Wednesday, August 6, 2014

G1 Climax 24 Day Eight Review

Day eight was incredible and it wasn't even the best show of the tournament
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The end of last year's G1 Climax marked a downturn of sorts in the quality of New Japan shows. After a stellar tournament, the winner was Tetsuya Naito, a guy who the crowd had trouble accepting as a challenger to Kazuchika Okada. This led to a slightly disappointing Tokyo Dome show where the IWGP title match played second fiddle to an underwhelming main event featuring Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura. What followed in the spring was a series of pay-per-views that, while not technically bad, contained some bizarre booking choices that seemed to continuously halt the sense of excitement and anticipation that fans had had for the company in 2012 and '13.

When the brackets for the 24th G1 Climax where announced, the people weren't exactly dancing in the streets. I recall some excitement for the lineup but more so I remember smarky blog posts about how there was no chance the tournament would match up against last year's despite the plethora of incredible bouts we were guaranteed to see. Well eight days worth of matches have passed so far and the consensus on the old intertubes is that not only is the 2014 tournament better than its predecessor but its better by far. New Japan completely blindsided us in that I doubt even the most positive of fans could have hoped for a more awesome series of shows. So far we've had several match of the year contenders (including a jaw dropping encounter between AJ Styles and Minoru Suzuki), surprise victories, insane crowds and a couple of breakout stars. Day Eight took place in a sold out (or at least nearly sold out) Bodymaker Colosseum in Osaka and while it didn't quite meet the levels of epic set by Day Seven; was still a fantastic show. Want to know exactly what I mean by that? Let's find out.

1) Tomohiro Ishii vs Davey Boy Smith Jr:
A great power match between two of the stronger guys on the roster. Unsurprisingly, it was also Smith's best match of the tournament so far. Ishii is so beloved by the crowd; he could probably stand in the ring by himself; throwing imaginary lariats at no one and they would still eat it up.

2) Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Toru Yano:
For Tenzan to have a good match, he needs to be in the ring with someone who can really "go" and Toru Yano is the guy on the roster who least fits that description. However the match was short and painless so no harm done.

3) Shelton Benjamin vs Yuji Nagata:
Benjamin, like most of the other ex-WWE guys is routinely one of the worst parts of the show. Okay, maybe not "worst". But he seems to perpetually be in the same position on the show, never changing, never moving up or down, always having the same technically proficient but entirely unmemorable matches. His personality of "athletic guy who smirks" hasn't grown since 2002 either. He's just a really boring guy to watch, I'm sorry. Nagata, I guess, tried a little bit to get the fans into the action but it was soon to be overshadowed by the greatness yet to come.

4) Doc Gallows vs Satoshi Kojima:
Gallows, much to my amusement, has occasionally come to the ring wearing stripy, Zubaz looking pants. I find it funny because they make him look exactly like Hack Meyers. Unfortunately, there was no mid '90s ECW cosplay this time around and the match was over before I could say "shah".

5) Tetsuya Naito vs Hirooki Goto:
During the early portion of this match I was thinking to myself  "wow Naito really has won back the fans", then, almost on cue, the boos started. I really don't get it. What does Naito have to do for the fans to give him a break? He never seems to turn in anything other than exceptional performances. Hell, right up until the tournament started I had his first encounter with Ishii as my match of the year and yet they fucking boo him. And these are fans who would gladly cheer Tiger Mask IV. It just doesn't make sense.

Regardless of the bizarre crowd reaction, this was a great match with Naito giving the finger to his detractors by doing some awesome flippy shit and grinning afterwards. I've said it before but if there was ever a guy who has a valid reason for turning heel, it's Naito. I think he'd be great at it and the company could probably do with a major bad guy who isn't in the Bullet Club.

6) AJ Styles vs Lance Archer:
The most surprising thing to happen to me during the course of watching this year's G1 is my new-found love for AJ Styles. When he debuted, I groaned, and when he won the IWGP Title, I groaned even louder. But I think that might have been because I was so used to watching him wrestle in a horrible, joyless environment. And when he came to New Japan, I associated him with that atmosphere that could only be cultivated in a place like TNA. It was tough going at first but he has really found his groove. The man is a tremendous heel too; he's arrogant when he's in control but resorts to acts of utter desperation when he faces defeat. In short, everyone always said Styles was awesome, and now I finally agree.

The match itself was a great big man/small man match which styles won with a beautiful looking hold that I'm unfamiliar with. Archer is probably my preferred choice out of the Killer Elite Squad so I'm glad he got a good showing too.

7) Minoru Suzuki vs Togi Makabe:
Suzuki is a splendid wrestler who hadn't gotten many opportunities to shine before the tournament began. The last great showing I remember him having was that Dave Meltzer-anointed five star match against Tanahashi, but since then I mostly just remember him wrestling Toru Yano over and over again. Anyway, this was a great mix of power vs wrestling acumen. I especially liked the ending with Suzuki just going "fuck it" and destroying Makabe with a vicious looking rear naked choke.

8) Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomoaki Honma: 
I need to check myself for bruises after just watching this match. I think that New Japan's adverseness to letting Honma win a single match has inadvertently told a great story. He's this guy who never has his hand raised but that doesn't stop him from offering up his heart and soul every time to try and make that dream a reality. If New Japan really wants to win my heart, they'll have Honma lose every time until his final match on day eleven and then give him that oh so elusive victory. The crowd would lose their collective shit and what a nice, feel good story it would be to weave in between all the dudes lariating each other to death.

9) Kazuchika Okada vs Yujiro Takahashi:
I think that one of the side effects of seeing so many terrific matches in a row is that it kinda numbs you to the excitement of watching well executed professional wrestling. I've always suspected that if wrestling was continuously great then it would probably be the most tedious thing in the world. Because you need to sit through crap to appreciate the good stuff. For me, this was that theory in action because while I'm sure it was a fine match, and Takahashi is another guy that I've grown to really like lately, I just don't remember much about it. Like I said, I love false finishes and near falls but when you see them many times in the one show they need to be really creative for them to stick in your head, which I'm guessing, is what was missing from this bout. And the fact that it was sandwiched in between the two best matches on the show probably didn't do it any favors either.

10) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura:
Tanahashi vs. Nakamura is the NJPW equivalent of John Cena vs Randy Orton. They're two guys who've been the foundation blocks of the company for years. They somehow managed to prosper during the dark days of the mid noughties, grew to be terrific performers and now they're both the biggest draws Japan has seen in years. Unlike Cena and Orton though, every time Tanahashi and Nakamura wrestle it's always a special occasion and this was probably the most exciting match I've seen them have since I became a fan of puro.

They wrestled like two guys who know each other like the back of their hand. Which of course they do. The match was a constant display of counters and reversals with neither man able to get the upper hand without altering their game plan. At one point, Tanahashi managed to hit Nakamura with the sling blade from behind but still caught a pair of knees in the gut when trying to follow up with the frog splash. In the end Tanahashi managed to twist his opponent into an O'Connor roll position for the win.

Overall thoughts:
Perhaps the third best night of the tournament behind nights four and seven. A great show almost from top to bottom with a thunderous crowd to boot. If you don't plan on watching the whole thing than I suggest Honma vs Shibata and the main event, the former being a match of the year candidate in my opinion.