The B Block’s first outing on Night 2 of New Japan’s G1 Climax 26 did not live up to the example set by the A Block’s performance on Night 1. With Katsuyori Shibata vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima and Tetsuya Naito vs. Michael Elgin set for Night 4, B Block looked to prove it will play second fiddle to no one.
For spoiler-free recommendations 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.
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DAVID FINLAY VS. JUICE ROBINSON
If it weren’t for the dreadlocks, it would be hard to convince me that the Juice Robinson in this match is CJ Parker from NXT. There was a lot of discussion when Juice left for New Japan about how he needed to make a name for himself to come back to NXT in a better spot. That is true, but it shouldn’t be understated that Robinson had to leave NXT to really learn how to work. The guy in this match was unrecognizable because he worked with great pace and didn’t waste his time with clichéd tropes during his control segment. Even if he isn’t able to truly advance up the card in NJPW, he has become a much better worker and his career, no matter where he goes next, is better off for it.
As for the match, he and Finlay had a mini-G1 style contest. It was a quick, hard-hitting affair with Robinson on top before Finlay made a comeback and the two traded momentum for a short time. Of course, Finlay rarely gets a win in singles matches and this bout was no different, as Juice Robinson eventually finished him off. This was short, fun, and ultimately worth your time. ***
BUSHI & SANADA VS. RYUSUKE TAGUCHI & TOGI MAKABE
SANADA and Makabe will face each other in an A Block match on Night 5. To try to get any advantage going into that meeting, SANADA and his Los Ingobernables de Japon colleague attacked before the bell and, as usual, used any instrument they could find around the ring to try to put their opponents away quickly. Instead, in a very quick and inconsequential, if inoffensive, match, Makabe ultimately pinned BUSHI after a King Kong Knee Drop. While these tags often do a good job of getting me hyped for even the most bland singles match, there wasn’t much here to generate excitement for SANADA vs. Makabe. **
BAD LUCK FALE, TAMA TONGA & YUJIRO TAKAHASHI VS. HIROSHI TANAHASHI, KUSHIDA & CAPTAIN NEW JAPAN
The upcoming singles match focus here was Tanahashi vs. Tonga. Fale will face Tomohiro Ishii tomorrow but I suppose Tanahashi and Ishii would make a strange team. Don’t @ me on Twitter after you do your Cagematch search to tell me all the times they’ve been on the same team. After a fun interaction between Fale and KUSHIDA, and a half-baked hot tag, Tonga and Tanahashi ended up in the ring together. Tana got all his stuff in before needing a hot tag of his own. Hilariously, he tagged in Captain New Japan and KUSHIDA was obviously irritated with Tana’s decision making. KUSHIDA’s concern proved to be well placed as, after a short period of success for the Captain, he couldn’t survive all that is Yujiro Takahashi and a DDT was all it took for the Bullet Club team to secure the victory. **1/4
NAOMICHI MARUFUJI, GEDO, HIROOKI GOTO, TOMOHIRO ISHII & KAZUCHIKA OKADA VS. TIGER MASK, JUSHIN THUNDER LIGER, MANABU NAKANISHI, SATOSHI KOJIMA & HIROYOSHI TENZAN
The match began with the CHAOS team working over Satoshi Kojima, including a layup line of chops in the corner. The whole sequence got me really fired up for the Kojima/Ishii G1 match! Fine, I shouldn’t complain; Tenzan has been great so far. The best part of the match though was the CHAOS team getting their comeuppance in the form of Liger and Tiger Mask taking all their pre-intermission 10-man tag aggression out on Hirooki Goto, including a Liger Bomb and Tiger Driver. Goto would overcome, however, to give him some momentum going into his Night 5 matchup with Kazuchika Okada. After the match, Okada and Goto shook hands and acknowledged that it will be soon be time to go to war. ***
YOSHI-HASHI (2) VS. TOMOAKI HONMA (2)
I can’t get behind the YOSHI-HASHI breakout narrative. He has been fine in the ring to this point of the tournament but his facial expressions and general in-ring charisma leave a lot to be desired. For most of this match, he looked like I did, having gotten up to watch this live. As a result, the Korakuen crowd that is normally so hot for Honma was reserved throughout most of the match. YOSHI-HASHI worked Honma’s shoulder/neck but these two had a very hard time building any sort of flow. It’s hard to blame that on Honma, who regularly has the audience in this very building eating out of the palm of his hand. A good closing stretch that featured Honma escaping from a couple of submissions and finding the space to hit a sit-out Tombstone Piledriver slightly elevated the overall feel for the match. Honma finished it with a Kokeshi and left little doubt that if there will ever be a time for YOSHI-HASHI, now is not it. ***
EVIL (2) VS. YUJI NAGATA (2)
Nagata and EVIL came into this match with 2 points each, neither desperately needing a win this early in the Block, and they wrestled like it. EVIL half-heartedly worked Nagata’s leg, which Nagata, in turn, half-heartedly sold. Similarly, Nagata worked EVIL’s arm a bit but it was unfocused and inconsistent. As with the first post-intermission match, this contest picked up steam as it reached its end, but it wasn’t enough to turn around the malaise of the first three quarters of the bout. Nagata needed two Backdrops to pick up the win, but successfully reached four points. **3/4
KENNY OMEGA (0) VS. TORU YANO (0)
Omega tweeted a promise before the match that he would be 100% serious during this contest. Shockingly, Kenny Omega is a liar, my friends. The match started with a comedy spot and never strayed. Unlike the first two B Block matches, this one started off strong before plateauing throughout the middle and almost to the end. During that time, Omega was in his happy place, breaking out all his goofy spots that many American NJPW fans hate, including the dreaded chainsaw. As the match reached its end, there were some enjoyable sequences built around Yano’s usual chicanery. Omega had the DVD salesman scouted too well though and was able to get his first win of the G1 with a Boma Ye. **3/4
KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA (2) VS. KATSUYORI SHIBATA (0)
This was Nakajima’s first real test of the tournament, having drawn Toru Yano on Night 2. For his part, Shibata needed to bounce back after losing to Honma in his opening match. Both men started the match like they had something to prove. Nakajima immediately attacked Shibata’s wrapped arm/shoulder, targeting it with strikes and throws. Shibata sold it like death, needing even to escape the ring because he wasn’t yet ready to continue the match. However, death was only temporary as Shibata’s initial comeback focused heavily on strikes with the injured arm. If you want to be charitable to both men (we’re all friends here, after all), Nakajima worked the rest of the match as if his limb work had not been successful. From there on, he focused on Shibata’s neck. If that was intended to be the story of the match, Shibata did not work hard enough to get it over. Regardless, he and Nakajima went to battle. After Shibata ended the limb work with a flurry of strikes, Nakajima controlled most of the rest of the match. He looked poised to start the tournament 2-0 before Shibata stopped him from hitting a PK and looked to take control back for himself. He was successful but it was a short-lived advantage for Shibata. Not because he couldn’t stay in control, but because a slap, a sleeper hold, and a PK of his own was all Shibata needed to even his Block record. This was good, but too short. I definitely want to see more of these two. ***1/2
TETSUYA NAITO (0) VS. MICHAEL ELGIN (0)
Limb work! Selling! Reversals! This was everything I want in a New Japan main event. The match was largely built around Naito’s work on Elgin’s left leg. Unlike my admittedly nitpicky complaints about Shibata, given the relative focus of the match, Elgin was nearly perfect in getting over the damage to his leg. He struggled with simple moves like irish whips. But he also improved as the match wore on and Naito hadn’t worked the leg in awhile. Then, as Naito had neglected the leg for too long, Elgin gained control and was able to marshal the leg strength needed to attempt his power moves. Naito suffered a Buckle Bomb and a sit-out powerbomb from the top rope. Yet, just when it appeared Elgin’s power would be too much, Naito, almost in desperation, reversed into a leg submission. Elgin’s performance really shifted into high gear at that point, his body wanting to submit but his heart refusing to do so, literally stopping himself from tapping out. He had one last surge left, deadlifting Naito from the ground, his leg maintaining just enough strength for one last move to ensure victory. Naito just had more left than Elgin, however. A fantastic counter and a Destino ended Elgin’s last gasp. ****1/4
Overall, this was a good, not great, show that ended with two very good matches. B Block certainly appears to be less interesting than A Block this year, but it is still early. If you’re already getting behind on your G1 viewing, the only must-watch matches on this card were Shibata/Nakajima and Naito/Elgin.