Coming to you live from the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center in beautiful Long Beach, California, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) presents the first day of the G1 Special in USA. With a champion-vs-champion main event, and all star-studded four first round matches of a tournament to crown the first ever IWGP United States Champion, this is a show not to be missed. At the top of the match card, long reigning and dominant IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada will be looking to defend his title against the new Ring of Honor World Champion, The American Nightmare, Cody (Rhodes). All four tournament matches should be incredible – Kenny Omega vs Mike Elgin, Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii, Juice Robinson vs Zack Sabre Jr. and Hangman Page vs Jay Lethal – and there will also be appearances from the Bullet Club, Los Ingobernables de Japon and CHAOS.
+ Mike Elgin vs Kenny Omega (w/ The Young Bucks) (IWGP United States Championship Tournament First Round Match): this was fantastic. Despite an early obvious 20-count (and therefore countout loss to one competitor) the match continued. Omega was clearly the bad guy going in, but once Omega and Elgin heard the crowd, Elgin started to play a bit more of the bad guy, whilst Omega soaked in the love, which was clever, rather than forcing the same narrative they had planned. A brutal final few moments was incredible, and this was far and away the match of the night
+ Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii (IWGP United States Championship Tournament First Round Match): This was a great match, thanks in large part to the crowd giving both men the respect they deserve. At the offset, it was Naito who was getting the crowd’s love, but once Ishii started with the style he is known for (and a very poor choice of a slap by Naito), the audience came alive for the Stone Pitbull. Ishii is underrated in the NJPW world of Tanahashi/Naito/Okada/Omega and the like, and so it was good to see him get some good offense in
+ Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Cody Rhodes (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): calling this Okada’s worst one-on-one title match this year is not really an insult, since the rest were all so good, but this was definitely the best match of Cody’s year. It’s never fair to heap all the praise on one person, but damn if that isn’t all because of how good Okada is. This was an above average match with a crowd that couldn’t quite make up their mind on whether they wanted to cheer the champion, or go all-in on the cocky challenger, with an interesting ending which called back to previous Okada matches
+ Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa) (c) vs War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): a pre-match surprise changed what to expect from this match, and I was almost surprised this was going to be a repeat of the Dominion battle. Thankfully, some mid-match shenanigans kicked this into second gear before a genuinely surprising finish capped this match off properly. I really liked this
+ Juice Robinson vs Zack Sabre Jr. (IWGP United States Championship Tournament First Round Match): the crowd was split between singing ‘ooh Zack Sabre junior’ and a resounding ‘JUICE’, so damn if I wasn’t hyped for this one early. ZSJ’s signature submission hold-to-hold style contrasted really well with Juice’s more power/striking game, and it made for a really enjoyable match up with a particularly solid ending sequence
+ Hangman Page vs Jay Lethal (IWGP United States Championship Tournament First Round Match): Lethal was sporting some heavy tape across his ribs, following the beating he received at ROH Best in the World, though it was Page who took the punishment in his strap match. This was about as you\d expect for a great wrestler (Lethal) and an okay wrestler (Page), which averages out to a good match
– Jay White and Taguchi Japan (David Finlay, Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA) vs Hunter Club (Billy Gunn & YOSHITATSU) and The Tempura Boyz (Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu): Between KUSHIDA and Tanahashi, none of the other even had a chance to shine. I admit I’m not familiar with the Tempura Boyz, but they both impressed me, and I could really get behind a teaming of Jay White and David Finlay, both of whom are somewhat lacking on their own. Gunn and Tanahashi had some incredibly sloppy moments, which does not bode well for their rematch tomorrow night
– Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Marty Scurll, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson & Bad Luck Fale) vs CHAOS (Mark Briscoe, Jay Brisco, Beretta, Rocky Romero & Will Ospreay): This was essentially just to advance the feud between Roppongi Vice and The Young Bucks, but it was good to see Takahashi and Fale get some time to shine. This was about average for an opening tag match on a NJPW show, with an admittedly lackluster ending
– Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, EVIL, BUSHI & SANADA) vs Jushin Thunder Liger, Dragon Lee, Titan & Volador Jr.: Liger got a lot of love from the American crowd, though it’s a shame the same could not be said for his teammates. This was a good back and forth matchup, and I am glad to see Takahashi still get time to shine even without his Junior Heavyweight Championship. This was better than the preceeding match, but still felt like a regular opening tag contest
> about half way through the first match I switched over to the Japanese commentary. JR and Josh Barnett had no passion in their voices at all
> referee Red Shoes had a lot of good character moments on this show. They were mostly quite amusing
Should you watch this event: With familiar performers and a new crowd, this was more or less the same old NJPW show, with the opening tags being hit or miss (in this case, miss) and then the main event matches delivering on their promises. Naito/Ishii and Omega/Elgin are both fantastic, and Juice/Sabre Jr., Okada/Cody and the tag team title contest all ending up as worth watching, but you can leave the rest unless you are a particular fan.