As I type this, Night 12 aired earlier this morning. So I think I could catch up before this weekend is over. Or I spend time instead playing video games. Either way, no more wasting time with introductions!
Togi Makabe (3-0) vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2-1): Makabe is undefeated so far, but I don’t expect that to last. Tenzan got his first taste of defeat in his last match, and will need to bounce back. Neither of these guys is a super great worker these days, so this match will probably be filled with stiff hits and not much else.
Yeah, these guys try to spice things up a bit, but pretty much hit the physical limit of what they’re capable of. Makabe won with the King Kong Knee Drop in a short but inoffensive match. Makabe remains undefeated. **
Hirooki Goto (2-1) vs SANADA (1-2): Goto has been feuding with Los Ingobernables since the faction was created, but as yet to face the newest member one on one. He’s beaten EVIL, and he’s beaten Naito, but SANADA is the biggest unknown in LIJ. SANADA has come up short the last two matches, so a win over Goto would be huge for him.
This is similar to the previous match, with two guys landing hard-hitting moves, but done much better. SANADA gets a great reaction for the Skull’s End, and I’m sure some of that is due to the way he made Tanahashi tap out on Night 1. The crowd is also highly invested in Goto, which gives the match some extra juice. Since the Skull’s End and the GTR are set up similarly, there were lots of fun teases and counters between the two. SANADA won by choking out Goto with the Skull’s End, then hitting him with a moonsault. ***1/2
Tomohiro Ishii (1-2) vs Naomichi Marufuji (2-1): This is going to be one of the stiffest matches in the whole tournament. Neither of these men pull their punches. It will be the chops and kicks of Marufuji vs the clotheslines and headbutts of Ishii. Should be great.
Ishii is my favorite wrestler for many reasons, but one of them is the way he is able to convey so much emotion with his facial expressions in his matches. When Marufuji is chopping his chest, and Ishii is grimacing with each strike but growling at him, telling him to come on, hit him harder, and he rises up, chest bumping each chop in defiance, I got chills. Anyways, Ishii won this very good match with a brainbuster. ****
Kazuchika Okada (2-1) vs Tama Tonga (1-2): Tonga got the upset of the tournament by getting a surprising win over Tanahashi. Can Tonga take down both of the top guys in the company. No, no he can’t, but he could at least have a competitive match against Okada. This is a weird match up, the kind of thing you only get in the G1 tournament, but I expect Okada to win with little trouble.
Tonga likes to gain control outside the ring. It’s a little touch, but it’s nice. He can’t match Okada between the ropes, but outside the ring is more his territory, and he uses the barricade as a weapon multiple times. Back inside the ring though, Okada is able to eventually take back control. The crowd doesn’t buy into Tonga winning which hurts some of the near falls, but they bite on the Headhunter DDT, which provides the only real drama of the match. Okada wins with the German Suplex/Rainmaker combo. **1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi (0-3) vs Bad Luck Fale (1-2): This is a hugely important match. I joke about Fale’s role being to knock main eventers out of tournaments, and no one has been on the receiving end of this habit more than Tanahashi. And now his entire tournament is on the line. Tanahashi is going to have to overcome one of his biggest rivals to not lose. It’s no exaggeration to say that losing this match would essentially knock Tanahashi out of the contention. An 0-4 start would almost guarantee that he will not be returning to the finals. But Fale needs the win too. Going 1-3 to open the G1 would be uncharacteristically poor form for the Underboss.
Fale came out in a skull mask, an unusual choice for him that shows that he is not fucking around with this match. Tanahashi also is taking this match very seriously, toning down his usual antics on the way to the ring. I love that they both know this is do or die for Tanahashi, and they both know Fale has Tanahashi’s number. Fale focused on the recently injured arm of Tanahashi. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen the trapezoid hold used to decent effect. Fale clotheslined Tanahashi off the top turnbuckle, then sent him flying with a goddamn baseball slide! Fale has brought his A game. There’s a great sequence as Fales goes for a Bad Luck Fall, but Tanahashi rolls through it. Tanahashi hits a High Fly Flow and goes for a second, but Fale gets the knees up! Tanahashi kicks out of the Grenade, and the crowd goes nuts as the Bad Luck Fall is teased, but Tanahashi slips out and rolls up Fale for the three count! Tanahashi got the win he desperately needed, but it took everything he had, and he barely got it. Points are points though. ****
Tomaoki Honma (2-1) vs Toru Yano (0-3): I’m not sure anyone predicted that Honma would have more wins then Yano at this point, but here we are. Yano is definitely not the kind of fighter to stand toe to toe to a hard hitter like Honma, so it should be fun to see if Yano’s tricks can save him from a kokeshi.
Yano is great at sticking to his gimmick while letting the other guy get his stuff in. I’m not sure there’s any wrestler Yano couldn’t work well with. Honma plays the coyote to Yano’s roadrunner soon enough, and Yano wins with a low blow and a roll up, scoring his first points of the tourney. Yano has some surprisingly metal victory music. **
YOSHI-HASHI (1-2) vs EVIL (1-2): Battle of the all caps! EVIL has to be a little disappointed in his record so far, while YOSHI is just happy to be here. We’ll see if YOSHI can stand up to the intimidating presence and power of EVIL, or if it will be a relatively easy win for the King of Darkness.
This was mostly domination from EVIL, with a few hope spots from YOSHI. The crowd is really into the underdog YOSHI-HASHI, and that definitely gave the match more importance as he tried everything in his bag of tricks to keep EVIL down. Just as I thought the match was going on a little long for what looked like an extended squash match, YOSHI hit a series of moves cumulating in the Karma, a wristlock scoop slam of sorts, and got the surprising win. ***1/2
Yuji Nagata (3-0) vs Katsuhiko Nakajima (2-1): Wait, is Nagata really undefeated so far? Huh, look at that. Nagata is having a quiet tournament, but is racking up the wins. Nakajima still has a lot to prove though, and while we’ve seen Nagata go up against the younger guys, the wrestler from NOAH will be a different challenge.
Much like in his match against Shibata, Nakajima works heel here, and I find his work as a bad guy much more interesting then as a babyface. Maybe it’s just me, but I almost always find people who rely more on strikes to be better as heels. This is really good hard hitting match, with neither man staying down. They held very little back. Nagata hit the backdrop driver, and went for a second one, which is how he’s won all his matches this tourney. Nakajima avoided the second suplex though, eventually hitting a brainbuster for the win. ****
Michael Elgin (1-2) vs Kenny Omega (2-1): Elgin is having a great tournament so far. His last two matches against Naito and Shibata have been two of the best matches in the G1 this year. Now he fights the guy he took the IWGP Intercontinental title from. Omega knows a victory over Elgin won’t just widen the gap between their scores, but also likely give him a title shot in the coming months. There’s no ladders involved this time, and Bullet Club shenanigans should be kept to a minimal, so we’ll see who the better man really is.
Elgin’s power is always so impressive, but Omega has great counters with his athleticism. He’s toned down the goofiness for this match, which is much appreciated by me. These two compliment each other very well in the ring. Both guys are throwing out some impressive offense, each of them matching their strengths, but then they really go all out. Omega hits the buckle bomb/Elgin bomb combo, and Elgin nails Omega with the One-Winged Angel. Omega kicks out of his own move, but Elgin turns him inside out with a clothesline and finishes him with an Elgin Bomb. ****
Katsuyori Shibata (1-2) vs Tetsuya Naito (2-1): Oh yes. Oooooooh yes. Last year, these two had a match that was one of the few DQ’s I’ve seen in New Japan. They’ve been kept apart since, with Shibata fighting with the NEVER title and Naito with the IWGP title. The landscape has changed a lot since these two last faced, with both men making a case for this being their year. Anything less then a great match here will be a disappointment.
Naito fucks with Shibata early, so Shibata just kicks him in the face and throws him from barricade to barricade. They each try to get the other counted out, but the match does lack a little of the intensity I was hoping for. It ramps up as the match continues, but this is basically a standard Naito match so far. Fortunately, Shibata has intensity to spare. They spend a legit 3 or 4 minutes fighting over a Figure 4 Leglock. There are parts of this match that are really good, but a lot of more boring parts as well. Shibata hits the PK, but instead of going to the pin, locks on a sleeper hold, making the ref call the match when Naito can’t respond. ***
Nights 7 & 8 added four more matches of **** or higher to my list, which is pretty solid. Shibata/Naito was a bit disappointing, but Nagata/Nakajima was a surprise on how good it was.