July 17th, 15:00 from Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Centre, Hokkaido
And we’re off! Today’s show is the first of 19 in the 2017 edition of New Japan’s long-running annual tournament and is headlined Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi. Let’s get to it.
If you’d like to know how to watch or want some background on this year’s competitors, I’ve written a primer which you can read here. In short: the G1 Climax is a round-robin tournament split into two blocks of ten wrestlers. The winners of these blocks will face each other in the final and the winner of that match, assuming it’s not IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada, gets a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in January. As in the past couple of years, I’ll be covering only the tournament matches in an effort to maintain my sanity over the next several weeks.
Here we go…
- Jushin Thunder Liger, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima defeated David Finlay, Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson ***
- El Desperado, Taichi & Minoru Suzuki defeated Chase Owens, Tama Tonga & Kenny Omega ***
- Hiromu Takahashi & EVIL defeated BUSHI & SANADA ***1/4
- Jado & Toru Yano defeated Gedo & Kazuchika Okada **1/2
A Block – Round One
Yuji Nagata vs. YOSHI-HASHI
Nagata got the better of some early exchanges, but ultimately they reset with a stand-off, and after some strikes Yoshi pulled Nagata outside and landed chops to take control. Back in, a rope-hung dropkick earned two, then, after a chinlock, Yoshi thought it would be a good idea to slap Nagata. It wasn’t. Nagata fired back with kicks and stomps before they engaged in a slap battle, and the veteran nailed a rope-hung neckbreaker and the Exploder for a two-count. After it looking like his comeback had been curtailed, Yoshi slipped out of a top-rope predicament to hit a pinning powerbomb for two, then followed with the Swanton! One, two, no! Yoshi cinched in the Butterfly Lock, the crowd implored Nagata to resist, and he did eventually earn a rope-break. Shirome armbar from Nagata! He sat deep, but Yoshi stretched for the break. Justice knee and a backdrop – two-count only! Small package from Yoshi for a near-fall, followed by a left-handed lariat for the same. Nagata initially blocked Karma, but the lungblower connected, allowing Yoshi to nail it at the second time of asking. One, two, three. A very good match to open the tournament. There was some awkwardness in the beginning and it felt like they went a minute or two beyond the peak of the match, but they got me into it far more than anticipated. ***3/4
Togi Makabe vs. Bad Luck Fale
Makabe downed Fale with a shoulder block, then the fight went to the floor, where Fale used Makabe’s chain against him, twice flinging him into chairs. Back in the ring, a big scoop slam and sitting pin got two, as did a Samoan Drop, and the concerned referee checked on Makabe. He slipped out of the Bad Luck Fall, however, and a counter lariat brought some respite. Mounted punches in the corner were followed with a lariat, but Fale flattened him and landed a splash for two, then Makabe blocked the Grenade with another lariat. Fale wasn’t deterred, but again the Bad Luck Fall failed, and yet another lariat earned two for Makabe. A diving knee strike looked to set up the finish, but Makabe was caught by the throat as he dived from the top-rope and Fale nailed him with the Grenade for the win! A solid effort here, with a simple story of Makabe’s fighting spirit meeting an unstoppable monster in Fale. About as good as could be expected. ***
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Both men charged at each other several times, Goto floored Ishii with an elbow, then Ishii floored Goto with a shoulder block. He maintained control with hard chops, brushed off Goto’s slaps, and landed a headbutt. Goto popped up after a suplex, though, and a rope-running sequence allowed him to hit a lariat and follow with a run of offence. They battled on the top-rope, with Goto looking for Shouten, but Ishii eventually landed the superplex for a two-count. Goto snapped Ishii across his knee in reply, but neither man would be downed by clotheslines until Goto’s finally did the job. Ushigoroshi for two. Enzuigiri from Ishii and a folding powerbomb for a near-fall! Sliding lariat – another two-count. Goto slipped out of the brainbuster and into a Sleeper, but the GTR was avoided and a series of lariats resulted in a double knockdown. Elbows now, over-and-over, with Goto fading a few times only to survive the onslaught and down Ishii with a headbutt. Lariat from Goto – one-count only! A big kick to the chest earned two, then Goto hit both the reverse and regular GTRs for an academic three-count. Another good match, though I didn’t feel it reached the level of their G1 encounter from a couple of years ago. Might’ve been better than I’m giving it credit for (I’ll rewatch it later), but even since last year I find it increasingly hard to invest in Goto’s matches. Strong work though and no exceptions made for the fact that they’re stablemates. ***3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (w/ El Desperado)
Sabre controlled on the mat, wriggling free of Tanahashi’s attempts at reversals, then briefly worked the leg. Tanahashi looked to get some offence going, but Sabre soon reversed an elbow drop into an armbar, then targeted Tanahashi’s damaged right arm, wrenching it aggressively before nailing it with an overhead kick. Uppercuts and more arm-wringers led an Octopus Hold, with the right arm extended to breaking point, but Tanahashi powered into a Dragon Screw and landed a low dropkick. A grounded Dragon Screw briefly set up the Cloverleaf, but Sabre scrambled free and a roll-up earned two. Two arm-trapped stomps and uppercuts landed, but another overhead kick was reversed to a Dragon Screw and spinning neckbreaker by Tanahashi. European Clutch from Sabre – two-count only! Sling Blade from Tanahashi! The High Fly Flow crossbody connected, but El Desperado distracted Tanahashi long enough that the High Fly Flow proper hit the knees and Sabre quickly transitioned to the hammerlocked armbar! He folded the arm, bent the wrist and Tanahashi submitted! Wow. A huge win for Sabre Jr. in his G1 debut and it was his kind of match, as he controlled the pace and style of combat. Tanahashi barely got anything going and, as you would expect, Sabre Jr. went for his injured right arm to great effect. Might not be to everyone’s taste, but I dug this. ****
Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi
Ibushi quickly tired of Naito’s cockiness and leapfrogged into a double stomp, but Naito hit back with a rope-hung over-the-knee drop and seated dropkick. Naito landed a neckbreaker out on the apron, then took control in the ring with back elbows and stomps. A modified surfboard stretched Ibushi, then another neckbreaker earned two, before Naito’s spitwad preceded a huge dropkick from his opponent. A strike flurry and ‘rana sent Naito to the floor where Ibushi flattened him with the triangle moonsault! A springboard missed, but Ibushi blocked Naito’s corner dropkick and looked for a middle-rope German. That too was blocked, and Naito’s slingshot landed this time. Rope-hung neckbreaker and a high-angle German suplex from Naito for two. Gloria was reversed, however, and Ibushi dumped Naito with a German suplex of his own!
A series of hard kicks rattled Naito, with Ibushi not stopping for the rope-break, then a huge lariat landed for two. The powerbomb was blocked and Naito dumped Ibushi on his head with a German suplex, then nailed Gloria for a two-count. He set Ibushi up top and landed a reverse super frankensteiner! Two-count only! Destino blocked and Ibushi lawn-darted Naito into the turnbuckle! Good lord. With Naito on the apron, Ibushi went up to the middle-rope and spiked him with a German suplex back into the ring! Holy shit! One, two, NO! Powerbomb blocked again, and Naito hit the tornado DDT to put both men down. Naito recovered to set Ibushi up top, but Ibushi slipped out and landed the overhead kick, then followed with a super piledriver!!! 2.999! Holy fuck! Naito pushed Ibushi into the corner, Ibushi fired back with strikes, but then Naito hit Destino! 2.9! A second Destino spiked Ibushi right on top of his head! One, two, three!
Fuck me, this is what they did on the opening night?! The crazy bastards. Honestly, I think I’m a little disturbed by some of the stuff they did here. That closing stretch was nothing less than career-shortening. I mean, it was an amazing match that just built and built to an insane climax, but as far as I’m concerned both men can take the rest of the tournament off. ****3/4
Post-match promo from Naito & Co. to close the show and we’re out.
A Block standings after Round One
- Fale – 2
- Goto – 2
- Naito – 2
- Sabre Jr. – 2
- YOSHI-HASHI – 2
- Ibushi – 0
- Ishii – 0
- Makabe – 0
- Nagata – 0
- Tanahashi – 0
Final thoughts: The main event was as good a match as I’ve seen this year and that’s saying something. The rest of the G1 matches were all good to great and the undercard – particularly the all-Los Ingobernables match – was fun too. Thumbs way up.
I’m back on Thursday for B Block’s first show. See you then.
One down, eighteen to go.