FAVORITE MATCH – Day 15: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Hands down, Ishii needs to be in the discussion for A Block MVP. He put on yet another fantastic bout and really set the tone for what to expect Friday. It was a physical back and forth bout that nobody could have predicted the finish. Logic prevailed that Ishii was in line for a win because it would keep alive most of the A Block alive to possibly advance, while Tanahashi winning would have set up a de facto semifinal bout with Tetsuya Naito. Ishii’s selling combined with the high-stakes nature of the bout really elevated this match to one of the better bouts in the past week. Another must-watch match.
FAVORITE MATCH – DAY 16: Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada
It’s easily Suzuki’s best match of the tournament. It’s also another chapter in the Okada taking infinite damage. The storytelling of this match is more about Okada. He’s facing the crazy old coot late in the tournament after he’s taken the best from everyone in the block and is coming off of a loss. The draw was a surprising result, but it set up a way to show Okada is breaking down without actually having him lose to Suzuki. Is it better than their match earlier this year? That’s for you to decide.
KEEP IT SIMPLE: It feels like Gedo wanted to simply the final two days to make it easy to track. In years past, the final block days would feature convoluted scenarios that would make fans’ heads spin. Not this year, however. Whether it’s the amount of new fans or just wanting to break a trend, Friday and Saturday will feature four relatively meaningless block matches and a semifinals. Once again, Gedo is the smartest guy in the room.
A BLOCK SEMIFINAL – NAITO VS. TANAHASHI III: What happens when you get a banged up Tanahashi vs. Naito who has masterfully kept himself in shape throughout the tournament? Fans will find out, as that’s one of the main story entering this match.
From Naito’s perspective, he needs to win this match, even more so than Wrestle Kingdom and Dominion. Naito did not care about winning or losing the IWGP Intercontinental title and his half-effort tap out at Dominion displayed that. Naito wanted to win the match at Wrestle Kingdom, not for the title, but rather to bury Tanahashi once and for all. He didn’t full accomplish that goal, but winning here allows him to establish himself clearly on a level above Tanahashi, which is the ultimate storyline between the two. All his career, Naito has been challenged to be Tanahashi and take his place. When those expectations weren’t met, Naito became bitter, needing time in Mexico to realize his own personal worth. He found that, but to validate it, requires beating Tanahashi in a match that matters more than a title. He wants that Wrestle Kingdom main event. Tanahashi represents everything that has prevents him from everything he wants to be: a top star and a Wrestle Kingdom main eventer. Beating Tanahashi again in a high-profile G-1 match means he’s surpassed the man he was supposed to supplant, while putting himself one step closer to what he ultimately covets and the thing that turned him tranquilo.
As for Tanahashi, it’s a long arduous road back to the top. The injuries have piled up, but “the One in 100 Ace” remains one of NJPW’s top stars. This is his chance to show the fans that he still can go. He will be fighting a stacked deck. His arm is hurt. His knee is hurt. His neck is hurt, and against the methodical Naito, this is dangerous. Winning means Tanahashi is one step closer to main eventing Wrestle Kingdom once again, returning to his spot as the NJPW ace in the face of the younger stars: Naito, Omega, Okada. Tanahashi doesn’t necessarily need this win to validate anything in terms of his career. He needs to win this match to prove to himself that he’s still one NJPW’s most feared warriors.
B BLOCK SEMIFINAL – OMEGA VS. OKADA III: Similar to Naito vs. Tanahashi, one man will enter with the idea of being fresh by G-1 Climax standards, while the other one is banged up.
Opponents throughout the year pushed Okada to his limits throughout his matches. Even the matches considered to be “easy,” such as Toru Yano, caused Okada to work hard. It was as if his overexcitement prior to his matches was more an attempt to hype up his own energy levels rather than the fans. It reeks of a man desperate to find energy or show he has energy to maintain a facade of someone not breaking down. The facade faded after the EVIL loss, as Okada entered his bout with Suzuki noticeably not as hyped. It’s as if EVIL ripped off that mask, revealing a man who met his own mortality and saw what could be his demise again in Suzuki. While a win would have been ideal in Okada’s mind, accepting a draw means he has an out. An out that will play a vital role in his match with archnemesis Omega. Okada understands that you can remain being the best by not losing. He can’t lose again in his mind, so expect him to draw out his match closer to 30 minutes.
Omega, on the other hand, will not hit both of his goals for this G-1, but he can fulfill one of them: beat Okada. To advance to the finals, Omega will have to do so. A draw will not cut it, and it’s a simple throw to last year’s B Block situation where Omega had to beat Naito to advance. Unlike Naito, however, Okada will be more difficult to defeat, as 60-minutes wasn’t enough time to do so at Dominion. Omega will be fighting two opponents on Saturday: the NJPW ace and the clock. That’s where the drama will be. That’s where the story will be told. The match itself may not live to the psycho-levels of intensity of the first two bouts, but storywise, this match is on par. Out of the two semfinals, this one enters with a far more compelling story because it’s not filled with years of backstory.
FINALS POTENTIAL PAIRINGS: Ranking the potential finals pairings goes as follows:
1. Naito vs. Omega
Easily the potential best final for storytelling purposes: both men want to get back – or get a – Wrestle Kingdom main event. It’s a throwback to last year’s B Block final. It’s also a match that doesn’t require a title shot for Naito. He doesn’t care about the U.S. title, so the title isn’t even part of the equation.
2. Tanahashi vs. Omega
This is the next interesting scenario because these two haven’t met since Omega defeated Tanahashi for the IC title early in 2016. It’s fresh match and allows Omega to complete this unique trio: beat Okada, Naito and Tanahashi all in a span of one year.
3. Tanahashi vs. Okada
Last year’s draw on the final day was the last time fans saw these two go to war. This would be another fantastic match and would lead to an interesting scenario: who gets the Wrestle Kingdom main event? As Tanahashi could pull rank and say he wants the main event instead of the title shot at Okada.
4. Naito vs. Okada
This one, while fresh, would be bad. Okada gets to pick his Wrestle Kingdom challenger, while if Naito wins, then a rematch at Wrestle Kingdom means the two fight a mere six months after meeting in this final. For terms of freshness and story, this is the worst outcome in terms of longterm planning, but it will be fantastic nonetheless.
ENJOYMENT RATING FOR DAY 15: B
ENJOYMENT RATING FOR DAY 16: B
G-1 27 DAY BY DAY RECAPS AND GRADES:
Day 1 (Grade: A)
Day 2 (Grade: B)
Day 3 (Grade: A-)
Day 4 (Grade: C+)
Day 5 (Grade: B+)
Day 6 (Grade B+)
Day 7 (Grade C)
Day 8 (Grade A)
Day 9 (Grade B+)
Day 10 (Grade C-)
Day 11 (Grade C)
Day 12 (Grade B-)
Day 13 (Grade B-)
Day 14 (Grade B+)