New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 28 – Night 17
August 10, 2018
Budokan Hall

Watch: NJPW World

New Japan Pro Wrestling finally returned to Budokan Hall after a long absence from the famed building. New Japan was part of a co-promoted show with AJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2011 but the last NJPW proper show in Budokan was NJPW Crush in 2003. The main event featured a NWF Heavyweight Title match between Yoshihiro Takayama and Shinsuke Nakamura.

Yeah, it’s been awhile.

New Japan’s return couldn’t have featured more stakes with the A Block on the line with Jay White, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada all vying for a spot in Sunday’s G1 Climax 28 Finals. Moreover, one of the classic feuds, rivalries and series of matches of this or any generation Tanahashi vs. Okada is our main event.

The undercard featured our usual array of tag matches with most previewing matches for tomorrow’s B Block show. The only match of real note was The Elite vs. Kota Ibushi, Marty Scurll & Chase Owens. The match featured numerous counters as nobody could hit a move or strike their stablemate. They tried like hell but each guy knew what his opponent was going to do. You wondered when and more importantly who would break the stalemate but then—much to the chagrin of the crowd and those of us at home—Tama Tonga and The Firing Squad ran in and beat everyone down. The match was thrown out without a single move being hit.

Undercard results:

  • Tomohiro Ishii & SHO def. Toa Henare & Shota Umino
  • Guerillas of Destiny def. Toru Yano & Gedo
  • Hirooki Goto & YOH def. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
  • Tetsuya Naito & SANADA def. Zack Sabre Jr. & Taka Michinoku
  • The Elite vs. Kota Ibushi, Marty Scurll & Chase Owens – No Contest

G1 Climax 28 – A Block
Togi Makabe (6) def. Michael Elgin (6)

It’s hard to believe but in 2015 when Elgin was announced for his first G1 Climax, it was met with laughter. Michael Elgin? In the G1 Climax? Sure, Elgin had built a reputation of sorts as a reliable American independent worker even having a handful of great matches but this was the G1 Climax. Elgin, at the time, was flirting with retirement and even floated the idea of trying out for the Toronto Blue Jays. Look, it was a weird time.

Regardless, Elgin delivered. He became the surprise of the tournament and had built back his in-ring reputation. Now, with four G1s to his name, it’s hard to imagine a G1 Climax with Elgin. This year, he had a real argument as an MVP candidate. While I think others—Ibushi, Naito and Ishii—passed him up as the tournament wore on, you can’t deny that Elgin delivered nearly every night.

This was no exception.

Both he and Makabe came to play tonight in a very hard-hitting, rough and tumble match. Neither man had anything at stake but the pride of going out on top. Elgin seemed to be in complete control until Makabe surprised him with a Death Valley Driver and a King Kong Knee Drop for the win. Makabe—a 2009 winner of the G1 Climax—end the tournament as a respectable six points, two below the eight he achieved the last three years. Elgin finishes with just six points, the lowest total of his G1 Climax career.

This was better than it had any right to be. A fun back and forth match with two guys giving it 100% on the final night of block play. ****

G1 Climax 28 – A Block
YOSHI-HASHI (6) def. Hangman Page (6)

YOSHI-HASHI picked up the upset win to bring his final point total to six. Great. YOSHI-HASHI’s career is certainly at a crossroads. He continues to get tepid reactions from the NJPW crowd and even NJPW announcers wonder what exactly he’s fighting for, where his career is going and if he needs to change his path.

If we look at YOSHI-HASHI’s career from his first G1 (2016) to today, it’s hard to argue the arrow isn’t pointing down. He got six points in that inaugural tournament and now, two years later, has the same point total leaving the 2018 G1. The man who once had the NJPW faithful rallying behind him now feels like a relic of the past. Out of place. Listless. The crowd reaction when he upset Page here was less surprise or exhilaration and more apathy. You could almost hear the Budokan collectively say “Oh.” at once when he stunned Page for the win.

Kevin Kelly spent part of the match asking Rocky Romero if YOSHI-HASHI should be in next year’s tournament. Rocky, aping for his stablemate, said yeah but qualified it with the wins he’s had throughout the tournament. By the time he finished his defense, Rocky himself seemed less convinced. After this year’s tournament, I’m convinced. He needs to go. There’s too much talent in NJPW and across the world for YOSHI-HASHI to have a guaranteed spot in the biggest tournament of the year. Sorry TACOS, it’s not personal. It’s just business. ***1/4

G1 Climax 28 – A Block
Minoru Suzuki (10) def. Bad Luck Fale (6) – DQ

I was really into this match which featured Suzuki and Fale beating the fuck out of each other with anything they could find. Then The Firing Squad ran in and Bad Luck Fale got disqualified. Bad Luck Fale finishes with six points despite not being pinned or submitted once. I’ve ranted enough about these guys antics in the G1 and why I think it has no place. This was yet another example but obviously the least glaring since Fale was already eliminated. Whatever. Thank god it’s over. In a bit of good news, NJPW announced (via Twitter this morning) that if The Firing Squad/Bullet Club OGs interferes in tomorrow’s B Block, they will be suspended for three months. N/R

G1 Climax 28 – A Block
EVIL (10) def. Jay White (12)

The most shocking result of the entire night saw EVIL hit his STO on White and win. Just like that. 1-2-3. At the time of the finish, the ref had been knocked down (as has been customary in any White G1 match) so you assumed EVIL would hit the STO get the visual three count but without a ref, White would snake out of it. Instead, the ref slowly came to and counted the three.

Weird.

White could have played a huge role in the main event forcing his way into a G1 Climax finals scenario with a win. It would have also caused his CHAOS teammate Okada to be played for White as an Okada win would put White through. Instead, they decided to eliminate any of that intrigue and play up a win or go home scenario for Okada in the final. I can’t argue with the decision given what we got in the main event but it was still weird to see White after having such a good tournament character wise lose in the way he did. The match was fun and featured the usual White antics that are generating legit heel heat (as compared to The Firing Squad/Bullet Club OGs’ groans). EVIL had an up and down tournament unfortunately with more downs than ups. This was fine but not a match that will turn anyone’s opinion of his output this year. ***

G1 Climax 28 – A Block
Hiroshi Tanahashi (15) vs. Kazuchika Okada (13) – Time Limit Draw

This was the 11th time since Okada returned from excursion that these two did battle and for the third time, it ended in a 30-minute time-limit draw. Midway through the match I had wondered if this was going into the lower end of their battles but by the matches final minutes, it became clear that this was, in fact, one of their best.

There’s always weight to an Tanahashi vs. Okada match. These two have come to define rivalry in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’ve created one of the all-time great rivalries in all of sports and have become the Steamboat/Flair of this generation. Yet, on this night, it felt even more weighty, even more meaningful. Guest color commentator Chris Charlton (who just released a book on the history of wrestling in the Tokyo Dome and you should definitely buy it) put it best when he said that these men’s year has been defined more by what they’ve lost than what they’ve won. Okada laid waste to Tanahashi’s IWGP Heavyweight Title defense record and with it erased a part of Tanahashi’s legacy. Okada’s two-year IWGP Heavyweight Title reign went up in flames when Kenny Omega nearly took his head off with a V-trigger at Dominion.

Tanahashi broke down in tears, angry that his status as an all-time legend of the company was now in question. Okada went a different direction: he dyed his hair, he started carrying around balloons. He vowed to make everyone happy. Deep down though, we knew Okada was suffering. The balloons, the new pants, the hair, the new music, it was a cry for help. Okada can smile like a goof but he lost the only thing that defined him. He’s a man without a title or a purpose.

This was for the first time a Tanahashi vs. Okada match that wasn’t about two larger than life stars battling for supremacy of New Japan Pro Wrestling. It was two men battling their for their fleeting mortality. Two men battling to prove that they still belong in the conversation. Two men battling to prove to everyone that they haven’t lost it.

With Jay White losing in the match prior, the scenario for this match was simple. Tanahashi needed to survive, if he got the win or a draw, the A Block was his. Okada, who stumbled out of the gates during this G1, needed a win to move on. Tanahashi worked the match aware that the clock was on his side while the countdown loomed ominously for Okada. Tanahashi was methodical, well-paced and calm whereas Okada—who has been in Tanahashi’s position before—felt the need to rush everything. Okada didn’t have the benefit of wearing down Tanahashi and building towards the Rainmaker, he needed to do all he could to end the match quickly.

Tanahashi worked Okada’s leg through much of the match leading to a beautiful High Fly Flow to the outside that saw Okada fall onto his own leg. The rest of the way Tanahashi had a clear upper hand coaxing Okada into scorpion deathlocks, half crabs and dropkicks to the knee. Okada, who had so often tried to channel his Rainmaker past throughout the G1, never felt comfortable. He never felt like he was in the driver’s seat. He was always playing catch up. Tanahashi even elicited ghosts of Okada’s past by hitting moves like AJ Styles’ Styles Clash to match mental dominance with the physical.

Okada was able to string together a few moves in the matches closing stretches but again Tanahashi seemed to be one step ahead, just a tad bit better on this night. A Rainmaker attempt was countered into a rollup for a 2.9999 count. Another Rainmaker attempt was met with a gigantic slap to the face. Where the Okada of the last two or three years would’ve maintained wrist control, this current state of Okada fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Okada desperately tried to return to what made him a legend in NJPW, but he couldn’t. Sure, he had rattled off win after win to get himself into this position but on this night, he just didn’t have it. Tanahashi, to his credit, wasn’t content merely winning by the draw. Until the matches final moments, he wanted the win. The final spot of the match saw Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow to the back of Okada, knowing the time limit draw was nearing, Tanahashi desperately flipped Okada over and only got the two count. As he sprung into action to hit his second High Fly Flow, the clock expired. Okada survived, sure, but he needed more. He needed the win. He didn’t get it.

Tanahashi on this night regained his status atop NJPW. Tanahashi is once again in the mix. For Okada, the lost summer continues. And now, after being involved in each and every title match at Wrestle Kingdom since his return from excursion, Okada has no clear path to January 4.

Another masterpiece from two of the best in this or any generation. *****

Final Thoughts

The final night of the G1 Climax 28 A Block proved to be monumental as Hiroshi Tanahashi survived and punched his ticket to the G1 Climax finals for the first time since 2015. A fun show overall with its up (another five-star masterpiece from Okada/Tanahashi) and its downs (The Firing Squad/Bullet Club OGs bullshit).

VOW G1 Climax 28 Pick’Em Standings

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