NJPW G1 Climax 30 Night 15-16 Review: The Semi-Final Countdown

"Sanada is for the teens" - Hiroshi Tanahashi

Previously in the G1 Climax, A and B Block delivered some strong matches from pairings both fresh and with history behind them, and whittled down the list of potential finalists. New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s most recent shows cut that list down a little more, and clear up the stakes for the final nights of block action while delivering more quality matches, and a few duds.

G1 Climax 30 Night 15 – October 13, 2020, in Hamamatsu – A Block

Before we get to the matches on this show, let’s talk about how their results shape the landscape for the last night of A Block. Four wrestlers go into this show still able to make the final – Okada, White, Ibushi, and Ospreay – and they all leave still in contention, but all except Jay will depend partially on the results of other people’s matches to do it.

The recently-released match order for October 16 shows the card is put together in a way that should create a night of maximum drama and minimal math. The three matches after intermission will be Okada vs. Ospreay (which I expected to be the main event), then Ibushi vs. Taichi, then Jay vs. Ishii. Since Ospreay lost on October 13, the only way he could still have a chance at the final is by beating Okada on the 16th. Even then he could only get in through Ibushi and White losing, and even then that wouldn’t be a given because of the triangle of tiebreakers between them (White beat Ibushi, Ibushi beat Ospreay, Ospreay beat White.) Ospreay beating Okada would make the stakes of the show’s next two matches kind of nebulous and weird.

If Okada beats Ospreay or they wrestle to a time-limit draw (which seems less likely now that the match is fourth on the card), the stakes for the rest of the show are much clearer. Okada must wait to see if Ibushi and White, who both beat him earlier in the tournament, lose to find out if he makes the final. Ibushi has to win his match over a guy who beat him in the New Japan Cup and cross his fingers for Jay to lose, and Jay just has to focus on beating Ishii. The least convoluted ways someone could win A Block would be Ibushi beating a heel he feuded with earlier this year or Jay beating a beloved babyface. Okada making the final isn’t implausible, but it would probably produce less of a straightforward emotional response.

Jeff Cobb def. Will Ospreay

The points situation I just described could have been a lot more complicated if Ospreay beat Cobb, but the opposite happens. As with other Ospreay matches this tournament, I’m not really going to review it because the continuing issues surrounding the evidence-backed allegations that Ospreay used his industry power to blacklist a wrestler who was sexually assaulted by one of his friends make all of his matches unwatchable to me. But here’s some stuff about Ospreay’s presentation going into the last night of A Block.

This loss makes Ospreay more of the underdog (or someone delusional about being the best wrestler in the world, in kayfabe) going into the match with his Chaos big brother Okada, and seems to set the limit at how high his star will rise in NJPW through the end of the year. The Okada-Ospreay match likely won’t send Ospreay to the final, but it’s still a Big Deal for these characters, or at least for Ospreay because of the story points he outlines in his backstage promo. (Okada, in contrast, calls it their first match that won’t be a friendly, despite eliminating Ospreay from the New Japan Cup last year.) It’ll also be the latest in an Acclaimed Series Of Matches, and the main thing I’m hoping for it is that people have some perspective and don’t become this guy to those who can’t or won’t engage with it because of real-world issues.

Kota Ibushi def. Yujiro Takahashi

As has been the norm for the Tokyo Pimp’s G1 matches, Kota Ibushi vs. Yujiro Takahashi is an okay, kind of boring match that provides an easy two points for the half of it that isn’t Yujiro. There are a few close calls that may have been intended to really make the viewer believe Ibushi could get spoiled, but none of them are that convincing or exciting.

The promos backstage are also far from the tone of a jobber squash. Yujiro continues to be babyface-earnest about his G1 struggle backstage, and Ibushi is really respectful of him and says he exceeded his expectations, which were understandably very low! I’m conscripting Ibushi into the Yujiro Respect Army based on this promo, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see Takahashi get an upset win over Cobb on the 16th.

Taichi def. Shingo Takagi

Taichi and Shingo killed it during last year’s G1 with an old-school match that had English commentary bringing up their relationships with Kawada and Tenryu. Their second match builds to some equally hard-hitting action, but it also includes more light-hearted moments. Shingo is super serious and stanced up from the beginning, but Taichi decides to mess around and play mind games. He has the ability to wrestle the kind of match it looks like Takagi has in mind, but he decides to be annoying for a while instead. It’s a strong heel performance by Taichi, and I think Takagi’s babyface act is weaker in comparison; things like doing his Oi, oi, oi! and raising his fist dramatically before he’s done all that much in the match make it feel a little too self-important.

That overconfidence is probably why Shingo loses, though! He and Taichi bantered on Twitter ahead of this match about move stealing, referencing that they’ve both taken other people’s moves and started doing them Taichi-style or Takagi-style. This leads to the punchline of Shingo trying to beat Taichi with a Takagi-style Taichi-style Gedo Clutch, aka a Taichi-style Gedo Clutch where the person on offense also does pushups. This does not work because this not a match against a Dragon Gate trainee on Prime Zone, and you can’t win a G1 match with a pin that disrespectful!

In contrast, this bit helps turn this into one of Taichi’s G1 matches that ends with him looking awesome and like he’s realizing his full potential, similar to the finishes of his matches with Suzuki and Cobb. He tries his own chaotic-looking take on Last of the Dragon, kills it in a straightforward elbow-exchange with Takagi, and takes it home with Black Mephisto. The match ends with so many of Taichi’s good qualities on display, and it presents him as the most credible threat to Ibushi possible going into the last night of A Block.

Jay White def. Minoru Suzuki

Minoru Suzuki was always going to be the default babyface against Jay White, and they lean into that dynamic hard here in a really entertaining way. Suzuki’s most admirable quality, the thing that’s made Ibushi and Okada talk about him with respect after their G1 matches, is that he’s legitimately tough and skilled, and has fighting spirit to the gills. Jay White, in contrast, is not not tough, but he’s a total weasel. Suzuki hasn’t even used outside interference in matches since 2018; Jay uses it every match. In addition, though Jay’s a smart wrestler and can work a body part (as he does with Suzuki’s knee here once he gets the chance), he’s not a strong striker or grappler – he doesn’t have a shoot background and it’s not a big part of his wrestling moveset.

This all leads to a match where we watch Jay White cower and try to get out of facing a much scarier wrestler head-on whenever possible, while Suzuki looks like a standup fighter in comparison. His counter of the Blade Runner into that armbar is one of the coolest moments of the entire G1. But Suzuki often looks like he’s trying to make a point in this match more than he’s trying to win it, and that lack of urgency combined with a well-timed distraction by Gedo, a low blow, and a Blade Runner gives Jay White the win. The way the Jay White character wrestles this match makes it his most frustrating victory in a while even though it’s against another heel, and makes him look annoying as possible going into a show where he might secure his place in his second consecutive G1 final.

Jay follows up this match with a promo that, along with Evil’s the following night, does a convincing job of setting up Jay vs. Evil as a potential G1 final, or if not, a match to get invested in down the road. Jay insists he’s not falling for mind games while admitting he’s been on the lookout for plots against him and claiming that being booked against Suzuki and Ishii on the last two nights of block action is part of a conspiracy to keep him from winning the tournament. These aren’t all that abnormal of things for Jay to say, but in context, it does seem like he’s on the verge of a paranoid breakdown. There continue to be enough balls in the air in this Bullet Club vs. Bullet Club feud to keep it pretty interesting, even though it’s another BC vs. BC feud.

Kazuchika Okada def. Tomohiro Ishii

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii is a pairing that’s historically delivered matches I’ve loved, and that have been widely loved. Ishii beating Okada in the 2016 G1 is iconic and every other adjective stans would use to describe a good K-pop comeback. What makes the match so satisfying isn’t just how these wrestlers physically work together, but the clash between their characters, two members of the same faction who couldn’t be more different. Their next match in the 2019 New Japan Cup is pretty great too and plays a similar thematic role as Okada vs. Ishii this week.

Last spring, Ishii was the last of a string of stablemate opponents Okada defeated on his way to the New Japan Cup final. Beating Ishii, a more traditionally tough wrestler as well as one of his seniors in his Chaos, is a great look for him on his path to ultimately regaining the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, this time as a pure babyface. Now there’s another match and some luck required for Okada to make a tournament final after beating Ishii, but I think the message is supposed to be similar. In his most recent G1 matches, Okada has knocked out two of NJPW’s toughest, with the second a more important win because Ishii is more established in NJPW, and kind of a he’s kind of a gatekeeper of toughness within the company and Okada’s own faction.

This match, however, doesn’t deliver as much as Okada and Ishii’s past matches have. At first, it feels like NJPW comfort food, kind of like Ishii vs. Suzuki on Night 1. Okada wrestles like his top guy mode was finally reactivated with the Takagi match, and it’s fun to watch him and Ishii at it again, and to watch Okada knowingly poke the bear and have some Ishii-style showdown sequences.

But rather than the match continuing to escalate to more exciting places, Okada breaks out the Money Clip for the first time what feels like halfway through. It makes sense for him to keep using it in kayfabe, but in real life, when this move is not over and is a massive buzzkill. There’s also the way the move looks on Ishii to consider. Broke: the Money Clip looks the worst on Ishii because he has no neck, so it looks like Okada is just cradling his head. Woke: the Money Clip looks the best on Ishii because he has no neck so it looks like Okada is just cradling his head, and it also makes his face smush up like a baby’s sometimes.

I think the intensity of this match, which wasn’t all that high to begin win, falls into a lull after the first Money Clip, with one major exception – the amazing moment when Ishii, up on the turnbuckle, no-sells a dropkick from Okada, then hits him with a diving knee drop. This drew me back into the match for a moment, but then, after a rolling lariat by Okada that used to be a sign of the Rainmaker, there’s another Money Clip, and the energy is sapped from the match. The move is made a little more interesting later when Ishii counters it with a Codebreaker, but the match-winning iteration of it is such a mood-killer it’s almost funny. Ishii tries to power out but Okada shuts him down with a backbreaker and beats his second tough-guy heavyweight in a row by referee stoppage.

I’ve too much built up goodwill towards Okada over the years to be mad about this (and also it’s just a wrestling move), but I’m tired of this Money Clip situation being so lame. Okada’s show-closing promos are still so charming that they evaporate annoyance about parts of his matches, but the matches are a much bigger part of his act and I would like to not be annoyed at them anymore, please!

G1 Climax 30 Night 16 – October 14, 2020, at Yokohama Budokan – B Block

The following night’s NJPW event sets a less complicated, more emotionally dramatic stage for the final night of B Block competition. Evil, like Jay in A Block, is the only man who totally controls his own destiny. As long as he beats Sanada he’ll make the final, no matter the result of anyone else’s match. Meanwhile, if Naito beats Kenta, he has to root for Sanada to beat or draw with Evil, preventing Evil from reaching 14 points and beating him by a tiebreaker. Sanada has to cross his fingers for Kenta to spoil his faction leader, and if that happens, defeat his traitorous former tag partner in a main event he has to win to make the final.

Tournament math aside, this is a really satisfying situation to see after watching and loving L.I.J. for years. Most of this faction has been young up-and-comers Naito brought in (Evil and Hiromu fresh off excursion, Sanada from the indies) and part of watching NJPW the past several years has been watching them grow, with Naito the most vocal supporter of their growth, besides maybe Milano. Even though Evil betrayed the faction, this feels kind of like watching Naito send his kids off to college. It’s sneakily wholesome.

Kenta def. Yoshi-Hashi

Speaking of Kenta, he kicks off the tournament action on October 14 by beating Yoshi-Hashi in a solid, entertaining match. Kenta’s been taking swipes at Yoshi-Hashi in promos and on Twitter for at least a year now, and that spices up the familiar story of Yoshi-Hashi as the underdog. The match is competitive and there are a few moments that convince me Yoshi-Hashi could win, especially since he beat Sanada earlier in the tournament and Kenta’s already eliminated, but ultimately Kenta counters an attempt at Karma into Game Over, and the game soon ends.

It’s not the best match of the night, but it’s entertaining, and Yoshi-Hashi’s vengeful stare at Kenta afterwards makes me convinced that Yoshi-Hashi is the former NOAH star’s true NJPW nemesis, forget Goto and Naito. Actually, don’t forget Naito just yet, because Kenta’s backstage promo really makes it seem like he could spoil the double champ at Ryogoku and earn himself a title shot. He also flirts with his girlfriend the NJPW camera person, claims Twitter trolls broke into his house, and realizes he’s been promoting Yoshi-Hashi’s merch – there’s a lot going on here.

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Juice Robinson

Zack Sabre Jr. defeating Juice Robinson temporarily makes it look like there could be even more going on, tiebreaker-wise, on the last B Block show. But the results of the rest of the night’s match officially shut him out of the final, barring a roster-wide outbreak of food poisoning, as Sabre observes, possibly inspired by his Boss.

Result aside, Juice and Sabre have a quality match with a few noticeable downsides. A few moments stand out as looking extra-cooperative in a way that clashes with the otherwise aggressive tone of the fight. There’s also a stressful moment when Juice starts powering out of a triangle from Zack and Zack arches his neck back as he’s lifted up in the air, then lands awkwardly neck-first when Juice, who can’t see Zack’s neck position, slams him down. It’s reminiscent of watching serious Styles Clash injuries, except those were from the opposite kind of head motion. Fortunately though, ZSJ is able to wrestle the rest of the match normally and cut a lucid-sounding promo afterward.

That’s a lot of criticisms, but my impression of this match is mostly positive! Juice looks like a powerhouse and not a dummy, but Zack is able to defeat him with his brilliant wrestling mind, aka tekkers. It’s a dynamic that makes the match fun to follow, and it plays out in a way that makes them both look good, apart from those awkward and uncomfortable moments.

Backstage, Zack is the second heel in a row, after his NOAH dojo sempai, to cut a promo that’s surprisingly respectful to his opponent, effectively sells his next match, and is a little bit On One. My main takeaway from this promo is that it finally made me realize that Dangerous Tekkers and Golden Ace will be back at it again on the last nights of both A Block and B Block. I could easily see Ibushi and Tanahashi winning both of these matches, and that could set up a pre-tag league title match at Power Struggle or something. But that might also mean G1 doom for Ibushi, either through Jay winning A Block or Ibushi making the final and losing – or I guess he could be in that many title pictures at once as G1 winner, maybe? The point is, the possibilities are there!

Tetsuya Naito def. Toru Yano

Naito has said in the past that he’s always happy to step into Yano’s world, and their G1 30 match is no exception. He enters the arena already on the Sublime Master Thief’s level and with no qualms about taking the match further into the realm of shenanigans, and that helps make the match funny from the start. Naito walks to the ring so slowly that it enrages Yano (and really shows off Yokohama Budokan’s fantastic lighting) and takes extra time stripping; Yano kind of gets him back by trolling Naito with his own pose set-up; et cetera.

I think every bit in this match works, and I like that it’s not just Naito trying to play Yano’s game and use his props, but Naito playing this like a Yano Rules match without changing his character to fit the circumstances. Case in point: when he offers Tsuji an L.I.J. fist bump after they get taped together, then denies it and uses him as a weapon.

Naito advances to 12 points with a flash pin and some good jokes, and now his chances at the final are partly in his hands and partly up to destino. This type of situation is not at all unfamiliar to Naito, but it’s much lower strakes this time around because he’s the double champion and he’s finally getting that beloved top babyface IWGP Heavyweight Championship run that eluded him for so long. This is why I will not feel bad when he almost definitely gets spoiled this weekend.

Evil def. Hirooki Goto

In the night’s semi-main event, Goto faces Evil in a fight for his tournament life, but it’s never convincing this is a fight he could win. The match is played as competitive, but under the circumstances, it’s too normal. Goto doesn’t need a normal win here; he needs a miracle, and this match never feels miraculous. It’s similar to his match with Naito earlier this tournament where the match isn’t interesting enough to feel exciting because of its pretty much foregone conclusion. Overall, Evil vs. Goto matches are ones I usually think could be cool but end up evaporating from my mind almost as soon as they happen, and their match on the 14th is no exception.

Sanada def. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Sanada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi could have run into the same issue as Goto vs. Evil (a lack of drama due to a predictable winner) but they avoid it, and I think most of the credit for that should go to the Ace. Even so many years and surgeries into his career, Tanahashi can deliver performances that will keep you guessing. He seems to always know the perfect time to go for an unexpected rollup vs. a smart counter vs. one of his classic moves. It’s the moments like his inside cradle counter to a Paradise Lock attempt, his transition of a frankensteiner into a Texas Cloverleaf, or his counter of an O’Connor roll with another O’Connor roll that help this match keep the viewer hooked in, even if they feel like they know to expect from Tanahashi vs. Sanada.

Sanada’s performance here is also pretty strong, though I think overshadowed by his opponent’s more creative one. The same qualities you can easily take issue with are still present in Sanada’s wrestling – he barely sells a body part after it’s been worked on for a while and the Skull End looks like people should be able to quickly sit up out of it – but his good qualities are more often on display. The crowd loves him and his athleticism is impressive and fun to watch. I also like that he wins the match with two moonsaults executed one right after the other in a way that brings to mind Tanahashi’s use of the High Fly Flow.

Tanahashi adds to the feeling of This Is A Big Match For Sanada with his promo backstage, in which he calls Sanada his most amazing opponent of the G1, and the guy he thinks a teenage fan would root for over him. This part of the promo seems meant to sell Sanada as a top babyface as much as possible, maybe even as one with Tanahashi-like appeal to desirable, maybe more casual fan demographics.

Tana saying this after a match where I think he out-performed the young babyface he’s working overtime to put over brings to mind that Sanada’s best matches of the tournament so far have been with stronger wrestlers, Naito and the Ace, who you could tell were the driving forces of those matches. NJPW’s definitely gotten me invested in Sanada beating Evil and I don’t begrudge the push of Sanada at all, but I think it’s worth noting that this is the level Sanada is on. He’s popular, he looks great, and he can have a good match, but he doesn’t wrestle like one of New Japan’s tippy top tier wrestlers, at least not yet.

I’ll see you back here to talk about his match with Evil, the rest of last nights of A and B Block, and the G1 final next week in a three-show mega-review that I’ll try to somehow make not too much longer than this one!

Match recommendations:

  • Night 15: Minoru Suzuki vs. Jay White
  • Night 16: Sanada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Points earned:
A Block:

    • 12 points – 6-2 – Jay White, Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi
    • 10 points – 5-3 – Will Ospreay
    • 8 points – 4-4 – Jeff Cobb, Taichi
    • 6 points – 3-5 – Minoru Suzuki, Shingo Takagi, Tomohiro Ishii
    • 0 points – 0-8 – Yujiro Takahashi

B Block:

  • 12 points – 6-2 – Evil, Tetsuya Naito
  • 10 points – 5-3 – Sanada, Zack Sabre Jr.
  • 8 points – 4-4 – Hirooki Goto, Kenta
  • 6 points – 3-5 – Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Toru Yano
  • 2 points – 1-7 – Yoshi-Hashi

Potential title shots earned:

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