I’ve been on a bit of a burn out with wrestling this year. I decided to cut down drastically because of cash spent and time spent. However, I’ve been able to keep more in touch with Japan’s premier wrestling promotion-New Japan pro Wrestling. They’ve been delivering quality shows-though I haven’t watched many full shows, I have been happy with the majority of matches I watched. I was very happy to watch some of the Junior Heavyweight tournament-BOSJ (Battle of the Super Juniors), which is a famous tournament thats been won by a number of wrestlers like legends Eddie Guerrero as Black Tiger II and Jushin Thunder Liger. However I was really excited about being able to follow the famed G1 Climax tournament.
The 24th tournament but the evolution of four other tournaments starting with World League in 74, its big showcase of NJPW top stars goes back to 1974. G1 and the four others have been won by the likes of Antonio Inoki (legend and NJPW founder) multiple times, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Vader (the last foreigner to win this yearly tournament), and Keiji Mutoh (better known as Great Muta). I have seen a handful of matches here and there but never really got to follow as it went.
These tournaments are split into A Block and B Block, done round robin. Winners of the blocks face off in the finals. Eleven wrestlers per block including NJPW’s top 3 stars (Tanahashi, Okada, and Nakamura) as well as other popular NJPW wrestlers and gaijins. Gaijins meaning foreigners, which included the recently arrived and newly crowned IWGP Heavyweight champ AJ Styles of TNA. Part of the Bullet Club stable which had several wrestlers involved including former WWE wrestler Doc Gallows. Also former WWE wrestlers Shelton Benjamin and Davey Boy Smith, Jr.
Now 10 matches per show, 11 shows before the Finals so a total of 110 matches. I did not watch all of them. Picking and choosing the ones that interest me and I was extremely happy for the most part. I’m not going to bore you with specific reviews for every match but an overview on the wrestlers and my opinions on what I saw from them. Then a a couple of other notes on the Day 12 of the tour which included the finals and more.
Shinsuke Nakamura-Former IWGP champ, 2011 G1 winner Nakamura is firmly #3 in NJPW but I’d argue among American fans he might be more popular. Definitely my fave of the top 3 guys. NJPW offers their shows iPPV/VOD on Ustream so hardcore American fans can support. I liked Nakamura’s matches-the ones I seen. He actually lost his first match in the tournament against Shibata in an excellent match. My fave of his matches was against Tomohiro Ishii. Overall Nakamura is one to look for. Block winner for 2014. If you like American indy wrestling, try finding his ROH match against indy darling and recent WWE hire Kevin Steen.
Hiroshi Tanahashi-NJPW’s top star. Hugely popular in Japan. 2007 G1 winner and the six time IWGP champ total combined reign is only two days short of being all time most days champ. He was going into this tournament with a reported bad back. He did seem a bit slower than normal but still put in quite a showing. Runner up in Block A and won his last 3 matches by roll ups. Since I don’t know Japanese I’m assuming they played up his injury. Fave match was against Shibata. One of my faves of the whole tournament. On the day of the finals, he wrestled Block B runner up champion AJ Styles in another excellent match. I’ll speak a little more on this later.
Bad Luck Fale-Fale is a foreigner of Tongan descent but was recruited and trained in NJPW. He’s also a part of their Bullet Club stable. Fale is a Hoss (or beast) for the company with a devastating throwing powerbomb. His match with Nakamura (third encounter of the year) was the one that most stood out to me. His Tanahashi match was also good, delivering one of Tanahashi’s three loses. I’m not the biggest Fale fan but he is usually reliable.
Katsuyori Shibata-I thought the fave to win. A rising star in the company who had one of the stand out matches of last years G1 against Tomohiro ishii, a five star Meltzer rated classic and one of my fave matches of 2013. Also the first time I ever seen him and Ishii. Shibata delivered one of the few losses to Nakamura and Tanahashi in two excellent matches and giving Shelton Benjamin his first loss in the tournament when Benjamin was actually leading. Shibata’s matches were damn fine. I enjoyed each one I saw. In fact, I believe he is the only wrestler I watched every match for, a bit of an accident but an enjoyable one. I was disappointed he did not win.
Shelton X Benjamin-I generally like Benjamin but not a huge fan. His matches were good. I think his match with Ishii was my fave of the ones I saw. I was actually disappointed with his match against Davey Boy Smith Jr. I don’t know, something seemed off. If you watch or watched WWE and like Benjamin, I think you’d like him. However he needs to work on that German suplex. Not one of the better ones.
Tomohiro Ishii-My favorite wrestler of the year thus far. Ishii is simple and effective. His match with Nakamura was a fave but all his matches I saw were good. Though his encounter with Shibata was not up to 2013 level, it still impressed. Not much to say, he is a man who has had a great year in NJPW with a run as their Never Openweight champion and his feud with other popular star Tetsuya Naito. Ishii is one to search out, just like Shibata.
Satoshi Kojima-The only man to hold the IWGP Heavyweight title of NJPW at the same time he was the AJPW triple Crown. Kojima’s a fave of mine. What I saw was very good. No big stand out matches though I was surprised by his loss to Davey Boy Smith. I think his match with Ishii was my fave of his run this year. Kojima is a decorated NJPW wrestler but has yet to win a G1.
Davey Boy Smith Jr.-WWE didn’t like him, NJPW does. Scoring wins over two former IWGP champs, including being the man who kept Tanahashi out of the finals. Having a victory over Tanahashi is a big deal. Smith has grown as a wrestler since WWE and I really dig what he’s doing. One of the nicest sit out powerbombs in wrestling right now. His matches with Kojima and Tanahashi were my favorites.
Doc Gallows-Only caught a handful of matches but not digging Gallows. He is a big man with big man moves but not a big fan. His match with Fale was lackluster. His match with Shibata was good though.
Yuji Nagata-A New Japan legend-hell, a legend in general, Nagata is excellent. Former champ and 2001 G1 winner. All the matches I saw were excellent. The first match I watched of his from this year was against Nakamura and I actually pulled for Nagata through out. Nakamura is great but his dickish attitude to Nagat in this case made me switch sides. His match with Shibata was also one that stood out.
Tomoaki Honma-Honma is an interesting one. He came in as a replacement for the popular high flier Kota Ibushi. I was skipping Honmas matches until I was suggested his match with Ishii which was very good. While I only watched a few Honma matches he was incredibly over with audiences even though he lost all his matches. Just read up on him, really got his start in BJW and his name rose in death matches where he is noted as the first man to use a light tube in a match. I hope going forward NJPW sees the fan reaction to Honma and give him something to do. He has a lot of personality.
Kazuchika Okada-Former champion and now 2 time G1 Climax winner, Okada is #2 in the company overall. Inching up to #1 everyday. Now I watched less Block B then A because I liked more wrestlers from the A block of wrestlers but I had to catch a bunch of Rainmaker matches. His first match was the fourth encounter with the man who took the belt from him, AJ Styles. Okada finally beat him. One of those matches was a triple threat where he loss without taking the fall but still, it was time for him to get a win on AJ. His match with Naito was damn good with Naito delivering Okada one of his only two losses. The other was against Karl Anderson which I didn’t see and just found out the two fought in the 2012 finals where Okada won. I didn’t like his match with Toru Tano but that was more Yano though. Fave was against Suzuki. Great ending to that one. Okada actually tied for Block winner but having beaten Styles he got the overall win. The finals against Nakamura was a good cap off.
AJ Styles-The champ had a bit of a rough start with losses to Okada and Naito but won all his other matches. The online response to his match with Suzuki has been incredible. However I preferred his match with Goto. I thought it hit all the right marks. Styles and Okada were the two on Block B I followed most their matches. AJ Styles has always been good but with TNA’s shows being-for me at least, not worth watching it had been a long while since I followed AJ. He’s fit in pretty well in NJPW with G1 really cementing him as a guy who can go. I hope he actually holds the title for a while.
Karl Anderson-Only caught a couple Anderson matches. Not exactly a big fan though he’s good. I like his match with stablemate AJ and his match with Naito. Not much else to say, sorry. Oh-has a very good Ace Crusher (or RKO for the WWE fans).
Minoru Suzuki-Suzuki killed it in every match I saw. Sure it was only 3 matches but he was great. I always liked Suzuki-great look, unique style and fun attitude. I mentioned Okada and Styles but not Naito. Man, that was great. Catch any of those.
Testuya Naito-I mentioned every match I saw with Naito. Naito is the guy who was trying to be #4 in NJPW but not quite doing it. Something keeping him back, maybe its his mixed reactions. He’s a great wrestler and in my favorite feud of the year. I should’ve watched more of his matches.
Lance Archer-Only watched his match with AJ and it was good. I don’t have much else.
Yujiro Takahasi-Did not watch any of his matches. I know there were some good reviews but having never seen him wrestle I think it held me back a bit.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan-A 5 time G1 Climax winner and former IWGP champ, Tenzen is a big star in Japan. I however don’t care for him. Only watched his match with AJ Styles.
Toru Yano-I saw his match with Okada, no thanks. It started out amusing but lost me more and more as it went on.
Hirooki Goto-I like Goto but didn’t watch much of his matches. His match with Styles was killer and his match with Okada was good though not as good as their match from a few months back. Still, check out Goto he is great. On the last day he took on friend and sometimes partner Shibata in a standout encounter. I actually looked up Shibata as I was starting to link names on wiki and found out him and Goto were classmates.
Togi Makabe-Did not see any of his matches. I had seen a few Makabe matches years before and was generally indifferent to him so had not interest in him.
Day 12 had the finals where Okada won and a few Block A and Block B guys mixed it up. Tanahashi beat the champ AJ Styles and then was attacked by the Bullet Club including newest member, former WWE/WCW/TNA star Jeff Jarrett. A bit of a controversial turn, at least with American audiences. I skipped a lot of matches except two tag matches. Ring of Honor stars Adam Cole (former champ) and Michael Bennett with Maria Kanellis taking on legendary Jushin Liger and Capt. New Japan. A silly little match that was entertaining. Maria did a very WWE diva bit with distractions. Also Jr. Tag Title matches as champs Time Splitters (Jr. Heavyweight champ KUSHIDA and former TNA star Alex Shelley) defended against ROH tag champs reDragon (Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly). This one was incredibly fun.
So New Japan-a great wrestling company. Check them out.