NJPW G1 Climax 25: Day 1
July 20th, 15:00 from Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Centre, Hokkaido
A bit of background information: G1 Climax 25 is a round-robin tournament split into two blocks of ten wrestlers. The winners of these blocks will then face each other in the final to determine who is the Ultimate Climaxer* (*may not be exact title). This person, assuming they are not already the champion, gets a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Every match has a 30-minute time limit with two points for a victory, one point for a draw, zero points for a loss. Here are the blocks:
- Bad Luck Fale
- Doc Gallows
- Kota Ibushi
- Togi Makabe
- Tetsuya Naito
- Katsuyori Shibata
- A.J. Styles
- Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Hiroyoshi Tenzan
- Toru Yano
- Karl Anderson
- Michael Elgin
- Hirooki Goto
- Tomoaki Honma
- Tomohiro Ishii
- Satoshi Kojima
- Yuji Nagata
- Shinsuke Nakamura
- Kazuchika Okada
- Yujiro Takahashi
This year’s tournament is taking place over 19(!) shows, running A Block one night, B Block the next. There are five G1 contests per card, with the participants from the other block – plus the rest of the roster – wrestling in undercard tag matches. Previous tournaments have battered the roster, so the idea with this layout is to minimise injuries and ensure everyone has a decent number of days off. And whereas we’re likely to get fewer Show of the Year candidates, keeping the blocks separate does mean it’ll be easier to keep track of standings and, who knows, fresher wrestlers might mean better matches.
I’ll only be reviewing the G1 matches and, for what it’s worth, I think Tanahashi and Nakamura are the finalists with the latter winning the whole thing. Finally, if you sign up to New Japan World today you’ll see all of the shows for the paltry sum of $8.05/£5.16. Incredible value for money.
Phew. Without further ado, here we go…
A Block – Round One
Doc Gallows vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Doc Gallows is a member of the heel stable Bullet Club and a current IWGP Tag Team Champion with Karl Anderson. He hasn’t improved since his WWE run and his matches will likely top out at “suprisingly decent”. Tenzan is a New Japan legend on the downside of his career. He’s a three-time G1 winner, a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and is the reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champion (that’s right, it still exists). Expect solid performances throughout.
Gallows gets the better of the early going before Tenzan fights back with the always-over Mongolian chops. Tenzan clotheslines Gallows over the top rope, but outside Gallows finds some rope and starts chocking Tenzan with it. If you were in any doubt, Gallows – as with all Bullet Club members – uses every heel shortcut known to man. Back in and Doc stands on his Tenzan’s throat, taking control with punches and a Stinger splash. He hits a leg drop, elbow drops, then heads up to the second rope but the diving elbow misses. Tenzan comes back with headbutts and a big suplex. Spinning heel kick for a two-count. Gallows with a gutbuster drop followed by his Hangman’s Noose chokebomb for close two. That gets ‘oohs’ from the crowd. Tenzan with the Anaconda Vice out of nowhere, Gallows fights out, but Tenzan slams him down for a two-count then locks in the Anaconda Max (cobra clutch variation) and Gallows taps at 9 minutes. This was fine. **
Note: There is no break whatsoever between matches. The next guy’s entrance music starts as soon as the wrestlers from the previous match have rolled out of the ring.
Togi Makabe vs. Toru Yano
Makabe is the current NEVER Champion and has won the Heavyweight title, Tag titles (with Yano) and G1 Climax in the past. He does a Brody-influenced gimmick complete with chain and Immigrant Song as his entrance theme. Toru Yano – ‘The Sublime Master Thief’ – is the sneakiest of sneaky heels. He shills his DVDs, low-blows opponents and generally finds a way to spoil the party.
Makabe knocks Yano down, so Yano gets in the ropes and yells ‘Break!’ over and over. Funny stuff. He rolls out and back in, sets up a chair in the corner then drop toeholds Makabe into it for a two count. To the outside, where Yano throws Makabe onto some chairs before returning to the ring and removing a turnbuckle pad. He whips Makabe into the exposed turnbuckles a few times, before Makabe decides that’s enough and comes back at him. Makabe with corner-to-corner clotheslines and mounted punches, then a northern lights suplex for two. Yano ducks three lariat attempts and gets a close two-count off a low blow after distracting the referee. A pissed-off Makabe hits a Death Valley Driver, heads up top and drops the King Kong Knee Drop for the three-count at 8 minutes. **
Bad Luck Fale vs. Tetsuya Naito
Bad Luck Fale is the monster of Bullet Club and has proved a roadblock for many of New Japan’s top stars. He had a good run in last year’s G1 and could very well beat many of the A Block favourites. Naito is a very good wrestler, but has met with resistance when pushed as a top-level babyface. On a recent tour of Mexico, however, he was recruited by CMLL rudos stable Los Ingobernables (no, I can’t pronounce it either) and looks to have started a heel turn on home soil too.
Naito comes out wearing a suit and chrome Terminator/Skeletor mask, signalling his new heelish disposition. I wasn’t expecting that. The crowd are suitably impressed when he rips off his velcro stripper trousers. They lock up, and Fale gets the better of it, but Naito comes back with some aggressive strikes and accosts the ref. Fale knocks Naito down, however, and takes takes things outside, throwing Naito into some chairs (the kind of repeated spot that should get weeded out beforehand). Naito makes it back in before the count and Fale takes control with The Claw. He slams Naito down, but misses the big splash. Naito gets the big man to his knees with a couple of low dropkicks before hitting his slingshot corner dropkick and locking in a figure-four. Fale makes the ropes, but Heelish Naito keeps the move on as long as possible – the bastard! Naito slaps Fale on the head and is met with a Samoan drop in response. A Chokeslam is reversed and rolled through into an ankle lock, but Fale kicks Naito to the mat then connects with the big splash for two. A couple of Bad Luck Fall attempts are avoided by Naito who seemingly gets a low blow and rolls Fale up with a really sloppy Jackknife Pin for the win at 10 minutes. Kind of an odd dynamic with the cocky tweener against the monster heel, but the work was solid. **1/2
Katsuyori Shibata vs. A.J. Styles
Shibata, New Japan’s own prodigal son, returned from the world of MMA several years ago with hard kicks aplenty and a no-nonsense gimmick (his nickname is ‘The Wrestler’). He’s been floundering as a singles wrestler of late, but he’s over and tends to deliver in the ring. Styles has shown himself to be one of the best and most consistent wrestlers in the world since arriving in New Japan in 2014. He is Bullet Club’s leader, a two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion (losing the title earlier this month to Kazuchika Okada) and you know the rest.
Shibata has a taped right elbow and is way over in Hokkaido. He gets the advantage early on, wrenching a side headlock. Styles works a shoulder lock, but Shibata kips out seamlessly into an abdominal stretch. He kicks Styles off the apron and follows with hard kicks on the outside. In, then back out again, as Styles ducks and Shibata kicks the ring post (ouch). Shinbreaker on the barrier from Styles and he gets to work on the leg with a Muta lock, which Shibata breaks, then a leg snap. Shibata tries to turn the tide with knees, but Styles cuts him off with a dropkick. Hard elbows in the corner from Styles, then Shibata decides he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take this anymore. He hits a corner dropkick and a hatch suplex for two. Styles cuts off the comeback with a suplex into the turnbuckle. Styles Clash attempt is blocked, but A.J. rolls through into the Calf Killer! Shibata just makes the ropes, much to the relief of the crowd, then hits a Death Valley Driver and both men are down. Shibata with the Sleeper (a move that’s actually over in Japan), Styles tries to get out by grabbing the taped elbow, so Shibata bites his own hand to keep the hold on – nicely done. A Pele kick gets A.J. free and he nails a nasty looking Bloody Sunday, dropping Shibata right on his head. Gun taunt. Styles Clash for the win at 14 minutes. Fun, hard-hitting match. ****1/4
Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Tanahashi is still very much the face of New Japan, but 2015 has been up-and-down. He’s won and lost the Heavyweight belt, feuded with Toru Yano and, unfortunately, it’s looked increasingly like his long career is catching up with him. Logic dictates that he wins the G1 to set up a final big main event with Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10. We shall see. Kota Ibushi is right on the cusp of being a huge star. He won the New Japan Cup earlier this year, but lost the title match he’d earned at the next PPV. He missed last year’s tournament due to a concussion so will be keen to show exactly what he can offer – which is a lot.
Tanahashi has quite the bouffant tonight. Collar and elbow tie-up and a clean break, which is applauded. Tanahashi then gets Ibushi in the ropes and does not break clean, slapping him in the chest. Back and forth until Ibushi misses a standing moonsault and Tanahashi takes advantage, working over the knee like he’s Bret Hart. Ibushi goes for kicks, hurting himself (stupid stupid stupid), Tanahashi comes back with elbows. He then tries a cross body out of the corner but gets kicked down to the floor, allowing Ibushi to hit his beautiful-looking triangle asai moonsault. Back in the ring, Ibushi nails a huge springboard dropkick and standing corkscrew moonsault for two. Tanahashi responds with low dropkicks which send Ibushi to the outside. Now it’s his turn to go high-risk: Super High Fly Flow to the standing Ibushi below. Multiple Dragon Screw legwhips over the middle rope and Ibushi’s knee is done. Big elbow shots back and forth, but Tanahashi gets another dragon screw and locks in a high-angle Texas cloverleaf. Ibushi makes the ropes and blocks a dragon suplex, so Tanahashi hits a straightjacket german suplex instead. Slingblade for a close two-count. High Fly Flow crossbody followed by the splash, but Ibushi gets his knees up which doesn’t work out well for either guy. Kick combo into a hurricanrana from Ibushi who then launches Tanahashi like a lawn dart into the middle turnbuckle – nasty! Ibushi, on the middle rope, german suplexes Tanahashi in from the apron, dumping him right on his head for a really close two-count. The Last Ride is avoided but Tanahashi is down after a high kick. Phoenix splash misses! The crowd are way into this. Tanahashi heads up. Ibushi with an overhead kick to cut him off followed by a slightly sloppy springboard hurricanrana for another two-count. A second Last Ride attempt is turned into a reverse dragon screw. Dragon suplex for two and the High Fly Flow ends the match at 21 minutes! Excellent main event, with Ibushi coming up short in a big match yet again. Post-match, Ibushi leaves to applause and Tanahashi celebrates, cuts a short promo and does his air guitar schtick. ****1/2
A Block standings after Round One
- Togi Makabe – 2
- Tetsuya Naito – 2
- A.J. Styles – 2
- Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2
- Hiroyoshi Tenzan – 2
- Bad Luck Fale – 0
- Doc Gallows – 0
- Kota Ibushi – 0
- Katsuyori Shibata – 0
- Toru Yano – 0
Final thoughts: All five tournament matches were over within an hour and a half, so this was a breeze to get through. No surprises in terms of results, but I’m sure we’ll get those as we go along. The first three matches were decent enough, but skippable. Shibata/Styles and Ibushi/Tanahashi, as expected, were both great and well worth seeing. An easy recommendation.
One down, eighteen to go! This is my first wrestling show review/recap, so any feedback is welcome. More to come on Thursday.