New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 26 Night 17
August 12, 2016
Ryogoku Kokugikan – Tokyo
Watch: NJPW World
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The Briscoes def. Captain New Japan & Yoshitatsu
Yoshitatsu is a nice story, but he has not been good at all since he returned from his broken neck, and his place in the pecking order is now firmly established as part of a regular tag team with perennial jobber Captain New Japan. Nothing screams jabroni quite like a warm up non title match against the champs two days before they defend the titles for real, and this was a total and complete non-competitive squash the likes of which you rarely see in New Japan. The Bullet Club Hunters were given literally nothing, and the match was well under five minutes. Picture a World Championship Wrestling 6:05 squash with Dem Boys as The Roadies and Bullet Club Hunters as Randy Mulkey & Bill Mulkey, and that’s what we had here. NR
Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask def. Tomoaki Honma, Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay
This was another super short match, with Liger cradling Finlay within seconds of both men tagging in for the first time, indicating that the important stuff later was going to go long. Wrestling is weird, and nothing is weirder than the odd, undeniable chemistry between Manabu Nakanishi and Juice Robinson. All of the other pairings were fun too, but this was essentially a night off for everyone involved with each man tagging in once, running through their signature spots, and in some cases, not taking a single bump. **
Katsuyori Shibata, Satoshi Kojima, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA def. Atsushi Kotoge, Katsuhiko Nakajima, YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano
If you’re wondering why Atsushi Kotoge, one half of the GHC junior tag champs, was randomly on this show, well, I don’t have an answer for you. I though they may have been setting up a potential Kotoge/KUSHIDA IWGP junior title match, but instead Kotoge ate the Strongest Arm to help make Kojima look strong for his upcoming ROH World title challenge in two days. This was given more time than the stuff that preceded it, but was nothing more than a competent, well worked, paint by numbers 8-man tag. **3/4
Kenny Omega, Tanga Loa, Yujiro Takahashi, Hangman Page def. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, BUSHI, Jay Lethal
Truth Martini didn’t make the trip to Japan. The English language broadcast didn’t seem to know that Lethal is part of Los Ingobernables. At one point Steve Corino asked Rocky Romero why the twenty counts are done in English, and Romero explained that since the sport came from America, a lot of the American intricacies were retained, and caught himself as he was about to say that “the moves are called in English.”
Romero had a rough night, and didn’t add much to the show at all. He’s a charismatic guy and good speaker, but unfortunately none of that translated here. He did improve in the second half of the show, so perhaps it was matter of getting comfortable. Commentary isn’t as easy as people think it is.
Speaking of rough nights, Yujiro bumped in the wrong direction on a Lethal Combination and nearly killed himself, and Lethal was visibly annoyed. The two big takeaways here were Page pinning BUSHI to build credibility for the IWGP heavyweight tag title match on Sunday, and Omega & Naito barely touching and giving nothing away before their likely block deciding match on Saturday. Page was the clear standout in a match where nobody else seemed to be in the mood to do much of anything. *3/4
SANADA (6) def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan (4)
Two guys that were playing out the string, but unlike Tenzan, whose Rocky story failed to play out and whose performances waned as the tour moved forward, SANADA’s first G1 has to be considered a success despite the low point total, with a big win over Hiroshi Tanahashi on opening night (which was one of the best matches of the tournament), and big time performances against the key stars. SANADA is very clearly a future babyface star and key piece for New Japan moving forward. This was a good match, with SANADA putting Tenzan away with a dragon sleeper, which I initially thought was the wrong call, because a loss for SANADA would have meant nothing. The post match changed my mind.
Tenzan, who at one point in the match with his pal Satoshi Kojima cheering him on tried to use Kojima’s trademark lariat to put away SANADA, wept in the arms of his long time tag team partner and pal, the man who gave up his spot in the tournament for him, and who never left his side even after he was long eliminated. It was a touching, emotional moment, and a grounded reminder that in life you don’t always get the happy ending. The story here was not one of a miracle run, it was that this old warrior had finally met his end and succumb to the one opponent that no man can defeat. This was brutal reality, not sad tragedy or cruel pain. I remember talking to a booker once, and casually mentioning that you should give the fans what they want. He cut me off and said “Not always.” And he’s right. Wrestling is about eliciting emotion, and sometimes pathos can be just as emotionally satisfying as joy. A 60-year old Flair couldn’t beat Michaels, Tenryu was too old for Okada, and Tenzan can no longer keep up with men faster, stronger, and 20 years younger. Everyone eventually loses to the hourglass. ***1/2
— Eyean (@skrongstyle) August 12, 2016
Tomohiro Ishii (6) def. Togi Makabe (8)
Another match where both men were mathematically eliminated, but that didn’t stop them from nearly killing each other. People tired of this matchup last year when they faced each other four times for the NEVER title in a series of bouts with diminishing returns, but this one captured the fire of the early matches and featured plenty of brutality. This was well paced and did not overstay its welcome (12:33), as the amazing Ishii put in another great performance to cap off what was perhaps an MVP year for him in this G1. I can see this match being polarizing, especially the headbutt sequence, but I loved it. ****
Tama Tonga (6) def. Bad Luck Fale (10)
I loved the story of a conflicted Tonga, despite being urged on by the rest of the Bullet Club, having too much pride to lay down for Fale, who came into the match with a chance to advance. Aside from being a typical Bullet Club scheme, this gave what probably would have been a hard match for the crowd to get into an easy heel/face dynamic. It was obvious while Fale was beating the shit out of Tonga that Tonga was going to knock him off in the end, but sometimes the obvious story is the correct one. Fun stuff from start to finish. ***
Hirooki Goto (10) def. Naomichi Marufuji (10)
“The A Block is the more compelling of the two blocks, wouldn’t you agree?”- Rocky Romero
No response, thirty seconds of extremely awkward silence.
Isn’t this where someone makes a case for the B Block, and the third guy plays it neutral? Poor Rocky sure was hung out to dry there.
For all of the failure and losing, I think it’s time to recognize the underrated charisma of Goto. With years of being booked as the bridesmaid that you would think would completely evaporate the faith of the fans, he had the crowd firmly behind him here, rallying behind him on his comebacks, and cheering him on hard to defeat the outsider. I enjoy the choker aspect to Goto’s character. Not everyone can be a winner, everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy. I think to some extent, his gimmick affects people’s perception of his work, which I think is world class and also underrated. With all of that said, if Goto ever does break the IWGP curse and finally win the big one, it’ll make for an incredible moment and I’ll be the first one hopping off of my couch and going mental for it.
This match layout was simple. Marufuji slowly worked over Goto and picked him apart, wearing him down and setting him up for his deadly head strikes, but they weren’t enough to keep Goto down, who completed a neat and tidy comeback. Marufuji’s match quality is very dependent on the quality (and overuse) of his head strikes, and much like the rest of this tournament his kicks and knees were on point and dangerous looking here, which helped make Goto look like one tough mother f’er for surviving them. I’ve said repeatedly that Goto has the most dangerous looking offense in wrestling today, and when he puts men to sleep and crashes their skulls across his knee, you can’t help but cringe. This was a clean, satisfying win for Goto. On this night, there would be no choke. He did what he had to do, but he needed a draw in the main event to advance. ***3/4
— John Stevens (@DK1105) August 12, 2016
Hiroshi Tanahashi (10) vs Kazuchika Okada (1) – Time Limit Draw
The stakes were simple for the next chapter of greatest rivalry in modern wrestling. You win, you move on. You lose, you go home. You draw, you go home.
They did the draw, and Hirooki Goto, who lost to both men, advanced to the final.
Tanahashi was announced second, which continued the storyline of Okada being annoyed that he’s being positioned behind the man he thought he defeated in more ways than one at Wrestle Kingdom. Tanahashi was Mr. Cool, playing to the fans, shouting out Okada’s stablemate Rocky Romero in a sly act of disrespect.
Okada showed his pent up frustration, going right after Tanahashi at the bell, right into his Rainmaker pose, looking to end things quickly, but missing the Rainmaker. And we’re off.
Tanahashi went after the legs. He worked them just enough to set the tone that it would be significant later, but not so much that it lulled people to sleep. This is one of many advantages of a 30-minute time limit as opposed to 60. A spot like this would have been dragged out to double the length, or they would have gone back to it repeatedly to fill time. Tanahashi worked his hold just long enough to get over the idea of his plan, and they moved on. No filler needed, and no excessive limb grinding that would have destroyed suspension of disbelief later. This set up the perfectly placed cloverleaf spot later in the match, where Okada scratched and crawled for his life to get to the ropes. It is amazing to me that it took one tour in 2015 for Tanahashi to establish the cloverleaf as a finish to the point that fans buy into the spot every time. Compare to Okada’s Red Ink or Naito’s Pluma Blanca, which nobody buys into, ever.
Tanahashi gambling and going for broke with the High Fly Flow crossbody to the outside to seal up the count out, only to have it backfire when Okada hit a desperation tombstone, was a great play on the New Japan count out tease trope. Steve Corino did a tremendous job emphasizing that Tanahashi may have had the count out in the bag, and that his decision to attempt to hammer it down may have cost him the victory.
I spent a good deal of time thinking about how to convey my thoughts on the closing stretch of this match. Before they hit this stretch, I was thinking that with the right finish, a good finish, that this was going to be one of their lower end matches, perhaps the 5th or 6th best in the series, which is nothing to scoff at when you are talking about a series of matches at this level, but would also fall well short of a MOTY conversation, which is, fairly or unfairly, the standard these two have set for themselves.
A strong finish would have left it well below the level of the last two Wrestle Kingdom matches, the Invasion Attack match, and even the previous G1 draw in 2013. I gave all of those matches 5-stars, and I think the Wrestle Kingdom bout from this past January is one the five best matches I have ever seen.
The closing stretch vaulted this bout ahead of everything mentioned, save the January match. I am comfortable saying that this was the best closing stretch of a match that I have ever seen in my life.
So many subtle and not so subtle call back spots. If you want to win over this reviewer, give me call backs. Reward me for paying attention and being emotionally invested in your long term story. Tanahashi holding on to Okada’s wrist (as the camera zoomed in) and the defiant Tanahashi slaps, sending us back to January. Okada going for the 2014 G1 Finals finish where he emphatically beat Nakamura with brutal and unnecessary extra Rainmakers. The recreation of the 2015 G1 Finals, with both men exhausted and fighting on the top turnbuckle, teasing a similar outcome of that same battle that Tanahashi won against Nakamura.
Tanahashi’s aggressive desperation as time continued to whittle down, going for HFF after HFF, with Okada either scrambling to his feet or getting his knees up just in time, or the incredible and unforgettable moment when Okada hit his trademark dropkick while Tanahashi helplessly hung in mid air. Much like Tanahashi refusing to be put down by the Rainmaker at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Okada was not going to be put down by the HFF here. Not a fucking chance. Even when Tanahashi finally landed one flush, Okada kicked out as the clock expired.
Okada kicked out as the clock expired.
Okada kicked out of the High Fly Flow.
The enormity of that moment can not be understated. You can survive the HFF variations. You can survive it to the back. You can survive the crossbody. Okada wasn’t going to lose to any of them. Not on this night. Not with the added motivation of his company disrespecting him, the IWGP champion, with “The Ace Is Back” marketing and the indignity of being announced second while the title rests on his waist. Okada wasn’t beaten. The clock did not run out on Tanahashi, the clock simply ran out. It was a symbolic, beautiful finish. Somehow, some way, in a match that is supposedly over done, they have left us wanting more.
Flawless work, memorable moments, brilliant call backs, incredible excitement, and fascinating drama that had me cheering and reacting like no real sport has in ages, and left my hands shaking when it was all over. When wrestling is great, it can connect with you in an indescribable way, in way that everyone reading this understands but that none of us can properly describe. I love this series. I loved this match. I love pro wrestling. *****
Current G1 Climax 26 Standings (h/t Puroresu Spirit):
- Goto [6 wins, 4 losses= 12 points]- BLOCK WINNER
- Tanahashi [5 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses= 11 points]
- Okada [5 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses= 11 points]
- Fale [5 wins, 3 losses= 10 points]
- Marufuji [5 wins, 4 losses= 10 points]
- Ishii [4 wins, 5 losses= 8 points]
- Makabe [4 wins, 5 losses= 8 points]
- Tonga [4 wins, 5 losses= 8 points]
- SANADA [4 wins, 5 losses= 8 points]
- Tenzan [2 wins, 6 losses = 4 points]
- Naito [6 wins, 2 losses= 12 points]
- Elgin [5 wins, 3 losses= 10 points]
- Shibata [5 wins, 3 losses= 10 points]
- Omega [5 wins, 3 losses= 10 points]
- Yano [4 wins, 3 losses= 8 points]
- Nakajima [4 wins, 4 losses= 8 points]
- YOSHI-HASHI [3 wins, 5 losses= 6 points]
- Nagata [3 wins, 5 losses = 6 points]
- Honma [2 wins, 6 losses= 4 points]
- EVIL [3 wins, 5 losses= 6 points]