The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
G1 Climax 27, Nights 1-12
All Across Japan, July 1st-August 3rd
This is the third year in a row where I’ve pledged to watch every single bout of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s illustrious G1 Climax tournament, barring the litany of skippable undercard tag matches. Twelve shows deep, I’ve yet to fall behind and, shockingly, I’ve yet to feel even an ounce of G1 fatigue. The keys to my success? I haven’t gotten up on the wrong side of dawn to stream the shows live, fully content to skip spoilers and catch up that evening or the next. My other major key is that I love the G1 Climax more than I love most other things, so getting a new fix of the best wrestling promotion in the world every other day has been a rare treat.
Perhaps for newer fans of puro, this weeks long endurance run is little more than filler until they get to see the sure to be superfluously Meltzer starred Okada/Omega III, but for those paying attention, this tournament is a beautiful sampling of NJPW’s best talents working their asses off to prove why their home promotion is so fucking untouchable. Now, that doesn’t mean every single match is somehow five stars or whatever. It’s twenty men wrestling over the course of nineteen shows in a month’s time. Every outing can’t be a modern classic, but to me, that’s just part of the fun. Every flavor of ice cream is represented and even some of the guys you like the least (for me, Tama Tonga) might end up having a really entertaining match (like the one he had against Kazuchika Okada on Day 12).
Everyone involved has some kind of story going for them, however small. Old heads like Yuji Nagata in A Block and Satoshi Kojima in B Block are turning in work with an intensity and vigor younger than their years, but neither has been able to produce a single win over their future replacements. Guys like Sanada and Yoshi-Hashi are making the most of their singles competition time here, with the former giving glimpses into future Acehood while the latter continues to be a believable underdog. Zack Sabre Jr, with an impressive win over Hiroshi Tanahashi on Day 1, has been a surprise and a delight in A Block, holding his own with the heavyweights and adapting his singular grapplefuck approach to the world of strong style.
Honestly, the big four (Okada, Tanahashi, Naito and Omega) are all having great matches, but feel like the least interesting presences. Okada is on an untouchable run that will probably run unabated until he meets Omega on the final day of B Block competition, while Omega himself struggles not to far too far behind in points. Tanahashi and Naito have been consistent performers, and their rematch on the final day of A Block will no doubt be a barn burner, but it’s a trio of grapplers who’ve held my attention the most thus far.
First, EVIL and Juice Robinson are each having an amazing tournament for two very different reasons. While he’s already been mathematically eliminated from winning the tournament, Robinson, who’s already had a great year, is painting beautiful babyface portraits every single night, fighting from underneath with a bum leg and displaying passion none of us could have foreseen back in his CJ Parker days. On the other hand, EVIL is living up to his namesake, racking up laudable wins and quietly having the most consistent match quality this side of Tomohiro Ishii. The G1 format of shorter, brutal sprints is perfectly suited to EVIL’s specific strengths as a performer and one can only hope he comes out of this tournament with a title shot at one of the secondary belts.
But for my money, the real MVP is Kota Ibushi. After a weird year of, well, doing whatever the fuck he wants, whenever he wants, Ibushi has stayed in one place long enough to remind us that, if he wanted to, he could easily be the top guy in NJPW. Every one of his matches feels different from the last, but every one is still distinctly Ibushi. We all want to see him and former Golden Lover partner Omega mix it up, and maybe we’ll get that chance in the Tokyo Dome, but no one performer has been as singularly compelling in the past few weeks as the Golden Star himself. When it’s all said and done he might just up and hit the road again, but this current body of work is argument enough that maybe he should stick around, for good.
Extra High Spots: Kenny and EVIL going through a table on Day 12 and EVIL looking like a monster in the final act of a horror film afterward. Okada getting so sick of Juice getting up again and again after getting his ass whipped on Day 10 that he just bursts into laughter before kicking him in the face. Literally anything Toru Yano has done with his breath of fresh air comedy matches. Oh, and Okada being shocked at Kojima’s crowd reaction on Day 8 and deciding to work heel, giving us a glimpse of the formerly bratty pro graps prince he used to be. All winning moments.
– Dominic Griffin
New readers to Deadshirt may want to check out the archives for Dominic Griffin’s In This Very Ring, the original Deadshirt wrestling column.
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