AUGUST 12, 2018

Watch: NJPW World

After 19 days, another spectacular G1 Climax draws to a close. This afternoon’s card has some interesting names, but attention is fixed firmly on the final match between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi. Let’s see how it goes down in a 12,112 capacity sellout crowd at Nippon Budokan.


The most interesting aspect of this match is the fact that Ayato Yoshida was chosen to take part over other New Japan Young Lions. Yoshida is currently part of the Kaientai Dojo, but this could be a sign that he’s bound for NJPW. It would be an exciting move if so, just check out some of his recent Lion’s Gate Project matches against his teammates in this match, Yuji Nagata and Shota Umino. If and when Umino leaves on excursion, the NJPW batch of Young Lions would be lacking an ‘ace’, and Yoshida could be the person to fill that gap. That said, we saw next to nothing from him in this match. It’s always good to see Yuji Nagata, whose appearances are few and far between these days, but there’s little to write home about here.  **


This was the only other singles match on the card. That face led some to suspect that it could be a setup to a Henare heel turn where he joins the Tongans. That didn’t happen, and instead we got a two minute squash match. Henare took some sick bumps, but I fail to see the purpose of this match. Still, at least we got a clean finish. DUD


The main story of this match is Taichi, who has a chip on his shoulder having been unfairly robbed of a spot in the G1 Climax. Him angrily wrestling his way through this match was terrific entertainment, as he took out his frustration on a hapless YOSHI-HASHI, who many say didn’t deserve to be in the G1. The fact that Taichi got the pinfall over YOSHI-HASHI may hold some significance. Taichi went on to attack Hirooki Goto after the match and tossed the NEVER Openweight title belt to the floor, perhaps setting himself up as Goto’s next challenger. This match was severely limited by the involvement of Iizuka.  **½


This was an exciting, high-paced, well-worked match. Cody and Page had an impressive level of chemistry, working some slick tag moves together. Juice is always great fun to watch, and works well with Finlay. This felt like a proper tag-team match, rather than four singles wrestlers being thrown together. Cody pins Juice and earns himself a shot at Juice’s US title, (accusing him of doing a bad impersonation of Kairi Sane) which explains why they’d bother to fly him out to Tokyo for this match. Or maybe he just likes Japanese crisps and Strong Zero. At any rate, Cody v Juice will be an interesting match to compare to their previous encounter at Wrestle Kingdom 11. ***¼


The way this match, and this Bullet Club OGs storyline in general has played out is deeply worrying to me. The Tongans have not been banned because they were stopped before they could interfere in Tama’s G1 match yesterday, despite their best efforts and them being physically dragged out of the building. For their antics, they are rewarded with a trios title shot against Marty and The Bucks, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that they were the champions, having won the belts on May 3rd at Dontaku and not defended them since. The Tongans entered to absolute crickets. Tanga Loa cut a pre-match promo that was truly awful and cringeworthy. Harold Meij was troublingly at ringside yet again, and made the match for the titles in a baffling move considering the Tongans were on the verge of being banned for three months for ruining the G1. Tanga Loa says “motherfuckers” right into the camera, making a mockery of the no swearing policy. The match is fine, but nobody cares. The fans at Budokan didn’t care. And after winning the match Tama Tonga tossed the belts on the floor and left without them. I don’t understand any of this, and it’s veering dangerously into bad WWE territory. If I’m judging the match by virtue of the bell-to-bell product, then it was a good match. But everything before and afterwards was bad, and not what I want to see in NJPW. ***¼

After the match, a big announcement declares that Wrestle Kingdom 13 will take place on January 4th, 2019. In other news, Joel likes crisps.


Naito and Suzuki are the focus of this match and seem to have picked up right where they left things after their disappointing match at Wrestling Hi No Kuni. SANADA caps off an excellent G1 by picking up the win here. I wonder what’s next for Cold Skull. This match was fine, but nothing you haven’t already seen hundreds of times before if you regularly watch undercards or Road To shows. After the match, L.I.J. celebrate just long enough for me to think Hiromu is coming out, but he doesn’t. ***

During the short interval, Chris Charlton provides some excellent history lessons. He really is a great addition to this commentary lineup.


The most interesting aspect of this match was Jay White playing the leader, cheering on his CHAOS teammates in an obvious attempt to portray himself as the head of the faction. There were some funny moments, with White tagging in a reluctant Yano and some silliness with Pieter, whose gyrations mesmerised everyone in the match except Kenny. Hmm. There haven’t been too many voices campaigning for Chase Owens’s inclusion in next year’s G1, but he did a good job here building up some underdog babyface heat before getting flattened by Ishii. The Stone Pitbull officially challenges Kenny for the IWGP Heavyweight title after the match. ***


Call me a spoilsport, but these Rey Mysterio cameos do nothing for me. He didn’t do much here and is clearly phoning in his dates before he returns to WWE. The only consolation was Okada dropkicking Rey to prevent a particularly contrived double-619 (or should that be 1,238) spot. Taguchi is cosplaying some mobile game gimmick, and Okada is wearing a robe again for what it’s worth. There’s a huge crowd pop for the Sengoku Enbo hot tag for some reason, and he immediately kills the mystique by doing hip attacks. ***


After Tanahashi lost his IWGP title match to Okada at Dontaku on May 4th, he insisted that he hadn’t given up and would return again, stronger. I was skeptical, but here we are – Hiroshi Tanahashi looks set to main event Wrestle Kingdom 13. His output so far in 2018 started with a somewhat disappointing win over Jay White, followed by a terrific match against Minoru Suzuki, a great New Japan Cup run, the outstanding aforementioned title match against Okada, and a very good G1 run that included yet another stunning time limit draw against Okada. But there are still people scornful over his potential inclusion in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13, doubtful that he can produce the kind of match that they want on such a grand stage. They’re wrong.

This match was spectacular, and even delivered beyond my lofty expectations. The timing, precision and athleticism were breathtaking. An added layer of drama was provided by the surprise presence of Katsuyori Shibata in the corner of Tanahashi, and Kenny Omega for Ibushi. Tanahashi outwrestled Ibushi in the first half of the match. Ibushi used his trickery to subvert the Tanahashi playbook and work a foothold back into the match. Then the contest clicked into the higher gears when Tanahashi slapped Ibushi, the same slap that broke Okada. This slap did not break Ibushi. It flicked that switch that turns him into Murder Kota, and the rest of the match escalated into sheer violence.

Ibushi’s G1 run was forged in the hellfires of B Block, in vicious fights with the likes of Ishii, Goto and his own lover, Omega. Ibushi brought all that violence to Tanahashi, who was caught off guard by the sheer brutality of his opponent’s offence. He even threw in a Boma Ye for good measure, a move that had defeated both men in days gone by. It looked like the Ace had finally been overwhelmed after a series of sadistic and ugly moves that left me worried for their safety. However, Hiroshi Tanahashi is the Ace for a reason. He was able to channel the fighting spirit that made him a multi-time G1 winner, Wrestle Kingdom main eventer and IWGP Heavyweight champion, and fired back with a final rally of his classic moves. Ibushi had nothing left. The last ounce of fight was pounded out of him with the first High Fly Flow. He was a dead man walking when he ate the second. The third was simply the nail in the coffin.

After the match, Tanahashi celebrated with his friend Shibata, and only the hardest of hearts could fail to find joy in such a moment.

A truly outstanding match, more than worthy of such a grand stage, and proof that a 41-year-old Hiroshi Tanahashi is still capable of delivering the kind of matches that deserve to headline the biggest shows. Make no mistake, Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi will be everything you want from a Wrestle Kingdom main event, and more. Naito fans and Ibushi fans may wail and gnash their teeth at the injustice of it all, but just watch this match and LISTEN. The Japanese fans still adore Tanahashi, and are thrilled at the prospect of him having one more crack at the gold. This may not be the Wrestle Kingdom main event that you wanted, but the fans will come in their droves. The match will deliver.

Tetsuya Naito will get his chance. Kota Ibushi will get his chance. But Wrestle Kingdom 13 belongs to Hiroshi Tanahashi, the fading Ace and his one last roll of the dice. *****


I can’t recommend anything from the undercard, which was a real slog to get through. Skip everything else and go straight to the main event for an instant classic that will surely go down as one of the very best matches of 2018.

VOW G1 Climax 28 Pick’Em Final Standings

If you were one of our winners (1st, 2nd or 3rd place) be on the lookout for an email coming your way in the next few days. Thanks again to author Chris Charlton for sponsoring this year’s tournament with his new book EGGSHELLS, a history of pro wrestling in the Tokyo Dome.

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