Tuesday, July 10, 2018

NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco Review

NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco
July 7th, 2018 | Cow Palace in San Francisco, California | Attendance: 6,333

After the success of last year’s G1 Special in USA and this year’s Strong Style Evolved, NJPW is back in the United States. There are five title matches listed for tonight, including the Bullet Club feud in the Heavyweight Title picture, and an already legendary rivalry in the Jr. Title match.

Chase Owens, The Guerrillas of Destiny, King Haku, and Yujiro Takahashi vs. Gedo, Rocky Romero, Roppongi 3K, and YOSHI-HASHI
MY GOD! THAT IS HAKU! He was at the top of the list of reasons I wanted to watch this show. AND HAKU STARTED THE MATCH! The Bullet Club were the clear favorites, as dull ass YOSHI-HASHI got booed when he dropkicked Haku. Other than Haku, Roppongi 3K were the only guys to really feel like they were working hard. Chase Owens was fine, too. The finish came when Gedo got tagged in, unsurprisingly. The booker man was near winning when he got put in the Tongan Death Grip! I popped. That set up a Gun Stun that ended this in 9:20. It was a fine NJPW multi-man tag opener, with nothing special going on. But, it had Haku, so it gets a small boost because I love that mad man. [**½]

Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
Suzuki had a strange cover of “Kaze Ni Nare.” The crowd still sang along. This was here to continue the Suzuki/Ishii rivalry. They went right at it from the opening bell, continuing their wars. Sabre and Yano had great interactions together. Yano’s wackiness makes for a great foil for serious dick heel Sabre. Their G1 match is probably going to be a ton of fun. Minoru’s the only guy not in the same block as everyone else. Obviously, Yano took the heat, getting torn apart by his vicious opponents. It came down to Sabre and Yano while the other two fought outside. Sabre blocked low blows twice, but took an Ishii lariat and Yano got the pin in 9:42. That was quite fun. Ishii/Suzuki was badass again, while Yano/Sabre was a blast. [***¼]

Hangman Page and Marty Scurll vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and KUSHIDA w/ Ryusuke Taguchi
A bit of a preview of the upcoming Page/Tanahashi G1 Climax match we’ll be getting. I’m surprised they brought Taguchi on this trip to have him not wrestle. After Marty and KUSHIDA reignited their ROH TV Title program, we got the Page/Tanahashi battle. They recently met in ROH, but I didn’t watch it because it’s ROH. Scurll and Page worked well together, to the point where ROH might want to consider making them a tag team. Page picked up the victory with the Rite of Passage on KUSHDA in 9:52 to gain momentum heading into the G1. This was a good little tag. The Bullet Club guys worked well together and it gave us a preview of stuff to come. [**¾]

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto [c] vs. Jeff Cobb
I like Jeff Cobb. He’s a good wrestler. But he’s kind of bland if he’s not Matanza. Meanwhile, Goto is a guy who is very good, yet NJPW have booked him into oblivion. He’s almost impossible to care about. When you see a match involving these guys, you expect something hard hitting. That’s mostly what we got here. It was interesting to see Goto working as a heel. He knew the crowd wasn’t going to be into him and he seemed to relish in it. Maybe they should consider turning him full on heel, because he DESPERATELY needs something to freshen him up. Cobb came close a few times, and the fans bit, but Goto avoided the Tour of the Islands. He hit the GTR and retained in 12:10. A good, hard hitting match, as expected. However, the crowd was more anti-Goto than pro-Cobb, making for a strange atmosphere. [***¼]

IWGP Tag Team Championship: The Young Bucks [c] vs. EVIL and SANADA
The match these two had at Dominion was one of the better tags all year (****¼). Let’s see if the rematch can live up to it. The teams traded big offense for most of the match, continuing to show the fluid chemistry that we first saw at Dominion. Matt Jackson continues to sell his back, which he has done since January. It’s as if they went into 2018 looking to show everyone who doubted them (myself included) that they can wrestle more than one style. I’ve appreciated it, as they were serious one-note wonders before this year. However, as good as this was, it never touched the Dominion match. It started well enough, but they went a bit overboard with the near falls and big moves. LIDJ hitting their own Indy Taker onto a chair should’ve been a finish. Instead, a save was made and this came shortly after a ref bump. By the way, NJPW has relied way too heavily on ref bumps this year. IT’s not a welcome trend. Matt busted out EVIL’s own STO on him, before they retained following the Meltzer Driver at 16:05. This was on its way to be great, but they took things a bit too far for some spots. It lacked what made the first match special. [***½]
BUSHI and Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay
Well, it’s clear why BUSHI is in this match, isn’t it? Also, remember when Naito should’ve won the Heavyweight Title in January? The Okada Defense Force is STILL posting on Twitter about how NJPW made the right call. Yikes. Anyway, Okada and Naito felt like they took the night off here. Their interactions weren’t up to their usual standards, even after they mostly disappointed at Wrestle Kingdom. BUSHI and Ospreay were largely fine, but nothing special. It’s Ospreay, so unless he’s working someone better or motivated, you’re going to get average. Combine that with a lack of effort from the stars and you’ve got just that. An average match. Ospreay obviously pinned BUSHI following Storm Breaker in 11:58. Completely skippable. If it wasn’t for the names involved, nobody would’ve cared. [**¼]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Dragon Lee
It’s the best in-ring rivalry going. The floor of their series has been ****¼. Really think about that. As usual, this was worked as a fast pace from the start. Lee attacked Hiromu with a rana to the outside that set the tone for what we’ve come to expect from them. They traded German suplexes, strikes, and scary dives throughout. It’s been said so often, but nobody matches these two in terms of chemistry and fluidity, especially when you consider how wild their battles are. Of course, you can’t talk about this match without discussing THAT spot. Lee hit a Dragon Driver that saw Hiromu land awfully on his neck. He reportedly broke his neck on the spot and it’s hard to watch. Especially on the replay. I’ve seen morons discuss the style in NJPW, causing morons (like Dave Meltzer) to attempt to justify things by mentioning WWE injuries. Like, a fantastic wrestler may have just had his career cut way short due to injury and people are worried about pushing the WWE/NJPW stuff. Stop. Hiromu managed to finish the match and score with the Time Bomb to retain in 16:18. Somehow their worse match ever and it was still a banger. They went at a wild pace, though it’ll always have a bit of an asterisk because of what happened. Great match, though. [****]

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Jay White [c] vs. Juice Robinson
This feud heated up at Kizuna Road when Juice broke his hand. Jay continually went after it. That played into the story, as Juice couldn’t use his cast as a weapon. The challenger came out aggressively, partially because of the rivalry and partially because he’s come so close to winning gold before (against Naito, Omega, and Goto twice). He understood that something needed to be done. The physical style kept up, with both men throwing each other into the guardrail with impressive velocity. Jay pulled out great heel stuff, like going after the damaged hand even though Juice couldn’t use it for offense. He also mocked Juice at every turn. Commentary was pissed all match about people getting thrown into guardrails. When White did it and knocked JR over, Barnett said, “You done fucked up now,” and got in the ring to legitimately do something about it. Cooler heads prevailed and nothing but some on screen cursing happened. Even if it wasn’t real, it came off well and the crowd was hotter than ever after it. From there, the intensity was at its highest. Jay hit a low blow, so Juice responded with the illegal left hand to a great pop. The Pulp Friction near fall was extraordinary. Juice managed to counter a Blade Runner into a rollup to finally win the big one in 23:22. Match of the night and moment of the night. Juice has spent two years chasing titles and finally wins the US Title in front of a US crowd, without overplaying the US angle. The match was tremendous, with a ton of intensity and a molten crowd. They played the babyface and heel roles to perfection. [****¼]

Small note, but I remember people complaining about White/Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom. I thought it was good, but far from great. It was clear that Jay needed time to get comfortable in his new role. Fast forward to this show and he’s figured it out. He was the PERFECT heel in this one. Dude is a star.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega [c] w/ The Young Bucks vs. Cody w/ Brandi Rhodes
I didn’t see their ROH match, but heard reports it was overly long. Right from the start of this one, Cody was playing such a good heel. He nails all the old school heel stuff like putting Brandi in harm’s way like a coward. He just gets it. Though the feud has been intense and there’s a long history, the match lacked some of the intensity from the previous match. That’s even with them bringing tables, ladders, and chairs into play. It almost became an impromptu TLC match for no real reason. They brought some big spots, like a superplex off a ladder and powerbomb onto a table. Cody used Brandi to gain one more upper hand, but other than a single Cross Rhodes, he never really threatened to win. Kenny hit the One Winged Angel to seal it after 34:14. A good main event that didn’t seem sure of what it wanted to be. It felt like they brought the weapons into play because they had no other way to fill half an hour. Overly long, a trademark issue with some NJPW main events. [***]

Post-match, Kenny helped Cody up before going into his show closing speech. As he and the Bucks left, the Guerrillas of Destiny and Haku appeared on stage to celebrate with them. However, the Tongans attacked the Golden Elite and brought them down to the ring. They removed their Bullet Club shirts to reveal shirts that said “FIRING SQUAD.” Other Bullet Club members came out to try and help, but also got laid out. Cody was last and got offered a chair by Tama Tonga. He hit them, but also got taken out. Haku planted Omega with a piledriver on a chair to end things. Gedo. Book Haku vs. Omega. Do it, ya coward.

Overall: 7/10. I’d consider this something of your typical NJPW show. Most of the undercard ranged from average to good, with nothing there being must-see. I was disappointed in the Okada tag, too. However, most of the big money main event matches delivered. Cody/Kenny was solid, yet unspectacular. Lee/Hiromu was great again, while Juice/White was stellar. I loved that match and it made this show memorable.