The Best And Worst Of NJPW: G1 Climax 29, Nights 11-12


Previously on NJPW: Okada scored a needed win for the home team but Naito did not and now everything rests on the shrugging shoulders of Yano Toru.

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And now, the best and worst of the eleventh and twelfth nights of G1 Climax 29 from July 30 in Kagawa and August 1 in Fukuoka.

Worst: As The Robin Rounds

An overall worst about the July 30 A Block show is that you can tell going in it won’t have any big, immediate consequences. That just tends to happen in these round-robin tournaments. There’s going to be a few shows that are mostly just people having matches and accumulating points. It stands out here because there also aren’t any matches to get really invested in as matches in themselves unless Zack Sabre Jr. and Will Ospreay are your faves, and that’s not a “dream match” or anything because they’ve wrestled several times before in the UK. The drama will pick up for A Block next show, but this was a lull in the hype.

Best: Pro Wrestling Classic

While there were fewer “dream match”-type bouts on this show, there were more relatively black-and-white, classic heel vs. face dynamics. The best of these is probably the main event of Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Evil, the sun of NJPW vs. the King of Darkness.

From the preview tag, we know that Evil knows that Tanahashi’s knee is not doing well and has come up with the smart strategy of targeting it. He has a lot of success with this early on and the crowd’s sympathy builds for the Ace, who eventually manages a comeback. He gets creative a few times, but it’s mostly classic offense from Tanahashi, so much so that it’s in question whether he can succeed with it, given that all of the joints in his limbs are held together with Velcro. But though Evil looks great in this match and gets close to a win, the Ace takes home the W after two beautiful High Fly Flows.

The post-match stuff keeps up the theme of this being wrestling and Tanahashi at their clean-cut best, with an air guitar performance that embraces the children’s theater element of pro graps. It’s fun, it’s different in how not-different it is, and it establishes that this is the classic Tanahashi going into his match with Ibushi; this is a version of the Ace close enough to the one Ibushi has idolized.

Apart from good/god vs. literally Evil, the other very straightforward match dynamic on this show is that of gross monster vs. handsome, upstanding babyface. We get this twice, first with Kota Ibushi vs. Bad Luck Fale and later with Kazuchika Okada vs. Lance Archer.

Ibushi vs. Fale is not bad at all, a ten-minute match that moves up to the tie for second in A Block along with Tanahashi and Kenta. The Bullet Club interference spots are done well and Ibushi’s offense is done a little better. Plus, we get a very lucha stunt ref moment from Marty Asami! Just because his footwear isn’t very noticeable doesn’t mean he can’t do fun things too, you guys.

As has been the trend in A Block, our monster matches stay distinguishable from each other because while Fale relies on help from his sleazy pals, Lance Archer relies on being in f*cking full beast mode at all times. He attacks Okada before he removes his coat, sentons him on the ground, and makes a little kid cry. (Okada going back to this kid after winning the match is such a smart and professional moment of fan service too.) Archer’s control portion goes on for such a long time that you figure out he’s definitely not winning, but it’s still entertaining to see Okada fend off the dreaded EBD Claw.

Both Okada and Archer have had better matches this G1, but this is solid. And it gets bonus points for giving us Rocky Romero’s spot-on moment of fake sports analysis: “Very non-traditional use of that claw.”

Exhibition Match Best: Britain’s Got Talent

There’s an alternate universe and maybe a future NJPW match in which Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay is very heated, with ZSJ focusing on getting in his submission master kicks and both men playing into New Japan audiences’ usual sympathy for Ospreay. There’s a moment in this match where Sabre goes completely feral and attacks Ospreay’s neck and talks trash and it looks like it will go that way. However, Sabre vs. Ospreay ultimately plays like a BritWres exhibition match, with Ospreay showing how he can grapple-wrestle at the beginning and Sabre playing along. Though the wrestling style changes later in the match with the incorporation of high-flying, it’s still a lot of exchanges that look very well put-together but rarely feel physically intense. I guess I can buy that Sabre and Ospreay’s patriotism made them exceptionally good sports in the first all-British G1 match though.

Worst: Fang, Dulled

Kenta and Sanada are very different wrestlers, but one of the few things they have in common made itself clear in their match together. While they have their strengths, they can also produce a dull singles match these days. While Kenta’s more competitive matches have been compelling, watching him just dominate Sanada for the majority of this match is only gripping if you’re really into his offense as it stands right now in the summer of 2019. Sanada can be a very hot tag, but his comeback attempts here keep the match lukewarm. Maybe if Sanada winning or losing would have determined his advancement in the G1 that story would have helped compensate for the boring aspects of this match, but that wasn’t the case here.

Best: Toru Yano’s Finest Five Minutes

In contrast to the most recent A Block show, the August 1 B Block one has both more anticipated match-ups and matches with immediate, important consequences. None has more important and more immediate consequences than the second of block competition, Toru Yano vs. Jon Moxley. What seems to point in Yano’s favor, besides that it seems like it would make more sense to keep Tetsuya Naito and Jay White as contenders for the block, is that the preview tag takes place fully in Yano’s world, from the DVD transaction onward.

This leads us to what might be, depending on who you want to be in the G1 final and/or win the G1 and how invested you are in that, the comedy match with the most underlying tension in the history of wrestling. Maybe they’re just going to have Okada beat the powered-up outsider winner of B Block like he just beat the powered-up outsider within A Block and win the whole thing! Who are we to know the inner workings of Gedo’s mind?

Mox could very much still win the block, but this match very much creates the possibility that he’ll lose his way through the rest of the tournament and does it in a hilarious way. Calling back to the DVD sale-gone-wrong from their tag match, Yano and Moxley go full Looney Tunes. After about five minutes of clownery, Yano wins by count-out after taping Moxley and Shota Umino’s legs together, forcing them to try and fail to three-legged-race their way to the ring.

Moxley could have gone with tough guy anger after this loss, but he sells it like he has been psychologically and emotionally destroyed. I would totally by this psyching him out so much that it contributes to him losing his next three matches, or two out of three. Him mentioning his misadventures with props in WWE could have come off as him trying to sound too cool for this booking, but the line about wacky vehicles within a rant outlining an elaborate plan to get a win back over Yano is an appropriate reference that still makes him seem like a good sport.

Overall, everything about this comes to make one of Yano’s best spoiler wins – although I’ll probably never understand why they didn’t give it to Naito – unless Naito ends up in, like, an Intercontinental Championship match with Moxley at Wrestle Kingdom 14, in which case I will roll my eyes very hard.

Mostly Best: Punching Your Way To Mutual Respect

As Tetsuya Naito reminded everyone in the preview tag for his G1 Climax 29 match with Juice Robinson, sometimes he can be a jerk in a way that reads more “bully” than “ungovernable.” Probably because of the status Juice had when he returned from excursion as a heel, the former CJ Parker always seems to bring this out of him. In this week’s match there’s no broken hand for Naito to target like there was last year, but still, when Naito brings some nastier energy when he’s on offense against Juice at the beginning of this match and it looks and feels more like beating a guy up than making progress in an athletic competition.

Though the result is the same as their previous singles matches, part of what makes this match different and entertaining is that we see how Juice has leveled up since then. Not only does he hold his own in the pose battle without getting too worked up, but he manages a slower pre-match strip tease than his opponent with the help of three identical t-shirts. What helps these bits stick is that Robinson also looks really good in the ring here, bringing not only toughness but a more varied move-set, and looking like he moves really well in general with the speedy former junior heavyweight.

Though these two do keep up their trend of working well together, for the most part, that doesn’t continue flawlessly throughout the whole match. Some of the sequences before Naito gets the win with a second Destino are a little awkward. Ultimately, though, everything stays cohesive enough that when Naito sounds like he does respect Juice more now (though he absolutely will still mess with him) in his backstage promo, it’s a nice thing to hear because it does reflect what we saw in the match. Its main theme stays intact and it’s overall entertaining.

Importantly, it also keeps Naito a B Block contender, something that Yano Da Gawd made possible but also something that Naito very much needed to not also screw up for himself! Now his next obstacle is his friend of almost twenty years and faction-mate of less than one, Shingo Takagi! Is Naito concerned about getting two points from his “junior heavyweight” pal who definitely has at least ten pounds of muscle on him? Not as much as he is about ruining his entire summer. Somehow, for these two, this is not that surprising.

Best: Beef Block

While Naito vs. Robinson is an aggressive match, it still isn’t in the top two hardest-hitting on this beefy B Block show. Our main event is Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto, whose G1 main event last year emphasized the “strong” in “strong style.” While their preview tag establishes that the wrestling style will be similar in this year’s match, the promos afterward remind us the stakes are a little different. Ishii shows some tough love to his Chaos bro, telling him it’s great he “re-tuned” at the LA Dojo, but he needs to get results in the ring.

Ishii tells Goto to let his frustration out in the ring, where he guarantees they will beat each other as hard as they possibly can. And that’s exactly what happens in their singles match, and it’s so fun to watch. Goto and Ishii go extremely hard from the moment the bell rings, and while they do play some defense, they both clearly agree this is about giving and taking as much offense as possible and seeing who comes out the stronger man. The brightest highlight for me is when Ishii reverses Goto’s hold on his wrist and starts an insane headbutt fight, but both guys deliver overall strong performances throughout.

After how this match plays out, “the G in G1 stands for Goto” is still definitely not true and kind of a sad catchphrase, but Goto’s line backstage that “I’m not lost anymore” tentatively rings true. Guessing that something big could happen for Goto is generally a pretty dumb thing to do, but it does happen sometimes! He got Suzuki to shave his head at Wrestle Kingdom 12 and that match ruled and wasn’t even that long ago! He could totally do one (1) more cool thing in this tournament.

In the night’s other beef battle, Shingo Takagi continues his run of doing cool things all the time – this time before he is defeated by Jeff Cobb. In the preview tag – which suggested a heelier singles match Takagi than we ended up seeing – and the block match, Takagi looks like he takes Cobb more seriously as a threat than anyone else on the NJPW roster has so far, selling all his moves as dramatically as we’ve seen him sell anything. Of course, this also gets the crowd behind him and makes his own offense look really good and extra earned. Made In Japan looks like the coolest and most exciting move in the world when Shingo hits it here, but the level of intensity also makes every move each guy hits cool and exciting too.

The way Cobb and Takagi play is this, both going so hard they’re completely dead at the five-minute mark, is a welcome change from what’s become the singles match house style of NJPW, with the slow build, sometimes what feels like a lot of filler, a long exchange of finisher-counters at the end, the athletes pushed to the limits of their endurance as we pass the 25-minute mark, etc., etc. In wrestling in general but especially in a round-robin tournament with just matches upon matches, it’s great to see performers put together what looks like the best type of match they specifically can do together rather than trying to fit some ideal of The Best Match. A big part of what makes these two shows entertaining is that you can say that about the majority of matches on their cards.

Worst: We Irritating

Taichi vs. Jay White is another battle of wrestlers with similar styles, but most of what the Holy Emperor and the Switchblade have in common are tendencies to avoid actually wrestling in favor of cheating and miscellaneous bullshit. This doesn’t guarantee a match will be bad and I respect that, like the power guys in the previous section, they lean into what’s unique about their specific matchup, but there they just don’t pull it off that well. (That’s the caveat to that whole previous paragraph, of course: the wrestlers also have to pull off what they put together.)

Some of the highlights of this match are when they lean into the fact that it’s a clash of the worst people in the world at the beginning. They both try their usual tactics of obnoxious powdering out and using corner men to distract their opponent, but the corner men end up running into each other. But later shenanigans focus on Gedo much more than usual and also don’t make much sense, with both Red Shoes and Taichi, for some reason, extremely distracted when Gedo gets on the apron during the set-up of Black Mephisto. Gedo pulling the ref out of the ring to prevent White losing by Gedo Clutch is a fun moment, but man, that’s a lot of Gedo.

It’s possible the later interference spots could have worked better if the actual wrestling part of this wrestling match had been stronger, but it turns out Taichi and White don’t work that well together, at least not here, in their first singles match. The most interesting in-ring parts of this match might be Taichi’s kicks looking good, as usual, and White reestablishing that the Blade Runner with the new brainbuster setup is the stronger version of the Blade Runner. But as far as actual wrestling sequences between the competitors in the ring goes, nothing really comes together for White and Taichi.

With White having established himself as The Worst in B Block, here are how all the G1 points, win/loss records, and potential championship opportunities stack up after these shows:

A Block points:

12 points – 6-0 – Kazuchika Okada
8 points – 4-2 – Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kenta, Kota Ibushi
6 points – Evil
4 points – 2-4 – Lance Archer, Sanada, Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr.
2 points – 1-5 – Bad Luck Fale

B Block points:

10 points – 5-1 – Jon Moxley
6 points – 3-3 – Hirooki Goto, Jay White, Jeff Cobb, Juice Robinson, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano
4 points – 2-4 – Shingo Takagi, Taichi

Title shots earned:

RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Sanada, Kazuchika Okada, Evil
IWGP United States Championship: Toru Yano
NEVER Openweight Championship: Jon Moxley, Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Toru Yano, Taichi, Jon Moxley

With only three sets of matches left in each block and promising bouts coming up on every show, the win-loss numbers all currently add up to equal drama. In A Block, we have Ibushi and Tanahashi revisiting one of the most meaningful relationships of this period of Ibushi’s NJPW career and having a rematch of last year’s final in order to move closer to Okada. There are very real chances that Kenta could join them – or not, since his opponent, Fale, is now invested in playing spoiler.

It seems like Okada not only could but probably should remain at twelve points after the next show, leaving only a two-point gap between him and the closest wrestler(s) behind him, because if he beats Sanada then that whole rivalry just needs to be thrown in the garbage. Okada has beaten this guy every time they’ve wrestled one-on-one and now gets to make fun of him for being eliminated from the G1 so early. “That’s my rival, huh?” is an extremely valid reaction to this storyline that doesn’t make much sense so far! I don’t think Main Event Sanada has been a huge in-ring success, but if he doesn’t get some results here it’ll just be sad.

Plus, we get the biannual intra-Suzukigun murder match, this one between Lance Archer and Zack Sabre Jr. The preview tag shows the result could credibly go either way and that Suzuki definitely loves everything about interacting with the EBD Claw. It also continues the bit of people in Suzukigun being terrified to fight each other – except Lance Archer, who is hyped for this match and might think his line about eating ZSJ and crapping him out in the ring is on par with “Austin 3:16” because he repeats it twice in promos and he and Sabre keep the bit going on Twitter. This should be insane.

AND THEN, in B Block, we get not only the aforementioned Naito vs. Takagi match BUT ALSO Jon Moxley vs. Jay White, which is not only a battle of the edgy knife-hype-video boys but critical in Mox getting his groove back and White achieving his goal of winning six matches in a row. And if he wins this one and Naito continues winning all the way to Naito vs. White on the last night of B Block AND Moxley keeps losing but doesn’t lose four in a row, we could easily end up with some nightmare points distribution at the end where the block winner is determined by a tiebreaker.

Do not count out Switchblade Jay White, is I guess the note on which I am leaving you before the next Best and Worst of the shows this upcoming weekend.