New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 26: Night 9
July 31st, 2016
Gifu, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

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Good, not quite great. That’s how I’d best describe this years G1 Climax so far. And that’s not entirely unexpected. With the departures of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kota Ibushi go with them their high end matches – which are among the best in the world. The most recent A Block night made that point clear to see – Ishii vs. Marufuri rose above the pack but the rest of the show featured good, solid, enjoyable but ultimately forgettable matches by G1 standards. This year has featured a higher level of low end content and a lower level of high end content. Everything has been gravitating toward an enjoyable, inoffensive middle. The most recent B Block show, Night 8, broke that trend delivering the best show of the tour so far. Could A Block follow?

Tama Tonga [2] def. Tomohiro Ishii [4]

I wasn’t too quick to judge Tama Tonga in the opening stages of this tournament. Matches against Tenzan and Makabe were never going to be his best efforts. Big singles match opportunities against the likes of Tanahashi and Okada were always going to be where he made his mark. Those matches came and went and they were solid. Nothing wrong with them at all but not the sort of break out matches you’d hope for and not the same sort of dynamic energy YOSHI-HASHI is bringing in B Block. Even an upset win over Tanahashi hasn’t seemed to do much for him. And while this wasn’t quite a blow away match or anything, it was my favourite Tonga match in this G1 so far. It helped that he wrestled somebody who gives pretty much everybody in the company their best match but nonetheless Tonga delivered and looked the most assertive and confident he has so far. And Ishii was great. Ishii is always great. Neat finish as Tonga reversed a brainbuster into a Gun Stun and followed with another Gun Stun for the win. ***1/2

Bad Luck Fale [2] def. SANADA [4]

Bad Luck Fale is a very particular sort of wrestler. He needs the right kind of opponent to create enough movement around him to give his matches a sense of momentum. That’s the reason Tanahashi is generally his best opponent because Tanahashi usually works his ass off trying bump to make Fale look like a monster. SANADA did something similar here – flying around Fale to make the match work. I’ve always held SANADA in high regard. Even during his TNA days his work was always crisp and precise, he carried himself like a star and he seemed tailor made for New Japan. After teasing it multiple times so far, Fale finally smashed SANADA with the Bad Luck Fall for the win. As good as this was likely to be. **3/4

Naomichi Marufuji [4] def. Togi Makabe [8]

Similar to how the Ishii match started, Makabe started by standing up to Marufuji’s strikes. It’s interesting how they’ve positioned Marufuji as this guy with lethal strikes with the likes of Makabe and Ishii trying and failing to prove their toughness by absorbing them and continuing on. It certainly plays well into how Marufuji wrestles. Makabe’s chest didn’t welt up the same way Ishii’s did so he at least has that going for him. Marufuji ended Makabe’s miracle run with a Shiranui. Marufuji has done himself a great deal of justice in this tournament so far and like the last match, with the way Makabe has been declining in recent years, this was likely the best form of this particular match too. ***

Kazuchika Okada [6] def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [4]

While I understood people’s gripes with replacing Satoshi Kojima with Tenzan, Kojima is a better wrestler at this stage of their respective careers after all, I had very little problem with it. Partially because Kojima giving up his spot to his partner for one final big run was a really sweet gesture between two New Japan Dad’s but also because I’d always rather see somebody with a story running through the tournament than just another body. Kojima likely would have had better matches throughout the tournament but most of them would have been soon forgotten. Tenzan having an emotional arc through the tournament will likely actually be remembered. Simple match, Tenzan threw everything he had at Okada including a Tombstone Driver, the Anaconda Vice and multiple headbutts but Okada cut Tenzan off while he was going for a moonsault, hit an impressive deadlift German and followed with the Rainmaker for the win. Tenzan will have to grab some wins against the likes of SANADA, Goto and Fale if he’s to have any real roll to play in the final days of A Block. ***1/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi [2] def. Hirooki Goto [4]

Playing into Tanahashi’s injuries before the tournament with a slow start was a smart move even if losses to Makabe and Tonga lessened the impact of SANADA’s victory over Tanahashi for me (especially when SANADA was the the one who had the most to gain from a big upset like that). It’s interesting how back loaded Tanahashi’s tournament is – him having successive matches against Goto, Ishii, Marufuji, Tenzan and ending with Okada should produce some of the better matches of this tournament. Goto is in a strange place right now himself. Most years they’d throw him a bone with a New Japan Cup win here or a World Tag League there. This year he seems more aimless than ever. And while I’m happy that his introduction into CHAOS didn’t lead to a trite betrayal, he just doesn’t seem to have much going for him right now. I have a lot of time for Goto (and I really enjoyed the Goto/Okada match earlier in the tournament) but this didn’t do much for me. It just never had the feeling and sense of drama that this was a big G1 main event – the work was fine, everything was good but it never reached that next level that this tournament has conditioned us to expect over the last few years. ***1/4

Final Thoughts:

Rather than bucking the trend this show followed it – a bunch of good, solid, enjoyable but ultimately forgettable matches.

Current Standings:

Block A

  • Togi Makabe – 8
  • Kazuchika Okada – 8
  • Naomichi Marufuji – 6
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi – 4
  • Tomohiro Ishii – 4
  • Hirooki Goto – 4
  • Hiroyoshi Tenzan – 4
  • SANADA – 4
  • Bad Luck Fale – 4
  • Tama Tonga – 4

Block B

  • Katsuhiko Nakajima – 6
  • Yuji Nagata – 6
  • Michael Elgin – 4
  • Kastuyori Shibata – 4
  • Tetsuya Naito – 4
  • Kenny Omega – 4
  • Tomoaki Honma – 4
  • EVIL – 2
  • Toru Yano – 2