New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 29 Finals
August 12, 2019
Watch: NJPW World
As the month-long journey reaches its conclusion, it’s time to reflect on what a monumental achievement the G1 Climax is. It has become an exhibition of everything professional wrestling can be. This year’s tournament, in particular, has been a cavalcade of styles – from the technical wizardry of Zack Sabre Jr., the epic closing stretches of Kazuchika Okada to the ethereal, pro-wrestling spirit of Kota Ibushi. The tournament serves as a celebration of this bizarre performance sport. It is the epicenter of the medium, showing the world what is possible with four posts and some rope.
This celebration goes much further than the two wrestlers in the ring. The G1 has also been a display of peak contemporary production, with beautiful, frame-worthy shots in almost every match. The commentary has enraptured the statisticians, with “mathematically eliminated” and “holds the tiebreaker” becoming part of everyday conversation. Chris Charlton’s excellent translations have added nuance that was missing from the English speaker’s experience. Even the pacing of the shows and their spread over the month has led to an easier viewing experience.
All journeys come to an end and all questions have answers. The journey has been a fraught joy, but can they silence the detractors after that B Block final?
Karl Fredericks and Clark Connors def. Yota Tsuji and Ren Narita
Traditionally the domain of the eager fan hoping to spot early star potential, the recent addition of the LA Dojo class has elevated the Young Lion matches into something special. The rivalry draped over this match creates a simple yet compelling story of two opposing schools battling for supremacy, engaging the audience whilst giving the competitors a real learning experience.
All four men grab this opportunity wholeheartedly, but the LA Dojo team are clearly positioned as dominant. Fredericks is smooth and crisp, leaping through the air with the confidence that comes from a thousand drills, and Connors typifies the brawler with big stomps and echoing chops. Tsuji and Narita deliver an excellent hot tag, laying the groundwork for an explosion of violence from Connors to get the win.
Don’t dismiss these matches as half crab practice; this is where you meet the future. **¾
Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask and Jeff Cobb def. Lance Archer, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Taichi
This is a match packed with revelation. Archer might have been dismissed before the tournament, but he has solidified himself as a man willing to grab a golden opportunity. His offense has improved as drastically as his look, and the proof of its success is in the fact that he got a claw over with a contemporary wrestling audience. Taichi, another wrestler who was an eyeroll personified, now wrestles in a different light. The constant Kawada references combined with a stunning pure wrestling match with Ishii in the block final have revealed a complexity to his character that was hidden behind his stripper trousers. He’s now a man who clearly has some good left in him, and like all the best baddies has the potential for redemption. I now have a reason to watch Taichi matches.
Cobb has been a disappointment. It would be disingenuous to call him bad, but there’s an awkwardness to his movements that should have gone by now. His Tour Of The Islands is as impressive as ever, but he hasn’t earned his place on this loaded roster.
There’s not a great deal to see here but, as always, Liger gets five stars from my heart and another five from my soul. **¾
SHO, YOH and Will Ospreay def. Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi
The pimp aesthetic, canes and scantily clad women gyrating on the mat like cattle to be sold, is not appropriate in 2019. It seems like the clothes are getting smaller and the moves are getting raunchier, and it does absolutely nothing to aid the development of Yujiro, who is a wrestling black hole.
This was also Ishimori’s first appearance on the tour, and frankly, I didn’t notice. Ishimori is a fantastic wrestler but is lost amongst the juniors in this match, never mind the roster as a whole.
Again, there’s not much to see here. Ospreay’s speed is always welcome, and Chase has finished a solid tour with another solid performance. Yujiro does his three shit moves and tags out, hopefully into oblivion like NXT Japan.
Ospreay, as expected, is dominant. He barely breaks a sweat in pinning yet another heavyweight. ***
Toa Henare and Juice Robinson def. Jon Moxley and Shota Umino
The Moxley/Umino dynamic in refreshing in its simplicity. The relationship is ambiguous – I suppose Moxley needed someone to carry his belt – but has developed into something that is much more akin to reality than we are used to in wrestling. There’s no manipulation or bizarre twists; Umino simply learns from a more experienced wrestler.
This learning experience is clear in his work; it’s more methodical and targeted than the usual Young Lion offense. There’s a look on his face that hints at a changing character. He’s a young man finding out who he is, and he thinks it might be in the direction of the volatile Moxley. Again, like the Dojo Wars, it gives the audience a hook and the wrestler a learning experience.
The story for this feud is already well established: Mox was eliminated by Juice on the previous night and will clearly challenge for US title. Mox also drives Juice through a table, something we were denied in the block final.
Henare is a wrestler who raises some questions. His deep squat into a suplex and his ethereal screams hint at a special talent, and he delivers his team the win. With Juice clearly established on the roster, and his character developing a more mature confidence, I wonder if Henare is next to get the internal call-up. **¾
BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, SANADA, EVIL and Tatsuya Naito def. Togi Makabe, Tomoki Honma, Ryuske Taguchi, Yano Toru and Hiroki Goto
Naito’s loss in the B Block final led to a borderline impotent trickle of deactivated NJPW World accounts from some of his fans, as they bemoaned him being kept from the Tokyo Dome main event once more. However, Naito winning the G1 and the big belt serves absolutely no purpose.
From a business perspective, it isn’t needed. It would be almost impossible to sell anymore LiJ merchandise to his band of rampant devotees, and he can clearly headline major shows with the Intercontinental title. However, business doesn’t interest me. Character does. Naito is able to tell amazing stories without the belt.
His Tokyo Dome main event didn’t need to be immortalized with a shot of him on the middle rope holding the IWGP title. That moment was made ever more beautiful by the smile on his face as he took the final Rainmaker, knowing that he was losing. Winning the corporate gold was never Naito’s aim. He wanted that moment; to hear the thirty thousand screaming his name and to belong on that stage because of who he was. To me, that is infinitely more interesting than “popular wrestler wins belt” and suggests a deeper understanding of storytelling and characterization.
This match opened with a song of unity for LiJ, each getting their own theme yet each standing shoulder to shoulder on the entrance ramp. They march into the ring as a unit, perhaps the only true cohesive unit left in the company, to do battle with the old guard.
Naito wrestles with indifference, blasting Taguchi with some signature spots and then quickly tagging out.
The hook here comes from Sanada. He’s beaten Okada and scores an effortless pin here. When LiJ stands together in the center of the ring, it is SANADA who is framed perfectly in the shot. His royal blue distinguishes him from the darkness of his stablemates when he raises his fist, leading the display of unity in Naito’s place.
So, Naito didn’t win the G1. But he won’t be taken a fall in a Neverweight match at the Dome. He just might have something much more interesting. ***
Katsuyori Shibata Returns (oh, and Tama Tonga,Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale def. KENTA, Tomohiro Ishii)
Katsuyori Shibata is a beautiful sadness. When the stars finally aligned and the past was forgiven, Shibata was signed to a New Japan contract and was finally able to have the glorious run he was capable of. His New Japan Cup victory and subsequent title match against Okada was simultaneously stunning in its violence, mesmerizing in its purity but, ultimately, heartbreaking in its conclusion. There’s something glorious about someone giving everything they have to their art, but it’s impossible to divorce that admiration from the multitude of other emotions bubbling beneath the surface of Katsuyori Shibata.
Of course, that match will live forever as one of the finest examples of professional wrestling but it will always be the last time we saw The Wrestler stride to the ring with his unique determination. We’ll never hear his screaming skin as he resists his opponent’s barrage. We’ll never see his signature-inscribed boots find their target with unwavering precision.
All we had was a relaxed haircut and stories of him having to wear protective headgear to show trainees how to bump. He went from burning magnesium to a grandfather watching the generations pass him by, wishing he could go on their journey with them but knowing he can’t.
He dedicated himself to the LA Dojo, building it into a respected institution. He personally escorted his trainees around the globe, unable to tear himself away from the world that he loved but took everything he had. He opened his heart to his friends, allowing Goto and KENTA to train and prepare for the tournament that, by rights, he should be winning.
But then, the unthinkable happened. KENTA betrayed him. He took the lessons he’d learned in preparation for the G1, and cast them aside in a petty act of revenge against fans who wouldn’t allow him to simply walk into the biggest sports without earning them.
This is one of the best visuals in wrestling history.
What an amazing angle. pic.twitter.com/Su3J9KWqyi
— Garrett Kidney (@garrettkidney) August 12, 2019
As I watched Shibata fly through the air once more, the sadness and wonder came flooding back. As I watched KENTA sit on his chest after Jado whipped him like a dog, I was disgusted. As Shibata stumbled as he left the ring, I was heartbroken.
I don’t know what will happen next and I don’t know where the work ends and reality begins. Frankly, I don’t care. The small actions I saw grew so large in my heart, they are beyond comprehension.
Even if only for one night, the spirit of Shibata lived.
Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr. def. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada
The leader of the pro wrestling intelligentsia, Joe Lanza, pointed out how routine the pairing of Okada and Tanahashi has become. Maybe one day, when the tag team belts are better cared for, we will see something come of this.
However, there wasn’t much to grab hold of here, other than a very solid tag team match that you would expect from four of the best wrestlers of all time sandwiched between two spotlight angles. Tanahashi was dominated throughout with submission after submission from both opponents, which will give him time to think about which injury he is going to fake next.
Suzuki is his usual marvelous self, holding his hands behind his back to allow the IWGP champion to slap him. He even dances around his neck like a luchador – a rested man mocking his exhausted counterpart.
Suzuki takes the fall from Okada with an arrogantly relaxed pin and challenges for the title. The Tokyo Dome is further away than we think, and there are main event slots to fill. While I’m not frothing at the mouth for Okada/Suzuki, it could have been much worse. ***½
G1 Climax 29 Final
Kota Ibushi def. Jay White
The philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu, wrote about capital. He wasn’t talking about the money we have in the bank, but the social and cultural capital that we carry around with us. It comes from our parents, our peers and our surroundings. We use it every day, and it shapes us just as much as it shapes the fields in which we operate. To put it bluntly, if your capital gives you the language to navigate boardrooms well, you gravitate towards the corporate life and succeed. If your capital is middle class – full of literature and theatre – you’ll find yourself in fields where that knowledge is used and rewarded.
The Western New Japan fan brings a certain type of social and cultural capital with them. They have engaged so deeply with New Japan, and in particular the G1, because it speaks to the capital that they hold dear. They long abandoned the idea of wrestlers being corporate puppets or calling upon creatures of the night to aid them in convoluted battles against the abstract. They crave the nuance and wrestling skill that allows them to analyze small moments that combine into an epic picture. That’s what the G1 is. When I discovered New Japan, it was on the proviso that disqualifications were rare, wins and losses mattered and the wrestlers took the sport as seriously as I did.
The reason why Jay White is so divisive is because he eschews that capital, and his wrestling speaks to a tradition that doesn’t always comply with it. He speaks a language of ref bumps, low blows and interference. These moments, like any storytelling devices, are not inherently good or bad. They can be done well and they can be done poorly. How an audience perceives these devices comes from the capital that they bring with them.
So, when Jay White came to the ring with his entire Bullet Club contingency, I am immediately put in a position where I expect to see wrestling I don’t like. When I hear Grade One Climax, my mind goes to a place where I expect the highest caliber of professional wrestling. When I watch Jay White, I see all of the tropes that I associate with the exact opposite.
This feeling is solidified when Jay White takes the early powder and heightens the trash talk when he dominates Ibushi early in the match. Again, these devices don’t bring any inherent qualities with them, but they seem to jar with what I expect from the G1 final. It’s second only to the Wrestle Kingdom main event in importance, but he was singing the same song he had been singing all tour. He didn’t rise to the occasion in a way that I thought was appropriate to the situation. He gave no hint that winning the G1 final cleanly was the most important thing in his career. He didn’t seem to treat the G1 final with the same respect that I do.
The problem wasn’t Jay White.
The problem was me.
In allowing myself to become wrapped up in my expectations and to think about this match in terms of what it lacked, it was all too easy to ignore what was fantastic about it. The ref bump and chair shots did not cancel out the ‘good versus evil’ story that they told with such skill that I was on the edge of my seat, willing Kota Ibushi to vanquish the man that has come to represent everything that I don’t like about professional wrestling.
When Red Shoes sent the Bullet Club retinue back to the locker room, my response was of arrogance. I assumed that I could predict the beats of the match. I predicted a smorgasbord of run-ins, with blue-eyes valiantly storming the ring to defend the ailing Ibushi. I even predicted names that we would see. I was wrong, of course, and with that error, I almost missed what was right in front of my eyes.
Kota Ibushi didn’t need anybody to defend him. He has been positioned as the ‘what could have been’ wrestler for so long, this G1 was primed as his chance to finally realize the potential that has been clear for years. There’s always been a beauty to the purity of his spirit, abandoning riches and fame to follow his pro-wrestling heart, but with that comes a desire for him to settle. For years, I wanted him to dig in somewhere and tell the epic that was clearly in his soul, and because of my biases, I nearly missed it.
Kota Ibushi, the epitome of the wrestling I love, vanquished the wrestling that I hate. The imagery was clear: the black trunks versus the white trunks, the Surpassing The Gods knee strike, the solitary hero standing tall with only his skill and heart to defend him.
The control that Ibushi had at the end of this match was untouchable. He went from lying on the ground in a fetal position, clutching his leg, to being reborn into a whirlwind of knees and unstoppable offense. The chair shots, brass knuckles and interferences could never stop Ibushi, because when that switch is flipped he becomes professional wrestling personified.
All of the tropes that many in our bubble hate are here. But watch this match with an open mind and heart, and you might find something special. Think – what would Kota do? ****1/2
This was an exhausting show. It felt significant in a way that only the G1 can, and will no doubt have the internet buzzing until the end of the year. New Japan, yet again, proves that there is always a new direction to take. There’s always a new way to reinvigorate my passion for professional wrestling. This is a show that felt very personal and throws meaningless star ratings into the ether.
And if the Shibata thing is a work, then by god am I ready to be worked.
VOW G1 Climax Audio Reviews & Final Pick’Em Standings/Scores
Joe Lanza puts a bow on our Patreon-exclusive G1 Climax 29 audio reviews at patreon.com/voicesofwrestling.
Also, with the G1 finally over, we have G1 Climax 29 prize-winners! See final standings & scores at voicesofwrestling.com/forum/. Prize-winners will be contacted shortly.
First Place (Ryan Peel)
Ryan wins a free copy of Puroresu Travel: Vacation in Japan to Watch Pro Wrestling by Craig Mann (https://amzn.to/2Zvkzr6) as well as a collection of vintage puro magazines from http://ViolentMiracle.com.
Second Place (Zarif)
Zarif wins a free “Switchblade” Jay White iron-on patch from Cheap Shot Party & Angry Lemonade.
- Cheap Shop Party (http://cheapshotparty.bigcartel.com): Pro wrestling pins, patches, and accessories. Subculture on denim.
- Angry Lemonade (http://angrylemonade.net): Fresh squeezed PULP culture Pins, Patches, Stickers, and more!
Third Place (Lucas Wolfe)
Lucas Wolfe won the third-place tiebreaker and will receive 10 free Inspire Pro Wrestling Blu-Rays!
- Inspire Pro Wrestling (http://inspireprowrestling.com) was founded in 2013 by Justin Bissonnette & Max Meehan and is based out of Austin, Texas. For six years, Inspire Pro has been Austin’s premier promotion, featuring the future stars the Lone Star state has been producing as well as some of the best from around the globe. Running bi-monthly events, Inspire Pro has featured many stars to have graced a NJPW ring like ACH, Ray Rowe, Ricochet & EVIL.