NJPW G1 Climax Nights 9-10 Review: Air Guitar Serotonin

Tanahashi tossed his air guitar to the person on the other side of the screen and now I no longer need to take Vitamin D supplements

Previously on the G1,  Sanada moonsaulted his way out of the jaws of mathematical elimination, and no wrestler was left undefeated.

Nights 9 and 10 of New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s annual heavyweight tournament are less dramatic, with no big upsets or shakeups in either block and with fewer exciting matches than other shows. But we do get an Ishii vs. Taichi match, some classic Tanahashi air guitar, Bullet Club popping off against itself, and an update about this year’s Best of the Super Juniors, so it’s not like there’s nothing going on.

G1 Climax 30 Night 9 – October 5, 2020 in Takamatsu – A Block

Shingo Takagi def. Yujiro Takahashi

Two nights before his main event, first-time-ever match against Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi just can’t string offense together against Yujiro Takahashi in the opener. Yujiro’s own offense is a lot more interesting than usual too— the stuff on the apron was smart!— and it’s fun to see Shingo take the low road, biting and hair-pulling back. The ref bump after two teases that Takagi might finally take it home briefly aged me by fifty years, but the first G1 use of the pimp stick was thwarted quickly and overall this match is an enjoyable opener to block competition. As much as Shingo is a main event tier guy, he also works well as someone to get you hyped for more wrestling through force of personality and lariat.

Jeff Cobb def. Jay White

Jeff Cobb and Jay White had possibly the worst match of last year’s G1, but on October 5 they have one of the show’s best. It’s lighthearted and not afraid to get goofy (Cobb smacks White and Gedo’s heads together like a cartoon) and leans into the good guy vs. bad guy of it all. It would be satisfying for the Jeff Cobb of this year’s G1 to throw around Switchblade Jay White any time, but White goes the extra mile and is just that much more annoying at the beginning of this match to exploit their dynamic to its fullest potential.

I also like how White deviates from his recently successful playbook of body-part targeting when he starts to control the match, hitting high impact moves one after the other to wear the big man down before focusing in on his knee. It makes sense in the match and successfully switching things up like this makes following his whole G1 a little more interesting. Ultimately, it’s not enough for the power of Cobb though, and the American wrestler wins the match with Tour of the Islands and Liger cheering him on. Cobb vs. White II is an athletically impressive and fun time, infinitely more fun to watch than Bullet Club would have if you stuck them all in a room together right now.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

After nearly two years of peace, Bullet Club is no longer fine. Evil and Kenta had a little tension after their match on the previous show, but Jay White dramatically escalates things via promo. It’s now clear there’s a power struggle between Jay and Kenta and Evil, which makes it seem like the division in the group will eventually be between the guys on NJPW Strong and the guys who were in Japan the whole time, though New Japan could easily switch that up depending on how this plays out.

While the cheating during Kenta vs. Evil caused this promo (and we’ll see if Jay leaves Gedo behind when he fights Yujiro, or if that concern over intra-faction cheating is totally hypocritical), Jay vs. Evil feels like the more natural leadership feud for a few reasons, and not just because Kenta is already wrapped up with the U.S. title picture. Evil’s accomplishments since he joined Bullet Club make it seem like he and White could be on equal footing now – their resumes are NJ Cup winner, one of two IWGP double champs ever, and a one defense double title reign (with the only defense against a junior) for Evil vs. a G1 finalist, a zero-defense IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign, one being one of the few to hold that title in his 20s for White. Jay’s right that Evil only achieved these things after joining Bullet Club, but the same is true him. Pre-BC, Evil was even arguably more successful than him with his tag team accomplishments and NEVER title reign, while Jay just had a U.S. title reign. White’s youth makes everything he achieves more impressive, but Evil is in his physical prime too.

The Jay White character has every reason to worry about Evil potentially usurping his position and plunging the Switchblade Era into the Darkness Era, and I’m interested in seeing where this feud goes and how an eventual grudge match between these two could play out even though the thought of another Bullet Club civil war after the last one mostly just makes me grit my teeth.

Kazuchika Okada def. Minoru Suzuki

Okada vs. Suzuki is a match that’s usually good to great, but here it’s okay. Okada has not looked great physically this G1 and that continues in this match; he’s just a lot lower intensity than he’s been in the past, and that’s easy to see in a match that recalls so many earlier matches over the past eight or so years (with a break for a NOAH exile.) Sorry my Okada G1 match reviews are turning into the one Jonny Carson Tonight Show bit I’m aware of, but I continue to think Lil Kazu’s performances aren’t meeting the kayfabe level of goodness he’s supposed to be at right now, when he’s tied for second place in his block.

Tomohiro Ishii def. Taichi

Taichi and Ishii had a series of matches last year that kicked ass and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Taichi can kick ass, and their G1 30 match kicks ass too. It’s hard-hitting and competitive, always exciting and often feeling like it could be anyone’s game. Taichi holds his own against one of New Japan’s toughest, then says backstage that he only wants to face him on an Olympic schedule because “If I have to keep fighting you, then there will be nothing left of me,” so in addition to a fantastic match, I’d say this is a heartwarming story about the true meaning of Ishii season.

Kota Ibushi def. Will Ospreay

Like in every other A Block review so far, I’m going to point to this article about the issues involving Will Ospreay that resurfaced during Speaking Out and have not been dealt with by any company he works for, and I’m going to tap the sign “this review column prioritizes the issue of widespread abuse in the wrestling industry above the ability to do wrestling moves.” There’s nothing else for me to say about this match except that Ibushi informs us afterward that he’s still very into becoming God even if no one else gets it, and also his teeth are fine now. So nobody worry about Ibushi’s teeth anymore and everybody get back to work finding the best pictures of him to put on votive candles.

G1 Climax 30 Night 10 – October 6, 2020, in Hiroshima – B Block

Hirooki Goto def. Toru Yano

Goto lost his previous match in under five minutes, and he bounces back dramatically here by beating Yano in 18 seconds. It’s such a short match that he looks shell shocked when Goto Shiki (his signature, rare, cool pinning combination) gets the three-count.

Backstage, Goto is deadly serious and dead set on winning the G1, and while his injured shoulder and the fact that he is Hirooki Goto in 2020 will probably put a stop to that, everything comes up samurai dad on October 6 and it’s a fun change of pace and a good moment. Yano continues to have the exact same G1 30 win-loss trajectory as Jay White.

Sanada def. Zack Sabre Jr.

Sanada and Zack Sabre Jr. have had several entertaining, grappling-heavy matches together, including high-profile bouts in the UK, U.S., and at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom. Their G1 match this week brings us a funny ZSJ promo that verges on a tantrum, but is one of the lesser entries in the series. A little like Okada vs. Suzuki the previous night, it just feels like a lower-intensity version of what NJPW viewers have seen these guys do before. It doesn’t help that some of Zack’s wrestling looks extra fake (that chokehold where his arms are mostly behind his back) and Sanada’s not usually a dramatic seller.

Importantly, Sanada’s moonsault win (“He beat me with a backflip!”) keeps up the undefeated streak he needs to make it to the final. It also stresses out Sabre so much he remembers his terrible (points-wise) G1 last year, challenges Sanada to a best of 437 series, and agrees to a tag title match that hasn’t been asked for yet. And speaking of the tag titles…

The Best of the World Tag League Super Junior Tour is coming

Before intermission, NJPW reveals that there will be both a Best of the Super Juniors and a World Tag League this weird year, and they’ll actually happen on the same tour from November 15 through December 6. I initially imagined this as shows that were half WTL, half BOSJ, but it turns out that aside from the opening and final nights, the tournaments will alternate days like A and B Block are doing now. If this is the safer way to do it during the pandemic then that’s definitely the way to go, but it’ll be interesting to see how this will impact the experience of following an already unusual tour.

When weighing the pros and cons of this tour, it seems like WTL gets more of the pros and BOSJ more of the cons. We’ve had juniors integrated into the New Japan Cup and KOPW, Hiromu challenging Evil, and that tiny junior tag tournament (with a great final) since New Japan came back from hiatus, but Best of the Super Juniors is usually the month-ish when the company’s short kings get to shine on their own, and it’s sad they don’t really get to have that this year. In contrast, I think World Tag League might get a little extra shine from association with one of NJPW’s most anticipated annual events, and one that gets more casual viewers to tune in (while recent WTLs have had people tuning out.)

Both of these tours have gotten bloated in recent years (BOSJ not as noticeably but now that they broadcast every match it’s impossible to keep up with), but the amount of shows makes it looks like they’ll probably have ten competitors each this year. That makes it seem like we might not see more international talent showing up for a while (you can easily fill ten-person/team tournaments with the wrestlers currently in Japan.) That would remove one of the most fun signature elements of BOSJ and, if there’s no FinJuice or G.o.D. as well as tragically no Evil and Sanada, make the World Tag League outcome more unexpected while also creating a vacuum of established teams. It’s easy to see positive and negative outcomes for these tournaments right now, but they’re still a month away, so let’s get back to the one we’re in the middle of right now.

Evil def. Juice Robinson

Evil defeats Juice in a straightforward good vs. well, evil, battle of two motivated heavyweights in their athletic primes. The chops are loud and the suplexes and brainbusters look like they have real force behind them. It’s supported by a spine of NJPW’s most hated heel right now beating up one of the company’s most natural and charming babyfaces. Juice continues to be truly great at making everyone feel his joy and his pain, while Evil winning with a thankfully not very drawn out ref distraction, low blow, and finisher is one of the most buzzkill endings New Japan can do right now. Juice vs. Evil probably won’t get ton of buzz because isn’t the flashiest match, but it’s well-executed and entertaining.

After the match, Juice becoming the first guy in NJPW to bring up Val Venis in relations to Dick Togo (and to pronounce it “Dick to go”) somehow isn’t the most memorable promo. Evil takes it back to 2018 by telling the Bullet Club leader “Don’t assume we all stand behind you.” So just in case you guessed Evil was going to take White’s lecture and go “You know what? You’re right. My bad.” and be fine with playing second or third fiddle in this faction after he got a cape with shoulder pauldrons with guns on them made, well, that was not a good guess!

Tetsuya Naito def. Yoshi-Hashi

Yoshi-Hashi has really stepped up his wrestling since the trios tournament. He’s had G1 bangers with Juice, Evil, and Tanahashi, and a strong-looking surprise win over Sanada. However, this turned out not to be enough for me to really buy that Yoshi-Hashi could hang nearly twenty-five minutes with Naito in a match that he dominates a large portion of and in which he is not presented as an underdog.

If Yoshi-Hashi’s been on his A-game this tournament, Naito’s been on his A-game at the top of a gifted kids’ program. He’s also the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental double champion, and this match did not inspire me to turn off the smark part of my brain and believe Yoshi-Hashi could win a shot at one or both of those titles – though the Hiroshima audience did sound very into some of those nearfalls at the end. This match was alright, but I think it would have been a lot better if they took a creative direction that better fit the histories of Naito and Yoshi-Hashi, and if they cut down the run-time a bit.

Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Kenta

The face vs. face Kenta vs. Tanahashi match from last year’s G1 was fraught with inter-promotional tension, but their main event on October 6, 2020, is a straightforward heel vs. face affair. It’s so straightforward and so similar to so many knee-based Tanahashi matches at the beginning that it takes a while to warm up, but it’s hot by the time Kenta and the Ace are slugging it out on the apron. I loved how this ended with Texas Cloverleaf, something we haven’t seen Tana score a big win with a long time; you could see where the match was going most of the time, but not right at the end, and I respect that.

The show closes with a classic Tanahashi air guitar segment, and wow, those will never not be the best. It’s actually such a classic segment that my theory is the sight of so many empty seats and the state of the company’s finances in the COVID-19 era causes the Ace to revert back to like, 2010. It’s once again Dark Days for the companies and Tanahashi knows just what to do – as much crowd work as possible! It’s already incredible that this guy can send wrestling crowds home by just yelling “I love you!” but that he can tearfully cut a promo about NJPW returning to a city and become so emotional about not everyone being able to get tickets and how he hopes “they stay with us” and everyone just loves him and is on board with this is next level carnie mastery.

Of course, it’s 2020 now, so this reversion to classic Ace form is at least a little delusional and probably not really needed; we have Naito doing a fantastic job as double champ, and Ibushi looking like easily do a purer babyface version of the same. But I’m not going to tell our beloved aging diva that after he threw an air guitar to “everyone watching at home;” I will simply close my browser with a tear in my eye and think about how good that Texas Cloverleaf was.

Match recommendations:

  • Night 9: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi
  • Night 10: Evil vs. Juice Robinson, also obviously Goto vs. Yano

Points earned:
A Block:

  • 8 points – 4-1 – Kota Ibushi
  • 6 points – 3-2 – Jay White, Kazuchika Okada, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Will Ospreay
  • 4 points – 2-3 – Jeff Cobb, Shingo Takagi, Tomohiro Ishii
  • 0 points – 0-5 – Yujiro Takahashi

B Block:

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

Potential title shots earned:

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