So, you thought you had the G1 all figured out. You thought Tetsuya Naito, Jay White, Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi were all dead certs to be first out of the gate. Gedo laughs at your insolence. Day 3 of the G1 and not one of the aforementioned big names have earned a single point. It just goes to show that NJPW have still got it when it comes to subverting expectations, and it’s a smart choice – going against the grain helps keep long-running and somewhat gruelling tournaments like the G1 fresh and vital. Tonight, the boys from the A-block went head to head in some spicy tournament action, and here’s what went down:
Yota Tsuji, Toa Henare and Juice Robinson def. Yuya Uemura, Tomoaki Honma and Hiroko Goto // Henare pinned Uemura following the Toa Bottom
Ren Narita and Jeff Cobb def. Shota Umino and Jon Moxley // Cobb hit Umino with Tour of the Islands
YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii def. Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi and Jay White // Toru Yano caught Owens with a roll-up
Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Minoru Suzuki and Taichi def. BUSHI, Shingo Takagi and Tetsuya Naito // Suzuki hit BUSHI with the Gotch piledriver
G1 Climax Block A Tournament Match: Lance Archer def. Bad Luck Fale
Getting off to a strong start, both Archer and Fale came into this match on 2 points, but only one could proceed on to 4. I’m still very ambivalent about Fale – on his day, he’s enormous fun to watch, but his day seems to come increasingly rare, and there’s only so much uninspired sluggishness I can take before reaching for the off button. But Lance Archer has been something of a revelation so far. Separated from former partner Davey Boy Smith, Archer seems revitalised, and taking his signature brand of Big Boy Brutality into this match was a stroke of brilliance.
A good old fashioned brawl ensued, spilling out of the ring on several occasions. It was never going to be a technical masterclass, but it was fun, and sometimes that’s just as valuable in a long, gruelling contest like the G1, where a variety of styles are necessary to maintain flagging attention-spans. Shout-out to referee Marty Asami, who visibly wobbled when Fale hit Archer with a thunderous superplex. Archer’s surprisingly effective claw finisher took Fale down and skyrocketed him to the front of the pack.
G1 Climax Block A Tournament Match: Will Ospreay def. SANADA
Let’s get this out of the way: Will Ospreay escaping from SANADA’s Paradise Lock surely makes him a shoo-in for G1 winner, right?
This was always going to be a superb match and it more than lived up to expectations. Butter-smooth and thrilling from start to finish, Ospreay and SANADA have tremendous chemistry; they are perfectly matched in terms of size and speed, with SANADA favouring power and Ospreay still hanging on to his high-flying arsenal. SANADA, in particular, has improved in leaps and bounds recently, perfecting his own brand of quiet, physical charisma – never scintillating on the mic, he shows that you don’t need to be a good talker to be incredibly compelling. Clever sequences such as they struggle to hit the TKO served to introduce a little rough around the edges to a match which might otherwise come across as a little too well put together. But how can you argue with a match that stuffs in multiple planchas, a Sasuke special AND a little catch-as-catch-can for variety? Quite possibly the match of the night. Ospreay’s super protected Stormbreaker took SANADA out for the win.
G1 Climax Block A Tournament Match: Kazuchika Okada def. Zack Sabre Jr
Night 3 is going to be a tough one to beat in terms of the sheer quality of matchups. NJPW’s golden boy Okada took on mouthy rubber-boned Brit ZSJ in a match with higher stakes than just G1 points: should ZSJ win, he’d earn a shot at Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship at NJPW’s Royal Quest show in London later in the year. With everything to prove, ZSJ quickly utilised his sizeable arsenal of submission moves, which Okada, to his credit, sold like death. At a shade, over 10 minutes this was very brief by Okada’s standards, but in this instance, brevity proved to enhance the match overall; well-paced and devoid of filler, this was pared-down, lean and exciting. Every near fall sparked the already-hot crowd into a near frenzy. But ZSJ’s undoing has always been his physical fragility, and Okada took him apart piece by piece (and I sincerely hope Zack’s neck is intact after this one) before finishing him off with a Rainmaker. No title shot for Zack, then…
G1 Climax Block A Tournament Match: EVIL def. Kota Ibushi
How’s this for a shocker? Everyone’s favourite underrated mini-hoss (Shetland pony, perhaps?) EVIL scored a surprise upset over Golden Star Kota Ibushi. EVIL showed his vicious side by cleverly targeting Ibushi’s weak ankle, a tactic which saw him gain the upper hand in a match which should, by rights, have been Ibushi’s all day long. EVIL proved he is not to be trifled with, but Ibushi did not go down easy; his freakish stamina and sheer stubbornness saw him answer EVIL blow for blow. Ibushi is clearly not at his best right now – his injury is worrisome, to say the least – but he still has the minerals to put on an excellent match, and though this one was buried between two massive clashes it is a dark horse contender for one of the best matches of the night. A momentous struggle towards the end saw EVIL counter a Kami Goye into Darkness Falls. Ibushi managed a kick out, but his tank was empty, and Everything Is Evil saw him down for the three-count. Ibushi leaves night 3 without a single point.
G1 Climax Block A Tournament Match: KENTA def. Hiroshi Tanahashi
If you thought KENTA would get the thin end of the wedge on his G1 debut, you were wrong. KENTA is a completely different man from his time moonlighting as Hideo Itami. Refreshed and raring to go, this is the kind of performance fans have been waiting for from the former NOAH star. There was a ton of emotion in this one – pent-up aggression and resentment spilling out as Tanahashi took it to KENTA. But like Ibushi, the Ace is not in top condition right now, and while it barely affected his performance it did make it that much harder to stand up to KENTA’s relentless offence. A shocker on paper, but everything made sense in the ring. KENTA took Tana down with the Go 2 Sleep and cemented his position as the one to beat in A-Block.
A very strong night of A-Block action, with several contenders for Match of the Night and quite possibly a couple in contention for Match of the Tournament. The unpredictability of the G1 has been one of its main points of interest so far – let’s see how things progress from here on.
Block A Standings:
KENTA – 4pts (4-0-0)
Lance Archer – 4pts (2-0-0)
Kazuchika Okada – 4pts (2-0-0)
Bad Luck Fale – 2pts (1-0-1)
SANADA – 2pts (1-0-1)
EVIL – 2pts (1-0-1)
Will Ospreay – 2pts (1-0-1)
Hiroshi Tanahashi – 0pts (0-0-2)
Kota Ibushi – 0pts (0-0-2)
Zack Sabre Jr – 0pts (0-0-2)
All pics courtesy of NJPW