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. This being the third match recommendation post for this year’s G1, naturally you can check out the first here and the second here if you missed them.
Night Nine (A Block, July 29)
Togi Makabe vs. Yuji Nagata (2): This is a Makabe match, full of clubbering. Nagata's veteran fire goes a long way to making it a fun little watch, but it never quite escalates all the way into gear. Toss it a watch if you're really into either man, but otherwise it's a safe skip.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Kota Ibushi (4): Fale using his size and strength to dominate the Golden Star early, soon selecting the leg as a target. Given Ibushi's nigh-indestructable legs, this is not the best idea and soon enough Kota is snapping off kicks and suplexes, fresh as a daisy. Indeed, at one point he even moonsaults off the damn balcony!
So, if you've internalized Ibushi's cybernetic legs as just part of his deal to be accepted like the idea that rolling over counters a figure four leglock, this is a really, really fun match, but if you're inclined to get aggravated at his tendency to shrug off damage done you probably want to skip it. Watch accordingly!
Hirooki Goto vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (3): Goto in charge early but a little bit of interference from Desperado and some smart grappling from Sabre and the Technical Wizard takes control. So the story settles down, with the Chaos man creating openings again and again only to fall to a new hold from the Evolve World Champion. Good stuff, I'd probably have it a click below their NEVER title match from the spring.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. YOSHI-HASHI (1): Tacos in charge through striking early but the one-armed ace doesn't take it lying down and goes after the leg after taking it outside briefly. Back and forth they go, but I dunno. This one is fine enough in outline but it felt almost like they were doing too much and not enough at the same time. Certainly HASHI went hard and Tanahashi is doing his best on one arm, but this just did not come together for me at all, the most thoroughly average kind of "do stuff until it's time for the finish" match. Pass.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii (5): Naito playing around early, dodging and napping, trying to get Ishii properly riled up. He succeeds but finds himself in a sticky pickle as the Stone Pitbull takes things outside, only able to turn things back around by hook and crook. The action intensifies, hard hitting brawling in the ring, the Stardust Genius well in charge after a while.
Ishii gets back in the fight with some wicked headbutts, Naito presses the attack but the Stone Pitbull is unmoved! From there we escalate to bombs and the inevitably thrilling conclusion. Which is to say, watch this match for sure.
Night Ten (B Block, July 30)
EVIL vs. Toru Yano (5): Look, just watch it, okay? It'll take maybe ninety seconds of your time, and the change of pace is very refreshing.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Tama Tonga (1): Tonga attacks before the bell and it's brawl city from there! Up and down the crowd, using water bottles, chairs, and camera wires, back and forth they go but when they finally end up in the ring for the match Suzuki is on the back foot, so of course he rectifies this by going outside for more brawling.
So, like, in a vacuum, this is fine. Maybe even good! But something about New Japan crowd brawls these days is, well... boring. Maybe it's that they go to the well so often, maybe it's a structural problem with the formula (which is build too much around the idea of walking deep into the crowd, incapacitating someone, and leaving them for dead for the countout), I don't know. An unfortunate miss.
Michael Elgin vs. SANADA (3): Bit of a slow start but things heat up after a trip to the outside, SANADA opening up on Big Mike, using his speed and willingness to get his hands dirty against Elgin's clear power advantage. A natural escalation towards bombs kicks in and while this doesn't exactly have a blowaway story to it, it's a real fun time.
Kenny Omega vs. Satoshi Kojima (4): Omega taking it easy here, wrestling in his t-shirt and fooling around with the old man to start. Kojima takes it rather more seriously, however, and starts stringing offense together such that Kenny can't possibly ignore him and fool around any further, and once Satoshi lays the machine gun chops in, it's on!
Anyway, much like Okada/Kojima, this isn't Omega's best match of the year, but the story being told of Omega coming in looking for a night off only to be forced to dig deep and bring his proverbial A game against a veteran desperate for a victory really elevates it and makes it special.
Juice Robinson vs. Kazuchika Okada (5): Juice pulling ahead early but Okada won't have it and takes him outside to put him in his place, at one point even standing on a chair and directing the crowd to cheer for him. Some good back and forth struggle until an attempt at a maneuver on the apron goes south for Robinson and from there it's all about the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
...except Juice simply will not die. Okada gets madder and madder and throws his best at him, but Robinson hasn't worked this hard and come this far to fall that easily! This is, against all expectations, a multiple-Rainmaker kind of match, folks, and absolutely worth your time.
Night Eleven (A Block, August 1)
Bad Luck Fale vs. YOSHI-HASHI (3): Tacos hard out the gate knowing he needs to keep the big man off balance if he has a hope of winning this one, but Fale is able to use the ringside area as an equalizer, throwing the Chaos man about four rows deep at one point. Back in the ring the story becomes about whether or not HASHI can survive the onslaught long enough to scrape out a win, and it all makes for an above-average match in the Bad Luck formula.
Togi Makabe vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (4): Sabre happy to play Makabe's game and slug it out, but after a bit of work on the outside he gets to go to work with surgical precision on the only currently active member of Great Bash Heel. So, ZSJ in a grappler vs. striker match is always great, and this is no exception to the rule. He and Ibushi are really working miracles this tournament, because both guys have gone above and beyond in cases where you really think there's no way a match is gonna be worth recommending, and yet here we are.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yuji Nagata (4): As ever, Nagata going hard out the gate to prove that he can hang with the lads in his last G1 ever. Ishii for his part has clearly decided he's had enough of all these dads floating around and chooses to simply jaw at Blue Justice after knocking him clean outside with a headbutt. Back in he turns the disdain up and we have us a fight on our hands! This is really quite good, big bombs, hard strikes, good stuff.
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito (3): Goto hot to start, eager, presumably, as the newest member of Chaos to knock off Los Ingobernables de Japon's big cat right out the gates, but Naito's too smart to let himself get taken out that easy. From there, good back and forth action but it started hot enough that they kind of denied themselves the ability to escalate in a way that might have made this truly great instead of just good, though. Watch accordingly.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi (5): This one is all about old, one-armed lion ace Tanahashi trying to hold onto his position by hook or by crook, targeting Ibushi's nigh-invulnerable legs. Which, naturally, doesn't work as well as he wants it to, but even so it puts Kota on the back foot and he has to empty the tank to make up for the deficit.
Not to be outdone, Hiroshi opens his arsenal up in return, hitting the High Fly Flow to the outside that he said during a previous arm injury he wouldn't be busting out anymore, and they just make magic together from there. Excellent match, near mandatory viewing.
Night Twelve (B Block, August 2)
Juice Robinson vs. SANADA (5): Feeling out leads to a double dropkick stalemate and SANADA decides to get serious in the LIJ tradition, taking the action outside and trying to aggravate Juice's recurring leg injury. Robinson as always is super sympathetic here and really mindful of the knee, adjusting his approach in a hundred tiny ways to accomodate the injury.
But Cold Skull keeps pressing the attack (at one point going so far as to keep a figure four leglock on even as Robinson managed to roll the both of them out of the ring!) and it becomes a question of how long Juice can hold out before the pain overwhelms him.
I'm honestly a bit taken aback at how much I liked this one-- I feel like I'm a little low on SANADA compared to the average, but here he was crisp and mean and I absolutely see the hype, and with Juice at his absolute most sympathetic hard-fighting babyface they made something special here.
Michael Elgin vs. Toru Yano (5): Yano somewhat surprisingly game to go bull moose with Big Mike, but fear not, the Sublime Master Thief is in full effect here and, uh, let's just say he steals the show. These are so short and so fun that I can't not toss out the full recommendation, folks.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Satoshi Kojima (3): Suzuki wasting no time with his fellow old man, he saw how the Okada and Omega matches went and he's not inclined to give the leader of Bread Club any rope, manhandling referee Red Shoes Unno several times to allow Suzuki-gun to lay a beating on as Hiroyoshi Tenzan tries to save his partner from taking too much damage.
Back in the ring Kojima mounts a comeback, giving it all he's got, and it's nearly enough, but Suzuki-gun took Unno out. Tenzan clears house, and it's a question of if Satoshi can capitalize before Minoru can regain the advantage for good. Enjoyable stuff here, not essential, but Kojima is really heating up as we get later in the tourney.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tama Tonga (2): Tonga in hot early, but he makes the mistake of putting the Rainmaker coat on and mocking Okada's turnbuckle posing, giving the IWGP Heavyweight Champion a chance to even the score. Tama trying to grind Okada down here, putting us in the slightly odd position of having a power vs. speed battle between two of the fastest guys in New Japan.
Maybe it's my expectations that are messed up. Maybe I shouldn't be pining for the really fast guy who always impressed me in big undercard tag matches and I should just accept the singles wrestler Tama Tonga really is. But I just can't help but think how great the ten minute sprint of Fast Men doing Fast Things at Great Speed these guys could have would be when I watch this, especially when they DO turn up the speed late and have these incredible fast-paced exchanges.
So, a reluctant pass on this one, although on the strength of some of that late stuff I won't bottom them out here.
EVIL vs. Kenny Omega (4): EVIL looking to make this his match early, taking Omega outside and busting out all his usual tricks. but Kenny is also at home in that environment himself and keeps the tables from turning. Well, at least until the chairs get involved. Of course, the table turned the tides right back.
So this is very much one of those "everything is fair game outside of the ring" matches and these two are inclined to take full advantage of that. Some big crazy stuff here, including EVIL hitting EVIL off the apron through the aforementioned table and busting himself open in the process. As a result, a strong match worth watching, although it didn't quite hang together well enough for me to give it the full, unqualified recommendation.
Night Thirteen (A Block, August 4)
Kota Ibushi vs. Yuji Nagata (4): Basically the story here is that Ibushi has Nagata outclassed in nearly every aspect-- even on the mat, where Nagata's natural ability and years of experience give him an edge, he more than holds his own, and he takes strikes with aplomb only to fire ones off in return that absolutely level Blue Justice.
But what Nagata does have is heart, and fire, and the ability to struggle through the punishment until he can unleash a sequence with enough intensity to stagger the Golden Star. From there it's a matter of who falls first, and it's a really good match.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Tomohiro Ishii (3): It's always weird to see Ishii get overpowered so easily, but here we are once again. Normal Fale stuff here, Ishii chopping away at the big man. The dynamic is interesting since Tom's such a power guy himself and he's forced to find new strategies, but it doesn't rise too far above the crush of things.
Hirooki Goto vs. YOSHI-HASHI (2): Chaos men explode, kind of! The basic idea here is that Tacos is trying to prove himself against the more experienced Goto but all he does is cheese him off in the process and get him angry. A classic story, but this telling had trouble holding my attention.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. (5): Sabre in firm control for most of this one, just repeatedly cutting Naito off and keeping him on the mat, mostly targeting the neck but happy to take anything he can get, really. Indeed, he's got no problem shifting to his striking game when the Stardust Genius offers an exchange up, and even then he still stays ahead, Naito only able to pull a real advantage out through stringing big moves together.
Which, predictably, is AWESOME. Watch it!
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Togi Makabe (2): A feeling out period leads to action outside and Makabe finally gets to open his sack of clubbering on Tanahashi. The match steadily intensifies as a back-and-forth war but never really shakes the feeling that both dudes are just kind of running through their greatest hits. Not bad, better than I would have expected at the beginning of the tournament, but hardly essential.
There you have it, folks
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to toss in your two cents below, Cagesiders.