Monday, June 12, 2017

New Japan's Long Beach Shows Are Mostly Set

Your next IWGP World Champion? (No, not The Miz)
Photo Credit:
July 1 and 2 are furiously advancing on the calendar, which means the New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax Special shows in Long Beach, CA are inching closer and closer. For puroresu fans, the anticipation is palpable like Christmas morning. For casual fans looking to see what the big deal is all about, that air of mystery is dissipating more and more by the moment. Of course, a huge part of pulling back the curtain is the announcement of actual matches. The full card for July 1, airing live at 8 PM ET on AXS TV, and a partial card for July 2, taped to air on July 7 on AXS (and available on New Japan World shortly after the live show ends) have both been announced. The July 1 show features, oddly enough, no G1 Climax matches, but then again, these shows have been now termed as preludes to the actual massive round-robin.

The July 1 card is as follows:
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Cody (Rhodes)

IWGP World Tag Team Championship Match:
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) (Tanga Roa and Tama Tonga) vs. War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe)

Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA, David Finlay, and Jay White vs. Billy Gunn, Sho Tanaka, Yohei Komatsu, and Yoshitatsu

Dragon Lee, Jushin Thunder Liger, Volador, Jr., and Titan vs. LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON (Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, EVIL, and BUSHI)

Will Ospreay, Jay and Mark Briscoe, and Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero and Barretta) vs. The Bullet Club (Marty Scurll, Nick and Matt Jackson, Bad Luck Fale, and Yujiro Takahashi

IWGP United States Championship Tournament First Round Matches:
Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Juice Robinson vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Jay Lethal vs. Hangman Page
An interesting slate of matches for the live show indeed, although I find it funny everyone's grouped by country in the first round of the tournament except Robinson and ZSJ. To be fair, Sabre is the only Brit in the whole thing. Anyway, Rhodes got his title shot after the epic rematch between Okada and Omega that went full broadway. Rhodes tried throwing in the towel on his fellow Bullet Club member's behalf, a la Owen Hart at Survivor Series 1994, but Omega finished the match to a draw anyway. Afterwards, Rhodes challenged Okada, who accepted. I'm not thrilled with that match headlining the show, but I mean, it's Okada. He's had critically acclaimed matches with a wide breadth of opponents this year if you listen to a certain crowd. Besides, the rest of the show looks fun, even if a bit heavy on multiman matches.

The incomplete July 2 card has one really interesting or hilarious match on it (bolded), depending on whom you ask:
The semifinal and final matches in the US Championship tournament

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match:
The Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice

IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match:
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Billy Gunn
The year 2017 features William "Mr. Ass" Gunn wrestling for a major company's Intercontinental Championship. God is good, people. I'm just surprised it's not WWE throwing him in The Miz's path right now, but I guess that company takes its bodybuilding rules violations a bit more seriously than New Japan does. I understand why Gunn is the match here. One, why burn Tanahashi vs. Naito or Ishii or Scurll here when it could do business at home. Two, you don't lead off your cross-ocean invasion program with the biggest matches; you build to them. However, I can't in good conscience look at a Billy Gunn title match in 2017 and not at least chuckle, even if it could be good. I don't know. Regardless, that unintentional laughter doesn't mask the fact that these first matches announced are strong. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how this plays out, and hopefully, it'll be successful enough that the US is treated to more New Japan on these American shores.