New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 26 Night 13
August 6, 2016
EDION Arena Osaka
Watch: NJPW World
Tama Tonga (4) def. SANADA (4)
With both men eliminated, this bout went on first. Neither man worked like this was meaningless.
Tama Tonga began this tournament with people wondering why he was wrestling in his underwear and whether he may have lost his gear. His early performances were shaky at best, doing nothing to remove the stink of the ugly G.O.D. run or his his uneven New Japan Cup outings. As the tournament has rolled along, the compression pants remain, but the performances have gotten better and better. This match was excellent, and arguably the best Tama Tonga singles match of not only the tour, but possibly ever. This is the Tama Tonga we’ve all wanted to see and knew he could be. By the end of the tour, he’ll have worked more NJPW singles bouts than the previous four years combined. Working a long, important tour with elite talent, as opposed to sporadic meaningless matches is exactly what a guy like Tonga needed.
SANADA is working his first G1 as well, and checks in with 4 points, good for last place, following his loss here. It doesn’t matter. His performances have been tremendous, his work being so clean and so smooth that I could see some thinking that’s a actually a negative. He reminds me of an Age of the Fall era Tyler Black, in that he is playing the sidekick role in a dark heel faction yet it is very clear that he is the future breakout star, biding his time for the inevitable monster babyface push. His work, poise, look, and presence screams future ace. Nobody will ever remember his shitty point total in his first G1. Everyone will remember the classic match and upset win over Hiroshi Tanahashi on the first night. That’s really the only match that matters for SANADA in the grand scheme. ***1/2
Bad Luck Fale (6) def. Togi Makabe (8)
I like Bad Luck Fale. This feels like an admission of guilt, but if you still think this guy stinks, you may need to reevaluate.
Fale may be the best booked wrestler in the company. He destroys prelim wrestlers and young lions, and is a realistic threat to beat anybody on the roster. His finish is treated like instant death, and those Bad Luck Fall teases are some of the most dramatic moments on any New Japan show. He’s been positioned as a thorn in the side of company aces Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, frequently engaging in roadblock feuds with both men that always exceed expectations. He’s the biggest man on the roster, and as such is booked like an absolute monster. In this tournament alone, he won what amounted to a squash match over SANADA, defeated a befuddled and over matched Naomichi Marufuji, and perhaps most impressively, essentially squashed Togi Makabe here, a Togi Makabe who may not light your world on fire if you enjoy great matches, but a Togi Makabe who is presented a real bad ass and legitimate upper mid card player. It’s wins like this, where he mauls an established star in such convincing fashion, that give Fale the credibility he needs when Tanahashi or Okada need to overcome a a massive roadblock and prove how tough they are. He’s a key piece to the promotions puzzle, and while you’ve been skipping his matches and not paying attention, he’s developed into a very competent worker who totally understands how he should work. ***
Hirooki Goto (6) def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan (4)
Every time I’m ready to write off Tenzan, he pulls great match out of his ass. Tenzan has looked mostly bad since his great opening night win over Tomohiro Ishii, being dragged and carried to the occasional good match against people like Okada, but mostly looking old and broken down, while losing every night and making people wonder why New Japan didn’t just leave the far superior Satoshi Kojima in the damn tournament if we weren’t even going to get our Rocky story. While Goto deserves a ton of credit here, it does take two to dance, and Tenzan carried his share here more than he did in the Okada bout, taking some wicked bumps while giving up his body for Goto’s nasty looking offense. Tenzan has shown he can be willed to great matches with great workers like Ishii, Okada, and Goto, and on nights like this one, he can even hold his own. He may have one more great match up his sleeve with the best big match worker of this generation when he faces Tanahashi in a few days. But I’m not going to miss him in future G1 Climax tournaments. ****
Tomohiro Ishii (4) def. Kazuchika Okada (10)
Tomohiro Ishii beat the champion here, and single handedly kept not only his own slim mathematical hopes alive, but also most of the rest of the block, too. The match was incredible, with Ishii exhibiting his trademark never say die attitude, Okada fighting for his life, and a torn Gedo pounding the apron for the champion and leader of CHAOS. It was hard not to get fired up as Ishii rose to his feet and chopped a cocky Okada in the throat as Okada did his Rainmaker pose, or when Okada worked in call backs from his victory over Genichiro Tenryu, symbolic in that Tenryu was the trainer and mentor of Ishii. The work here was flawless, the action was hot from the start, the story was layered and emotional, and the crowd was on fire for all of it. This is going to land on many Match of the Year lists.
Ishii’s work on this tour has vaulted him into the lead of this reviewers Wrestler of the Year ballot. Ishii has zero flaws as a worker. His psychology is top notch, as I can’t recall the last Ishii match that didn’t have the crowd sucked in, emotionally invested, and red hot by the end. I’d argue that no one sells better. He gets over the idea of progressive damage better than anyone in the game, as you can feel his exhaustion, exemplified by his wobbly leg selling, exasperated facials, and even drooling when he’s finally been forced to give up the fight because his body will no longer cooperate. Getting him to give up that fight is the hard part. He shows his heart, he shows his guts, and he shows his fight in ways that others simply can not convey, and you can not help but get behind this aging, bowling ball shaped everyman, the man who will FIGHT until you beat him down to the point that he can no longer move. He isn’t the most talented, he isn’t the strongest, and he isn’t even the toughest. But he has more HEART and FIGHT than anyone, which is more relatable than the incredible athlete or the ex-MMA fighter or the gifted multi time champion. You can have your superheroes and your physical specimens and your matinee idols. I’ll take the guts and the heart and the fight of the guy who wants it more. I’ll take the guy who isn’t invincible, who is fallible but who will never stop until you kill him dead. I’ll take the Stone Pitbull, the best wrestler in the world today. ****1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi (6) def. Naomichi Marufuji (8)
Sometimes a match just feels different, right from the start. With a near impossible act to follow, the star power and presence of Tanahashi and Marufuji instantly gave this the feel of something special.
Whether it was influenced by the pressure of the great match that proceeded them or just an attempt to keep the fans on their toes, Marufuji’s apron piledriver of Tanahashi (after they had craftily lulled people into thinking they were going for the slow build with some typical early match mat work) was a brilliant way to instantly grab everyone’s attention. From there the battle of generational superstars was on, with Marufuji attacking Tanahashi’s head with vicious kicks and knee strikes, and showing off the focused, sound work that has made him the tournament MVP to this point. Marufuji’s inspired work has been one of the primary themes of the tournament. His match layouts have been varied and smart, his work crisp, his mannerisms animated, and his strikes nasty. Great workers don’t forget how to work. Sometimes we forget that these men are real human beings, motivated in the same ways that we are. An important tour in front of hot crowds against elite level competition has reinvigorated Marufuji, who once again looks like one of the best wrestlers in the world right now. They had me from the moment they stepped through the ropes, and this was so good that I was rooting for Marufuji to roll out of the way of the match ending High Fly Flow so they would keep going. This was a strong win for Tanahashi as we creep towards Sumo Hall and the showdown against Okada, a man Marufuji bested. ****1/2
This was a classic G1 show that will be remembered for a long time, with one match already garnering Match of the Year buzz, and a main event that in my eyes was just as good. Night One was the clubhouse leader for best show of the tournament, but this one may have topped it. From a standings perspective, Ishii’s win keeps all but two men mathematically alive, setting the stage for a wild and wacky finish in the block.