Saturday, July 2, 2016
Recently, I went back and reviewed the entire G1 Climax 24, which I ended up considering the greatest tournament I had ever seen and the G1 Climax 23. Now, I’m going to review the follow up tournament. In 2014, there were 22 participants but it is narrowed down to 20 this time around. Out are Suzuki-Gun members Minoru Suzuki, Shelton X Benjamin, Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr., and in their place we get Kota Ibushi and ROH’s Michael Elgin. I watched the G1 when it aired but don’t remember all of it vividly, so it’ll be a good look back.
Also, I’ll be combining nights during the tournament. During previous years, the G1 shows would be all tournament related matches. This time around, to give guys more rest, the shows were split. The first half of the cards featured one block involved in multi-man matches so they can take a bit of a break, while the second half would see the other block compete in their tournament matches. For the sake of this review, I will only be covering the actual G1 matches and not the other stuff. I’ll be alternating matches too, giving you one from Block A on one night, followed by one from Block B on another night.
In the A Block you have AJ Styles, Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Katsuyori Shibata, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito, Togi Makabe and Toru Yano.
The B Block features Hirooki Goto, Karl Anderson, Kazuchika Okada, Michael Elgin, Satoshi Kojima, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomoaki Honma, Tomohiro Ishii, Yuji Nagata and Yujiro Takahashi.
Not the most exciting way to get things going. Tenzan holds the NWA Heavyweight Title here. They battled power early on with the crowd firmly behind Tenzan and his legendary mullet. Gallows choked Tenzan with the gallows he brings to the ring. I don’t think I’ve seen him do that any other time. With that, he took over and did some of his typical offense on Tenzan. As usual, none of it is really groundbreaking stuff. Tenzan started to rally and got a near fall on his spinning heel kick. He doesn’t get much height on it, looking like a Viscera one. Tenzan eventually applied the Anaconda Vice. Gallows tried to fight out but ended up tapping out.
Considering how incredible the G1 Climax 24 was, I felt like this needed to get off to a better start. The crowd was hot due to their love for Tenzan, but it was sluggish and felt like it went longer than it actually did.
Switching over to night two, things are slightly different. This show was shot on a single camera with no commentary and really felt like a house show. Despite this, I came into this match with much higher hopes than I did for the night one opener. These two met in both of the previous G1’s, getting scores of ***¾ and ****. Right from the start, they just slugged it out like real men. Even though it slowed a bit after the hot start, it still featured tons of hard hitting stuff, which I’ve grown to love. Without the commentary, I could clearly hear a kid yelling “Ishii” over and over in a high pitched voice. They blocked each other’s lariats at one point, which was pretty cool. Ishii picked up the two points with the Brainbuster.
Night two got a much better opening contest. I’ve become a fan of hard hitting slugfests, so this was right up my alley. I don’t think it was quite as good as their G1 23 or 24 matches though. Still, this was strong.
Togi Makabe is the reigning NEVER Openweight Champion. He’s Toru Yano, so of course he tried for an early rollup. When that failed, we got classic Yano “BREAK” shouts. The fight spilled through the crowd and featured your typical Yano spots. Makabe withstood all of those things, including a low blow to finish off Yano with a Death Valley Driver and King Kong Knee Drop.
Even though he’s far from a great wrestler, there’s something about Toru Yano that works for me. He’s highly entertaining most of the time. Here, it was a decent enough paint by number Yano match.
In last year’s tournament Takahashi had the NEVER Title. This time around, he is beltless, but Goto holds the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Takahashi, who had Cody Hall at ringside with him, was all about trying to find any possible way to steal two points. Unfortunately, outside of a few chants from the crowd, they were mostly dead for all of this. Surprisingly, Takahashi was in control for a good portion of the match, which isn’t a good thing. Even when Goto looked like he was going to rally, Takahashi was ready with a stun gun, not to be confused with his fellow Bullet Club member’s Gun Stun. Eventually, Goto went into a flurry and won with Shouten Kai.
Anything over ten minutes is usually not good when it comes to Yujiro Takahashi. He tried to get heat but he’s just so dull that nobody cared. I wish Tama Tonga or someone else got the spot in the tournament. Too long.
If memory serves me right, this was the debut of Naito’s suit/mask entrance attire. He’s a dick to Fale early, who retaliated with his power game. They teased a countout, but even with him beating the count, Naito still acted like he couldn’t care less about anything. It basically boiled down to Fale using his strength, while Naito showcases his new heel persona with only flashes of his old, fast paced self. Fale looked on the verge of victory but Naito hit an enziguri and atomic drop before rolling him up with a flash pin.
Their styles just did not click in this one. I don’t say this often, but I feel that face Naito would have been a better fit here. He could have played the plucky underdog. Instead, two heels went at it in a match that never really worked.
When I originally watched this tournament, I wasn’t fully into either guy but they’ve really grown on me. For the first minute or so, the lights around the entrance stayed on and pretty much blinded me. Honma made his G1 debut the previous year and proceeded to go winless in the tournament. However, the crowd adores him and they were more into him and this match than anything else so far. For the first time on both nights, this actually felt important. They had some great back and forth action throughout. Nagata hit a big exploder into the corner, which bought him time and stopped Honma’s rally. The fans were relentless with their “Honma” chants. He tried for the Kokeshi numerous times, but kept failing. Nagata then put him down with two Backdrop Drivers.
That was pretty damn fun. The crowd is always alive for Honma matches and that was the case here. The story of Honma being so desperate for a G1 win that he kept going for Kokeshi really worked. So far, night two has the upper hand.
For reference, this match came in at #30 in my “Top 100 matches of 2015” list. Also, these two topped my list of best performers in the G1 Climax 24. Shibata entered the match with a legitimate hand injury. AJ didn’t go after it, making me think that it was really seriously hurt. They wisely found a way around it as Shibata kicked AJ all around at the start. To stop that, AJ focused his attack on the leg instead. It helped that his Calf Killer submission had been pretty well established up to this point. They did a good job of teasing the Calf Killer as the finish too. In the match’s most infamous moment, Shibata had a sleeper hold on Styles, who was close to breaking it. Shibata’s hand was so banged up that he chose to bite down on his good hand to keep the grip, rather than let it go. It was one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen and another reason why I love Shibata. He would miss the Penalty Kick, opening the door for Styles to hit Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash to win.
This still completely holds up. Not only is it a great match, it’s quite possibly the smartest worked one in the entire tournament. Hell, maybe even all of 2015. They worked around the hand injury in a brilliant way, gave both guys a ton of offense and had the crowd in the palm of their hands. While there were better matches in 2015, this is top five in terms of personal favorites.
Okada is the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, while this is Elgin’s NJPW debut. Many people groaned when Elgin was announced for the G1 as he fell way out of favor with fans in the States. However, working in Japan has always been his dream. They used this as a great way to introduce Elgin to the Japanese crowd. He got to strut his stuff and do his powerful offense, which the fans ate up. They honestly seemed wowed by his ability to use strength while also adding in some athleticism. That kid that kept shouting “Ishii” in a high pitched voice did the same for Okada here. Elgin’s stalling vertical and top rope falcon arrow got over well but it was never enough to keep the champion down. Okada made his comeback, though they teased Elgin countering the Tombstone, complete with dropkick, elbow and Rainmaker pose. He would hit the Rainmaker and earn victory.
Pretty much the perfect debut for Michael Elgin. While he didn’t go over the champion, he looked like a beast and hit Okada with everything he had. Okada gave him a ton to allow him to shine before rallying and winning. A great job from both guys.
Okay, I know I said I would be alternating but the Block A main event felt like the bigger match so I’m gonna watch it last instead. I’ll be doing that with future shows too. Sue me. Anderson, like Gallows earlier, is one half of the Tag Team Champions. Surprisingly, Nakamura wasn’t as popular as I expected him to be. He usually is in most places but not here. I mean, that kid keep going “Shinsuke” all match long but that’s about it. To me, this felt like two guys that were kind of on cruise control. While in that mode, both guys are good enough to have a good match, but it never got near great territory. Nakamura survived two Gun Stuns but a third proved to be too much, giving us the first real upset so far.
Considering the effort level and the crowd reaction, this may have gone on a bit too long. Something just never clicked the way that it should have. I felt like I was watching two guys have a good match, when they had potential for more. They’d prove that as their IC Title match later in the year was much better.
Like Shibata/Styles earlier, this also made my “Top 100 Matches of 2015” list, coming in at #37. I had a friend make a pretty cool comparison about this match. When asked to compare these guys to WWE performers, he said Tanahashi is like John Cena, while Ibushi is similar to Cesaro, being a freak athlete. Much like matches between Cena and Cesaro, this was great. In typical Tanahashi form, he went after the leg with multiple dragon screws. It made more sense than usual here given Ibushi’s affinity to take to the air. Ibushi sold it well for a while but eventually forgot about it in order to hit a lot of his big offense, including his glorious dead lift German suplex. Tanahashi had spent most of the year taking it easy, but turned it up for the opening night of the G1 Climax. He hit High Fly Flow to earn his first two points.
A damn good main event. Something about Tanahashi just feels right in the main event slot and he always delivers in big matches. The G1 23 was a bit of a coming out party for Ibushi, which he followed up with a five star match at the start of 2015 against Shinsuke Nakamura. Here, he looked like a star again. With better selling of the leg from him, this would rank much higher. Still, it featured a hot crowd, great back and forth and some drama down the stretch.
Overall: When looking at the blocks separately, Block A would win in this set. While B Block was more consistent, the final two matches on the other side were fantastic. I mean, two top 40 matches of the year on one night is pretty great. The single camera setup for B Block was unfortunately pretty rough. There were some downs here, especially in the early A Block matches, but the highs outweigh the lows for me, making this a good start for the G1 Climax 25.