Hiya folks! I don’t know how many of these G1 reviews I’ll be doing over the course of the tournament, but I’m watching every show and finally decided I wanted to log on and write one of these things. I used to host a little podcast around here called Wrestling Omakase (and used to do daily G1 audio, much like Joe still does for FlagshipPatreon.com, so I can tell you from experience that’s one hell of a grind). It’s been very nice enjoying the first G1 Climax back in its proper summer slot without having to worry about taking detailed notes for a podcast. That also means I’m mostly doing this written review now from memory, so if I get anything wrong please make sure to write Rich Kraetsch about it. Let’s get into the show!


JULY 26, 2022

Watch: NJPWWorld

Night 6 was our first of a doubleheader at Korakuen Hall, and it was nice to see a healthy crowd packed in there even if they’re of course still on the neverending clap train. I actually did watch the full undercard today (not because I planned on reviewing it, I just had a very slow work day and lots of time- thank you, working from home!), for the first time all tournament after just catching some of the tags here or there before this, so we can start with some quick thoughts on those before we get into the actual G1 matches.

House of Torture (Yujiro Takahashi & SHO) def. Yuto Nakajima & Ryohei Oiwa

This was originally supposed to be Kosei Fujita on the Young Lion team but he got his ass kicked by KENTA so bad that he apparently needed some extra time off to recover (it happens), so Oiwa ended up in there instead. Nothing about this one really stands out besides the fact that it’s a rare undercard tag victory for House of Torture on this tour so far- after EVIL, Yujiro & SHO defeated the trio of Tama Tonga, David Finlay & Jado (three guesses who took the pin in that one) on Night 1, HoT had lost on the last four straight shows entering this one. Of course, it’s not surprising they got the win over the Young Lions here, but there you go. **1/2

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) def. TMDK (JONAH & Bad Dude Tito)

I don’t watch STRONG a whole heck of a lot so I had never really seen Bad Dude Tito before this G1, but he is fast becoming a new favorite of mine. His look is absolutely perfect (I mean, if I was going to close my eyes and imagine what a man named “Bad Dude Tito” looks like, I think somehow I’d come up with him exactly), he seems to be able to handle himself just fine in the ring, and he yells stuff like “YA WANNA SAY SORRY TO MY BALLS HUH?” (at Toru Yano, as Yano started this match by apologizing to both JONAH & Tito for low blowing them both during his G1 win over JONAH a few nights back). Bad Dude Tito rules. It also is just kind of awesome having new units on NJPW shows in Japan, between TMDK and Team Filthy- for once, here’s some foreigners who didn’t immediately join Bullet Club! Anyway, this match was a little step up from the opener, with some fun little exchanges between Ishii and JONAH in particular. **3/4

UNITED EMPIRE (Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb & Aaron Henare) def. Hirooki Goto, Tama Tonga & Jado

I watched very little NJPW (or wrestling in general) in the first half of 2022 and as such I am even less used to Babyface Tama Tonga & Jado than most of you probably are. Just feels very bizarre still, although not in a bad way- Tama actually has better babyface fire than one may have guessed. Anyway, this was more perfectly acceptable wrestling, with the highlight for me actually being in the post-match with Ospreay & Cobb making fun of Master Wato, who was out there to do Japanese commentary for New Japan World (if you’re wondering why sometimes the Japanese commentators are directly next to the English ones at Korakuen and sometimes they’re not, it’s because when the show is on Samurai TV there’s actually two Japanese commentary teams- one for World and one for Samurai). I don’t know if Will’s claim that he could speak better Japanese than Wato was actually true, but it was pretty funny. **3/4

Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi & YOSHI-HASHI def. Suzukigun (Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku)

The pair-offs here saw Tanahashi go after ZSJ (they’re in the same block and will meet this coming Saturday in Nagoya), YOSHI-HASHI and TAKA square off (maybe because they both use all caps English in their names, I dunno?), and that left Okada and Taichi to resume hostilities. They low-key have had one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling dating back to their match in February 2020, with Okada always getting the better of him but this new fighting spirit version of Taichi always coming back for more. Hope Taichi gets to actually beat him someday. Fun little match here, and then in the post-match Zack made fun of poor Wato too. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, SANADA & BUSHI) def. BULLET CLUB (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, El Phantasmo & Gedo)

Speaking of rivalries from the last few years that I absolutely love, I’m Lisa Simpson and any and all interaction between Tetsuya Naito & Jay White is the coffee being poured into my cup. The two troll masters in chief of New Japan Pro Wrestling just always look like they’re having such a blast literally any time they get to interact; during the post-match White demanded Naito get him an ice pack, Naito not only obliged but actually put it on his knee with a very cheeky grin, White offered him the LIJ fist pose and Naito offered back the too sweet before finally pulling it away. They’re just so much fun together that I honestly want them to be on the same side someday- I don’t know how or when that would actually happen, but last year when it briefly looked like Jay White could be leaving BULLET CLUB following Wrestle Kingdom I had visions of him as the first white person in LIJ in my head. I think he’d be a great fit! But alas, it was not to be. Anyway, this was another fun multi-man tag- inessential of course, but nothing you’d ever regret watching. ***

G1 Climax 32 – B Block
Chase Owens [2] def. Great-O-Khan [0]

With the bizarre schedule of this year’s G1 we still had three wrestlers who had yet to compete in their first tournament match entering this show; all three of them finally got to enter the competition here on Night 6, and everyone’s favorite purveyor of pancakes was the first of the bunch. Seriously, how weird is it that O-Khan is (I guess?) supposed to still be a heel like the rest of his UE-mates, while meanwhile Kevin Kelly & Chris Charlton understandably talk up his legitimate heroic credentials? I guess you could argue that UE are less heelish than BULLET CLUB anyway (they never cheat for one), but it’s still at least a little weird. Anyway, speaking of who cheats and who doesn’t, Chase threw powder right into O-Khan’s face to kick this one off, which of course gave him an edge to start. O-Khan eventually came back and I thought was going to be able to put Chase away, but once again Owens pulled off a major upset at Korakuen via the Package Piledriver (remember he somehow pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi with it last year). That’s also the second time this year he’s pinned O-Khan in a singles match, although his last win came via his feet on the ropes back in the US. Anyway, this was perfectly fine but not much more than that. Even for a match under twelve minutes long it felt like it dragged a little at times to me, but it had its moments too. ***

G1 Climax 32 – C Block
EVIL [2] def. KENTA [0]

Our next wrestler starting off his tournament is EVIL, as everyone’s favorite wrestler from everyone’s favorite unit took on New Japan’s resident ink-stained wrench. I have no idea how accurate Kevin & Chris’ talk about KENTA’s book being sold out everywhere was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true. KENTA is right up there with the Great-O-Khan as a wrestler who feels far too likeable now to be a heel, and I could see that book flying off the shelves for sure. Anyway, I can just close my eyes and picture an exact type of person who this match absolutely drove crazy, but I really enjoyed it for what it was- a hell of a comedy match. Dick Togo and EVIL are actually pretty damn funny when they want to be, and all the time they spent trying to convince KENTA to trust them just to try and set-up a dumb handshake sneak attack was really quite funny. Then of course you had lots of comedy based around KENTA’s book (which he NEVER plugs by the way!), which was also quite funny. The only thing I could have lived without was the finish, as Togo grabbing KENTA’s legs from under the ring and KENTA having to act like he couldn’t shake off this man’s clearly loose grip from an odd position just looked pretty stupid. But overall, this was fun. And we were right back to funny comedy in the post-match, as KENTA immediately forgave EVIL, Togo & SHO (who came out after turning the lights off at one point) for costing him the match when they started plugging his book as a peace offering. The man has his priorities, okay? ***1/4

G1 Climax 32 – A Block
Lance Archer [2] def. Tom Lawlor [0]

Wrapping up the “it’s about time you had your first G1 match” crew is one ‘Filthy’ Tom Lawlor. I’ve really enjoyed Filthy Tom’s promos throughout the tour so far because he’s not afraid to reference the fact that NJPW used to be crawling with ex-shooters like him; it often feels like even a passing reference to the Inokiism years might be enough to get someone shot, so this is kind of a breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, it’s just great to see Lance Archer back in Japan- not that he hasn’t had his fair share of awesome moments in AEW too, but you could just tell how excited he was to be wrestling in a G1 Climax again. He looked especially excited to be in Korakuen Hall again (a place where he’s almost quite literally done it all, including once challenge Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Title all the way back in 2013), and as someone who’s been there many times too I can relate- Korakuen is just a special place.

Once Archer lost his tournament opener to Fale (albeit by count out) back on Night 3 I was a bit confused as to how they were going to book this one- were they really going to have Archer start 0-2? Would they really have Lawlor lose his G1 debut? Well as you now know they did the latter of course, as Archer won quite cleanly via the Blackout. I thought this was a pretty good match built around a power vs. technique theme (Kevin Kelly, who has had an excellent tour so far by the way, kind of summed this theme up early on in the match when he said he asked Archer if he knew any holds and Archer replied “nope- don’t need them”). If there was a big flaw here I felt like it kind of ended out of nowhere just when it felt like it was really getting going to me- it went under twelve minutes on a show that had yet to have anything even resembling a long match, which probably only added to that feeling of “that’s it?” when the finish came here. But what we did get here was still pretty good, don’t get me wrong. ***1/4

G1 Climax 32 – D Block
David Finlay [2] def. Juice Robinson [2]

As I mentioned way back at the start of this review, I had not originally planned on reviewing this show before I sat down to watch it. It’s this match in particular that made me want to review it. Simply put, this match absolutely blew away any expectations I could possibly have had for it. I’ve seen both of these men’s entire careers in New Japan Pro Wrestling- as I’m sure you know, both came into NJPW at around the same time in 2015, albeit off of very different circumstances. Finlay was a young wrestler just starting out his career (if you want to feel old, he won’t even turn 30 until May 2023) who decided to go with the New Japan Dojo, despite the fact that his father worked for WWE at the time. Juice of course was just coming off a largely unsuccessful run there, one that had stalled to the point that he voluntarily asked for his release from the company. The two of them seemed to become fast friends and later tag team partners, enjoying moderate success (a World Tag League win and a very short run with the IWGP Tag Team Titles), but it always just kind of felt like both guys were hitting their ceilings well below the top of the card. By the time the two of them (along with Jay White and Will Ospreay, among others) understandably decided they had enough of quarantining every time they flew over and disappeared from Japan in 2021, many of the remaining Western NJPW fans seemed to feel that neither was necessarily missed (to be fair, they seemed to still be more popular with the native fanbase in Japan, especially Juice). Finlay didn’t endear himself to the hardcore English-speaking fanbase with some comments that made it sound like he wanted to leave for NXT, and his big NEVER title challenge against Jay White in Los Angeles last August saw the crowd openly cheering for the Switchblade. As we entered 2022, it wasn’t at all unfair to wonder if either guy was still going to be a part of New Japan’s plans going forward. And yet here we are almost eight months into the year with the two of them headlining Korakuen Hall in the G1 Climax, not just in a great match but in a fantastic one. It’s quite the turn of events!

Juice Robinson’s big ROCK HARD heel turn pretty immediately reinvigorated him in the eyes of the Western fans, though the Japanese fanbase seemed a little more perplexed by his new gimmick in his first G1 match against Shingo on Night 2. But in turning heel and breaking up the, again, moderately successful FinJuice team, what has really surprised me is just how much it’s freshened up David Finlay as well. Finlay was always kind of a weird guy- a guy whose look wasn’t always great but who has almost always looked good in the ring. Those are two very different things, right? Even when he looked like he had a weird beer belly (not that I’m one to talk!), he always looked smooth and pretty effortless (which I mean as a compliment- it doesn’t look like it’s hard for him!) when it came to his actual in-ring wrestling. The charisma wasn’t always there either, and even now you get the feeling in his backstage promos that he screams a little too much to make up for the fact that talking in front of a camera doesn’t come naturally for him, like it always did for his former partner. The look improved a lot though as he got himself into much better shape, and the promos got better if only from osmosis as he hung out with Juice all the time. He’s one of those guys who you’re tempted to go “good hand, but low ceiling” about. Something always felt like it was missing from him. Well, guess what? Maybe he found that something in a tale as old as wrestling time: betrayal. He’s not just David Finlay, Some Guy anymore; he’s David Finlay, THE REBEL. He feels like he has an actual gimmick or character for the first time maybe in his entire career. I think people sometimes think wrestling gimmicks have to be super complicated to work, but here you have a gimmick as simple as “Man Who Is Pissed Off His Best Friend Betrayed Him And Also Now Carries a Shillelagh, Because He’s Irish” and it really, really works. Finlay has felt like he’s now the edgiest member of the main lionmark army all tour long, and being “the guy on hontai with a little bit of an edge” sure beats being “the guy on hontai who technically exists”.

These two spent the entire tour up until this point building up this match in their promos and doing a damn good job at it, but none of that would have mattered if the actual match failed to deliver. Guess what? They sure as shit did not fail to deliver here. They worked this like a super old school grudge match between two former partners, with each guy knowing the other’s exact biggest weakness (Finlay’s shoulder and Juice’s left hand, both legitimate injuries of their pasts) and working it over in methodical and nasty fashion. There were so many great little moments- one that I absolutely loved was Juice sneakily taking off the corner pad like so many heels (and Yano) before him, but instead of it being the usual set up to send Finlay into the exposed buckles, it was so he could send Finlay absolutely flying shoulder-first into the ring post instead. These two just beat the absolute hell out of each other, and the psychology here was incredible stuff, with both of their injuries coming into play at various times, hobbling them and not allowing them to do certain moves exactly as they should have. If you want to be nitpicky you could say that maybe Juice’s selling was a little over the top (I kind of think that was the point, actually, and I liked his cowardly begging off a lot) and could have been a tad better, but that would be really, really nit picky. By the time Finlay finally hit this jerk with his shillelagh (again, he has an edge now!) and beat him, it felt like the biggest win of his career. It’s for sure the best match of his career, and probably the best one of Juice’s too unless I’m forgetting something. It’s sad that with less people paying attention to NJPW now than in the past and many unwilling to watch clap crowd wrestling in 2022 that folks are gonna miss out on this one, because it was an instant classic. Watch it. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

While there’s nothing wrong with any of the undercard matches, in the end this was very much a one-match show. If you’re in a rush you can definitely skip to the main event, but it’s not one you’re going to want to miss. Time will tell if this match will lead to long-term elevation for Juice and especially Finlay, but for one night in New Japan at least these two mean felt like headliners instead of competent midcarders. They were put into what was, realistically, probably the biggest spot of their careers and they didn’t just hit a home run, they hit a walk off grand slam. Can’t do much better than that.

G1 standings follow below. Up next, Night 7 tomorrow in Korakuen sees Ospreay vs. Yujiro, Yano vs. Fale, Goto vs. Henare and Ishii vs. Tama. Not the most exciting card of the tour, to be sure, but perhaps there’s room for some matches to surprise us. Juice vs. Finlay sure did, after all.

A Block Standings

1. Kazuchika Okada 2-0 [4]
2. Bad Luck Fale 1-1 [2]
2. Toru Yano 1-1 [2]
2. Jeff Cobb 1-1 [2]
2. Lance Archer 1-1 [2]
6. Tom Lawlor 0-1 [0]
6. JONAH 0-1 [0]

B Block Standings

1. Jay White 2-0 [4]
2. Tama Tonga 1-0 [2]
3. SANADA 1-1 [2]
3. Taichi 1-1 [2]
3. Chase Owens 1-1 [2]
6. Great-O-Khan 0-1 [0]
7. Tomohiro Ishii 0-2 [0]

C Block Standings

1. Zack Sabre Jr. 2-0 [4]
2. Hirooki Goto 1-0 [2]
2. EVIL 1-0 [2]
4. Aaron Henare 1-1 [2] (direct win tiebreaker)
5. Hiroshi Tanahashi 1-1 [2]
6. KENTA 0-2 [0]
6. Tetsuya Naito 0-2 [0]

D Block Standings

1. Will Ospreay 1-0 [2]
2. Juice Robinson 1-1 [2]
2. El Phantasmo 1-1 [2]
2. Yujiro Takahashi 1-1 [2]
2. Shingo Takagi 1-1 [2]
2. David Finlay 1-1 [2]
7. YOSHI-HASHI 0-1 [0]

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