New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 26 – Night 1
July 18, 2016
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
“Ace” was the theme of the first night of the 2016 New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax, as the A Block kicked off in Hokkaido.
It was the start of one last miracle run for an old ace in his final G1.
It was the beginning for a potential future ace, in his first G1, as he upset the returning ace in a career performance.
And it was perhaps a new beginning for what some would consider a washed up ace, as he faced, and beat emphatically, the current ace.
5,533 fans packed Hokkaido Sports Center, up slightly from last year’s G1 show in the same building (5490) which featured Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi and AJ Styles vs. Katsuyori Shibata on top. With the first two B Block nights taking place in Korakuen Hall, the A Block, specifically Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Naomichi Marufuji, are being counted on to fill larger buildings. They got off to a good start in Hokkaido.
For spoiler-free recommendedations of the top matches from the tournament, head over to http://bit.ly/VOWG126-Recommended. Those taking part in the VOW G1 Climax 26 Pick’Em can find updated standings at http://bit.ly/VOWG126-PickEmStandings.
Tiger Mask, Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Katsuyori Shibata def. Captain New Japan, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA, Tomoaki Honma
Shibata faces Honma in the main event to kick off the B Block in Korakuen Hall on July 22, and they wasted no time getting right to it against each other here. Taguchi, KUSHIDA, & Honma did a fun bit where they went out of their way to not tag in The Cap’n. He finally got in and Shibata kicked his ass. From there this was standard NJPW eight-man fare, with harder work than usual. Nakanishi put away CNJ with the Argentine Backbreaker, as Shibata stared down Honma one last time. **1/2
Katsuhiko Nakajima & Toru Yano def. Juice Robinson & Satoshi Kojima
This was Nakajima’s first NJPW match since a 4/24/2005 loss at the age of 17 to a 51-year old Tatsumi Fujinami. Despite the decade plus layoff, he’s still only 28 years old and probably just now entering his prime. Nakajima is teaming with CHAOS on non-tournament nights for the entire tour—and with Okada hinting at a new CHAOS member and Naito needling Nakajima about it at the G1 presser—there is tons of speculation that Nakajima might join CHAOS and stick around New Japan full time. If he does, it would be the first warning sign that Bushiroad is treating Pro Wrestling NOAH as a feeder system. New Japan lost five wrestlers to WWE in January, and barely won close negotiation battles with at least three others, so bringing in SANADA and potentially plucking Nakajima from NOAH would represent the first ripple effects of WWE’s new found interest in New Japan talent and how it affects the rest of the Japanese scene.
As for the match, Kojima and Nakajima were the standouts, and were so good together that it had me hoping they end up paired together for a final night singles match in Sumo Hall. Robinson took his usual big bumps, and Yano…well, Yano was technically a participant in this match. Nakajima put away Robinson with a brainbuster for the finish. **3/4
Yujiro Takahashi & Kenny Omega def. Gedo & YOSHI-HASHI
They stayed away from Omega or YOSHI-HASHI being involved in the fall in advance of their upcoming block opening singles match, as Yujiro beat Gedo with the Tokyo Pimps. Yujiro has been demoted to undercard tags after being a G1 participant every year since 2010, and he was demoted in a year when the company lost 25% of the previous years G1 participants to a promotional jump. So yeah, that tells you where Yujiro stands these days in the pecking order. **1/4
BUSHI, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito def. David Finlay, Michael Elgin, Yuji Nagata
This was the best of the undercard tags. LIJ works very well together in trios matches, especially so when it’s this combination of dudes. The focus was once again the 7/22 opponents, as Naito prodded and taunted (and even spat at) Nagata, while Elgin and EVIL hoss’d it up against one another. BUSHI pinned Finlay, who took a thorough beating the entire match. ***1/4
G1 Climax 26 – A Block
Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. Tomohiro Ishii
This match started with Tenzan & Kojima doing their Rocky & Apollo Creed handshake, and ended with Kojima sporting a shit eating grin as his friend somehow found a way to beat Tomohiro Ishii. Tenzan’s miracle run story couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a better start, as he survived lariats, headbutts, and even the brainbuster before putting the Stone Pitbull down with a moonsault. There were some nasty headbutts in this match that will disturb some, including a flying headbutt by Tenzan that was perhaps the best highspot of the match, but if you aren’t offended by such things this was a great match and really couldn’t have been scripted up any better. On a personal level, I can’t say I don’t miss Kojima in the tournament, but I am absolutely all in on this Tenzan story. ****
G1 Climax 26 – A Block
Togi Makabe def. Tama Tonga
Nobody NEEDS to have a big time G1 tournament run more than Tama Tonga—who is now seven months into what to this point has been an unsuccessful push—including a recent tag team run with brother Tanga Loa was an absolute failure. This match was fine, and Tonga was fine, but Tonga needs to be more than fine to get back on track. After beating Makabe in the New Japan Cup tournament and besting him in two IWGP Tag Title matches, Makabe got a measure of revenge here with the win. Tonga controlled most of the bout, before being caught on the top turnbuckle, leading to the Spider Suplex/King Kong Knee Drop finish. **3/4
— John Stevens (@DK1105) July 18, 2016
G1 Climax 26 – A Block
Hirooki Goto def. Bad Luck Fale
Goto’s entrance video is filled with “highlights” of his losses to Okada, his weird waterfall awakening that led to another loss to Okada, and his “can’t beat ’em join ’em” handshake with Okada. People bash Goto for being the perennial loser, but I think being the guy who can’t get over the hump is part of his charm. You even have the announcers pointing out that he won the G1 in 2008, and that 2008 may have been the peak of his career. You know what would be great? If Goto won the G1, complete with tear filled celebration and a vow to bring home the gold at Wrestle Kingdom…only to then lose the briefcase to Naito at Destruction.
Fale put a pretty solid beating on Goto here, in a match that was either going to be a fun hoss battle or a boring dud. It ended up being the former. Goto kicked out of a Grenade and slithered out of a Bad Luck Fall attempt (which are always super dramatic because the move is treated like instant death, having never been kicked out of, and going all the way back to a tour about three years ago where Fale stretchered Honma with it every night) before picking up the hard fought win. ***
G1 Climax 26 – A Block
SANADA def. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Hiroshi Tanahashi is either the toughest man on Earth, or the ultimate worker. His new gimmick appears to be the guy who plays up a debilitating injury to the point we’re all convinced he’s on his last legs (or back or shoulder), and then making us all look like fools with how great he still is. I don’t have any doubt that Tanahashi’s shoulder is/was injured. Where my doubts lie is the severity. Same for his back issues this time last year. Otherwise, there is no explanation for the level of performance this man puts in with these (supposed) serious injuries. This is either a brilliant work or a man determined to be wheelchair bound by the age of 45. Either way, he continues to be the most consistent big match worker alive, and when watching him in this type of setting you can’t help but think you’re watching the best wrestler in the world.
The match layout, story, and work here were all impeccable, save one cringey 1980’s Hulk Hogan-style Tanahashi arm drop spot on a SANADA Dragon Sleeper attempt (I hate hate HATE that spot, and it needs to be sent back to the 80’s with bear hugs and invisible foreign objects, never to return). There were many layers here, including both men being students of Keiji Muto, and SANADA now using Tanahashi’s former finsher, the Dragon Sleeper, as his finish. Tanahashi escaped it the first time, but his apparent rally was cut off by a gorgeous RKO OUT OF NOWHERE followed by two picture perfect moonsaults (SANADA’s moonsaults, another nod to Muto, are of the low angle variety, as opposed to the high arching type, which make them look all the more painful), and a second Dragon Sleeper that this time forced Tanahashi to tap, clean as a mother fuckin’ sheet, dead center of the ring. For his part SANADA is a future ace who certainly worked like one here. This blew away the excellent singles match SANADA had with Okada a few months ago, and showed that SANADA can work at an elite level and hang with anybody on this roster. The first great match of the 2016 G1. ****1/2
G1 Climax 26 – A Block
Naomichi Marufuji def. Kazuchika Okada
It feels like ancient history, but this time last year Michael Elgin was the laughing stock of the wrestling intelligentsia, the poster boy for excessive spot style wrestling, and deemed a bad fit for New Japan by nearly every “smart fan” with a blog or Twitter account (ahem…I will remind you not this reviewer, but damn near everybody else). It was apparent by his first match that New Japan fit Elgin like a glove, and he proceeded to kill it all G1 long, silencing his doubters as #BigMike was born.
If nothing else, we knew Elgin would be motivated. He had lobbied to work New Japan for years. The same couldn’t be said this year for Naomichi Marufuji, who appears to be sleepwalking at times through his NOAH matches. Marufuji has always had the talent. The issue in recent years seems to be motivation. Despite this, I felt quite strongly entering the 2016 G1 that Marufuji, he of the 40 minute NOAH GHC borefests, he of the lazy chop happy performances and uninspired kicks, the once top level performer who was one of the best in the world during the ought decade who was seemingly declining at the same slow, depressing pace of his home promotion, would be this years Mike Elgin.
If Marufuji’s performance in his upset win over Okada is any indication, motivation won’t be an issue, and #BigMaru has been reborn.
Marufuji worked this match with the precision of a surgeon, targeting Okada’s arm with a level of viciousness and vitriol rarely seen in today’s wrestling. And those chops. Look, even Marufuji’s biggest detractors knew he could still chop. But this was next level intensity, not with the hatred of battling a Suzuki-gun invader, but with the focus, force, and tenacity of a once proud champion who had something to prove against the top title holder in Japan. Okada tried to stand up to those chops, but Marufuji would cave his chest and cut him right back down at every turn. It was fascinating to watch, as the Ace ten years his junior wilted under the sheer force of his will, like a cocky young fighter underestimating the punching power of an aging George Foreman or the moxie of a Randy Couture. And when those chops weren’t bruising Okada’s chest, Marufuji was ripping his arm from his socket or kicking his head off of his shoulders. Okada had a scant few moments, but this match never felt all that competitive. It was a brilliant performance, a beating, and a statement. A statement both in kayfabe, with a dominant win that will surely earn him an IWGP Heavyweight Title shot, and also to the very same “smart fans” who doubted Elgin a year ago. This was a match and a performance that put Naomichi Marufuji back on the map. ****1/2
|Block A||Block B|
|Hirooki Goto||2||Michael Elgin||0|
|Naomichi Marufuji||2||Tomoaki Honma||0|
|Hiroyoshi Tenzan||2||Tetsuya Naito||0|
|Kazuchika Okada||0||Katsuhiko Nakajima||0|
|Bad Luck Fale||0||Kenny Omega||0|
|Hiroshi Tanahashi||0||Katsuyori Shibata||0|
|Tomohiro Ishii||0||Toru Yano||0|