The Best And Worst Of NJPW: G1 Climax 29, Nights 6-8


Previously on NJPW: Kenta slayed a giant, Ibushi assassinated an assassin, and Evil and Sanada kept their friendship alive.

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And now, the best and worst of the sixth, seventh, and eight nights (third and fourth of B Block and fourth of A Block competition) of G1 Climax 29 on July 19-20 and 24, 2019.

Best: Not Counting Out Zack Sabre Jr.

Especially as we move into the middle section of one of these long, round-robin New Japan tournaments, usually the section with less notable matchups for a lot of the competitors, matches that change up the pace of the tournament become more and more welcome. One of those matches is Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Bad Luck Fale, which features a rare countout finish in a company that does many, many teases of countout finishes. It also features an even rarer babyface Zack Sabre Jr. as he battles a less popular bad guy to finally get on the board after reaching the dreaded 0-3.

The size difference between Sabre and Fale makes it fascinating to watch them work together. ZSJ wrapping his entire body around one of Fale’s legs, looking like an anthropomorphized Daddy Long Legs, fully embraces the freak show element of pro wrestling. His submission work is engaging and plays into the unique qualities Sabre has as a wrestler, as does the match’s finish, using speed and quick-thinking as well as a hold outside the ring to avoid being counted out. Sabre will be back to playing the heel again in his next block match, but after his match the audience loves him and he deserves all of their applause.

Best: Chaos Bros Being Chaos Bros

A more conventional A Block highlight is the July 20 main event of Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay. Okada has brought out the best in Ospreay in the past and does it again here. Okada vs. Ospreay is similar to the Okada-Omega matches in that Okada’s cool demeanor and more understated wrestling style contrasts with a super-athletic, hyper-dramatic, indie wrestling guy with the Cool Moves and keeps the match grounded. Everything about how Okada responds to Cool Moves makes them look more like they make sense, like how he plays the sequence in which he gets misdirected by Ospreay handspringing around and eats a kick to the face. Watching this stuff combine in the most evenly matched Okada-Ospreay match so far, which makes sense at this point in Ospreay’s push, makes for an engaging main event.

There Sure Are A Lot Of Matches In The G1 Climax!

The other matches on this A Block show all have good moments and qualities but didn’t make huge impressions, including the one that seemed like it was supposed to. First, Lance Archer’s hot streak continues, for the most part, against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Archer’s whole situation continues to be the most welcome surprise of this year’s tournament, including how he continues to fully play the villain as the Korakuen Hall crowd is so delighted by his antics that they smark out and refuse to boo him. Tanahashi working to take Archer down by the legs makes sense, but Archer’s offense doesn’t work nearly as well and the match weirdly loses momentum in its second half. The ending, Tanahashi pinning Archer after a Victory Roll, is strong though, and an unexpected move that continues the story of the Ace being able to win not just because of his Moves, but because of his skill and veteran savvy.

Kenta and Evil’s match stands out less but has its upsides. Evil continues to look great this G1 and Kenta seems more and more to have found his groove for this era of his career. But though this match has moments that showcased these two as individuals, a lot of it does feel formulaic. It’s a filler match that tries to convince the audience, unconvincingly, that it isn’t filler. At a certain point you’ve seen so many spots in which two wrestlers crawl towards each other, put their heads together, and then exchange strikes, that this sequence has diminishing returns and seems more like the match telling you, “Look, this is an important and serious match because this is what important and serious matches are like” rather than an organic, passionate part of an important and serious match.

Sanada vs. Kota Ibushi has a much more developed story to indicate its importance, both between these two characters and in the context of Sanada’s career, but the in-ring action doesn’t live up to the hype. Their hunk-off after their preview tag asks us to directly compare the star power of Sanada and Ibushi and backstage, Ibushi decides to be a homewrecker and suggests Sanada should leave Los Ingobernables de Japon and join a pure babyface team. Though we just saw Evil vs. Sanada strengthen the bond between the Cold Skull and another member of L.I.J., Sanada has been leaning more and more openly into his popularity for months and he changed the color scheme of his gear, so this isn’t the most far-fetched idea!

The fact that the character of Sanada has evolved since his last match with Ibushi (during last year’s G1) is something that makes this battle of the two wrestlers who most make straight male wrestling fans openly question their sexuality more interesting than their last one. However, this match shows that despite their similarities, Ibushi is still several steps above Sanada as a wrestler. Part of this works in kayfabe, like how Ibushi’s showboating moments are more organically part of his wrestling, while Sanada multiple times forgoes offense to showboat, and showboat without seeming like he’s powered up by the love of the audience like Ibushi is, but that he’s trying to prove that he is a superstar. But also, Ibushi’s in-ring work is just consistently better in this match.

The promos after this match suggest it could be the beginning of a rivalry, but despite all the athleticism and handsomeness and charisma on display, I wasn’t left wanting to see more of these two one-on-one. By the end of the match, I wasn’t as much getting invested in the teased endings as I was ready for the match to end. Though Sanada has had some singles matches this year I’ve really enjoyed (With ZSJ and Tanahashi), these big babyface rivalry ones with Okada and now Ibushi haven’t made me want more of the same, even as more has been promised.

Next Time In A Block…

Here are the most promising things set up by the next round of A Block tags:

  • Chase Owens continues to be down with the kids/meme culture by saying he and Fale are going to raid Area 51. I would sincerely like to see him do a Naruto Run to the ring as a part of this bit.
  • This Saturday, Evil and Zack Sabre Jr. will revisit their excellent rivalry from last fall through this winter, and oh look, Evil actually goes out of his way to point at the RevPro belt beforehand!
  • Before Lance Archer vs. Sanada (later down the road – four out of five active L.I.J. members competing in the G1 has really thrown off the usual preview tag booking system), we see the EBD Claw break up Skull End. I like the idea that Sanada’s often fake-looking submission finisher we’re supposed to take seriously in otherwise more realistic matches is less powerful than Archer’s openly cartoony submission finisher. Sanada looks stumped after this tag match.
  • While soldiers go about their G1 business, Suzuki is almost back to normal, though he still hasn’t said much backstage. Feeding Archer Young Lions for the EBD Claw seems to make him happy on July 19. He spends more time in the ring on July 24, working competitively with both Evil and Sanada, and provides a classic, extended post-match dojo boy beatdown afterwards. He’s not fully back, but he’s getting there.
  • Kenta vs. Okada is coming up on Saturday and it is a big deal! The two cocky ace-types look like they have great chemistry in their preview tag, going out of their way to antagonize each other during the match and having a moment with Okada’s belt afterward. Considering how much bigger of a deal this former GHC Heavyweight Champion (and GHC everything champion) challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship would be, I have to guess Kenta hands Okada his first L of G1 29.

Mostly Best: Burning Through B Block

B Block continues to be my preferred block of the tournament, probably because it has not only the quality big matches, but also has more variety throughout. While some A Block matches have felt like G1 Climax Matches TM, the less “important” B Block matches have mostly stayed more interesting to me.

In one of a few less notable but still good block matches, Jeff Cobb and Juice Robinson really make their bout feel like an athletic contest. We see these sportsmanlike representatives of my home country who have yet to bight anyone put in a ton of effort. Juice continues to be on his unusually serious A Game this tournament, but realistically struggles with the size of Cobb, and Cobb’s incredible strength brings him his first win of the tournament.

Like Cobb and Robinson, Taichi and Shingo Takagi show that they work really well together in a first-time match. They also show that Taichi might have Takagi’s number more than anyone else on the roster (before Jon Moxley.) When this match gets going, it really gets going. They hit hard, their wrestling styles compliment each other, and I would not mind at all seeing this again down the road for the NEVER Openweight Championship or something.

This was also a match where the two wrestlers in it seemed to really, really care about what was happening, which is part of why it was good and part of why it was very disappointing and distracting to hear commentary go on about other stuff for like two-thirds of it. Yes, these two have famous mentors, but neither Takagi nor Taichi posited that what they cared about going into this match was fighting a proxy war for Tenryu vs. Kawada. I’m pretty sure this match was about a guy being really invested in kicking the ass of a guy who personally insulted him and likes to attack people with a microphone stand and about them both wanting to get G1 points.

Like commentary deciding Sanada vs. Suzuki was about Mutohism vs. Inokiism apropos of nothing, this is so crazy to me because it makes it sound like commentary could not care less about the wrestling happening in front of their eyes. I feel like Taichi and Takagi have both done enough in their decade-plus wresting careers and both have enough going on right now that they don’t deserve two-thirds of their match to feel like it’s just visual aid for a low-energy wrestling history podcast.

While Taichi loses to Takagi, he wins his match with Goto in frustrating, extremely Taichi fashion. You can tell he’s in beast mode going into this one because he moves his mouth maybe one time during his entrance lip-syncing entrance. Goto and Taichi had an extended feud last year, so immediately incorporating Goto’s recent LA Dojo history through T-shirt disrespect and stomping poor Karl Fredericks in the guts is a smart way to quickly draw the audience into this rematch.

Goto continues to have a really strong G1 as a performer with this match and Taichi does as well, with a lot of underhanded heel moves mixed in with the straight-up wrestling, but not in a way that kills the momentum. Taichi takes home the W by being the capital-W Worst, pining Goto after a low blow and a Gedo Clutch. It really sucks to see Goto go out of the tournament like this when he’s been doing so well, but backstage he does sound like he might actually accomplish something as the tour continues. It seems insane to send a guy to the U.S. for months for him to get in really good shape just in service of a non-title grudge match with Jay White, so I hope this is the case.

Yano’s World Special Category

I don’t think we got any all-time Yano classics on these two B Block shows, but his matches were, as usual, nice, short changes of pace. The less important one is with Juice Robinson, who is still very serious, though he does at least fist-bump a little kid afterward. The preview tag booking for this works out so he does some angry punching with Jon Moxley instead of facing off with Yano because this is a one match tournament for Juice and that match is with the dude we’ll be seeing on Wednesdays on TNT this fall.

While Juice vs. Yano is so much just another match in the tournament that I mostly used its section of this article to talk about something else, Yano vs. Jay White is more over-the-top and a more notable tournament development. That’s a weird thing to say about the match in which White gets punched in the balls with brass knuckles, but it’s the match in which White descends to the dreaded 0-3 after getting punched in the balls with brass knuckles. Now he has to win six matches in a row, after losing to everyone he could from the faction he betrayed, in order to have a chance of winning the block. He’s one of the small number of wrestlers to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his twenties, so he might be able to do it! Even if he doesn’t, a desperate Jay White trying to claw his way to the top of B Block is a nice change from his several months of big-match dominance.

Worst: The One In One-And-Three

That being said, I think White’s first win of the tournament is also his weakest match of the tournament so far. It’s not great for his opponent, Jeff Cobb, either, who looks gassed unusually quickly. It has a few cool moments like Cobb picking up White from the apron for a deadlift superplex, but its the lowlight of July 24 block action. Overall, I guess this match gets its job done as it calls back to the mix of strategy, cheating, and wrestling that helped White break out during G1 Climax 28, but it’s not that engaging.

Best: Tetsuya Naito And The Men Who Want To Headbutt Him

While the new matchup of Cobb vs. White is underwhelming, the rematch of Naito vs. Goto delivers again. This more aggressive version of Goto continues to look great and deliver exciting performances. These two are so good at wrestling and go so hard! Plus, there are a few moments that, even as I am deep into watching way too much G1 wrestling, worked me really well: that first Destino feels so definitive that it made me forget it always takes two, and the gross noise of Goto slamming Naito’s leg against the ring apron that left me feeling like I saw a magic trick. This match saves Naito from the dreaded 0-3 and is a fun, violent time overall.

Naito and Ishii promise they’re going to go extremely hard in the preview tag before their B Block match, and that’s exactly what they do. The match starts with a kick rather than a lockup but ramps up the intensity again part of the way through when Naito decides to slap Ishii on the head and spit at him like an idiot/masochist. These two wrestle like they’d done it several times before, ready for many of each other’s moves. In the end, Naito gets it done for the Hiroshima Carp and delivers the first L.I.J. roll call we’ve heard in a while and it all makes for a great ending to the show.

Naito, possibly NJPW’s greatest plot summarizer, also reminds everyone of how important the G1 in Hiroshima is for him. The whole journey of Tetsuya Naito that was one of the best things in wrestling up to Wrestle Kingdom 12 comes back. It would be perfect for Naito, after this speech in Hiroshima, to start a path to G1 victory by beating Moxley. It would be the number one NJPW homer, even/especially because he voices his frustrations with the company while working his ass off, handing this dude who is running through everybody despite not working here his first L. It seems almost too perfect, so I am prepared for sadness!

Best: Purveying A Wider Range Of Violence Than Expected

And speaking of Jon Moxley, he really changed my expectations of him over the course of his most recent two G1 matches. While his match with Tomohiro Ishii was entertaining, it didn’t make me feel great about the rest of Moxley’s G1. Then his match with Shingo Takagi made me a lot more optimistic.

The Ishii match is exciting and different from the typical G1 match. All of Moxley’s have been, but they’ve been different in the same way. The in-ring parts have been underwhelming and the highlights have been table spots. This was like a Korkauen Hall-flavored Extreme Rules match starring Tomohiro Ishii. That’s fun and fine and provides variety and the Korakuen audience loves it. However, it also made me think that Moxley’s G1 variety show probably peaked with the amazing spectacle of Ishii hitting a frog splash from the top turnbuckle to Moxley on the table outside the ring.

However, on July 24, Moxley’s match with Takagi showed way more range for the former Hound of Justice/current Mad Dog than I expected and made me feel better about the rest of his G1. The deal with Mox and Shingo is that they were part of the same stable, Kamikaze USA, in Dragon Gate USA, the USA version of Dragon Gate stable “Kamikaze” in the USA version of Dragon Gate. They never wrestled together but were part of some backstage segments and heel beatdowns. (As wrestlers and commentary outline this, we learn that apparently “Kamikaze USA” is the second proper noun they can’t say, after “AEW.”)

The deal with Mox and Shingo now is that they immediately show they have weird chemistry together as they aggressively nuzzle each other’s faces and neck areas at the beginning of the match. (I finally realized this is probably supposed to be Moxley being a “mad dog,” but is mostly very funny.) This match gets more substantially interesting when after FOREARMS and BITING and possibly the worst-looking Moxley dive of his entire career, it starts to become a body part match.

Moxley focuses on one of Shingo’s knees with low dropkicks and figure fours and Shingo sells the heck out of all of it. Takagi’s power is there at times, but his knee causes delays between moves and he clearly struggles a lot. Unlike other Moxley G1 matches, what these two have going on in the ring feels more authentically aggressive than the table and chair stuff outside. Back in the ring, a smart kick to the back of Takagi’s knee to escape Last of the Dragon and some knees of his own (which don’t look great yet), lead Moxley to his first submission victory in New Japan, with a new finisher in the Texas Cloverleaf. (It’s also Takagi’s first submission loss in New Japan, but that’s really only notable because his NJPW losses can still be counted on one hand.)

Moxley comes out of this match having shown a new side of what he can do in the ring, both as a kayfabe competitor and as a performer. Now it’s time for him to get his ass kicked because there’s no way this guy is winning B Block when Naito and Jay are right there and Mox works for another company, right? Right???

Here’s how all the wins and losses and potential championship opportunities stand after these three shows:

A Block points:

8 points – 4-0 – Kazuchika Okada, Kenta
4 points – 2-2 – Evil, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Lance Archer
2 points – 1-3 – Bad Luck Fale, Sanada, Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr.

B Block points:

8 points – 4-0 – Jon Moxley
6 points – 3-1 – Juice Robinson
4 points – 2-2 – Shingo Takagi, Taichi, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano
2 points – 1-3 – Hirooki Goto, Jay White, Jeff Cobb

Title shots earned:

RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Sanada, Kazuchika Okada
NEVER Openweight Championship: Jon Moxley, Tetsuya Naito
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Toru Yano, Taichi

I’ll see you back here next week to talk about the matches and developments as the second half of G1 Climax 29 gets underway.