actually worked out better in the context of the match than if the botch had never occurred (Ishii losing Honma on a powerbomb, but then turning it into a spot where Honma was struggling and fighting him off). The best match of the tournament so far, and the MOTY contender the tournament was lacking to this point. If you can find flaws in this, you’re either trying too hard, simply don’t like the style, or probably just need a new hobby. ****1/2

Intermission

6. Block B: Lance Archer (2) vs Togi Makabe (2) – This was a long, methodical beating from Archer. Makabe had one brief comeback, but that was it. To me, Archer conveys the foreign monster much better than Fale, who aside from a very over, very protected finish, doesn’t bring much else to the table. At one point, Archer jumped the railing and teased going into the crowd, causing an entire section of fans to shit themselves. Archer hit the Dark Days, and they teased a Makabe KO. Makabe was great here, with his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Archer went up to the middle turnbuckle to taunt the crowd, but Makabe recovered to give him a sneaky spider German suplex. Makabe then hit the King Kong Knee Drop to finish him off. I loved that finish, very creative. ***

7. Block A: Yuji Nagata (2) vs Shinsuke Nakamura (2) – There is a real buzz when the fans know Nakamura is coming out, more than probably anybody else on the roster. Nagata is a guy who I always feel like I should like more than I actually do. He just never connects with me. The work here was fine, but like most Nagata matches, the flow just never feels like it’s there for me. For example, the previous match witch Archer and Makabe told a very clear story, but this sort of just meandered around until Nak finished Nagata off with two Boma Ye’s. It was OK, and they worked hard, but I feel like other people probably liked this better. ***

8. Block B: AJ Styles (2) vs Tetsuya Naito (4) – Syles went right after Naito’s head wound from the night before, and worked it over the entire match, with a shit eating grin on his face to boot. The big spot was Styles putting the brakes on the first big Naito comeback with a Pele kick, followed by a Bloody Sunday. Naito hit a gorgeous German suplex that popped the crowd and scored a two count. Naito, even with is battered, bloody face came back to win this with the Stardust Press. I feel like the wrong guy won. I understand the champ needs to drop a few to set up title matches, but Styles isn’t your typical champ. He needs strong wins, and Naito would qualify as a strong win while also being a guy that isn’t a big sacrifice right now. ***1/2

9. Block A: Karl Anderson (0) vs Kazuchika Okada (6) – These two always have good chemistry. Coming in, I figured Anderson pretty much had to win, because starting 0-4 would essentially eliminate him. Okada was in good shape at 3-0, so he didn’t need this. And that’s how it played out, with Anderson scoring the win with the Gun Stun. These guys always have awesome reversals and counters as they try to hit the Rainmaker & Gun Stun on each other, and the finish here was a great example of that. Would have been a little better had it been a tad longer, but still a fun match. ***1/2

10. Block A: Hiroshi Tanahashi (6) vs Katsuyori Shibata (2) – This was the first (and highly anticipated) singles match between these two since Tanahashi totally buried Shibata in his autobiography. A lot of the matches on this night felt like tournament matches. This one didn’t. This had the feel of and was worked like a big time main event of a big show. The closing stretch was great, and left plenty of room for the eventual rematch. Tanahashi used a High Fly Flow to the back, but Shibata got the knees up on the follow up. Shibata hit Tanahashi with a spinning back fist chop that I felt in Texas. Shibata went for the Go 2 Sleep, but Tanahashi reversed in mid air into a small package for the 2.9. Shibata went right back to the Go 2 Sleep, nailed it, then the Penalty Kick. Goodnight, Tanahashi. The brilliance of this is they worked it in such a way that they did just enough for it to be great, but left you wanting a lot more. This is the type of performance, along with the Honma and Kojima matches, that can vault Tanahashi right back into Wrestler of the Year talk, in a year where the door has yet to be slammed shut by anybody even as we approach August. This was just brilliant, brilliant pro wrestling, from the match structure to the long term story telling, to the precision work. This is why Tanahashi gets so much praise, because he has the rare ability to put together performances like this that very few can match. Shibata as a dance partner was right there with him, but this had Tanahashi’s fingerprints all over it. ****1/2

We have our MOTY contenders, folks. What a night. G1, everybody. This thing has EIGHT nights left.

Current Voices of Wrestling G1 Climax Pick’em Standings (as of July 26):

Name Total Points
Adam Hastings 28
Jesse Ewiak 28
Jordan Benterman 28
Will Young 27
Alan Counihan 27
Dylan Hales 26
CRVX 26
Jordan Walp 26
Matt McEwen 26
Jon Solomon 26
Andrew Bates 26
Dan 26
Dylan Harris 25
Larry 25
Matt Kennedy 25
Matt Pecolatto 25
TJ Hawke 25
Derek Drago 25
Jonathan Boyle 25
Iftar Puja Utama 25
Aaron Bentley 24
Lee west 24
Matt Gerardi 24
Paul Cooke 24
Brandon 24
Case Lowe 24
Filip Pejic 23
David Dunn 23
Tim Kelly 23
Bry Musslewhite 23
Jody Plante 23
Richard 23
Shelly 23
Joe Roche 23
Chris Linay 23
Joe Gagne 23
Kenn Haspel 22
Guilherme Jaeger 22
Jamie O’Doherty 22
Dan 22
Jake 22
David Penton 22
Nick Probola 22
Zach 22
Dennis 22
Greg Johnson 22
Rob Viper 22
Mitchel Cowan 22
sarah kenneally 22
Jake Glowacki 22
Oliver Court 21
Daniel Mason 21
Ryan Clingman 21
Travis Kriens 21
Joe Bailey 21
Dusty Anderson 21
Ed Burns 21
Darrell 21
Rich Kraetsch 21
Kristian Nielsen 21
Chris Griger 21
Eric Barraza 21
Sean N 21
Jack Edwards 21
William Fairchild 21
Kyle Blevins 21
Lasse 21
Gavin Fitzpatrick 20
Michael McDonald 20
Chris Harrington 20
Pip 20
Garrett Kidney 20
Andrew Rich 20
Gin Malkavar 20
Bryan Rose 20
Parker 20
minorusan01 20
Will Housell 20
Jason Felix 20
Dan Masters 20
Peter Biancardi 20
John Mulligan 20
Christmas Benoit 20
Wayne Maw 20
Matt Rolder 19
Brendan Quinn 19
George Charalambopoulos 19
Rodrigo 19
Jason Woito 19
Michael Smart 19
Sunflower 19
Neil Parthun 19
Guy 19
Blacktus Jack 19
Mario L. Morrison 19
Ben 18
Kevin hare 18
Theo Wilson 18
Tarek Lababidi 18
Ryan Kabacinski 18
Rob Reid 18
Bill Thompson 18
Julio 17
Jeff Parker 17
Steven Ingrassia 15
Tenese Sarwieh 14