NJPW G1 Climax Nights 7-8 Review: A Gift from our Collective Boyfriend

"'When the big pizza pie hits the moon like your eye that's amore' - Neil Cicierega" - Sanada

When we last left New Japan Pro Wrestling, both A and B Block were led by two undefeated wrestlers, Jay White and Taichi for A and Toru Yano and Tetsuya Naito for B. In the two most recent G1 Climax events, nobody turns their 3-0 into a perfect 4-0, one person falls to the dreaded 0-4 score that means mathematical elimination from the tournament, and two fan-favorites finally get their first wins and keeping themselves in the game at 1-3.

G1 Climax 30 Night 7 – September 30, 2020, in Tokyo – A Block

Minoru Suzuki def. Yujiro Takahashi

A Block competition begins on September 30 with a win for Suzuki that’s as close to a jobber squash as NJPW tends to have. Yujiro continues to do a good job in his designated role and, with four losses, becomes the first person to be mathematically eliminated from this year’s G1. That’s not shocking, but he’s seemed so earnest about making the tournament this year that it is a little sad! Meanwhile, Suzuki gets a dominant win and two more points on the board, and by the end of the show, the NEVER Openweight Champion is in a five-way tie at the top of the block.

Kota Ibushi def. Jeff Cobb

Ibushi vs. Cobb is by far my favorite match on this show. As a style battle between two friend-shaped wrestlers who have never gone one-on-one before, it stands out from the get-go. Like Cobb-Suzuki began by referencing the performers’ similar shoot backgrounds, Cobb-Ibushi references their different ones, immediately going with the wrestler vs. kickboxer angle. Though Cobb loses, he again looks like a beast, throwing Ibushi around like a practice dummy, controlling him with amateur wrestling style-moves, and more than earning that “Mr. Athletic” nickname. He also breaks out the most brutal looking headbutts on a show with a Shingo-Ishii match, and that’s impressive and a little scary.

Ibushi has his good-looking offensive moments, but he comes out of the match looking like he survived more than he won, saved by the power of the Kamigoye. If this was an MMA fight, Ibushi’s win would have been a knockout in the third round when he was behind in points.

Ibushi follows up this win by cutting by far the most insane promo of the tournament about how his teeth have been loosening since the G1 started and he thinks he might be losing them, but that’s okay because winning is more important than his teeth. Ibushi pulling at the sides of his mouth to show us his teeth stressed me out and I hope he never does it again! Just wear a mouthguard!

Kazuchika Okada def. Taichi

The question going into this match is if Okada can put a stop to Taichi’s undefeated streak, and while it turns out he can, Taichi still comes out of this match looking as good or better than he has in any of the ones he won. He takes a similar approach to Jay White and focuses on Okada’s now slightly more taped-up back. Because he and White have such different offensive styles, this doesn’t feel repetitive at all. I don’t think there’s any part of this match where Taichi looks bad, but the one where he looks standout awesome is when it looks like we might get a Rainmaker from Okada, but Taichi hits a wrist-control Axe Bomber instead.

For most of the match, Okada does not look awesome, but they make it work. The back injury continues to be a good explanation for why he’s not the godlike being who ruled New Japan two years ago. I like that since his injury is just lower than the area of the body where wrestlers land for standard back bumps, Okada can play up his injury by just selling every back bump like he’s your uncle with sciatica who still insists on moving all the heaviest boxes on his own. It’s resourceful!

Okada looks legitimately in pain and beaten down and that makes the relatively few moments where he’s on top shine, except for the winning Cobra Clutch sequence. I hate writing something like this about every match Okada wins, but the Money Clip still does not look good, and it’s annoying that this is the only submission in NJPW that regularly results in referee stoppages. We haven’t seen Suzuki fully choke someone out with his actual good-looking rear naked choke in forever, but the Money Clip is the most devastating submission in this company.

And it’s not like they’re implying he can’t get the job done with the Money Clip; when will he figure out he needs to use the Rainmaker and get his act together? because he made it to the New Japan Cup final with this move, occasionally supplemented by lesser versions of the Rainmaker. It’s supposed to be a good move. Whenever Okada finally hits a classic Rainmaker it’ll be an amazing moment because that’s such an iconic move, but I really don’t think every match he wins needs to suck a little bit until then to achieve that effect.

Will Ospreay def. Jay White

Will Ospreay vs. Jay White is a rematch between two guys who got a Future Of The Company stamp of approval when they main-evented last year’s anniversary event, and the second of two matches on this show in which a babyface goes up against an undefeated heel and knocks him down a peg.

As I’ve noted in every A Block review so far and in a piece of Normal Journalism, there is credible evidence that Ospreay took part in the blacklisting of UK wrestler Pollyanna after she came forward about being raped by one of his friends. Despite releasing a new Code of Conduct in response to the exposing of the widespread abuse, often sexual and against women, in the wrestling industry known as the Speaking Out movement, RevPro is completely fine with keeping Ospreay as their champion and face of the company without even a slap on the wrist for his alleged actions, which throws their whole commitment to putting the “professional” in professional wrestling into question. NJPW still hasn’t acknowledged the situation with Ospreay, nor the many allegations about Chase Owens, who still appears on NJPW Strong, engaging in sexual misconduct with minors. It’s not a good look, to say the least.

As someone for whom the issues brought up by Speaking Out, including the threat of blacklisting, were a big part of my professional life for years, it’s impossible for me to watch this guy’s matches without feeling sick, and I think that’s at least as valid of a take as those from people who can act like wrestling is separate from real life (something that I’ve previously written I think helps perpetuate the circumstances exposed by Speaking Out) and enjoy cool moves.

One aspect of watching other people watch Ospreay post-Speaking Out has been watching people realize, after the year when it was considered sacrilege and objectively stupid to call him anything other than the best wrestler in the world, that he is terrible at promos and his character work is all over the place. Ospreay’s depiction of himself as a person has always been this out of touch as it is now, just in a different way, and people found it easy to ignore because they liked is in-ring work and/or because they ignored or were ignorant of the blacklisting allegations against him. Being bad at promos is not a deadly sin and a wrestler can suck at some aspects of wrestling and still be over, popular, and successful at their job, but it’s ridiculous to insist as feverishly as people were doing last year that someone with no skills at central aspects of wrestling simply must be regarded as the best at the art form.

I try to avoid doing Wrestling Criticismism in these articles, but that someone could be bad at almost every part of wrestling besides doing wrestling moves and declared by almost every notable English-language source that covers NJPW and by every critical metric taken seriously to be the undisputed best wrestler in the world, then maybe those critical metrics are not all that useful. Also, maybe that so many promoters subscribe to this line of thinking along with the general dismissal of anything that’s mainly popular with “women and kids” goes a long way towards explaining why wrestling, even wrestling that doesn’t have the same creative and moral issues as WWE, is so unpopular in the English-speaking world right now.

Tomohiro Ishii def. Shingo Takagi

Tomohiro Ishii and Shingo Takagi’s first match was one of the best of last year’s G1, with extra hype because it was part of Takagi’s super-streak at the end of the tournament that solidified him as a top-tier heavyweight to the New Japan audience. Shingo’s NEVER title defense against Ishii was also good, but not as great. While their third match, the September 30 main event, is enjoyable a lot of the time, it also makes it look like this pairing has diminishing returns.

Part of what made their first match so great was that it was fully balls to the wall feral the whole time, and that’s not the case with this match. I don’t think it’s an issue that they take things slower at the beginning, especially since they’re doing so much trash talking and being so performative about being Tough Guys, but after a certain point they’re doing bigger moves and getting nearfalls, but it’s not really exciting because you can tell they’re not at the level of intensity they’re usually at when they win matches. If this was five minutes shorter I think it would have helped a lot, but it’s twenty-six minutes and some of those minutes are long.

That being said, I still really enjoyed the first ten or fifteen minutes of this match before it was clear it was going the distance, and these two provided plenty of insane moments. During their signature sequence of mutually headbutting each other like maniacs, Shingo sells (or “sells?”) an extra-loud one in a way that draws audible concern from the audience, the only time Korakuen breaks the “scream inside your heart” rule. And when they edged towards each other after the match, held hands for a second, then started the headbutts again was completely deranged and closed the show on a high note.

The match’s result kills Takagi’s one match streak of G1 momentum and finally puts Ishii on the board. Crucially, it also gives us a rare Ishii promo about how this wasn’t even that intense, this was every day for him, and this fight was on a higher level than wins and losses. When I get sad about Ishii never winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship I’ll try to think of this promo and remember that testing the strength of his opponent’s skull and chest meat is simply more important to him, and he probably doesn’t mind.

G1 Climax 30 Night 8 – October 1, 2020, in Nagaoka – B Block

Juice Robinson def. Toru Yano

Yano vs. Juice takes Yano’s whole deal to its full Looney Tunes potential. Juice babyfaces it up and hams it up, hindered by no obligation to keep a cool or sexy image like Sanada, Evil, and Tanahashi have. He and Yano both fully commit to slapstick ridiculousness, and that energy along with bits like the T-shirt trick, hand sanitizer attacks, and the mostly English, always yelled dialogue, make this a really fun and funny six-ish minutes.

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Hirooki Goto

Zack Sabre Jr. vs Hirooki Goto is even shorter than the Yano match that precedes it, and it’s great. ZSJ latches on to Goto’s increasingly taped-up shoulder to great success, but he also throws some kicks at a guy way better at kicks than him. If you’ve seen enough Sabre matches, you can see how this could play out in his or Goto’s favor. But rather than a 15-minute battle in the style of Kenta vs. Sabre, we get a really fun surprise ending that reminds everyone that ZSJ can ruin anyone’s G1 life.

Goto goes on an offensive tear and sets up an early GTR, but the noodle man slips out of the hold and maneuvers Goto into a rollup for the win. It happens in a way that you’re not immediately sure what’s happening, and then there’s the three count. I rarely react audibly to wrestling at home, but I was so surprised I yelled at my computer.

While we’re all reminded of ZSJ’s spoiler powers, Goto looks like he’s going to have a miserable time through October 18 because of the damage Kenta did to his shoulder in his first tournament match. At least it’s more flattering than another angle about whether or not he’s fully washed?

Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Yoshi-Hashi

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yoshi-Hashi is a very normal, competitive, face vs. face match made more interesting by the novelty of this upgraded version of Yoshi-Hashi. He fights smart against Tana by working the knee, he pulls off some good-looking dodges and counters, and his recent win over Sanada makes one of his nearfalls towards the end of the match so credible I really thought for a second that he might beat the Ace. It’s a completely different singles match than their previous one in 2018, the G1 when Tanahashi was trying to take Yoshi-Hashi and Hangman Page under his wing (in October 2020, this potential stable lineup looks very prescient!)

While I enjoyed most of this match, the extended Butterfly Lock sequence took me out of it for what felt like several minutes. That feels annoying to write in an article where I also whine about the Money Clip, but NJPW is experiencing a plague of bad-looking submission finishers (also counting the singles match track record of Skull End.) I know we’re not in one of the decades of this company when most of the wrestlers have judo or other martial arts backgrounds anymore, but pro wrestling submissions can really look so much better and induce so much more drama than these and it’s a bummer that New Japan seems completely content to have all these whack-looking moves regularly and prominently featured in its matches.

Evil def. Kenta

Kenta vs. Evil is not bad, but not especially good either. The most interesting thing about the match is seeing Kenta play the default babyface, with Evil targeting his surgically-repaired shoulder and cheating as much as he would against anyone else. There’s some tension between the two after the match that hints maybe we could see a leadership struggle down the line between Jay, Kenta, and Evil, or some future division between the Bullet Club guys who were on NJPW Strong and the guys who were on NJPW Normal, but this match isn’t especially intense or dramatic. Bullet Club Evil vs. Bullet Club Kenta is fine.

Sanada def. Tetsuya Naito

Out of all the G1 30 main events so far, Sanada vs. Naito is the one with the most underlying current drama. The stakes are extremely high both personally and professional. Sanada and Naito are in the same faction and Sanada has never beaten Naito. Naito is the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental double champion and at 3-0 in the G1, while Sanada is perpetually beltless and, at 0-3, at risk of being mathematically eliminated from the tournament. Naito also mentioned before the G1 started that this was the tournament match he was most looking forward to, and cut a promo just ahead of this match with a little extra trolling/mind games for his hermano (that’s how he shows he cares.)

Sanada and Naito completely live up to this build in a nearly thirty-minute match that keeps the viewer hooked every second. They never let the tension or aggression between them slip and they combine their signature moves in a way that keeps you guessing what will happen next. There are so many standout moments I could mention, like Naito setting up a Frankensteiner but Sanada sliding out of it and dropkicking him headfirst into the post, the sequence where they counter the set up for the Destino into the setup for the TKO and then reverse that and then reverse that, and simpler moments like the way Sanada runs at Naito to elbow him when they find themselves in opposite corners of the ring.

(Since this is the Whining About Submission Finishers article I should make sure to mention that I still think extended Skull End sequences in long singles matches do not look good, but this one happens in the context of such a strong match that it’s easier to sit through.)

Along with all the quality wrestling action, this match is weirdly heartwarming in a very L.I.J.-specific way. Naito isn’t just aggressive (like he’s been every match this tournament), but he wrestles like a total dick against Sanada, especially at the beginning of the match, and you can tell (partly because of his promo ahead this match) that it’s because Naito, as both a performer and a character, is leaning into the crowd’s inevitable support of his opponent. If we know two things about L.I.J. Naito, we know that he loves 1) his friends and 2) Bad Attention, so this is kind of a win-win for him, even though it’s also a loss.

Naito puts over Sanada hard, and Sanada makes the most of that push in and after the match, when we get Romantic Sanada for the first time in what feels like forever. He now has to go undefeated for the rest of the tournament in order to have a chance at the final, and if he pulls it off, it’s clear he’ll have the audience’s support.

NJPW

Match recommendations:

  • Night 7: Jeff Cobb vs. Kota Ibushi
  • Night 8: obviously Toru Yano vs. Juice Robinson, also Tetsuya Naito vs. Sanada

Points earned:
A Block:

  • 6 points – 3-1 – Jay White, Kota Ibushi, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Will Ospreay
  • 4 points – 2-2 – Kazuchika Okada
  • 2 points – 1-3 – Jeff Cobb, Shingo Takagi, Tomohiro Ishii
  • 0 points – 0-4 – Yujiro Takahashi

B Block:

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

Potential title shots earned (with the names of people who have acknowledged them in italics):

  • IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships: Sanada
  • NEVER Openweight Championship: Taichi
  • Contract for an IWGP U.S. Championship match: Juice Robinson
  • RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi
  • KOPW 2020 (if that’s how this works): Juice Robinson
  • IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Tetsuya Naito, Kenta, Kazuchika Okada
  • NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: Juice, Kenta, Suzuki, Ospreay, Evil, Ibushi, Naito, ZSJ, Tanahashi
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Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes about pro wrestling for Fanbyte and Deadlock. Her other bylines include With Spandex on UPROXX, Orange Crush, Mind Games Magazine, FanSided WWE, and Diva Dirt.

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One Comment

  1. great recap! totally right re: submissions in NJPW. the crabs in the young lions matches are way more dramatic than anything the veterans do.
    re: Ospreay, I don’t watch too much of the post-match comments but his promo work against Phantasmo and in the Robbie Eagles storyline were great. can’t remember if that was last year exactly, but he can do good stuff. and I think he was so out of this world it was fair to say he was the best without being into the promos. Ishii is one of the best and I don’t think I’ve seen like more than like three of his promos. (Less into Ospreay this year though.)

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