|Two titans of the industry did great battle in Fukuoka|
Photo Credit: NJPW1972.com
The Picture So Far - Both Jon Moxley and Kazuchika Okada suffered their first defeats in the tournament over the last week. Okada only dropped one match, to Sanada, with ten seconds left on the clock. The match didn't feel like a half-hour except for the few parts where they were laying about in a blatant attempt to get close to the time limit. I get why they did it; I just wish they had gone another route. Still, it was the most compelling match Sanada has had the whole tournament. He's so weird. He can go from match-of-the-night stuff one night to being a total stinker the next. Still though, while he's eliminated from contention, he opened things up in A-block for a few wrestlers, namely Kota Ibushi and EVIL.
As it turns out, Okada faces off against both EVIL and Ibushi to close his tournament out. Ibushi can win the tournament if he wins both matches, the other being against Zack Sabre, Jr. Should Ibushi lose vs. ZSJ (and only to ZSJ, if Okada beats him, EVIL is out) but beats Okada, then EVIL can win if he wins out. His finale match is against Lance Archer. Now, if Okada, EVIL, and KENTA all finish with the same amount of losses, I have no clue how they solve that tiebreaker seeing as how KENTA beat EVIL, who would have beaten Okada, who already beat KENTA. I'm going to trust that Gedo's head would have legit steam coming out of it if he tried booking that scenario though.
After the events of the last two B-Block shows, that slate is far more wide open. Moxley still leads the pack with only two losses and ten points, but four wrestlers are in striking distance at eight points: Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Jay White, and Tetsuya Naito. Of the four, Ishii and Goto feel like they're playing to lose. It would be nice to see either one make it, as they're both my kind of wrestler. Goto is a fatherly-looking man who hits hard, has a dope finisher, and has been treated below his grade in booking. Ishii, meanwhile, is a sentient bowling ball. Still, as much as I'd love to see either guy win the block, they feel like longshots. My gut feeling has two directions in which it might travel.
The pessimist in me says it'll be Jay White, who opened his tournament with three straight losses against his former CHAOS stablemates but has reeled off four straight wins to get to eight points. New Japan seems to love him, which is fine because he gets big heel heat without any tricks. That being said, do I really want to see a middling-at-best worker headline the Dome? It's not really up to me, but I don't. The optimist says this is the year they pull the trigger on Naito at the Dome. Whether he wins the B-Block and the tournament, or just wins the block, presumably loses to Okada in the final, and then has Okada hand-select him as an opponent, it feels like the right story.
Of course, they could always have Mox win one or both of his last two matches and face Okada in the final, but that feels not really in their playbook. Besides, with All Elite Wrestling starting in earnest in October, the opportunities to have him for long tours grow smaller and smaller. This year might be the only year Mox is in New Japan enough to do the G1. Put a gun to my head though, and I'm saying it's Okada vs. the Knife Pervert in the final. I hope I'm wrong on the latter.
Clash of the Titans - So Mox lost both his matches this past week, but in the first one, he and Toru Yano perhaps had the greatest comedic match in wrestling history. People assuming that Mox wasn't going to indulge sillier impulses because he was free from WWE misunderstand the nature of his departure. It's not that Moxley didn't want to do comedy. He didn't want to do Vince McMahon's comedy, a genre that appeals to him and his sycophants. Yano's brand of hijinks is far purer and more relatable, and as Dean Ambrose, Mox still took shit that McMahon gave him and gave a glimmer of his potential. It should have been expected that this match would have been enjoyable, but you had to let it play out. Anyway, the match itself was physical comedy done on a level of Chris Farley, and the finish of taping Mox's legs together was brilliant. It probably won't be remembered as Mox's best match in the tournament, but it really should get some consideration. As an aside, it's going to be hilarious to see Ibushi or Okada break two hours in total match time while Yano will probably top out at like 50 minutes. That isn't an indictment of the former two, by the way. It's just indicative that the G1 Climax can be, and should be, filled with varying styles of wrestlers up and down the slate.
Coming Up - So, the next four shows are going to be tense. I have a feeling that Okada will win at least one match, probably against EVIL, and give himself a shot to win the block. Will they allow the "first Champion to win the G1 since 2000" entry into the last match? I feel like Ibushi is almost a lock to beat him, but I could see ZSJ playing spoiler, clinching the block win for the Champion. That being said, both Okada matches might end up being must-see. As for the rest of A-block, the other match I'm really looking forward to is ZSJ/KENTA. That match should be fun if just to see how rusty KENTA is at reversing grapples.
B-Block looks like it should finish strong regardless of results, even if those results are looking cloudier and more exciting by the day. Night 16 sees Goto taking on Moxley, which aside from having major implications on who wins the block should be a stunningly good match. Shingo Takagi vs. Ishii should be great for fans of hard-hitting, stiff-looking matches. While Takagi is a junior heavyweight, the narrative going in the G1 is that he hits as hard as guys in the weight class above him. Ishii will be THE major test to see if he can hang with the big boys. The sleeper match for that show will be Yano taking on Taichi. If Yano is King Jester of New Japan, Taichi is his hand, at least in this block. They might have a match that surpasses the Moxley one. As for Night 18, the matches to watch will be Moxley vs. Juice Robinson, a rematch from the former's first in the company. Robinson has upped the mustard behind his strikes, and he's been advertising himself as a new man since that match. The personal stakes might up the ante a little more. Also, I'd be on the watch for Goto/Takagi, as that will be a hard-hitting test for the latter in the vein of his Ishii match.
I will be camping with my son Thursday through Sunday, so I'll miss watching at least two if not three of the four G1 shows the day they happen. The Collect might have to come on Tuesday or Wednesday to include the final card as well. No matter how or when you watch, enjoy the stretch run of this year's tournament!