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G1 Climax 28: Halfway Checkpoint

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After having officially crossed the halfway point of this year’s G1 Climax, we thought now would be the perfect time to highlight the top matches and block MVPs. John, Frank and Rob all come from different avenues so they will be providing unique takes as they use the G1 as a reference point to show what they look for in this crazy world of professional wrestling.

Follow them on Twitter: John Frank Rob

Top 5 Matches
John
1. Kazuchika Okada vs YOSHI-HASHI (7.27)

I put this match on for two reasons. 1) Okada never ceases to surprise me with the capabilities of elevating people. 2) This was a match that made me care about YOSHI-HASHI. Now don’t get me wrong, YOSHI-HASHI isn’t a bad wrestler by any means though I do find him hard to root for. He needs the right type of opponent to rally the crowd behind him. This was him finally snapping and having enough of being belittled by the Chaos leader. Okada hasn’t been himself since losing to Omega and seems to be cracking apart. He wasn’t respecting Hashi before and certainly wasn’t going to during the match. Hashi only had two points so desperately needed the win but overcoming the Rainmaker is no easy task. Considering he got the crowd behind him whilst Okada was in the ring makes me think he got a moral win even if he didn’t get the points.

2. Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii (7.28)
A late entry to the list but my god was it a strong one. This was a fight, a brutal, destructive fight where both men wanted to injure one another. This felt more like a shoot fight than an actual wrestling match at times as both men would beat into each other with some severely stiff strikes. Ibushi couldn’t keep up at first when it came to strikes but after some high flying offense and moves outside he levelled the score. This was a highly physical match of one up man ship with Ibushi finally beating the grizzled striking veteran that was Ishii. Considering I have a love for deathmatch wrestling it’s quite hard to make me flinch but this match had several points where it became reflex. Much like Ishii/Goto this was a strike fest rather than a grappling bout.

3. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr (7.15)
A beautiful clash of styles match that set both men up as ones to watch on the first night of B block. Zack is my favourite technical wrestler so seeing him paired with one of the best all-rounders in the world made one of the best matches of the tournament. This like many of the matches on this list saw a constant fight to be the best. Riding on his New Japan Cup victory, ZSJ was coming into the tournament with a cocky attitude. He figured the tournament would be a cakewalk just like the NJ Cup. Enter Ibushi, one of the best in the world and an excellent starting opponent to prove a point. Zack had him tied in knots and kept baiting the Golden Star into holds. His mistake was trying to match Ibushi in strikes. Zack ultimately lost but put on one hell of a fight against Ibushi. Another example of how a clash of styles can provide some of the best types of matches and why both men are some of the best at what they do.

4. Switchblade Jay White vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (7.16)
After beating Okada on night one Jay White had a lot to prove. He’d beaten the former champ and now had to show it wasn’t a fluke. It didn’t help that his next opponent was another top NJPW star, the Ace. It was also a rematch of White’s first NJPW match as the Switchblade from Wrestle Kingdom, where he lost out on the Intercontinental title and victory to Tanahashi. This was a personal and would cement White as a real threat to all of A block. Once again the Switchblade was successful. He turned the audience against him by being unflinchingly brutal toward the Ace and utilizing heel tactics to ensure he had the upper hand. He grabbed the ref, used chairs and was unafraid to fight on the outside if it meant doing extra damage. This was a true character building match in White’s career as he had overcome another of NJPW’s biggest and best. This match wins over his match with Okada as it was faster paced and way more fun to watch.

5. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito (7.15)
Put Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito in a ring together and you will make magic. They always try to do something new each time they step into a ring. Since they have fought each other so many times now, they are well aware of what the other can do and how to counter it. Much like the other matches listed it was personal and it was a constant bout to prove who was better. Both men were at 1-1 in recent G1’s with Omega beating Naito in 2016 and Naito beating Omega to win last year’s G1 Climax. This was a rubber match of the highest order. This started out slow, a mix of winding up and feeling out before going full tilt for the final few minutes. There was never a moment of give as both men were at each other in some capacity. We got to see excellent counters for the One Wing Angel and Destino, more high flying moves and some vicious back and forth. This match saw Omega win but it wasn’t without a struggle. I don’t think these two will ever not put on a match worth watching.

Rob
1. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito (7.15)

A backhanded comment about work ethic took what was an already heated rivalry to the next level. When Kenny Omega questioned Tetsuya Naito’s passion for wrestling, tempers flared and helped reignite a feud that’s given fans two of the best matches in modern NJPW history. These two being the B Block’s opening night main event set the standard for this year’s tournament and halfway through, no one has been able to top the magic they create together in the ring.

2. Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii (7.28)
One of the more understated rivalries in New Japan, not just by the fans but NJPW officials themselves. This was the third singles match between these two and each time they’ve managed to put on a show-stealing performance that received universal praise. Two of the world’s best at fiery comebacks in a pure, sixteen minute, sprint and absolutely blew the roof off for a third time. This is a rivalry that refuses to be ignored.

3. Hirooki Goto vs Tomohiro Ishii (7.21)
Every year since 2010 there has been one singles match between these two bulls and Hirooki Goto has come out the winner in ten out of their last eleven contests. Ishii truly embodies the Stone Pitbull moniker. You know that although he’s record isn’t the best, he’s going to give his all each and every time he sets foot in the ring. They went pedal to the metal for eighteen minutes, giving us absolutely nothing fancy, just two dudes colliding into each other until one of them broke and in a shocking surprise, this time it wasn’t Ishii.

4. Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii (7.19)
In a culture that’s dominated by the idea of respecting your elders, the dynamic between Naito and Ishii couldn’t be more exciting. You pin one of the roster’s oldest members against a young guy who doesn’t give one lick about giving respect and the story writes itself. It’s this dynamic that’s made all the previous wars between these two a whole lot of fun and it’s never once failed to deliver.

5. Kota Ibushi vs SANADA (7.26)
A first time singles match that’s both equally exciting as it is surprising. These two have wrestled all over the world yet never met one on one until this year’s G1. The fact that neither man has an official contract to NJPW but were still allowed to main event one of there shows is a testament to what the company sees in them. This was a huge deal in terms of SANADA’s career as he defeated a previous IWGP Heavyweight Championship contender in a featured main event. SANADA’s coming out party is in full effect.

Frank
Ever since I first found about the G1 Climax tournament in 2014, it has been the Everest of my wrestling fandom. The desire to watch every match of this tournament has always been something I wanted to do, but time, New Japan World navigation, and fatigue have been enemies. But this year, with New Japan Pro Wrestling as hot as it has been in twenty years, the drive to watch has been stronger than ever.

So far, I have managed to watch every match with the G1, excluding tag matches (because reasons) and it has been an embarrassment of riches for this wrestling fan so far. Narrowing it down to five, even only being a little less than halfway into the tournament, seems like a tough task, but five matches have stood out to me beyond all the others.

Let’s go!

1. Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii (7.28)
When watching the G1 Climax, you will get behind. It’s just a fact of trying to watch this tournament. I had gotten a few shows behind when this match happened, and the buzz that build online for this match after it happened was staggering. When I finally tuned in, I thought there was no way it can live up to the hype. It can’t be better than Omega and Naito, right?

What I saw was a match that superseded all of that hype. This match has everything. They traded endless strikes, they brawled into the crowd. Ibushi hit a moonsault off a balcony that was just insane (where insane moonsaults have been everywhere). They used each other finishers, traded even more crazy looking strikes, and after twice missing his move, Ibushi finally hit his knee to the face for the one. It was crazy and the best match of the tournament so far and it ain’t close.

2. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito (7.15)
Again, how could this be anything other than a complete class. What an awesome decision by New Japan to have a rematch of last year’s final as the main event of the second night of the tournament and the first night of Block B. Again, we had callbacks to that match throughout, but it also hammered the story home that they’ve been telling for months-of Kenny being a much different wrestler since he rejoined forces with Kota Ibushi. New Japan tells those stories better than anyone else right now.

And in the end, it was a fantastic match, with some many reversals, some many twists and turns, and there were so many times that the crowd thought Naito was going to pin the champion. I was jumping out of my seat myself. In the end, Kenny was able to spike Naito with One Wing Angel for a three count, and the G1 tournament had been kicked into high gear.

3. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. (7.15)
In the “well duh” section of this review, we wonder how these two could not be on this list. These two had an incredible match at the New Japan Cup, which Sabre won, and both the announcers and the competitors did a great job of calling back to the contest. They beautifully told the story of each competitor wanting to lure the other into their style of wrestling, and avoid the strengths of the other, showcasing the kind of realism we seldom see in pro wrestling anymore.

Sabre eventually caught up with Ibushi and got him in many of the torturous submission holds that he used to grind Ibushi to a halt in their last match. Ibushi did a hell of a job selling the leg and fighting back, something he does better than almost every other babyface in wrestling, regardless of company. They teased the match being stopped, but Ibushi soldiered on, and finally lured Zack into a striking battle, and a great series of near falls ended with Ibushi catching Zack with a knee from hell in the face and getting the victory.

4. Tomohiro Ishii vs Hirooki Goto (7.21)
Some guys just make magic together. I have seen Ishii and Goto wrestle five or six times, and each one has been a barnburner. You can tell how much confidence the company has in these two guys when you realize that they were the main event that night over Kenny Omega, the World Champion. They knew that these two guys would deliver, and they did.

It was everything we love out of New Japan and these two dudes especially. Hard strikes, lots of reversals, and the drama of two guys who really know how to build the drama. This match definitely also had one of the livelier crowds of the tournament so far (gotta love Korakuen) and the looks on everyone’s fences when Ishii finally broke through and won the bout with a brainbuster was so cool to watch. These guys’ chemistry is just off the charts.

5. Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada (7.14)
I am the kind of person who appreciates different matches for different reasons, and I love this match because after it, I wanted to punch Jay White in the face. His transformation from a classic babyface to despicable, chickenshit heel has been incredible to watch over the past year, and he made himself into a major player, defeating the man who has carried the flag for New Japan for several years. There were so many stories that played out through the match-from Switchblade’s growing viciousness to Okada mourning his title loss, to the drama at the announce table with Rocky Romero-so much happened in the midst of this match.

To top it off, it was a fun, wild brawl that showed the smaller White could hang with Okada. He never looked out of place. He came across as vicious yet conniving, and just when you thought Okada had him, White turned the tables and won the match with the Blade Runner. You don’t see matches that make a guy in one night anymore, and I loved seeing that here.

Block MVPs

A Block
John:
Jay White
My A Block MVP has to be Jay White. Character work goes a long way towards making me like someone. Ever since Jay White came back from excursion I was intrigued by the Switchblade character and the twisted attitude he has. The Switchblade has made such an impact through his matches and his constant corrosive place within Chaos. He has tried to oust the crazed Okada and rebuild Chaos in his own image. He is attempting to corrupt the faction and the wrestlers within it. This has shown in his matches too as he had no help when trying to fend off the Tongan Firing Squad. He is bitter, delusional and determined to take over. He has the crowd against him, his faction against him and most importantly many big matches to go if he wants to win the G1. His shock win over Okada was only the beginning for White and though he may finally have eaten a couple of losses, I can see him having an even stronger showing by the end.

Rob: Hangman Page
Despite being relatively unknown to the Japanese audience, Hangman Page has won them over already. He hasn’t shied away from busting out the big moves, even on the off days, in order to gain more attention and have people come away from each A Block show praising his performance. After a nothing match against Fale, Page has gone four matches in row of gaining heavy crowd support against the likes of Elgin, Okada, Tanahashi and EVIL. All four of those matches have helped pave his way to becoming a staple in the company for the next few years.

B Block
John:
Tomohiro Ishii & Zack Sabre Jr.
Yes this may be cheating but this block is a lot harder to decide from as most people in it deserve some type of award. Ishii however has consistently put on amazing match after amazing match and deserves the recognition for it. The same goes for Zack sabre JR. Both have put on exceptional matches together and against other people that could fall under the radar. Since the block has Omega, Naito and Ibushi it takes a lot to stand out. Both men have distinctive styles that work well when meshed with others and have elevated themselves and others. Ishii had brilliant matches against Goto, Ibushi and ZSJ. ZSJ has had excellent matches against Ishii, Ibushi and Sanada. Both are consistently putting on quality matches and both are worth watching out for.

Rob: Tomohiro Ishii
Every G1 Climax since 2013, it’s been the same story. Tomohiro Ishii wins the hearts of everyone with his gritty performances, fighting from underneath against all of the guys who get more looks than him. The story writes itself. The guy who is overlooked but grinds away anyway, being the best he can possible be against all odds. Everyone knows that Ishii is never going to been seen as “the guy” but it never stops him from doing his best and that’s what the fans love. He’s had five tournament matches so far and I have three of them inside my top five favorites. That’s a testament to just how incredible of a performer Ishii has been in this G1 Climax.

Along with providing show reviews from across Japan, Robert McCauley is also an editor for FightboothPW.

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