G125 Day 6 Review, Block B is Cursed, Nakamura Injured and More…

Day 5 was the strongest day of the tournament thus far and right now Block A is absolutely KILLING the G1.  On the other end of the spectrum, the last time we saw Block B, on Day 4, we were having the low point of the G1 in my opinion.  Sooner or later a Block with Okada, Nakamura, Goto, Ishii and Anderson has to turn things around and there is some pressure on the Block B participants after Block A murdered Day 5.  At least for one day Block B can stop feeling like it’s inferior in the eyes of New Japan, as we’ve got a multi-camera shoot for I believe the first time with this group (if my memory serves me).

Yuji Nagata (1-1, 2 Pts) v. Yujiro Takahashi (0-2, 0 Pts) [Block B]:  I’m sorry did I just see Takahashi win a match?  I kind of wanted to hate this, especially as this was the match that Block B had to start with following that amazing Day 5 for Block A.  But I have to confess that I didn’t hate this. You pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get out of both of these guys, but Takahashi seemed engaged, and at no point did I think he almost killed someone with laziness. I liked that Cody Hall finally got involved at ringside, even if it was directly in front of the official.  At least Yano has the decency to pretend to distract the official before doing something untoward.  If I had to guess, I’d say that a combination of Day 5 out of Block A, and having this day actually involve something other than a single hard camera brought out the best in these two, I’m hoping that keeps up throughout the day.  Takahashi broke out the Miami Shine to pick up the pinfall on Nagata and Yujiro moves into the land of points.

Hirooki Goto (1-1, 2 Pts) v. Tomoaki Honma (0-2, 0 Pts) [Block B]:  Goto needed this match.  I have thought that Goto has looked like a dope in the first two matches of the tournament, essentially having like 5% of the entire offensive output in each respective match.  What he needed, was a chance to look like the brutal striker that he is, and nobody is better at making someone look offensively gifted than Honma.  This was the perfect match at the perfect time.  Honma was Honma.  He got the crowd behind him, and he them excited at the right parts, and he convinced everyone that he might actually win.  In the end, he was there to do a job, and part of that job is to sell offense — which he did, extremely well.  For the first time all tournament, Goto looked like he belonged as someone who might be predicted (by me) to win the tournament.  The crowd still loves Honma and are desperate to see him win a match during the G1, but that wouldn’t happen here.  After some nice back and forth, Goto finishes the match with the Shouten Kai and picks up the pinfall win.

Karl Anderson (2-0, 4 Pts) v. Tomohiro Ishii (2-0, 4 Pts) [Block B]:  The third match during the tournament block of these dates has traditionally been excellent.  There were things during this match that I liked, but overall it felt a bit plodding to me.  Anderson had the weirdest offense in this match because it felt like every time something would happen his response would be a leaping push kick.  It almost felt like Anderson was in the back and said “guys, I totally know karate” but he only knew one move, so he just went out and did that move over, and over, and over again.  It didn’t really work for me.  It started to heat up a bit at the end, and Ishii just driving his head through someone’s body is always going to pique my interest.  The match felt much longer than it was, and that’s not a compliment.  I also don’t understand why a gun stun KO’s you, but if Anderson hits a leaping (from the second turnbuckle) neckbreaker, you can kick out 100% of the time.  Is the difference between hitting your face, and the back of your neck an instant KO, because for real the moves are identical.  Ultimately, Ishii won, which I actually thought was a surprise.  I thought Anderson was getting the Shelton Benjamin surprise push from nowhere, but maybe it was Ishii all along.

Satoshi Kojima (1-1, 2 Pts) v. Kazuchika Okada (2-0, 4 Pts) [Block B]:  Maybe it’s not fair.  In fact, I know it isn’t, but this match — yeck.  The truth is that Okada is amazing and he’s capable of having a passing match with a broom stick.  But Kojima isn’t much further along than a broomstick right now.  I liked Okada’s match with Tenzan, because there was some passion there and Tenzan has a bit of a story heading into the G1.  This match was similar in nature, with none of the passion.  It felt plodding (a theme today), it was pretty boring, and even a crowd that desperately wanted to be involved didn’t save it for me.  I can’t be too mad at the nature of this match, it’s Okada, and he had a shit hand to work with because a match was cut from the show.  I’m sure he wanted to give the fans the time, so they probably stretched this match out more than it needed to be, but I felt it and it hurt the overall product.  Okada picked up the win with the rainmaker and he joins Ishii at the top of the heap with 6 points.

Final Thoughts:  Obviously the biggest story of Day 6, and likely the entire tournament is the injury that Nakamura suffered that kept him out of action today.  Michael Elgin, by proxy, picks up his first New Japan victory via forfeit, but the whole situation sucks because Elgin/Nakamura had potential to be excellent, especially with how well Elgin has been doing during this G1 run.  The injury probably effectively knocks Nakamura out of contention, and at this point we’re not even sure he’ll return to the tournament.  The lack of Nakamura does add some interest moving forward.  I still have my pick of Goto who is now looming as the potential beneficiary of the Nakamura injury.  Ishii is also in play, though nothing would scream New Japan like missing the boat on a guy for a year, spending that year killing his momentum and then jumping on him a year too late.  Overall, the lack of Nakamura/Elgin hurt Day 6 a ton and I think the last two matches suffered because they stretched and it showed.  Honma/Goto was the best match on the card and in my opinion it wasn’t even close.  Block B continues to struggle though, this is a snake biten half of the tournament.

Standings (Through Day 6)

Tomohiro Ishii (6 pts)
Kazuchika Okada (6 pts)
Karl Anderson (4 pts)
Hirooki Goto (4 pts)
Satoshi Kojima (2 pts)
Shinsuke Nakamura (2 pts)
Yujiro Takahashi (2 pts)
Yuji Nagata (2 pts)
Michael Elgin (2 pts)
Tomoaki Honma (0 pts)

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G1 25 Day 5 Review, The Best Day of the Tournament So Far

I’m not trying to alarm anyone but it’s become clear that New Japan thinks Block A is the superior side of the tournament right?  Day 1, 3 and 5 have all been multi-camera broadcast shows, with Day 2 and 4 being single cam “house shows.”  That seems surprising when you consider that both Okada and Nakamura are in Block B, but when you look top to bottom, this has just been the better group so far.  Day 5 brings us a rematch of the incredible Ibushi/Styles IWGP Championship match, and Naito against Tanahashi which is almost certainly going to be excellent, but the surprising thing is that literally every match on this show winds up being at worst, pretty good.

Doc Gallows (0-2, 0 pts) v. Bad Luck Fale (1-1, 2 pts) [Block A]:  I don’t particularly enjoy either of these guys.  I had no reason to think this would be anything other than garbage.  And yet, I sit here after the fact and have to admit that this match was pretty good.  Basically, two super heavyweights just running into each other until one guy can’t get up anymore.  The finish was kind of dumb because Fale gets the win after a lariat where he basically lightly touched Gallows in the chest with his fingertips, but other than that this was probably better than it had any right to be, and much better than I expected heading in.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan (1-1, 2 pts) v. Toru Yano (0-2, 0 pts) [Block A]:  This G1 has been a revelation for me about Yano.  He has been amazing in his first three matches, including this one.  Tenzan is obviously hurt, and he’s clearly struggling.  With that, the perfect role for him is to remain stationary while someone else runs around and does everything.  Yano excels in that set up, and Yano killed it during this match.  The end saw Tenzan flop off the top turnbuckle and smash skulls with Yano busting both guys open pretty serious.  A blood soaked Yano then grabbed the referee, hit the low blow and won with a backslide three.  Especially coming off a pretty long Tanahashi/Tenzan match on Day 3, this has to be have been the best use of Tenzan yet in the tournament.

Togi Makabe (1-1, 2 pts) v. Katsuyori Shibata (1-1, 2 pts) [Block A]:  I get the feeling that Makabe thinks he strikes like Shibata.  The third match has been the best match on the show every day of the G1 so far, so this match has a ton to live up to.  This is the point of Day 5 where I realized this was a special day because all of a sudden I found myself really enjoying a Togi Makabe match.  Most of my complaints with Makabe are that he’s like a “bad ass” intimidator but his strikes are like baby soft.  But, apparently having Shibata kick the shit out of you makes your own striking that much better because Makabe looked like a boss in this match.  This match also featured the most terrifying finish I can imagine at this point, Shibata puts you to sleep with a sleeper hold, and then you get a PK in the chest to wake you up.  Ultimately, Shibata picks up the win after that very same PK and we’re 3 for 3 on Day 5 with two can’t miss matches left.

Kota Ibushi (1-1, 2 pts) v. AJ Styles (2-0, 4 pts) [Block A]:  Oh. My. God.  This was *so* good you guys. Just looking at this match before it began you had to assume it’d be excellent.  Their IWGP Championship match was incredible, and this was a worthy successor to that.  I could gush about this match for paragraphs, but I’ll just recommend that you go check it out as soon as possible.  The beautiful thing that’s going on with Ibushi is, he hasn’t been able to beat any of the ace’s of New Japan.  He’s 0-fer against the Big 3 (Nakamura, Okada, Tanahashi) and Styles is essentially the fourth on that list, and Ibushi hadn’t beaten him either.  You could feel the desperation in Ibushi as he tried to get that monkey off his back in this match, and I thought both guys played their roles to perfection.  In the end, Ibushi hit the Phoenix Splash and pinned Styles clean.  The emotion from Ibushi was real, and the adulation of the crowd was well deserved.  This was a great match, and is another step towards super *duper* stardom for Ibushi in New Japan.

Hiroshi Tanahashi (2-0, 4 pts) v. Tetsuya Naito (1-1, 2 pts) [Block A]:  Oh man, this match.  Up until this point Naito had been making strides with his new approach, but this match really drove home the new Naito.  Tanahashi is just so great and he is able to make everyone look so good so he was the perfect opponent for Naito at this particular moment.  You couldn’t have done this match on Day 1, because the crowd needed a chance to get used to Naito, and I thought the Shibata match added some nice wrinkles to the whole Naito package.  This was the ideal spot for this match to fall because of two things.  First, Tanahashi just headlined Day 3, and won, and gave a speech, and second, it felt like this was the perfect time for Naito to win so that he could close the show with his own “moment.”  Though I don’t understand Japanese, the image of Naito standing over a defeated Tanahashi while the crowd reigns boos down on him was picture perfect.  It took a ton to live up to the bar that was set by Styles and Ibushi and I really think Tanahashi and Naito cleared it.

Final Thoughts:  Without a doubt Day 5 was the best day of the entire tournament, and coming off Day 4, which I thought was the weakest, Block A has easily confirmed their spot at the best half of the bracket.  The main storyline coming out of the fifth day is the establishment of two *new* stars.  Ibushi got his win over Styles, and Naito defeated Tanahashi setting the stage for both of those guys to be legitimate challengers not only for the tournament victory, but after the tournament ends as well.  Every match on Day 5 was good, and the final two matches were excellent with Styles/Ibushi being my favorite match of the entire tournament through five days.  I think I might have even said you could skip Day 4, which should give you even more time to watch an amazing Day 5.

Block A Standings (Through Day 5)

Kota Ibushi (4 pts)
AJ Styles (4 pts)
Tetsuya Naito (4 pts)
Hiroshi Tanahashi (4 pts)
Katsuyori Shibata (4 pts)
Bad Luck Fale (4 pts)
Togi Makabe (2 pts)
Toru Yano (2 pts)
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2 pts)
Doc Gallows (0 pts)

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G1 25 Day 4 Review, Does Honma Pin Okada? (Hint: No)

On paper I had very little faith that Day 4 was going to live up to the hype of the previous three days.  Nothing on the show really stuck out other than Karl Anderson/Hirooki Goto.  At this point Block B seems to be the Okada/Nakamura block, but we’ll see how things shake out.  The story that I’m following most closely in this block is Michael Elgin and how he performs in the tournament.  So far he’s been really good on these G1 shows, and his opening round match with Okada was great.  He’ll have a much more difficult task on this day against Kojima who can be great, but is also approximately 87 years old.

Yujiro Takahashi (0-1, 0 Pts) v. Tomohiro Ishii (1-0, 2 Pts) [Block B]:  Yujiro sucks.  I mean, I know I’ve been saying that since he helped AJ Styles win the IWGP title the first time but I feel justified in feeling that way.  He’s an energy vacuum.  The room doesn’t just cool off when he’s in the ring, it dies.  If the house lights had been turned up during this match I’m pretty sure you would’ve seen less people in their seats than had been in their seats during intermission.  Plus, Takahashi is the one who ended Ishii’s NEVER title reign when he was white hot and that kind of killed Ishii because everyone in Japan thought, if this guy isn’t better than Yujiro than Ishii must suck too.  Fortunately Ishii wins but not after what felt like 45 minutes of Yujiro dominating.  Seriously, go away Takahashi we’re done with you here.

Michael Elgin (0-1, 0 pts) v. Satoshi Kojima (0-1, 0 pts) [Block B]:  Elgin made his NJPW solo debut against Okada and had a great match.  That shouldn’t be very surprising because Okada could have a great match with me right now.  There was some question as to how Elgin would translate against someone who wasn’t one of the best wrestlers in the entire world.  Well, Elgin answered that question by pulling the best singles match that I’ve seen in years out of Kojima.  The crowd has completely bought into Elgin and that is making these matches a ton of fun.  Elgin’s delay vertical suplex with the squats generates an amazing reaction from the crowd, and I couldn’t help but notice he was getting some cheers during this match, Elgin is catching on in New Japan.  I even loved the end, with Elgin going for that second rope codebreaker and Kojima just lariating him out of mid air for the pinfall. The crowd was really excited for the finish, because everything that led up to it was so good.  I’m telling you, Elgin has impressed the heck out of me in his first two matches, he feels fresh and motivated right now and he’s delivering on a huge stage, which is great to see. After the match Kojima shook Elgin’s hand, and Kojima had a huge smile on his face — I think he even recognized how good that match was, and gave some credit to Elgin, as he should.

Karl Anderson (1-0, 2 pts) v. Hirooki Goto (1-0, 2 pts) [Block B]:  First, my Goto to win the G1 pick is feeling less and less prescient as the days go on.  That being said, this was a solid match with a really good finish.  My only issue with the finish is that it kind of makes Goto look terrible.  I mean when is the last time that one Gun Stun finished a match?  Hell, Anderson had to hit Nakamura with like 10 of them two days ago.  The sequence was awesome though with Anderson reversing a Shouten essentially falling out of the vertical suplex and right into a Gun Stun for three.  Again this match sort of reminds me that the IC title means nothing if it’s not on Nakamura.  Both guys looked good here, so I’m not mad at the result.  Anderson is exceptional and it looks like he’s getting that Shelton Benjamin early jump to the top of the leaderboard that just winds up being unsustainable. As for Goto, I’m not jumping off the bandwagon yet.

Shinsuke Nakamura (0-1, 0 pts) v. Yuji Nagata (1-0, 2 pts) [Block B]:  I know the official word is going to be that Nakamura won with the standing BomaYe, but am I crazy or did it seem like Nakamura won with a superkick?  In my brain Nakamura is just auditioning for a role in the Bullet Club.  I’ll confess to something that probably won’t win me any fans, but I do not like this pairing.  I didn’t like their match when Nagata challenged for the IC Title, and I didn’t like it here.  I don’t know what it is about these two guys but they just don’t work for me against one another.  It was a fine match, nothing that I’ll remember in a couple of days, but through the first two matches of the tournament I don’t think Shinsuke has looked too great. I’d couple him in the same group as Goto.

Kazuchika Okada (1-0, 2 pts) v. Tomoaki Honma (0-1, 0 pts) [Block B]:  Here’s the thing, Honma is great and Okada is great and of course they’re going to be great together.  That being said, there is no way that Honma is going to beat Okada.  I know that.  You know that.  Everyone knows that.  So, there is no drama.  And when there is no drama, than how am I supposed to get excited for submission holds? Or for potential count outs?  I mean, I know Okada can’t lose, and he certainly isn’t going to tap out to a chinlock.  I think if I watched this match in a vacuum, like I knew nothing about New Japan and this was the first match I ever saw, I’d have a different opinion.  It’s impossible though to divorce myself from the knowledge I have that this match outcome was never in doubt.  It’s  testament to Honma (and Okada) that the crowd was fully invested in this one and after Honma countered the rainmaker lariat with a diving headbutt there were people in the crowd that genuinely thought Okada was about to lose.  It takes a lot to flip that switch and that should tell you all you need to know about Honma and how excellent he is at his role.

Final Thoughts:  I have very little in the way of expectations for this line up and I was not disappointed (by not being surprised by what I saw).  The MVP for me of the show was Elgin.  His match with Kojima was much better than I anticipated and it provided a nice bridge between the opening of the tournament and the more highly anticipated stars.  For me the Elgin/Kojima match was the best of the night, though I won’t begrudge those who preferred Anderson/Goto.  As for the main event, it’s tough to put a Honma match in the final spot of the night, especially against Okada.  I mean we know Honma is going to lose, but there really isn’t even any drama when it’s Day 4 (but only the second match for this block) and Okada is on the other side.  Okada was never losing to Honma, not happening.  I think this was the weakest day of the tournament so far, which is still pretty good.  It’ll be interesting to see how long Anderson stays hot.  He’s already beaten Goto and Nakamura, there’s really only one match (Okada) that he *should* lose, which means he’s standing in a good position to finish the Block stage with between 12 and 16 points which you have to think will put him very close to the top of the block.

Block B Standings (Through Day 4)

Karl Anderson (4 pts)

Kazuchika Okada (4 pts)

Tomohiro Ishii (4 pts)

Satoshi Kojima (2 pts)

Shinsuke Nakamura (2 pts)

Hirooki Goto (2 pts)

Yuji Nagata (2 pts)

Michael Elgin (0 pts)

Tomoaki Honma (0 pts)

Yujiro Takahashi (0 pts)

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G1 25 Day 3 Review, An Amazing Toru Yano Match, No Seriously

As we kick off Day 3, everyone involved in the G1 has had a chance to wrestle one match.  Obviously nothing is in focus just yet.  If you recall, during the early phase of the tournament last year it suddenly looked like Shelton Benjamin might be a dark horse contender to win the tournament, that of course did not last.  Heading into Day 3, the match that I was most looking forward to was Shibata/Naito but there are a couple of things that I wanted to focus on — AJ Styles is turning into a legitimate star in New Japan and I am interested to see how he handles a match with Toru Yano.  Also, during Day 1 Doc Gallows and Hiroyoshi Tenzan had a stinker of a match.  During the match though, it looked like Tenzan’s knee gave out.  He fought through the pain (of course) but he’s back in the ring during Day 3 against the Ace in the main event, so it’ll be interesting to see what type of condition Tenzan is in for that match as well.

Kota Ibushi (0-1, 0 Pts) v. Doc Gallows (0-1, 0 pts) [Block A]:  I’ll say up front that this was a significant step up for Gallows from his opening G1 match.  That being said Ibushi is basically the perfect opponent for Gallows so I’m not surprised that they worked well together.  Ibushi has really shown that he’s an ace, having good to great matches with everyone, and having a solid match with Gallows here.  I also love the idea that Ibushi didn’t really put together any long stretches of offense, and needed a quick roll up for the victory. My biggest issue with this match was that the finishing sequence was a bit sloppy.  Ibushi rolls up Gallows who literally could’ve held his hand out even a little to grab the ropes but instead he did that turtle on their shell thing where he kind of squirmed around unable to kick out until right after 3 when he kicked out and rolled out of the ring.  Ultimately this match served a purpose, it showed Ibushi capable of beating a “monster” and kept Gallows somewhat strong having lost not to a string of power moves, but a “fluke” roll up.

Togi Makabe (1-0, 2 Pts) v. Bad Luck Fale (0-1, 0 Pts) [Block A]:  Sometimes you just know going in that a match isn’t going to be for you, and this was one of those matches.  You want me to ruin every Togi Makabe match for you right now — watch Makabe throw punches in the corner.  You’ll never unsee how terrible and soft his punches are.  The only guy with softer looking offense as a “monster” is Fale, so this was basically the pillow fight of the monsters.  In defense of both guys, it wasn’t a bad match — they worked well together, the story they told made sense and it was actually better than I expected it to be, but I expected it to be the drizzling shits so that’s not saying much.  Fale ultimately picks up the win with the Bad Luck Fall, which is literally 10x more over than he is as it was the one time the crowd woke up during the match.  I have to imagine that Fale pinning the NEVER Openweight Champion will come back around at some point in the future.

Toru Yano (0-1, 0 Pts) v. AJ Styles (1-0, 2 Pts) [Block A]:  I will confess that it’s possible I’ve suffered a head trauma, but I legitimately loved this match.  I mean, it was great.  Both guys were excellent here.  Yano was amazing, his schtick has suddenly clicked for me, and I am just digging what he’s doing.  Styles is incredible in the ring, but his interaction with Yano was perfect here.  Styles knowing when to block for the low blow, or getting frustrated because Yano was cheating and there really was nothing Styles could do to stop it.  I’m gushing I know but everything worked here for me.  There were moments where I really did laugh out loud due to the work of both guys.  Of course, Styles won, but this match was laid out so well and executed so perfectly that there were times when I thought Yano was going to win.  The crowd was also great for this one, and they were electric by the finish, even being convinced that Yano was going to steal a pin at the very end before the calf killer got locked in.  Just really good work by both guys, this was a fun one.

Katsuyori Shibata (0-1, 0 Pts) v. Tetsuya Naito (1-0, 2 Pts) [Block A]:  Oh man this match.  I know I was one of many really looking forward to this match and I thought it delivered.  Naito has hit such a sweet spot in his character right now, and these two are just natural opposites.  I love that Naito waited for the bell to ring to even consider taking off his suit jacket/pants/mask entrance gear, and Shibata giving no eff’s and just going after him before he could disrobe was excellent.  Credit to Naito who let Shibata just go full bore and Naito took some serious shots here, this match was BRUTAL.  One thing that I noticed which I like to think has to be intentional — Naito’s submission game is garbage.  This match featured without a doubt the worst figure four I’ve ever seen, applied by Naito and the laziest ankle lock I’ve ever seen applied by Naito.  In my brain, Naito’s character is so nonchalant that he can’t even be bothered to do rudimentary submission holds correctly.  At the end, Shibata chokes Naito out and kicks him in half with a PK before picking up the win and his first two points of the tournament.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan (1-0, 2 Pts) v. Hiroshi Tanahashi (1-0, 2 Pts) [Block A]:  The question about this match is pretty simple — is the best Tenzan match you can hope for in 2015 enough for you?  It’s very clear that Tenzan is hurt.  At points it almost felt like Tanahashi was doing 100% of the work, including putting himself in position to be harmed, just to make Tenzan look good.  I’ll give Tenzan the credit he deserves though because he toughed it out and he played his role to perfection.  With this match in particular you have to credit the crowd as well, who were WAY into Tenzan to the point where they were chanting his name over Tanahashi.  The outcome was really never in doubt, even when Tenzan locked in the Anaconda Vice and it looked like Tanahashi would pass out.  Ultimately Tanahashi hit the High Fly Flow and picked up the pinfall.  I think this match was too long. If you shaved about 5 minutes off it, Tenzan would’ve looked better in defeat, and I think Tanahashi’s goal here was to make Tenzan look amazing, he just got worn down by the end and his knee is clearly bothering him.  That being said, this was as good a Tenzan match as you’re going to see in 2015.

Final Thoughts:  Once again the tournament was a bit of a mixed bag.  I thought today was probably the strongest overall day of the tournament so far.  The highs weren’t as high as Day 1, but the lows weren’t as low either.  Much like both D1 and D2 I thought two matches really stood out, tonight it was Styles/Yano and Shibata/Naito.  I don’t think anyone really failed to deliver, and even the match I expected to loathe (Makabe/Fale) was better than I expected.  It typically takes a little while for the G1 to really hit it’s stride, but I thought today was a solid all around show and it’s clear that this Block A is STACKED.  Styles is just on another level right now, but Tanahashi, Shibata, Naito and Ibushi are all legitimate contenders in my eye.  It is going to be very interesting to see how this half of the tournament plays out as we move along.

Block A Standings (After Day 3)

AJ Styles (4 pts)

Hiroshi Tanahashi (4 pts)

Tetsuya Naito (2 pts)

Togi Makabe (2 pts)

Katsuyori Shibata (2 pts)

Bad Luck Fale (2 pts)

Kota Ibushi (2 pts)

Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2 pts)

Doc Gallows (0 pts)

Toru Yano (0 pts)

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On Day 2, Michael Elgin and Kazuchika Okada steal the show

With Day One in the book we’re now ready for our first look at Block B.  Obviously, the favorites in Block B are Okada and Nakamura, but you’ve also got the IC Champion Hirooki Goto, one half of the IWGP Tag Champions Karl Anderson and Tomohiro Ishii who you simply cannot count out in a tournament like this.  There are some wild cards in this Block as well.  You know what to expect from Tomoaki Honma, but it’ll be interesting to see if they go the same route as years previous, or if he actually gets some wins in the tournament this year — and Michael Elgin, making his New Japan singles debut will be one to watch as this Block progresses.  As I said previously for purposes of these reviews, I’ll only be reviewing the matches from the G1 tournament itself.

Satoshi Kojima v. Tomohiro Ishii [Block B]:  This match was probably exactly what you expect it would be — two big guys just clubbing the crap out of each other.  Kojima in this tournament is basically Tenzan without the motivation.  Ishii feels like a guy who New Japan failed to capitalize on when he was molten hot, but the G1 gives him an opportunity to shine and he started to show that in this match.  I loved Ishii just getting pummeled and responding with a brutal head butt.  Ishii ultimately picks up the win after a brainbuster and we are off and running with Block B.

Yujiro Takahashi v. Hirooki Goto [Block B]:  I should get this out of the way now, I have predicted that Goto is going to win the G1.  I know that makes almost zero sense and can barely be justified, but I’m of the feeling that New Japan needs to get some fresh faces near the top of the card and, what the hell, Naito won two years ago, why not Goto?  Well, if you can draw any conclusion from this match Goto stands no chance in the tournament.  I sometimes forget that unless you’re Nakamura, the IC title means nothing.  Goto basically gets dominated here for 98% of the match against arguably the least threatening member of the New Japan roster.  Seriously, this match is almost all Takahashi just kicking Goto’s ass, and then the last 45 seconds is Goto headbutt, neckbreaker, finisher, pin.  It didn’t make Goto look great that he struggled so much against Takahashi when he’s in the same bracket at Okada and Nakamura.  Needless to say I’m not feeling great about my pre-tournament prediction right now.  I guess the only bright side is, at least Goto won.

Yuji Nagata v. Tomoaki Honma [Block B]:  My issue heading into the G1 with Honma was, something needed to change.  We’ve done the – Honma loses every match as the plucky babyface already.  I’m afraid that it’s diminishing returns, and sooner or later everyone is going to get tired of cheering for a guy who spends more of his matches, missing offensive moves.  That didn’t happen here though, and thank goodness for Honma because he made Nagata look like a million bucks.  For his part, I could watch Nagata drop Honma on his head all day long.  Honma takes offensive incredibly well, and Nagata still has enough to deliver convincing offense.  Nagata picks up the win here, because of course he did, but this was a perfectly acceptable match.  We won’t remember it when the tournament ends, but it was still a fun little match.

Michael Elgin v. Kazuchika Okada [Block B]:  Not gonna lie, I love Elgin wearing the Dr. Death robe.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that I’m happy for Elgin.  He’s a fan, and his dream has been New Japan.  I know he was disappointed when it didn’t happen last year, and I have to imagine that this is just a hugely important moment for him.  Heading into this match it was a big make or break moment for Elgin. If he can’t have a good match with Okada, it’s going to be a very long tournament.  The good news is that Elgin delivered in a big way.  This match was so good.  A ton of credit has to go to Okada who made Elgin look like a million bucks, but also, the crowd.  The crowd just bought into Elgin fully.  His power moves all elicited a response, the crowd was really into the delay suplex spot and the deadlift suplex from the outside into the ring.  The crowd bought Elgin as a threat, Okada sold Elgin as a threat and Elgin more than carried his own weight.  All I could think as it began to dawn on me that Elgin was going to work out really well in this tournament, is that there is an Elgin/Ishii match in our future that could be really excellent.  Oh, if you’re wondering, Okada won (because of course he did) after the tombstone/Rainmaker elbow combination.

Karl Anderson v. Shinsuke Nakamura [Block B]:  Well, this was a match.  I like Anderson a ton and I thought he did some good work in this match. Nakamura just did nothing for me here. He had one stretch where I thought he came alive and was clicking, but as great as both of these guys are individually I just don’t think it worked here with them together.  I thought this one started off a bit slow, and never really clicked into a higher gear.  I know the problem for a lot of these matches is that they’re still basically taking place on a “house show” and because of that you’re not always going to get “big match” feels.  This one felt like two guys keeping some stuff in the tank because the G1 is so long and this is technically a “house show” environment.  The surprise came in the end when Anderson blocked a BomaYe and hit like his fourth ace cutter for the pinfall win.  I did not see Nakamura losing here, so that surprised me.

Final Thoughts:  Not as strong as Day 1.  Nothing that happens on D2 was better than Styles/Shibata or Ibushi/Tanahashi.  I do think there was some good in here.  The Okada/Elgin match was really good.  As I said earlier, I’m pulling for Elgin to have a great run in this G1 because I know that this opportunity means a ton to him and he took a step in that direction here.  It’s not hard to have a good match with Okada, he’s amazing, but Elgin carried a lot of that match as the heel, and the crowd bought into him as a threat to Okada immediately.  I’m excited to see where Elgin can take that, and honestly the best thing for his career would be a good run here in the G1 which leads to more Japan dates because his act has worn a little tired State-side. Other than that the rest of the D2 tournament matches were pretty skippable.  The Nakamura loss was shocking and it’ll be interesting to see how he rebounds.  Also, Goto looked like garbage beating Takahashi so I’m going to need to see some new life out of my pick to win to make me a little more comfortable.

Block B Standings (After Day 2)

Kazuchika Okada (2 pts)

Hirooki Goto (2 pts)

Karl Anderson (2 pts)

Yuji Nagata (2 pts)

Tomohiro Ishii (2 pts)

Satoshi Kojima (0 pts)

Tomoaki Honma (0 pts)

Yujiro Takahashi (0 pts)

MIchael Elgin (0 pts)

Shinsuke Nakamura (0 pts)

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And so it begins, G1 25 is off and running (Day 1, Reviewed)

For my sanity I’ll only be reviewing G125 tournament matches during the group stage of the tournament.  I tend to find the multi-man matches in these tournaments to be exhausting by the time we reach August and I’m trying to avoid getting burnt out before we even get to the fireworks factory.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan v. Doc Gallows [Block A]: The irony of Doc Gallows tapping out to the Anaconda Vice (I’m pretty sure this version is the Anaconda Max, but play along with me, please) was not lost on me in this match.  I haven’t read any other reviews of these matches yet, but I bet I’m in the minority in that I actually really liked this match.  Gallows has been really good in New Japan and he was great playing the monster for Tenzan to chop down.  Gallows sell of the Mongolian Chops were great and fighting out of the submission only to be forced to tap was a good finish.  Tenzan, who at one point seemed like he hurt himself during this match picks up the first two points of the tournament.

Toru Yano v. Togi Makabe [Block A]:  I may have suffered a head injury over the weekend because all of a sudden I kind of love Toru Yano.  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but everything the guy does right now is just perfect.  His character is basically, “I’m terrible, so I’m going to do everything I can to enrage you and then cheat, but also I’m terrible so I’ll probably still lose” and he makes it work.  This match had all of the outside shenanigans that you’d expect from Yano, the turnbuckle pad coming off, the steel chair,the brawl outside, the ref spot, the low blow — but Makabe overcomes all of it and hits the King Kong Knee Drop for the three count.  Yano is nonsense, but there’s no way if you watch this match that you don’t smile when he pulls the ref’s shirt, hits the low blow and turns it into a backslide.  If you’re going to be a cheating, cheater – you might as well be great at it, and Yano is that (even if ultimately his cheating produces no actual positive benefit).

Tetsuya Naito v. Bad Luck Fale [Block A]: Naito forcing you to wait as he slowly takes off a suit is the greatest.  Basically everything after the ring entrance was a dumpster fire.  I hate speaking poorly of Naito who I really think has found himself in his current form, but this match sucked, and the pin was one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in a wrestling ring in a long time.  Skip this match, do yourself a favor.  Spoiler alert, Naito wins.

Katsuyori Shibata v. AJ Styles [Block A]:  I’m not losing my mind over this.  It wasn’t Suzuki/Styles from last year, but it was really good.  I kind of went into this tournament thinking that Shibata wasn’t going to be medically able to compete, so this was a surprise for me.  Styles spent most of his independent wrestling career wrestling guys who had Shibata’s style of offense, so he’s an expert at making “guy kicking me in the chest” look amazing.  Styles is also on a different level right now.  The New Japan crowd is fully invested in him, and they want to see him get his chest kicked off.  I can’t believe in 2015 that AJ Styles, in New Japan Pro Wrestling may be my favorite performer in the world.  Styles wins with the Styles Clash and his journey to WK10 begins.

Kota Ibushi v. Hiroshi Tanahashi [Block A]:  This match was brilliant.  Last year it was Styles/Suzuki that caught me off guard and just brought me that level of joy that leaves you smiling and staring into a computer screen.  That’s the feeling I got during this match.  Just unbridled joy watching two people make magic together.  I actually thought that Ibushi would win here.  It felt like an important first time match up, and a real chance to show that Ibushi is the future.  But, Tanahashi wound up winning with the High Fly Flow and I’m okay with that.  New Japan has already proven that Ibushi is a star of the future, but I know they’re a bit hesitant because of his DDT loyalty to throw their weight behind him.  I’d still feel comfortable putting Ibushi in the final four this year, but on this day, the Ace was still the better man.

Final Thought:  A bit of an uneven first day.  The Styles/Shibata and Tanahashi/Ibushi matches were must see in my opinion, just two rock solid matches.  The Gallows/Tenzan match is not going to bring many people to the yard, and Naito/Fale sucked out loud.  Yano and Makabe did their best with what they had but even that, while entertaining, wasn’t a very good wrestling match.  Fortunately the two matches at the top of the show were stellar and come highly recommended.  We’re off and running.

Block A Standings:

Hiroshi Tanahashi [2 pts]

Togi Makabe [2 pts]

Hiroyoshi Tenzan [2 pts]

AJ Styles [2 pts]

Katsuyori Shibata [0 pts]

Toru Yano [0 pts]

Kota Ibushi [0 pts]

Doc Gallows [0 pts]

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NJPW “Dominion (7.5.2015)” Reviewed, or The Time Red Shoes Told the Bullet Club to Suck It

Manabu Nakanishi, Sho Tanaka, Ryusuke Taiguchi, Mascara Dorada & Yuji Nagata v. Tiger Mask IV, Jushin Thunder Liger, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yohei Komatsu:  I am sure I don’t need to review this match for you to know what happened.  Pretty standard New Japan show opening cluster match.  I continue to be confused by Mascara Dorada who appears to have no actual use for New Japan, as they don’t really let him do what he’s capable of, and they don’t appear to have any desire to use him in an increased roll.  I find the whole experiment weird because outwardly they seem inclined to hype him up, but he continues to feel like he’s being wasted in these settings.  Ultimately Dorada pins Komatsu because of course that happened. I know this is technically a “dark match” so I shouldn’t complain, but it does feel like Dorada is capable of so much more.

The Young Bucks (c)  v. RPG Vice v. reDRagon [IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title Match]:  Here’s the thing about this match, it’s wonderful, because of course it is.  But, I’ve kind of reached the point with these three teams where even a wonderful match between them leaves me less then enthused.  I honestly feel like I’ve been watching some version of this match for the last year and I’m ready for something to come in and freshen up the Jr. Tag Team Division.  The Young Bucks retained, which is the right call because they’re perfect in the role of “show opening flippy shit” but they need some new teams to challenge for the belts.  I love this grouping, and I think they’ve had some amazing matches together but it’s getting stale.

Tetsuya Naito & Tomoaki Honma v. Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi:  This match had two of my favorite things taking on two of my least favorite things in New Japan.  Current generation Naito, the disinterested, bored-looked heel is maybe my favorite thing in New Japan right now, and Honma is always delightful.  This match combined those two playing off each other perfectly.  On the flip side, Fale and Takahashi could be shot into the sun on a rocket and I wouldn’t miss them.  In a surprise twist, Honma hits a Kokeshi and pins Takahashi, which gives him some unexpected momentum heading into G1 where perhaps, he will win a match?

Katsuyori Shibata v. Kazushi Sakuraba:  There will be those who don’t like this match, and I won’t argue with those people.  It’s not for everyone.  Personally, I loved this.  I love Shibata anyway, but Sakuraba hooked himself up to the way-back machine here and looked like a legitimate killer again.  The point where Sakuraba takes off his kick pad and just starts brutally kicking Shibata in the chest with his exposed shin is vicious.  This thing was hard hitting, well paced, exciting, and the crowd absolutely ate it up.  Don’t look now but between this and Sakuraba’s match with Suzuki at Wrestle Kingdom, dude is having a solid year in the ring.  In the end Shibata wins because while Sakuraba looked good – he’s still Sakuraba in 2015, but man, this was good.

Kenny Omega © v. KUSHIDA [IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match]:  Early in the match Kenny Omega picks KUSHIDA up in a vertical suplex on the floor and tosses him indiscriminately into the ring apron.  It’s pretty brutal and was the moment when it kind of dawned on me that this might be special.  It doesn’t really ever get there and I’ll tell you — selective selling.  I appreciate the idea that these guys were going for.  We establish very early on that KUSHIDA has injured his knee, and we spend about 6 minutes watching Omega just brutalize KUSHIDA’s knee.  Then we see Omega have his wrist injured.  Then we see about 16 minutes of full-bore action that has literally nothing to do with either injury. Neither guy is slowed, neither guy is compelled to change his style in any way due to an injury.  Then the injuries pop up and result in Omega being unable to perform a move, and KUSHIDA being unable to hold a bridge on a pin.  After those momentary injury relapses, we jump into the finishing sprint which is pretty good.  The finish, with KUSHIDA getting out of Croyt’s Wrath and into the Time Lock was cool, and putting the belt on KUSHIDA was probably the right move.  I just didn’t like the route they took to get there.  If you’re not going to sell, then why waste the first 6-9 minutes of the match focusing all of your violence on one body part?  Was it mandatory that this match go 20+ minutes and that was the only way you could think to do it?  If you’re going to make limb specific offense a thing, make it count, otherwise it just looks like offense tacked on to extend a match unnecessarily.

Togi Makabe (c) v. Tomohiro Ishii [NEVER Openweight Title]: These two guys have great chemistry but I can’t be the only one that is a bit tired of the pairing.  About 30 seconds into this match Ishii with a senton from the top to the outside and Makabe couldn’t have done less to catch him if he had literally walked in the opposite direction.  The match itself was pretty much what you’d expect out of these two at this point, hard hitting and physical.  At times it felt a bit sloppy, like punches were going everywhere, and both guys would be staggering around for no real apparent reason but I liked what that added to the match, it felt more real.  I was a bit surprised by the finish, with Makabe getting the King Kong Knee to the back of the head (which for the record does seem like the most dangerous move I’ve seen on this show) and pinning Ishii, I kind of thought we’d see the belt go back to Ishii here, but I’m okay with the outcome.  Hopefully both guys now move onto other things because as I said I’m a little worn out by this pairing.

The Kingdom © v. The Bullet Club [IWGP Tag Championship]:  Speaking of pairings that need to go (which appears to be the theme of this show).  Doc Gallows with the multi-color goatee immediately feels like he’s sliding into Scott Steiner.  I went into this match expecting to be bored and just wait for it to be over.  I am happy to report that I was wrong.  Everything worked in this match for me, even the overbooked stuff involving Maria and Amber.  Bennett and Taven deserve a lot of credit because I didn’t think they had a chance of succeeding in New Japan but they took the ball and ran with it, and if this is the end of their story with the company (for the time being) than they every reason to be proud of what they accomplished.  The Bullet Club wins in the end to regain the IWG Tag Titles for the 58th time (approximately). As a side note, I’ve met Maria Kanellis and I admit she is so beautiful that she almost doesn’t seem real, but I will not miss the New Japan camera man zooming in on her butt throughout a match, at some point it started to feel dirty.  That being said, kudos to Maria who took a ring apron superkick from Doc Gallows and genuinely knows how to do this thing they call professional wrestling better than a lot of people.

Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Toru Yano:  This feud has been going on for what feels like an eternity and is based on Tanahashi thinking so little of Yano that he got rolled up and pinned in like 60 seconds.  This would be the equivalent of John Cena feuding with Diego of Los Matadores for six months culminating in a match at Summerslam.  I give Yano credit though, this feud has been delightful as he has, with a straight face, carried the feud playing a character that essentially acknowledges “you’re so much better than I am, and you lost to me — aren’t you pathetic?”  There were times during this match where I just HATED what they were doing.  Why is Tanahashi untying the corner pads? Why is Tanahashi hitting Yano with a low blow?  I mean, under no circumstance should Tanahashi need to do anything underhanded to win this match, and that’s the story they told for most of it.  Yano’s cheating was great, and he was so effective that at points it looked like he might actually win.  The story is simple, Yano can’t win a match against Tanahashi, so he uses every cheap shot in the book to try and win and gets an advantage, but Tanahashi is the ace, he’s the hero, so he fights through it all and overcomes the cheating to win clean.  Except Tanahashi also uses a low blow near the end and it kind of seems like had he not done that, he wouldn’t have been able to beat Toru fuckin’ Yano? Gimme a break.

Hirooki Goto © v. Shinsuke Nakamura [IWGP Intercontinental Championship]: Nakamura came to the ring dressed like a rhinestone ninja and it was amazing.  There was a point during this match where I started to think that I wasn’t enjoying it.  Like maybe it was a little too long, or the pace was off just a bit, but WHOLE-E-SHIT did the end stretch turn me around.  This was the type of brutal, back and forth match that you’d expect from these guys, but also the crowd go so into what was happening near the end that it sold me on it. This match also included one of my favorite spots ever, Nakamura goes for an elbow, Goto ducks so Nakamura straight cold cocks him in the face — this punch though causes Nakamura to recoil because, SPOILER ALERT, punching someone in the face hurts you too.  That’s a small thing that most people don’t notice and almost everyone ignores, but when I saw it, my heart grew three sizes and that’s probably why I was able to enjoy the finishing sprint so much.  Goto retains, which is the right call because Nakamura is so synonymous with this belt that it’s almost impossible to think of anyone holding it successfully.  It needs Goto to be successful if the Intercontinental belt is going to mean anything other than as a prop for Shinsuke.

AJ Styles © v. Kazuchika Okada [IWGP Championship Match]: Red shoes told the Bullet Club to suck it before ejecting them from ringside, the rest of the analysis is irrelevant.  It’s almost not possible for me to talk about this match — it was beautiful and amazing and just everything that I wanted from these two.  As was the theme of the night, this match paid off their shared history.  We got a Bullet Club interference segment, which ended with Red Shoes doing the aforementioned “suck it” as he tossed the entire faction.  We also got an amazing finishing stretch where Okada turned a backslide into a Rainmaker Lariat that literally made me laugh out loud it was so excellent.  The development of AJ Styles, New Japan Ace has been one of the most unexpected and remarkable things about the past year and a half.  When Styles left TNA if you had told me that he had matches like this (or his match with Minoru Suzuki from G1 last year) in him, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I might be alone, but I thought this was the best Styles/Okada singles match that I’ve ever seen, and the crowd was really hot for the end.  Ultimately Okada wins to become the 63rd IWGP Champion.  I’m a little disappointed that Okada won, I thought there was some mileage you could get out of Styles as Champion, especially in the G1 but I understand why it was done.  Okada is the ace right now, and this G1 promises to be the biggest tournament in the company’s history (potentially) so he should be the man who appears as the face.  This match was just so, so good I can’t stress that enough.
Final Thoughts:  This was an amazing show.  Styles/Okada was a MOTY type tilt, and I’d throw Young Bucks/RPG Vice/reDRagon, Shibata/Sakuraba and Nakamura/Goto on a list of good to great matches coming out of this one as well.  There was nothing on the show that I thought was bad.  I do think some of the pairings are stale, and I’m excited for G1 to freshen up matches.  But even when there were matches that we’ve seen many times this year, everyone stepped up their game and delivered.

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