As always, I've got a very simple five point scale laid out where a 1 is total skip, 2 you can probably skip unless you love one of the folks in it, 3 is a match that's worth watching but not necessarily worth making time for, a 4 is a solid recommendation to make time for if you can, and a 5 is a must-watch.
Mind you, these are not star ratings. They're not meant to be absolute ratings in any sense, but rather a simple (and hopefully sensible) way to determine if a match is worth your time. A one is not necessarily a bad match, but rather just one I feel like you're best off skipping. I have my biases, of course, but hopefully I can make it easy for you to adjust for them.
And of course, because this is the G1 Climax, we'll be focusing on tournament matches only for the duration and keeping it relatively short and sweet, folks-- we've got 19 shows to get through here in less than a month, after all.
Night 1 (A Block, July 17)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yuji Nagata (4): Nagata in charge early, getting a near submission only about a minute in with a cross armbar, but Tacos is game to grapple with the veteran and doesn't seem to let it get to him. Shift to striking, Yuji still very much in control, but the match spills outside and HASHI seizes the opportunity. Looking to lock Blue Justice down with a chinlock proves a mistake and the match turns into a full-on slugfest.
A classical story of the old lion looking to prove himself on one last hunt well told, a statement match from both men to kick their tournaments off with a bang, and very much worth your time.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Togi Makabe (3): Bull moose strength testing is the order of the day here before they spill outside and Fale uses Makabe's chain to drag him deep in the crowd looking for the count-out. This sets Makabe up to be on the back foot in a bad way once things go back to the ring, but the Unchained King Kong is resilient and stays in it. This one is pretty average but they got a surprising amount of drama out of some ordinarily pedestrian nearfalls and the finish was real cool, so I'm gonna call it right down the middle here.
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii (3): Clubbing away right from the jump! Ishii pulls ahead but Goto isn't just lying down, trading bombs, this is intense and hard-hitting action in the NEVER tradition. A lot of good jockeying for position here, too, lots of snappy exchanges. Not the most compelling example of its kind, and it never exactly leaves the gear it started in, but still a fine match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (5): Grappling early, the 1/100 Dude smart enough to keep the bad arm away from the Technical Wizard, so the story plays out that Sabre picks whatever's available to him, Tanahashi has a smart counter, and we stalemate for a couple rounds. Eventually ZSJ gets a catch armbar off on the bad arm but Hiroshi is able to maneuver him such that he has to change holds a few time and they end up in the ropes.
From there it's all bad arm all the time, Sabre adding in strikes for good measure, Tanahashi trying to return but immediately regretting using the bad arm for an uppercut at one point! One-armed Ace going after the legs in his usual style but he's let down by the bad arm time and again!
I could sit here and list out highlight after highlight, but this is incredibly smart wrestling from two of the best around. I will say there was stuff here, that, owing to Tanahashi's legitimately torn bicep, made me sick to my stomach, but it's SUCH a compelling story that I can't not give it the full recommendation. Watch this, and watch it as soon as humanly possible.
Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito (5): Naito disrespectful from the jump, spitting and napping but Ibushi brings it right back to him. The story quickly develops of the Stardust Genius going after Kota's neck with a litany of neckbreakers, a lotus lock, a cravate, just unloading the whole drawer.
Ibushi comes back despite it all, strike rush and the Golden Triangle, carving out a space for himself, Naito is able to use the neck to put him right back down but the Golden Star stays alive time and again. Bombs on bombs, every last weapon in each man's arsenal coming into play from top rope Poison Frankensteiners to springboard German suplexes to stuff that isn't a normal part of their arsenals like the second rope piledriver Ibushi busted out!
You knew it going in, I knew it going in, this match is an easy must-watch and you should probably get at it if you haven't, folks.
Night Two (B Block, July 20)
Juice Robinson vs. Satoshi Kojima (4): Kojima in the lead during the feeling-out process but they stalemate out during early finisher attempts. Things head outside and Robinson eats an apron DDT but is able to recover and put the leader of Bread Club into the barricade and take charge when they return to the ring. Soon Kojima's able to make things more even, into the obligatory slugfest, but the veteran's tank is increasingly low and every opening created takes a little more out of him.
This started off slow but picked up in a big way-- I initially settled on going down the middle but they turned the heat up enough that I'm bumping this up a notch. Very much a good bookend to A Block's Nagata/HASHI.
Michael Elgin vs. Tama Tonga (3): Speed vs. power as Tonga tries to create an opening but BIG MIKE cuts him off repeatedly. and again, the action spills outside as the tide turns. Back in, Elgin increasingly in control once more as he recovers, but Tama is resilient and enough has been taken out of BIG MIKE that every maneuver the Bad Boy gets off is worth three in return. A game of inches, this was enjoyable but never quite grabbed me.
EVIL vs. SANADA (3): This was, uh, ungovernable, with faux sportsmanship giving way to EVIL going to town on his stablemate in his usual fashion with chairs. SANADA gets his licks in but the King of Darkness is thoroughly in charge until he gets cut down with a stunner from the top rope to the floor! Equalized, they slug it out, starting to trade bombs (including, at one point, a sweet standing shiranui setup into Skull End), and it all adds up to another that's good, but not all the way into "you gotta watch this" territory.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Toru Yano (3): Gedo proves the equalizer early, Okada well in charge but when referee Red Shoes Unno mysteriously gets in Okada's way the turnbuckle pad comes loose and it's more of an even fight. The action spills outside and we get a double countout nearfall on account of everyone's gentleman's area being a bit sore. Really top end sequence in here with a low blow caught into a Rainmaker, ducked, and Yano picked the leg into a nearfall.
I was a little down on this at first but the more I think about it the closer I think Okada was to engaging Yano's schtick as an actual part of the match (as opposed to shenanigans sprinkled on top as so often happens), and so while this isn't exactly essential, I'm not putting it in the bin either.
Kenny Omega vs. Minoru Suzuki (5): A match of three acts, with initial brawling giving Suzuki an opportunity to hobble Omega, taking a chair to him against the barricade and forcing Kenny to readjust his approach to his offense, moonsaulting off one leg and nearly winning then and there with a V-Trigger but for Minoru smartly pulling Red Shoes Unno in the way.
From there into the second act, with Suzuki-gun and Bullet Club hitting the ring in turn for lawless interference, and right to the final with Unno up and at 'em again, as Omega fights valiantly through the pain, just trying to get the one shot in with One-Winged Angel to end it.
A lot of cool stuff on display here, a sequence where a dive is caught into a heel hook and transitioned through a kneebar, a cross-leg heel hook, and a deathlock as Kenny struggles, another where One Winged Angel rolled through into a heel hook, extended sleeper funtime, really good stuff to start and end and you should definitely watch it even if the interference makes it a bit doughy in the middle.
Night Three (A Block, July 21)
Hirooki Goto vs. Yuji Nagata (2): Not much going on early until Nagata's ire is raised and Goto turns the heat up in return. Blue Justice takes a beating until he gets sick of it and just absolutely unloads on Hirooki and it becomes a back-and-forth slugfest soon after. A fine match, but one that never quite clicked and didn't grab me.
Togi Makabe vs. Tomohiro Ishii (3): So this was a marvel of technical wrestling and high flying acume-- nope, this was 100% the same bull moose brawl these guys have every time they wrestle. And in turn, it's neither the best example of that match nor the worst, although I would say it went a little long, a few too many laps around the ol' pool for what they had.
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (5): Much like the Tanahashi match, Sabre tries to play nice before getting hot and going after the obvious known weak point, in this case Ibushi's neck. And so Zack dominates the proceedings, using Ibushi's limbs like door handles to open the way to his neck, but the story is that every strike Kota gets in return is deadly, laying him out and staggering him. All told, a really high-end take on the classic grappler vs. striker story, with, as expected from these two, a lot of really cool exchanges and catches. Watch it!
Bad Luck Fale vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (3): The old ace out the gates with a pinning predicament, so you know he knows he's in a bad way. And it only gets worse, as Fale takes him outside and works the bad arm over for a bit before taking the action back in the ring for his usual offense. But Tanahashi is adept at creating openings and refuses to die, at one point skinning the cat one-armed.
This one's a little tricky for me, because as far as the abstract quality of the match it's basically a standard Fale match, but with the shadow of Tanahashi's arm injury dragging it down, and a lot of clever stuff (like that one-arm skinned the cat, or the finish) that I know I'd be all over if it was a worked injury pulling it up. In the end I'm gonna call it down the middle, but watch accordingly.
Tetsuya Naito vs. YOSHI-HASHI (3): Naito well in control early, going hard after Tacos' neck. YOSHI-HASHI is able to get his licks in and turns the tide with a double stomp to the back that seems to put the Stardust Genius in distress, and even when he inevitably resumes the offense he's clearly a step slower. Going forearm for forearm, HASHI keeps coming back to the Butterfly Lock after and he has Naito well on the back foot, but you can't keep a good Ingobernable man down, as it were.
Good solid stuff, but a bit on the long side and without a strong enough throughline to make up for it.
Night Four (B Block, July 22)
Before we get into the match recommendations for this one, I'd like to have a moment of silence for Daryl Takahashi, beloved stuffed cat and son, taken from us far too soon by the wicked intolerance of Bad Luck Fale.
Satoshi Kojima vs. Toru Yano (2): Kojima's ire is raised early after repeated flash pin attemps and he stoops so low as to use underhanded tactics to blind Yano with water before laying it into the Sublime Master Thief. But what's good for the proverbial goose is in full effect and Toru takes him outside and leaves him for dead, and the match becomes a rather more straight-forward back and forth affair from there. A bit more straight-laced than the average Yano match, so it's kind of cool to see him hold his own in that environment, but hardly essential.
EVIL vs. Juice Robinson (3): Juice hot to start, but he makes the mistake of taking things into EVIL's favorite place, the ringside area, and earns a whooping over the barricade for his trouble. Juice is dominated for a good while and seems set to rally but the King of Darkness cuts him off on the turnbuckles. A second go at the rally, a Kokeshi for Honma, Robinson is going hard, has all of Korakuen behind him, but he can't seal the deal and it becomes a game of inches in the final stretch.
Really enjoyable stuff, a bit slow in the middle so I'm not tilting it further up the recommendation scale, but a very strong three-boy.
Minoru Suzuki vs. SANADA (3): A bit of feeling out early before Suzuki begins doing Suzuki things, taking young SANADA pillar to post on the outside, keeping referee Marty Asami busy while El Desperado does his dirty work. Finally back in the ring, Cold Skull has some life in him and clips the old man's leg with a dropkick and fends Desperado off while the referee checks.
SANADA makes the mistake of trying to grapple with the shoot-style legend and nearly finds himself on the outs but he's able to exploit the leg damage he created to keep himself in the match. A cool sleeper hold for Skull End transition sequence later and you have another match that I can't quite put in the top two echelons, but a very strong threebie indeed.
Kenny Omega vs. Tama Tonga (4): No friendly intra-factional hesitation here, as Tonga jumps Omega nearly immediately. Action fast and heavy, Tama remains in charge and gets on the mic at one point to berate Kenny, telling him that if he wants to lead Bullet Club he has to drop the Elite and be one of them.
Tonga continues to press the attack hard, going after the leg that Suzuki so thoroughly damaged previously and cutting Omega's rallies off with relative ease for the most part. But after a while the return damage builds and they go forearm for forearm as a segue to throwing bombs. In the whole, a good match that makes it past the line for clear recommendation.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin (5): Okada up to his usual cocky ways early and Big Mike gets hot, clobbering him with forearms and taking him outside where, despite a brief rally, Elgin is firmly in control. Back in the ring the IWGP Champion's speed finds him an opening, but he finds himself somewhat stymied by Big Mike's mass and strength and forced to keep chipping away.
Repeated German suplexes put Mike back in the fight in a big way and though things are more even-handed he retains an edge, even through Okada dropkicking him off the turnbuckles to the outside. But as ever, the chip damage adds up, and Elgin finds himself slower and less sure as the match continues, albeit still able to deliver one of the tighest nearfalls in wrestling history off an Elgin Bomb!
Speaking of bombs, they come hard, and Okada counters a Burning Hammer with a wristlock lariat and follows it up with another, just to point out an excellent moment. This was excellent and I personally would very much welcome Big Mike replacing Fale as the go-to Okada feud now that that well is prettymuch dry, because this was a less visually dramatic but more dynamic version of the best Okada/Fale matches.
Night Five (A Block, July 23)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (4): Sabre in firm control early, keeping Tacos grappled down in the middle of the ring, but when the game turns to striking the Chaos man is able to even the odds. ZSJ finds himself zeroing in on the arm and leaving YOSHI-HASHI screaming agony, and it's a strategy that brings success, as a chop battle finds Tacos thoroughly on the outs after.
But Sabre makes the mistake of toying with him, disdainful kicks and slaps, and HASHI wakes up big-time, fighting one-armed through the pain to rally as the match enters its final stages. Really good stuff from two guys looking to make the most of it as first and second time G1 participants.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata (3): Two vets whose gas tanks are perhaps less full than they'd like, Tanahashi's drained by injury, Nagata's by age, and they wrestle accordingly-- cautious, feeling out, hold for hold, kick for kick, waiting for a mistake to capitalize on. Inevitably openings are created, tensions raised, and they open up on each other, unloading the arsenal. So, a fun back and forth between two aging lions, not essential, but a good match for sure.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Tetsuya Naito (2): Naito off to a hot start to avenge the tragic death of Daryl Takahashi... but he still needs to take his traditional nap early on. Anyway, this is a pretty standard Fale match, wherein the other guy has to chop the big man down and ol' Bad Luck does his damnedest to make life miserable on them for trying. The background stuff with Daryl elevates it a bit, but unfortunately not to the point where I’d give it a significant recommendation.
Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (5): Ibushi game to slug it out early, going forearm for forearm with Ishii for an extended time. Pulling ahead, he turns the heat up and starts slinging aerial maneuvers, but the Stone Pitbull is still very much in the fight and gets his licks in in return as the action continues to rise.
Ishii steels himself and rises through strikes only to be met by the same once he delivers his own series, and again the mercury rises through an even more intense exchange. Action intensifying and intensifying, building steam, until the utter climax. An excellent match that honestly I spent more time sitting back and watching than worrying about finding words to put it over with, and you should absolutely make time for it.
Hirooki Goto vs. Togi Makabe (1): Bull moosery early, Makabe in control, but when the action spills outside Goto is able to turn things around. Indeed, back in the ring he starts toying around but the Unchained King Kong wants more and rises to the occasion. and bull moosery intensifies, to the point where at one point both men are laid out on the mat after a lariat.
And so they keep clubbing away, but honestly I found myself more bored than anything, especially in contrast to the masterpiece of escalation that was Ibushi/Ishii. To their credit it does heat up a bit later off a few strong nearfalls, but it's just not worth the proverbial powder unless you're going completist and watching every match in the tournament.
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.