G1! G1! G1! It’s time, baby. The 29th G1 Climax kicked off not in Japan, but in America, and as usual, I’ll be trying to review the whole damn thing (apart from undercard matches, arsed with that). In a slight change, I am going to include some spoiler-free recommendations in my intros, so you can decide what to watch and what to skip without seeing the results. That seems smart, yes? I hope so anyway.
So for this first night, I recommend Lance Archer vs Will Ospreay, Sanada vs Zack Sabre Jr, KENTA vs Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi. Read on if you want to find out why.
Lance Archer (1-0) defeated Will Ospreay (0-1)
You know Will Ospreay stood backstage determined to kick his first G1 off in style, and damn did he pull it off. Archer charged across the ring, trying to get the jump on Will only to be spun round in a Standing Spanish Fly. A Corkscrew Moonsault to the floor followed by a Springboard 450 and you’d have thought Will at least stood a chance of the three, but Big Lance kicked out at one. That’s how you start a tournament.
These two had a match in the New Japan Cup which people raved about but didn’t connect with me to quite the same extent. Watching this, I felt like I saw the action that everyone else was blabbing on about then. Ospreay flew around the ring, bouncing around like a maniac for Lance and using his pace to try and get the upset.
It wasn’t a carry job, though. Archer, someone I’ve never been high on, was fantastic. The casual way in which he’d toss Will around or hoist him up to Chokeslam him through a table was brilliant. He treated Ospreay like a Junior fighting one of the big bad Heavyweights, and it worked. It made Will look great for fighting on and Archer like the big hungry beast teaching him a lesson.
New Japan gave them the time to shine too. Normally, the first G1 match on a card gets around ten minutes, but these two were sneaking towards the twenties, still battling it out over who could get the win. Archer kicked out of the Oscutter, Ospreay out of Blackout, but a Super Blackout followed by a Von Erich style Iron Claw proved too much, the hometown boy kicked off his G1 with a win and a hell of a performance.
Verdict: Four Stars
Bad Luck Fale (1-0) defeated EVIL (0-1)
New Japan has been teasing EVIL splitting from LIJ, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It’s a G1 staple for a bit of Ingobernable friction, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t raise the fist once it’s all said and done.
Fale, meanwhile, wasn’t pinned in last year’s G1 but got himself disqualified a lot. He also sucks, and this match did nothing to change my opinion on that. If Lance Archer showed how to put on a dynamic big man performance, Fale went out to demonstrate the best ways to send the crowd to sleep, lumbering around the ring with all the effort of a dying sloth.
EVIL tried. He was over with the Dallas crowd, and he wanted to tell the story of cutting down the bigger man, hoisting him up for a slam after a couple of attempts and hitting a series of Lariats to take Fale off his feet. The job was too big, though, and when the finish involved low blows and chair shots, it was clear this wasn’t worth anyone’s time. I guess old Bad Luck started as he meant to go on.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
SANADA (1-0) defeated Zack Sabre Jr (0-1)
Zack and SANADA marked a change in style from the big men who had come before. These two moved us into intricate grappling, dancing between holds at an incredible pace to the joy of the Dallas fans (despite Zack’s claims that technical wrestling was wasted on an American audience).
If you enjoy that kind of wrestling, it’s hard not to marvel at the way these two do it. Moments like Zack pushing SANADA into the air with his feet only to drop him down into an Armbar just make me smile. On the other hand, I could have done without the Paradise Lock, as having someone of Sabre’s talents trapped in it cheapens him, but that’s a small complaint.
The final act saw SANADA trying to use the Skull End to set-up for his Moonsault. Twice he went for it, and twice he missed, with Zack catching him out of the air into a Triangle Chock on the second attempt. It would ultimately turn out not to matter, though. The two men burst into a series of clutches, and it was SANADA who came out on top, trapping Sabre’s shoulders to the floor for the three and infuriating ZSJ. He’d take that anger out on a ref and a Young Lion because why not?
I enjoyed that, although as usual with Zack and Sanada it’s not going to be for everyone. From what I remember of their previous matches, I wouldn’t put it up as their best, but it was a strong start to the G1 from both men.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
KENTA (1-0) defeated Kota Ibushi (0-1)
‘I am fucking KENTA’. How can you hear those words and not get goosebumps? I don’t think I have ever wanted someone to knock it out of the park as much as I wanted KENTA to in this match.
In my G1 preview I said that KENTA’s future would be decided the moment Ibushi slapped him. How he responded to that, would tell us everything we needed to know about this man in 2019. Well, it turned out we didn’t have to wait for Ibushi to do the slapping, KENTA got in their first, delivering a stinging blow across the face and a huge grin covered mine. Motherfucking KENTA.
He wrestled this match with that old arrogance and swagger, disrespectfully kicking Kota in the head and standing on his chest, making the count even as Red Shoes refused too. There was no sign of the man who was friends with The Iconics in the way he held himself in that ring.
So, that’s 2/2 for KENTA so far, but the final question was the most important. How did he hold up in a long, gruelling fight? Can his body still hack it? On this evidence, yes, yes it can.
Ibushi and KENTA started stiff and went on to get even stiffer. Ibushi was always the perfect opponent as he revels in raising the bar, in finding another level that shouldn’t exist but which he wants to punch. They beat the shit out of each other. While there was nothing complex about it, it was beautiful.
In the end, KENTA’s kicks proved too much. There was no back and forth in those final seconds, as a pair to Ibushi’s head left him reeling and in the perfect position to be hoisted up for the Go To Sleep. When he came down, it had done what it says on the tin (although, truthfully, it looked a bit shit as Kota took it on his arm). Welcome back, KENTA.
Verdict: Four Stars
Kazuchika Okada (1-0) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi (0-1)
I have written a lot of words about Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada in the last couple of weeks (please read them). So, if anything, I should be burned out on this feud. They don’t do short matches, and I watched all thirteen of their singles encounters. Yet, I still got that tingle in my stomach as they made their entrances, I will never tire of Okada vs Tanahashi.
However, for the first time in a long time, there were some worries coming in. Since returning from surgery, Tanahashi has, well, struggled. He’s not looked his old self, and you couldn’t help worrying that the years were finally catching up with The Ace.
Which was a dumbass thing to do, as there was no chance in hell that Tanahashi was going to wrestle his first main event in America against Okada, and not be incredible. From the first bell, these two slid straight into the dance they’ve done a million times before. They may have recently started teaming together, but when Okada patronisingly patted Tana on the chest after a break, The Ace had no problem with throwing elbows in retaliation.
From there they told a familiar tale, but it’s a good one. Okada used DDTs to work over the neck of Tana while Tanahashi hit a Dragon Screw over the ropes to open up Kazu’s leg to abuse. And while we’ve seen it before, it doesn’t stop it being a joy. It’s the ease with which they do it, a million matches creating chemistry that is unrivalled.
It will be a surprise to no-one to hear they kicked things up a notch in their final act. Okada connected with a Tombstone, but Tanahashi reversed The Rainmaker into a Sling Blade and hit the Standing High Fly Flow only for Okada to get his knees up on the second. As they came into the final ten minutes, Okada hit a brace of short Rainmakers only for Tanahashi to reverse the third into a Cradle. It was a battle to see if either man could finally do enough to get the win in under thirty minutes and end their streak of G1 draws.
And incredibly, one of them could. In fact, Okada did it in quite a lot under thirty minutes, hitting the Rainmaker around the twenty-two-minute mark and beating Tanahashi as decisively as you will ever see him to do so. Tana fought valiantly, slapping out of a couple of Rainmaker attempts, but the Spinning Tombstone set it up and down he went.
This was a lesser Tanahashi vs Okada which means it was still a great wrestling match, but not one of the greatest of all time. More interestingly, though, it felt like the end of an era. If Okada’s victory at last year’s Dontaku was definitive, then this was easy. You have to wonder whether this was the end, and served as a sign that Tanahashi is stepping into the background, leaving Okada to fully embrace his role as The Ace? Or perhaps I’m overthinking things, either way, you’ll want to watch this match.
Verdict: Four Stars
For the first time, New Japan has come to America and delivered a show that was entirely their own. No ROH, no random American wrestlers, just a G1 Block night, and a good one at that. It’s no secret that the ticket sales for this show were slightly disappointing, but if you were a American who sat at home, unsure whether to bother, you’ve got to be kicking yourself now. New Japan pulled it off, and any future G1s in the US should benefit from that.
Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/