New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Special in USA – Night 2
July 2, 2017
Long Beach Convention Center
Long Beach, CA

Watch: NJPW World / AXS TV (Friday, July 7)

NJPW’s G1 Special in USA Night 1 was a solid show marred by a litany of production issues as well as an uninteresting and, at times, dull first half. Those problems were all fixed on Night 2, a show that could wind up as a 2017 Show of the Year contender and a clear sign to that NJPW has officially arrived stateside.

Jushin Thunder Liger, KUSHIDA & David Finlay def. Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka & Yoshitatsu

KUSHIDA chant before the bell even rang. Throughout the match Tatsu and the Boyz had tremendous heel heat with most of the crowd saving their scorn for “Bullet Club Hunter” Yoshitatsu. To their credit, all three men played it up the entire match and re-worked their style to adapt.

If you had hopes that Jim Ross would be more in-tune with the New Japan Pro Wrestling product after last night’s show, think again. At one point during this match, Ross asked Barnett “Are they really called the Teriyaki Boys?” To Ross’ credit, that’s no worse a name than Tempura Boyz but overall Ross’ lack of product knowledge doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the show.

The finish saw David Finlay lock a Stretch Muffler on Yoshitatsu while his teammates Liger and KUSHIDA immediately entered the fray and locked submissions on the Tempura Boyz. After giving the crowd a few moments to visualize, Tatsu feveriously tapped out giving Finlay the huge win. Like Jay White’s victory last night, throwing a bone to Finlay was a cool moment that the crowd really seemed to enjoy. I don’t have a record of it but I can’t imagine Finlay has many tag wins during his NJPW career. Hell, his last singles win was all the way back in November 2016 against Hirai Kawato at the World Tag League. **3/4

IWGP United States Championship – Semi Final
Kenny Omega def. Jay Lethal

Kenny Omega is one of the best, if not the best wrestlers in the world. People have been rightfully down on Lethal for his mundane, paint-by-numbers match formula over the last handful of months. This match was anything but. And it’s hard not to give credit to a man we know thinks about the wrestling art form like no other, Kenny Omega.

The match started with Omega luring Lethal in for a handshake then kicking him in the ribs. This played up the storyline from last night where Lethal, still nursing a rib injury from last week’s ROH Best in the World, wasn’t 100%. Omega smelled blood in the water and the entire match focused on attacking Lethal’s ribs. Lethal was like a video game boss, a foe with one mortal flaw, one body part that Omega knew he could hit for maximum damage. Thus, there was no wasted motion or unnecessary expelled energy in Omega’s offense: every move and every punch was targeted towards Lethal’s ribs.

Another fun wrinkle though was Lethal understanding he wasn’t in for the long haul given his condition so he needed to go for broke as soon as possible. Only a few minutes into the match Lethal started going for his Lethal Injection finisher and after two failed attempts he hit it. The crowd immediately exploded thinking Lethal had pulled off the huge upset, but Omega—ever the thinker—rolled out of the ring to avoid the pinfall. Bonus points as well to Omega for selling the Lethal Injection better than anyone ever.

Omega looked to finish Lethal off with the One-Winged Angel but gave Lethal a few moments to reverse and squirm out of it before finally hitting it and getting the 1-2-3. That little bit of squirm really did help Lethal seem not like a man who was totally outclassed but a man who just wasn’t healthy enough to hang with one of the wrestling world’s best on this night.

This was spectacular. As good a sub-15 minute match as you’ll ever see. A well-thought-out, creative match that never wavered from its intended story. ****½

IWGP United States Championship – Semi Final
Tomohiro Ishii def. Zack Sabre Jr.

Ishii and Sabre had the difficult task of following up Omega and Lethal and not only accomplished it but I could see many people preferring this encounter.

On Night 1 I talked about the Ishii vortex. An unavoidable whirlwind of babyface charisma draws you in no matter how hard you pull away. The focus on this match was Sabre—the aggressor throughout—locking Ishii in a number of different submission holds to try and get the tap out. Ishii, ever the babyface, wouldn’t tap and remained strong throughout.

The crowd, with each subsequent submission, would rally behind Ishii more and more. Sabre would also keep the submission locked in longer and long, so the balance of Sabre really driving in a submission while Ishii screamed and struggled to get to the ropes had the crowd going nuts without either guy having to kill themselves. Definitely a positive, particularly in Ishii’s case.

After numerous failed submission attempts Sabre got frustrated and went for strikes. Big mistake. Ishii absolutely destroyed him with a lariat and hit the Brainbuster for the win. I can see minor complaints about Ishii’s only substantial offensive run coming in the final few moments of the match but it didn’t bother me. This was more about Ishii surviving than winning. Sabre controlled the match until, well, he didn’t. He’s the one who lost focus and start going to strikes giving Ishii the opening to play his game.

Either way, another great United States tournament match, a tournament highlighted by compact, well-told stories so far. Our final is Ishii vs. Omega. Prepare yourself. ****

Dragon Lee, Jay White, Juice Robinson, Volador Jr. & Titan def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, EVIL, BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito)

This was fun but ultimately just a showcase match for guys to show off their moves. After two matches with concrete and coherent stories, it was hard to get super “into” a match like this. Everyone worked well, in particular Titan who was able to show off a little more of a high flying than the night prior. The lone highlight was Takahashi and Dragon Lee squaring off, yet again, and exchanging chest slaps for about a minute straight as the crowd went absolutely nuts. Let’s hope these two feud for decades ala Tito Santana and Rick Martel.

Jay White picked up another win, his second of the week, after hitting the Flatliner on BUSHI. If and when the time comes, he’s going to be a star. ***

Guerillas of Destiny & Hangman Page def. War Machine & Michael Elgin

As hoss-y a modern New Japan match as you’ll ever see, likely influenced by the fact that Haku came down to the ring with his sons and Page.

There was a lot of snorting, spitting, grunting and power moves with GOD and War Machine squaring off for a majority of the match. Oh, then Hangman Page rolled into the ring and hit Raymond Rowe with a lariat and Rite of Passage for the win. In a weird series of events, Page grabbed War Machine’s IWGP Tag Titles and held them above his head. As he made his way to the back he declared, “those tag team titles will be mine!” Well, okay! ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
The Young Bucks (c) def. Roppongi Vice

The days of the Bucks being spot monkeys or that wrought talking point are over. If you hear someone use that in reference to the Bucks, just ignore them because they either don’t watch or are just looking for attention.

The Bucks in this match had a cohesive plan focusing on neutralizing Beretta and trying to win not with a Meltzer Driver or More Bang For Your Buck, but rather the Sharpshooter. At numerous points in the match both Matt and Nick tried to lock in the Sharpshooter to get the win but time and time again both members of Roppongi Vice fought through.

The Bucks were able to successfully neutralize Beretta for most of the match but Romero would not give up taking shot after shot and staying alive. Finally, though, the Bucks were too much for RPG Vice as two Meltzer Drivers gave way to stereo Sharpshooters as Beretta and Romero tapped in unison. ***1/2

After the match, Ricochet, in street clothes, came out after the match to take out the Young Bucks. He made a challenge to the Bucks on behalf of himself and Ryusuke Taguchi. Ricochet dubbed their team “Funky Future.” This gave way to a post-match promo from Rocky Romero where he declared this the end for Roppongi Vice as his teammate Beretta would be moving up to the heavyweight division.

I’m a little torn on this decision. In one respect, Beretta has had such an awesome year and it’ll be great to see him more prominent roles in the promotion. With that said, Roppongi Vice was such a special tag team and the combination of Romero and Beretta worked better than almost anyone could have reasonably expected. If this is truly the end, these guys have nothing to be ashamed of. They were an integral part of this division being as entertaining as it’s been for the last three years. In particular, their work over the last handful of months has been among the best in NJPW junior tag history.

I’m going to miss these dudes and trust me, you will too.

Marty Scurll, Bad Luck Fale, Cody & Yujiro Takahashi def. Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay & The Briscoes

Worked as more of a comedy match than an intense battle of CHAOS + Briscoes vs. Bullet Club, this match absolutely served its purpose as a buffer for the two big matches of the night. At very points in the match, the guys opted to have some fun and play up the audience—which, again, I was fine with. One sequence saw each man tag in and out as the crowd chanted their name. Was it technically a great match? Not at all but the crowd was into it from beginning to end and all the guys seemed to have fun. That’s not to say it was totally devoid of in-ring action. Ospreay hit a beautiful looking Sasuke Special while Scrull did most of his usual stuff including breaking some fingers and flopping his arms around like a crow.

A day after taking a rare pinfall lose, Cody got back to his winning ways pinning Ospreay after a Cross Rhodes. Jim Ross and Josh Barnett made sure to play up the ongoing “Who is the leader of Bullet Club?” storyline that developed during last night’s main event. Barnett made sure to point out that Cody led his team to victory on this night. I often remark that these guys in particular have a ton of notes and cues so when they are driving home a point or a storyline, you know it’s something to be aware of and something they are being told to pump up. I’m super excited for the continued development of this story if only to break up the monotony of the Bullet Club. **½

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Billy Gunn

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. “The One” Billy Gunn was a match that didn’t need to happen for an event that was sold out before it was even announced. If the goal was to bring an American onboard so that fans had someone they could relate to, it probably failed as Gunn got little-to-no reaction from the live audience except for audible boos that seemed more “why are you here?” than genuine heel heat. In that regard, maybe it did work. Maybe that’s what the NJPW office was going for when they booked Gunn. Who knows. Some have theorized that they want Gunn as apart of their training team and this was a make-good to him. Whatever the reason, it happened and thankfully, mercifully it’s over. Gunn was bad. As bad as a 53-year-old whose best in-ring year was roughly 24 years ago.

Gunn worked this like a 1999 WWF PPV match spending most of the time in rest holds wrenching Tanahashi’s injured arm or doing “not even that entertaining in 1987” test of strength spots. He would occasionally break that up by threatening the referee, Red Shoes. This match was largely devoid of drama as nobody truly believed “The Outlaw” would win. Gunn did hit the One and Only and the Fameasser, giving the crowd two brief moments of shock. Tanahashi played up both perfectly waiting until the absolute last moment possible to kick out.

Those would be the last bits of drama in the match as Tanahashi went to work hitting a sling blade and the High Fly Flow to retain his title. Thank god it’s over. I forgot to mention there was a spot where Tanahashi pulled Gunn’s pants down to reveal tights. Gunn returned the favor and showed Tanahashi’s bare ass to the crowd. I repeat: thank god it’s over. **

IWGP United States Championship Tournament Final
Kenny Omega def. Tomohiro Ishii

If there wasn’t someone named Kazuchika Okada working in the same era and company as Kenny Omega, we’d be talking about the sure-fire Wrestler of the Year and the best big match wrestler going today. Omega has been on fire over the last year and his 2017 is on a historic path. On this night, he made history becoming the first IWGP United States Champion, a title that should be the focal point of NJPW’s ambitious United States expansion. As I said in my preview of the weekend’s events, Omega was the best choice for the title. There were safe picks like Elgin or even Omega’s opponent Ishii, but Omega was the right choice. The choice that will make headlines. The choice that will have people talking. Some may see it as a step down, a consolation prize for him not winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title this year but it’s so much more than that. The title represents a new era, a new beginning and a new plan to grow NJPW’s business beyond the island of Japan and to the rest of the world. Omega is now the centerpiece of that expansion.

That’s no consolation prize.

Let’s ignore big picture for a minute and go back to the match. This—the third match between Ishii and Omega this year—may have been their best. The prior two matches were worked at a frenetic pace while this one was more methodical and more calming. This made each and every big move seem so much more impactful and meaningful. This wasn’t a match either man was trying to win in 10 minutes, instead both were playing the long game, trying to wear the other out to eventually win this coveted prize.

It’s hard to pick one or two spots to highlight, but the one you’ll probably see for years to come was Omega and Ishii battling on the ring apron with a table looming ominously below them. Omgea was setting up for a suplex but Ishii was fighting tooth and nail (literally) to avoid being put through the table. Sick of Ishii clutching the ropes, Omega put him in a half nelson. Ishii, in what will become an iconic spot, bit down on the ropes to avoid being suplexed. That aforementioned Ishii vortex whipped even the more ardent Omega/Bullet Club fans into a frenzy as everyone wanted Ishii to find a way out of this hold.

It bought Ishii only a few seconds though as he took a sickening looking half nelson suplex through the table.

That spot set the tone for the remainder of the match as the slow-pacing at the outset gave way to a manic finish that saw Omega hit a number of v-trigger knees, Ishii hit a One-Winged Angel on Omega, an amazing Ishii kick out and one spot and, finally, a reverse hurricanrana, v-trigger and One-Winged Angel by Omega for the win. You couldn’t have asked for a better effort from either man. As good as Omega has been this year, Ishii deserves equal credit for playing such a big part in three of those matches. What a match to cap off an unbelievable weekend. Wake up America, NJPW has officially arrived. ****½

Final Thoughts:

Three matches rated four stars or better and two rated four and a half stars. As someone who doesn’t pass out snowflakes as liberally as others, this is a big deal. If you haven’t seen this show, drop everything and watch it now. NJPW’s G1 Special in USA Night 2 is a must-watch for any wrestling fan.