It’s my favorite time of the year: G-1 Climax season. Nineteen cards over a month-long span filled with nights where I don’t sleep until 5 a.m. It officially kicked off Sunday, and in celebration, I plan on doing recaps of every card.
Think like the “March to ‘Mania” series, except I don’t have to navigate through 29 Wrestlemanias, spanning three decades.
Anyway, here’s my thoughts on Day 1.
G-1 CLIMAX 27 – BLOCK A – DAY 1 (Results)
Date: July 17, 2017
Arena: Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
FAVORITE MATCH: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi
Oh. Em. Gee. Full disclosure: I love Tetsuya Naito. I’ve always loved him, even when he was blander than vanilla ice cream at Baskin Robins. His ability to put together a match always impresses me. His subtle tweaks to his moveset to adapt to whatever story he’s telling is perfect. I also love Ibushi. Mainly because he turned down the WWE and the destiny of 205 Live for a chance to chase his creative endeavors. It also helps that he’s able to work any style of match to perfection.
These two put on a match that left me yelling at my TV in shock. I even put on Twitter that I hope Naito doesn’t die from the spots he was taking: piledriver from the second rope and being thrown like a dart into the corner. It had everything you want in a great match: sense of danger, high level drama, nuanced psychology, and excellent selling from both men.
The thing that makes this match great, however, is that it can be shown to a fan who knows little about NJPW. Explain the rules of the G-1 (two points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 for a loss) and let them watch. You feel urgency in both of these men when they’re performing. You feel that both men want to win this match and the stakes are real. Compared to the WWE, where you will get a singles match a minimum of five times in an eight-week time span, singles matches in New Japan are special. This was easy to follow at the elementary level: It’s the main event of the first day of this tournament and every point matters. You sensed that urgency. You felt the stakes. It’s why this match was so great.
SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE: The G-1 has a few traditions it seems: Tanahashi losing to a guy making his G-1 debut and Bad Luck Fale just outright winning.
Both took place on Day 1.
When the cards were announced, it took me less than a second to think, “Oh, Tanahashi is losing to Zack Sabre Jr. on Day 1.” Gedo has a tendency to establish threats and identities for the workers on the first day. Zack Sabre got that in a key spot this year. It was all too perfect, honestly. Sabre is a submission wizard and one of the best technical wrestlers in the world, and Tanahashi is nursing an injured arm. I don’t know if you could book this any more clearly. Add in the fact that Tanahashi doesn’t have a clear-cut challenge for his newly minted IWGP Intercontinental title, it was also the perfect spot to create a challenger for him, too. The match itself delivered with both men doing what they do best – Tanahashi working his NJPW entertainer style, while Sabre flashed his technical mastery. When it was all said and done with Sabre submitting Tanahashi, Sabre established himself as a scary opponent in a different sense from the hard-hitting brawlers Hiroki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii, the elite guys like Ibushi, Naito and Tanahashi, the size of Fale, the experience of Yuji Nagata and Togi Makabe, and the plucky spirit of YOSHI-HASHI. Sabre’s presence creates this question every time someone steps into the ring with him in this tournament: Is it worth it to fight through this submission for the two points, or can I just submit and find two points elsewhere?
As for Bad Luck Fale, what if I told you that he has never had a G-1 Climax with less than 10 points? Yup. He’s one of the more consistent winners in the G-1. If you need evidence of how strongly he’s been booked, he has a win of NOAH ace Naomichi Marufuji in the G-1. Bad Luck Fale is someone who will win matches and keep your favorite wrestler out of the finals. That’s just what he does.
Also, Goto and Ishii beat the crap out of each other again. What else is new?
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU, NAGATA?: Quick thought on the YOSHI-HASHI-Nagata match, a majority of people thought Nagata was going to secure a win over the scrappy, but still prone to singles match losses YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI won, leaving fans wondering: “What kind of G-1 will Nagata have?” Based on how Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Jushin Thunder Liger were booked in their farewell tournaments, Nagata will get a win or two, but it seems like he may not factor on the final day. It’s a shame, really. Sometimes, feel good stories should work their way into booking decisions.
WACKY FUN: I saw a few matches that stood out when I saw the Day full card revealed, mainly the internal battles between Los Ingobernables and CHAOS. Both matches delivered in their own quirky ways.
It’s clear that LIJ has chemistry. The opening sequence immediately set the tone with every member teasing his finish in the first 30 seconds of the match. It was a near seven-minute sprint that set the table for Thursday’s EVIL vs. SANADA encounter with Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI acting as active seconds. The four guys are all capable workers who put together a fine match, but the novelty is what makes this match special. It also makes a case as to why Los Ingobernables de Japon are one of the hottest, if not the best, stables in NJPW – though Bullet Club fans will likely disagree.
The CHAOS match (Kazuchika Okada/Gedo vs. Toru Yano/Jado) was goofy with one of the greatest junior heavyweight tag teams finding themselves on the opposite side of the ledger. Once again, chemistry contributes a lot to the in-ring story. You have three of the best at breaking the rules and Okada, who is one of the best in the world. The match featured comedic moments, which is to be expected when the name Toru Yano is involved. Probably the bigger underlying story in this match was none of the other three really want to hurt or see Okada hurt because, for all intents and purposes, he makes the group money. He makes the money needed to produce Yano’s crazy DVDs, keeps NJPW floating, which in turn gives Jado and Gedo jobs. This was a fine comedic spot before intermission.
Additionally, the six-man between Suzuki-Gun and Bullet Club was another fun match. Bullet Club got to play the sympathetic babyface group for once against the sadistic nature of Suzuki-Gun. I won’t go into too many details because it’s your standard six-man affair to build to a match later in the week. If anything it’s worth watching for a small preview of how Kenny Omega works with Minoru Suzuki in anticipation of their bout Thursday.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Buckle in, boys and girls, this is going to be good. Naturally, we have to hope that everyone stays healthy. If that happens, this G-1 has the potential to be one of the best ever in terms of match quality. We have been fortunate to see so many high-quality matches this year from New Japan Pro Wrestling. In terms of ring work, NJPW is on another level at the moment.
MY ENJOYMENT RATING: A