New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Special in San Francisco
July 7, 2018
Cow Palace
San Francisco, California

Watch: AXS TV

Before we get to the results and review of G1 Special in San Francisco, let’s talk business. The attendance for this show was 6,333. A number that for internet discourse, does nothing. It’s too large to scoff at: blowing away what New Japan Pro Wrestling has done previously in America but too small to make any grand proclamations about NJPW’s place in the North American wrestling scene. Whereas September’s Cody/Young Bucks-produce show All In was promoted on the guise of selling 10,000, this show wasn’t. Still, there was rumblings that the Cow Palace may not have been an ambitious enough venue for NJPW and that they should have sought out a bigger more modern basketball arena. NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco was undoubtedly a business success thanks to higher than usual ticket prices but optics will suffer with NJPW barely getting above 6,000.

On the Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast, we’ve talked a lot about the amount of direct competition NJPW has for this show. Just last weekend Kenny Omega promoted a NJPWxCEO show in Daytona, Ring of Honor ran this show’s main event in New Orleans months ago which gave them their biggest attendance number to date and the aforementioned All In is littered with NJPW talent. Add in April’s NJPW Strong Style Evolved show and the proliferation of NJPW talent on Ring of Honor shows and you have a thirst that is sufficiently quenched. If NJPW remained “special” in this region, there’s no doubt this show sells at or near what All In did. Instead, we’re left with an underwhelming but still impressive number and several questions for the future as NJPW is returning to America for two additional tours later this year:

Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa & King Haku def. SHO, YOH, YOSHI-HASHI, Rocky Romero, Gedo

This was quickly-paced match with 10 people tagging in and out quickly and all trying to shine for their few moments. Each person in the match seemed to have a few moments to showcase what they do best with the lone exception of King Haku, who stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Haku hit a sick piledriver on Romero that Rocky sold amazingly by looking like he may have legit broken his neck. Rocky’s selling was so great that the ref actually hesitated in counting a pin to check on him. The finish saw Gedo and Tama Tonga squaring off. Gedo appeared to have the upper hand until, you guessed it, Haku made his presence known applying the Tongan Death Grip on the CHAOS mouthpiece. After sufficiently death gripping Gedo, Haku tossed him to Tonga who put Gedo away with the Gun Stun. ***

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano def. Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.

CHAOS picked up the victory in the perfect representation of this match: chaos. These four men have had better encounters with one another than this one which never seemed to find its footing. The best parts of the match saw Sabre working over Yano with his array of submissions and a brief moment when Suzuki and Sabre were putting tandem submissions on Yano working him over like a pack of dogs. Just about every other part of the match felt like a mess with ref distracting, double teams and general chaos happening in and out of the ring. As commentator Jim Ross said at the match’s conclusion “It’s going to get better.” Yano won with a roll-up which doesn’t really matter because Yano can lose or win at will without it having much of an effect on the larger NJPW canon. **

Hangman Page & Marty Scurll def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA

It’s shocking to see Hiroshi Tanahashi in the 3rd match from the bottom as one-half of a tag team. We do this every year though, don’t sleep on Tanahashi with the G1 Climax proper coming up. Tanahashi has made a habit of coasting through the spring and early summer before killing it in NJPW’s summer tournament and making us all feel stupid for doubting him. While Tanahashi has no doubt taken a step back in the NJPW hierarchy, he’s not about to tell the G1 Climax pass him by. Don’t be caught by surprise again this year.

As far as this match, I really enjoyed it. The focus was clearly on Scurll and Page, with Page in particular shining through much of the match. The Bullet Club duo was arguably the most over guys we’ve seen so far on the show and it was a good move to let Page get the visual pinfall. KUSHIDA and Tanahashi are great pro wrestlers and can shine in pretty much any situation, they were great but Scurll and Page really stood out. I wouldn’t mind seeing them get a run with the IWGP Tag Titles at some point. ***¼

NEVER Openweight Title
Hirooki Goto © def. Jeff Cobb

In an interesting dynamic, the usually loved Goto worked very heel-ish throughout the match eliciting negative reactions from the San Francisco fateful.

Cobb, who was making his return to NJPW after being away since last year’s World Tag League, acclimated himself well. Cobb is someone who could seamlessly enter the regular NJPW roster tomorrow and fit like a glove. His style of offense, body type and in-ring charisma stands out even if he isn’t the most dynamic wrestler in the world today. Cobb is also a guy who projects so much better live than he does on camera or video. His body mass and athletic ability really shine when you’re seeing him in an arena but that same aura doesn’t seem to carry over as well on TV. Either way, I’d love to see more of Cobb in NJPW and hope he’s a major part of their ongoing United States expansion.

I really enjoyed this match which was worked very much in a super heavyweight style with Goto and Cobb exchanging bombs with one another and really letting every move and moment simmer. Well, and then Cobb would hit a moonsault and a beautiful dropkick every so often but that kind of a juxtaposition makes him jump off the page for me.

Each nearfall felt really special and even the finish, which saw Goto very slowly put Cobb away with the GTR had a real weight to it thanks to the deliberate nature. This match and the pace may not work for everyone but I thought it was perfect for these two beasts. ***½

IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks © def. SANADA & EVIL

The Young Bucks are on another level this year and their chemistry with SANADA & EVIL is building by the match. This was a spectacular back and forth tag match that could have gone either way until the final 1-2-3. I’m pretty over ref bumps in any pro wrestling match but this one was done to perfection as a chair was introduced to the match and it led to SANADA & EVIL hitting a Meltzer Driver onto a chair.

The Bucks ultimately got the win after a Meltzer Driver of their own but this is definitely a match to go out of your way to see. Solid tag wrestling, the Bucks’ masterful selling and the unbelievable chemistry and smoothness from the LIJ duo. ****¼

Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay def. Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI

Kazuchika Okada has new music, came out without a robe and continues to wear gaudy trash bag pants. Kenny Omega v-triggered Okada back to 2001 and he’s a fucking backyarder/CZW regular. What the hell happened to our poor Rainmaker? He also came to the ring with freakin’ balloons like a member of ROH’s The Kingdom. I don’t like any of this.

What I did like was the match. It had a tough act to follow with the previous tag match and while it ultimately failed to meet the lofty expectations, it was still quite a bit of fun. The match followed a very clear pattern with the heavyweights (Okada and Naito) and junior heavyweights (Ospreay and BUSHI) facing off like you would in a classic mixed tag match. The interactions between Okada and Natio were profound and definitely has me excited for the next chapter in their rivalry. BUSHI and Ospreay had some fun interactions but didn’t feel like it meant a whole lot. Ospreay put away BUSHI (of course) with a Stormchaser. ***½

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) def. Dragon Lee

Madness. Pure madness. These continue to push to new, unprecedented boundaries. This match may be the outer limit of what we can expect from these two hated rivals as they took things to a new, at times uncomfortable level in terms of head drops and high risks. One spot in particular saw Dragon Lee drop Takahashi directly on the top of his head. We don’t know the severity of the injury just yet—Dave Meltzer said on this morning’s Wrestling Observer Radio that reportedly Hiromu broke his neck—but it was a tough moment to watch. Hiromu was clearly shaken up be it a broken neck or a severe concussion.

Thankfully, Takahashi was able to complete the match and actual perform a few moves including a Canadian Destroyer which is equal parts inspiring and terrifying if the broken neck is a true report. Wrestling is a dangerous sport and I’m not here to tell people how they need to or should perform matches. I appreciated the hell out of these guy’s effort and they have continued to find new boundaries in their rivalry. Still, I’d love to watch Hiromu wrestle for the next decade plus so this should hopefully be as crazy as it gets. ****½

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Juice Robinson def. “Switchblade” Jay White ©

Jay White is a star. In an era of cool heels and a company filled from top-to-bottom with tweeners, White is emerging as one of the company’s top heels. White is so over-the-top and so annoying that you can’t fathom rooting for him. On this night, the crowd was solidly behind Juice Robinson (who was decked in Red, White & Blue) chanting USA and Juice at the beginning of the match. By expertly working over Robinson, targeting Robinson’s casted hand and tossing Robinson violently into the ringside guardrails.

This raised the ire of AXS TV commentator Josh Barnett who at one point left his commentary booth and started chasing White around the ring. This was done masterfully and had people questioning the work/shoot nature of Barnett’s anger. Barnett did an awesome job of snapping proclaiming “You done fucked up now!” and White, the chickenshit he is, was perfect in this angle as well. Ross would go on to say, “Officials need to get their shit together.” There may be been some actual anger in this or it was all a shoot, I don’t care, it ruled. Best of all, the crowd was molten from that point on and even more solidly behind Juice as “Fuck you Switchblade!” chants rang out in the Cow Palace.

This was also a turning point for the match as White seemed to lose focus and Juice began rallying through the crowd even hitting a sick-looking side Russian leg sweep to the floor. In another cool spot (this match rocked in case you can’t tell), White low-blowed Juice with a distracted ref. Red Shoes was then knocked down and Juice realizing he had an opening and sick of being cheapshotted by White throughout the match decked Switchblade with his cast. A pre-match stipulation said that Juice couldn’t use the cast or he’d be DQ’d.

The finish saw Robinson roll White up out of nowhere and get the 1-2-3 to a gigantic, massive pop. Robinson is your new United States Champion and while he had an awesome performance, this was the Jay White show. Remember this match. White is going to be a star. Match of the Night thus far. ****1/2

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) def. Cody

This match didn’t reach the levels of the prior two but felt very much like a main event. Two of the most over guys in the building having a methodical, well-paced match that featured a few insane spots (more on those in a bit) but managed to not go overboard. In the end, Omega has a successful title defense and Cody looks great by taking him to his absolute limit. Credit to both guys for a few insane spots throughout including Cody taking a powerbomb from inside the ring to a table on the outside and both men taking a vertical suplex from the top of an insanely high ladder. In between those moments was a slower-than-your-standard Omega-paced main event that never managed to overstay its welcome. This won’t be in Omega’s Top 5 matches of the year but it’s still well worth your time and a solid all-around performance from both men. I preferred their ROH match from earlier in the year but this one was still solid but quite a few steps below spectacular. ****

The real talk of the night came in the post-match angle that saw the ongoing Bullet Club fissure reach new heights as Bullet Club OG Tama Tonga flanked by Tanga Loa and King Haku attacked Omega after the match. Yes, King Haku was involved in a major NJPW angle in 2018. God bless. The new unit, who were wearing Firing Squad shirts, adds a whole new dynamic to the Bullet Club breakup. Cody and Omega even found common ground at the end of the beatdown united to take on the new Firing Squad.

I’m fascinated to see where a few of the guys who weren’t on this tour including Bad Luck Fale fit into the mix. You now have Bullet Club, Firing Squad, Golden Elite and a number of other sub-groups and sub-groups of sub-groups. This was done amazingly well and I’m excited to see what the future holds particularly if King Haku hangs around.

Final Thoughts:

After being disappointed in many ways by Strong Style Evolved, NJPW brought the goods with G1 Special in San Francisco. A solid top-to-bottom show with three or four must-see matches and a number of noteworthy stories and character building.