NJPW G1 Special in USA – Night 2
July 2, 2017
Long Beach Convention Center
Long Beach, California
Watch: NJPW World / AXS TV (July 7)
Meet our previewers:
- Michael Spears: Co-host of Open the Voice Gate, Dragon Gate previewer, and gets talked into doing dumb things like reviewing Joey Janela’s Spring Break nearly blackout drunk by Rich. Michael’s actually going to be VOW’s in-person correspondent during G1 Special, so follow him on twitter at @fujiiheya for updates, photos and general musings about NJPW’s big US expansion.
- Andrew Rich: Andrew is the co-host of the wrestling music podcast Music of the Mat (@musicofthemat). When he’s not writing for Voices of Wrestling, he’s sort of understanding the new Twin Peaks and preparing to see Iron Maiden and Gorillaz in July (but not at the same show). Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewTRich.
- John Carroll: Michael’s co-host at Open the Voice Gate, and also the host of the brand new podcast Wrestling Omakase (@wrestleomakase)! If you already listened to the first episode you’d know that John’s excitement level for these two shows isn’t exactly high, but damnit they’ve got a streak going on these NJPW roundtables and they aren’t about to break it now! Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you really like trash.
- Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place. VOW founder, co-owner and co-host of the Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast. Cheap plug: my wife (the famed “The Nurse) and I just started a 90s nostalgia podcast, All 90s Podcast and I’d really appreciate if you can give it a listen or pass it along to any family and friends who may enjoy it. You can follow the podcast @all90spodcast or all90spodcast.com. For ‘rasslin content, follow @VoicesWrestling.
You can view our Night 1 preview & predictions below:
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero)
Michael Spears: Beretta, along with his Best Friend Chuck Taylor, have proven to be certifiable mad men over the last year in the bumps and spots they’ll take. I love the chemistry between these teams. I know Gedo and his tag team booking is lacking, but I’m totally okay with seeing this live. We’ll see their usual tropes, but in front of a Long Beach crowd, I expect an incredible reaction. Unlike the Heavyweight belts I have half of an inkling for this match. You’re in So Cal, there really is one way to go with this. Prediction: The Young Bucks
Andrew Rich: Yes, the tag divisions in New Japan are stale. Water is also wet. Steve Buscemi used to be a firefighter. These are things we know. I don’t know if or when the tag divisions will see a bit more diversity injected into them, but until them I’m going to watch this match and enjoy it. We know these two teams can put on tremendous matches with each other since we saw them do just that at Wrestle Kingdom and Dominion. The Bucks will be the Bucks, Rocky will be his usual awesome self, and Beretta will prove himself to be the unsung hero of wrestling by putting on the best performance in the match. Again. Prediction: The Young Bucks
John Carroll: The Bucks usually rein themselves in when they’re wrestling in New Japan, and as such it’s basically the last place on Earth I tend to enjoy them these days. However, with this particular NJPW match taking place in their SoCal backyard rather than in the land of the rising sun I’m worried we’re gonna get something closer to the ROH/PWG Bucks, which is no bueno. If you’re still into their whole deal, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably get very well acquainted with your Twitter feed. Trent is having an awesome 2017 though, so if anything can save it that might be it. Prediction: The Young Bucks
Rich Kraetsch: If you haven’t paid attention to Beretta’s 2017 you’ve missed one of the best, most consistent performances in the business right now. No matter what match he’s in, no matter if he’s working with Rocky Romero, Chuck Taylor or going solo, he’s been killing it this year. There’s no Wrestling Observer Award for Best Utility Player but we may need to create one for Barreta. I get it, we’ve seen this match a lot, but I firmly believe both teams are at or near the peak of their careers. The Young Bucks have been working a much more controlled style as of late and while there’s a chance they revert to their old ways in front of an adoring American audience, I’m confident they’ll deliver. Roppongi Vice at a time seemed out of place or lost in New Japan but that’s not the case anymore. They have been one of NJPW’s best tag teams for months now and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Forget that you’ve seen this match a number of times and just embrace how good this could be with a molten hot crowd invested in each step these four take. Prediction: The Young Bucks
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Billy Gunn
Michael Spears: First off, we are truly bless that in the year 2017, with how crazy and mad this world is, this match is even happening. I mean it’s one of the best wrestlers of a generation and The Ass Man. I openly cackled when this match was announced and with Yoshitatsu delivering the message like the gentleman he is. And frankly, Tanahashi is a gentleman himself for fixing the Intercontinental belt. That thing has been gross since Nakamura held it. White leather does not make a good looking belt people. So this match will happen. And the funny thing will be if Tanahashi gets a better match out of Billy Gunn then Okada gets out of Cody the night before. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Andrew Rich: Billy Gunn enters the ring accompanied by Yoshitatsu.
Yoshitatsu: “Llllllllladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. New Japan Pro Wrestling proudly brings to you, it’s soon to be IWGP Intercontinental Champion of the WOOOOOOOOORLD! He’s the B-to-the-A-to-the-Double-D, the K-to-the-I-to-the-Single-P. Tell Rich Kraetsch to curb his sass because your one true god is Mr. Ass!”
Billy Gunn: “And if you’re not down with that, then we’ve got two words for ya.”
Everyone in the arena: “GO ASS!”
Tanahashi and Billy Gunn wrestle. Billy Gunn does his stuff. Tanahashi does his stuff. Tanahashi wins. The world doesn’t explode. Fín. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
John Carroll: Yeah, of the two big title matches announced for these shows, I had way less of a problem with this one, to be quite honest. It’s Hiroshi Tanahashi and THE ONE ROCKABILLY SMOKING ASS. That’s kind of awesome, I’m not gonna lie. With the US Title tournament finals probably taking up the main event slot I think they’ll be free to have a wacky 10-minute match without trying to deliver something above Billy’s pay grade, and it’ll probably be funny as hell. Like Mike just said, it may even be better than Okada-Cody. Wouldn’t shock me. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Rich Kraetsch: I hated this match when it was announced. Truthfully, I still hate it, but I’ll get over it. I don’t think it’s necessary for NJPW to book Billy Gunn in 2017. When NJPW came to the United States in 2011 with JAPW, they brought with them a number of American talents, an olive branch of sorts to fans who may not have known who or what the hell a Hiroshi Tanahashi was. This isn’t 2011 anymore. People bought tickets to this show, with no card, because they wanted to see the stars of NJPW. Whether their entry point was USTREAM, NJPW World, AXS TV or curiosity from much-publicized matches, it doesn’t matter. They came because they wanted to see NJPW and NJPW stars. Booking Billy Gunn is unnecessary pandering. It’s pandering to an audience that doesn’t exist (or isn’t worth your time) in a globalized 2017 wrestling world. With that said, Tanahashi needs some rest before G1, so putting him in there with a professional worker the level of Billy Gunn is probably a good move. If this was the main event, I’d have a problem but it won’t be. It’ll be a special attraction on a show highlighted by the crazy final three matches of the NJPW United States Title Tournament. I didn’t love it when it was announced, I still don’t love it but I’ve come to accept it. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Semifinals
Winner of Kenny Omega/Michael Elgin vs. Winner of Jay Lethal/Hangman Page
Michael Spears: So on my bracket, I’ve got Elgin vs Lethal. They’ve had alright matches, but I think this will be overshadowed by the other potential matches on this show. Elgin should win, and I think it’ll be serviceable without him taking too many things that can hurt him leading to the finals. Maybe Lethal gets the crowd behind him? I dunno, I doubt that. Prediction: Michael Elgin
Andrew Rich: Elgin vs. Lethal in the semifinals here, with Elgin giving Lethal an Elgin Bomb to send him packing. It will be a good match, nothing spectacular. Prediction: Michael Elgin
John Carroll: My bracket here is Elgin vs. Lethal just like both of theirs, and with apologies to Jay I think Mike is gonna powerbomb his ass all the way back to Elizabeth, New Jersey (I went to a really banging house party in Elizabeth once; wonder if anyone Jay knew was there). This match will probably be fine, but it’s another one that feels more at home on an ROH undercard than what is supposedly a real honest-to-god New Japan show. It will be fine and Elgin will win, whatever. Prediction: Michael Elgin
Rich Kraetsch: I’m the lone one with Omega/Lethal in my bracket and I’m going to surprise even more people by picking Omega to move on to the finals. At this point, there’s really no reason to have Lethal go any further in the tournament and Omega, quickly become a mega star in American pro wrestling, will be a great addition to the finals. Can he drag a good match out of Jay Lethal? Eh, we’ll see. Prediction: Kenny Omega
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Semifinals
Winner of Juice Robinson/Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Winner of Tetsuya Naito/Tomohiro Ishii
Michael Spears: Zack Sabre Jr. versus Tomohiro Ishii is a dream match I never knew I wanted until the G1 Blocks were announced. Boy howdy, we might be getting a preview of that! I think ZSJ performs best when he has someone who draws physicality out of him. I think of his matches with Chris Hero and Jaka. Certainly, Ishii, who is one of the most brutal wrestlers in the world will drag him into the deep end. I know this is the US version of New Japan, but I have to think a native wrestler makes the final. I’m totally okay with being wrong here. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii
Andrew Rich: Like Michael, I also have Sabre and Ishii squaring off here. There won’t be as much of a disparity in size as much as Sabre and Fale will have in the G1, but I can’t wait to see how skinny Zack handles a bulldozer like Ishii. This should be an excellent match and another possible match of the night contender for Zack and Ishii. I’m giving this one to Zack, giving us a straightforward face/heel dynamic in the finals with Elgin and Zack fighting for the belt. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
John Carroll: Here’s where I differ from the other two, as I’ve got this semi final as Tetsuya Naito taking on Zack Sabre Jr. That match sounds like it could be a show stealer to me, so I hope that’s how it plays out. Naito is a great pick to go all the way to the finals even though I don’t think he’s winning the title, since beating him in the final gives the first champion instant legitimacy (plus you can keep pushing the “Naito just wants this belt so he can destroy it like he nearly did to the IC Title” storyline all weekend, making it an even bigger deal when he loses in the end). The Long Beach crowd will probably be way behind Naito here too. I’m liking my scenario more and more! Prediction: Tetsuya Naito
Rich Kraetsch: I’m going with Sabre vs. Ishii for this matchup, the dynamics of which I can’t even fathom in my head. I have no doubt it’ll be good but how will the match look. What will the primary focus be? Who will be on offense most of the time. Will Zack be able to twist Ishii’s beefy body into knots or will Ishii be throwing the skinny Sabre all across the ring. No matter how it plays out, it’s going to be good and it’s going to be special. As far as who punches their ticket to the finals? I’m going with Ishii, giving us yet another Ishii/Omega match (not that anyone’s complaining). Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament – Finals
Winner of Semifinal 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal 2
Michael Spears: I’ve got Ishii vs Elgin here, and I’m ready for some Big Lad Wrestling. How great would it be for either of these guys to come into G1 carrying that interesting belt and being the face of New Japan’s expansion. For Ishii, it’d be a career capstone after a solid six years of being a cult favorite, underrated, then finally recognized as one of the best wrestlers in the world. In Elgin’s case, it’d be validation after taking a huge bet on himself and making his dream a reality. This comes back to who New Japan thinks should be the face of their expansion. And even before I looked at the brackets, I thought it should be one man. BIG MIKE. Prediction: Michael Elgin
Andrew Rich: My finals are Michael Elgin vs. Zack Sabre Jr. I have not seen their highly lauded match at AAW Take No Prisoners yet (I know, I know), but I have a feeling that this match will serve as a suitable placeholder for the time being. Babyface Elgin will fight for gold and glory, while dickish heel Sabre will fight for, well, gold and glory. But he’ll sneer and flip off the crowd while he does so, dang nabit! Elgin wins, giving the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship its first champion and giving Big Mike some Big Momentum heading into the G1. Prediction: Michael Elgin
John Carroll: Here we are in the finals, which in my bracket is Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito, a rematch of a ***** classic back at New Beginning. As we just talked about, I think Naito is a perfect choice to go to the final and come up short. On top of that, you also give Elgin a win over him finally after Naito took the IC Title from him last fall and beat him again in February. It’s a great way to give Elgin a ton of momentum heading into the real G1 Climax, a great choice for a first US Champion, and might just be a great way to end the weekend. So now that I’ve got your hopes up for this, hope you enjoy Hangman Page defeating Juice Robinson to make his boyhood dream come true! Prediction: Michael Elgin
Rich Kraetsch: My finals are Omega vs. Ishii. These two have created magic twice already this year with Ishii beating Omega in the New Japan Cup first round and Omega getting his revenge at Wrestling Dontaku. Both matches were out of this world great. What better way to cap off this tournament and send the American fans home happy? It’s a matchup that feels important to the grand scheme of NJPW and also breaks up a 1-1 tie between the two. The key to this entire weekend is to make these specials FEEL important. Make fans feel like they are getting genuine New Japan Pro Wrestling in their own backyard. This match accomplishes that. It’s a match that’s as big a deal in Japan as it is in America. A match that’s already happened in Japan, a match that’s already been apart of big shows in Japan… happening now in America and mattering. Elgin is the safe pick, there’s no doubt about it, he makes the most sense. He’s familiar, consistent and most American fans are well aware of his work and his history. But Omega is the right pick. Make this night special. Make this moment special. And most importantly, make this title special. That’s nothing against Elgin, he’s great, but Omega is on another level right now. Capitalize on it. Prediction: Kenny Omega