The Linus Report: NJPW G1 Climax, day 1 (20/07/2015, Sapporo)

Hey, it’s New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s G1 Climax! Day one – of nineteen! And, even though I have a backlog of NJPW shows to watch stretching back to late March, I’m jumping in with both feet and bring this TO YOU.

But, first, some of you might be thinking, “what the blinking flip is the G1?” And that’s a very good question. The G1 – the G stands for Grade, so it’s the top guys in the company taking part – started in 1991, although there have been similar round robin tournaments held in NJPW since its inception.

The competitors – there are twenty this year, split into two blocks of ten – meet each other in the qualifying period, and the wrestlers with the best win/loss record from each block meet in the final. The winner of that final traditionally goes on to face the IWGP champion at Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, although there is some talk that that may not be the case this year.

The company traditionally invites outsiders to take part in the tournament – this year the only non-NJPW regular is Michael Elgin, from Ring of Honor. With the G1 being a tournament for heavyweight wrestlers, the junior heavyweights, and those heavyweights not in the tournament, appear in supporting bouts.

If you are totally unfamiliar with New Japan, and the characters that make up its unique world, you can read our own Coiré McCrystall’s introduction to the promotion in issue 2 of SteelChair magazine (and then make sure you check out my rebuttal in issue 3!)

Anyway, on with the show…

They did a really big opening, which set the scene for the tournament and made it seem really big time. Which it is, of course. They ran down all twenty competitors, and then announced that tonight’s show would be a Block A show, with the wrestlers from Block B mixing with the non-tournament wrestlers in the preliminary matches.

First up was Tomoanki Honma, Mascara Dorada, Jay White & David Finlay versus Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask IV & Yohei Komatsu. White, Finlay, and Komatsu are “young boys”, trainees from the New Japan Dojo and on the first steps of their career ladder. As young boys they don’t have gimmicks as such, although Jay White has gotten around that with a terrible haircut, and wear black trunks and black boots. If they’re good they might get a knee pad.

On a team with Liger & Tiger Mask, Komatsu’s plain gear looks even more silly. A shoving match decided Nagata and Honma would start out and Honma is the most ridiculously over man in the company. The crowd love him. Although Liger got a huge pop when he came in, and Mascara Dorada also got a good reaction, so maybe this crowd is up for anything? As they should be.

Honma missed his first headbutt before a minute was up on the clock, and if you’re new to NJPW you’ll have no clue about that. Just go with it. David Finlay came in and his young boy gear is quite stark – because he’s a Finlay I expected at least a bit of green. Oh, and he looked about fourteen. Of the other young boys, Jay White showed some great fire and Yohei Komatsu is a superb babyface in peril.

Mascara Dorada has been with NJPW since the end of Fantasticamania in January, and you have to wonder why he’d ever go home to a moribund CMLL. He fits in perfectly here, like el Samurai never retired.

Honma came back in to miss another headbutt, and Nagata ran wild on him. Honma fired up and finally landed the headbutt, which led to a rudo breakdown, with all the (nominal) heels on Nagata. They split off and left Nagata alone with Finlay, and Nagata killed him for the win. Everyone got to do their spots and it was a pretty sweet opener, all in all.

The next match was the first time out for the Bullet Club, represented by Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall. Takahashi didn’t have a stripper with him so what’s even the point??? They were fighting Hirooki Goto & Captain New Japan. Fuck Captain New Japan, he’s awful. And Goto has odd trousers.

With Captain New Japan being rubbish, Goto being largely boring, and Cody Hall being green as you like, Takahashi had his work cut out to keep me interested in this match, And he did okay because the match was okay, I guess.

Despite his current lack of skills (or anything, really), Cody Hall is going to make Vince McMahon a lot of money one day. Oh, and Hall may be green but Goto blew a hip toss. Hall did some height-based comedy with Captain New Japan, and comedy is probably the best use of the Captain.

They did a rudo breakdown, and Hall shoved the referee with no comeback – now do you see why I say it’s not a serious sport, Coiré? The Captain made the hot tag out to Goto, but Takahashi introduced his teeth into proceedings. Biting is such a great heel move. Then Cody Hall ran wild! Awkwardly! He was unconvincingly angry but got rolled up by Goto for the win anyway. Like I said, it was okay.

More Bullet Club nonsense next, with Karl Anderson & Tama Tonga out for the destitute man’s nWo. I don’t really get Anderson but he’s perfectly functional as a professional wrestler. Tama Tonga is Meng’s kid – I mean, how is that even possible? No woman could never have Meng’s baby. Do you think her fallopian tubes could handle his sperm? I guarantee he blows a load like a shotgun right through her back. What about her womb? Do you think it’s strong enough to carry his child? No, no, no. Anyway, Tama Tonga’s commitment to his character is such that he facepaints his BEARD.

They’re out against YOSHI-HASHI and Shinsuke Nakamura. Man, Nakamura has it. Whereas YOSHI-HASHI has a stick. *shrug* Anderson took YOSHI-HASHI into the crowd early on and then just left him there. Trying to get a countout, I guess, but still.

Japanese crowds can get so quiet, while still being into the match, that Anderson could shout “BRAINBUSTER!” in an 8,000-capacity hall and still be heard more clearly than John Cena calling a match. Anderson & Nakamura had some good exchanges, and Nakamura did his vibrating leg thingy, which is always good for a pop.

Anderson kicked out of Nakamura’s Bom-a-Ye finisher, and Tonga sidestepped another, but Anderson got hit with one for the pinfall. Really, really enjoyable match – won’t win any awards but it pressed all the buttons.

The last of the pre-interval preliminary matches saw Satoishi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi & Michael Elgin take on the Chaos team of Tomohiro Ishii, Gedo & IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada. While they were all coming in, I noticed they were announcing them in English as well as Japanese. That was a nice touch from a promotion with genuine worldwide ambitions.

On his way into the ring Elgin looked the bollocks. Absolutely intimidating, with more than a hint of “Dr Death” Steve Williams about him. I’ve only ever seen one Elgin match before and I liked him even if I didn’t particularly like it. I’ll get to see a lot of him over the next nineteen shows so we’ll see.

Ishii and Kojima did not get on before the bell. Taguchi played peacemaker while Elgin looked on impassively. Okada started out and he is so BIG TIME. It’s hilarious to think that TNA had him and all they did with him was make him a comedy sidekick to Samoa Joe. Idiots. He traded with Elgin, and everything he did looked so natural, even though Elgin looked nervous (and probably was a bit).

Gedo and Taguchi came in, and it looked for all the world like a 21st century Bill Dundee versus Hector Guerrero match-up. They did a sweet missed armdrag spot that had me smiling. I do wonder, though, how did Taguchi develop his bum-based offense? His nickname is the Funky Weapon, and that refers to his bum, and he tries to use it at every opportunity. How? Why???

Elgin did a cute stalling suplex spot, where he had Gedo up and Ishii & Okada both attacked him but he didn’t drop him. Then Ishii came in to face-off with Kojima and the crowd popped BIG. Ishii is already one of my favourite wrestlers but he jumped up the list even further by no-selling Kojima’s tiny chops. Then he jumped back down by selling them.

Elgin and Ishii came together and it was like a tiny, powerful goblin war. Elgin hit a sweet deadlift German but his Samoan Drop/Fallaway Slam combo didn’t quite come off. Okada and Taguchi ended the match, and the IWGP champion got taken down by a bum. He hit his dropkick and then the Rainmaker, and that was that. Really fun match.

Then they had a really long interval. Luckily, this is what the Duggan button was made for. That and Hacksaw Duggan matches, obviously.

After the break, it was time for the G1 to kick off. You want to get off to a good start, right? So why send out Doc Gallows, FFS? He looks like a right cunt. He has “Future Legend” on his pleather shorts. Only if he dies in the ring or something, I reckon. There again, Tenzan has a stupid hat, so maybe looking like a twat is the thing here?

So this was dull. Just Tenzan selling for Gallows for AGES. Jay White was at ringside, performing his young boy duties – they have to work as ringside security, which gives them a chance to watch the senior wrestlers up close – and I bet he learned NOTHING. Tenzan won. BORING.

It’s okay, though, here’s Toru Yano for the next match. Oh, yeah, he’s awful, too. Even up against Togi Makabe, who’s usually a good hand. Yano came out clutching a Chaos DVD (it’s either that or a CD or a book – it’s his thing) while Makabe had a massive, fuck-off CHAIN. Makabe wins.

Yano got a roll-up within seconds of the bell for a nearfall. Since he beat Tanahashi with a hair-pull a few months ago, upset wins are a thing with him. Not this time, though. They did some comedy stalling (which is always appreciated at Boon Towers) and then Yano grabbed a chair and hit Makabe. Are G1 matches no DQ?

Yano took the turnbuckle pad off, like every Yano match EVER, but Makabe found some FIRE. I should hope so! Yano got one last spot in – a backslide after a hidden nutshot – and then Makabe killed him with a clothesline, a Death Valley Bomb, and a kneedrop off the tope rope. Not a great match.

Hey, things can only get better, right? Oh, fuck, it’s Bad Luck Fale. He looks like a fat Godfather. In 2015. Ugh. Tetsuya Naito, on the other hand, is pretty good. He’s spent the last month dicking around in Mexico with luchadores and then he had to come back to Bad Luck fucking Fale. Poor fella. He came down to the ring in a suit and wearing a silver skull mask. Okay.

They brawled into the crowd and Fale threw Naito into a quickly-vacated row of chairs. Fale left him lying and went back to the ring to try and get a countout win. What a terrible monster. I have this thing where I like to point out that Fale can’t even take a simple move like a drop toehold properly, but they didn’t do one in this match, Luckily for me, Naito did do a reverese Atomic Drop and Fale fucked that up. Fuck off Fale. Naito got the win with an awkward cradle. Really bad match.

So the last two matches should kick things up a notch, because all the shit has already been out. Then again, it is AJ Styles next. Now I fully accept that me not liking Styles is all on me. Lots of other people think he’s super, and that’s fine. He bores me and I don’t relate to him on any emotional level because he doesn’t emote. Instead, he looks like he stinks. It’s like he saw an XPW DVD and thought, “yeah, Homeless Jimmy was underrated!” (He was, by the way, but that’s by the by).

Katsuyori Shibata does not look like he stinks. He doesn’t look like anything. He’s the most vanilla professional wrestler in the business, like a Create-A-Wrestler template on a computer game before you do anything to it. He’s got a bandage on his poorly arm and that gives him more character than he’s ever had before.

But, despite my assassination of the way these men look, they had a perfectly acceptable professional wrestling match. It just wasn’t exciting, on any level. And we had Red Shoes overacting his way through the whole thing, like it was Misawa-Kobashi 1/21/97. The last minute was good, though, and Styles hit a really sweet brainbuster to set up the Styles Clash for the finish.

Hey, it’s our main event! It’s Hiroshi Tanahashi versus Kota Ibushi! And I’m actually excited for this one! Ibushi is just ace but he hasn’t grown into his face yet. Give him time, he’s young. Tanahashi has star quality. He’s often compared to John Cena and I can see that but no-one hates Tanahashi. He’s awesome.

Tanahashi played very, very, very subtle heel here, because the match demanded it, although he was nice enough to point out the “Ibushi” chants to his opponent. They did a great sequence of missed and countered moves, a reminder that not landing big moves can be just as exciting as hitting them.

Tanahashi started dismantling Ibushi, taking his leg apart to give the match its story. Ibushi, despite that bum wheel, still managed to hit a quebrada off the turnbuckles to the outside. Captain New Japan was at ringside, wearing a t-shirt that said JUST STOP IT. I wish he would.

Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow splash to the outside, to show he could kill himself every bit as much as Ibushi. This was so well-built, it was engaging and absorbing, the opposite of the previous encounter. Both men shined, and Ibushi used Tanahashi as a lawn dart into the turnbuckle pads and did a sweet second rope, inside-out, herking German suplex into the ring.

The crowd got so into the nearfalls, and Tanahashi finally won with a Dragon suplex and a High Fly Flow. This was an awesome match. If there’s anything in the tournament that matches it, they’ll have done well. There will be, though, there always is.

This was an Okay Show. Putting the non-tournament matches in the first half unbalanced the show and resulted in that run of terrible matches in the middle. A better distributed line-up might have kept the attention longer, and it was often a struggle to get through the middle part, like wading through treacle. Still, it ended well, and there’ll be another along in three days! Join me for that!

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