NJPW G1 Special in USA: Night 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 1st, 17:00 from Long Beach Convention Center, California

The first of two shows in Long Beach sees the tag titles defended, the quarter-finals of a tournament to determine the first-ever IWGP US champion, and Cody’s attempt to take the IWGP title from Kazuchika Okada. Let’s get to it.

Here we go…

Mark Briscoe, Jay Briscoe, Will Ospreay, Rocky Romero & Baretta vs. Bullet Club (Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Marty Scurll)

After cycling through combinations, we ended up with tomorrow’s Jr. tag title opponents going at it, followed by a bunch of dives to the floor, culminating in Ospreay’s springboard Shooting Star Press. Next, a parade of singles spots ended with Romero unsuccessfully trying to clothesline Fale, and when Baretta got involved he was on the receiving end of a Bad Luck Fall out of the ring onto his teammates below! Romero, however, took advantage of Ospreay blocking the Meltzer Driver from the Young Bucks and rolled-up Matt Jackson for the win. A total spotfest and a fun opener. ***1/4

Jushin Thunder Liger, Volador Jr., Dragon Lee & Titan vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Hiromu Takahashi)

Bushi and Volador’s lucha exchange was followed by Liger getting hoodwinked by Sanada and Los Ingobernables rushing the ring to isolate the veteran. Paradise Lock and dropkick to Titan, and Evil, then Bushi were brought in to maintain control. A Shotei from Liger allowed the tag and forever rivals Hiromu and Dragon Lee went at it. Volador and Titan hit stereo tope con hilos, then Titan was back in for a nice run of offence, but Hiromu caught him with a belly-to-belly to the buckle and the match broke down, allowing Evil to swing a chair at Titan’s melon. Hiromu followed up with the Time Bomb for the three-count. Another lively tag match and it was pleasing to hear the crowd boo LIJ’s nefarious antics. **3/4

IWGP US Championship tournament quarter-final

Jay Lethal vs. Hangman Page 

Page attacked before the bell, but Lethal fired back with a dropkick and suicide dive, then took control in the ring. Page stopped the rot with a rope-hung kick and an apron Shooting Star Press, and began targeting Lethal’s ribs (which were taped following an attack on ROH TV). An Octopus Hold torqued Lethal’s midriff, but he was able to hit back with some strikes and a cutter. The diving elbow drop connected for two, but Page flipped back in from the apron with a lariat. Back to Lethal again, who hit a sloppy Lethal Injection, and a series of strikes facilitated a second to put Lethal into the semi-final. The story of Lethal’s ribs just about kept this one together, but I don’t find either man remotely engaging. **1/4

IWGP US Championship tournament quarter-final

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Juice Robinson 

Juice started brightly with some right hands, a leg sweep and a senton, but Sabre Jr. wormed his way into an armlock and wrenched Juice’s left arm. An armbreaker was followed by a cravat on Juice’s dreads before the American powered the Englishman up into a gutbuster to curb the momentum. Sabre Jr. clasped back on with a double-wristlock, but Juice powered out, this time into a Jackhammer. Sabre Jr. reversed the Pulp Friction and scored a near-fall off the European Clutch, then maintained the wrist and arm control, but an axe kick and more right hands briefly handed control back to Juice. Again Sabre Jr. had a reversal up his sleeve, but Juice refused to tap from a triangle hold and lifted his opponent into a falling powerbomb! Pulp Friction attempted once more, but Sabre Jr. slithered his way into a final submission hold – an Octopus Hold with a brutal double arm stretch – and Juice was forced to verbally submit. Quality wrestling here and the clash of distinct styles worked well. Sabre Jr. makes for a superior technical heel while Juice is a classic babyface. Good stuff. ***1/2

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Jay White & David Finlay vs. Billy Gunn, Yoshi Tatsu, Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka 

Good to see Komatsu, Tanaka and White, all of whom are currently on excursion, back in a New Japan ring. And it was Komatsu who started off with Kushida, enjoying a measure of success before the Jr. champ asserted his dominance. Finlay was in for some forearms and dropkicks, then Kushida was back, but quickly double-teamed by Tanaka and Komatsu (aka the Tempura Boyz). Billy Gunn entered the match to boos, went face-to-face with Tanahashi, and dropped Kushida with a right hand. With the Tempura Boyz back in, Kushida made the comeback, and despite Gunn’s best efforts the tag was made to Tanahashi. He and Gunn went at it briefly, then Tatsu and White were in, with the latter earning a two-count off a backdrop. A half-hatch suplex into the buckle precipitated a parade of signature moves, and as the match broke down White was able to score a flatliner to Tatsu for the win. This was a bit a mess in truth, with a couple of less than encouraging exchanges between Tanahashi and Gunn who face-off for the Intercontinental title on Night 2. Tanahashi’s clearly far from 100% and Gunn was poor here. **

***INTERMISSION***

IWGP Tag Team Championship

Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe)

A No Disqualification stipulation was added pre-match and the Guerrillas wasted little time utilising trash cans on their challengers. Some good continuity from the champs kept Rowe down, but Hanson stepped back in and scored an endless run of corner clotheslines, much to the crowd’s delight. Rowe scored a high-angle Uranage, Loa hit back with a spear, then the Guerrillas blocked a double-team and hit a diving headbutt and diving splash on Rowe for a two-count. Rowe used his power to fight back and War Machine nailed an aided powerslam, but Chase Owens was out to lend his Bullet Club bros a hand. A powerbomb to Rowe through chairs(!) somehow only earned a two-count, then Hanson evened the odds when it looked like a table might come into play. Loa took a knee strike, German suplex and jumping knee before collapsing to the mat, and War Machine capitalised with Fallout through the table! That got the win and War Machine are champions for a second time.

This was an enjoyable sprint of a brawl, with some big hits and nasty weapon shots. The stipulation was of benefit to the match, I thought, distinguishing it from the rest of the card and playing to both team’s strengths. ***1/4

IWGP US Championship tournament quarter-final

Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Naito attacked before the bell and slapped Ishii dismissively on the head. Bad idea. Ishii fired back with huge chops and headbutts, flooring the still-smiling LIJ leader. Perhaps he was right to smile, because a neckbreaker allowed him to go on a run of offence, ending with a seated dropkick. Another slap to Ishii’s head was met with a backdrop and the Stone Pitbull landed more chops and a powerslam for two. Naito’s rope-hung neckbreaker and a big missile dropkick connected, before Ishii planted him to the apron with a lariat, but Naito reversed the follow-up suplex to a DDT! Bridging German suplex for two, then the super frankensteiner connected, but Ishii kicked out at two and managed to block Gloria. A bloody spitwad from Naito angered Ishii and he floored his opponent with a headbutt to the chest, following with a folding powerbomb for two. Koppu kick from Naito, uppercut from Ishii, and a lariat dumped Naito on his head for another near-fall. A quick victory roll from Naito got two, then he eventually landed the tornado DDT to put both men down. A missile dropkick to the back of Ishii’s head was followed by Gloria and another two-count, and a back-and-forth sequence concluded with Ishii’s sliding lariat for two. Naito avoided the brainbuster and hit a Dragon Suplex, but Destino was blocked and Ishii nailed a lariat! And another! Two-count only! Brainbuster! One, two, three!

A huge win for Ishii to put him through to the semi-finals and a very enjoyable match that I suspect would’ve been even better with a home crowd. Two significant singles match losses in a row mean Naito will be going into the G1 with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. ****

IWGP US Championship tournament quarter-final

Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega

Omega was joined by the Young Bucks and they tried to Too Sweet referee Red Shoes Unno. Unno replied with Suck It and we got a “Red Shoes” chant!

Omega’s early aggressiveness was nullified by Elgin’s strength and a gorilla press slam and slingshot splash led to a huge delayed vertical suplex for two. Omega fired back with a ‘rana to send Elgin to the floor, but he sprinted back in to hit a big boot and flying shoulder block, then outside, Elgin caught the apron moonsault from Omega, but Kenny slipped out and nailed the leapfrog bulldog on the floor. He slammed Elgin over the apron, but the big man leapt into the ring to just break the 20-count. After much protesting the count from Omega, Elgin ducked a charge and landed several huge chops and got the knees to Omega’s attempted moonsault. German suplex, and a second, but not a third, although Elgin managed to slingshot Omega in from the apron for a powerslam for two. Short lariats from Elgin pummelled Omega, but time-wasting allowed Omega to hit a Snapdragon Suplex followed by a tope con hilo!

Missile dropkick for two, and Omega survived strikes to land a stiff V-Trigger knee and the cross-legged Ushigoroshi, only for Elgin to turn him inside-out with a huge lariat! Out on the apron, after a back-and-forth, Elgin succeeded in landing a nasty German suplex, then he lifted Omega to the top and nailed a super crucifix powerbomb! One, two, NO! Good lord. Buckle bomb, small package counter from Omega, two-count only. Elgin smashed Omega to the mat with a lariat and somehow he kicked out again! Two jumping knees, then a huge third from Omega and reverse frankensteiner spiked Elgin for 2.9! Another knee and a modified tombstone for two. One-Winged Angel! One, two, three!

A fantastic effort here from both men in what I feel was their best singles encounter in New Japan. Elgin played to the crowd’s antagonism, which was the right move and made Omega’s late comeback all the more effective. Great match. ****1/2

IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Cody 

Cody interrupted some controlled dominance from Okada with an attempted Beautiful Disaster but was then lucky to duck a Rainmaker. Okada sent Cody to the floor, so he took a breather in the crowd only to be flattened by a running crossbody from the champ. Back in, Cody turned the tide with a flatliner, then stayed aggressive with strikes and a powerslam. Stomps and a gourdbuster earned two, as did a very nice springboard dropkick, then the full nelson was applied. Okada elbowed out and a neckbreaker reset the match. Swift back elbows, DDT and a leaping uppercut from Okada for two, then he dropkicked Cody over the top-rope to the floor. A back bodydrop onto the floor briefly gave Cody the advantage, but Okada’s apron-hung DDT swung it back.

Back in, a step-up top-rope armdrag and the Beautiful Disaster from Cody earned two, but an attempted second was countered into a flapjack, and a reverse neckbreaker out of the corner set up the diving elbow. Rainmaker signalled to a huge pop, but Cody immediately countered to the American Nightmare leg submission. Okada almost tapped but just made the ropes. Some disrespectful slaps from Cody were met with a barrage of elbows and stomps from the angered champion. The tombstone connected, as did the Rainmaker – twice, and here was Kenny Omega with a white towel, but Brandi could not be convinced to throw it in!

Okada picked up Cody once more, but the Rainmaker was reversed, and despite The Dropkick landing, Cody hit a Rainmaker of his own for 2.9! Cody wiped his ass with the white towel and threw it back at Kenny, but then Okada countered into the Cross Rhodes for a near-fall! Strikes back-and-forth, with two uppercuts flooring Cody, but a third was countered to a reverse DDT for another two-count. Cody went for the One-Winged Angel(!), but Okada slipped out and dumped him with a German suplex. Cody’s last desperate attempt at a counter was met with a jumping tombstone from Okada and a definitive third Rainmaker gave the champion the win. Okada retains!

Post-match, Omega grabbed the mic and paid respect to the Okada. Gedo then hyped for his man, and the champ briefly addressed his adoring crowd in English before closing the show. This was a good main event, certainly Cody’s best match in the company, and I enjoyed the structure, the storytelling and Bullet Club dissension. They had the crowd biting on some of the near-falls and in a situation like this that’s the best you can hope for. Not by much, but I feel like the OTT drama helped it scrape: ****

Final thoughts: I watched this with Jim Ross and Josh Barnett’s commentary throughout for the full – albeit slightly odd – effect of seeing a New Japan show on American soil and thought they did a decent job. I noticed considerably more air between matches, presumably to allow for adverts in the AXS broadcast, though it’s easily skipped if you’re watching on NJPW World (as I did). There were two genuinely poor matches on the card, which is unusual to see, but the last three bouts considerably lifted the level of this show, and it’s those plus Juice/ZSJ that I’d recommend in particular. I’d certainly describe Night 1 as being a success overall.

I’m back tomorrow for Night 2. See you then.