JULY 16, 2023

Watch: NJPW World (free!)

I love the beginning of G1 season, man. Those first couple shows where anything is possible, our completionist brains haven’t driven insane yet, and we can still think things like “A Shane Haste singles match? Sure, alright!” 

Before we get started, I know that the G1 Climax is often an entry point for a lot of fans who have been curious about New Japan Pro Wrestling. If that’s the case for you, I implore you to take advantage of all the resources right here at Voices of Wrestling. 

Get caught up with excellent previews written for each block of the tournament (A, B, C, D). And if anything I reference here doesn’t ring a bell, go track it down in J. Michael’s excellent and extremely thorough 2023 NJPW Primer

If you’d like, you can follow me on Twitter at @OldJonHernandez (where I act like a normal person) or @PrivateRadio87 (where I’m a shameless pig about wrestling). 

G1 Climax 2023 C Block Match
David Finlay [2] (w/Gedo) defeats Tomohiro Ishii [0]

I don’t have much to tell you about this match, and that’s not a bad thing. This match is just the most exactly-what-you’re-imagining-from-the-names-involved match on the show. You can fill in the blanks. 

Ishii did Ishii and, as always, that’s a good thing. In Finlay’s G1 debut as Bullet Club leader, he accounted for himself very well. We’ve already seen him keep up in-ring with the best talent on this roster, but now he’s got the look to match. He’s in shape, the gear is cool — he FEELS like a unit leader. He won this one cleanly, which was an important statement to make for a guy who’s still proving he can fill some big shoes. I’m excited for the rest of his tournament. ***¾

G1 Climax 2023 D Block Match
Hirooki Goto [2] def. Toru Yano [0]

At the beginning of every G1 season, I look at everything with rose-tinted glasses. That first morning I sit down way too early with a cup of bad coffee and open the laptop. That first sort of okay YOSHI-HASHI match. Even the first Yano match. 

So, look, Yano did Yano stuff. He came out with some kind of mascot that I’m not going to Google (or rewind to see if Charlton said it). The mascot got involved. Goto wore his head. I like mascots, sure. He was no LEC Corporation Sponge Guy, but he seemed nice. YANO¾  

G1 Climax 2023 C Block Match
Mikey Nicholls [2] (w/Kosei Fujita) def. HENARE [0]

Whatever you thought that match was gonna be on paper, throw the fuckin’ paper out. Holy moly. 

For starters, let’s talk about HENARE (his name changed to all caps, the Aaron dropped) and his new look. He came out with a shaved head and a traditional mataora facial tattoo, a nod to his Māori heritage. Kevin Kelly tweeted out this article about his decision to get the tattoo. It’s a great story, and as an added bonus, HENARE looks like a total asskicker. 

Still, going into a match with a name like Mikey Nicholls, you might expect seven or eight minutes of completely adequate, perfunctory professional wrestling. And you got that. The shocker is what came next. 

The two began trading headbutts at center ring. Nasty headbutts that looked less and less worked as they went on. Then, when they briefly parted, you saw a tiny speck of red form on Nicholls’ forehead and grow until it was dripping down his face. A perfectly framed infusion of organic bio-drama flowing from the head of “Mad” Mikey Nicholls. From there, we were on. 

It wasn’t particularly pretty, but from that moment the intensity quickly ratcheted up. For the remaining four minutes, HENARE and Nicholls were leveling one another. There were snafus, sure — some clumsy rope-running, a goofed pin attempt — but it all felt like two guys desperately trying to vanquish the other. 

The clip you’ll see the most is the finish where Mikey Nicholls dropped HENARE straight on his head while attempting the Master Blaster — a contender for scariest bump of the year. Even that contributed to the overall tone of the match (once I was done holding my breath waiting for HENARE to stand up on his own power). 

You can call me crazy for this, but this was my match of the show and the best cup of coffee I had all morning. Man. Mikey Nicholls and HENARE. Who’da thunk? ****¼ 

G1 Climax 2023 D Block Match
Shane Haste [2] (w/Kosei Fujita) def. Alex Coughlin [0]

Before we talk about this match, we have to look back at the G1 Press Conference earlier in the week. There, Shane Haste took the stage wearing one of those t-shirts with a tuxedo printed on them and acted as insufferably as everyone you’ve ever met who thought it would be funny to wear one of those shirts to a formal event. 

Alex Coughlin on the other hand, delivered a career-defining promo. One of the most captivating mic performances delivered in the English language this year. He looked chiseled from stone and sounded like an off-duty NYPD officer that’s about to take your attractive, platonic ladyfriend home from the bar (after explaining the family crest tattoo on his calf). If you haven’t watched it, you really should. 

The obvious result here is Coughlin absolutely battering the nerd, right? BUT WAIT!

Everything was thrown into question in yesterday’s show when fellow Bullet Club War Dog Gabe Kidd bafflingly lost to Chase Owens. In the aftermath, Chase Owens walked over to Kevin Kelly and delivered a post-match promo that essentially went, “I’m still in Bullet Club whether anyone wants me to be or even knows I’m still in it.” Great! 

Coughlin DID spend most of the match hammering Haste. After a late nearfall, Coughlin got frustrated and threw a bunch of chairs into the ring. He took his eye off the ball in the ensuing chaos and was caught by Haste for the finish. 

I GET IT. The War Dogs are getting over-aggressive and being taught lessons by veteran roster members. I hope Kidd and Coughlin are able to build on the lessons taught to them by two of the biggest schmucks on the roster. **3/4

G1 Climax 2023 C Block Match
Eddie Kingston [2] def. Shingo Takagi [0]

I get a little tired of madly throwing roses at “these guys hit each other really hard” matches sometimes. I love watching two dudes clobber each other, I really do, but there’s no short supply of that during G1 season. I need a little more. 

Yes, these two are among our best and brightest at that sort of match, but at their best, they’re so much more than that. Shingo Takagi and Eddie Kingston are such natural ENTERTAINERS. In the midst of the violence, these two were yapping at each non-stop with facial expressions that looked like they were painstakingly rendered by an underpaid animation team over several years. We throw around “charisma” a little too freely as a catch-all wrestling term, but it really was off the charts here. 

It’s hard not to get all wrapped up in Eddie’s G1 run. He’s had his wonderful childlike reverence for the opportunity. Shingo hit him with a Northern Lights Bomb and he got to do a big dramatic puro one-count kickout. You know he’s a pig in shit out there. 

Eventually, Eddie got the win with a combination of stiff spinning backfists and a Northern Lights Bomb of his own. A great G1 debut from Eddie, and just the sort of match you’d hope for with a dance partner like Shingo Takagi. ****

G1 Climax 2023 D Block Match
Zack Sabre Jr. [2] (w/Kosei Fujita) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi [0]

We’ve seen this matchup play out successfully a bunch of times. Zack overwhelms Tana with grappling, Tanahashi finds a way to turn the tide with the magic of pro wrestling, Tana either finishes the deed or falls short to a twisty pin combo. 

This year, it seems like they’re finally playing into Tanahashi’s growing physical limitations. Zack is a great opponent for that, keeping Tanahashi mat-bound for much of the match. They also do a neat thing where Zack tries to use one of Tanahashi’s fantastical pro wrestling submissions (the Cloverleaf), and Tanahashi counters with a Zack-esque shoot hold, a triangle choke. One of my favorite things about the Tana/Zack pairing is how Tanahashi counters Zack’s catch wrestling with grappling that is distinctly pro wrestling. It’s a fun style contrast that I’m glad this match acknowledged. 

They continued to follow that thread into the finish. Tanahashi locked in an armbar — a move far too grounded and real for a wrestler as sparkly and showy as Hiroshi Tanahashi — and Zack gained leverage for a roll-up. Tanahashi didn’t let go of the hold in time and lost the match for it. Hiroshi Tanahashi is one of our last truly magical pro wrestlers. He has a black belt in hair styling, not BJJ. Anyway, another wholly pleasant outing from two greats. ***½

G1 Climax 2023 C Block Match
EVIL [2] (w/Dick Togo) def. Tama Tonga [0] (w/Jado)

This match began with one of those crowd brawls that I bet is a lot of fun when you’re in the building but is way less fun to watch on TV. Fine, I’ll allow it. 

From there, we got to an old-fashioned EVIL and Dick Togo routine. These days, EVIL seems to be winking at the audience a little, practically leaping at Red Shoes looking to make a ref bump happen. I can appreciate that, but self-awareness doesn’t always make things better. It’s like prefacing a statement with “I know this sounds racist, but…” But nothing! I’d really just prefer if you didn’t do it! 

So when Red Shoes gets lightly touched by EVIL and sells it for 4-5 minutes of facing the barricade, only to immediately return to the match when EVIL tells him to, I still can’t help but think, “Hey, this sucks!” 

The whole match isn’t a waste. The final third is plenty of fun in an old-school, Saturday morning heel/face dynamic way. But the EVIL/Togo routine in front of a lukewarm crowd is just SUCH a slog to sit through. **

G1 Climax 2023 D Block Match
Jeff Cobb [2] def Tetsuya Naito [0]

Jeff Cobb’s work in New Japan doesn’t often leave your jaw on the ground, but he’s consistently done so many things right and made an excellent monster-big-man-type for the United Empire. This match followed that same course: so many things done right but falling just short of being something special. 

From the outset, Cobb did something I love from gaijin Naito opponents — he matched Naito’s arrogance and shit talk beat-for-beat (see vs. Jay White at Destruction 2019 and vs. Jon Moxley in that year’s G1 for my favorite examples). He laughed off a fist bump, mocked the Tranquilo pose, used Naito’s moves, and condescendingly patted Naito’s head in the corner — the works. That stuff raises the stakes. It makes everything feel so much grittier. 

On top of that, the two played the size dynamic perfectly. Naito had to wear Cobb down with crafty holds and zippy leg scissor attacks. Cobb would regain control with pure muscle, including a top-rope rana attempt from Naito that Cobb reversed into a COLOSSAL powerbomb. 

The match had a few messy points at crucial junctures, which I only point out because they’d break you out of an otherwise super-engaging match. You’ll hear people talk about Naito struggling to clear the top rope for a Combinacíon de Cabrón attempt, but that didn’t bother me because Cobb countered that attempt (and Naito succeeded at it later). Difficulties later in the match with a flying ‘rana and the finish were much more damning. 

Again, I’m being critical because this one was on course to be a knockout. Still, a very strong main event. ***¾ 

Final Thoughts

The G1 messes with our brains, I think. Sometimes, if we don’t get a total instant classic, it can seem like a letdown. Night 2 of the G1 gave us four very good wrestling matches, including a sleeper hit nobody could have seen coming. That’s a good show, I’d say.