The first night of the G1 was a great night of wrestling but not a great G1 night. One glance at night two’s card tells you that it has the potential to be a spectacular G1 night. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr and Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito? That’s the kind of wrestling that it’s worth getting out of bed for. Unless, like me, you watch most of your wrestling in bed. In which case, get comfy.
Tomohiro Ishii (1-0) defeated Toru Yano (0-1)
Do you want to know why star ratings are flawed? Because of bouts like this. This wasn’t a four-star match, it had Toru Yano in it. However, it was ridiculously fun. Yano and Ishii went out there and did something different. In doing so, they might have failed to put on a five-star classic, but they put on something that we’ll all remember.
It was wrestled around the idea that Yano is trying to play it straight during this year’s tournament. While he’ll still rip off the turnbuckle pad (he can’t help himself), The Master Thief wants to show the world that he’s a wrestler and in there with his tag-team partner, it was the perfect opportunity to get started on that. So, he grappled with Ishii and traded elbows with Ishii and even pulled out a bit of fighting spirit as he no-sold an Ishii German Suplex. It was this baffling little reminder that everyone on the New Japan roster can go, some of them are just not required to.
So, how did Ishii respond? Well, he pulled a bit of trickery on the Master Thief. When the ref got in the way, he and Yano bounced him between the two of them for a few seconds until Ishii spotted an opening and went for it. Low blow, roll-up and bang, thanks for coming. It was some lovely storytelling that allowed both men to do something different. Watch this one.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Tama Tonga (1-0) defeated Juice Robinson (0-1)
Remember when I said I was worried about Tama Tonga’s matches being riddled with interference after the Fale vs Hangman bout? Yea, it’s happening. Tonga Loa was the difference maker here as his presence at ringside hung over the entire contest.
It’s bloody frustrating because Juice should be the perfect opponent for Tama. He’s a great wrestler, a current New Japan Champion and yet isn’t high enough on the totem pole that Tonga can’t pick up a clean win. In fact, a US Title program would seem like a perfect fit for him at the moment.
However, and this has become a common theme in his G1 performances over the years, Tama Tonga seems to lack the ability to go up through the gears and find that world-class performance. You can’t blame Juice, we’ve seen him do it. I think it might just be time to accept that Tonga is not good enough to be anything more than a tag team wrestler in a company like New Japan.
Verdict: Two Stars
Hirooki Goto (1-0) defeated Sanada (0-1)
I hadn’t even considered it going in, but Sanada is the perfect opponent for Goto due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, his bursts of explosive offence make up for the sometimes plodding nature of Hirooki’s matches. His comebacks are like shots of energy that contrast nicely with the NEVER champions more methodical nature.
Then – and this is what caused this to tip over into great – they have finishers that compliment each other. The battle between the Cold Skull and the GTR in the final few minutes of this was fantastic. Time after time, one of them would seem to have the victory in hand, then suddenly the other would slip out as the momentum swung to their corner. It was a breathtaking stretch of counter wrestling that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
A beautiful part of the G1 is getting match-ups we usually wouldn’t see and discovering two wrestlers with awesome chemistry. Goto vs Sanada was a perfect example of that.
Verdict: Four Stars
Kota Ibushi (1-0) defeated Zack Sabre Jr (0-1)
I’ll tell you what’s not surprising, Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr also have wonderful chemistry. This is their third time facing off in a tournament (it’s 2-1 Kota now), and every single one has been fantastic.
What makes it work is that both men play to their strengths. At the start, Zack Sabre Jr was in control because they were grappling, hands clasped and battling for control. Sure, Kota would occasionally get the upper hand or slip out of a Zack submission, but it would be a brief thing. Zack Sabre Jr is the best technical wrestler on the planet and as good as Ibushi is, he’s not on that level.
Where he can control the action, is when he’s dishing out kicks, which is when Zack takes his turn at going on the backfoot. Sabre sells Kota’s strikes like their gunshots. Collapsing to the ground as one blow causes his legs to give out. It’s such a simple thing, and yet it’s perfect storytelling. We establish what both men can do, then we get to watch them try to put that into action.
And for a long time, it looked like Zack was going to be the one to start with a win. He was able to rip Kota’s leg out from underneath him with a spectacular counter to the Golden Triangle Moonsault. As Kota leapt over the ropes to flip to the floor, Sabre struck, dragging him to the apron and then to the ground with a heel hook, destroying his leg in the process. From there, it looked like Ibushi was screwed. An injury in a match with ZSJ is like punching a Great White while you’re covered in blood.
Except, Kota Ibushi isn’t a normal person. He’s a magical elf man who brings beauty and joy to all who watch him. The magic that flows through his veins is stronger than any injury. Ibushi kept fighting, and in a fantastic final sequence, they danced through their signature moves, with even a small botch only adding to the story of Ibushi’s leg injury. Finally, he hit the Straitjacket Suplex before transitioning into the Kamigoye and picking up the win. That’s three for three in these men producing wonder. If New Japan has any sense, there will be many more in our future.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Kenny Omega (1-0) defeated Tetsuya Naito (0-1)
This is one long ass science class because the chemistry just keeps coming. Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito have been making faces at each other across the classroom in recent months. They also have a history in the G1, putting on outstanding bouts both last year and the year before. The third time was going to be no different.
Everything about this was an epic display of one-upmanship. Omega and Naito started slowly, with Kenny taking control and revelling in his newfound position as the top dog in NJPW. He was mocking Naito, seemingly determined to show that he isn’t on Omega’s level.
However, when they got the bit between their teeth, they just took off. It started with Omega hitting his signature dive from the ring over the barrier. We’ve seen him do it before, but this might have the biggest one yet as he cleared what looked like it could have been the fifth row. Naito then decided to raise the stakes by taking a similar bump to the one he did in last year’s G1 Final, letting Omega reverse a Super Hurricanrana by dumping him headfirst onto the turnbuckle. That was all just the beginning.
For after that they started hitting big move after big move. I’m 99% certain that Naito should have died on at least one occasion. There was a Piledriver out of a Destino counter that looked devastating. That Omega followed that up with a Jay Driller could almost be called reckless if you didn’t have full faith in these men’s abilities. They have an insane ability to convince you it’s over, only for them to find another move.
In the end, Omega would once again beat Naito at the G1. It’s the third time he’s done it, and it’s thrown a lot of people’s predictions for this tournament up in the air (mine included). We can worry about that in the future, though. Right now, let’s just appreciate these two men blowing our minds once again.
Verdict: Four And Three Quarter Stars
If you’re new to NJPW and thought the reviews of the first night were harsh, I’m sure you’ll have figured out why after watching this. B Block raised the bar with two outstanding displays of wrestling. Throw in the best Toru Yano bout I’ve ever seen plus a great showing from Sanada and Goto, and we might just have an all-timer on our hands. The G1 is cooking now folks.
Top Three Matches So Far
- Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega – Four And Three Quarter Stars
- Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr – Four And A Half Stars
- Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada – Four And A Half Stars