The 30th installment of wrestling’s most notoriously grueling competition is underway
(Photo via NJPW1972.com)
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) commenced its 30th edition of the G1 Climax tournament Saturday in Osaka, Japan.
This year’s edition of the G1 is historic. For the first time ever, the 20-man round-robin tournament is being held in the fall rather than the summer.
This schedule change was made in accordance with the now-canceled 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, holding the tournament in the fall might’ve actually been a blessing in disguise.
Since its return to action in June following a 110-day hiatus, New Japan had been working with an extremely limited roster. Due to travel restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was without its strong cohort of foreign talent.
Fan favorites such as Jay White, KENTA, Juice Robinson and more will be making their triumphant returns to NJPW.
The G1 is one of the most grueling tournaments in the pro-wrestling landscape. Over the next month, the ten A Block and B Block competitors will face off in the previously mentioned round-robin format.
When all is said and done, two finalists will meet to determine the winner of this year’s tournament. The A Block wrestler with the most points takes on the B Block wrestler with the most points in the final, Oct. 17 in Ryogoku, Japan.
This year’s tournament also features an interesting twist. Under normal circumstances, each night would feature a mix of undercard tag team matches along with the tournament matches.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and roster shortage, the company has decided each night will have tournament matches only. This decision was made to preserve the health of the competitors, but most importantly to lower contamination risks.
Despite all this, G1 Climax 30 promises to be one of the most grueling and exciting editions of the tournament.
Spoilers ahead for G1 Climax 30 night one in Osaka, Japan
Will Ospreay vs Yujiro Takahashi: 3/5 stars
The first official match of G1 Climax 30 was Will Ospreay vs Yujiro Takahashi.
Ospreay made his return entrance sporting flashy new gear and an impressive new physique. The 27-year-old used the pandemic break to put on more weight and bulk up.
You could tell by his facial reactions he was excited to be back in Japan, but also looked nervous. The crowd gave him a heroes welcome, which wasn’t a surprise, but as a viewer at home, it’s tough to cheer for Ospreay following the #SpeakingOut movement.
The match itself definitely surpassed expectations. Prior to the event, it appeared as though this contest would be the weakest on the card.
If anyone was worried about Ospreay’s increased weight affecting his agility and speed, fear no more. In fact, he looked faster than usual and his high-flying moves had the Japanese commentary team in awe, laughing while marveling at his acrobatics.
Yujiro Takahashi spent most of the match in control and looked good doing so. It felt as though we’d gone back in time to 2014 when he put on some of his best matches.
Takahashi’s most impressive move in the match was when he hit Ospreay with an Angle Slam.
Just as it looked as though Takahashi might pull off an upset, Ospreay hit him with Hidden Blade, a vicious elbow strike, out of nowhere.
After trying to hit his finisher earlier in the match, Ospreay finally delivered Storm Breaker for the pin and win.
Following the match, he cut a promo. This is almost never seen in New Japan, as usually promos are reserved for the main event’s winner.
Ospreay touched on how happy he was to be back and confirmed his pre-match nerves. He anointed himself as the best wrestler in the world and vowed to win the tournament before heading to the back.
Jeff Cobb V Taichi: 3/5 stars
Jeff Cobb made his return to Japan in the next match to take on one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions, Taichi. Cobb had been working in New Japan of America prior to the event.
The match started off slow and like all Taichi matches, there were shenanigans involved. The ‘Holy Emperor’ used the timekeeper's hammer as a weapon, smashing Cobb’s knee with it early in the match.
First time New Japan viewers may wonder why this wasn’t a disqualification, occurrences like this are left to the referee’s discretion. So, even though the referee saw Taichi use the weapon, he didn’t feel it warranted a disqualification.
To his credit, Jeff Cobb was able to mount a comeback and began to show off his freakish athleticism. At nearly 300 pounds Cobb hit a flawless dropkick, a beautiful running splash and then a running backdrop.
Soon after, Taichi was able to get to his feet and raked the eyes of Cobb and followed this up with a patented jumping high kick. Both men exchanged strikes, with Cobb momentarily winning before his opponent lept up with another jumping high kick.
Taichi clearly had enough of Cobb and ripped off his tearaway pants, signaling that the end was near. However, Cobb was able to capitalize on a missed move from Taichi with another brainbuster and then a standing moonsault.
The crowd was super hot following Cobb’s impressive display of athleticism. Cobb continued his offensive attack by connecting on a pair of Saito suplexes.
While the fight continued on for a bit longer, a missed of Tour Of The Islands attempt would end up costing Cobb the match. Taichi capitalized by hitting a high kick, superkick and finally landing delivering his Black Mephisto finishing move to his opponent for the win.
Minoru Suzuki vs Tomohiro Ishii: 4.5/5 stars
Minoru Suzuki and Tomohiro Ishii put on the best match of night one. Fans were hoping to see a hard-hitting, stiff contest between these two and boy did it ever deliver.
Even in a match less than 15 minutes, Ishii and Suzuki put on an absolute clinic in Strong Style. From the opening bell, it felt as though this match was a contest to see who could hit the other harder.
The strikes in this match echoed throughout the arena and at times probably made viewers at home feel uncomfortable. Ishii’s biggest mistake in the match was repeatedly tapping Suzuki’s head with his foot, in an attempt to taunt him.
Both men brought out their best array of chops, elbows and open hand strikes. We’ll crown Ishii the winner in the headbutt department for turning his skull into a weapon.
Ishii’s headbutt spot was one of the highlights of the match, but it was also grossly uncomfortable to watch. There was no protection from his hand, which we sometimes see elsewhere in wrestling, just straight skull-on-skull contact.
Minoru Suzuki loves violence and even as Ishii delivered painful strikes all he could do was laugh.
The finish of the match when Suzuki countered an Ishii brainbuster attempt and rolled through for a Gotch Style Piledriver. This match was short yet super effective in portraying the violence these two were willing to go through for victory.
Rather than do a play-by-play of the contest, we’d recommend everyone go back and watch this match. There aren’t enough words to do the brutality in this one justice.
‘Switchblade’ Jay White vs ‘The Dragon’ Shingo Takagi: 4/5 stars
Jay White made his glorious return to Japan to take on one of the company’s most dominant stars, ‘The Dragon’ Shingo Takagi.
White is one of the favourites to win this year’s G1. Since re-dubting in New Japan in 2017, he’s been positioned as the company’s top bad guy and already has an IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign under his belt.
Saturday’s G1 match between White and Takagi was excellent. It was also a great change of pace from the slow and methodical style White usually wrestles.
Aside from a few appearances in New Japan’s American offshoot, New Japan of America, White hasn’t wrestled a lot during the pandemic. However, it was clear he’s in the best shape of his life.
Shingo on the other hand has been an anchor for New Japan during the pandemic. His run as NEVER Openweight Champion helped establish the title as one of the promotion’s top singles prizes.
This match started as all Jay White matches do, with the cocky heel retreating to the outside and then “Too Sweeting” his lackey, Gedo. White exclaimed the crowd had been waiting six months for this moment and to be fair, he wasn’t wrong.
Shingo was goaded into one of White’s traps early, getting backdropped onto the apron, the hardest part of the ring. However, later in the match, Shingo would return the favour, dropping White on the apron and hitting him with a DDT.
One of the Japanese commentators actually referred to the move as a ‘Dangerous Dragon Takagi,’ which was a cool nod. If you didn’t know, the Japanese announce team despises White.
Through ten minutes of the match, Jay White was in firm control. However, Shingo soon regained momentum and hit a deadlift German suplex.
When both men got to their feat it was Shingo who chopped White down to his feet. When Shingo attempted a running lariat, White rolled to the ground in an attempt to outsmart his opponent.
However, the ever so smart Shingo was able to nail the ‘Switchblade’ with a clubbing blow. His chain of attacks would soon be thwarted by White, who hit an STO followed by a deadlift german suplex of his own.
Leading into the finish of the match, Shingo hit Made In Japan, one of his signature moves, on White, but it was kicked out of. Soon after this sequence, White would deliver a signature move of his own, the Kiwii Crusher, but it was also kicked out of.
Leading into the finish of the match, a series of unfortunate events occurred for ‘The Dragon.’
After delivering a running lariat, also known as a Pumping Bomber, Shingo was ready to put White away with his finishing move Last Of The Dragon. The move requires Shingo to hoist his opponent over his shoulders, which played an important role here.
White appeared to be done for after absorbing a Pumping Bomber and while he was perched on Shingo’s shoulders he hung onto the ropes for dear life. The referee, Hiroyuki ‘Red Shoes’ Umino ordered Shingo to let go of White and allow him to get the rope break.
Shingo did not listen and he ended up pulling his opponent off the ropes and swinging him towards the centre of the ring. White’s leg hit Umino in the face, knocking him unconscious as Shingo delivered Last Of The Dragon.
White was down for the count and if there was an able-bodied referee in the ring he would have lost the match. However, the lack of referee allowed Gedo to distract Shingo, who was then hit with a low blow by White.
Shingo managed to kick out, but after he was immediately dropped on his head by a brainbuster and hit with White’s finishing move, ‘Blade Runner’ and suffered defeat.
A defeated Shingo left the ring furiously while White celebrated his cheap win.
It was a very good match, but a common theme in Jay White’s recent matches has been referee bumps and interference from Gedo. White is a strong enough heel on his own and hopefully going forward, they don't rely on referee bumps to get him victories.
'Golden Star' Kota Ibushi vs 'Rainmaker' Kazuchika Okada: 4/5 stars
The final match of the evening was between Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada, two of the best wrestlers in the world.
When the card for the show was announced, fans around the world were presently surprised this match was the main event on day one. Ibushi-Okada matches are always special.
This one started slow and a cool moment occurred when the limited capacity crowd went from clapping loudly, to deafening silence and then exploded in noise when the two first made contact.
It was pretty standard stuff from both wrestlers in this match. Ibushi delivered his strong kickboxing strikes while Okada delivered chops, punches and submissions.
The match really kicked into high gear when Ibushi hit a middle rope springboard Asai Moonsault on Okada. Ibushi was in firm control at that point, but soon the two stars found themselves perched on the top rope.
Okada teased a top rope tombstone piledriver, but it was Ibushi, teetering on the rope, who delivered a jumping rana to his opponent. Both men laid on the floor and Ibushi struck again with a kick to Okada’s head.
Ibushi ran to the corner of the ring, setting up for the Bomaye (which means Kill Him), a finishing move made famous by the great Shinsuke Nakamura. However, Ibushi missed with the kick and Okada caught him with a spinning tombstone piledriver and the cinched in the cobra clutch.
Ibushi would fight out of the submission hold only for Okada to lock it in on the other side. After fighting out of the hold once more, Ibushi was able to hit a jumping knee.
The ‘Golden Star’ attempted to finish Okada off with his finishing move, Kamigoye, but Okada reversed and used the momentum to strike with a dropkick. Okada then launched Ibushi into the ropes, hitting him with another picture-perfect dropkick on his way back to the centre of the ring.
It wasn’t looking good for Ibushi, who was picked up arms first by Okada. The commentary team gasped for a moment, realizing Okada was going to try and strike his opponent with a Kamigoye of his own.
However, Ibushi reversed Okada’s attempt and nailed him with a powerbomb. From their all Ibushi needed was another jumping knee to set up for the Kamigoye
Ibushi’s knee connected with Okada’s face and the referee made his count. All it took for Ibushi on this day, was a single Kamigoye to win the match.
It wasn’t the best match ever between these two, but it wasn’t bad either. However, you can tell they’re holding off on each other for the much-anticipated rematch with higher stakes.
Throughout the pandemic, the story with Okada is without a title belt he simply doesn’t care. In addition, he’s missing his ability to play to the crowd too.
It’s unfortunate these two are holding back, but it’ll be worth it when they meet again one day. Hopefully there’s championship gold on the line.
Up next: The action continues Sept. 20 in Osaka, Japan with B Block action! Juice Robinson and KENTA make their returns while Hiroshi Tanahashi takes on IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito.
Keep it locked to The Intermission for more coverage throughout the G1.