Hello everyone and welcome to Strong Style, Japanator's look at New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. This week we start off the ultra important G1 Climax Tournament 26. We will see the best of the best in NJPW face off and the winner of all this gets an IWGP Title shot at the Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4 at WrestleKingdom 11!
How it works is like this. The best 20 heavyweights in NJPW are selected and then split into an A block and a B block, 10 guys each. The men in each block face off against the other nine to try and gain points. Two points for a win, one point for a draw, no points for a loss. After everyone has faced everyone else in their block, whoever has the most points goes to the final to face the other block winner. The winner of that final match gets the tournament and the briefcase that signifies the title shot in January.
Have a look at who made the cut this year:
We start things off with two hours of action from the first night of the tournament and Block A's action from July 16, 2016, along with the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.
So with that, let's get to the action!
We are greeted for the first show by Tenzan!
Block A: Sanada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Sanada is Los Ingobernables's killer. He was a dojo trainee at one time who left and trained under The Great Muta instead. He's made a big impact for the group but has an uphill battle here against Tanahashi who has won this tournament in 2007 and 2015. Being the "Ace" of New Japan Tanahashi is probably the man to beat in this tournament.
I'm surprised they went with this one first. Cold Skull enters first, by himself. It's uncharacteristic of LIJ but one of the things about the G1 is that New Japan tends to keep these tournament matches to one on one so I'm not surprised here. JR explains the rules real quick during the entrance. Tanahashi is out next with his usual cheers. JR mentions Hiroshi's been out with a left shoulder injury and even missed last month's show because of it.
The bell rings to start the match and Barnett mentions that both guys had trained under the Great Muta to some degree. Wonder how that will play out? Despite the injured shoulder, Tanahashi doesn't have it wrapped or bandaged at all.
Tanahashi gets a waistlock, Sanada reverses into a headlock. Then he reverses into a full nelson into a hammerlock, and he reverses again-- no slouches here. Sanada goes for the dragon sleeper early and Tanahashi counters out real quick into a drop toe hold. Tanahashi uses a headlock. Shoot off gets nowhere for Sanada as Hiroshi hangs on. Shoot off again but Tanahashi gets the headlock right back on again. Another shoot off the ropes and Tanahashi wins a shoulder tackle. Sanada tries the hiptoss but Tanahashi gets it instead, and Tanahashi goes right back to the headlock on the mat. There's a turnover into a cover try by Sanada but Tanahashi counters.
Into the corner, Sanada gets a kick. He whips Tanahashi into the opposite corner but when Sanada charges Hiroshi leaps over the top rope to the apron. When he tries to get back in Sanada gives him a straight kick right to the face! Tanahashi goes outside and Sanada tries to whip into the barrier but Tanahashi reverses. Tanahashi makes the charge but Sanada gives him a drop toe hold right into the barrier and Sanada goes right for the bad arm as he wraps it around the barrier and yanks on it.
Back from a break, as Sanada rolls into the ring. Tanahashi gets in at 18 as Sanada gets in some shots on the arm as he kicks and stomps on it. Armbar as Tanahashi gets to his feet and gets some shots in. Tanahashi shoots off the ropes and Sanada wows the fans with two HIGH leapfrogs before delivering a high dropkick. Very nice! With Tanahashi down Sanada locks in a short arm scissors with his legs, but Hiroshi gets to the ropes. Sanada breaks the hold but lays in some kicks on the bad arm. Tanahashi tries to get up but an elbow to the bad shoulder puts him back down. Sanada lays in more strikes as Tanahashi gets up. Sanada whips him into the ropes but Tanahashi comes back with a flying forearm. He drives Sanada down with a slam and goes up to the second rope before landing the senton. A cover only gets a two count.
Tanahashi tries the whip but it's reversed. He tries a low dropkick and misses, Sanada tries a standing moonsault but misses. Tanahashi gets in the dragon screw legwhip and then lands the low dropkick to send Sanada outside. He climbs up and delivers the high fly flow on the outside! Don't know who got the worst of that one. Tanahashi rolls right back in the ring and the count is on. Sanada gets on the apron and Tanahashi grabs the leg and gets the dragon screw again! He hits a dropkick to the leg and then another leg whip!
Tanahashi goes right into the Texas cloverleaf and locks it in! He leans back hard on it but Sanada nearly gets to the rope but Tanahashi pulls him out. Sanada looks about to tap but he jerks forward and gets to the rope! Tanahashi whips Sanada into the corner but he counters into a springboard dropkick!
Back from commercial, and both guys are down. They slowly get up and Sanada lands some forearms but Tanahashi kicks the leg. Sanada strikes the arm again but they go back and forth with forearm shots. They then switch to uppercuts. Hard thrown ones too. Sanada scoops him up and gets a cutter out of nowhere for a two count. He goes for the dragon sleeper but Tanahashi counters the move but Sanada counters that back into the sleeper and locks it in! Tanahashi nearly passes out and scrambles for the rope. He makes it and breaks the hold! Sanada goes up and nearly gets a moonsault but Tanahashi brings his knees up, but Sanada lands on his feet! He tries for a clothesline but Hiroshi ducks it. Tanahashi tries for one and Sanada ducks it. Tanahashi lands a slingblade and then another but only gets a two count. Tanahashi goes for a German suplex and he gets the bridge for two! He goes to the top rope and goes for the high fly flow but Sanada catches him into another cutter! Cover gets only two. Sanada slams him down and lands the snapping moonsault but it only gets a two count. Sanada lands another moonsault and locks in the dragon sleeper again! Tanahashi is screaming and Taps out! Sanada gets two points! What an upset!
Backstage Tanahashi is on the floor. He's come back before and says it's all right. He hasn't lost sight of his goals. Sanada says this is just a checkpoint He won against the face of pro wrestling but there is more to go.
Studio words from Tenzan. Good pick of host here has he is the more interesting story. He was surprised he identically wasn't in the tournament He tried to appeal to NJPW with all he's done in G1's past but no dice. He was happy his buddy Kojima gave up his spot, but with him initially being left out and him getting on in years, this might be his last go at it. He saw the comments people had online about why he was in and Kojima out so now he has to refute those fans who undercut him.
Block A: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Well, this will be a fight. Ishii is CHAOS's big bruiser. But in these tournaments, he sometimes ends up losing to some guys who are underneath him. Tenzan, on the other hand, is a three-time winner if the G1 (2003, 2004, 2006) but is a last minute replacement after his partner Satoshi Kojima stepped aside (and a hellish public workout) so that his friend could go on into the tournament. He's no spring chicken but he will give you a fight.
No beauty contest here! Ishii comes out first as JR mentions Tenzan has been in more G1 tournaments than anyone this year and first appeared in the G1 10 years ago. Barnett mentions that Ishii is a tough draw because if you win or not, he's going to hurt you. Truth to that. Tenzan comes out with Kojima in his corner but I don't expect him to interfere. JR mentions Tenzan's 45 years old. He may be older, but he can still whoop your ass.
Back from break, and the bell rings. Both look ready to go as they go right into the lock up. Push into the ropes as they reverse on the other as Ishii gets the chop. They just hit each other a few times as Tenzan gets the advantage with Ishii going down. They start whaling away at each other as Tenzan does his Mongolian chops and Ishii hits forearm shots, but Ishii goes down. A few kicks to the heads as Ishii is into the corner. Big forearm by Tenzan. Whip into the opposing corner but Ishii runs right over him with a shoulder block. he chops right to the throat and a few to the chest and another one right in the throat. Man, Ishii is not messing around tonight. Ishii goes for a suplex but Tenzan tries the block it. Ishii gets it anyway and goes for the cover but only gets one. Ishii kicks him softly a few times to get his attention while yelling at him to get up and fight some more. Tenzan is up and here we go again with the chops back and forth before Tenzan gets a rolling kick!
Ishii gets up and more chops for him. Back and front with Mongolian chops. JR jokes that Mongolian chops sound like something he'd have with BBQ sauce. Lariat that knocks Ishii back in the corner. Marty the ref tries to get them out of the corner and Tenzan yells at him before he shoves the ref back. He gets Ishii back down and gets a two count. Headbutt and more chops by Tenzan but Ishii gets in a powerslam. Tenzan pops right back up and delivers a mountain bomb but Ishii is back up. He gets Tenzan in the corner and smacks him around. Big clothesline with more chops and elbows. Jesus these guys are gonna hurt in the morning. Ishii gets the post to post clothesline and tries for the cover but only gets two.
Back from break, and Ishii is in control. He lifts Tenzan on the buckle and goes for the big brainbuster. Tenzan's fighting for it and Ishii gets in some elbows before Tenzan gets him down, and he jumps off with his knee to Ishii's head! Cripes! He goes up and lands the diving headbutt to the shoulder and gets a two! Tenzan locks in the anaconda vice! Ishii gets up but Tenzan hits the anaconda buster but Tenzan only gets a two count! The crowd is roaring for Tenzan now. Tenzan goes up the ropes but Ishii catches him and gets a running powerbomb! Both guys are down as the crowd really cheers for Tenzan. They both get up and are trading chops and elbows. Ishii lands a strong headbutt and then run him over with a clothesline-- close two-count. Ishii gets up and hits the running low lariat into a cover but Tenzan kicks out! Ishii goes for the brainbuster but Tenzan escapes. He chops now, and they are exchanging headbutts! You can hear the brain cells dying in this ring during this exchange. Ishii then launches up and gets a swinging kick that connects right to 'Tenzan's forehead! THAT is impressive. Tenzan counters with a strike and sends Ishii down. Tenzan scoops him up and gets a tombstone! Only gets a two count! Tenzan hits the lariat Tenzan hits the scoop slam and he's going up. The big guy lands the moonsault! Cover and Tenzan gets the win and earns himself two points! WOW, that was good! The crowd is cheering for him, and he thanks Kojima at the ringside.
Backstage, he says he got his first win of the tournament, and he thanks Kojima.
Studio words from Tenzan and he surprises me with how soft spoken he really is. He had imagined a lot of outcomes for him in this match and was happy that people cheered for him. The cheers gave him power. Having Kojima give up his spot so he could enter made him feel like he now represented both of them in the ring. He mentions the summer was a happy time for him and says that team TenCozy will make a run for the World Tag League tournament later in the year.
Onto hour two as we are greeted by Marufuji. We are still at Night One of the tournament.
Block A: Bad Luck Fale vs. Hirooki Goto
*Deep breath* Welp, in life a little rain must Fale. Fale is representing the Bullet Club. He plays mostly a spoiler in these tournaments and is the only time of year anyone really cares about him. Goto, who won this tournament in 2008, representing CHAOS and is determined to win the big one.
Fale makes his entrance first and looks about as thrilled as I am for a Fale match. He attacks the ring announcer for some reason as JR mentions his podcast again for the third time in an hour. Goto comes out in CHAOS colors. They mention Goto winning the tournament years ago but hasn't won it since. He's also been in a bit of a slump as well.
Bell rings and nothing happens. Size mismatch for this one. Goto goes right for strikes on the big guy but tries for a running shoulderblock. That doesn't work as everyone in the world would expect. Goto pops right back up and goes for the lock up. Fale turns it around and gets a waistlock and a takedown. Goto slips into a reversal and gets a hammerlock and cranks on it. Fale gets to the ropes but Goto goes right back to the arm and gets him down again as Goto locks in an armbar. Again, Fale gets to the ropes. Goto keeps the lock on and hammers the arm a few times. Goto tries for the whip but Fale reverses it into the corner. Goto stumbles out and Fale then just runs him over with a big clothesline and sends him outside.
We return from commercial, and Goto is on the outside. Fale tosses him into the barrier. Again to the barrier hard. A Jim Cornette mention from Barnett as he and JR joke about the metal barrier getting its own t-shirt and gimmick. Fale rolls into the ring as Goto barely gets in at 18. Fale just steps on top of him on the back and then again on his chest. Fale chases the ref onto the apron for nagging him. Big slam from Fale and tries a one-foot cover that gets two. He grabs Goto by the hair but Goto counters with some shots, but a knee to the gut ends that. Goto whipped into the corner and Fale tries for the splash but misses and Goto hits a few clotheslines to get Fale down. Goto gets the rolling heel kick into the corner and then goes up for a top rope elbow. He tries for the cover but only gets two. Goto tries for a fireman's carry but Fale just conks him on the head and down goes Goto. Fale lands the splash and nearly gets a pin.
Fale picks Goto up and lands the grenade! Cover only gets two. Fale gets Goto up for the outside edge but Goto squirts out. Fale tries a clothesline but it misses and Goto lands a headbutt. He gets the kick right to the heart. Goto gets the big guy up momentarily but he can't get anything out of it and switches to the sleeper instead! He gets the big guy down. Goto gets him into a dragon sleeper position and drops him with the GTR for the win for two points!
Backstage Goto says it doesn't matter who it is or how big they are, he has to beat them all.
We come back to studio words from Marufuji. After being on the outside for four years, he felt fans had changed since he last was in a G1. This made him look forward to the audience reaction to him. We see footage from the press conference where Okada says it's just Marufuji so he will have some fun. Marufuji counters that he is no pushover. Since Okada won the belt, he felt the fans had high expectations for him. Okada is one of the best in the world, no matter the organization. He feels Okada is younger but had a lot that he was jealous of. Interesting comment.
Block A: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kazuchika Okada
DREAM MATCH! For those that don't know, Marafuji is the top dog for Pro Wrestling NOAH and I believe the GHC champion at this point. Okada just regained the IWGP title from Naito as we saw last week. While it makes this match all the more awesome, it seems kind of silly that the sitting IWGP champion is competing for a title shot against himself. Ah well. Okada would have the historical edge here, having won the tournament in 2012 and 2014, but let's see what Marufuji can do.
My suspicions are confirmed as Marufuji comes out with the Global Honor Crown title belt. What is noticeable is that JR and Josh refuse to even mention it. I've heard that the relationship between New Japan and NOAH had soured since this match took place, so I wonder if they were told not to mention it. Probably a case more of JR not knowing what the belt meant. Marufuji's outfit reminds me of Ernest Miller's get up during his brief run with the WWE a decade ago. Rainmaker Okada comes out in his usual pomp with Gedo in tow, but again, I don't expect him to interfere in this match.
We are back from a break and the bell rings. There is a big stare off to start. JR mentions that with Marufuji we need to watch out for his bicycle knees, his slice bread from the corner, and something called an emerald flosion. They go for a tentative Greco-roman lock up a few times but then just lock up. Okada goes behind but Marufuji counters. Okada gets the arm but Marufuji rolls out into a reversal. Okada counters back but Marufuji gets the headlock. Okada gets shot off and hits Marufuji with a shoulder strike. Okada gets a waistlock and immediately goes for the rainmaker clothesline but Marufuji ducks it. Marufuji tries for his bicycle knees but Okada avoids that. They give each other a look as the crowd cheers.
They go back to a basic lock up into the ropes and Okada just gives him a pat on the chest but then lay right into him with a couple of strikes. He lands a snapmare and gets in the sliding dropkick. Marufuji gets up but right into a neckbreaker and a two count. Chinlock by Okada. Marufuji gets to the ropes for the break. Elbow to the neck by Okada and into the buckle. Marufuji gets the reverse on the whip. He comes in but Okada scoops him up on the buckle for the high dropkick, but Marufuji grabs the arm and snaps it over the top rope! Okada yells in pain and rolls right to the outside. Marufuji is like a shark that senses blood and goes right after the arm. He wraps it around the barricade a few times and then takes Okada's hand and sandwiches it inside the metal gate and squeezes on it with his foot. Hey, this guy isn't an angel. Marufuji rolls into the ring as the count gets going and Okada makes it to the apron. Marufuji strikes him a few times and drags Okada in the ring. He locks in an armbar but Okada gets his feet on the ropes for a break.
Back from the break as Marufuji gets an elbow to the face! Marufuji replays him with a strike. Marufuji lands another chop to the chest and Okada goes down in the corner. Okada is really hurt. Marufuji wrenches the arm on the rope and lands a few elbows. Okada stands up but Marufuji gets the jumping elbow in the corner. Marufuji goes for something else but Okada gets the backdrop. Okada with a few clotheslines and gets a back elbow. Lands another into the corner and then a DDT on Fuji. Cover gets two. Okada slams him and goes up or the Randy savage elbow. Marufuji is right up and makes the charge but Okada just jumps over the top of him. He turns right into a massive clothesline that shotguns Okada right out of the ring. Marufuji leaps over the rope and lands right on the hurt arm. He snaps the arm on the apron and gives him a straight jacket around the ringpost. Marufuji tosses Okada back in the ring and locks in a wristlock before he just stomps on the arm. Marufuji lands another kick to the arm before locks in the Fujiwara armbar.
Okada crawls and gets a foot on the ropes. Marafuji lands an uppercut to the elbow. Marufuji uses some chops and tries a whip in but Okada reverses and gets the flapjack. He gets an elbow to the face by Okada. Then Marufuji uses a chop. They get in each other's face as Marufuji is chopping the hell out of Okada's chest-- elbow to the gut and another chop. Marufuji hits a dropkick and Okada tumbles to the floor. Marufuji launches over the ropes and to the floor again!
Back from the break, as we are getting down to the wire. Marufuji goes to whip him into the barrier but Okada reverses it. However, Okada turns around and doesn't see Marufuji blocked himself from hitting the barricade and snuck back onto the apron. Okada gets back in the ring and doesn't see Marufuji come in with a huge slingshot launch into a dropkick! Marufuji covers but only gets a two. Marufuji gets a neckbreaker in but Okada counters. He goes up for the elbow but he uses the bad elbow. He is in pain. Okada gets him up and tries for the rainmaker but Marufuji hits a superkick! He hits another one and then goes for Sliced bread in the corner but Okada counters it. Marufuji is stuck backward on the top turnbuckle as Okada hits the high dropkick. He gets Marufuji down from the ropes and goes for the tombstone but Marufuji counters with a superkick. Marufuji goes for something but Okada lands the dropkick and flattens Fuji. Marufuji lands the bicycle knee and flattens Okada! He hooks him up and lands the Emerald Flosion and gets the pin! WOW! That is unexpected! Talk about a dominant performance. Okada has to be carried out as he was pretty much whipped like a dog in this one.
Marufuji talks to the crowd now and says it's been a while since he's seen them at a G1. He thinks Okada is a wonderful wrestler He is the one to conquer this summer.
Backstage Okada is disappointed. He will get him back for this. Marufuji says the reason he won was that he kept it his own style. It was a wonderful atmosphere. It's only the first match though so there is a lot more to do.
Studio words as he says Okada was a better wrestler than he imagined but he wasn't able to give 100 percent after the arm injury. He sent a message to all the other wrestlers in New Japan that he won't be forgotten. He thanks the fans for cheering him on and taking the pressure off him. The first hit is the most important. He will spread his name all over Japan.
Not a bad showing. In the first hour Sanada showed his inexperience a bit I think but him getting the big win over Tanahashi was something. I thought the Tenzan and Ishii match was great! The perfect story and opponent for Tenzan here, In the second hour the Goto match with Fale is about as I expected. I don't think anyone thinks Fale will even contend for this title. The Okada/Marufuji match was the real surprise of the night. I figured it would move much faster but not only was it a slower pace but Okada just got his ass whipped in this match. Even Barnett commented that Marufuji was never n any real trouble. Good shows tonight.
In a match from night one we didn't see, Togi Makabe won over Tama tonga so that means that after night one Makabe, Sanada, Tenzan, Goto, and Marufuji all have two points while Tanahashi, Ishii, Fale, Okada, and Tonga all are zip. But we have a lot more action to go.
And before I take off for this week I'd like to give an update to the news last week with Tamaoki Honma getting injured after a hangman DDT from Jado. Since then we have been given an update saying that Honma suffered an injury of some sort between his C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. He has since recovered movement in his arms and legs and his breathing has been stabilized. He isn't being moved quite yet but it will take quite some time for him to fully heal. Best of luck to you big guy and let's make the kokeshi happy again!
See you all with two more hours of action next week!