New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 28 Night 5
July 20, 2018
Korakuen Hall

Watch: NJPW World

It’s already night 5 of the G1, which feels like it’s flying by. I’m sure that feeling will seem like a distant memory in two weeks or so, but right now the pace seems break-neck.

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G1 Climax 28 A Block
Jay White (6) def. Michael Elgin (4)

Michael Elgin’s gimmick is “violent slab of beef shaped like a human” and it’s still leagues better than Switchblade. Elgin has delivered two of my top five matches of the G1 so far (barring night 4, which I haven’t watched yet). White still struggles with inconsistency, as neither his Okada or Tanahashi bouts reached the level of quality of his Cow Palace showdown with Juice Robinson.

For all my criticisms of White, he has cool offence. The back-and-forth style of match that Elgin typically works really helps to highlight that. There was a bit of subtlety involved, where a lot of White’s regular moves required some modification because of Elgin’s size – not being able to bridge on the flatliner/German suplex combo felt like a purposeful move. There’s a small package driver to the floor that looks like a brilliant recovery from a fuck-up.

White has been showing some interesting character traits within his matches – he needs to cheat to gain sustained advantages, which hints at the character he puts on outside of the ring is something of a facade. Much like Naito hides how deeply he cares with his ingobernable persona, it feels like the Switchblade character is insecure about his place on the roster and whether he can truly hang with the greats. Whenever he gets in trouble, he doesn’t trust his skill or his guts to see him through – he just goes Full Yano and cheats his ass off (or more, accurately, he cheats his opponent’s balls off). Just as I write that, White purposely knocks down the referee during a buckle bomb, then low-blows Elgin and hits the Blade Runner. There’s gotta be a story brewing about Jay White’s inability to win clean. ****1/4

G1 Climax 28 A Block
Minoru Suzuki (2) def. YOSHI-HASHI (0)

YOSHI-HASHI is one of those guys that always tries his ass off, but ultimately never seems to grow beyond that. He’s always good for a handful of very good G1 matches, though, so it’s worth keeping an eye on his matches with major players.

This one starts FAST, with YOSHI-HASHI looking every bit Suzuki’s equal until he refuses to use the chair that Suzuki introduced. The King had no such moral compunctions, and crowned his rival good. After a mediocre 2017 tournament, Suzuki’s 2018 G1 has been excellent. He adds a necessary element of variety, as his matches feel very different. Suzuki is a terror, and his matches feel like wild orgies of violence.

When not being absolutely battered by Suzuki, YOSHI-HASHI doggedly tried to finish the match with his Butterfly Lock. He eventually tried it one time too many, and Suzuki used his superior grappling skills to escape and hit the Gotch Piledriver. ***1/2

G1 Climax 28 A Block
EVIL (4) def. Togi Makabe (4)

Hoss fiiiiiiiight! Makabe and EVIL both shine brightest when they’re paired with opponents willing to give and take a monstrous beating, so this is a match that caught my attention when I was looking at this card. After some energetic brawling, EVIL takes the early advantage due to his proclivities for weaponizing furniture.

The battle spills up the stairs and onto the landing in the middle of Korakuen Hall’s raised seating, and I’m loving it. The thing I find most draining about the G1, aside from the sheer amount of wrestling, is when things start to feel samey. Any time guys do something really different, it stands out. One of the reasons I loved EVIL’s G1 match against Minoru Suzuki in 2017 was that it stood out – it was an intense brawl around the arena where they threw furniture as much as forearms.

Makabe throws KARATE CHOPS, of all things, and I was not prepared for how entertaining I would find that. Similarly, EVIL’s shock when Makabe kicked out of Darkness Falls, a move that never beats anybody, made me chuckle. After that brief break for unintended levity, the two bruisers clobber the bejesus out of each other until EVIL catches Makabe with EVIL and pins him. Japanese commentary made a Masa Saito reference during said clobbering, but I don’t speak Japanese, so I don’t have any additional context to add to that. ***3/4

G1 Climax 28 A Block
Hiroshi Tanahashi (4) def. Bad Luck Fale (2)

The A Block doesn’t have the eye-popping card that B Block has, but there are a lot of match-ups that will be better than they look on paper. Tanahashi and Bad Luck Fale are a pairing that I’m never excited about, but always deliver a compelling performance. That’s arguably Fale’s most valuable quality – he has very good chemistry with several of the top stars.

Tanahashi has had several G1 matches with Fale, and wrestles the beginning of the match like a man who has studied his opponent and has a gameplan. This goes pretty well until Fale throws him over the railing and onto a ringside table, then through several rows of chairs. You’d think Tanahashi would have really focused his planning on NOT getting thrown into objects at ringside, since that’s been a staple of Fale’s attack in their past matches. Then again, I guess that’s like going into a fist-fight with a bear with the plan “don’t let it hit you.” That’s not a plan, that’s a lie you tell yourself to make it feel like you’re not about to get your ass kicked.

Fale applies the Tongan nerve hold, which might be the worst move in professional wrestling. It’s that or the bear hug. He makes up for it by doing some Vader-style (RIP) clubbing blows to the head in the corner, which look like murder. The way Tanahashi sells for Fale makes it seem like Fale is 10 feet tall, and it adds a level of drama to their matches.

The finishing stretch really brought this one up to the next level. Tanahashi trying for flash pins but not being able to hook them properly due to Fale’s massive frame, only to be clubbed like a baby seal for his efforts, created a sense of palpable desperation. The Bad Luck Fall counter into a Slingblade and High Fly Flow had me pumping my fist in excitement. If that had been the finish, I think I would have gone slightly higher in the rating. A running story in this tournament has been establishing the Tongan Firing Squad as their own unit of ruthless killers, but the interference felt a bit clumsy, especially the Gun Stun. This was still a very enjoyable bout, though, and Red Shoes making the call that doesn’t make him seem like an idiot helped salvage things. ****1/4

G1 Climax 28 A Block
Kazuchika Okada (2) vs. Hangman Page (2)

Hangman Page has impressed me a lot so far in this tournament. His opening night match against Bad Luck Fale was more about the storyline that played out in the finish, but until then I thought it was having a pretty good match. Page’s match against Elgin on night 3 is my second favourite match of the tournament so far (again, I haven’t seen night 4 yet), and really made me sit up and take notice. Even against the lesser, ass-ballooned version of Okada, there’s a chance for Page to really make a mark with his first main event.

Okada has been wearing gold again lately, and his shitty red dye-job has washed out into something that doesn’t look like a junior high student who made mistakes with a self-dye kit. Whether those elements are a conscious part of the post-championship Okada storyline, I can’t say for certain, but they seem worth noting.

Page telling Okada to hit him on the rope break, leading to Okada’s standard chest-pat spot, as well as his “this is Okada now” trash talk on the floor got me fired up. Page busting out the Blockbuster Hold from Fire Pro Wrestling ALSO got me fired up, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual human do that move.

Okada gave Page a TON in this match, and really made him look like he could be a major player. The finish felt a little flat – Okada hit the Rainmaker and won. There was a counter sequence before it, but I don’t think it maximized the drama. Regardless, this was an excellent match that made Hangman Page look great in defeat, and worth watching if you’re sleeping on the A Block. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

Another solid night from the A Block that will almost assuredly be overshadowed by the two B Block shows flanking it on the schedule. If the B Block wasn’t so stacked, a show with 3 matches over 4 stars and nothing below 3.5 would be a no-brainer. This whole show was a breeze to watch, and I really enjoyed it, so if you’re not cherry picking yet, give it a watch. If you are cherry picking, check out Okada vs. Hangman Page.