The Best and Worst of NJPW: G1 Climax 29, Nights 13-14


Previously on NJPW: The despicable duo of Gedo and Jay White made Miho Abe cry and Toru Yano destroyed both the winning streak and psyche of Jon Moxley.

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And now, the best and worst of the thirteenth and fourteenth nights of G1 Climax 29, which took place in Osaka on August 3-4, 2019.

Best: Kill Your Idols

One of the best matches of this year’s G1 so far is the rematch from last year’s tournament final, Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Like their past singles matches, part of what makes it so strong is that not only are Ibushi and Tanahashi very good at doing wrestling moves, but they’re very good at making their actions feel motivated and earned, showing emotion and effort in almost everything they do.

This applies to not just how they perform this match in itself, but how they incorporate their history into it. It took Tanahashi about thirty-five minutes to beat Ibushi last year and he’s even more aware of his limitations now, so he wrestles this match very smart, focusing on Ibushi’s one physical flaw, his recently-injured ankle. Ibushi doesn’t sell this much when that part of his body isn’t being actively attacked, but we see him struggle enough during this part of the match that he basically gets away with it.

It helps that after an inhuman hurricanrana and being slapped in the face, Ibushi has one of his clearest transitions into Alien Murder Mode. Tanahashi stays in the game against his powered-up opponent after their amazing slap fight, but, like in many matches, contributes to his own demise by going high-risk, hurting his knee when Ibushi dodges a High Fly Flow. Despite that inconsistency with the ankle, it feels like overall, everything in this match is not exciting to watch as a wrestling match, but connected to their story together and their arcs in this tournament in a way that really pays off.

A relatively minor but not at all unimportant element of this is Ibushi being so emotionally overcome by finally having killed or surpassed his god. The kneeling over Tanahashi, the reaching out again to touch his foot like it’s the hem of Jesus’s robe or something, and the exchange of words between the wrestlers that we can’t hear hammers home that this match is so much more than one wrestler remaining at eight points and the other advancing to second place in the block with ten. Still, though, we’re nearing the end of the tournament, so that’s yet another critical piece in why this match feels like it matters.

A Weird Best: The One In One-And-Six

The wrestlers who rematch in our main event, Sanada and Kazuchika Okada, have a much stranger rivalry than those in the semi-main. The most glaring reason for this is that, in kayfabe, their relationship became a “rivalry” as Okada continued to beat Sanada every time they wrestled and Sanada just started being able to hang with him more. Another reason is that there haven’t really been standout moments in any of their matches. Commentary reminds us that the most recent Sanada vs. Okada match was thirty-eight minutes long and I watched that and took notes on it and wrote about it and I don’t remember anything about it besides that it was long. (To be fair, their New Japan Cup final match sticks in my mind more.)

Their G1 match starts similarly to their previous ones this year with these two looking like talented, evenly matched young athletes, but with nothing flashy aside from a few nice dropkicks. You might think they might, like Tanahashi in his match with Ibushi, seem aware of their history of not being able to beat each other within the G1 time limit, but they really take their time here! At the time of the fifteen-minute call, I was surprised to hear that this match had been going on for fifteen minutes, but not because they were so action-packed; Sanada and Okada had been breaking each other down so methodically that with such cool demeanors that watching the beginning of their match was like watching a river.

But the thing everyone is going to remember about this match is the ending, which is the one all but the most devoted Sanada haters wanted to happen. After those nearfalls after the Tiger Suplex and the TKO, he finally looks frustrated and really driven to win, and we finally get to the part of the match with the Rainmakers. The fact that the always goofy-looking Skull End is the submission that’s supposed to possibly submit or knock out Okada for the first time in five years with three minutes on the clock is really not great. However, it works well that Sanada nearly loses this match like he’s lost so many matches – by letting go of Skull End too early in order to go for the moonsault. Maybe he actually hasn’t progressed enough to beat Okada, if he’s still making that mistake! But just kidding, with seconds remaining, Sanada digs deep and breaks out an extremely cool pop-up TKO he should probably keep doing and hits two moonsaults for the win.

Sanada doesn’t come out of this match looking like a top guy, but we do see something new from the performer and it’s such a satisfying, hard-earned moment for this character. The return of Sanada’s post-match moment of jokey fan-service, New Japan’s fashion pirate boyfriend blatantly and romantically lying to us all in a dim arena lit by cellphones, is another reminder of why he has gotten the big opportunity that is this storyline. While he might not be another Okada or Tanahashi or Naito, he’s a popular and talented entertainer as well as a gifted athlete. Also, he is one big match away from doing something like bringing a bouquet of flowers backstage and saying, “I would give this to all of you supporting me from home if I could!” and then throwing it in the trash as he walks away from the camera.

Best: Fighting Your Friends

Like it’s A Block counterpart, the most recent B Block show features two standout matches with similar themes. While in A Block, up-and-comers finally overcome rivals who used to seem hopelessly far above them, wrestlers produce great matches in B Block by fighting their longtime friends and stablemates.

First up, we have Tomohiro Ishii vs. Toru Yano, who wrestled one-on-one for the first time during last year’s G1. Fair Play Yano was running wild at that time, but YTR has been in full clown mode this year, including in the preview tag for this match that featured Yano calling himself part of the winning team because he, like them, is in Chaos.

Watching Yano be extra-ready for Ishii, removing the turnbuckle pads during his entrance and again using this shirt trick that beat Naito, is great, but Ishii refusing to play Yano’s game and go outside the ring, forcing Yano to be the one to run to beat the count, is even better. I don’t think anyone expected this to turn into one of those matches in which Ishii brings out his opponent’s inner fighting spirit badass, but that’s what it becomes.

By the time Ishii picks up the win with the vertical drop brainbuster, we’ve been reminded that Yano is a really good wrestler in the normal sense as well as the galaxy brain sense. We’ve also seen two more standout performances from two of the G1’s most consistently standout performers and in a way that shows the value of the very different ways they are such valuable players.

These two friends from Chaos open B Block action with a strong match and two friends from Los Ingobernables de Japon close it with an even stronger one. How Tetsuya Naito and Shingo Takagi perform their almost twenty-year relationship in their first professional singles encounter is only part of why it’s so good, but it’s a significant part.

The Takagi character joined NJPW and L.I.J. at Naito’s encouragement, they’ve now tagged together many times, and they clearly like each other, but they’re also two very strong and competitive personalities. When Naito recalls the early years of their friendship, he also alludes to how enviable early Takagi broke out in his wrestling career and remembers, “he’s still as annoying as he’s always been.” A key element of L.I.J. is that there’s technically no leader and competition is encouraged, but also, despite Naito and Takagi being the type of cool friends who can be photographed by their work website doing a back-to-back action star pose, they clearly very much want this win over each other for personal as well as professional reasons.

This competitive spirit and years-long relationship are quickly visible in their singles match. Not only do they show they have each other’s wrestling scouted, but Takagi isn’t fooled by Naito going for the fist bump and both men disrespect each other’s poses. Takagi has no problem countering an eye rake with hair-pulling, but does look offended or grossed out by Naito spitting in his face. This is friendship between two charismatic tweener jerks, twenty-ish years on.

As the character work adds a human story to this match, we can also see it is between two tough humans who are extremely good at their jobs. Along with the many impressive moves, a moment that shows just how much these two are completely invested in killing and selling being killed by each other is the kneeling exchange of forearms and headbutts right around the twenty-five minute mark, played sloppy and tired and violent in such a perfect way. But almost every sequence between Naito and Takagi is intense and makes someone look cool, and paced in a way that is consistently exciting for over twenty-seven minutes.

It’s also extremely impressive for Takagi to have this match with Naito, his first with a real top NJPW guy, be one in which he pushes his opponent to the absolute limit. Despite Takagi having only been Best of the Super Juniors runner-up and having already been eliminated from the G1, his performance is such that the moments when it looks like Naito is just surviving in this match are easily credible. And despite the weight class screwiness and some other weird things about Takagi’s NJPW run so far, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping crowds from appreciating how good he is and now taking him seriously as a contender with high-profile heavyweights.

After an incredible match with a great epilogue of both wrestlers putting each other over in promos (“I learned exactly how tough that bastard is,” is about the most affectionate thing you can imagine Shingo Takagi saying), Naito and Takagi both move forward from this match into the last stretch of B Block with lots of audience goodwill and the type of momentum you want to see translate into wins.

Worst: Edgelords Of The Ring

The worst match on the thirteenth and fourteenth nights of G1 Climax 29, the one that stands out as really bad, is, for some people, a dream match. Jon Moxley and Jay White are favorites of people who like a certain type of wrestling character, but even for those who aren’t that into them, this match has some appeal. Moxley beating up White seems like it could be a fun thing to watch, but White also needs to beat the Mox in order for the tournament dreams of multiple other wrestlers in B Block, including Naito, to stay alive.

White beats Moxley, keeping the mathematical drama of B Block goin, and Mox does do some nice brawling stuff at the beginning, but otherwise, this match is not good. Overall, the actual, physical wrestling part of this match is not very engaging, and while Gedo thwarting Mox’s table plans is fun, the shenanigans-ridden ending makes Moxley look incredibly dumb. Like, WWE babyface dumb. Dean Ambrose dumb! Moxley falling for that brass knuckles spot makes him look like a chump and him flipping the double bird instead of doing anything to stop the sequence that ended with him being Blade Runnered makes him look more concerned with being edgy than winning at wrestling.

In the end, Moxley deserves to lose here because he is stupid, and not in a sympathetic way or a fighting-spirit-over-brains way that at least also makes him seem badass. After this match, Moxley’s promo from the previous show about how he’s going to show the sheltered White “the cold, hard realities of this sport” can’t be taken seriously at all. This match just makes everyone look bad.

There Are A Lot Of Matches In The G1 Climax!

In addition to those five notable matches from these G1 Climax shows, there are five others that almost immediately got lost in the shuffle but were good-to-watchable. The most memorable of these are probably the two in NJPW’s Monster Fights division, Bad Luck Fale vs. Kenta and Lance Archer vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

The former of those is definitely, along with the Archer and Sabre matches, one of Fale’s strongest matches of this G1 and sees him return to that monster-spoiler role he’s played in many an NJPW tournament. Fale is the size of about two and a half Kentas and his offense is motivated enough here that his size feels more dangerous than it has been. Like in his match with Archer, Kenta wrestling a smart match against a much larger opponent makes him look really good, and he plays this all with enough desperation to make it more interesting.

Fale’s dirty win is a frustrating ending to the story of this match, but also one that’s well-executed. Chase Owens hanging out on commentary in order to get involved in the match and Fale winning with a roll-up makes the usual Bullet Club shenanigans a little fresher than usual and allows Owens to claim Fale out-wrestled Kenta backstage in a pretty funny promo. Overall, this match works well in itself as it seriously hurts Kenta’s chances at the final.

While Kenta vs. Fale has a classic little guy vs. big guy dynamic, Lance Archer vs. Zack Sabre Jr. is one of New Japan’s great IDEOLOGICAL BATTLES. Omega vs. Tanahashi who? Inokiism vs. Mutohism what??? This is a philosophical debate in wrestling match form about the most obnoxious versions of devout veganism vs. carnivorism.

Also, I GUESS, it’s two extremely different wrestlers in as close to friendly competition as Suzukigun members can have, which means it includes explicit threats of murder. Archer just throwing Sabre around and destroying him is a great visual and there’s some good drama as Sabre finally starts to cause problems for him with submissions. The ending, with Archer deciding to set up for Blackout after ending his own pin at two after a chokeslam, giving Sabre the opening for a close choke-to-roll-up pin, continues Archer’s streak of looking like a monster but just not being able to string singles victories together. And now that his losing streak funk is over, Sabre continues to wrestle something like the G1 people thought he would have, but way too late to win anything significant.

Over in B Block we have the only match we haven’t talked about yet that features a pure heel, Taichi vs. Juice Robinson. This match is not bad at all! Miho Abe and Kanemaru get involved in fun ways and there are some nice escapes and counters, and Taichi using the whiskey mist – which he sells for the entirety of his backstage promo as extremely powerful – is genuinely surprising. I wouldn’t mind seeing these two wrestle again, but I’m not yearning for it either.

Two people who I would be very much fine with never seeing wrestle each other again, though, are Hirooki Goto and Jeff Cobb, but their match isn’t terrible either. They had a drawn-out quasi-rivalry over first the NEVER Openweight Championship, then the ROH TV title, and neither of those title matches were exceptionally memorable. In their G1 match, there are a few neat moves and the crowd does get more into it at the end when Goto kind of goes H.A.M., but it’s the type of match you can tell you’re just going to remember nothing about.

Actually, that’s not exactly right! I will probably remember that this is the match when English commentary most openly acknowledges the homoeroticism of “gachimuchi” and calls this a battle of the “big, strong, sexy boys.” Goto vs. Cobb is officially the Ibushi vs. Sanada for those who like dudes more on the thicc side. Congratulations, Goto vs. Cobb.

A wrestler who wouldn’t be out of place in the beef battles of B Block, Evil, beats Will Ospreay over in A Block. Their match is athletic and enjoyable, but has the unfortunate position of being right before Tanahashi-Ibushi and Okada-Sanada. Sure, the framing of this as a junior vs. heavyweight battle when Ospreay is taller than Evil and not skinny anymore and has held the NEVER Openweight Championship for longer than Evil works about as well as Evil’s first attempt to introduce a chair into the match, but neither of these things is a huge deal. It’s a very “super indie” type match in which two guys do most of their moves to each other, and includes the least awkward setup of the Robinson Special I think I’ve ever seen. All in all, it’s very watchable and one of those matches that feels like it would be more so live.

Also: Put Henare In The G1 Next Year!

Henare is on Young Lion duty on both of these shows and cuts passionate, sympathetic promos afterward about how he’s working to be in the G1 next year. NJPW careers take a while to get started, but it seems like something bigger has to happen over the next year twelve months for this guy who clearly works really hard.

But G1 Climax 30 is still way too far in the future to think about too much, so let’s look at how the G1 Climax points, win-loss records, and potential title shots earned stack up going in what are finally the last four shows of block competition:

A Block points:

12 points – 6-1 – Kazuchika Okada
10 points – 5-2 – Kota Ibushi
8 points – 4-3 – Evil, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kenta
6 points – 3-4 – Sanada, Zack Sabre Jr.
4 points – 2-5 – Bad Luck Fale, Lance Archer, Will Ospreay

B Block points:

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

Title shots earned:

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

Coming up in A Block, we have Will Ospreay vs. Kenta, and Ospreay has decided to make this be his quarterly match build in which he tries to look like a tough guy. He is very bad at swearing and at acting like someone who wants to fight someone else, so he has never really pulled this off! Kenta vows to wreck this fool, but Ospreay has Kenta and Tanahashi coming up and they both could easily lose more if they’re not going to win the block, so Kenta could easily be the fool who ends up getting wrecked here.

Also on the next A Block show, we have a bunch of matches that didn’t get preview tags, which ZSJ, Ibushi, and Okada all point out backstage! Instead of Ibushi facing off with Sabre and Evil with Okada, we get a six-man of Bushi, Evil, and Sanada vs. Suzuki, Sabre, and Archer. But though he doesn’t get to wrestle Okada before their singles match, Evil still swears to beat the champ even if it LITERALLY KILLS HIM. If he doesn’t, Okada will move up to 14 points and the only other person who could win A Block will be Ibushi, and Ibushi only if he wins his upcoming match with ZSJ, moving up to 12 points, and then beats Okada so he has 14 and the tiebreaker.

During and after this trios match, we also see that Suzukigun is basically fine, but it takes this win for Sabre and Archer to be cool with each other again. Plus, their Boss finally cuts a backstage promo that’s longer than one or two sentences. After hanging out in the ring after the match long enough to get the crowd to sing “Kaze ni nare!”, Suzuki repeats his talking point from Kizuna Road that New Japan better quit pretending he isn’t a huge deal because they should be able to hear that he is Very Popular. This is usually the type of thing babyfaces say, but this is Suzuki, so it is very ominous!

I’ll see you back here later this week after all of this goes down – well, except probably not anything with Suzuki yet – and we have another B Block show.