TGP G1 Climax 07.17.17: The New(ish) Challengers, Part I

By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor


Welcome to The Gorilla Position’s coverage of this year’s New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax tournament and thank you for joining us. Some disclaimers to get out of the way:

One, if you’re here for play-by-play, star ratings, or discussions about booking or finishes, you’re in the wrong house. What we discuss herein is the nuts and bolts of the tournament in so far as track records, career trajectories, and what it means for those involved. Second, this is a live event, not Game of Thrones. There are spoilers here insofar as results. We’re discussing results and what they mean as well, so if you haven’t watched it on NJPW World yet and want to come back after you have, we’re okay with that.

One of the biggest wrestling events of the year is officially underway. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax tournaments captures the imaginations of fans year in and year out with astounding action and subtle storytelling both in each match as well as through its progression.

This year, perennial favorites such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada are joined by returning competitors such as Kota Ibushi and Michael Elgin. In turn those man are forced to contend with new entrants such as Zack Sabre, Jr. and Juice Robinson. The mix of old and new, of strong style and athleticism, should prove to provide plenty of twists and turns in the 2017 iteration of the tournament.

G1_07.17.17

This year’s G1 began with the first match of Yuji Nagata’s final G1 run vs. last year’s last place competitor, YOSHI-HASHI. It is important to note, though, that one of HASHI’s wins last year came at the expense of no less than this year’s favorite (and current IWGP US Champion), Kenny Omega. HASHI had an awful lot of tenacity, toughness, and experience to overcome in Nagata (as well as that deadly armbar), but – perhaps surprisingly – did so with his signature move, Karma. HASHI scores 2 points to open the tournament with what could be considered an upset. A Pattern that would continue throughout the first day of action.

 

The Bullet Club’s first foray into this year’s G1 came as Bad Luck Fale went head-to-head – check that, horns-to-horns – with Togi Makabe. If you’ve ever seen rams try to establish their dominance over one another by cracking skulls in the tundra, you’ve seen this match. After consistent torture, Makabe refused to give in to the “Underboss” when asked by the referee. Makabe would then unleash his own arsenal, putting the two beasts on equal footing for a time. Ultimately, one of the rams had to fall. Fale has the tendency to play spoiler in the G1 – well out of range of winning a block, but close enough to ruin someone else’s chances. On this night, he would spoil Makabe’s first night, scoring 2 points with a pinfall off the Grenade.

Gloriously, more big beasts clash as Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii come right out of the gate throwing bombs at each other. The two met the prior year in Block A, with Goto getting the win then. However – odd as it may sound – Ishii is coming off of the momentum of the IWGP US title tournament. Though Ishii fell to Omega in the finals, the “Stone Pitbull” gave Omega all he could handle in that match – and made others take notice of this bruiser who has been a NJPW staple for the past decade-plus. Meanwhile, Goto made it to the finals against Kenny Omega last year and refuses to let Ishii stand in his way no matter what momentum he may have. Neither man is willing to give an inch, but ultimately Ishii does as Goto nails the GTR to pick up 2 points after a pin. More than the prior match, Ishii and Goto put on a hell of a “hoss fight” that will definitely be seen again as the tournament progresses.

Goto_Ishii_G1

Kevin Kelly: “You said before, it’s hard to get to the carotid artery on Ishii because his neck–“
Don Callis: “He doesn’t have a neck.”
Truer words…

The new(ish) blood in this year’s tournament is on display the first night of this year’s G1. Zack Sabre, Jr. makes his very first tournament appearance riding a wave of momentum in 2017. Sabre may have recently lost the Pro Wrestling Guerilla World title to Chuck Taylor, but he is still the reigning and defending Evolve Champion as well as the Revolution Pro Wrestling British Heavyweight Championship, having first won that title from Katsuyori Shibata. In capturing the latter title, Sabre became aligned with Suzuki-Gun, bristling some fans who believe the three-time Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Technical Wrestler honoree doesn’t need the interference and shenanigans that group is known for. Fortunately, Sabre won’t have to face Suzuki-Gun’s leader, Minoru Suzuki, unless the two meet in the finals as they are separated by different blocks (though with the year Sabre has had and his undeniable talent, that may be a possibility). Sabre, however, will meet the man that knocked him out of the IWGP United States Championship tournament, Tomohiro Ishii, on August 11. Fortunately for Sabre, Ishii will have already had his share of wars, as seen in the previous match.

Sabre immediately has a huge hurdle ahead of him as he faces the 7-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, current IWGP Intercontinental Champion and 2015 G1 Winner, “The Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi. Sabre takes the battle to the ground and looks to tie Tanahashi in knots, but Tanahashi is a match for Sabre in the opening moments of the ground game. He has to be to keep the injures right bicep away from Sabre. However, Sabre’s technical game is light years beyond most competitors. Despite Tanahashi’s best efforts, Sabre is victorious in the battle of submission. After a distraction from Suzuki-Gun stablemate Desperado, Sabre tears away the protective wrapping on the Ace’s arm and twists it in ways nature would never have thought about, leaving Tanahashi no other choice but to allow Sabre the 2 points by submission. Sabre’s brilliant ring work was on full display in this opening effort as he makes a strong case to not only go all the way in the G1, but to challenge for Tanahashi’s Intercontinental title. In true Suzuki-Gun fashion, Sabre is not afraid to let Tanahashi know of his intentions:

 

Kota Ibushi, remarkably, is only competing in his second G1 ever. Two years ago, Ibushi finished the tournament in a four-way tie for fourth with 8 points. Ibushi did manage to score some impressive wins over the liked of current WWE US Champion AJ Styles and then-NEVER Openweight Champion Togi Makabe, resulting in a shot at that title that Ibushi failed to capitalize on. However, it’s also important to note that Ibushi would be sidelined a few short months after the tournament with a cervical disc herniation. Ibushi fared a little better in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic where he made it to the semi-finals, losing to eventual winner TJ Perkins. Over the last year, Ibushi has been an infrequent competitor, but hopefully has more momentum after his Classic run. Between that and some needed time off, Ibushi comes in as a potential dark horse favorite.

Naito has taken a different path since winning the G1 in 2013. Naito has held nearly every title New Japan has to offer but is not the leading practitioner of “Tranquilo” as the leader of Los Ingobernobles de Japon. Naito typically looks to be lackadaisical, but there is a method to his madness. His early antics frustrate Ibushi, allowing the cagey Naito to take early control. Things escalate quickly, however, as Ibushi shows the attitude he took to Shinsuke Nakamura in his challenge for the Intercontinental title in 2015. Ibushi shows his own mean streak in attempting to murder Tetsuya Naito.

 

Naito survives a hellacious onslaught from an angered Ibushi (including a piledriver off the second rope~!) as his calculated game proves superior. Naito scores two Destinos and 2 points after pinning Ibushi.

The G1 returns in three days as the Block B competitors begin their journey on July 20, kicking off a four-day stretch of action from New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Current standings

Block A

Block B

Bad Luck Fale

 2   Michael Elgin  0  

Hirooki Goto

2 EVIL

0

Tetsuya Naito

2 Satoshi Kojima

0

Zack Sabre Jr.

2 Kazuchika Okada

0

YOSHI-HASHI

2 Kenny Omega

0

Kota Ibushi

0 Juice Robinson

0

Tomohiro Ishii

0 Sanada

0

Togi Makabe

0 Minoru Suzuki

0

Yuji Nagata

0 Tama Tonga

0

Hiroshi Tanahashi 0 Toru Yano

0

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