The Best and Worst of NJPW: G1 Climax 29 Nights 17-18 And Final


Previously on NJPW: The G1 Climax tournament took place for over one month and in over one country (it was in two countries)!

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And now, the best and worst of the seventeenth and eighteenth nights of G1 Climax 29 and the tournament final, which took place from August 10-12 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

Best: Golden Era

There are a lot of other things to cover from these shows, but let’s start with the biggest one, the G1 final itself. While some predicted Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White as the tournament final, almost nobody wanted to watch it. That’s not just because so many fans were disappointed to see Tetsuya Naito yet again fall short of achieving his dreams. On paper, this was easily the least interesting G1 Climax final as a match in itself this decade. As much as you can point out how good White is at certain things about wrestling for his age and experience level, people do not want to see him main event a show, and that’s not just because of heel heat, that’s because many do not enjoy watching his wrestling matches.

The reason White is in this match and a big part of why he continues to be pushed so hard is pointed out in the hype video for the final show, as it has been in Jay White match hype videos past: as indicated by loud booing, this is the guy everyone hates! He is very good at making sure people hate him, and everyone loves Ibushi as about much as they hate White. The drama is extremely high going into their match, especially after two adrenaline-producing angles in a row with Minoru Suzuki’s challenge and Kenta joining Bullet Club.

Kenta entering with the rest of BC is a great move, compounding the heat of the guy we hate THE MOST as of like twenty minutes previously with that of the guy we’ve hated the most for like a year and a half. This moment works as a throwback to earlier eras of Bullet Club too, when it felt like more of a threat as a unit and we would sometimes see this whole group of guys enter with someone for a match, looking vaguely like they were coming here straight from being kicked out of a bar and clearly like they were about to ruin things for everyone. Red Shoes ejecting most of them puts a stop to that and is a great moment, but the faction still looks better than it has in years.

With the hype amped up as much as possible and then again with the serotonin-boosting ejection of Gedo, the actual wrestling part of the match keeps the momentum going. White looks motivated and cruel as he targets Ibushi’s leg and recently-injured ankle, the one we saw him target after he won B Block. Ibushi gets in some offense, including that impressive one-legged moonsault, but White is able to keep things competitive.

It’s no Ibushi-Tanahashi, but like the Ibushi-Tanahashi matches, all the moves feel very earned and intentional. It’s easy to invest in the struggle, and the struggle is made more stressful to watch by the fact that we’ve seen White achieve victory with the exact same tactics, both the cheating and the knee-targeting, so recently. Plus, maybe they think White is the key to international expansion or something! Nobody understands what’s going on with that!

With all these factors at play, seeing that switch flip in Ibushi’s brain is even more exciting than usual. As cool and impressive as things like his deadlift German are, Ibushi dropping White with that slap might be the moment of the match. As great as this guy is as such a pure babyface, it’s this ultra-violent subconscious that continues to set him apart as a potential Ace-successor.

We also see a less-cool staple of White matches here with the dueling finisher teases at the end, but this one works better than usual and, like the knee work, calls back to how White found success earlier in the tournament. While these sequences have usually just seen White repeatedly go for the Blade Runner, ever since the match with Shingo Takagi we know that that new brainbuster indicates when we should get really stressed out.

After an incredibly dramatic main event, it could not feel better to see Ibushi hit that Kamigoye and pin White for the win. As a match, I’m still not sure how this stacks up in the history of G1 final matches and I doubt this would rank that highly, but in context, it was both a solid match in itself and such an exciting finale for the tour. White sneakily showed what the company must see in him as an investment and Ibushi more obviously showed his top guy bonafides once again. Even if he wasn’t your pick for tournament winner and Wrestle Kingdom main-eventer, it’s clear Ibushi is far from undeserving or unfit for this position.

Best: How We Got Here, A Block Edition

So now, unless New Japan decides to really change-up how they’ve done things for the past several years, we’re getting Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada on January 4 or 5, 2020, and judging from their 2019 match (and all their past matches), that should be pretty great.

The build-up of intensity in their match on the last night of A Block works really well, with the match starting out engaging and competitive, but not that intense. But when it picks up around the time of that insane super rana by Ibushi, it really picks up. Ibushi winning is the happy ending the audience wanted and he did it in a match that makes he and Okada look like peers. Now he’s beaten the champ once, but it clearly won’t be easy for him to do it again on the highest platform NJPW has.

Not As Good: How We Got Here, B Block Edition

The next night, the result of Jay White and Tetsuya Naito’s match gets the opposite crowd reaction, which is the point. There was the possibility of a crazy tiebreaker situation going into the August 11 show, but NJPW simplified that by having Mox and Goto lose their matches before this, which I think amped up the drama just that much more. Considering White and Naito are being scheduled on opposite sides of tag matches later this month (for sure here and maybe here) that also probably makes the most sense for the start of a more extended feud between these two.

They work really well together as characters and pretty much everyone loves Naito and pretty much everyone hates White. That’s why these guys are having a feud! Their wrestling together is alright. This tease of Blade Runners at the end is unfortunately like the stupid version of the finisher-tease sequence that happens at the end of White vs. Ibushi the following night.

Naito not making the final is disappointing and if he does actually become double champ at WK 14 (which still seems like an impossible goal to me but now Ibushi’s talking about doing it too and we’re in the two-day Dome show world, so I guess anything could happen) it’s not going to be genius long-term booking. It’s going to be the company taking a gamble that Naito wouldn’t cool off in 2018 and that working out for them.

It’s been really disappointing to see this guy who is such a great wrestler with such a unique and cool character go on this compelling, years-long redemption journey that has included so many good moments and matches and never see him get the top title that would make this pay off. It’s even more confusing when he’s extremely popular and sells a ton of merch and is the face of the most popular faction. New Japan is a disappointing and confusing company to follow sometimes.

Best: Everything Is Dies

Outside of these main events, everyone else finishes up G1 Climax 29 with matches that are less consequential, but, for the most part, on par with the last main events of block action. Shock G1 MVP Lance Archer and Evil unsurprisingly pull off a good one in the first match of the last night of A Block. Their staredown makes this look like video-game-ish in a good way, Archer’s rampage is awesome, Evil looks like a star as he makes a comeback, and we get a final EBD Claw win of the tournament. Overall, it’s insane and fun in exactly the kind of way that makes you not care about it only being a “momentum match.”

Worst: Not Everyone Gets To Go Out With A Bang

Though the August 10-11 shows are mostly strong, they each have a standout worst match. Sanada vs. Bad Luck Fale gives the Cold Skull a chance to show off his most crowd-popping signature moves, the stuff with Chase Owens and Jado in the Paradise Lock is fun, and Fale winning with very basic wrestling moves is still a good bit, but there’s just not as much substance to this match as the others on the card. It has a real “TV match” feel.

In B Block the following night, Toru Yano vs. Jeff Cobb has some funny moments and a legitimately very cool belly-to-belly by Yano to Cobb but is also underwhelming. Cobb’s first G1 Climax tournament was pretty underwhelming overall, though it was nice to see him get the opportunity. (Yano’s tournament, of course, only solidified his status as the true Ace of NJPW and they should obviously put the U.S. Championship on him ASAP.)

Best: A Once In One Hundred Years Talent And Will Ospreay

In A Block, the actual Ace Ace has a match with Will Ospreay, who has his old slogan on one of his recent t-shirts. These guys don’t have the same vibe or same type of appeal at all though and Ospreay’s promo backstage that Tanahashi needs to “lay down the sword” and let him be the new person to ~carry the company~ sounds, at best, totally delusional about the completely different situations of the company when Tanahashi took that role and where it is today.

This match is, unsurprisingly, pretty entertaining, with a super hot crowd. Tanahashi smartly targets Ospreay’s leg, and which kind of slows him down at times. But Ospreay’s moves are more powerful than the Ace’s strategy and he wins with a Stormbreaker. Now this guy is the face of the junior division having pinned Tanahashi, Kenta, Ibushi, Sanada, and more, while no other junior heavyweights can ever pin heavyweights at all, ever.

Best: Real Bushido Warrior Hours

Over in the less flippy realm of B Block, Hirooki Goto vs. Shingo Takagi finishes off the tournament strong for both performers. This is a match between two wrestlers with very different career momentum, but a lot of other things in common. They’re both hard-hitting wrestlers (though Takagi more consistently than Goto) who have historically used a lot of samurai imagery, though neither is at the peak of that right now. Those similarities are why Takagi cuts that dickish promo on Goto before their match taking issue with this person with whom he has no personal relationship taking an excursion when what a wrestler SHOULD do, according to Takagi, is continue to fight constantly. When he says things like “I’ll prove Goto isn’t the warrior everyone thinks he is” and, backstage at the final, that line about “his Japanese spirit is a sham,” it’s because Takagi’s very aware that he can send the message of, “I’m you, but stronger” against Goto, which he does in their first match.

It seems so obvious that what everyone wants to see most from Takagi is for him to get that title shot from Ishii that they must be saving that match for a bigger show than the Destruction tour, but the impending Shingoto II is not unwelcome at all. The complimentary wrestling styles these two have on paper turn out to be just as complimentary in the ring. They do so much just with clotheslines in this match! This has got to be one of the sickest Pumping Bombers ever, with props to Goto for going above and beyond with the sell without necessarily turning the attention to his selling ability.

This match drives home that the redemption arc for Goto was very much the redemption arc of a designated mid-carder, but I think Goto came out of the G1 looking better than he did pre-excursion, at least. I hope he’s happy with this role!

In sharp contrast, it doesn’t seem like Takagi could look better right now. Though there were options with him remaining an “openweight” wrestler (options that included him having a singles match in the Super J-Cup within driving distance of where I live, New Japan, you monsters!), Official Heavyboy Shingo seems like the right choice. His bigger than most of the juniors, held the equivalent of the world heavyweight championship in Dragon Gate four times, holds a win over the reigning Triple Crown Champion, and Zack Sabre Jr. gets to be a heavyweight. Takagi’s journey as a junior strained believability at times, but it seems like this whole situation ultimately worked out.

(Also, this means Bushi is once again without a tag partner, which raises hope that Hiromu Takahashi might finally come back.)

In a feud that seems to have reached its conclusion for now, Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, we’ve come to expect hard-hitting matches, but with some shenanigans thrown in as well. But on August 11, Taichi shocks the world by wrestling essentially like a babyface against his rival, exactly the way Ishii has been urging him to all along, and winning. The intensity is there from the start and though Ishii is great, as always, this rare clean match really shows what Taichi can do. It’s not just a character trait that he doesn’t really need to depend on smoke and mirrors (or valets and mic stands) as a wrestler; he is good at this.

And everyone knows that Ishii is amazing, but at the end of yet another wonderful G1 for the Stone Pitbull, I have to make sure to point out that Ishii is amazing. As great a performance he always manages to put on for himself, he also does such a good job at giving other guys great matches. This dude is in his forties, goes unbelievably hard, and still has not had a bad singles match in 2019. You could just plug “Ishii” into the NJPW World search bar and go through the first five pages of results and click on any singles match and it’s going to be from this year and it’s going to deliver.

Best/Worst: Tabling The Table Spot

We get another hard-hitting rivalry revisited with Juice Robinson vs. Jon Moxley II. It’s entertaining, but not as strong as their first – or maybe just doesn’t have the same benefit of novelty. It starts with a slugfest, but Mox soon moves to target Juice’s knee, which is a nice piece of continuity since it was just targeted in the White match and Mox had knee-based success with Shingo. Though it’s two guys trying to out-tough each other, the match is helped by not being completely self-serious. After Robinson spent this whole tournament being so serious in preparation for this match, the momentary happy ending of him winning this match by choosing not to descend to Mox’s level, which he did in their U.S. title match, is nice to see. The way he and Mox get to that result feels bloated at times, but it works out.

Afterward, Moxley cuts what is probably the most sincere, emotionally resonant monologue ever to include the word “c-hair,” and Juice, who has been quiet this tour, reveals that all he’s been thinking about this tournament is getting a rematch for the IWGP United States Championship. Though Moxley’s No DQ challenge the following night makes it seem like maybe this could happen soon and this storyline could be wrapped up before AEW TV starts in October, it’s possible that this is the latest case of a New Japan stalwart treading water in service of a big match with an ex-WWE star — see also: Naito-Jericho and Juice-Cody.

However, if that is the case, I think this is the best way that dynamic has been handled so far. Even if Moxley doesn’t come back until Wrestle Kingdom 14, Juice has said that he’s willing to wait because that title is worth it. I hope he isn’t waiting around until 2020, but if he is, at least there’s more of a story behind it than that his desired opponent just being busy with other work – even though it would be because his desired opponent is just busy with other work.

Best: Die, Senpai

Our other ex-WWE G1 debut, Kenta, finishes his tournament with his second match in a row against a younger, British wrestler who was influenced by his work in Pro Wrestling NOAH. The promos clearly establish that Sabre is the heel in this match and if he was targeting anyone else’s surgically repaired shoulder, this would be a classic Heel Sabre match. However, despite or maybe partly because this match is in the location of several significant NOAH shows, Sabre gets a borderline babyface crowd response while Kenta is rejected that hardest he has ever been by an NJPW audience up to this point. I don’t think anyone else would have gotten booed for trying to kick off Sabre’s head on the ropes at this point, and they definitely wouldn’t have been for just beating him up.

If it wasn’t for this rejection by the audience, this match would have ended Kenta’s G1 with him looking like a badass babyface, though not a top guy. He looks great fighting out of Sabre’s submission game and his offense looks painful. When we see so many NJPW singles matches in a row, Fighting Spirit spots can start feeling contrived, when Kenta tells Sabre to bring the forearms it feels like he really cares about proving that he can beat this guy who used to be in his dojo back when he ruled the [Japanese wrestling] world. But after an engaging final stretch of the match, Sabre’s defeat of Kenta looks definitive.

The self-proclaimed soy boy gloats backstage (while putting over his opponent as The Real Kenta because he is a dang pro) while Kenta sounds like he’s accepted where he’s at. His tournament ended a lot weaker than it started, but he’s still happy he got to wrestle it and be himself, even though he isn’t as strong as he used to be. It’s hard to tell where this character and this wrestler will go from here, especially when there’s so much less buzz about him coming out of the G1 as there was going in.

Best: Turning Everything From Fossils to Colossal

… That impression lasts for about twenty-four hours though because New Japan capitalizes on that widespread hatred of Kenta and revitalizes both him and the Bullet Club at the same time by having Kenta join Bullet Club!

As Kevin Kelly mentioned earlier in the show, Tama Tonga had tweeted about recruiting “a high caliber athlete” into BC. I had started to subscribe to the theory that the recruit would be Super J-Cup entrant TJP and BC would once again be home to Accursed Gamer Energy. The reveal that the new recruit is Kenta is done really well, with him entering separately from his team (which means something again since we’re back to the old entrance format), just refusing to enter the match so it continues as usual, then entering at the end to wreck Ishii with finishing moves before letting Tama get the pin.

This heel turn would feel more like an acknowledgment of the fans’ feelings about Kenta than a real betrayal because none of the other NJPW wrestlers really cared about or bonded with Kenta, except for that one (1) non-active NJPW wrestler really cared about and had bonded with Kenta to the point that they publicly called referred to each other as soulmates, Katsuyori Shibata.

The most shocking part about Shibata running into the ring and doing his signature wrestling moves and looking awesome (and also like a dad who just played a pickup basketball game) is that he was never supposed to wrestle again. He still might not ever have an actual match again; I seriously would not get my hopes up about that. After that subdural hematoma that almost killed him, we’ve seen The Wrestler used to lend emotional weight to a few big moments in NJPW, most notably standing in Tanahashi’s corner when he won last year’s New Japan Cup and introducing post-WWE Kenta to the New Japan audience.

Interestingly, the Japanese commentary team doesn’t focus on Shibata returning from injury (maybe a sign that this is not the beginning of a full in-ring return, at least not for a while), but on the relationship between Shibata and Kenta. There’s lots of “soulmate” talk as everyone loses their minds over Shibata doing his moves and looking like his old, badass self. “I brought you here. How could you do this to me? And this dropkick is mine,” is such a great summary of why Shibata was whipped up into such a righteous rage that he went against all medical advice to dropkick Kenta in the face. After such an amazing moment, Kenta sitting on Shibata’s chest, doing The Wrestler’s signature pose, is the ultimate disrespect. He sucks so much and is so happy about it and it rules.

This moment is basically perfect as-is, but the backstage comments give us very good additional details as well. Kenta looks so happy to be hyped up as “one of the best if not the best of our generation” and to have stolen the spotlight of the G1 final. Ishii is right; he is complete garbage! And Shibata’s tragic high-road promo is absolutely devastating, repeating his statement from Dominion for his former friend to “Be Kenta. Be no one else,” but clarifying that Kenta is “Little boy lost found himself. Isn’t that nice. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

All in all, this heel turn spins less than ideal crowd reactions into gold, a very dramatic and compelling angle. I need to see it culminate with Kenta vs. Shibata at the Tokyo Dome, but I’m also going to try to be realistic and expect, like, Kenta vs. Goto on January 5 with Shibata in Goto’s corner. Obviously, that would be a letdown and something of a grift by New Japan, but you can’t, like, tweet at their company account “How dare you not make the guy who had to have emergency brain surgery two years ago wrestle!” because the storyline didn’t go down the best possible way; you have to be a human being about these things.

The other big August 12 reveal will have a more obvious, immediate climax in the form of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Okada and Suzuki at Royal Quest. I have no clue when they decided to do the Kenta heel turn, but this moment and this match has been intentionally set up for almost two months. Suzuki threw a tantrum about not being the G1, was ominously silent after G1 tag matches, then was ominously not silent after G1 tag matches, and now he executes his master plan to end an entertaining tag team match.

As much support as he has from the Japanese audience here, if you’ve ever watched a Suzuki match that took place in the UK, you know the King vs. Okada is a very smart main event choice for Royal Quest. Like Okada vs. Tanahashi in Dallas, the audience knows what they’re getting, but they also know they’ve never seen it with their own eyes before and that nobody has had the chance to see it with their own eyes outside of Japan before. Suzuki winning the belt on what’s essentially a house show in London seems unlikely to me, but what do I know? Anything is possible in the two-day Dome show world!

I’ll see you back here to talk about the Best and Worst of either the Super J-Cup or Royal Quest or the beginning of the Destruction tour – whichever goes up first; none of this will be uploaded to or stream on NJPW World until September – next month.