NJPW G1 Climax 30 Night 14 Review: There Gotos My Hero

Previously on the G1 Climax, A Block’s top four pulled away from the pack; Ishii-Cobb, Suzuki-Ibushi, and Okada-Shingo banged; and the Money Clip angst continued.

The night after A Block narrows itself down to four possible finalists, the October 11, 2020, B Block show in Aichi establishes a slightly messier landscape going into the last two rounds of round-robin competition. It does so on a show that’s one of the G1 30’s more mixed bags. A lackluster undercard is followed by a top-notch second-to-last match and a main event that’s the best and arguably the only good version of Naito vs. Bullet Club Evil so far.

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Yoshi-Hashi

This show’s first three B Block matches quickly blend in to the blur of the 70 G1 30 matches so far and the 21 still to come, and that includes Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Yoshi-Hashi. The most interesting thing about this match is that it often feels like it could have happened from two years ago when Zack’s submission master game had just won him the New Japan Cup and Yoshi-Hashi was doing his best but not getting very far. The way Yoshi-Hashi wrestles his offensive streak after he escapes the grapple-torture jumps us back to 2020 and we get the debut of a new ZSJ move variation, the Modified Clarky Cat, in the match’s finish, but it’s not enough to make this match stand out.

Kenta def. Toru Yano

Kenta’s a funny guy, so I thought Kenta vs. Yano would probably deliver. Instead, it might be the weakest Yano match of the tournament.

The beginning is mostly an argument about Yano and Kenta insisting on using foreign objects until Marty Asami basically says he will turn this match around and hand sanitizer is thrown, and something kept these jokes from landing for me. It’s probably a combination of a lot of dialogue I couldn’t understand and the quietness of the venue not lending itself to comedy. My inability to understand jokes in Japanese obviously doesn’t mean they must be bad; it just means the comedy literally doesn’t translate. Maybe the people of Aichi were into these bits, but corona-era rules make it hard to tell, and that they reacted so much more to later matches that it makes me think maybe they weren’t.

The gag in this match I think does work, no matter what language you speak, is Kenta’s briefcase spilling open to reveal like ten rolls of tape. It’s a cartoony and unexpected visual, and it reveals that his plan all along was to beat Yano at his own game, which, during this G1, has heavily involved tape. Kenta wins by countout and it’s like, good job, I guess! Like ZSJ vs. Yoshi-Hashi, this is an okay match that just kind of happens.

Sanada def. Juice Robinson

Sanada vs. Juice is a step up from the first two block matches, but it’s far from either wrestler’s best work of the G1 30. Most of the spots with non-finishers are fun to watch and the Paradise Lock spot is super over, but some of the sequences based around Pulp Friction and Skull End look a little awkward. Sanada’s style of selling makes Juice’s finisher look very easy to escape, and some of his Dragon Sleepers are iffy (and it retroactively doesn’t help that Tanahashi does one better than all of Sanada’s in the following match.)

In Sanada vs. Juice’s favor is that when Sanada hits the winning moonsault shortly after the fifteen-minute mark, those fifteen minutes have breezed by. This match also reveals that this Aichi crowd isn’t really a quiet one, but just didn’t react much to the previous bouts.

Hirooki Goto def. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Hirooki Goto vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi is a match between two men who have worked together for seventeen years, and who have both embraced and adapted to continuing to wrestle at a high level in their early forties. They execute the moves they’ve been using for many years so perfectly that in the context of a well-put-together match like this, they’re still exciting. And both Goto and Tanahashi can bring all the intensity needed to get people excited about a match – case in point is that strike battle that just escalates as they keep hitting each other. There’s some special energy in this match, and it might be a mutual determination to avoid being washed up?

Both Goto and Tanahashi get several moments in this match that make them look awesome – a slap by Tanahashi with something extra behind it, Goto’s Ushigoroshi off the second rope – and come out of it looking like people that younger wrestlers could take notes from. As much as they each get opportunities to shine, there’s no hesitance from either man to play weaker or less desirable qualities too. Goto’s consistent selling of his knee makes his badass moments more applause-worthy and sympathetic, while Tanahashi, for the first time in a while, pivots from playing the underdog against younger wrestlers to embracing that he’s the more accomplished, more jacked half of a match with a guy about the same age as him. It’s not a remotely heelish Tanahashi performance, but a change in dynamic that fits the match better, especially when it ends with Goto winning and staying alive as a contender for a final, with his next match against the company’s biggest heel.

Goto’s best chance at G1 survival is defeated Evil on the 14th (something that would also help Naito and Sanada), and backstage he gets a question about the many times he’s managed to come back from the brink. Goto’s brink-avoiding abilities are made less impressive by the context of how he’s been booked in his career, especially those zero IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns and many failed IWGP Heavyweight Championship shots, but I think these past few shows have shown the extent to which his wrestling skill can still make him credible as a tough guy who can get the job done (though never the most prestigious jobs.)

He has one promo line about his match with Tanahashi that I really like, especially if you temporarily block out the kind of hopelessness surrounding the Goto character: “I’ve been saying that I’m looking for a miracle, but this wasn’t it. This was my own doing.”

Evil def. Tetsuya Naito

In the main event, Naito and Evil are back at it again with what’s easily their best match since the King of Darkness joined Bullet Club. The shenanigans and interference are used with much more moderation, and the good wrestling they can do together drives the match instead. It feels like twenty-four minutes of a pro wrestling match in which the guy who recently betrayed the other guy cheats sometimes rather than twenty-plus minutes of bullshit interspersed with wrestling moves. Amazingly, it still makes me want to see the good guy win and the bad guy lose!

This might make it sound like I spent this match being mad about other matches, but I didn’t! Naito vs. Evil is really engaging and entertaining all the way through. The back-and-forth flow of the match works well for two wrestlers who are 1-1 in their current feud.

Naito has some great moments that combine character and action (like when he fakes being distracted by Dick Togo, then pushes Evil into him and follows up with a spinebuster) that embody why he’s the outlaw hero all the little kids in the audience want to fist bump. He also continues to be on his wrestling A-game this tournament, using signature moves in expected ways, like how he sets up Gloria and the way he hits Destino as a counter. Meanwhile, this match also works as a reminder that Evil is a good wrestler, actually! That showed clearly in his recent matches with Tanahashi and Juice and Yoshi-Hashi, but after so much criticism of how the Dick Togo of it all has factored into his singles matches, I just want to point out that this guy can go, though in a less flashy style than the double champ.

It’s also worth noting that this is New Japan’s second night in a row when the crowd has been so invested in the main event that there have been audible (illegal!) reactions to kickouts. This time, those aren’t even followed by mad-for-real silence over a babyface’s finishing move! Though clapping-only rule seems like a good idea for public health, hearing the legitimate shock about that Destino kickout is still probably the most satisfying crowd reaction I’ve heard during the pandemic.

Now that Evil has beaten Naito, they both have a 5-2 record and ten points, but Evil leads the block because he holds the tiebreaker over his former stablemate. If Evil and Naito both win their two remaining block matches, Evil will win the block.

Everybody who’s still mathematically alive aside from Evil has a trickier path forward because they partially depend on other people losing. Aside from Naito and Evil, the remaining potential block winners are Sanada, Zack Sabre Jr., and unexpectedly (at least, to me!) Hirooki Goto, who are all at 4-3 with eight points. These three could end the G1 with twelve points at most, while Naito and Evil could get fourteen. Things get more complicated when you consider that Evil’s remaining block matches are against Goto and Sanada, and all the potential tiebreakers that already exist and could be created within this group of people.

I could break down the convoluted tournament math that would lead to Goto or ZSJ winning the block, but let’s be real: narratively speaking, it’s Naito, Evil, and Sanada who are really still in the running. Their remaining matches are Yano and Kenta for Naito, Goto and Sanada for Evil, and Tanahashi and Evil for Sanada. Naito could easily lose one or both of his remaining matches, and even if he wins both, he depends on Evil losing one or both of his matches. If Evil, Sanada, and Naito all end up at twelve points, the results of this Sunday’s show mean Naito wouldn’t make the final because both his pareja and former pareja have G1 wins over him.

Meanwhile, Sanada needs to keep going on the same straightforward G1 path that he’s needed to take since he started the tournament at 0-3: winning all of his matches and hoping for the best. He needs neither Naito nor Evil to make it to fourteen points, and he needs to first beat Tanahashi, then finally defeat Evil, the tag partner who betrayed him, to make it to the final. That’s such a flattering tournament trajectory that I have to assume Evil vs. Sanada will determine the B Block winner, with either Sanada heroically overcoming his brother gone Bullet Club, or Evil earning scalding heel heat by preventing that from happening.

The weirder possible outcome would be Naito getting to fourteen points and Sanada failing to get to twelve points, but keeping Evil at twelve and thereby pushing Naito to the final. Several other combinations of events are possible, but these are the ones it seems like New Japan is headed towards based on its post-hiatus drama. My predictions are often wrong and swerves are always possible in wrestling, but that’s at least what I think New Japan would be swerving away from.

Match recommendation: Goto vs. Tanahashi

Points earned:
A Block:

  • 10 points – 5-2 – Jay White, Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay
  • 6 points – 3-4 – Jeff Cobb, Minoru Suzuki, Shingo Takagi, Taichi, Tomohiro Ishii
  • 0 points – 0-7 – Yujiro Takahashi

B Block:

  • 10 points – 5-2 – Evil, Tetsuya Naito
  • 8 points – 4-3 – Hirooki Goto, Sanada, Zack Sabre Jr.
  • 6 points – 3-4 – Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Kenta, Toru Yano,
  • 2 points – 1-6 – Yoshi-Hashi

Potential title shots earned:

  • IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships: Sanada, Evil
  • NEVER Openweight Championship: Taichi, Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, Kota Ibushi
  • Contract for an IWGP U.S. Championship match: Juice Robinson, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Evil, Sanada
  • RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi
  • KOPW 2020 (if that’s how this works): Juice Robinson, Hirooki Goto, Zack Sabre Jr., Kenta
  • IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Tetsuya Naito, Kenta, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Sanada, Jay White, Will Ospreay
  • NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: Juice, Kenta, Suzuki, Ospreay, Evil, Ibushi, Naito, ZSJ, Tanahashi, Naito