Hello, fellow G 1-ers (G 1-keteers? G 1-ettes?)! Welcome back to We Write Wrestling’s review coverage of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 26th G 1 Climax tournament. The opening night of this year’s tournament served as a shocking opening and possible notice that this year’s tournament would provide results surprising to even the most jaded New Japan fan. The question then, after night one, was “Would New Japan continue along the path of the surprise or fall back on more expected decisions?” After watching this weekend’s G 1 matches I can answer with a resounding, “A little bit of both, maybe? I guess. I have no idea what the hell is happening, but I love it.”
Opening the B BLOCK matches was New Japan’s resident comedic chicken-shit heel, Toru Yano vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Katsuhiko Nakajima. While I enjoy Yano’s shtick I don’t think it has any place in what is billed as the premiere professional wrestling tournament on the planet. A more interesting choice would have been to give his spot to Satoshi Kojima, who gave up his position for friend Hiroshi Tenzan. In that scenario—with Kojima taking Yano’s spot—we would have had a chance to watch an epic clash between two of legendary best friends vying for one last shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Instead, we get flabby, creepy Yano pulling pranks and trying to pin Nakajima with his t-shirt. And yes, it is funny and entertaining but I was left a little wanting. I realize that all of the members of New Japan’s roster are legitimate tough guys, but for story purposes, I don’t think a wrestler who primarily serves as comedic relief should be shown to be a superior competitor to a wrestler who is presented like a more substantive athlete. Luckily, former AJPW Junior Heavyweight Champion, and skilled karate practitioner, Nakajima dispatched Yano with relative ease after a steady assault of kicks and strikes, finishing off the jokester with a brain buster.
Next up was YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kenny Omega and this match proved Gedo likely has every intention of carrying over the shocks of night one. While HASHI has certainly proved capable in several performances in 2016 he has mostly served as the whipping boy for the CHAOS stable, taking losses for that group to ease the burden on its stronger, more popular members. I expected him to continue in this role during his G1 run and was left floored when he emerged victorious over Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega.
This was a back and forth affair with Omega taking the advantage early after a serious of shoulder charges that bounced HASHI back and forth between the steel security railing and ring apron’s edge. Omega followed up his this attack with a body slam to HASHI on top of the security railing and springboard double stomp to the floor. Despite the vicious effort from Omega, HASHI persevered and mounted a successful counter-attack including two reversals of Omega’s famed One-Winged Angel finisher and even nailing a Bomaye to the back of Omega’s skull. HASHI finally scored the win with a pump-handle driver.
The third match of night two was a Beef Slam extravaganza with IWGP Intercontinental and CMLL Elite World Champion Big Mike Elgin taking on Los Ingobernables de Japon’s EVIL. This was a battle of muscle and will with the two trading crushing forearm shots and lariats throughout the match. While I felt near certain Elgin was on the verge of using his power and larger size to put away the smaller LIJ member, EVIL simply would not go away. He hung on long enough to hit his EVIL STO finisher and deliver a loss to Big Mike in his first G1 tournament match.
After that, we saw LIJ leader and former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito versus the internationally renowned veteran Yuji Nagata. Some reviews are counting Nagata’s victory as an upset but given his fan support and convincing defeat of at-the-time NEVER Open Weight Champion Katsuyori Shibata, I don’t see Nagata’s victory against Naito as all that surprising. Naito started the match listless, appearing as if merely having to show up was an unnecessary inconvenience for him. While he certainly had a slight advantage over Nagata at times he never showed urgency and never seemed to take the match very seriously. Nagata, the decorated, venerated and resilient veteran simply maintained his composure, weathered Naito’s attack, seized upon his mistakes and ultimately won with a crushing side suplex followed by a spinning heel kick and second bridging side suplex; to the cheers of his name throughout the crowd. A cocky, immature, young villain losing to an experienced, tested, revered hero is not an upset. It’s one of the oldest stories in professional wrestling and was expertly executed by Nagata and Naito.
Nagata, the decorated, venerated and resilient veteran simply maintained his composure, weathered Naito’s attack, seized upon his mistakes and ultimately won with a crushing side suplex followed by a spinning heel kick and second bridging side suplex; to the cheers of his name throughout the crowd. A cocky, immature, young villain losing to an experienced, tested, revered hero is not an upset. It’s one of the oldest stories in professional wrestling and was expertly executed by Nagata and Naito.
The night’s final matchup gave us perhaps what is pro wrestling’s premier striker in Katsuyori Shibata versus New Japan’s favorite lovable loser and also-ran, Tomoaki Honma. I’ll give you the ending up front, Honma wins with his patented top rope headbutt and after the match gets a slap to the face from the petulant Shibata to which Honma responds by elbowing the brat out of the ring. I didn’t like this match and I’ve come to accept that I don’t like most Shibata matches. He seems to do little but stare and yell at his opponents. Following this is always an exchange of trading strikes to the side of the neck and jaw. New Japan super-fans hail this sort of action as the hallmark of Strong Style and proof as to the superior toughness of the Japanese wrestler. You know who else lumbers around the ring and trades bruising strikes back and forth with their opponents? Sheamus. You know what wrestler the common American New Japan fan hates? Sheamus.
I’m not trying to dish out a “hot take” and I’m certainly no Sheamus fan, but I just don’t get Shibata’s appeal. I find him boring and predictable and I think most of the support for his style comes from people who will fawn over anything New Japan but then hypocritically criticize the same effort from a WWE wrestler. Shibata’s mystique comes as much from the presentation of his character—that of a legit martial artist and shoot-fighter—as it does with his output in the ring, which I still find very repetitive, predictable and boring. I’m glad Honma beat him and hope the loss taught the arrogant Shibata some much-needed respect.