On April 6, 2019, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling made history by becoming the first non-WWE promotion to hold an event at Madison Square Garden since the 1960s. This was not lost on anybody – the G1 Supercard event was a historic marker in pro wrestling history for this fact alone. The only matter at hand for RoH and NJPW was to deliver an event that was worthy of its spot in wrestling lineage. Did G1 Supercard live up to the task? I’d say it mostly did.
I had only stepped foot into Madison Square Garden once – the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. Being underneath that famous roof, in the presence of a WWE event, was pretty cool. But that was a ceremony, not a pro wrestling show. I leapt at the opportunity to step back into Madison Square Garden for a bonafide wrestling show being presented by two promotions known for their in-ring work and styles. Fifteen minutes before the preshow, I sat in my seat, took in the view and immediately became overwhelmed with awe and disbelief. RoH and New Japan had the opportunity to tear the house down and the MSG crowd was along for the ride.
Kagetsu, Jenny Rose & Hazuki vs. Hana Kimura, Stella Grey & Sumie Sakai
This was a great primer to kick the evening off. The crowd was popping for the right spots, the action was fast, tight, and snappy. And the pace of this 6-woman tag set the energy for what was to follow.
I’m typically not big on battle royals, but this particular Rumble had me marking out in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Basically, if you were a New Japan superstar, Madison Square Garden gave you a huge ovation. Suzuki, Bad Luck Fale, Ishii, Yano, you name it. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, who announced his retirement date for January 4, 2020, received a massive pop upon his entry into Madison Square Garden – the first time he’s ever performed in the famous arena.
Of course, the “Holy Shit!” moment of the night went to The Great Muta. It felt like the entire building had been transformed and we were witnessing a surreal contest in another dimension. The visual of Liger and Muta in the same ring, alone, was truly something.
Kenny King’s a great athlete, but the building the care didn’t much for his victory.
Title vs. Title Match
NEVER Openweight Champion Will Ospreay vs. ROH World TV Champion Jeff Cobb
Hot opener. There were duelling chants for both Ospreay and Cobb, with the MSG crowd being well-versed in their style and spots. Following the Honor Rumble, which generated so much energy and goodwill going into the first hour, this was the perfect opener for the main show with a lot of back-and-forth action and escalated finishers.
I feel like Jeff Cobb might be one of the most underrated workers in the scene today. RoH better holds on to him for a while, because his stock is accelerating.
Dalton Castle vs. Rush
MSG loves Dalton Castle. The crowd eats up his extravagant entrance, they’re pumped for Rush, and the squash finish goes over huge. Not sure if they were expecting Castle’s heel turn on The Boys, but it added an element of unpredictably to the show that was a lot of fun. Terrific call by RoH to present this moment here while MSG was hot.
ROH Women of Honor World Championship
Mayu Iwatani (c) vs. Kelly Klein
The momentum and quality of the show started to take a turn here. Klein’s response from MSG was tepid, at best. They’re clearly in love with Iwatani, but the match felt like a misfire, in terms of execution, interest, and the result.
The interaction with The Beautiful People didn’t help matters. It came off as a poorly-booked Attitude era segment that betrayed the spirit of the show. MSG’s apathy was clear.
New York City Street Fight
Bully Ray, Silas Young, Shane Taylor vs. Flip Gordon, Juice Robinson, Mark Haskins
Things continue to feel a little… off with this portion of the show. The video clip of Juice Robinson being laid out by a mystery attacker generated a big shrug from the crowd. Mega Ran enters the arena and raps about The Garden, which draws more boos than anything else. Bully Ray gets a decent pop from his hometown NY crowd, but Flip Gordon’s response probably had him beat here.
The match turns into a 6-Man street fight that, while decent, still felt out of place on a joint RoH / NJPW show. I recall hearing patrons around me worry about the show now. Uh-oh.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Dragon Lee vs. Bandido
Saved by the Jr. Heavyweights! The decline, and apathy, G1 was starting to show was quickly turned around. Ishimori and Dragon Lee are amazing in their own right, but Bandido is the clear superstar here. “This is awesome!” chants here, “Holy shit!” chants there, and MSG is loud. Dragon Lee’s win kinda surprised the crowd, with most wishing the match would continue for another 10-15 minutes.
Winner Takes All Tag Title Match
ROH World Tag Team Champions PCO and Brody King vs. IWGP Tag Team Champions Guerrillas of Destiny vs. EVIL and SANADA vs. The Briscoes
Madison Square Garden goes into a frenzy here. All four teams receive loving, enthusiastic entrances – especially PCO’s car battery resurrection. The action here was just flashy and stiff enough to elicit some sustained reactions. Chief among them, G.O.D. powerbombing PCO to the outside onto the floor. The fastest I’ve ever heard a crowd react in abject horror to cheering for somebody showing signs of life.
Shortly after G.O.D.’s victory, Enzo Amore and Big Cass cross the barricade and engage in a long bout with Bully Ray and The Briscoes. While this is happening, the cameras in Madison Square Garden aren’t showing this at all. Not sure if commentary made mention or reference to it, but the building was purely focused on Amore and Cass disrupting the event.
The lasting image of the incident was seeing Big Cass towering over everybody in the crowd, flicking the audience off, as MSG rains down tons of heat and their own middle fingers to send their message.
RPW British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
The crowd was nice and loud for this contest. Tanahashi might as well be a superhero – everything he did elicited cheers or cries of concern from grown men and women. This was probably the most technical bout of the evening, but MSG paid close attention to ever move these guys made. Tanahashi’s tap out to Sabre drew gasps, including from me.
With Amore and Cass’s interference being fresh on everybody’s minds, this was a terrific antidote to offset.
IWGP Intercontinental Champion
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
This might have been the loudest match of the night. Not just because Naito and Ibushi are extremely popular NJPW superstars, but we were convinced that somebody was going to legit break their neck. A lot of “Holy shit!” moments that, if you haven’t watched, I don’t want to spoil here. But this match was a rollercoaster and MSG ebbed and flowed with it accordingly.
ROH World Championship (Ladder Match)
Jay Lethal (c) vs. Marty Scurll vs. Matt Taven
Hats off to all three gentlemen, they worked their asses off and MSG did not let that work go unnoticed. Unless you’re Matt Taven – he easily had the most heel heat of the night. Possibly leaning into X-Pac Heat territory.
Scurll’s finger snap to Taven goes over huge. Jay Lethal’s elbow to Taven from the 20-foot ladder draws a huge reaction, as does the WrestleMania 22 apron-spear-through-a-table spot. Everything that happens in this match is pretty gnarly, but Taven’s victory was a strong mix of “Huh?!” to “Welp!”
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Jay White (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada
New Japan has perfected a specific style of main-event – matches that crescendo in an epic series of reversals, counters, devastating signatures and repeated finishers. This match delivered all of that and left Madison Square Garden very happy.
Jay White, much like Matt Taven, has insane heat. On a night where there were plenty of crazy pops, Okada easily received one of the loudest of G1 Supercard. There’s no mistaking when “The Guy” walks into a room and it’s Okada. Rainmaker teases and near falls drive the building crazy, but that final 3 count is a memory I’ll always keep with me.
Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling pulled off a daunting G1 Supercard with tremendous stride. It honestly felt like belt companies were putting their best foot forward in entertaining this Madison Square Garden audience. Not all of RoH’s segments translated for the MSG crowd, but the New Japan portions gave the show just right amount to balance the quality. I saw a lot of smiling, happy attendees leaving MSG – which is all you can ask for with a unique experience like G1 Supercard.
All pics courtesy of Anton Jackson, Ring of Honor and NJPW