Before we recap New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest event of the summer in traditional Best/Worst style, here are a few notes:
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of NJPW G1 Climax Finals. Feel the finality.
If you had asked me in typical Family Feud style to name a person I didn’t expect to see kicking off the G1 Climax finals, I would have responded with “Ring of Honor head booker Delirious.” Then, points would have gone up on the board, and Steve Harvey would have made a funny face. But, lo and behold, here he was! Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have been cozy bedfellows of late, and Delirious was present to make the announcement that things will soon get even cozier. Starting in 2016, ROH will be doing a Japanese tour. No specific wrestlers or dates were announced, but it’s still cool to think about. I can guarantee that there are ROH stars right now who have dreamed of touring Japan, and now it’s one step closer. By the way, it’s not quite enough to warrant a Worst, but Delirious did the whole announcement in a weird, broken, pseudo-Japanese accent. Kind of unnecessary when you have a translator literally five feet to the side of you.
Worst: Everybody Get In Here!
Unlike WWE, New Japan is pretty reluctant to leave anybody off a major card. If Adam Rose has nothing to do at SummerSlam, he’s out of luck. But, when the G1 Finals roll around for NJPW, pretty much everybody gets crammed into a match. As a result, the first half of the show was filled with six-man tag team matches of little to no consequence. I won’t say they were completely without their bright spots, though. NXT-bound Jushin Liger teamed up with eternal rookies Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu to take on Ryusuke Taguchi, Máscara Dorada, and David Finlay. That was immediately followed by TenCozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) and Captain New Japan going up against Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, and Jay White. Fine stuff as far as trios matches fare, but maybe not necessary on a show that stretches over four hours. It feels weird to be down on any portion of a show involving Liger, but he can be put to better use.
While I’m at it, supplemental Bests go to Finlay and White for not demanding special treatment and wearing the typical Young Lion ring gear of the NJPW trainees. Maybe the success of Finn Bálor, a former NJPW dojo student himself, is really starting to resonate. David Finlay is Fit Finlay’s son (as you might have guessed), so it probably would have been real easy for him to ask for the legacy treatment. Instead, these international rookies are taking the hard way up, and that’s commendable. And finally, shout-out to Ryusuke Taguchi for being the most Cowboy Bebop guy ever. Not only does he look like Spike Spiegel, but his “Master of Dropkick” theme sounds like it was performed by The Seatbelts.
Best: Big In Japan
For several years, Michael Elgin made his intentions clear that he wanted Ring of Honor to send him to Japan. It seemed like it might never happen, but for the 25th installment of the G1 Climax, he was chosen as the special guest star, and it might be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. In Ring of Honor, Elgin has always been just Some Guy. Sure, he was Some Guy who had the approximate density of Ayers Rock and the ability to powerbomb everybody into oblivion, but he was still an undefined quantity. Mark Briscoe is the Dumb Friendly Redneck, Jay Briscoe is the Sinister Redneck, Adam Cole is Shawn Michaels 2.0, but Elgin never had a characteristic that made you say, “Oh, he’s that guy.” But finally, he’s on to something with this G1 tour. Elgin had a very respectable showing, winning four matches in his block and gaining the respect of the Japanese fans. At the finals, he once again impressed by handily defeating YOSHI-HASHI. If I’m making the decisions at ROH, I’d let Elgin stay in Japan even longer and let this thing reach critical mass. He finally has a story to tell – the puroresu fanboy who happens to be really good at puroresu. Canada sent Japan their very own version of Godzilla, and Japan loves him. That’s something worth focusing on, and it’s a way better story than whatever they were trying to do with Lord Tensai.
Best: King Of Trios
First of all, a significant Worst goes to Bullet Club for leaving Mao at home. For those of you not aware, Yujiro Takahashi is the ladies’ man of Bullet Club, and he usually brings an attractive valet named Mao to the ring with him. She is an impossibly pretty ray of sunshine, and I’m starting to think she’s a higher-ranking member of the Bullet Club than anyone gives her credit for. I’d say she’s more valuable than guys like Tama Tonga and Cody Hall, but slightly less valuable than Bad Luck Fale. In any case, Yujiro didn’t even bring her along for the night, instead choosing some unnaturally tan catgirl who twerked in the middle of the ring for a solid two minutes. This probably contributed to their loss.
The bigger factor in this Bullet Club defeat is the fact that they were up against the most overpowered trio in pro wrestling. You think I’m joking here, don’t you? Let me break it down. First you have Kazushi Sakuraba, an MMA legend who ran through the Gracie family in his heyday. Then you have Tomohiro Ishii, a rocky golem who doesn’t feel pain until he realizes he’s about three breaths from dying. Finally, there’s Toru Yano, a reincarnated trickster god who occasionally rolls a natural 20 and scores flash pins on Hiroshi Tanahashi. Combat prowess, berserker endurance, and uncanny luck. It is impossible to beat this team. Maybe Mao stayed home because she looked at this match and realized this was a losing battle from the start.
Best: Tetsuya Naito Hates Your Guts
It could have been so easy for Tetsuya Naito to fall straight off the face of the earth after coming up short at Wrestle Kingdom 8. And yet here we are, a year and a half later, and suddenly he’s the best heel in New Japan. I never saw it in the cards, and that makes it so much better.
Naito was the failed experiment of NJPW. He surprisingly won the G1 Climax two years ago, setting him up for a heavyweight championship match with Kazuchika Okada. He put up a decent fight, but he was still a small fish in the Rainmaker’s overwhelming ocean. Naito quickly found himself out of the main-event after that, and a lot of people started to write him off. As it turns out, that’s the kind of rejection that ends up being perfect fuel for some people. Nowadays, Naito runs with the lucha libre stable known as Los Ingobernables, and his transformation into the meanest son of a bitch walking the planet is complete. Remember that “Silent Rage” guy from the 2011 season of Tough Enough? Screw him. Tetsuya Naito is silent rage. He is expressionless as he heads into the fight… and suddenly he’ll see the person he hates the most at that given moment, prompting him to EXPLODE.
And who does he currently hate the most? That’d be Katsuyori Shibata. This was another trios affair, pitting Naito, Togi Makabe, and Tomoaki Honma against Shibata, Hirooki Goto, and Kota Ibushi. There were a lot of combustible elements in this match. Naito absorbed Shibata’s punishment (usually with a smile), Makabe and Ibushi clobbered the hell out of each other, and Honma just did Honma stuff, which is always okay by me. Ibushi sealed the win with a Phoenix Splash on Honma, but the main thing we got out of this is some much-needed setup. Ibushi looks primed for a run at Makabe’s NEVER Openweight title, and Naito/Shibata should be a lot of fun down the road. Hell, maybe just throw all four of them in the ring at once for the NEVER belt and see what happens.
The intermission started at this point, and I almost left my computer to grab a drink. I am so glad I didn’t.
BEST: The Man Comes Around
I was watching a wrestling show, and suddenly Zeus descended from Olympus to pick a fight with one of those pesky mortals.
Genichiro Tenryu is a 65-year-old puroresu legend. The man has done it all… sumo, All Japan, New Japan, NWA, WWF, Pro Wrestling Noah. Since 2009, he’s been running his own promotion in Japan, but he still wrestles every once in a while. He finally announced that 2015 would be his last year in the ring, and he would be throwing a farewell show with talent from all across Japan. And how do you send yourself off in style? You challenge the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and one of the legit best wrestlers in the world to a final match, that’s how. Tenryu shocked the NJPW audience by storming the ring, grabbing the mic, and demanding the Rainmaker in the most grizzled voice I can recall hearing. Okada initially had that Michaels/Flair reaction of “Don’t make me do this,” but he went on to accept the challenge. We’re doing this, folks. On November 15, it’s Okada vs. Tenryu. And frankly, Tenryu could end up going for 25 minutes of side headlocks and I’d still feel like I was watching something worthwhile. Wrestling kicks ass.
Best: Wrestling For People Who Watch Lots Of Wrestling
There was a point in the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match between The Young Bucks and reDRagon where I realized that I was having so much fun watching that I had straight-up forgotten to take notes for a good 10 minutes. It’s a good problem to have, all things considered. Anyway, this match (and this feud) is an example of just how meta pro wrestling can get. I was thinking about it, and I realized that reDRagon won the match because, in kayfabe and in real life, they have watched a ton of Young Bucks matches. It’s like Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish have been going to the same magic show every day for the past couple of years, and they now realize that they not only know all the tricks, but they can probably perform them better than the guy on stage. And now that reDRagon are your new champions, the game of one-upmanship will continue. This rivalry between the two teams is one that I’m okay watching for months to come, because unlike some long-running feuds, it’s always well-executed and there’s usually enough of a new ingredient every time to keep things somewhat fresh. The secret ingredient this time around was Cody Hall, who literally kidnapped Kyle O’Reilly halfway through the match, leaving Bobby on his own and turning Kyle into Chekov’s Hot Tag.
Two quick observations:
- The Young Bucks are the Deadpool of pro wrestling. They are constantly aware of themselves without taking it all too seriously, they’re notorious fourth-wall breakers, and they make purists f*cking furious.
- If Bobby Fish ever gets signed by WWE, he needs to be a Vaudevillain, simply on the basis of facial hair.
Best, But Maybe Also Worst?: Ricochet Is The Best Wrestler Alive
The superman exists, and he’s from Kentucky.
Whenever Ricochet goes to Japan, he’s basically hitting his final form. He is free of the bonds of gravity, anatomy and logic. I remember watching a recent match from Dragon Gate where he gets the tag from Matt Sydal and proceeds to reel off a 40-second sequence that made me throw my hands in the air and say “Well, that’s the end of professional wrestling. It’ll never look better than that.” He is a total-package athlete that hasn’t shown a weakness in years. Ricochet in Japan would murder Brock Lesnar.
This would all be awesome if wrestling wasn’t fake.
Ricochet’s match with KUSHIDA for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship was great. In fact, it was probably my favorite match of the night. But the thing to remember about great matches is that they require great wrestlers on both sides. Cesaro is amazing, but if you put him in the ring with a local indy wrestler who only has four months of experience, you will not get an instant classic. Ricochet has reached a point where he’s so good that anyone less than elite looks like a total scrub compared to him, which kind of limits his options for opponents. Just for the flow of storytelling, I want him to be in peril every once in a while. Thankfully, KUSHIDA is damn good at what he does. If Ricochet’s superpower is flight, then KUSHIDA’s superpower is staying cool under pressure. He never panicked, he stuck to his submission game, and he beat the odds. I know this Ricochet thing is the weirdest possible nitpick, but it doesn’t change my opinion of him at all. I think he might be the best in the world right now, I’d just like to see him challenged every once in a while. Unchecked, rampant dominance should only be reserved for Ronda Rousey fights.
Best: Maria Kanellis Is The Scarlet Witch
Worst: But Seriously, What’s Going On Here
In case you’re not familiar with Maria’s role in New Japan, she’s an enchantress. She is so hot that she makes anyone in a 10-foot radius forget their spouse and start doing comedy spots. I’m certain Michael Bennett loves her very much, but he probably also married her for the stat buff.
But, anyway, the match here consists of A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows of the Bullet Club taking on Kazuchika Okada, Michael Bennett, and Matt Taven. If you’re thinking something along the lines of “Wow, they didn’t do Okada any favors,” then we’re on the same page. Bennett and Taven aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, they’re just not who I’d pick as lieutenants if I was the heavyweight champion heading into battle against hated rivals. Speaking of the rivalry, I enjoy the fact that Okada and Styles are now at the point where they’re stringing together endless counters to each other. It gives things that sense of familiarity I was talking about with the Young Bucks, plus it sets up moments like this.
My problem here is a general sense of confusion regarding the Bullet Club. I have no idea what the endgame is here. Kenny Omega was the best thing they had going, and now he seems to be out of the picture. Anderson and Gallows have some steam behind them as tag team champions, but everyone else (including A.J.) is just kind of a dork that fell out of their once-mighty position. And even that would be fine, but then A.J. ends up scoring the pin on Okada, so… yeah, I don’t know. Bullet Club is a mess, more so than usual. I still want my fantasy booking where Omega usurps A.J. in a Loser Leaves NJPW match.
One last thing about Styles: Dude needs a haircut. He’s got so much hair in his face, he looks like just finished a LiveJournal post about how The Black Parade saved his life.
Best: An Intelligent Wrestling Match
You know things are serious when they bring out Masahiro Chono and The Great Muta for commentary. The final match of G1 Climax 25 pitted A-Block winner Hiroshi Tanahashi against B-Block winner Shinsuke Nakamura in a rematch of the Wrestle Kingdom 8 main-event. Right off the bat, I have to praise Tanahashi for being a genius here. Nakamura suffered an elbow injury during the tournament, so Tanahashi zeroes in on it at the beginning. Then, later in the match, he starts working Nakamura’s knee so he can’t do the Boma Ye without hurting himself. Brilliant. Stuff like that is such a simple way to move a match forward. We get a 30+ minute ordeal here. The late near-falls look like the world is ending. I’ve noticed that Tanahashi gets pissed off if he’s not decisively winning a match within 10 minutes, and we definitely see that from him. It’s a great match to determine who will main-event Wrestle Kingdom 10. A great, great match. Both men should be very proud of themselves.
But maybe you know where I’m going with this.
Worst: BIG MATCH HIROSHI
Don’t tell me that wrestling isn’t a universal language.
Nakamura seemed like such a sure bet going forward. He had the hill to climb after the injury, plus he’s still coming off the loss of the IWGP Intercontinental title, plus the fact that a G1 win could set up intra-faction warfare between him and Okada. He had everything to gain, and he hit three (maybe four?) Boma Ye knees to get it, but there’s no card in the deck higher than the Ace. Yes, Tanahashi won a huge match (and a huge tournament) to earn this, but it’s nothing he hasn’t earned before. And if Okada hangs on to the title until Wrestle Kingdom, then we’re in for a main-event that we’ve seen twice before, once in 2015 and once in 2013. Guess who won both of those.
I’m jumping the gun here, I know it. There’s still a lot of time between now and January 4, who knows what could be added to the mix? I say go for broke and put the four biggest stars in the ring. Tanahashi, Okada, Nakamura, and Styles. One fall to determine it all. But that’s just fantasy booking, I’m sure we’ll get some answers on Raw tonight when… oh, wait. Dammit.