I have 3 days to get through 6 shows before the climatic final three events. So far I have managed to avoid almost all spoilers. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this….
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2-3) vs Bad Luck Fale (2-3): Things look better for Fale than they do for Tenzan, even though they have the same record. Tenzan has lost three in a row and has been looking his age the last few matches, and his losses have been against the three wrestlers ahead of him. And now he has to go against one of the most physically intimidating men on the roster. Meanwhile Fale has momentum from winning his last match, has beaten Marufuji already, and still faces Makabe and Okada later. A win here may signal that Fale is rising in the rankings.
Tenzan has a brief flurry of strikes early that send Fale reeling, but Fale soon takes control. He does a rope choke I’ve never seen before, standing on the bottom rope, driving it into Tenzan’s throat. Then he just stands on Tenzan’s back to a chorus of boos. The crowd is loud tonight, which is great. Fale wins with a Grenade in an unremarkable match. Tenzan’s hope of a memorable G1 continue to fade. **1/2
Hirooki Goto (2-3) vs Tama Tonga (2-3): In theory, Goto should be able to handle Tonga easily. But Goto enjoys falling short so much that maybe The Bad Boy can sneak a victory past him. If there’s anything we’ve been taught the past year, it’s to never underestimate Goto’s ability to lose matches. But this is one he should win.
Tonga is interesting to watch at the very least, as so much of his movement is based around misdirection. He’s able to pull Goto off the rope when he least expected it, then fakes an attack on the apron to get the upper hand on the floor, where Tonga is most dangerous. So much of Tonga’s character and ring work is based on misdirection and subterfuge, it’s a refreshing change of pace from most guys who just hit really hard. Anyways, Goto wins a fun match with the GTR. ***
Naomichi Marufuji (3-2) vs SANADA (2-3): Marufuji is right behind the leaders, but more importantly, needs a win here to stay ahead of everyone else. SANADA isn’t out of contention yet, but a loss here will give him 4, and there’s no realistic way anyone going 5-4 is going to win A Block.
Marufuji somehow fell for the fake handshake, with SANADA kicking him in the gut. That kinda makes me want Marufuji to lose honestly. SANADA does a great job of avoiding Marufuji’s kick combo, eventually nailing a sweet Tiger Suplex. Marufuji eventually hits his kick combo, then a great looking Shiranui for the win. ***
Hiroshi Tanahashi (2-3) vs Tomohiro Ishii (2-3): Another must win for Tanahashi, this time against my favorite wrestler. Tanahashi has a loss against Makabe, so he’ll be rooting for his rival Okada while he takes care of business against Ishii. Ishii is almost always in the middle of the pack, but he’s so good he can win against anyone at anytime. The drama is hurt a little because Tanahashi needs to keep winning, but Ishii is so good at making you think he can win any match.
Early on, Ishii hits Tanahashi with a Dragon Screw, a favorite move of Tanahashi, so you know it’s on. Tanahashi lays into Ishii with a headbutt which was not his brightest move. It’s little bits like this that keep the early parts of a match interesting. Ishii is next level mean in this match, and I love it. His slaps and kicks are forcing Tanahashi to bring something a little extra. This is great. The crowd is biting hard on every nearfall. Tanahashi wins after two High Fly Flows. Really good match. ****
Togi Makabe (4-1) vs Kazuchika Okada (4-1): The winner of this match will take sole leadership of first place. Makabe took his first loss in his last match, while Okada hasn’t lost since Night 1. Another loss for Makabe won’t hurt him too much in the standings, but two losses in a row might affect his mind, assuming the Unchained Gorilla has a mind left to affect. In any case, the winner of this match will be the man to catch for everyone else.
Okada matches usually have a pretty slow start, and Makabe matches are slow in general, so it’s not surprising that this match is pretty dull in the opening minutes. There’s a nice moment where cocky Okada gets knocked on his ass a few times, which I always enjoy, but not much else. Okada is getting knocked around a lot in this match actually. Okada is also starting to look a bit nervous as blow after blow have little to no effect on Makabe. OKada fought through though, and got the win with the Rainmaker clothesline. ***1/2
Yuji Nagata (3-2) vs Toru Yano (2-3): Nagata is tied for first along with almost everyone else, but two losses in a row have stopped his momentum. Meanwhile, Yano is Yano. Wins and losses don’t matter to the Sublime Master Thief.
Usual stuff early on, with Yano avoiding as much of Nagata’s attacks as possible. Yano grabbed the referee to avoid the backdrop driver, but got caught by the arm bar. Nagata dragged him up the entrance ramp, where Yano low-blowed him and used athletic tape to trap Nagata’s legs together, leading to a rather inglorious count out loss for Nagata. *1/2
Michael Elgin (3-2) vs YOSHI-HASHI (3-2): YOSHI has been a surprise to tournament. I had to double check to make sure he actually had a winning record. But his new finisher Karma has been decisive in picking up points in his first G1. This might be his most important match yet though. The winner of this match will be tied for the lead, and have a tiebreaker victory over a major threat. And if YOSHI gets the win, he should be in line for an Intercontinental Title match.
Both these guys have their left shoulders taped up. YOSHI tries to go toe to toe with Elgin early on, and that’s not super smart. Big Mike is dominant early, showing off his impressive power and stopping YOSHI in his tracks every time he starts to attack. Elgin does the deadlift super Falcon Arrow, which really should get a win every once in a while, it’s such an impressive move. YOSHI catches Elgin with the Butterfly Lock, leading to his first flurry of offense in the match. Elgin quickly follows it up though with an Elgin Bomb, winning in extremely dominant fashion. This was damn near a squash match, but an entertaining one. ***
Tomoaki Honma (2-3) vs EVIL (1-4): EVIL is solely in last place, but a win here could ensure that he drags Honma down with him. In B Block, a 5-4 record could still win, but it’s going to take some work and some luck. Honma has lost three in a row, but there have been measured improvements in his work, so I wouldn’t count anything out just yet.
EVIL uses a lot of chair based offense. I have no other commentary about that, it’s just an interesting bit of his character. He wraps people’s heads in chairs, he slams them on chairs, etc etc. This match is fine. They are doing fine stuff. But I’m bored. The crowd is much quieter then the night before, and that doesn’t help. EVIL wins the match with his EVIL STO. **1/2
Katsuyori Shibata (2-3) vs Kenny Omega (3-2): This is a major match between the two favorites of B Block. The winner will have a much clearer path over the other, especially if Omega can drop Shibata to 2-4. Plus the match itself should be excellent.
These guys are walking wounded as well. Shibata has a taped up shoulder, and Omega has a bandage on his back from his big cut when he fought EVIL. Omega focuses on Shibata’s leg, including a cool kneebreaker to the announcers table. Very few wrestlers make grappling look as badass as Shibata does. Whether it’s jockeying for position early or locking in a submission hold late, he looks like he means it. Shibata slips out of the One-Winged Angel and locks on a sleeper hold, and will absolutely not let go no matter how much Omega squirms, until Shibata puts him down with a PK. ****
Katsuhiko Nakajima (3-2) vs Tetsuya Naito (3-2): Nakajima has really impressed me this tournament. As someone who was completely unfamiliar with him before the G1, he has been really great. And Naito’s character work has mostly shored up any deficiencies in his matches. A win for either of these guys will be huge, since it will put them in the lead, and give them a tiebreaker over the other.
Naito targets the leg of Nakajima, in theory to disable to devastating kicks of the younger wrestler. In practice, Nakajima is still going to kick you as hard as he can, even if it hurts him. Once Naito stops dicking around, this is a really fast paced match. These guys are nailing each other with kicks and flips and it’s pretty great. Naito countered a brainbuster with Destino, then hit another for the hard fought win. ****
In A Block, Okada has taken sole position of first place. Makabe and Marufuji are tied in second place, but Marufuji holds the tie-breaker between the two. Fale, Goto, and Tanahashi are right behind them and moving in the right direction. With his win on Night 11, Okada eliminated SANADA, Tama Tonga, and Tenzan. Even if they won all their remaining matches and Okada lost his, Okada holds a tiebreaker win on all of them. B Block continues to be a quagmire, with SIX wrestlers with a 3-3 record. Only Elgin and Naito have pulled in front of the pack, with Honma and EVIL falling behind, leaving B Block way to close to call.