NJPW G1 Climax Nights 11-12 Review: Real Friends

Friendship is inspiring each other to hit each other as hard as possible when you are in a pro wrestling match

Previously on the G1 Climax, Ibushi and Tanahashi sent crowds home happy and Jay and Evil started sniping at each other across the aisle. NJPW‘s latest events are a step up from its previous two, and feature battles between real-life friends, matches that show wrestlers at their best (which is sometimes their worst!), and Jay and Evil continuing to snipe at each other across the aisle. They begin with a match that is not “good” but that does reveal a usually hidden side of Tomohiro Ishii.

G1 Climax 30 Night 11 – October 7, 2020, in Hiroshima – A Block

Tomohiro Ishii def. Yujiro Takahashi

Yujiro vs. Ishii starts as what we’ve come to expect as a typical G1 match from the Tokyo Pimp, maybe even one of the better ones. But it becomes one of those wrestling matches that makes you more aware of the real people involved than the characters, action, or story.

Ishii rolls to the corner after taking a Fisherman Buster, and the referee checks on him as he holds his head in what looks like legitimate pain. Throughout the rest of the match, Ishii doesn’t wrestle in a way that leads you to assume a concussion or other injury, but the ref continues to check on him, and it’s easy to see everyone maneuvering the match around the well-being of a real person. The match ends up looking like what they were probably planning to do anyway, but with more pauses and way more referee involvement. It’s not super concerning, but those real-life elements mean it’s also not really entertaining.

Ishii fortunately seems fine backstage, cutting an ultra-rare horny promo (by “hidden side” earlier I meant “horny side”) about how “the best thing [Yujiro] has going for him is his entrance… and it’s not even him who deserves credit for his entrance.” I bet if Pieter was here the vibes would have somehow prevented that weird bump, so like many bad things right now, I’ll indirectly blame this match on the coronavirus.

Kazuchika Okada def. Jeff Cobb

Jeff Cobb’s loss to Kazuchika Okada makes him the second man in A Block to be mathematically eliminated from G1 Climax 30 (unless something really weird happens), but he nevertheless comes out of it looking good. He gets plenty of opportunities to show off his strength and suplex skills, and that’s weirdly what makes this one of Back Injury Okada’s more flattering G1 matches. We get the dynamic of a competitive, clean match between this top NJPW wrestler who doesn’t do a lot of flashy moves and this less established guy with all the flash in the world, and the spectacle of Cobb’s athleticism compensates for any issues that might have been caused by a slower match pace.

Okada beats Cobb with the same pin that earned him his previous win over Suzuki, and it works way better this time. It looks like it’s executed more forcefully, like he really intends it to finish the match, and commentary quickly connects it to additional Okada lore, reminding everyone this is also how he got a win over Kenny Omega (and Chris Jericho, but that match was not very good, so let’s emphasize the Okada/Omega thing!) This is also a way more interesting way for Okada to continue his angle of having more than one way to win a match, by showing us he’s really trying to diversify beyond the Rainmaker and not just making things all Money Clip all the time, interrupted by a random flash pin.

Will Ospreay def. Minoru Suzuki

Like in the articles about earlier A Block shows, I’m continuing to opt out of reviewing Will Ospreay matches because the evidence he used his industry influence to take part in the blacklisting of a rape victim has yet to be meaningfully addressed by RevPro or New Japan Pro Wrestling, the companies he represents. Wrestling is fake and this kind of abuse in the entertainment industry and wrestling specifically is very real, so the perspective of this review column continues to be who could possibly care about pretend fighting when this issue is staring you in the face.

Jay White def. Taichi

Like White vs. Cobb, White vs. Taichi is a match that I hated in G1 29 but loved in G1 30. Jay White and the Holy Emperor are two annoying people who make each other more annoying when they’re in the ring together, and it’s hilarious. The serenading, the flexing, the rolling under the bottom rope at the same time – it’s beautiful. Chef’s kiss.

I’d compare it to two cars trying to run each other off the low road, but part of what makes this match interesting is how easily Taichi emerges as the natural babyface and the guy willing to take a slightly higher road. He cheats a lot, and one of the match’s best moments is when he manages to out-low-blow White and Gedo, but he’s also the guy in the match who sincerely initiates an exchange of strikes to test toughness/fighting spirit, and he has some straightforwardly cool wrestling moments in there too. Jay’s performance in this match is also strong, but it’s Taichi who shines brighter in his somewhat unexpected protagonist role.

Backstage, Taichi challenges White and Gedo to come for the tag titles, while White creates more immediate problems for himself. He expects Yujiro (a team player, unlike some people) to throw their upcoming match. This kind of thing been expected in almost every Bullet Club vs. Bullet Club match in the history of the faction and it has never worked even once. It seems like Jay might have forgotten what team he joined, but nobody else can because they’ve been doing the same angle for like seven years! I am actually interested to see how Jay vs. Yujiro plays out, but man, it is really the same drama under the same logo over and over and over.

Shingo Takagi def. Kota Ibushi

Shingo Takagi vs. Kota Ibushi one-on-one for the first time ever is a match that’s easy to get excited for. They’re both very good at wrestling, athletically exciting to watch, and kind of murdery, and you can imagine they’re going to go extremely hard against each other. There’s also a lot of lesser-known but not totally obscure Lore behind this match that both wrestlers talk about afterwards in very respectful promos where they say, essentially “It was a really big deal for me to have a match with my friend today!”

Takagi and Ibushi both debuted in 2004 (this is the second of three first-time-ever matches for Takagi against fellow ’04 grads – Yujiro, Ibushi, and Okada) and while they’ve never worked for the same company before, they’re worked in companies that worked together. DDT and Dragon Gate co-promoted shows, but during that time it looks like these two only interacted in a six-man tag. In real life, though, they’ve interacted a lot in 57 Nenkai, a group of wrestlers all born in 1982 (the 57th year of the Showa Era) that also includes Naito, Taiji Ishimori, and others that’s been referenced enough in NJPW that it’s part of the canon in a world-building way similar to the Animal Hamaguchi Gym, FCW, and who hung out with who in Mexico.

Nobody needs to know this stuff to enjoy or look forward to Shingo vs. Ibushi, but  I think this background information does explain the tone they chose to take for the match, and that little moment Shingo describes as “once we stood across from each other, we couldn’t help but smile.” The actual match was a good one, and one neither plays like they expect a fast win. It’s flattering for Takagi’s image in NJPW not only that he wins, but that Ibushi always treats him like they’re the same tier or wrestler even though Shingo is clearly lower in the New Japan hierarchy, with the NEVER title picture the most prestigious he’s been in so far, while Ibushi seems destined for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship any day now.

Ibushi and Takagi remain evenly matched as they ramp up the match’s intensity and the insanity finally starts to emerge. Ibushi just walks out of the corner behind Shingo, jumps straight up, and frankensteiners him like a freak of nature. There’s a part that’s just arm power vs. leg power, the dumbest thing in the world to do for anyone who doesn’t have the insane arm girth Shingo has built up. Shingo goes for more Noshigamis in a row than usual and ultimately hits one after escaping a Kamigoye, which is not only a cool wrestling sequence but also one based on an UNTRANSLATABLE PUN in his promo ahead of this match based on “kami” being a homonym meaning “god” and “paper” in Japanese. Just about everything they do is exciting to watch, and put together in a way that takes itself seriously without getting too self-important, and intense without turning into finisher or pre-finisher spam or endless forearms (both things that can work, but that this match feels more unique for not doing.)

The show ends with Ibushi knocked down to a four-way tie for first place, sitting at eight points along with Jay, Okada, and Ospreay. Everyone at 4-2’s trajectory could believably be derailed by one of the guys at 3-3 (Suzuki, Shingo, Taichi, Ishii) who are still motivated and in contention for the final. In contrast to Goto and Juice, also at 3-3, after the following night’s B Block show, Shingo doesn’t believe winning his block would be a “miracle,” and he hasn’t resigned to aiming for a certain number of points. He’s not making light of his chances in the tournament, but he’s confident to the point of challenging Okada to bring his coolest and toughest self to their match, and ideally the Rainmaker.

Takagi also adds extra motivation backstage for why he can’t just have another Really Good G1, he can’t be an Ishii-style good hand. Shingo mentions that Ibushi said in an interview that he has great matches with everybody but “I’m nearly 38. I can’t be satisfied with just having great matches.” It’s a reminder that oh yeah, Ibushi is also 38 somehow – and it’s a smart move for Takagi to embrace that he came into NJPW late into his career rather than Damian Priesting it, and to let everyone else talk about his ~workrate~ and skills as a performer while he keeps his character’s goals what a wrestler’s kayfabe goals should be. The determined, aging indie vet thing is a good look for him, and the last hour of this A Block show is a good look for everyone involved.

G1 Climax 30 Night 12 – October 8, 2020, in Okayama – B Block

Hirooki Goto def. Yoshi-Hashi

B Block competition on October 8 begins with a match that’s hard-hitting and a little heartwarming. Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi are not only friends and two-thirds of the trios champions, but the two characters in Chaos most likely to be written off as losers. This all makes it extra compelling when Yoshi-Hashi starts goading his opponent and Goto gets heated and grabs his throat, bringing out what Yoshi-Hashi calls backstage “that brutal Hirooki Goto… the kind of Hirooki Goto I wanted to face.” On his end, Yoshi-Hashi brings his leveled-up second-half-of-2020 wrestling to the game, and together they deliver an aggressive, exciting match that’s more exciting because it’s these two having it.

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Toru Yano

Yano and ZSJ bring everything they could possibly bring to their match, with plenty of tape and countout-based comedy bits as well as some actual wrestling moves from Yano, which are always nice to see. He so rarely does serious moves that when he does exactly one great belly to belly suplex in a match, I feel like it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. That is why he is the (provisional) King of this sport (for 2020.)

This match is a fun change of pace from the previous ones on the show, and I think it’s a good creative departure for both Zack and Yano in the context of this year’s G1. Zack taps out Yano with a Figure Four Heel Hook rather than a rollup or Zack Driver, using his submission master gimmick to win a match in a way he hasn’t in a while, and Yano reminds us he can wrestle a singles match for more than ten minutes. It’s not a huge change from what they’ve been doing recently, but I think it could go a long way towards preventing their very specific acts from feeling stale.

Sanada def. Kenta

Sanada vs. Kenta isn’t either wrestler’s best match of the tournament, but it’s entertaining and unpredictable at times. One of those times is the finish – an O’Connor Bridge pin by Sanada after he pushes Kenta into the ropes, a signature technique of his that’s used sparingly enough to still be surprising.

Both men enter this match at 2-3, meaning the loser is likely out of the running for the G1 final. Now the biggest thing Kenta can hope to achieve is earning himself a title shot and possibly (probably) spoiling Naito’s tournament on the last night of B Block. Eyeballing that October 17 schedule when it was first released, you could tell that Sanada vs. Evil, Naito vs. Kenta, and maybe Tanahashi vs. ZSJ would all be important matches, and at this point in the tournament, those first two are all but guaranteed to determine the block’s winner.

Tetsuya Naito def. Juice Robinson

Juice and Naito’s history is defined by 1) Naito bullying Juice, 2) Naito beating Juice in wrestling matches, and 3) those wrestling matches being good, and all those things are true again of their match in G1 30. Naito is obnoxious to a degree that the combined obnoxiousness of Jay and Taichi in Jay vs. Taichi. If you want to see Naito win the match, you still probably want to see Juice get his licks in first. Their in-ring chemistry continues to be fantastic, and the two great tastes of how they’ve each been wrestling in this tournament do, in fact, taste great together.

The one negative thing that stands out to me is the moment, just like in Naito vs. Sabre, when Juice very obviously just bends over for Destino with no other justification for him getting in that position. Whatever’s causing this to happen, it looks really bad!

Overall, though, Juice looks so good in this match and has looked so good in this tournament that it makes me hope they put him in the NEVER or Intercontinental title picture rather than back in the U.S. title scene. Over the past few years, he’s had two separate long storylines about a guy who was bigger than him in WWE taking the U.S. title from him that have also included said former WWE guy not being around very much. Since his feud with Cody, Juice has been cordoned off feuding with other foreign wrestlers, and outside of tournaments he’s been essentially separated from a large portion of the roster full of people he has great chemistry with.

There have also been several times Juice’s career was impacted by events totally out of his control, including a typhoon, a global pandemic, the creation of AEW, and Jon Moxley leaving WWE, so this isn’t a hard “they’re misusing/underutilizing Juice!” complaint, especially because who knows what the plans for FinJuice in the tag title picture were before COVID hit.

This G1 run and especially this match with Naito just makes me hope the next few years for Juice Robinson aren’t just him feuding with Miro and Brodie Lee for the U.S. title and FinJuice vs. FTR for the tag titles in feuds that all include promos about WWE when Juice has now been with New Japan longer than he was in FCW and NXT. Mentioning other companies by name when relevant and using wrestlers’ history elsewhere to build angles is a good look; running TNA-ass angles about Bad Creative all the time would not be. It’s especially going to be embarrassing if WWE does end up setting up shop with NXT Japan and the most established promotion in the country is essentially advertising them constantly in exchange for YouTube and Twitter engagement from people who otherwise don’t tune in to NJPW and would complain about Okada not being able to cut a promo if he showed up on Dynamite.

Evil def. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Evil and Tanahashi have worked well together in the past, and they do it again in the main event of October 8, a fun match that features the best use of Evil and Dick Togo’s cheating style so far. The interference moments are a little different from what we’ve come to expect, no low blows land, and I love how Tsuji’s devotion to Tanahashi is used as a Chekhov’s gun. The best thing about the illegal tactics is that they don’t overwhelm the wrestling action; it’s a quality big Tanahashi match against an opponent who chooses to cheat rather than legitimately counter moves sometimes, and that’s something that works really well.

The show ends with Castlevania music and despair rather than air guitar and happiness. Evil ends the night at second place in B Block, 4-2, with the chance to get even with Naito in more ways than one on his next show. Backstage he reminds us he also has drama in the other block, teasing Jay for thinking Yujiro will lie down.

Even if this feud doesn’t end up fully BC JPN vs. BC INTL, it feels like Yujiro’s going to go with the side that doesn’t expect him to throw a G1 match when he’s been talking backstage at every show about how much being in the tournament means to him. All of Evil’s promo stuff is also a reminder that he has no intention of leaving L.I.J. to be lower than top dog in another faction. Just by nature of this being another Bullet Club civil war this angle could be fresher and more creative, but I think White and Evil have shown on this week’s shows that they can do a lot with this material, and they’re keeping things as interesting as they can.

Match recommendations:

  • Night 11: Taichi vs. Jay White
  • Night 12: Tetsuya Naito vs. Juice Robinson

Points earned:
A Block:

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

B Block:

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

Potential title shots earned:

  • IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships: Sanada
  • NEVER Openweight Championship: Taichi, Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay
  • 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.
  • IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Tetsuya Naito, Kenta, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Sanada, Jay White
  • NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: Juice, Kenta, Suzuki, Ospreay, Evil, Ibushi, Naito, ZSJ, Tanahashi, Naito

Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes a lot about pro wrestling. Pratt is a regular contributor for Fanbyte, with other bylines at Uproxx, Deadlock, Mind Games, Orange Crush, and FanSided WWE.

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