Monday, October 19, 2020

NJPW G1 Climax 30 Recap: Ibushi Does It Again!

The 30th G1 is now behind us, and while not the all-time classic tournament the last three editions were, the 2020 installment provided us with plenty of good wrestling, some big news, and a clear direction for next year's Tokyo Dome double-shot.

One usual G1 trope that was magnified this time around was the disparity of match quality from one block to the other.  While there's almost always a slight imbalance in that department, this year almost all of the great matchups took place in Block A, while Block B too often suffered from matches either going too long or featuring too much interference.  Evil's bouts in particular frequently became tiresome thanks to constant Dick Togo shenanigans.  Between Evil, Kenta, Yano's usual antics, and Jay White in A Block, this G1 must've seen the most outside interference of any edition to date.  I'd say it's time to curb this stuff; Evil and especially Jay White are capable of excellent matches but the constant chicanerie on the outside has made me not look forward to watching them (Jay's matches usually still deliver though).  In past tournaments Evil has provided multiple highlights.  Not so much as a Bullet Club member.  White on the other hand was able to muster some pretty great showings despite Gedo's tomfoolery.  But overall the BC stuff is wearing thin for me, and so many tainted moments throughout the tourney took away from the one big angle NJPW presented (More on that shortly).

By contrast though, another traditionally heel stable forwent the bullshit and got down to some great business in the G1.  I'm talking about Suzuki-Gun.  Minoru delivered multiple excellent matches, Zack Sabre was true to grappling spider monkey form, and perhaps the man who grew more than anyone in this tournament, Taichi actually became fun to watch.  No valets, minimal cheating; at age 40 (I had no idea he was that old) Taichi seems to have finally gotten serious about good wrestling matches.
Now, the aforementioned big angle - on Night 17, the A Block final, we saw a huge heel turn, setting up one of the big Tokyo Dome matches.  Will Ospreay turned on his mentor Kazuchika Okada after their match, forming a new stable called The Empire with his girlfriend Bea Priestly and heater The Great O-Khan (Tomoyuki Oka returned from excursion).  This angle was very well executed but as I said, the loads of interference in other matches during this tournament kinda took away from it.  Still, Ospreay was subtly hinting at a heel turn throughout the tourney, showing arrogance and an amplified mean streak in other bouts, and this culminated in a major angle.  I can't wait to see the Ospreay-Okada rematch at WrestleKingdom.

As for the result of the tournament, I couldn't be happier that Kota Ibushi has become the third back-to-back winner in G1 history.  Not only that, but he's the first participant to make the finals three years in a row.  I'm not sure why in my predictions column I didn't think they'd give it to Ibushi twice in a row, but I was glad to be wrong.  Ibushi made it a point in this tournament to wrestle each match according to his opponent's style, which resulted in each bout being different.  His much-discussed Pancrase-esque fight with Suzuki was a tournament highlight, and his kicks-only match with Taichi was a truly original effort.  

I was chuffed that I correctly picked Sanada as the other finalist; his 0-3 start made me doubt myself but as he racked up wins I became more confident that I'd made the right call.  Sanada is an unusual wrestler in that his general lack of emotion can hinder his match quality.  He has all the tools to be great but it's often hard to become emotionally invested in his work.  His B Block final match with Evil for example was missing a sense of animosity between two former best friends.  Thus it was a well-worked match without the extra emotional punch.  Contrast that with Jay White vs. Tomohiro Ishii from the previous night, which contained a similar story of the babyface having to overcome repeated interference to stop the dastardly heel from going to the finals.  White vs. Ishii was infinitely more potent from an emotional standpoint.  

The Ibushi-Sanada final itself was a pretty epic 35-minute match that flew by and built to a great final sequence, but was a step below the last several G1 finals for me.  I sure am excited about Naito vs. Ibushi at the Dome though, as long as they don't try to kill themselves again.  It'll have been about 18 months since their last match together where Ibushi bashed his head on the ring apron during a suplex.  Let's not have any more of that shite. 

The question is, will Naito lose the Intercontinental Title sometime before WrestleKingdom?  I think he should; the double champion deal served as an organic reason to split WrestleKingdom 14 into two nights, but having the same person just defend both belts every time is kinda pointless.  You're robbing yourselves of secondary main events by not having a separate Intercontinental Champion.  Since Naito lost to Evil, Sanada and Kenta, he could defend just the I-C belt at Power Struggle, since traditionally the November PPV has been headlined by that championship.  I wouldn't mind seeing Sanada take it from him; the Naito-Sanada G1 match was a little disappointing due to some sloppy spots and this would give them a chance to redeem themselves.  It makes logical sense too; Sanada made the G1 finals but came up short, so instead of getting an IWGP Title match he could get an Intercontinental Tile match.  Then maybe he and Evil could face off at the Dome.  Just a thought.

Update: just saw that it's Naito vs. Evil again at Power Struggle, for both belts.  Ugh.  I think we've seen enough of that match and they have yet to break ***1/2 territory.  In other news though, Ibushi will face Jay White for the G1 briefcase, Kenta will face Hiroshi Tanahashi for the US Title match briefcase, Okada will face Great O-Khan, and the one I'm looking forward to, Minoru Suzuki will defend the NEVER belt against Shingo.  Solid lineup for Power Struggle.

Anywho, now it's time for my usual Top Ten G1 Matches, three of which came from the amazing Night 13, one of the best G1 cards of all time.  Each match was better than the last and it was legitimately difficult for me to choose a favorite.  Sadly B Block provided only one entry.

1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi, Night 1 - The first show of the tourney was headlined by a WK14 rematch.  While not the five-star classic we saw in January, this was an excellent main event that gave Ibushi his first big win on his historic journey.  ****1/2

2. Will Ospreay vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Night 3 - Ishii continued to be the unsung hero of the G1, beginning with this show-stealing effort against the incomparable Will Ospreay.  This might've been my favorite match of the tournament; simply a stunning bout.  *****

3. Kota Ibushi vs. Tomorhiro Ishii, Night 5 - Ibushi met Ishii at least halfway in this stiff match from Night 5.  Not on the same level as their tournament-stealer from 2018, but still an excellent showing.  ****1/2

4. Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi, Night 5 - The second-best Night 5 match was an action-packed power vs. finesse battle that saw Shingo take one away from Ospreay.  ****1/4

5. Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi, Night 11 - Ibushi faced another rugged striker in Takagi and this time met his match; Takagi put Ibushi away in this thrilling main event.  ****1/2

6. Tetsuya Naito vs. Juice Robinson, Night 12 - For my money the best match from B Block saw Juice unexpectedly keep pace with the Double Champion and then some.  It took two Destinos for Naito to put him down, and I'd love to see a rematch of this one.  ****1/4

7. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi, Night 13 - Night 13 was a spectacular show with four excellent tournament matches, my favorite of which was this dramatic, classic wrestling contest where Okada was finally able to get a win with his new Money Clip finisher.  This was pretty epic.  ****3/4

8. Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Night 13 - Just a hair below that for me was this brutal fight, as Ibushi and Suzuki threw every striking attack at each other in a war of attrition.  Ibushi eventually put down the veteran with Kamigoye, at which point Suzuki flashed a demented smile while being pinned.  Great stuff.  ****3/4

9. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jeff Cobb, Night 13 - And just a hair below that was this action-packed bull fight as Ishii and Cobb pounded the crap out of each other for 15 minutes.  ****1/2

10. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay, Night 17 - These two were potentially on their way to stealing the tournament for the second year in a row but instead we got a big angle to close the match, as Ospreay turned heel and formed a new faction.  Still this was a fantastic bout with significant ramifications.  ****1/4

Oddly the G1 Final didn't make my top ten this year, which I think is a first since I've been watching NJPW.  I'd rate Ibushi vs. Sanada at ****1/4 I think.  As I said, G1 30 wasn't at the level of 27, 28 or 29, and the live crowds not being able to vocalize probably contributed to that, as did B Block's overuse of heel interference.  Guys like Evil need to find a balance between being asshole heel characters and actually delivering in the ring.  Jay White has done it; I hope Evil and Kenta do too.

On to the Dome!

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