The Best And Worst Of NJPW: G1 Climax 29, Nights 3-4


Previously on NJPW: The despicable Jon Moxley made Miho Abe cry and that’s all you need to know!!!

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And now, the best and worst of the third and fourth nights of G1 Climax 29 on July 14-15, 2019.

Best/Worst: Kaiju Big Battel

The best thing about Lance Archer vs. Bad Luck Fale, besides that it’s only ten minutes long, is how weird it is. Not only do we get almost no monster battles in NJPW, but the combination of Archer being recently powered up with all his hilarious artistic instincts and him being the default babyface in this match makes for one of the most unusual New Japan matches of the year.

The novelty wears off after a little while, but again, the match is only ten minutes long, so the slower and less cleanly executed don’t drag so long they become a slog. The EBD Claw pinfall victory crowns Archer the number one monster in NJPW right now. Cue jazz hands! This was the funniest match of the tournament for me so far.

Worst: No Trouble In Paradise

Will Ospreay vs. Sanada is a match between two of New Japan’s most heavily pushed young wrestlers of 2019. It includes Ospreay no-selling the Paradise Lock. Rocky Romero tries to justify it on commentary by saying Sanada must have not locked an arm in there the way he wanted, but we’ve seen versions of the Paradise Lock where the arm isn’t locked in and it falls apart. We see that every time Chase Owens tries to do it. This was one hundred percent sold like it was the real, fully applied Paradise Lock, and then Will Ospreay just bounced out of it because he either has superpowers or is the greatest submission master in the world. (Both ZSJ and Suzuki have sold this move multiple times.) (So has Okada.) (So did All Japan’s Jake Lee on the Giant Baba memorial show and he doesn’t even work here!)

This moment was very frustrating. Sure, Sanada does lock Ospreay in the Paradise Lock in the ropes later, but that didn’t go back in time and make this not happen. This is the third singles tournament this year in which everyone has had to wait around and sell for every spot Ospreay can possibly do or attempt to do and the audience is supposed to completely suspend disbelief and get into these stupid moves that are always performed with complete, dead seriousness. Now Ospreay can’t perform this moment involving the comedy submission with years of lore behind it that every other wrestler has understood how to work with without sending the message of haha, this is a fake move; wrestling is dumb and fake, you guys. This is so exhausting and so against everything that makes wrestling fun and really what makes it work at all.

Mostly Worst: Kazuchika Okada vs. Zack Sabre Jr. TM

Zack Sabre Jr. and Kazuchika Okada have had very good matches together, but this often felt like a reenactment of one of them rather than a memorable installment in a rivalry. Some of Sabre’s submissions and counters look amazing and brutal, but some of his striking looks less believable than usual. However, I think Okada is the weak link here, with the Rainmaker seeming much lower intensity than usual and at times like he’s going through the motions. Looking at the G1 schedule on paper, this is probably Sabre’s biggest match of the tournament, but there are arguably four or five more important for Okada, and unfortunately, that’s how this match feels in practice.

Best: Zack Sabre Jr.’s Finest Moment

Zack Sabre Jr. follows up this match by proving that he is the most valid British man in Japan even as Chris Brookes is playing soccer with elephants in DDT. What a tantrum. What a way to react to losing a wrestling match for a performer that looks and sounds like this. They should put ZSJ’s face on money even though he lost.

Best: Angst And Ankle Locks

While Okada vs. Sabre often felt paint-by-numbers, Kota Ibushi and Evil both showed range we might not have expected in their G1 Climax 29 match. At the beginning of the match, Ibushi seems determined to soldier on and try to win with his usual offense despite his ankle injury. Ibushi is always an impressive performer, but he’s impressive here in a more understated way with moments like selling his injury on offense by hopping to the second rope on one leg to do a moonsault.

But though injured Ibushi is still stronger than most people, Evil shows that, as in their tag match, he is completely ready to target the glaring weakness that is that ankle. The result is a very different offensive strategy from the King of Darkness than usual, all in the ring and without weapons. Moments like when he transitions the kickout of a pin right into an ankle lock makes him look like someone who should be in singles title pictures. He goes into his match with Sanada having shown new range, and Ibushi goes into a match with Ospreay clearly not at his athletic best.

Best: Katsuyori Shibata’s My Top BFF

Before I talk about Kenta vs. Tanahashi, I want to say that I think setting up and calling Kenta vs. Tanahashi was the English commentary team’s best work of the tournament so far, and their work has been consistently good. Sometimes I think they go over-the-top with historical and philosophical analysis, but everything they bring up here seems relevant to why this match is such a big deal. For fans outside of Japan and those who haven’t watched Japanese wrestling for very long or don’t watch it outside of New Japan, they communicated why this match was so tense, providing context for why the crowd reacted the way they did to both the bout and Kenta’s post-victory speech.

Kenta and Tanahashi are both men who define eras for wrestling promotions, but Kenta’s Pro Wrestling NOAH and Tanahashi’s New Japan mean different things. Additionally, Kenta going to WWE and dealing with what he dealt with (some combination of injury, the promotion not getting him, and the promotion not respecting him that’s been the subject of debate for years now) means something different to American fans at a non-WWE show than it does for a lot of wrestling fans back in Japan – where, as he returned to performing in his home country, he didn’t return “home,” but went to the company with the most money, and straight into one of their highest-profile events of the year. Who do you think you are, commentary helps people understand, is a question some people have for Kenta in this tournament.

Tanahashi is the perfect person against which Kenta could show who he is, and not only because of his status in New Japan. Tanahashi is, like Kenta, a broken-down veteran who’s still very skilled but clearly not in his athletic prime. He also has a huge ego and personality, though a very different character from Kenta. Who could possibly guess that when all these things get combined in front of a hot crowd it creates a very good main event?

Best: The Real G1 Climax Was The Friends We Made Along The Way

The unexpected fallout of Kenta vs. Tanahashi is that they now might be an even more entertaining odd couple tag team than Moxley and Umino. Shibata’s friends and American sons have a very chaotic, pretty hilarious match against Suzukigun that’s probably my favorite tag match of the tournament so far. It drives home the size difference between Kenta and Archer, reminds us of what a threat ZSJ is to Tanahashi and his very damaged body, and shows that while Kenta does still respect Tanahashi and wants to be part of New Japan, he absolutely will not check his entire ego at the door because he is f*cking Kenta.

Even more dramatic, appropriately, is the preview tag for Evil vs. Sanada. I wish we could have somehow gotten L.I.J. vs. L.I.J. tag team warfare this tour, but what they do here is good too. Los Ingos are too tight of a group and too good at tag teamwork to throw a match because they’re suddenly unable to coexist and the fight after the match builds tension really well.

If you saw the G1 press conference and/or character videos, you know Evil’s been putting in work on this feud for a while. He was the one to forego the L.I.J. fist bump on the Kizuna Road tour and he had a tarot deck made that depicts the rest of A Block and gazed dramatically at that bearing the image of his tag partner. Though he’s showing it in the most goth/extra way possible, his angst is pretty relatable. As Naito outlined for the American media, Evil is frustrated by his tag partner’s accomplishments – almost winning the New Japan Cup and being declared the champion/ace’s same-age rival. They used to be even, maybe Evil even ahead, but this spring Sanada clearly advanced further in his singles career. This should (and already has) produce both fan arguments about which Goth BF is actually better and a good, heated G1 match.

Meanwhile, in less likely but more functional friendship news, Mox and Shota show they have tag moves down in the preview for Moxley vs. Cobb and it’s the best. This pairing isn’t just about awkward backstage massages and language barrier jokes, but has produced some good and fun wrestling. This sweaty situation for the Umino character continues to make everyone pay so much more attention to the probably future ace while he’s still a trainee.

Best: One Of The Hottest PWG World Championship Matches They Could Do In 2019

Jeff Cobb vs. Jon Moxley would be a huge deal in any independent promotion in the United States but doesn’t mean much to the Hokkaido crowd. Fortunately, what these two do in this match doesn’t need to be boosted by hype.

As quickly established by how Cobb dominates in the ring, then Moxley on the floor, this is the story of a wrestler vs. a brawler. The biggest upside of this match for me is the creative sequence on and around the ramp, while the biggest downside is that the “draping Death Rider” looks so much like other wrestlers’ transitional moves that it makes for an underwhelming finish. Doing a finisher with the assistance of the ropes is usually the easiest way to signal that this is the more powerful version of the move, but we see the likes of Okada and Randy Orton do DDTs in the ropes all the time. But now that we know the Draping Death Rider is a thing, hopefully it will feel like a bigger deal in the future.

Overall, this was a good little match, though while Mox continues to entertain, nothing but the biting sells Mox to me as crazier or tougher than like half the New Japan roster. Apparently, this dude is supposed to be so scary to some of the even the English-speaking audiences who know him from his WWE hotdog cart-pushing days thought that they shouldn’t even watch it! According to Kevin Kelly, “hide the women and children” for that match because “it’s not for the faint of heart,” so I might have to skip that one in the next Best/Worst because it’s too hardcore for my femme sensibilities. Fingers crossed, you guys, but apologies in advance if I let you down because I get the vapors or something.

Best: Momentum Shifts And Masking Tape

While Cobb vs. Mox would be a bigger deal in America, the build for Toru Yano vs. Shingo Takagi is extremely local to Japan. They don’t get to face off in a preview tag because of faction alliances, the size of L.I.J., and Naito vs. Taichi being the higher priority Los Ingos B Block match, but Takagi manufactures some beef for their match by drawing from real life. Yano is from Tokyo, but he’s an ambassador for Hokkaido. (I don’t fully understand what that entails, but it has resulted in the new Chaos DVD being filmed at Hokkaido tourism destinations, so it seems like it’s working out well.)

Takagi doesn’t wear a sash about it and hasn’t brought it up on New Japan programming before now (it’s been in his Twitter bio though), but he has the same position for Yamanashi Prefecture, where he’s from and I believe currently lives. He decides to get up in arms about Yano making a big deal about being an ambassador for a place it doesn’t really make sense for him to represent as an ambassador – and he’ll teach him a lesson in said place.

To me and I assume a lot of non-Japanese viewers, this bit requires way too much explanation to make me laugh, but I respect them using it to promote their match. Fortunately for us, this battle of GOOD CITIZENS is straight-up slapstick comedy (with some normal wrestling mixed in) rather than local humor. Takagi has Yano scouted and is determined not to lose the same way Naito did, but nearly dies by count-out obstacle obstacle course. He plays the straight man well while coming in ready to be immersed in the Looney Tunes logic of Yano’s world. A distraction from Bushi, which Takagi completely denies backstage, leading to victory is a nice use of the fact that Bushi and Takagi were a championship-tier tag team for like half a year and of faction relationships in general.

Juice Robinson and Hirooki Goto go into their match as two babyfaces who recently dealt with significant losses and came into this tournament more serious and hard-hitting. Their G1 Climax 29 bout takes what they’ve done in the past and steps up the aggression, culminating in them both using their heads to block strikes like very tough idiots. As far as I can tell, besides one match for each of these men (Goto vs. White at the beginning of the tournament and Robinson vs. Moxley at the end), all they have to do in this G1 is look tough, have good matches, and not lose so much in a way that prevents them from being credible contenders in the future, and so far they’re both succeeding.

Best: It’s Hard To Breath With The Switchblade When You’ve Been Chopped In The Throat, Isn’t It, Jayson???

The second night of B Block ends with two beloved heroes and perpetual G1 MVPS versus the shittiest heels New Japan has to offer, starting with Tomohiro Ishii satisfyingly destroying Jay White. Moments like Ishii grabbing Gedo to lure White outside the ring and later just throwing a chair at him are borderline therapeutic. But though he ultimately loses, this match isn’t all about Jay White getting got. Both he and Ishii look good when they’re in control of the match and make each other look good and look like people who will continue to produce good G1 matches going forward.

Best: Chekhov’s Knife Glove

In the preview tag for Tetsuya Naito vs. Taichi, the Holy Emperor was out for blood and teased that we would FINALLY see him stab someone with the Iron Glove after FIVE MONTHS of him carrying it with him to the ring and not using it. That or Iizuka would show up.
Iizuka did not end up showing up, but when both Kanemaru and Miho Abe were at ringside and Taichi listened to the glove before the bell rang, it was clear to expect shenanigans.

And oh boy, are there shenanigans in this match. But the good thing about all the extra stuff Naito and Taichi decide to put in their matches is that they not only have great chemistry with each other for the goofiness, but they work so well together when they’re straight-up wrestling. Case in point: the sequence that started with a pop-up low blow from Naito, continued with a Poison Rana into a Destino, and ended with an excellent counter by Taichi of the second Destino into Black Mephisto. I know some fans have a very low tolerance for bullshit in the G1 outside of Yano matches, which is a valid preference, but there is always some in there, and Naito and Taichi did it well.

Taichi gets his first two G1 points of his career with a peak Taichi win of stabbing Naito in the face in order to set up a Last Ride followed by his most suggestive pin, and he follows it up with the perfect speech. Guess who can go home now? It is the people of his hometown, who sound like they mostly enjoy being insulted.

With Taichi now on the board and bolstered by the spiritual power of a retired cannibal, here are the points and title shots earned from the third and fourth night of the tournament:

A Block points:

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

B Block points:

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

Title shots earned:

RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Sanada, Kazuchika Okada
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Toru Yano, Taichi

I’ll see you back here next week to talk about the next chunk of G1 Climax 29 shows.