August 1st 2015 saw the collision between NJPW’s favorite underdog act Tomoaki Honma and the powerhouse gaijin Michael Elgin as part of the G1 Climax. G1 Climax is the biggest wrestling tournament in the world from the unquestioned number two promotion in the world-New Japan Pro Wrestling. For those who do not know, NJPW has been around since 1972 and was founded by legend Antonio Inoki. The promotion has been on top in Japan for decades and have had some of the great wrestling legends work for them. Not just native wrestlers but gaijin’s ranging from Andre the Giant to Ric Flair to Owen Hart-incidentally was the first gaijin to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title in NJPW. New Japan currently has the three most popular native wrestlers in Kazuchika Okada (current Heavyweight champ), Shinsuke Nakamura (you may have heard Daniel Bryan talk about him or seen Bray Wyatt sport his shirts) and Hiroshi Tanahashi (who has been on top there for close to a decade). They also have the top gaijin in AJ Styles (from TNA and ROH), the most popular stable worldwide in the Bullet Club, and more. NJPW has made connections and working relationships with several promotions which allow them to send some of their stars to know places or pick up wrestlers that interest them. Ring of Honor is one such promotion and some of their talent has been picked up, including the aforementioned Michael Elgin.
Now G1 Climax is a round robin tournament with twenty wrestlers split into two blocks with the winners of A block and B block facing off in the finals with the champ getting a big check, big trophy and put in a Money in the Bank situation. Except their cash in is at NJPW’s big January show and they have to defend their shot. This year is the 25th year and is coming on the heels of two big previous years. We’re currently half way in with A block having five shows and block B having 4. A block has produced better matches despite the couple stinkers in the block but block B has produced some highly entertaining matches and this one is my favorite of the block thus far and what makes me want to highlight it over some of the A block matches is not just the matches but the stories behind both athletes.
First off there is Elgin who has made it clear for years Japan was his goal. Last year he was in the IWGP title match in ROH when NJPW visited but nothing happened. In the months past a lot of indy fans started to turn on Elgin. Not just in ROH but also elsewhere. Elgin went from one of the top indy guys to “Elgin is overrated” or “Oh wow-he does powermoves” and just bad heat even when he was not doing anythings. When he got the call a number of the indy fans continued trashing him, not just because he finally got a shot at his dream but because certain other wrestlers did not get the call. Elgin was coming in not just to impress NJPW officials and the Japanese fans but also, it seems, to shut up his detractors. Then there is Tomoaki Honma. He was included last years g1 as a replacement and despite getting 0 points he was MAD OVER with the audience. They love Honma and thus there has become HONMANIA. Originally a deathmatch wrestler (first guy to use a lightbulb in a match) Honma rose from the smaller promotions in Japan to become one of NJPW’s favorites at age 38. This is a true wrestling vet.
The tournament before the match saw Honma at 0 points against NJPW legend Yuji Nagata, Heavyweight champ Okada, and IC champ Hirooki Goto. Each of these matches he had much support form the audience and delivered incredible performances. These were awesome matches, Honma is a charismatic and talented worker. Fans rallying behind him him to hit his Kokeshi (various headbutt moves like falling, diving E Honda style, or top rope falling). The tournament this year switched formats so instead of all block matches a night one block headlines with the undercard mostly teasing the next block matches. In two of those tag matches Honma scored the win to gain momentum including a match where he teamed with his next opponent-Elgin. Why team the future opponents? Who knows but afterwards those two and future opponent Tomohiro Ishii got into a pull apart three man brawl. Elgin was coming in with no pinfall victories but things were a little different. Elgin, being new, has being booked in a manner to get him over by showcasing his strength. His first match, a trios tag with his then upcoming opponent Okada, features two major strength spots including a Samoan drop on the champ and fallaway slam Ishii at the same time. His first Block match the next night saw him take on Okada and while the champ of course won Elgin made an impression. He continued this through his match and a single match against legend Kojima. Interestingly, due to Nakamura getting injured, Elgin was coming in with 2 points but Elgin was clearly not happy. He wanted to score a win.
Right off the bat, fans were eating out of Honmas hands. Osaka crowd was one of the hottest of the tournment thus far. Also this was the first B block show with multiple cameras and full commentary as it was also airing on Japanese TV. Many shows have not so this increased my enjoyment of what would have been a dynamite match anyway. The match started hot and like a lot of Elgins NJPW matches thus far-show of power by tossing his opponent away. Elgin makes it clear early on that he will not be moved. Elgin wants to take control and Honma is looking for weakness’ or mistakes to capitalize on. The problem is Honma’s follow up. After a scoop slam he tries his first kokeshi and misses. Honma is one his knees holding his head after missing the move and Elgin uses a deadlift stalling suplex from this position. Fans eat it up. Not to be out done and a little while later Honma gets his own deadlift suplex. Its impressive as it starts like he’s struggling to get him up and about to put his opponent back down but muscles him over. Beautiful stuff. Honma’s faces sell everything so well, the struggle and the pain. The fans explode when he finally hits a kokeshi on his third attempt.
There’s a spot in the match where Elgin pulls his version of the Cesaroplex (deadlifts opponent from apron up and over into a superplex) but Elgin’s has him pausing briefly midlift before muscling up into the Falcons Arrow which is a sitout suplex slam. Fans explode by the show of power and explode louder when Honma kicks out. There is a great spot where Honma hits his missile kokeshi to the chest after eating Elgins buckle bomb. Then a second missile kokeshi to the back. The fans go wild and since Elgin was new fans were on board when he got him in position for the top rope kokesi. No-it did not work. You go into ibligatory strike exchange. Japanese wrestling loves strikes big time and strike exchanges epitomize the fighting spirit psychology. Who is tougher, who can still keep going, who is getting weaker. This one builds with a Honma slap thrown in and goes into a lariat stand off until one man gets the better.
The final stretch of the match has Elgin just kill it with a series of big moves. He catches Honma in air and tosses him for a German that Honma just gets up from, fired up. To bad for him the next three moves do the job and they are impressive. Elgin further silences his critics and Honma is still chasing the first singles victory with the love and support of the crowd. What a match
Go to NJPWWorld, sign up, and watch the hole tournament. Its under 10 bucks a month and there are already nine shows so a lot of wrestling. Its easy to sign up even though the sites in Japanese but they have English registration page and some browsers translate. Or watch this match HERE.
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