A great show from top to bottom propped up with a solid undercard, some exciting previews for the next night of tournament action, and a series of tremendous A Block matches building in intensity one after another. Nothing on the card was close to bad, and while this didn't have the blow-away instant classics that other nights of the G1 will most certainly have, there were a couple of show-stealing performance, a career best from Lance Archer, and a technical marvel from two great up-and-comers.
- GoD v Roppongi 3K
- Narita/Cobb v Umino/Ishii
- White/Owens v Goto/YH
- Los Ingobernables v Liger/Juice/Yano
- A Block: Ospreay v Archer
- A Block: EVIL v Fale
- A Block: Sanada v Sabre Jr.
- A Block: KENTA v Ibushi
- A Block: Okada v Tanahashi
NJPW G1 Climax Day 1
July 6, 2019
— Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero are on commentary live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The crowd looks small from some of the shots with so many open seats, but it’s a huge building so there’s still at least 4,000 people there.
Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Roppongi 3K
A big test for the former IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions here as they take on the current ROH and IWGP heavyweight tag team champions from Bullet Club. There’s a lot of that happening on this card here, actually.
SHO and YOH attacked before the bell and got in some great early offense. GoD took over and slowed things down for a few minutes, until SHO rallied back with some hard knee strikes and dropkicks. YOH tagged in and the two clean house – they got a great reaction from the crowd throughout this whole match. They set up for the 3K but Tama Tonga strikes out of nowhere with a Gun Stun. Loa brawls with SHO to the outside and YOH takes an Avalanche Razor’s Edge from the top rope.
A fun opening match that got in, and got out, perhaps a bit too quickly. Roppongi 3K looked strong and were popular with the Dallas crowd, but the double champs were the right team to go over. A good opener, but with no build or backstory, it wasn’t much more than that.
Ren Narita & Jeff Cobb vs. Shota Umino & Tomohiro Ishii
This is our preview for the upcoming Cobb/Ishii tournament match, with the top two Young Lions thrown in because NJPW loves us (and loves punishing Young Lions more). Cobb started things off with Ishii but was a bit too confident in his abilities and gut turned out with a running shoulder tackle as a result. The Stone Pitbull worked over Narita for awhile until Cobb got the hot tag and ran through everyone with suplexes here, there and everywhere. He and Ishii traded forearms bashing each other in the face, before Umino comes out of nowhere with a missile dropkick. Everyone was excited to see Umino and gave him a great pop when he finally suplexed Cobb. Unfortunately for the Young Lion, Cobb then nailed him with a spinning back fist, a standing moonsault, then threw him into the ropes for a Tour of the Islands. Goodnight, sweet prince.
Oh boy, the upcoming Cobb/Ishii match is going to be a whole lot of fun if this preview is any indication. The crowd was hot and even know the Young Lions, especially Umino. Cobb really came off like a star here, and went blow for blow with the Stone Pitbull. Another good undercard match that did exactly what it was supposed to.
Jay White & Chase Owens vs. Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi
White refused to get in the ring early on, so Goto just beat the hell out of Chase Owens to work out some of his frustrations. After a nasty lariat, Yoshi-Hashi came in for a few shots of his own, but White attacked him from behind and took him to the floor, smashing him into the barricade, the ring steps, the apron, etc. This slowed things down momentarily, until Goto got the hot tag and smashes in Jay’s face with about a dozen forearms, before dropping him on his back with a series of Saito suplexes.
White reversed a GTR and hit a Saito suplex of his own. Owens tagged in and delivers a great twisting brainbuster, followed by a running knee strike with an exposed knee. He went for the Package Piledriver to put things away, but Goto fought out and dropped him with a spinning backfist and the Ushigoroshi. After another huge kick to the chest, the GTR connects and this one is over.
Another solid undercard match promoting another upcoming G1 match from the B Block, although probably my least favorite of the four tags. Owens was given some time to show off, and Yoshi-Hashi was… well, he was there too. At the very least the physicality between White and Goto was great, and a good sign for their singles match.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Toru Yano & Juice Robinson
Naito got a huge reaction when he came out, second only to everyone going nuts for Jushin Liger. There were loud “Thunder Liger!” chants that extended well into the match. That crowd was obviously in-tune with the NJPW product and most, if not all of them knew he’s retiring in January, so even though this was just a random 6-man tag, there was a buzz to it. Everyone seemed really grateful just to see him live, maybe for the last time.
Liger caught BUSHI with an early tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and put him in the Romero Special, but the other LIJ members broke it up and put the boots to him. The beating continued for a few minutes while they worked him over with quick tags. Liger eventually dropped Shingo with a Shotei and made the hot tag to Juice, who came in and cleaned house.
One big thing I want to point out here is Juice’s offense with Shingo Takagi. The later is coming off an undefeated run (until the finals) in the Best of the Super Juniors, but is now mixing it up with heavyweights in the G1. While he’s still booked strong and looks like a beast, you can also tell he’s not as dominant as he’d be against a junior heavyweight. Juice actually ends up getting the better of him more than once. I love that, and it was obviously done intentionally.
Things break down into a more comedic brawl towards the end, as Toru Yano kept trying to remove turnbuckle pads, and Naito kept stopping him. He hit a triangle dropkick then took off a turnbuckle pad himself. Yano tried to roll him up with a handful of tights, but Bushi made the save and hit a missile dropkick into the exposed corner. They all killed Yano with triple dropkicks, everyone fought to the outside, and in the confusion Yano punched BUSHI in the balls and rolled him up to win.
A pretty okay match made way better by a hot crowd that really just wanted to see Jushin Liger do his greatest hits. Naito was also understandably over as hell, and Shingo got a good reaction coming off a year-stealing performance in BOSJ. I’m certain the way they’re booking Shingo against heavyweights here is intentionally, and that takes a lot of careful planning and different people being involved to make it work, but if I’m right it’s going to tell an awesome story over the course of this tournament.
A Block Tournament Match: Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer
After some explosive offense early on, Archer spent a good portion of the match bludgeoning him with huge moves and doing serious damage to the Aerial Assassin’s weakened back. A jack-knife powerbomb into the apron sealed the deal. Ospreay refused to stay down and threw everything in his kit at the super heavyweight Suzuki-Gun star – including an early 450, the Sasuke Special, a springboard flash kick, and even a Code Red on the floor – but it was never enough.
Ospreay hits a coast-to-coast dropkick with Archer caught up in the ropes, followed by a beautiful Shooting Star Press. He finally gets the Oscutter but it’s still not enough. Archer knocks him out cold on the top rope with a big boot, and actually connects with the Muscle Buster for a nearfall. He applies the old Von Erich claw squeezing the life out of the UK star, went to the top rope looking for a chokeslam, but Ospreay turned it into a Super Spanish Fly. He’s unable to lift the big man for Stormbreaker, and Archer puts him back in the Iron Claw. Will passes out, Archer puts him back on the top rope and connects with an Avalanche Black Out to win the match.
This may have been the best Lance Archer match I’ve ever seen. I genuinely didn’t expect the Suzuki-Gun star to go over, but I love that they’re actually embracing Ospreay’s struggle as a junior heavyweight star – perhaps THE junior heavyweight star – competing against the best heavyweights in the world, and genuinely not knowing how that’s going to go. They could have ignored it and just treated him like everyone else, but this is a rare case in wrestling where the underdog is actually one of the best wrestlers in the world, but is still simultaneously a legitimate and believable underdog. Much like Shingo Takagi, I’m very interested in seeing how Ospreay’s path in the G1 plays out.
A Block Tournament Match: EVIL vs. Bad Luck Fale
Hoss fight! EVIL goes right after him as soon as the bell sounds with a big tackle out of the ring, and actually hits a suplex on the floor. They fight up to the ramp and Fale flips him overhead onto the metal, and things slow down quite a bit from there. Eventually EVIL mounts his comeback and hits another body slam, and wasted no time in going for a steel chair, blasting the big man with it several times.
EVIL hits a series of lariats in the corner but gets sent flying with a shoulder tackle. Fale squashes him with a running splash and goes to get his own chair. We’re the in the U.S. so there are actual metal wrestling chairs, not the weird tiny ones they have at Japanese events. EVIL kicks the chair into his face but runs into a chokeslam. The two brawl around and in the chaos the referee goes down. The finish comes when Fale throws a chair into his face, puts another chair around his neck, and swings for the fences. The Bad Luck Fall connects, and it’s over.
Unfortunately, this was probably the worst match of the night. To be clear, it wasn’t bad by any means. Fale got his first two points over a tough competitor, EVIL looked tremendous in trying and succeeding to take the big man down; he just couldn’t keep him down. It got a bit too slow in the middle and probably could have shaved a few minutes of the total runtime, but the pace picked up considerably at the end and the home stretch was really well put together. The chair spots specifically were well done.
A Block Tournament Match: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA
Chain grappling. All of the chain grappling. If you like Zack Sabre Jr. matches you’re going to go insane for this one. In a rare showing, Sanada scouted literally everything the Suzuki-Gun submission specialist threw at him. Every time he overturned a submission hold or out-grappled his opponent the crowd got a bit louder. The two traded wild pin attempts and even tried to put each other in the Paradise Lock, go back to trading counter-for-counter… It just keeps going and going. They even did a long sequence based on a simple old school strangle hold, reversing it several times, and it was excellent.
Sanada tries a different approach with some nasty elbow strikes and chops, and finally locks in the Paradise Lock. He hits a dropkick and the crowd goes wild. Sabre locks in the Octopus Stretch out of nowhere leading to another lengthy exchange. He eventually transitions the hold to a front-mounted triangle choke and Sanada breaks it with a little Twist & Shout using the ropes. He locks in the Skull End for about 20 seconds before breaking it, going to the top and connecting with a moonsault. Sabre caught him in a cross armbreaker out of nowhere, Sanada reverses into a small package, they go back and forth with more wild pinning combinations, and the LIJ star takes the win with a Northern Lights bridge.
I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here, but this was my favorite match of the night. Zack Sabre Jr. excels at literally everything I love most about professional wrestling, so I’m admittedly a bit naturally predisposed to be into whatever these guys want to put together. To his credit, SANADA is the first person I’ve ever seen match ZSJ hold for hold, and actually proved at times that he could do it better. I’ve watched him put on clinics just dominating guys like Tanahashi and even Okada, but for whatever reason SANADA is just his Kryptonite. I’m excited to watch both these guys’ careers play out, because I have a feeling this isn’t the last time we see Sabre Jr. and SANADA in a big matches.
A Block Tournament Match: KENTA vs. Kota Ibushi
Loud dueling chants kick this off with firm support for both sides. KENTA takes control right away and takes him to the mat, but gets a bit cocky and slaps his opponent across the face a few times. Bad move. Ibushi fires up and nearly kills him with a spinning backfist, but is caught up in emotion and gets baited into the ropes where KENTA kneed him in the face and hit a double foot stomp to the back.
KENTA is playing the cocky villain, too good to be here, and isn’t taking Ibushi safe. He even stood on Ibushi’s chest at one point and struck a pose, in between these thunderous kicks to the chest. He might be the only person on the planet to have heavier kicks than Kota Ibushi. They trade offense back and forth with KENTA hitting diving lariats and using his insane kicks, while Ibushi lays in with elbow strikes and some really nasty looking knee strikes. He dove to the floor with an excellent pescado over the ropes, but the former 205 Live star dropped him out of the air with a jumping knee.
KENTA goes on a solid run dominating the match for a few minutes, after hitting a double foot stomp through his opponent’s chest for a nearfall. He tries for the GTS but Ibushi wriggles free and hit a big lariat, followed by the Golden Star Powerbomb. They trade murderous strikes and chops until neither guy can stand on their own, and are both basically dead. KENTA sets in with huge kicks to the back of the head and keeps going – four, five, six, seven times. He picks his opponent back up, hits a Buzzsaw Kick, then hits the GTS, and scores the victory.
This was simultaneously great, while also answering zero questions. The big one going in was, “Is KENTA really back?” Well, it’s hard to say. On one hand they both worked extremely hard, left it all in the ring, and had a great, physical match. On the other, Ibushi can work a perfect match with a mop. The match was really, really good, but in my estimation just shy of being really great. That being said, this was KENTA’s first match leaving WWE back in January, and he hasn’t had to go at this pace in… literally years. If that performance was him with ring rust, we’re in for a very good tournament.
A Block Tournament Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
The crowd is HOT for the main event. Okada and Tanahashi are given the reception of massive rock stars, and the opening bell had that Rock/Hogan vibe where they blew the roof off the arena just by looking at each other from across the ring. They take things slow to start out, with Okada getting the better of a lock-up and backing his rival into the ropes. Tanahashi gets the better of a second exchange, does the same thing, but is sent to the floor with a big dropkick.
The champion takes over for a few minutes slowing things down as he works Tanahashi’s arm and shoulder, throwing him hard into the barricade. He does his great running leap into the fans and eventually takes the fight back to the ring, where the Ace catches him with a series of Dragon Screws in the ropes, turning the tide momentarily. Okada with a Flapjack followed by the Red Ink, but his knee kept giving out in between moves and he was slowed down, despite being able to hit an elbow drop from the top rope.
Tanahashi with a roll-up out of nowhere for a nearfall at the 15-minute mark. He locks in a Texas Cloverleaf and wrenches on the damaged knees. He eventually breaks the hold and sets up the Super High Fly Flow all the way out to the floor, busting it out for the first time in months. After rolling back into the ring he hits Twist & Shout, but Okada nails him with a shotgun dropkick. Another dropkick from the champ, but Tanahashi rallies with a Slingblade and hits a standing High Fly Flow.
At this point the crowd is going insane with dueling chants. Okada tries for the Tombstone but his knees keep buckling. He ducks a Slingblade and nails a short-arm Rainmaker out of nowhere, then hoists him back up for a second Rainmaker. Okada doesn’t even go for the cover and the Ace takes advantage, rolling him up and delivering a Dragon Suplex bridge for a close nearfall. He blocks the Rainmaker several times, eventually breaking wrist control, but Okada scoops him up for a twisting Tombstone Piledriver, then connects with the Rainmaker a third time to win.
This was a Greatest Hits of the greatest rivalry in the modern history of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. It was far from being the best match of their saga, but given they’ve had six matches hit the “five star” benchmark, and one that actually exceeded the scale, that’s hardly a bad thing. They could have gone with a draw, but this was hardly the right crowd. This crowd was fired up from the minute they locked eyes, and treated them both like Kings. They were determined to make this an all-time classic, and everyone I’ve talked to that saw it live thought it was pure magic. They’ve had better matches, but this was the right call for this crowd, on this night, who came to see Tanahashi hit his big moves, and to see Okada the great world champion do the Rainmaker pose and have a great match.
A great show from top to bottom propped up with a solid undercard, some exciting previews for the next night of tournament action, and a series of tremendous A Block matches building in intensity one after another. Nothing on the card was close to bad, and while this didn’t have the blow-away instant classics that other nights of the G1 will most certainly have, there were a couple of show-stealing performance, a career best from Lance Archer, and a technical marvel from two great up-and-comers.