July 18th, 15:00 from Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Centre, Hokkaido
And we’re off! Today’s show is the first of 19 in the 2016 edition of New Japan’s long-running annual tournament and is headlined Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA and Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji of Pro-Wrestling Noah.
If you’d like to know how to watch or want some background on this year’s competitors, I’ve written a primer which you can read here. In short: the G1 Climax is a round-robin tournament split into two blocks of ten wrestlers, the winners of those blocks face off in the final, and the winner of that match gets a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in January. As with last year, I’ll be covering only the tournament matches in an effort to maintain my sanity over the next several weeks.
Here we go…
A Block – Round One
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Tenzan was accompanied to the ring by Satoshi Kojima, the man who gave him his slot in the tournament. He fired off the Mongolian Chops to start, knocking Ishii to the mat, but Ishii fought back with a shoulder tackle and chops. He dumped Tenzan with a vertical suplex for two and flicked his boot dismissively at face of the veteran. Tenzan replied with more Mongolian Chops and a spinning heel kick, before hitting a suplex of his own for a two-count. Both men shrugged off slams, then Ishii got going with elbows and chops, and hit a corner clothesline for two. Up top, Tenzan countered a superplex and landed the diving headbutt for a near-fall. He grabbed the Anaconda Vice, Ishii made it to his feet, then Tenzan slammed him down with the Anaconda Max for another two-count. He went up for the moonsault, but got caught, and Ishii powerbombed him out of the corner. Headbutt from Ishii, then a lariat for two! Sliding lariat, also for two! Brainbuster blocked. Headbutt Battle, won by Tenzan, followed by the TTD (Tenzan Tombstone Driver) for a crazy near-fall. Up top again, and this time the moonsault connected for the win! Hell of an effort by both men but particularly Tenzan, who, having announced that this will be his last G1, seems determined to go out with a bang. A strong start to the tournament. ****
Togi Makabe vs. Tama Tonga
Tonga was wearing some shocking new tights – orange camouflage with what can only be described as looking like a black codpiece sewn on the front. Not good. Anyway, he started well, knocking Makabe to the outside and dropping him across the barrier, then connecting with a rope-hung spinning neckbreaker when back inside. Makabe shook off Tonga’s strikes, floored him with a clothesline, then hit the 10-count punches in the corner and a northern lights suplex for two. Tonga speedily ducked Makabe to hit a hurricanrana and Stinger Splash, then a fireman’s carry flapjack for two. A strike battle had both men down, then Tonga hit a second Stinger Splash, but he took too long getting up top, which allowed Makabe – eventually – to hurl him with a belly-to-belly. The King Kong Knee Drop followed for the three-count. Nothing to see here, moving on. **
Hirooki Goto vs. Bad Luck Fale
Goto succeeded in keeping Fale grounded in the opening minutes, working over the left arm, but Fale soon clotheslined him to the floor and whipped him into the barrier a couple of times for the near count-out. A big scoop slam with an arrogant cover scored a two-count, then Fale missed a charge and Goto knocked him down with a lariat at the third time of asking. The spinning heel kick and diving elbow got two, but Fale knocked Goto to the mat and crushed him with a splash for two. The Grenade choke bomb got a near-fall, but the Bad Luck Fall was avoided, and Goto grabbed a sleeper to quell the monster before striking with the GTR (a lariat into an over-the-knee backbreaker) for the three-count. Decent match and a good win for Goto. **1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA
Tanahashi was looking less ripped than usual, which is not surprising given he’s been out with a shoulder injury for a couple of months. He worked the headlock to start, but before long Sanada took the match to the floor, twisting Tanahashi’s arm around the barrier and kicking it, much to the crowd’s concern. Back in, Sanada worked the shoulder and hit his lovely leapfrog dropkick to show off, before Tanahashi struck back with the leaping forearm and a second-rope senton for two. A low dropkick and Dragon Screw sent Sanada to the floor. Tanahashi followed by hitting a High Fly Flow crossbody from the top-rope onto his opponent (why Tana, why?), then a succession of Dragons Screws over the second-rope when back in the ring. He cinched in the elevated Texas Cloverleaf, but Sanada just made the ropes. Sanada rolled out of the corner to hit a springboard dropkick, although he was unable to capitalise and it was clear his leg was hurt. They fought back-and-forth with European Uppercuts, before Sanada caught Tanahashi off a charge with the TKO for two. He locked in the grounded Dragon Sleeper, and Tanahashi’s arm went down twice, but he willed himself to the ropes. Sanada’s moonsault missed, and Tanahashi nailed the Sling Blade for two. An arm-trap German suplex dumped Sanada on his head for a close two-count, then Tanahashi went up top for the High Fly Flow, but it was countered mid-air to an RKO! Two-count only. The moonsault connected for two! Another moonsault, and Sanada locked in the Dragon Sleeper once again, forcing Tanahashi to tap! Crazy heat that built to a fever pitch, and quite the breakout performance from Sanada, who pulls off a huge scalp. Great match. ****1/4
Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji
After an even and quickly-wrestled exchange led to a stand off, Okada hit a neckbreaker and grabbed a chinlock, but Marufuji made the ropes then connected with a jumping kick from the second-rope to Okada’s right arm. Outside, he ran Okada shoulder-first into the ringpost and trapped his arm in the barrier gate, before returning to the ring to lock in an armbar. Marufuji unleashed a series of hard chops and launched himself with a back elbow into the corner, before being sent flying with a back body drop. Okada hit some back elbows of his own, and the DDT and jumping uppercut earned a two-count. A clothesline from Marufuji sent Okada to the floor, where Marufuji slingshotted over the top-rope onto Okada’s arm. Back in, Marufuji grabbed another armbar, with Okada just making the ropes and connecting with a desperation flapjack. More chops from Marufuji, which Okada invited, but soon seemed to regret. Okada was sent to the floor once more, where he was hit with a slingshot plancha, then Marufuji launched a springboard dropkick to Okada’s arm back inside the ring. Okada managed a reverse neckbreaker out of the corner, nailed the diving elbow and signalled for the Rainmaker. Marufuji blocked it with a kick, but couldn’t follow with the Shiranui. The crazy closing sequence saw the tombstone avoided, The Dropkick hit the mark, the Rainmaker ducked, a german suplex connect, the Rainmaker blocked (pause for breath), then a crescent kick and jumping high knee from Marufuji, who spiked Okada with the fisherman Emerald Flowsion for the three-count! A brilliantly-told story, with Okada outwrestled by the outsider and unable to find a way into the match. A total dissection, and I can’t think of the last time we saw Okada so comprehensively beaten. Hell of a match. ****1/2
Marufuji gets the promo to close the show, and we’re out.
A Block standings after Round One
- Goto – 2
- Makabe – 2
- Marufuji – 2
- SANADA – 2
- Tenzan – 2
- Tonga – 0
- Fale – 0
- Ishii – 0
- Okada – 0
- Tanahashi – 0
Final thoughts: Brilliant. You couldn’t ask for more from the opening show of a tournament. Not just the results and the quality, but the manner in which the matches were booked. We’re off to a great start.
One down, eighteen to go.
The preliminary round of the Super J-Cup is on Wednesday, then the G1 Climax continues on Friday with B Block’s first show. See you then.