Thursday, July 24, 2014

G1 Climax 24 Day One Review

Okada and Shibata celebrate victories during day one of wrestling's biggest annual tournament
Photo Credit:
Day one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's annual G1 Climax took place three days ago and it was a hell of a start. The tournament is kinda like the Wimbledon of Japanese professional wrestling and has gone through several different names and incarnations, but it's probably most well known in its current round robin format. Basically every year the company takes twenty of its top stars, splits them into two brackets and says "fight, fuckers". Everyone wrestles everyone and the two guys with the most wins from either group face off in the final. The tournament has decades of historical importance behind it with past winners including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Antonio Inoki and The Great Muta. From just looking at those names you can tell that winning the G1 Climax is the company telling the world "you're our guy".

Last year's G1 drew critical acclaim with many proclaiming it as the best in the tournament's history. And although its winner, Tetsuya Naito didn't have the success that New Japan was hoping for, it did produce a string of match of the year candidates and a breakout star in Tomohiro Ishii. This year, the brackets are almost identical so hopes are high for another batch of great shows. If the opening round was any indication of quality, that shouldn't be a problem. Let me break it down for you match by match so hopefully by the end you'll know why you should be watching, if you're not already.

1) Tomohiro Ishii vs Bad Luck Fale:
Ishii is a big bulldog of a man, but he looks like frickin' Cowboy Lang compared to Fale. This was a super enjoyable hoss match with both guys showing of some serious strength executing moves that required lifting up their opponent. Also, more than ever Fale's limited mobility really showed in this bout but I actually think that may be a positive in the long run. He's been on a tear recently, demolishing everyone he steps into the ring with but only because they let themselves be caught by him. So the psychology of a Bad Luck Fale match works like this. Fale is strong but he's slow. If he catches you, you're screwed, but if you're light on you're feet, you may be able surprise him when he's off his guard. It's a great way to save face for a wrestler who up until now has been unstoppable and should make for a great story when it happens.

2) Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Karl Anderson:
This was about as good a match as Tenzan is capable of these days. I do feel mean saying that 'cause the guy used to be a machine, but unfortunately I just don't think he has it in him anymore. Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean I have to watch boring matches featuring him until he decides to retire. With that said these guys did at least try to have a good match, and Tenzan even busted out his moonsault that I always think is gonna kill him, so props for that.

3) Doc Gallows vs Shelton X Benjamin:
And here we have the gateway match for people too scared to try something new. Gallows' and Benjamin's job as "internationally recognized former WWE™ superstars" is to attract people who don't know anything about Japanese wrestling so they'll go "hey it's something I'm familiar with, maybe I'll watch this por-oh-ress-oh". But for the fans in attendance, it doesn't work so well because they don't care about ex-WWE/TNA guys who've barely had a memorable match between them.

You could hear a pin drop during this. Benjamin is one of those guys that people make up apologetics for, like how "WWE never used him right" or whatever despite the eight years of opportunities he got which included beating f'ing Triple f'ing H. As for Gallows, he seems like a lovely guy and I like to think of myself as an honorary SES member, but come on! He was the mentally deficient guy who only responded to the sound of a ring bell and he was a member of Aces and Eights, which is much much worse. Surely these are not the people you want holding your tag titles and competing in your biggest tournament of the year.

4) Satoshi Kojima vs Yuji Nagata:
These two are like a pair of Honda Civics. They run forever and seemingly never break down. This wasn't exactly a great match but it was definitely a fun one and there are few things I like more than watching tough old bastards beat the shite out of each other.

5) Minoru Suzuki vs Toru Yano:
Like I mentioned in my Dominion review, Suzuki and Yano are the Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler of New Japan. This was their 240th match in their best of 6,000 series, and it was laughably crap. Yano won after only a few minutes with a roll up so at least the bookers had the good sense to keep it short. Though not enough sense to stop running this match it would seem.

6) Yujiro Takahashi vs Tetsuya Naito:
These two are another pair shooting for Kofi/Ziggler status but damn! These two had a pretty tight match here. Both guys used to tag together in a team called No Limit a few years ago that had a Jannety/Michaels feel to it. Everyone assumed Naito (since he was clearly the better wrestler) was gonna be the breakout star, and even though he's challenged for the IWGP Title a few times he really hasn't become the top guy that everyone expected him to be.

Takahashi on the other hand has been scraping and clawing his way up the ranks, playing to every strength he has and using his unbelievably dickish persona to make him one of the most over heels in the company. He's recently been promoted by being grouped in with the Bullet Club and given a singles title run. The guy's been on a quality match roll too, having just beaten Ishii in a great main event a few weeks ago and here he puts away Naito with his sick-as-fuck variant of the Death Valley Bomb.

7) Hirooki Goto vs Togi Makabe:
This was a bloody great encounter between two perfectly matched wrestlers. Both Goto and Makabe are in that eternal British Bulldog/Kane spot, where they're in the upper echelon and might even challenge for the belt occasionally but sure as hell won't be winning it any time soon. They also physically match up pretty well too, both buys wrestle like bulldozers with one employing stiffness and the other relying on power. The result is a wrecking ball (not a reference I swear) of a match where either guy has an even chance of winning. On this particular night though, Goto somehow managed to get Makabe up for the shouten and win in what was only the third best match of the night.

8) Tomoaki Honma vs Hiroshi Tanahashi:
I've mentioned before about how I think Honma is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world. I've thought that since I watched him have one the best hardcore-oriented matches I've ever seen against Masato Tanaka. But for some reason New Japan just has no god damn interest in him, and this is a company who has Toru Yano pinning Minoru Suzuki. I had such high hopes for Honma when he returned to help out Togi Makabe against Chaos. But then he lost the resulting tag match and then lost then next match and then lost and lost and lost. Bear in mind, he's not some crappy jobber like YOSHI-HASHI or someone. The guy is fucking GREAT, and he's incredibly popular, so giving a chance to prove his worth only makes sense, right? Wrong, because technically he shouldn't even be in the tournament. He was added as a last minute replacement for Kota Ibushi who suffered an unfortunate concussion. But a positive outcome of that misfortune is that now Honma has the biggest opportunity of his career.

More than ever I would have really liked to understand the commentary during this match because I was dying to know how the commentators were selling it. It's such an interesting situation. You have two wrestlers, both are very good at what they do, both are very popular (although one is undoubtedly more so than the other) but one is at the absolute top of the card and one is at the absolute bottom (you know without being a complete goober like... I don't know... YOSHI-HASHI). So I was definitely both very curious and hopeful about how this match would turn out and for the most part I was happy. It was a great match but while I wasn't expecting Tanahashi to put over his opponent like he did for Ishii last year, I was hoping Honma would come out looking a little bit more of a bad ass. He didn't kick out of any Tanahashi's big moves so in the end he looked like he was beaten relatively easily.

One thing that shocked me and does give me hope though was that Honma got one hundred percent of the chants. That's a big deal. It means the the crowd wants to support him even if he has no chance of winning. Lets hope that regardless of how much he loses, that Honma puts on a great showing because I do not know of anyone more deserving of a little recognition.

9) Katsuyori Shibata vs Shinsuke Nakamura:
This was the match of the night and featured the stiffest fucker in NJPW going against my personal favorite wrestler in the world and my pick to win this year's G1 Climax, in Nakamura. I can say without reservation that Nakamura is the coolest person in the world. And I really do mean that because there's a fine line between cool and weird/lame. If I was walking down the street and started frantically making hand gestures and pointing at no one in particular I'd probably be in jail. I don't know what for but they'd probably drum up some charge just to stop me from doing it. But look at SWAG-suke, walking to the ring like a lunatic and everyone eats it up. Because he's the one doing it and that makes it awesome.

There was some honest to god beauty in this match especially involving Nakamura and his inability to stop posing even when it costs him. Seriously, he had Shibata in the corner on two occasions, readying him for a running knee but just had to do his crazy hand symbols first and both times Shibata moved out of the way. Finally Nakamura got his act together on the third go and managed to hit him. Also if you saw this match then you saw both guys narrowly escape with their lives by ducking two fastest swinging kicks I've ever seen.

10) Kazuchika Okada vs AJ Styles:
A great main event to cap off a great night of action. This was probably Styles' best match since joining the company and the first where the fans truly bought him as a heel. This was possibly due to some real great crowd working by Styles which included throwing Okada back into the ring and shouting "look at what a good guy I am". Also special mentions for some impressive leaps over the barricade by both guys and the single greatest bridge of a German suplex I have ever seen. Watch the match and look at how Okada does it, he throws the guy, arches his back and stands right on his tippy toes. It's incredible. Another thing of note is the interference at the end from Takahashi which the crowd goes ape shit over. Isn't it interesting how the crowd buy into something more if you only do it from time to time? Not every damn match.

Overall Thoughts: A great show and the best I've reviewed so far on The Wrestling Blog. If you're new to puro this show in particular would be an ideal place to start. Not much in the way of storylines just loads and loads of spectacular wrestling.