Wednesday, August 14, 2019

G1 Climax Collect: Final Edition

The Knee That Won the Tournament
Photo Credit:
The 2019 G1 Climax Tournament has concluded with a reasonable winner, 91 matches ranging from disastrous to incredible, and a final show that saw both betrayal and hope before the finals bell first rung. The road to the Tokyo Dome is ahead of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Winnah! - At various points during the G1 Climax, it looked like any number of wrestlers might win. Kazuchika Okada and Jon Moxley seemed on a collision course early on with KENTA on the fringes. Then as the tournament played out, Kota Ibushi started sneaking up in the A-block with EVIL not far behind. Moxley started losing matches and opening the door for an array of wrestlers to come on up. Most fans hoped it would be Tetsuya Naito, but they feared it would be "Switchblade" Jay White. Then the final two block shows saw winner-take-all matches with berths in the final on the line. Hey, it's almost like this stuff is a work, eh.

The A-block match between Okada and Ibushi felt like it lived up to its billing more. Sure, as is standard with most Okada matches, it watered down the punch to make time. Okada is nothing if not a marathon man, but I feel like a dude with his preternatural ability in the ring would be far better working more sprint matches or at least keeping it to the good side of 20 minutes. You could say that his near-draw with Sanada was an example of an excellent longer match, and it was. But every match with him feels like it's artificially extended. Thankfully though, he is one of the most gifted wrestlers in the world, and Ibushi is no slouch either, so the parts where they did get it going were worthy of a winner take all match with the highest stakes possible.

The B-block final, well, not so much, and it carried into the finals with the Knife Pervert. I used to think that it was the Bullet Club interference that gets inserted into the match that ruined the flow of his matches, but no, as it turns out, even when Gedo isn't at ringside, White can't call a match to save his life. The Naito match was probably less egregious because they didn't work around long-term selling, and Naito probably has more of a feel for a big main event at this point. With Ibushi, it was an ill-fit, and even though White is proficient at doing things like attacking a limb, his execution is dry at best. I kept trying to feel something during the match because it's clear that he's not going anywhere, but at least now like during any point in the G1 where he wasn't getting his ass kicked by members of CHAOS, it was hard for me to get what he was doing.

That's all before getting into the other main thread of the G1 final. Asking Kota Ibushi to sell a leg injury over the course of a half-hour is like asking a kindergartner to recreate the Mona Lisa. Even if they have the ability, they're not going to have the patience to plunker down to do the job. I like Ibushi. He's great at a certain kind of match, and I don't get the obsession over making guys leave their comfort zones, even if it's for the story. That ankle injury did not make a single fan at Budokan cheer him who wasn't going to cheer him before, and him going in and out of selling it would've worked if he were Jay White and trying to heel his way to a win trying to bait the babyface into backing off.

Still, I can't knock the final too much, as the one thing White is good at, obviously, is taking punishment. I guess there are worse things to be one-dimensional at in wrestling. Ibushi certainly was one of the right choices to win the whole thing, and even if the journey gets a little off-course and muddied, he knows how to finish a match. Of course, being late on the ball means I can include stuff from various press conferences and promos, and Ibushi has now proposed that now that WrestleKingdom is going to be two days at The Dome, that he gets Okada (or whoever is Champion then) on January 4, and then the winner of that match gets whoever the Intercontinental Champion is on January 5, winner take all. That sounds like an interesting gambit, although the fatalist in me says that it's just a way to make Okada more acey than he is now. There are still four months left for things to shake out though.

DUMP TRUCK WAR - Taichi has been a polarizing figure long before he entered this year's G1. People either love him or want done to him what I want done to Will Ospreay. It seems like they played into something similar in storyline, where the Holy Emperor was torn between emulating his trainer and legend Toshiaki Kawada or just having fun with the boys and cheating his ass off. His final match in the tournament, against Tomohiro Ishii, saw him embrace the former the hardest. He ran out of the corner and just knocked the Stone Pitbull off his moorings before the bell, and what followed was about ten minutes of two dump trucks slamming into each other. It was the hardest-hitting, biggest-bang-for-your-buck match in the tournament, an atom bomb's worth of energy packed into what was essentially a lightning match with maybe a little bit of overtime. I thought most if not all the non-Toru Yano or Bad Luck Fale matches trended longer than they should have, so this one was a pleasant surprise. There are 91 matches in the G1. You should have a nice bell curve of match time distributions, and maybe next year, New Japan will present more of these matches that burn hotter shorter than a bunch of bouts that go 15 minutes at least.

BETRAYAL - I knew it was coming. I saw the gifs and all the takes and people saying how they were moved to tears that Katsuyori Shibata did some moves and took some moves for the first time since 2017 when he nearly died after his dehydrated ass gave Okada a headbutt that was a little too much shoot for his body's liking. I was braced. And yet when he came running from the back, giving KENTA the business after he turned his back on Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI to join Bullet Club, hearing the roar of the Budokan crowd, watching him nail that stalling corner dropkick, I felt the flood of emotion too. Watching him fight off the Guerrillas and Fale and hit the dab on KENTA, it felt real. It felt like he was almost back. And then Jado hit him with a cane, and everyone wailed on him, and I knew that it was only a matter of time. Going through the G1 and watching not only KENTA but Hirooki Goto and hearing Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero (who were excellent in the booth, by the by) talk about Shibata so much held purpose, and even I, a casual viewer of New Japan before recently, felt something when KENTA betrayed him. I think that's why, for all the faults of Gedo's booking, that he gets praise more often than other guys in big corporate positions.

Your Top Ten Matches - Okay, so out of 91 matches, I feel these are the ones that are most worth watching, in chronological order:
  • Juice Robinson vs. Shingo Takagi
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
  • Jon Moxley vs. Tomohiro Ishii
  • Jon Moxley vs. Shingo Takagi
  • Jon Moxley vs. Tetsuya Naito
  • Toru Yano vs. Jon Moxley
  • Sanada vs. Kazuchika Okada
  • Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
  • Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. KENTA
  • Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Also, it wasn't a tournament match, but Zack Sabre, Jr. and Minoru Suzuki vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada from right before the G1 final was one of the best tag matches I've seen this year. Suzuki and ZSJ work so well as a team, both on double team moves and in terms of keeping match flow alive when they tag in and out. Okada was in a tag match, so a lot of his tendencies towards excess were curbed, and Tanahashi has become such a delight now that he's an Old Man Wrestler. I still need to see him vs. John Cena before the world ends from climate catastrophe.

Where does New Japan go from here? Well, it has shows abroad in August. The Super J-Cup will take place over three days from August 23-25 on the West Coast. Participating in this tournament will be the usual suspects as well as guys like Jonathan Gresham, The Amazing Red, and, ugh, I guess TJP. Meanwhile, the heavyweights will head to England on August 31 for Royal Quest. Okada will defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Suzuki, while Sabre puts his British Heavyweight Championship up against Tanahashi. However, if you aren't lucky enough to be in those areas or have tickets for them, well, you'll have to wait until September to watch them on New Japan World.