A BLOCK SEMIFINAL – HIROSHI TANAHASHI VS. TETSUYA NAITO
It’s crazy to believe that these two men had a trilogy this year and that each one will be considered for match of the year. Naito and Tanahashi capped off their year-long feud with another outstanding match that displayed their storied dynamic: Naito resents Tanahashi as the symbol of NJPW’s favoritism. It revolved around Naito’s character of only fighting and trying when it matters to him. The first match mattered to Naito. In his mind, if he beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, he could have ended the Ace era. He was wrong, setting up a rematch at Dominion. Naito truly didn’t care about this match, however. He mentioned relinquishing the IC title if he won, meaning it wasn’t important to him. Naturally, when he was trapped in a submission and couldn’t get out, he gave up. He tapped out to the Texas Cloverleaf meekly as if to say, “I don’t want this belt anyway, so I’m not going to fight you for it.” Naito and Tanahashi revisited their classics from earlier in the year, setting up the exact same finishing sequence from Dominion. Instead of tapping, Naito fought and caught a rope break, setting off a frantic dash to the finish that saw Naito drop Tanahashi with Destino to advance to the final. Easily their best match of the three and capped off a yearlong struggle between the two.
ENTERTAINMENT RATING: A-
B BLOCK SEMIFINAL: KENNY OMEGA VS. KAZUCHIKA OKADA
Omega HAD to beat Okada to get to the final. He didn’t have a choice. Okada advances with anything but a loss. The match started off quick and frantic, as the two squeezed in everything for a 25-minute sprint that displayed everything great about the two men. For Okada, it was a match of desperation. He lost to EVIL and drew Minoru Suzuki. He didn’t go undefeated and saw his belt on par with the NEVER Openweight crown. He wanted to keep one of his promises – to show Okada is “awesome” to the world by beating Omega. He failed, this time falling to his archrival after suffering brutal attacks to the neck to set up the One-Winged Angel. For Omega, his tights made the bigger story. He mentioned before the tournament two goals: beat Okada and face Kota Ibushi in the final. Omega couldn’t face Ibushi in the final, but his tights combined their two worlds. It’s setting up the forbidden match between the former Golden Lovers. It’s hard to imagine where this match places in the Omega-Okada trilogy. Some place it as the best, while others will place it last. Suggestion: Watch this one again after watching the first two bouts to really get a good gauge. The story, like Tanahashi-Naito, transfers and elevates the match because of their history. The feud between Okada and Omega will be placed on hold for the time being, however, these two men will see each other again. They can’t just finish 1-1-1, can they? Of course not.
ENTERTAINMENT RATING: A
G-1 CLIMAX 27 FINALS: TETSUYA NAITO VS. KENNY OMEGA
2017 is filled with fantastic matches with many taking over top spots on people’s all-time list. For me, this match is officially atop of the rankings, topping Rock vs. Austin 2 from Wrestlemania 17. This match featured everything: high stakes, dramatic storytelling, ridiculous risk taking, convincing selling, a hot crowd, and unpredictable result. Naito and Omega executed a perfect match, playing the crowd to a rising crescendo that saw Naito hit three variations of Destino to beat Omega. The match went nearly 37 minutes and it did not feel like it. It was the absolute perfect way to end a tournament filled with 4- and 5-star matches and displays once again why NJPW is having an amazing in-ring year.
Naito’s victory pays off a four-year story arc that wouldn’t have been possible had Naito not discovered his “tranquilo” self. Four years ago, Naito won the G-1 in the same building and was booed, booted out of the Wrestle Kingdom main event and left for dead by the fans. Fast foward to 2017, fans adore him despite being a disrespectful human. Throughout the match, they cheered his name. They wanted him to headline Wrestle Kingdom and popped massively when the Red Shoes counted three to secure his second G-1 title. Naito will likely headline Wrestle Kingdom and no fan vote will take this away from him. He’s finally accomplished what NJPW wanted for him: be a top star, the Stardust Genius. The post-match meeting with Masahiro Chono also meant something. Chono was the original cool anti-authority figure in NJPW. So by raising his fist in the air and touching it with Naito, it was Chono’s way of passing on the mantle to him. It’s strange. Nobody would have expected Naito to be this generation’s Chono, but it happened and now he will try and do something that Chono never could do: win the IWGP title for a second time.
As for Omega, it’s another set of stars in the Omega Galaxy. The WWE may have a universe, but it’s Omega that has all of the brightest stars. Fans wanted Omega to win again to set up a fourth match with Okada and nobody could blame them. But there’s one match that people want more than another match with Okada. It’s Ibushi vs. Omega. So will Ibushi and Omega finally meet at Wrestle Kingdom? The loss in the G-1 Final opens the door for it.
ENTERTAINMENT RATING: A+
SALUTE NAGATA: Yuji Nagata’s farewell G-1 Climax ended perfectly – with a loss to Bad Luck Fale. Nagata put on nine fantastic matches in his last apperance in the Summer Classic, but each one provided amazing moments that leave fans reliving the Blue Justice glory days. It’s fitting that his final match pitted him against Fale. Fale came to the dojo and was a member of Nagata’s short-lived Blue Justice stable. Nagata trained Fale and helped him become the worker he is today. For Fale to beat Nagata in his final match fits. It’s officially when student surpassed the master, evidenced by the salute at the end of the match. That moment brought chills down fans’ spines and tears to eyes.
There is no doubting Nagata’s role in NJPW’s history. The company pegged him to be the ace when NJPW was mired in an identity crisis. He fought in MMA matches despite being overmatched by Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko. He broke Shinya Hashimoto’s hallowed IWGP Heavyweight title defense record (a record Tanahashi would break later) and kept NJPW steady while the younger generation grew up. Nagata was everything NJPW needed in its most dire situation, so to see him walk into the “NJPW Dad” role is both sad and strangely satisfying.
DELOS’ MVP: KOTA IBUSHI
Kota Ibushi beat out Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada for G-1 Climax 27 MVP. All three were fantastic, but it was Ibushi that truly rose to the occasion displaying a unique verstality that makes him one of the world’s premier workers. Night in and night out in his league matches, Ibushi’s matches were always in consideration for match of the night. Rarely did Ibushi and his opponent craft matches that felt similar to another.
Okada put on a fine G-1 performance, selling like a champion and elevating talent throughout. He told his story effectively as a confident champion faced with own mortality and his loss to Omega capped off their story relatively well for the time being.
Ishii’s title of Mr. Consistency put him in the running. Here’s the thing of Ishii’s matches: His selling is on point, and his matches, despite sometimes keeping a simple story are always intense and captivating bouts that allow him to really shine.
DELOS’ BREAKOUT PERFORMER: EVIL
EVIL hands down was the breakout star of the tournament. He picked up the biggest wins – Minoru Suzuki and Okada – and put himself firmly into the upper midcard. There are questions about his durability as he was knocked out in his match against Omega, but EVIL proved in the G-1 that he is ready to put himself in the upper echelon. Part of me thinks that this was supposed to be Katsuyori Shibata’s push, but Shibata – as evidenced by his return bringing men and women to tears – will be just fine without this breakout G-1.
Juice Robinson and SANADA were also considered for this award.
WRESTLER ENTERTAINMENT GRADES
1. Hiroshi Tanahashi – B+
The “Ace” worked through a bicep injury and had a fine tournament. Man needs a break, though.
2. Togi Makabe – C+
It’s Makabe. He’ll get his wins and put on decent to good matches. He’s to fill out the tournament and get eight points. Think, this could be Yujiro and I don’t think anyone would want that.
3. Michael Elgin – B-
Elgin’s stock rose despite not beating Okada. The question, though, is where does NJPW go with him? This G-1 didn’t really define his next path.
4. Kazuchika Okada – A-
The best wrestler in the world elevated every single one of his opponents. Crazy to think he’s still not 30.
5. Hirooki Goto – B-
A fine year for Goto, but it wasn’t special to write about.
6. Tomohiro Ishii – A
He beat up people. That’s good enough for him.
7. Toru Yano – C-
Good Yano is the Omega match; Bad Yano is the Elgin match.
8. YOSHI-HASHI – D+
Last year was a breakout. He failed to capture any magic this year.
9. Kenny Omega – B+
Has to be the frontrunner for wrestler of the year, but like Naito, had matches in the middle stages that were average by his high standards.
10. Bad Luck Fale – C
Fale got to 12 points. He did it again – beat people and kept them out of the finals.
11. Tama Tonga – D
Probably the biggest letdown. Tonga needed to find identity here. He found it late, but outside his matches with Omega and Elgin, it was a forgettable run.
12. Tetsuya Naito – B+
Strong G-1 for the champion, but his middle stages were a little average by Naito standards, which means they were absolutely fantastic for some.
13. SANADA – B-
SANADA screams next year is my time. He had good showings here and looked fantastic in losses.
14. EVIL – B
15. Satoshi Kojima – C
Should be his final G-1, but he may roll out one more time for a farewell tour a la Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yuji Nagata.
16. Yuji Nagata – B+
17. Juice Robinson – B
Outside of his snafu at the end of the tournament mentioning wanting to get drunk and have copious amounts of sex, Robinson elevated his stock in the tournament and validating his spot in NJPW.
18. Minoru Suzuki – B
At 49, he can still go. He’s crazy and fun. His matches in the G-1, though, were dragged down by aimless brawling starts.
19. Zack Sabre Jr. – B-
Sabre is a good worker, but as mentioned before, he needs to work opposite of someone who people will be sympathetic toward to bring in emotion when his matches lack them.
20. Kota Ibushi – A
G-1 CLIMAX 27 – TOP 10 MATCHES
1. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega
2. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada
3. Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
4. Michael Elgin vs. Kazuchika Okada
5. Kazuchika Okada vs. EVIL
6. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi
7. Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
8. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito
9. Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega
10. Juice Robinson vs. Kenny Omega
LOOKING AHEAD: DESTRUCTION TOUR
The Road to Wrestle Kingdom 12 begins! NJPW will take a well deserved break to allow guys to heal up for the 2017 stretch run. The next tour will be Destruction, meaning all of the G-1 loss revenge matches will take place. Omega will likely defend against Juice Robinson; Minoru Suzuki will take on Michael Elgin for the NEVER Openweight crown; Tanahashi looks to avenge a pair of submission losses to Zack Sabre Jr; Okada will look to keep his belt against EVIL, while Naito will face off against Ishii for the third time this year.
Shibata returned to the surprise of everyone, taking a bump and telling everyone that he is alive. For those who don’t know Shibata’s odd story, basically, he’s telling us he will return. If he’s alive and breathing, he will be fighting. Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr.) also returned, providing a shot in the arm to a stagnant tag division. Ryusuke Taguchi and Ricochet claimed IWGP Jr. Tag gold, but it’s only going to be a matter of time before the Young Bucks pick up reign No. 7. All of these things will be mentioned during Destruction. Also, a cryptic return promo aired, leaving fans wondering (It’s probably Jay White).
Following Destruction, NJPW will enter the World Tag League to start fleshing out the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card. It’s now time for NJPW to ramp up to Jan. 4.
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+)
Day 15 (Grade B)
Day 16 (Grade: B)