NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Day 3

Arnold Furious: 24th July 2015. We’re in Kyoto, Japan. Yesterday saw Block B kick off. After the wins and losses were tallied here’s how the Block looks:

BLOCK B:
Karl Anderson 2
Kazuchika Okada 2
Yuji Nagata 2
Hirooki Goto 2
Tomohiro Ishii 2
Satoshi Kojima 0
Yujiro Takahashi 0
Tomoaki Honma 0
Michael Elgin 0
Shinsuke Nakamura 0

Nakamura’s defeat, in the main event no less, was a big upset but the plan must surely be to have Nakamura on a slow burn. It’s likely he’ll lose again before he starts on the road to redemption. That’s how Gedo usually books. Seeing as we’re going back over to Block A, here’s a reminder of how that looks.

BLOCK A:
Hiroshi Tanahashi 2
AJ Styles 2
Tetsuya Naito 2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan 2
Togi Makabe 2
Doc Gallows 0
Toru Yano 0
Bad Luck Fale 0
Katsuyori Shibata 0
Kota Ibushi 0

Tonight’s big matches have Tanahashi against Tenzan. Both winners on Day One. Shibata vs. Naito, with Shibata anxious to kick Naito’s ass after their tag contest on Day Two. The other matches expose the weakness of Block A with Gallows, Fale and Yano all in different matches. With the exception of Yujiro Takahashi, the three weakest wrestlers in the G1.

Like Day Two this a show with no commentary, presumably being added later when it airs on Samurai TV, but unlike Day Two it’s a proper shoot with multiple cameras and it looks like someone is actually paying attention to the broadcast.

Michael Elgin, Mascara Dorada, Jay White & David Finlay vs. Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
Elgin vs. Kojima is one of the Block B matches tomorrow, so they face off amongst a bevy of juniors. Both men had a decent showing but lost. They’ll be keen to set down a few markers to try and get inside their opponents head for their second bout tomorrow. There’s a good sign right off the bat; the crowd is rowdy and there’s a buzz around the venue. This was not the case at all during Day Two. It’s a pity last night’s card didn’t get this night’s crowd but on paper last night was better. Tiger Mask employs some totally weird psychology and hits the finish he used on Jay White last night in the first sequence in this match. That makes no sense, at all. He stays down selling afterwards, perhaps aware he’s erred. Liger is crazy over. The same way he is in America and the UK. Kyoto must not get to see him too often.

The juniors always get multiple man tags during G1 but rarely get booked into the tournament. How’s about this for an idea; winner of the Super Juniors gets a spot in G1? That would certainly give that tournament a bit more weight. And also, we’d get KUSHIDA all over these shows. There’s no downside to that. As Kojima and Elgin start to leather each other the crowd erupts, they’re going to be wonderful tonight. I love a good crowd. Elgin gets put over big time, double suplexing TM and Liger and making Komatsu look like a small child. If his pedigree was in doubt, in Japan, before this tournament that’s certainly changed already. Kojima gets the better of him with the Koji Cutter and Finlay takes the lariat for the loss. Elgin and Kojima looked seriously motivated here, which means good things for their match tomorrow night.
Final Rating: **3/4

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI)
If anyone can get a good match out of Yujiro it’s Ishii, who worked wonders during their NEVER title feud last year. They’ll be working a Block match tomorrow night, hence this tag. For those who don’t follow NJPW all that closely, Yujiro used to be in CHAOS before defecting to Bullet Club during AJ Styles IWGP title victory. CHAOS have not been fans of him since and he’s worked series with Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI. The only good thing about Yujiro is he can make it believable that anyone can beat him. Cody works the match like he’s Yujiro’s bodyguard and that’s an ongoing angle I could get behind. Cody didn’t get the memo where you’re not supposed to get over on anyone who’s in the G1 and tries to bully Ishii a bit, which gets him a kicking. Cody is showing signs of improvement, one of the benefits of working in New Japan where the standard is so high. He’s still making mistakes, big ones at that, but his persona is coming across much better than before and he’s gaining in confidence. I don’t think the Japanese fans get the Razor Ramon references so much but they tickle me. Cody’s blunders continue with a botched spot with YOSHI-HASHI, which he forgets to kick out of. YOSHI-HASHI finishes moments later with a corkscrew senton, which makes me think Cody just forgot what move the finish was. This wasn’t very good. Ishii vs. Yujiro should be better tomorrow.
Final Rating: *3/4

Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga) vs. Hirooki Goto & Captain New Japan
Karl Anderson is the talk of the puro world after beating Shinsuke Nakamura in Day Two’s main event. It’s a logical upset, as Nakamura will always contend and Gedo’s booking always sets out with the intention of sewing seeds of doubt. Next for Anderson is another favourite for Block B; Hirooki Goto. The current IC champion and 2008 G1 winner. Goto has spent most of his career hitting his head on the glass ceiling so there will always be question marks as to whether he can hang with the top guys. Beating Nakamura twice recently seems to have removed the stigma I always felt Goto had. Tagging with Shibata, he always looked like a weak link. Interesting to note that despite his transformation into confident main eventer, he’s carrying an injury and has taped ribs. Will that come into play as the tournament progresses? Anderson has been stuck in the tag ranks for some considerable time but come G1 he’s always able to hang with the big stars. Anderson has too much for Captain New Japan and batters him into submission before finishing with the Gun Stun in short order. In the early stages of this year G1 he’s been a big deal.
Final Rating: **1/4

Tomoaki Honma, Yuji Nagata & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura & Gedo)
This is in the spot where so far in the tournament we’ve had our best tag team matches. The line up for this one is great, apart from the insufferable Taguchi who seems to have wheedled his way into teaming with people who are genuinely good. Nakamura, if he wasn’t already a favourite of mine, would go up in my estimation by booting the foolish Taguchi in the stomach for fucking around during the King of Strongstyle’s introduction. As if to try and out-do that Honma puts Okada on notice! Honma’s intention is to claim his first G1 win by beating the IWGP champion tomorrow night. It’s not impossible and it would be a magnificent result…but I can’t see it happening. Okada is brilliant in opposition, slipping by Honma when he sets up for the Kokeshi and catching the confused opponent in the Rainmaker, only for Honma to duck under it. That match headlines Day Four with good reason. It will be quite sensational. Honestly, the only part of this match that isn’t great is Taguchi and how much of my time he wastes with his butt-based offence and stupid mannerisms. He is quite dreadful. Honma more than makes up for it, with perfect reactions to everything. The Nakamura-Nagata stuff is a bit muted as they had a feud for the IC belt earlier in the year and already laid any groundwork for a rematch. When they do clash, Nagata dominates Nakamura. Perhaps suggesting a Nagata victory is imminent to give Nakamura a proper uphill struggle, going 0-2. Increasingly Block B is the place to be. It has the better stories and the better matches. Seeing as Okada comes in with bags of confidence, as IWGP champion and having beaten Elgin on Day Two, he takes a knock or two. He gets trapped in Nagata’s armbar and gets whacked with Kokeshi too. Speaking of which; Honma’s Kokeshi connection rate is insane during G1 and he hits the Super Kokeshi on Gedo for the pin. A marked contrast to the million misses last year.
Final Rating: ***1/4

KOKESHI COUNT – 1 missed. 3 hit.

SUPER KOKESHI – 1 hit.

G1 Climax Block A
Doc Gallows vs. Kota Ibushi
Pre-match pick: Ibushi. His opening night loss was to Tanahashi but he looked like a genuine threat to one of the favourites. It’s unlikely Ibushi will win the whole thing but you’d want him to be a contender at least. Gallows is there to make up the numbers. The story they go for is an obvious one; Kota’s agility vs. Gallows sheer mass advantage. Gallows is very deliberate, throwing big hands in the corner in particular, reminiscent of the Undertaker. Ibushi isn’t used to working against bigger opponents and doesn’t really modify his approach to wrestling to suit. Hopefully this match will give him some ideas for the Fale match. Gallows certainly tries hard here, in a better showing than Day One, and throws in a combination of strikes and big spots. Some of the ideas are perhaps a bit ambitious and the set up to Ibushi winning with a sunset flip is all a bit contrived. At least the right guy went over.
Final Rating: ***

Picks: 7/11

G1 Climax Block A
Bad Luck Fale vs. Togi Makabe
Pre-match pick: Makabe. I think they’ll keep Makabe strong to start with. His third match is against Shibata, which is where the Block will start to get really intriguing. Fale offers very little by comparison, and lacks the conditioning he had last year. Togi’s idea of getting the match over is to take an enormous amount of heat, which Fale is ill equipped to dish out. He really is in horrible condition and the difference between Gallows effort in the last match and Fale’s total lack of effort in this one is noticeable. Several spots don’t work at all, even worse than the last match, and Togi’s answer to everything is a big overhand punch. Fale wins with a surprisingly safe Bad Luck Fall. I couldn’t get into it at all. Will probably end up being the worst match in the G1 this year. Unless Gallows vs. Fale is even worse.
Final Rating: *

Picks: 7/12

G1 Climax Block A
Toru Yano vs. AJ Styles
Pre-match pick: AJ Styles. Yano will probably win some matches here and there but surely AJ is going to be kept strong all tournament long and be there or thereabouts at the end. Even if it’s just as a target for someone else to overcome. Losing to Yano isn’t part of those plans. Surely. Yano goes into the ropes to start with. “BREAK. BREEEEEAAAAAAAAAK. BREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKK. BREEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK”. Yano’s whole gimmick is making fun of people who take themselves seriously. AJ’s certainly a contender for that and he eats a chair doing the rail hurdling spot. AJ probably feels he’s too good to get suckered by Yano but Yano’s magic has worked on everyone. Red Shoes isn’t keen on AJ’s muscle pose pin and won’t count it. “I’m trying to be entertaining here!” – AJ. Yano somehow has this ability to be faster when he’s cheating, and his timing is uncanny. AJ plays along with all the spots, including Yano’s RVD style pointing, smacking Yano in the back of the head with the springboard elbow after being made to look foolish one time too many. AJ’s block of the low blow into the Pele Kick is outstanding business too. Yano is a creative guy, who always seems to be one move ahead, usually illegally. For AJ to match him, he has to get creative. Yano gets caught in the Calf Killer, bang in the middle of the ring, and that’ll do it. This had several memorable moments and Yano definitely shouldn’t have gone over AJ. He’ll upset somebody in this tournament but when the time is right.
Final Rating: ***1/4

Picks: 8/13

G1 Climax Block A
Tetsuya Naito vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Pre-match pick: Shibata. This is the most intriguing match of the night and easily the hardest prediction. I ended up flipping a coin but basically Naito has started strong and Shibata is injured so that would be the logical call. However, logic goes out the window with Shibata and myself. I keep picking him to win everything. I still secretly hope he wins G1. The reactions to Naito’s new Ingobernables character have been indifferent so far but he gets booed soundly in Kyoto (which is near Osaka, a typical hotbed of Naito hatred). The tag match last night did a good job of building to this match as Shibata got some genuine hatred going and he jumps Naito before he’s taken off his mask and suit. Part of the tactic is defensive as Shibata is carrying that arm injury and doesn’t want to get into trouble. If he dominates, he protects his arm. When Naito does get into the match he doesn’t just go after the arm, he uses the arm to set up the leg, which Shibata had worked over by AJ Styles on Day One. A lot of the folks on Twitter seem really into Naito’s new character but it does nothing whatsoever for me. I just find it frustrating that one of NJPW’s more entertaining workers now has weird ticks that make him look lazy. Shibata knows how to please me, and Kyoto, and destroys Naito’s face with the sole of boot. Then he refuses to go down for Naito’s corner legsweep spot, by holding the ropes and double stomps Naito when he slingshots in. It’s good stuff, using Naito’s trademark spot and Shibata’s wrestling ability. He’ll have prepared a game plan for all of Naito’s spots. It’s Naito who kills the spirit of the match with his usual glassy-eyed stare into the middle distance. If he doesn’t give a shit, why should I? Shibata puts the wanker in a sleeper and then finishes with a PK. Good! Some decent limb work from Naito but his character is the worst. People who don’t care about anything are impossible to care about.
Final Rating: ***1/2

Picks: 9/14

G1 Climax Block A
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Pre-match pick: Tanahashi. I’m pretty much picking him to win every match he’s in as I’ll be right 90% of the time. Tenzan won his opening match but he’s not on Tanahashi’s level, despite having three times as many G1 wins as New Japan’s ace. The crowd get Tana all pissed off during the opening exchanges by loudly chanting for Tenzan. Don’t they know they only get a star like Tanahashi once in a hundred years! It says so on his knee pads. It must be true. Tenzan gets lots of love for the Mongolian Chops and Tana starts getting a bit of heat. Tanahashi throws the kind of strop about it that you wish John Cena would do every once in a while. He gets so angry he stops off to play some air guitar. Have you ever gotten that mad? That’s Kevin Bacon anger dancing in a barn from Footloose levels of pissed off. Tanahashi wisely keeps the pace slow so Tenzan can keep up and not drop dead from exhaustion. Tanahashi never really seems in trouble and Tenzan’s domination of certain sequences seem to be Tana simply biding his time. Tana is content to simply wear Tenzan out by drawing the match out and hooking holds that cripple Tenzan’s cardio. The one spot that feels like Tenzan might get somewhere is when he hooks the Anaconda Vice bang in the middle of the ring and Unno is all over it, checking that Tanahashi hasn’t quit or passed out. Red Shoes has phenomenal false finish teases on submissions. He hints at ringing the bell, as if he heard an audio submission and then goes back to check again. It’s the work of a master. When the finish comes there’s a hint of inevitability. Tenzan is worn out from his attempts at getting a tap out and gets caught with the Slingblade. He kicks out of that but gets beaten with the High Fly Flow moments later. The crowd were really hoping for a Tenzan win but, despite the lengthy Anaconda Vice spot, it was never really on the cards.
Final Rating: ***3/4

Picks: 10/15. Best night yet for me on picks as I went 4/5. Only that son of a bitch Fale wrecked everything.

Before we go, here’s the new Block A standings.

BLOCK A:
AJ Styles 4
Hiroshi Tanahashi 4
Tetsuya Naito 2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan 2
Togi Makabe 2
Kota Ibushi 2
Bad Luck Fale 2
Katsuyori Shibata 2
Doc Gallows 0
Toru Yano 0

No hopers Gallows and Yano are the only two blanked after two matches, which will make absolutely no difference come the end. As predicted it’s AJ Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi that are setting the pace. Expect those two to go to the wire. Shibata and Ibushi both picked up their first wins after losing to AJ and Tana, respectively, on Day One. I suspect both will still be in the running come the last couple of shows.

Summary: The least thrilling G1 show so far this year. A couple of decent matches but even the better matches didn’t deliver like the best matches on the other nights. Some of the undercard tags were quite fun but there’s a definite feeling that Block B has the better matches lined up. Still it worked fine as a show and kept me interested throughout. It was quite pleasing that they whole thing ran three hours instead of the bulging three and half hours of the other two shows. Avoid that awful Makabe-Fale match like the plague though.
Verdict: 64

Money In The Bank 2017

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Arnold Furious: June 18, 2017. We’re in St Louis, Missouri. Hosts are Tom Phillips, his airline erection, JBL and Byron Saxton.

 

Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina vs. Carmella vs. Natalya
Some solid advice from one of the fans; “Climb Faster”. Carmella has a distinct advantage as she’s got James Ellsworth at ringside. She is the only one with help. The match is billed as a ‘historic first ever’ women’s MITB match. Which would mean a lot more if the belt they’re looking for a shot at was so unestablished. It didn’t exist at the start of last year.  Part of what makes the Money in the Bank concept so important is that it virtually guarantees you a world title. Which is tough to attain in the business. The structuring is always going to be tough because none of these women have been in anything like this before. The result is a lot of awkwardness, nasty looking bumps and overselling. Oh and glacially slow climbing. The do pander to the fans with traditional ladder spots, which somehow feel fresh because it’s women that are taking them. There are some gutsy bumps in there. Nobody phones the bumps in. Tamina and Carmella don’t take good bumps but they don’t phone them in. The match has definite car crash appeal. Charlotte and Becky are the stand-outs. Both in terms of the bumps they take and the spots they execute. The finish is so bad it’s untrue. James Ellsworth climbs the ladder and drops the briefcase down to Carmella. What? How must Carmella feel about that? It screams ‘we don’t trust you to climb up a ladder’. Worse still is this historic first ever women’s MITB match was won by a man. You couldn’t make this up. Do WWE not realise that goes against everything the Women’s Revolution was about?
Final Rating: **1/4

 

Video Control takes us backstage where Lana is interviewed regarding her title shot. Which makes the last match a laughing stock (which is already was) as Lana has virtually no wrestling experience and already has a title shot.

 

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NXT TakeOver: San Antonio

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Arnold Furious: January 28, 2017. We’re in San Antonio, Texas. Hosts are Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Percy Watson. Corey is making his final Takeover appearance before permanently graduating to the main roster.

 

Tye Dillenger vs. Eric Young
Tye is over huge with the Perfect Ten gimmick and I’m confused as to why he’s gotten no discernable push in NXT whatsoever. As soon as that “TEN” gimmick caught on he should have been pushed hard. With EY, I’m glad he’s been given something to do as all the former TNA boys are struggling to differentiate themselves. With SAnitY there’s at least something different happening. I also approve of Big Damo’s re-branding as Killian Dain. It’s weird that Eric is backed, entirely, by European wrestlers. I’d be fully in favour of Tommy End kicking Young out of his own stable and turning it into a filthy Eurograps ensemble. SAnitY play the numbers game and somehow Young isn’t disqualified for all the heels running into the ring during the match. At least Tye gets the clean win with the Tyebreaker and the visual pinfall, even though SAnitY cheat to keep EY alive. Tye comes across like a genuine star and has the presence of one right up until Young pins him, which is a great move for SAnitY but not for crowd reactions. Personally I think Tye has been treated horribly during his time in NXT. If this is it for him and he’s away to the main roster I wish him all the best.
Final Rating: ***1/4

 

Speaking of main roster; Samoa Joe is ringside.

 

Andrade Cien Almas vs. Roderick Strong
Roddy is probably too good to be jobbing around in NXT. However he’s so good that he’s one of the guys who can get over someone who’s struggling like Almas. For what he lacks in adapting to American wrestling Almas certainly has the personality to succeed as a heel. It’s almost ridiculous that they tried him as a face first. Presumably because he’s so devastatingly handsome. They tell a tidy story with Strong going after backbreakers and Almas using innovative lucha counters to avoid more of them. Almas really ups his game here, backed into a corner by Roddy’s violence. I love a hard-hitting match and this is that in spades. Roddy survives being kneed in the face and hits the Sick Kick for the win.
Final Rating: ***3/4

 

NXT Tag Team Championship
#DIY (c) vs. The Authors of Pain
This is a major challenge for Gargano and Ciampa. Authors of Pain have looked good in short matches but have yet to be tested in a major match. The champs tell an intriguing story where they try different tactics to take over the match. Whether it’s technical wrestling, countering, quick tags or hitting and moving. It’s really well done as they try such a range of tactics but nothing works. The match slows down with AoP actually take over on offence but because it’s a long match they’re not their usual aggressive selves. Everything has to slow down and it removes a lot of what makes AoP fun to watch. Ciampa gets all fired up with German suplexes and that shows a crack in AoP’s gruff exterior. If you’re running the ‘Road Warriors’ gimmick you can’t show much ass but this is enough, to show they’re human. It opens the window of possibility. The biggest shock is that this is a great match. It relies heavily on #DIY and their workrate and creativity but AoP are no slouches. They do fine work in running their big spots and having the champs make desperation escapes. The double submission spot is a nice call back to Toronto and #DIY’s title win. This time it doesn’t get the job done. AoP power out, avoid the double strike and bully Ciampa into the pin. This was shockingly high-quality and it’s Authors of Pain first truly great match. I’ll need to see them wrestle other teams at this level to be convinced they belong here but it takes two (or four) to tango.
Final Rating: ****

 

Promo Time: Seth Rollins
“Show’s called Takeover right? Well I’m taking over”. He gets a huge pop for coming out of the crowd, grabbing the microphone and calling Triple H out. It was only a matter of time before main roster feuds crept into NXT and I like how this was presented. The crowd do too, which is a good sign. Wouldn’t it be weird if Hunter forced Seth to wrestle in NXT for a while?

 

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka (c) vs. Nikki Cross vs. Peyton Royce vs. Billie Kay
The money match here is Asuka vs. Nikki but putting the two Australians in here allows us to tease that match without delivering it. Nikki Cross looks totally nuts. I love her character. She’s easily the best character in SAnitY. The two Aussies help each other out but even that’s no use against the skills of Asuka. It’s Nikki who takes it to Asuka and their sequences are a delight. Cross even lays Asuka out with a neckbreaker off the apron. The Aussies remove Nikki from the match though, ending the best part of it, with a suplex off the announce table. This allows them to double team Asuka. The Aussies don’t take advantage and Asuka kicks them both in the head to retain. Peyton eats the fall but it could have been either. I thought Peyton looked the better of the two Australians in personality terms and for work.
Final Rating: ***

 

Video Control takes us ringside where UK Champion Tyler Bate is seated. That’s not the money shot though as behind him is Matt Riddle, wearing a Progress scarf, giving the thumbs up, bro.

 

NXT Championship
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Bobby Roode
Roode is over on entrance and music alone. Tonight he’s not accompanied by a choir but he does have eight valets. Eight! Nakamura is relatively low key by comparison. My expectation levels are quite low for this because Nakamura has been coasting a little in NXT and Roode doesn’t do much for me. We were debating Roode in the office and the general feeling is that he’s a vessel, largely empty coming into WWE, and has allowed himself to be filled with WWE ideas. There’s no baggage here, which is why he’s been so successful. I don’t buy into Roode besting Nakamura in a straight up fight so they wisely create injury angles to sell the match up. Nakamura does good work in selling the shoulder but it doesn’t really impact the match. The match picks up when Nakamura stomps the piss out of Bobby and catches him with a flying armbar. This is the match I wanted to see. Roode running largely generic heat wasn’t. Nakamura injures his own knee doing a flying knee on the apron and that changes the match. Nakamura generally doesn’t sell his knee, even if it’s been worked over, so this is a change of gears for him. It’s interesting that it happens on an offensive move and looks like a fluke. The match from then is totally different with Roode destroying the knee in brutal fashion. It helps massively that Nakamura sells everything and even looks like tapping out. Roode can’t get a submission but the Glorious DDT finishes and Bobby takes the title.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

Summary: A rock solid outing from NXT. I probably went into this Takeover at my least hyped for a major NXT show but it did deliver. Especially in the tag title match, which blew my expectations out of the water. I should probably never forget that whoever is competing on NXT is young (mostly) and hungry and want the exposure. That’s as true here as on any other show they’ve put out.
Verdict: 92

NJPW G1 Climax 25 – Day 1

Arnold Furious: This year I’m trying something a little different for G1. Normally I watch the shows that I like the look of and if anything else gets good reviews I’ll check that too. This year I’m going full bore. I’m watching everything. Yes, every fucking thing and I’m going to busting those reviews out right after the shows (or as soon as I can, what with work and such). That means 19 shows in less than a month. It is the longest G1 in history. All other projects are going on the back-burner for this one. In order to full prepare you, and me, for such a momentous tournament here are the line up’s complete with some serious analysis of the individuals chances. I’ll be listing the blocks in the order that I think they’ll finish so you can laugh at me in a month’s time when I’ve made a complete arse of it.

BLOCK A:

1. AJ Styles. This in itself is wishful thinking because I’m off the opinion that we’ll get Nakamura vs. AJ as the final, which is being hotly debated on Twitter. Nakamura is the big favourite, having dropped his IC belt to contest the G1. Nakamura and AJ have almost zero history so the big hope is a dream final between those two. In order to get there AJ has to fend off Hiroshi Tanahashi, who seems to have AJ’s number in fair fights and Kota Ibushi, winner of the New Japan Cup and showstealer at Wrestle Kingdom. Given AJ’s reactions during last year’s G1, the tournament that *made* him in New Japan and his IWGP title match with Kazuchika Okada, the fans are ready to accept him as the top dog. My primary thinking is that Nakamura vs. AJ is a hot ticket for the final though. Rather than the oft repeated Nakamura vs. Tanahashi. I’m very torn over this pick.

2. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tana is the big spoiler, potentially, for AJ (especially as they wrestle each other right at the end). He’s not won G1 since 2007 and considering he’s been NJPW’s biggest star for that entire time, it’s a bit of a surprise he’s only got the one win. Plus a victory would almost ensure another Okada-Tanahashi Wrestle Kingdom showdown. A match that Okada struggles with. Could they give Tana an elusive second G1 only to fall to Okada, ending the curse of the Rainmaker at WK? It’d be one hell of a story. I personally see them saving that for next year, hoping the dream match of Okada vs. Nakamura (many people’s MOTY for 2014 and G1 Final) will sell WK10 big time. Whichever match they go for, it’ll be huge. I’d watch the shit out of both of those contests. Or indeed Okada vs. AJ, seeing as their last match was the mutts nuts. The more I think about it, the more I think Tana could squeak into the final, at AJ’s expense. Thus saving AJ vs. Nakamura for another time.

3. Kota Ibushi. A strong showing for Ibushi would be nice, seeing as he’s been a big deal this year but not on the same level as the really top guys. Defeats to AJ and Nakamura have reflected this and he’s not beaten any of the big names. Kota missed last year’s G1 with injury and surely has a point to prove. It’s a tournament he’s perhaps considered a little too lightweight to win outright. Maybe in years to come he can change perception of himself. I’m not seeing it this year, although Okada-Ibushi would be another terrific match. New Japan have tonnes of them lined up.

4. Katsuyori Shibata. He was in the hunt last year until a dubious count-out loss to Bad Luck Fale. I can see him being the bridesmaid once more thanks to a pre-tournament arm injury. Expect a slew of opponents to work that arm and him to incur early set backs because of it. Especially as he’s wrestling AJ Styles tonight (more on that later as I stupidly pick Shibata to win). They’ve also got him working Doc Gallows on the last day, which suggests another cheap finish as Doc is a guy they’re happy to put over anyone as he’s big. So expect a poor start, remarkable comeback and cheap finish from Shibata (and despite saying all this I go ahead and pick him to beat AJ, which is why my predictions will fail. I think it through and then pick Shibata to win everything because he’s Shibata).

5. Togi Makabe. New Japan generally treat their champions quite well and Togi is carrying the NEVER belt into G1. For that reason alone he should finish in the top half. He’s generally put over most midcard guys anyway so he shouldn’t be losing to Yano or Tenzan or even Fale. He’s the kind of guy who should contend until the last few nights at the very least. I don’t see him winning but he already has one G1 win from back in 2009. It does happen.

6. Hiroyoshi Tenzan. At one point it looked like Tenzan was heading towards replacing Masa Chono as Mr August. He’s won G1 three times, closing in on Chono’s record of five. He has no chance of winning this one but is carrying the NWA title, which needs to be kept fairly strong if he’s to draw anything in defending the belt. For this alone I see Tenzan getting a good run and his nostalgia pops should be fun. “SSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH”.

7. Tetsuya Naito. Placing Naito is hard because his new found attitude (he looks like he doesn’t give a fuck about anything) could result in a lot of defeats. The weird part of his new persona is he still wrestles exactly the same but only without any interest in wrestling, people or life in general. Like some sort of zombie robot. He could potentially come in last if he starts taking count outs against the likes of Doc or Tenzan. His very first match is with Fale. If he loses that…he could be in for a long, long tournament. He does have a tournament pedigree however winning G1 back in 2013. His resultant title match with Okada got bumped off top though and resulted in him being turned heel (eventually). He’s not yet been rebuilt to a winners circle level.

8. Bad Luck Fale. Fale was a spoiler last year and finished very high up but was also involved with Nakamura around the tournament and was being booked strong so they could finish their series. This year he’s due no such protection and he doesn’t deserve it.

9. Toru Yano. I suspect he’ll probably finish higher but Yano’s sole purpose is to provide the wrestlers with an off night. Last year his matches were routinely short and inoffensive. The idea being that it gave everyone in the block a night where they didn’t have to bust ass. I’m sure Tanahashi and Tenzan will appreciate working Yano. Look for their matches to be especially short. Yano will probably go 50-50 throughout the tournament so I’ve probably got him a bit low.

10. Doc Gallows. While he’ll probably pick up a few unexpected wins to keep people guessing who’ll win the overall prize, I don’t see Gallows over anybody in a straight up match. Maybe Yano. The match with Fale will be skippable. He could potentially be spoiler for Shibata right at the end and could inflict an early defeat on Tenzan this evening but ultimately he’ll be nowhere.

BLOCK B:

1. Shinsuke Nakamura. It’s hard to look past Nakamura. The only other major player in Block B is Kazuchika Okada and he’s already the IWGP champion. The tournament exists to set up the number one contender for Wrestle Kingdom. While IWGP champions have won in the past that was before it was such a deliberate set up for something else. Like how Hulk Hogan won the Royal Rumble when he was WWF champion. Kensuke Sasaki was the last man to win G1 while holding the title so it’s highly unlikely. Nakamura on the other hand is free of IC title issues, having lost the belt to Goto and lost the re-match, and already has a terrific match with Okada in the books. They’ll face each other again in the Block here in what could, potentially, be a preview of WK10’s main event.

2. Hirooki Goto. Most people have Okada as #2 in this Block and I would totally understand that but G1 is never that cut and dry. I don’t see Nakamura and Okada being the only guys capable of winning going into their match at the end of the tournament. I can see Goto winning to go top before their match leaving us to wonder whether Nakamura or Okada can overcome him. Ultimately I see Goto as a red herring but he’s been making overtures toward the big belt, one he challenges for sometimes (and loses), claiming he’ll unify NJPW’s big two belts. I can’t see either of those things happening but beating Nakamura twice sets him up for the hat trick and to be taken seriously as a main eventer.

3. Kazuchika Okada. The IWGP champion coming into G1, which virtually guarantees he won’t win but New Japan will want people to think he’ll win so he’ll be up there all Block long. Probably in the lead for most of the tournament. His first big match is against Elgin. Unless they’re looking to break Elgin in big, that’s a win for Okada. His next big match is Honma and, no offence to Honma, he won’t lose that either. Honma was blanked last year and it’ll all be about Honma getting a big win. He won’t get it against Okada. He just won’t. So Okada will contend the whole way and lose to Nakamura in the last match to miss out. Whether Nakamura wins the Block based on this is debatable but most people think he will.

4. Karl Anderson. A former runner up, in 2012, the Machine Gun is a legitimate singles threat and they usually have one of the gaijin have a good run to contend. AJ is the obvious choice but Karl is the other guy capable of a good run. I see him getting a few upsets and possibly beating Okada, as he has done before (like last year).

5. Yuji Nagata. This is another guy I’d love for NJPW to push but it seems to rarely happen. His IC title shot at Nakamura came after he contemplated retirement after being left off the WK9 show. He’s back to being on the pre-show and you wonder how long they’ll carry on sticking Nagata into tournaments they’ve no intention of having him compete in. With that in mind I’m hoping he has a good showing. To prove he belongs and next year they can put him back into having great matches and finishing in the bottom half.

6. Tomohiro Ishii. I’m a massive Ishii mark. My Twitter avatar at the moment is me standing next to, and towering over, New Japan’s diminutive Stone Pitbull. I’m always hoping he pushes for the big win and I’m constantly crushed he comes up short in big matches. He should at least steamroller the likes of Yujiro but won’t upset any of the big guns. Unless Shinsuke is feeling generous. He loves #141.

7. Satoshi Kojima. Another veteran and it seems like an eternity since Kojima won the G1 back in 2010. He certainly won’t be in contention here and will probably be the cause of much frustration regarding selling and inconsistencies during this G1. He’ll still finish above Honma because Gedo is mean.

8. Michael Elgin. I’m not sure how well Elgin will be received. Mainly because of his lack of experience in NJPW. The crowd were notably silent at his name being announced in previous tours. I can see him getting a few wins and being given the opportunity to prove himself. He’ll hope for a long term gain of future tours by throwing a tonne of effort in. The match with Nakamura alone should be worth his inclusion. His opening match, against Okada, should be a fine demonstration of how well he’ll do.

9. Tomoaki Honma. The loveable loser was blanked at last year’s G1. I’m expecting a wait during this one for Honma to break his duck but I can’t see him going 0-9. I have him winning at least twice, if not more frequently and staying out of last place. The fans will love him regardless and I can’t face the prospect of Yujiro beating the poor guy.

10. Yujiro Takahashi. I hate this guy.

So that’s the preview. Should be a fantastic 19 shows. Day one alone boasts Tanahashi vs. Ibushi and AJ vs. Shibata. It promises to be one wild ride. The anticipation of not only seeing G1 live but also paying a minimal amount for it on the outstanding New Japan World is a genuine thrill. New Japan are bringing the best value for money in the world. Even better than the WWE’s $9.99 Network.

Tomoaki Honma, Mascara Dorada, David Finlay & Jay White vs. Yuji Nagata, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
I actually ate my dinner during this match. That’s not a metaphor or anything. It was a baguette. I had fries with it and JR’s BBQ sauce. The hot one. Bangin’. Anyway, the guys to watch here are Honma and Nagata. Two massive crowd favourites with differing goals during G1. Honma just wants to win one match and land as many Kokeshi’s as possible. Nagata wants to prove he belongs at the top end of the card, despite his advanced years. They leave the legwork to the juniors. Jay White, and his shitty new Mohawk, looks eager to make an impact and looks smoother than usual. As if his training has kicked up a gear. He’s very impressive. There are moments where he hesitates, perhaps giving himself a second of thinking time that a veteran wouldn’t require and some of his movements are quite mechanical and deliberate but he’s improving. Nagata singles out Finlay Jr. for abuse and finishes with the Backdrop Driver.
Final Rating: ***

KOKESHI COUNT – 1/4

Tangent: Nagata and Honma had the best preparations for G1. Nagata did some work on limboing to avoid the Rainmaker. Meanwhile Honma perfected his Kokeshi by doing a Kokeshi bungee jump. This is the kind of thing they show on New Japan World when you’re watching Swerved or Total Divas.

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall) vs. Hirooki Goto & Captain New Japan)
Scott Hall’s boy is starting to progress up the card and feature in matches with no other young boys. This has nothing to do with his ability and everything to do with how tall he is. One day he will be a monster. Yujiro doesn’t bring Mao with him so he’s completely worthless. Cody on Twitter joked “what’s yellow on the outside but white on the inside…Yujiro Takahashi”. I see political correctness runs in the family. Goto’s stock has raised of late and he’s wearing a new robe to the ring for G1, a sign he’s likely to do well. It’s at times like this I wish that New Japan didn’t put on such big shows. This one is three and a half hours and this match is completely unnecessary. Captain New Japan opts to take the joke route, pretending he has mind powers and missing stuff. It’s all very silly and it’s a bit early in the show for a comedy break. The result of this half-assed approach is a house show level event, which only picks up when Goto decides to impose himself on Yujiro as an early marker in Block B. All the tag matches involve Block B participants, with Block A open for business in singles in the second half. Cody throwing Goto around is pretty surprising. He is a beast. If the WWE catch wind of him they’ll be calling. He’s 6’ 8”. He’s second generation. Vince must surely want him. Goto pins Cody with a cheeky roll up, which is a bit odd. You’d expect the IC champion, and a guy in G1, to murder the young boy with his finisher. Match was filler.
Final Rating: *1/2

Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga) vs. CHAOS (Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI)
You don’t get Nakamura and TACOS tagging often. Y-H usually tags up with Okada. Likewise Anderson & Tama as the Machine Gun usually tags with Doc Gallows. Doc is in G1 action tonight though and Tama seems to be working a buddy gimmick during G1. Nakamura might be the most entertaining wrestler in the world right now. His entrance alone is something else. All he has to do is walk into a room and you can’t take your eyes off him in case he does something awesome. Karl knows him well so they have great counters lined up and their G1 match should be really good. The mockery alone makes it entertaining but they can work too. The match is divided in half. The Nakamura half is full of inventive counters and ridiculous showmanship. The YOSHI-HASHI half is meaningless heat. Nakamura gets Tama alone, YEAOOOH, and the BOMAAAA YEEEEE finishes. Tonga had a decent showing but it was all about Nakamura vs. Anderson. Their Block match should be a belter.
Final Rating: **1/2

Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi & Michael Elgin vs. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Gedo)
This is Elgin’s first match in New Japan. They haven’t got his name right though. “Michael Elgar” according to the announcers. Interesting that Kojima and Taguchi come out together and Elgin comes out alone. He does face Kojima in the Blocks so that might factor into how well they operate as a team. That’s true of Okada and Ishii but they’re normally teammates so it’s less of an issue. Ishii gets right in Kojima’s face from the get-go. That’s going to be a hard-hitting contest. I mark out hard for Okada’s blinged out entrance. He has that same X-factor that Nakamura has, only without doing anything ridiculous to achieve it. Elgin wants to start his first match, rather than watch to see how it’s done. Okada obliges. It’s great to see Ishii’s reaction to an early Elgin powerslam. He steps down the apron toward Elgin, sizing him up. As if to say “I’m going to beat the shit out of you”. And he will. And I’ll love it. Kojima provokes the Stone Pitbull further and Ishii full on jumps in there to attack him. Ishii is in the kind of mood that will result in some serious snowflake action during G1. Elgin rather steals the match with a ridiculous stalling suplex, which both Ishii and Okada fail to break up. Okada’s look of disbelief is great. Ishii’s bad mood eventually spills into the ring and we get another prize reaction from him when Taguchi tries that stupid hip attack and then he NO SELLS KOJIMA’S SHITTY CORNER CHOPS! I don’t think Ishii realises he’s supposed to take the tag matches lightly. They’re rest days, mate. NO! Ishii’s determination raises every else’s game, apart from Okada who’s too clever for that. Perhaps the idea is for Ishii to act as Gatekeeper for Okada, wearing out his future opponents. Elgin drops Ishii square on his face, during an ambitious spot where he lifts Okada and Ishii and that takes the starch out of his performance. Okada steps it up to finish off Taguchi but it was Ishii and Elgin who stole this match. Elgin must be thrilled with how his debut came off, despite dropping Ishii on his head.
Final Rating: ***1/2

Tangent: Some good stuff after the bell too where Elgin eyeballs Okada and Ishii full on belts Kojima in the face. Those are going to be two fucking awesome matches. I love Okada here. He just kicks back and watches Ishii and Kojima fighting. Ishii even gets a bloody lip during the ruck but Okada is way too cool to get involved. I would say G1 turns Ishii into a maniac but he’s like this ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

That takes us up to the break with the G1 matches to follow. The break sees clips from the NJPW presser with various suited competitors making comments on the forthcoming tournament. Okada looked remarkably dabber. Champions are men who know their way around a waistcoat.

G1 Climax Block A
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Doc Gallows
Pre-match pick: Tenzan, because he’s NWA champion and he’ll get tired as the tournament progresses. Start him out strong. Doc is likely to win whenever it suits the booking and winning here would start us out on a downer. No one likes downers. Speaking of which, they work really hard to avoid having a stinker to open G1. I’m not really into either guy, which makes it a tough one to sit through. You need a degree of investment to really get into a match. Gallows looks in poor shape, carrying a paunch and being rough around the edges. It’s not as noticeable when he’s working tags but in singles he’s exposed. Tenzan is even more random, selling a knee for no apparent reason (unless he’s really hurt, which would be terrible for him). Maybe they’re going for an injury angle with him, like they did with Makabe and his jaw last year. In which case, I change my pick! Tenzan decides to ground the match, to work around the injury, and hooks the Anaconda Vice. Doc can’t get out and taps. Let me just revel in my 100% predictions accuracy to this point.
Final Rating: **1/4

G1 Climax Block A
Togi Makabe vs. Toru Yano
Pre-match pick: Makabe, because he’s NEVER champion and Yano’s wins and losses will be nights off. Togi doesn’t need one of those yet. Plus Yano upset an injured Togi in the Blocks last year. I’m sure the unchained gorilla hasn’t forgotten that. Togi looks angry, but often that’s Yano’s aim. He winds you up so you lose your focus while he’s laughing at you. Yano tries that here and gets a roll up inside a second, which freaks the crowd out. Yano’s insistence at hiding in the ropes yelling “BREEEAAAAAAAAAAKKKK” is incredibly endearing. I find myself smirking before he’s even started doing it. Yano brings an assortment of the usual, loveable, cheating (chair shots, crowd brawls, exposed turnbuckle, low blow). Togi kicks his ass and finishes with the King Kong Kneedrop. My 100% predictions record remains in tact! Yano isn’t supposed to have good matches but this was actually a welcome break. I feel suitably refreshed ahead of the final three bouts.
Final Rating: *1/4

G1 Climax Block A
Bad Luck Fale vs. Tetsuya Naito
Pre-match pick: Fale. He won an awful lot last year and Naito’s sulky gimmick doesn’t seem to involve effort. Both these guys are into hats all of a sudden. The Underboss has a Blues Brothers hat, and sunglasses. Naito brought a baseball cap back from Mexico as a souvenir and has started sulking because no one complemented him on it. Naito actually comes out here in a Skeletor mask and a suit. He can’t see properly and trips on the ring apron. Twat. Despite Naito looking like getting up in the morning is a massive effort for him (is he bipolar?) he goes hell for leather when he’s on offence and Fale is in the mood to impress. He’s also looking tubby around the waistline. Maybe Bullet Club should cut down on the buffets. Either that or Fale has been dining at Chez Paul to try and get the band back together. Naito’s new personality is hard to get a read on. He’s a morose nihilist. I’m really not sure how I feel about that. It sucks a lot of the fun out of his character and regresses his personality to that of a glum teen. Some of his facials are borderline psychotic and it’s hard to get a handle on what he’s going for. Naito ends up working the leg and going after submissions. It’s a ballsy tactic. Especially as Fale isn’t known for selling limbs (not that anyone does nowadays). He’s known for accidentally avoiding assassination attempts by Carrie Fisher. Naito and Fale have some really nice counters, especially when going after big moves. They make a royal fucking mess of the finish with Naito going for some sort of jack-knife pin and Fale selling his groin. Naito doesn’t even bother staying on top for the full three count. I think I hate Naito’s new gimmick, which means it works? He’s supposed to be a heel after all. Incidentally, there goes my 100% predictions record. I feel like Fale must feel when he saw Blues Brothers 2000 and realised the dream was over.
Final Rating: **3/4

G1 Climax Block A
AJ Styles vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Pre-match pick: Shibata. This is a ballsy call, considering I think AJ will either win Block A or finish second. Shibata is injured and that could count against him. I remember talking about the potential for this match up late in 2014. Thinking it would be a strong contest. They’re both great on the mat with AJ capable of countering Shibata’s range of strikes. They’ve hardly encountered each other at all before this match, which makes it all the more intriguing. Shibata’s arm is a cause for concern, after he missed the lead in shows with an injury, and it’s heavily taped. It looks like the elbow that was causing him problems. He’s eager to avoid that being an issue, using kicks to keep AJ at a distance and giving up his left arm for AJ to work over rather than his injured right arm. As expected the match is technically excellent with strong countering and great proficiency from two mat masters. It’s nice to see Shibata switching to the left arm for his elbows, out of sheer necessity. His kicks are firmly on point and one of them knocks AJ over the rail with the impact. It’s a great mixture of AJ’s willingness to bump and Shibata’s raw aggression. As expected they click like nobodies business. They have an absolutely killer spot too where Shibata kicks the ring post, with AJ ducking, and the brutal CLUNK noise is horrific. It’s one of the most organic spots I’ve ever seen with someone ducking and someone else hitting the ring post. AJ had Shibata chasing him to set the spot up. From there AJ works over the leg, which at least offers respite for Shibata’s bad arm but probably doesn’t make him feel any better.

“You’re crazy, man” yells AJ at Shibata as he gets in AJ’s face, asking for more abuse. It’s a great moment of AJ realising how nuts Shibata really is. AJ is a composed wrestler though and knows when and how to pick his fights. He won’t go toe to toe, not if he can bait Shibata into a move that he can counter. His speed is sufficient to get Shibata into trouble and he uses the Styles Clash as a distraction to set up the Calf Killer, on that injured leg. Naturally Shibata gets the ropes but then AJ springs up and kicks the injured arm too. He’s dissecting Shibata and all the guts in the world won’t get you through busted limbs. AJ goes to those injured body parts to counter just about everything. Shibata has to alter his sleeper by BITING HIS OWN HAND instead of using the bad arm. It’s awesome stuff. AJ ducks the PK though and flattens Shibata with Bloody Sunday and the Styles Clash finishes. The psychology in this one was off the page. Some genuinely brilliant selling and limb work. I’m a little disappointed the Calf Killer wasn’t the finish after all the set up work but the big storyline is that Shibata’s injuries will hinder his run.
Final Rating: ****

G1 Climax Block A
Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Pre-match pick; Tanahashi. If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching New Japan is that if you bet on Tanahashi you’ll be right more often than not. That said, I can totally see Kota going over to establish himself as a threat to this Block. Tana is just starting to look a bit haggard, showing his aging rock star good looks more than in the past. Ibushi is keen to show he belongs in the ring with New Japan’s ace (is he still considered the ace? He still beat Okada this year). Kota is younger, faster and possibly hungrier. Kota misses a standing moonsault to set the story of the match in motion; a knee injury for Tana to work over. Kota isn’t the best at selling an injury. He’s in the school of thinking where you can sell a bit but then stop and carry on like nothing happened. It’s a popular school nowadays. Besides Ibushi is far more fun when he’s hitting moonsaults to the floor and flipping around like a lunatic. I had similar issues with KUSHIDA vs. Omega a few weeks ago. Tana is relentless with that knee deal too, going back to it after Kota has moved on. When Kota bails to avoid more abuse he gets himself a HIGH FLY FLOW TO THE FLOOR!

It does become a battle, of sorts, where Ibushi is determined the limb work segment of this match is over and Tanahashi won’t let him forget it. Kota is in the mood to take big bumps though and everything Tana throws at him is met with Ibushi landing his neck on the mat. This includes the Slingblade, which he takes a huge concertina bump on. The match takes a turn as Ibushi javelins Tana into the buckles. It’s a fucking sick bump and Tanahashi looks absolutely fucked after flying head first into the middle of the buckle. Tana tries to sneak out under the ropes but Kota hauls him back into the ring with a German suplex off the apron. It’s batshit crazy. Tana’s neck must be destroyed after those two moves. Both guys attempt their top rope finisher but both times they take too long and allow the opponent to move. A little too much showboating before finishing the contest. The match hits a flow of big bumps, creating a fantastic atmosphere, drawing the crowd in. Tana eventually messes Ibushi’s leg up so bad he can’t stand and finishes with the High Fly Flow. The limb work didn’t work for me but Tanahashi’s persistence was eventually rewarded. The crowd helped to create the big match atmosphere they wanted here.
Final Rating: ****1/4

Picks: 3/5. Not bad. I should have gone with my gut on AJ Styles rather than my heart and should have realised that Naito’s new character wouldn’t be jobbing in his first singles match. Otherwise a grand victory for logic.

Summary: The undercard was a bit patchy but we’re one night in and we’ve already seen two terrific matches. Shibata’s sleeper where he couldn’t use his one arm and had to bite his hand was amazing. Some of the best selling and improvisation I’ve seen all year long. Tanahashi made the main event special. The veteran took a couple of sickening bumps and told a story, forcing Ibushi to go along with it whether he liked it or not. Those two matches are worth the price of admission alone. Obviously thumbs up. Fuck Battleground. See you for Day Two on Thursday!
Verdict: 71

Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall (2015)

Arnold Furious: 5th July 2015. We’re in Osaka, Japan. Dominion has a stacked card, the biggest since Wrestle Kingdom with the main event being the unpredictable AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada contest. Without further ado, because this is a five hour show, let’s get down to business.

 

Dark Match:
Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Mascara Dorada & Sho Tanaka vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu
Taguchi looks like an absolute tool with his yellow t-shirt and his sparkly green sunglasses. He pisses Nakanishi off a treat by not doing the pre-match chest bashing and instead doing his Funky Weapon pose. If you could read Nakanishi’s thoughts it’d basically be “fuck you Taguchi”. Nakanishi looks like he genuinely hates Taguchi, which makes me like him more than usual. I love Tanaka’s aggression as he wants to start the match and ushers everyone else out of the ring. His personality is starting to come together, albeit as a largely generic Young Boy. Given the ten participants they all get to insert a few trademarks and not much else. Tenzan’s Mongolian chops get a lot of love, as does Kojima’s crappy chop rush. The star of the match is the evergreen Nagata, which makes me wonder why they keep putting him in the opening match when he shows no signs of slowing down like every other veteran in this contest. The match is tremendous fun with each wrestler getting to switch the pace accordingly with their tags. It’s the kind of match where I could quite easily watch for 20 minutes as they’re able to keep the action incredibly fresh. Mascara Dorada picks off Komatsu for the win. This sort of thing is nothing new but I am a sucker for the multiple person throwaway openers.
Final Rating: ***

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice vs. reDRagon
This is rapidly becoming the new Bucks vs. Time Splitters vs. Forever Hooligans. Sadly Rock Singer announcer is back and he is as hard to understand as ever. When the Japanese announcer is easier to understand than the English language one that’s a problem. The Bucks have adopted Cody Hall in a Masterblaster piece of business. “He’s just a boy”. More pre-match goodness sees Beretta try to intimidate Matt, who completely ignores him. The Bucks have taken over this division. Making the matches about their quirky heel antics and insane moves. The matches have skewed toward comedy, although not when reDRagon are in there. They don’t do the funny. They only time they do anything funny it’s because they’re being serious and no one else is. The story of the match is how manipulative the Bucks are and how desperate they are to hold on to the belts. Frequently they make blind tags and tag out when it suits them. They play the rules, which they’re very familiar with, in their favour. When it’s a fair match reDRagon destroy everyone with their hard-hitting offence but more often than not the Bucks manage to position the other two teams for their benefit. There are plenty of high spots and exciting double teams. The one big surprise, for me anyway, is how over Rocky Romero is now. He’s been getting that way for a while but he has serious love in Japan. There’s a Superkick Party and More Bang For Your Buck allows the Bucks to retain. Given the tactics they employed, it’s not a surprise. On their way out the Bucks yell “what’s up Finn, great match last night” as a shout out to former Bullet Club leader Prince Devitt. Increasingly the Bucks just do whatever the hell they want. It works in small doses.
Final Rating: ***1/4

 

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Tetsuya Naito & Tomoaki Honma
The build up to this one has seen Naito act like a complete dick. He’s had issues with the Osaka crowd in the past so chances are they will not like him during this match. I honestly thought they were going to try and rebuild Naito as a blue-eye and had been going that way since his failed Wrestle Kingdom 8 main event. With CHAOS having drifted into babyface territory, not that they were ever evil heels, the bad guy side of the roster is perhaps a little lacking, so I can understand the turn. Naito leaves Honma to get his ass kicked in this match, which is what happens in most Honma matches anyway. He is the ultimate underdog. When Naito finally does take a tag the crowd HATE him and he’s working against Bullet Club, who are the top heels in the promotion. He doesn’t even eliminate his flashy offence. He just inserts more posing in between. His whole demeanour says ‘I cannot be bothered with entertaining you, Osaka’. He seems indifferent to everything. It’s so effective that the crowd cheer Fale over him. However the structure of the match makes no sense with Naito playing the plucky babyface role and still getting heat. It needed to be better structured. There’s one moment that totally wins me over; Honma finally hits a Kokeshi, with assistance from Naito, and Tetsuya just sits there in the ring with the pinfall going down. He looks bored out of his mind. Honma hits the Super Kokeshi to get the pin and Naito, having done the bare minimum to help, just walks off. An odd match, given Naito’s circumstances. Not sure where he’s going with this act. At least he’s going somewhere.
Final Rating: **1/4

 

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Laughter7 explode! These two were tag team partners when they came into New Japan from the world of MMA a few years back but took different paths. The crowd seem happier with Shibata, who’s adapted to strongstyle and become a crowd favourite in the process, whereas Sakuraba was more popular when he first arrived. Some of the lustre has come off him in the past two years. One thing you know you’re going to get from these guys is mat excellence. It’s shoot-style done with just enough puroresu thrown in to make it entertaining. The great thing about this match is Shibata takes it really personally and hammers Saku with almost every spot, including a pair of vicious hanging shotgun dropkicks in the corner. The emotion is there, which is a rarity for Shibata. What I really dig about Shibata is he doesn’t make little slap noises on his thigh when he kicks someone, he makes those noises by kicking the crap out of people. As they kick the hell out of each other I’m absolutely riveted. The balance between puroresu and MMA is perfect and makes for an enthralling contest, better than Saku vs. Suzuki from Wrestle Kingdom 9. While Shibata is better at striking, Sakuraba frequently catches him on submissions. The one that Shibata breaks by biting the rope is amazing. The fact that he’s continually caught in submissions reflects why Shibata had such a poor MMA record. The fact he’s able to escape shows why he’s such a showman. It’s a belter of a contest, one that surpasses my already high expectations for atmosphere alone. Shibata’s short strikes often draw a reaction from me and for a jaded old bastard like myself that’s impressive. Shibata ends up using his weight to lean on Saku during a sleeper, a rare opportunity for him to showcase his wrestling skill, and with Sakuraba going out Shibata pelts him with the PK for the win. Great fucking match, I hope they do it again.
Final Rating: ****1/4

 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.

You have to love a man who takes his inspiration from wrestling and Back to the Future. This match is all about KUSHIDA and his boyhood dream coming to fruition, finally getting the chance to challenge for the junior title on a big show. (Ignoring his brief 2014 run with the belt that was completely unmemorable, defeating Kota Ibushi at Kizuna Road and losing in his first defence to Taguchi). He’s watched a lot of other guys come through the junior division and get shots ahead of him but now he’s earned his moment. Will The Cleaner oblige by losing to him? KUSHIDA was the outstanding performer in the Super Juniors tournament and indeed captured victory in it. There’s a feeling it’s now or never for KUSHIDA. Kenny Omega’s habit of marching to the ring with a broom makes him look like an even bigger doofus. His character needs a personality tweak before he becomes a joke.

KUSHIDA is one of the best technical wrestlers in the junior division, mixing submissions into his flying and strongstyle. It makes him a great all-rounder. Compared to most junior guys. The Young Bucks are ringside to aid the champion and do so by banging out the Terminator theme music, which Omega uses to turn into a cyborg killing machine…who does topes. KUSHIDA has a taped up knee, which Omega targets with the kind of ruthlessness he rarely displays. I’m generally not keen on limb work as the selling of it is a forgotten art. It used to be that if you worked the leg then the guy getting his leg worked would be screwed. Now it’s just an exercise in killing time before a comeback that usually involves a Shooting Star Press and cartwheel dives. The idea behind Omega destroying KUSHIDA’s legs is to limit his offence but also it gives KUSHIDA even more of an underdog position as he struggles around on one leg. KUSHIDA does try to sell the leg, using the ropes as support and his immobile legs as weapons. But what’s his next move? A fucking springboard dropkick. So, as per usual, the limb work was just a way of killing time that achieved nothing. I’m used to it by now but I expect more of top technicians like KUSHIDA. The second half of the match, after the leg stuff has gone nowhere, would be pretty good as a stand-alone. They do far better work on Omega’s arm, which KUSHIDA focuses on. At least this leads to genuine submission attempts as KUSHIDA’s finish is the kimura but why not just do leg vs. arm? Why include a bunch of flying spots after the knee has been worked over? It doesn’t make any sense to me. The one moment where it does resurface is on a dragon suplex where KUSHIDA can’t hold the bridge because of his knee. Omega goes for the One Winged Angel but is countered into the Kimura and KUSHIDA wins the title. The title switch was almost inevitable and I was pulling for KUSHIDA to get the win but the knee stuff was frustrating. They barely paid lip service to it in the second half of the match. KUSHIDA winning is a feel good moment but they had a much better match in them than this. With minimal changes required.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

NEVER Openweight Championship
Togi Makabe (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Being a big Ishii fan, I was disappointed NJPW chose to job him out to Togi not once but twice in the first half of 2015. Will it be third time a charm for the Stone Pitbull? Spastic ring announcer goes completely nuts over Togi. It’s possibly the worst ring announcement in the entire history of wrestling. Ishii means business and hits a lariat from the bell and follows up with a senton to the floor, which hits Togi with a glancing blow. It’s a ridiculous bump for a guy with a permanently injured shoulder to take. Ishii’s aggressive start is a marked contrast to the last two matches. As if he came in with a very deliberate game plan, to eliminate Makabe as a threat from the start. It’s a powerful showing from Ishii, who bullies the champion. It’s a shame they go from there to trading, where Togi’s awful gimmicked punches all miss. Here’s a hint; if you’re aiming punches at someone, aim below the top of their head. The lack of good strikes from Togi is the principle reason why the Makabe-Ishii matches can’t live up to the other great Ishii contests. Honma springs to mind. As per usual Ishii brings legendary selling. The kind where I’m convinced this is the match where he’s broken something and will be sidelined for six months to recover. Only for Ishii to pop back up and start into another elbow duel. When they’re battering each other with lariats and elbows it’s a much better match. A regular war of attrition. They have a few timing issues, which is disappointing. It seems mainly due to poor communication. Togi gets a big run up for one spot only to find Ishii bent over double and in no position for any spot he has in mind. The match works better when it’s purely about the striking. Ishii takes a few big bumps, including the Spider German and the King Kong Kneedrop finishes. This wasn’t quite as good as the previous matches and with the same disappointing outcome. Ishii’s insistence at selling the bejesus out of his neck/shoulder made it convincing at the very least.
Final Rating: ***1/2

 

Video Control takes us to the official announcements of the Blocks for G1. Excited!

 

BLOCK A
Togi Makabe
Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Toru Yano
Doc Gallows
Bad Luck Fale
Tetsuya Naito
Katsuyori Shibata
Kota Ibushi
Hiroshi Tanahashi
AJ Styles

 

BLOCK B
Hirooki Goto
Satoshi Kojima
Yuji Nagata
Tomoaki Honma
Michael Elgin
Karl Anderson
Yujiro Takahashi
Tomohiro Ishii
Shinsuke Nakamura
Kazuchika Okada

 

Interesting to see the CHAOS overload in Block B. Elgin is a surprise, seeing as he’d basically been overlooked by NJPW to this point. It’s a big role for him. The lack of Suzuki-gun confirms they’re staying in NOAH for a while. Block A has four potential winners in Shibata, Ibushi, Tanahashi and AJ. It’s really strong. Glad to see Honma getting in to the G1 without someone else getting injured first. If I had to pick now I’m going with AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals. Nakamura to win. It’s the biggest match out there that’s not been done as yet. Nakamura vs. Okada in the group stage takes place on 15th August, right at the end of the block matches so you’d better believe that will be the decider in Block B.

 

IWGP Tag Team Championship
The Kingdom (Michael Bennett & Matt Taven) (c) vs. Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows)
After the six-person tag back at Dontaku both Maria Kanellis and Amber Gallows are at ringside. Earlier they had a video package where Anderson’s machine gun entrance played over Maria firing kisses at the camera. Top production work. Karl seems to have gotten over being smitten with ROH’s first lady of wrestling. The Magic Killer on Maria at Dontaku suggested as much. The Kingdom’s initial tag title win was a big upset but served to show how few actual tag teams are in NJPW at the moment. As per usual the NJPW cameramen have no shame whatsoever and film Maria’s ass like it’s a long lost species, thought to be extinct. This is not a match that interested me when it was announced but seeing as it’s a title match on a stacked card I felt I should pay attention to it. That said, the NJPW guys pay more attention to Maria and her surprised facial expressions. At one point they give up on the ring and shoot the action over Maria’s shoulder, with the camera aimed low enough to capture her moneymaker. The crowd even chant her name. She’s definitely left an impression on the Japanese audience. A beautiful butt shaped one. Both ladies interfere but unfortunately Gallows clocking Maria for her role comes off camera. It must have been bad because she’s got a medic holding ice on her neck. Bennett gets all chivalrous, gets laid out and Taven eats the Magic Killer for Bullet Club to get their straps back. Michael Bennett is pissed off and swears revenge. Specifically he tells Doc “I’ll fucking kill you”.
Final Rating: **

 

Toru Yano vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
This is a break from all the seriousness as Yano is incapable of having a serious match. He’s pretty much in the G1 to provide a rest night for the participants in his Block. His role here is to allow Tanahashi to appear on a PPV and do very little. Yano’s idea of working hard is hiding in the ropes and screaming “BREAK, BREAK, BREEAAAAAAAAKK” at every opportunity or removing the turnbuckle pad. It allows them to tell an easy story and preserve Tanahashi’s broken body. He needs to be healthy for a busy G1 where he’ll be forced to compete with the likes of AJ and Shibata. No one ever accused Yano of being a good wrestler but he’s entertaining and a welcome break in the show’s intensity. Tanahashi plays along and sells a shot to the groin for longer than usual, eager to not allow Yano to monopolise the laughs. To give you an idea of the seriousness, and lack thereof, there’s a ref bump in this match. It goes a lot longer than I was expecting (12 minutes, about 7 minutes longer than expected), featuring much Yano cheating and several of his patented cheeky roll up’s. Tanahashi finishes with the Slingblade and the High Fly Flow to put this feud to bed before G1 kicks off.
Final Rating: *1/2

 

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
This match is perhaps the most intriguing on the show. If Nakamura wins it says a lot about the long term ambitions regarding Goto and indeed about where the IC title belt is going. Nakamura has made it a legitimate top belt. But do they want him involved with the actual IWGP title going forward? Nakamura comes out here dressed as a sparkly red ninja. There are few human beings on the planet that could pull the look off. Nakamura has a presence that few human beings on the planet have. Goto imposes himself in the early going, keen to prove his title win was no fluke and he’s capable of dominating a big star. Hirooki has a history of coming up short so perception of him will not change overnight, just because he won one big match. There’s a feeling this match isn’t as important as the first one, as it sits beneath the IWGP title match on the card. The way they’d been doing PPV’s suggested a parity between the two main belts but as soon as Goto gets the secondary one it’s no longer a headline belt. That’s the way the crowd react too. Remaining quiet and detached, especially with Goto controlling the pace. When Nakamura takes over, with knees and theatrics, the match gains a sense of importance that Goto cannot provide. Instead Goto gets his thrills from countering big Nakamura spots. The action gets more violent as the match builds and that’s when Nakamura takes over. His strikes are sharper, his ideas are brighter. They have some killer sequences down the stretch where the counters get more animated. Goto finally steps up to the plate and meets Nakamura head on, literally at times. This is the proving ground. After blocking with a headbutt he hits Shouten Kai to retain. I’m still not convinced by Goto as a champion, and although it’ll take time to accept him as such, back to back wins over Nakamura will go a long way to building his reputation. Goto goes into G1 as the secondary champion. He’s having a big year.
Final Rating: ****

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
“He will be an icon…when I’m done” – AJ Styles, of Okada. AJ certainly has the advantage in their matches to date and has beaten Okada several times with the belt on the line including ending the Rainmaker’s year long run with the big strap in 2014. Previous AJ-Okada contests have been blighted by outside interference, usually by Yujiro Takahashi, and AJ doesn’t help matters by bringing out the Bullet Club to support him. It doesn’t fill me with confidence that today will be any different. They start out with basic counters but done at speed. It helps to establish parity. Okada is on the championship level, something you could have argued against during his crisis of confidence post-Wrestle Kingdom. He’s as cocksure as ever in this match. AJ’s advantage, besides his champion’s advantage, is the numbers game and it doesn’t take long for that to play into proceedings. When Okada gets in charge Bullet Club simply distract and interfere. It’s the same crushing over-reliance on interference that ruined previous contests between them. There’s potential, in their interactions, for a brilliant match between AJ and Okada. One day we’ll see it. My frustration with AJ having this kind of support is that he simply doesn’t need it. After a while Red Shoes gets sick of the interference, tells AJ to “suck it” and ejects Bullet Club from ringside. Quite why they let them out here to begin with is a mystery. Anyway, with that bullshit sorted out we can have an actual match.

Some of AJ’s execution in this match is flawless. The quebrada inverted DDT is the cleanest and most fluid I’ve ever seen him hit it and his dropsault is perfection. Which makes it all the more frustrating that they killed so much time with the Bullet Club angle. Okada seems to be on his game too and when they run the AJ springboard elbow smash spot Okada nails him in mid-move with the dropkick. It’s beautiful.

RAINMAKER POSE!

The countering continues out of the top draw, showcasing both men’s incredible talent. It’s really hard to make a cooperative situation look like a struggle but several times they absolutely nail it. AJ looks especially impressive when he’s pounding Okada with elbows. He’s developed a pure style for Japan and he’s exceptional at it. The fight over the Tombstone is great, as they pull out four counters before it’s delivered. This leads right into AJ’s springboard 450 Splash. It’s a message from AJ. He’ll pull out all the stops to retain this title and he’s not just about a numbers game. Okada steps it up too with a ridiculous DVD out of the ring onto the apron and a precision missile dropkick across the ring, where he seems to injure himself on landing. Tombstone! But AJ ducks the Rainmaker and hits the Pele Kick. They’re really hitting a top groove at this point and I’m still steaming over the misuse of the opening ten minutes because this is so good. Okada kneeing out of the Bloody Sunday is one fine example. They continue to counter and roll through stuff and AJ gets planted with the RAINMAKER! Okada doesn’t pin, goes for another, gets countered but it’s countered back again and Okada belts AJ with another RAINMAKER! Okada wins the title! Skip the first ten minutes and this is pushing for MOTY territory. Everything after the Bullet Club were ejected was solid gold. The counters in the finishing sequence are so incredible that it makes Okada and AJ look like the best in the world. Just sensational wrestling. There are three NJPW matches I like better than this already this year but regardless this was great storytelling and execution. Very high recommendation.
Final Rating: ****1/2

 

Summary: Great show from New Japan. The only big discrepancy between my thoughts and everyone else’s is that most people seem more prepared to forgive the selling in the KUSHIDA title win. Mainly because there are subtle bits of selling in the second half. I just didn’t dig it as much. If you take all the persistent leg work out of the first half it’s a top match. Even with me not liking that match as much there are still three matches at **** or higher and they’re all different. The main event has a wonderful big match feel, Nakamura & Goto just worked their socks off and Shibata & Sakuraba had one of the most technically proficient matches you’ll see all year. It probably falls short of Wrestle Kingdom 9, thanks to that card finishing with two ***** matches, but it’s a solid second for best show of the year. Strong recommendation to check this out and to subscribe to New Japan World immediately because G1 Climax 25 is coming and you’re about to buried under an avalanche of snowflakes.
Verdict: 91