Overall, I think this tournament has been great, don’t you? I’m going to be a little bit behind in reviewing, but do not let my tardiness in posts (compared to live action) make you think that I’m anything short of uber-excited for these final few matches. By the way, I wrote something on my blog recently that those of you who have kids will appreciate. My daughter got really into wrestling this summer.
October 18th (Pre Final Thoughts)
-Well, it could not have worked out any better for my rooting interests. SANADA is the guy I basically touted last year as the wrestler who I’d heard nothing about and seen nothing of but who left a large enough impression to make me view him as my “one to watch” in the new decade. Kota Ibushi is one of my three favorite wrestlers in the world. The Golden Star made me a fan during the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, so when I began watching NJPW, he only accentuated the glowing reputation I had formed of him. Having gone back and viewed his body of work through NJPW World, I feel like Ibushi is currently on his HBK in the mid-90s type journey to the top of the promotion and that it is time for him to have his crowning moment at WrestleKingdom. So, despite all my thoughts shared on SANADA’s journey, I’m going into the final rooting for Ibushi.
I genuinely did not expect this final pairing and I feel treated by it. The athletic display should be marvelous and no less than a legitimate Match of the Year contender and best bout of the tournament is the expectation. Ibushi has it in him. Does SANADA? As much as I am intrigued by the result, how the Cold Skull delivers in this spot is my greatest source of intrigue. Deliver in the New Japan Cup? That’s not a small thing. Deliver during the G1? Definitely important, as are the title opportunities beyond the tournaments that SANADA has had. The G1 Climax Final, though? That, to borrow from the Dream during the Monday Night Wars, is where the big boys play. The best thing SANADA can do for his career is knock it out of the park against Ibushi, win or lose.
October 17th (Block B Night 9)
-Definitely want to give credit where due to Juice Robinson before moving onto the pair of bouts with the highest stakes. When I started watching New Japan regularly, he was among the talents who had to rewrite their narratives for yours truly. Against Jay White in 2018, against Jon Moxley in 2019, and through his performances with Tana and Naito during this tournament, Juice has completely eliminated for me any trace of the also-ran he was in NXT.
-Naito vs. KENTA was interesting because a Naito loss made sense to set up a more compelling main-event of the B Block, but KENTA as a title contender to me still rings a tad hollow. I was tasked with giving KENTA a chance to do for his narrative what Juice had during this tournament. I have come around a bit, but KENTA still strikes me (no pun intended) as an upper mid-card guy more than a headliner. I certainly won’t be going out of my way to catch a KENTA vs. Naito double title match. Nevertheless, this was a good outing (***1/2), aided in part by my rooting interest in SANADA having a chance to win the block against EVIL. I found it legitimately dramatic to watch KENTA attempt to score the win…and win he eventually did! Credit to the leader of LIJ for a stellar tournament that, in my mind, eliminated the doubt that he should carry the IWGP Heavyweight Championship into WrestleKingdom 15 (the Intercontinental Title, I would say, is up for grabs between now and then). I came into the G1 thinking that NJPW should find a way to get the belt back on Okada before January so that he could continue his dominant run as the Ace of the New Japan Universe, but I’ve changed my tune. I think Naito should be given the opportunity to be The Man right now.
-SANADA vs. EVIL addressed some of the Cold Skull concerns I was developing throughout his run to the “semi-final” main-event. I thought that SANADA wrestled his most characterful match of the tournament in defeating his former tag team partner to win the block. Every great wrestler, I would surmise, wrestles their most engaging matches in situations that have the highest stakes. It doesn’t get much more high stakes than an opportunity to be in the finals of wrestling’s best tournament. So, cheers to both SANADA and EVIL for delivering in this spot. Much like the main-event of the A Block semi-final, SANADA vs. EVIL benefited from traditional pro wrestling storytelling, the heel cheating like crazy and getting tons of help from his running mate, amplifying the desire to see the babyface score what feels like a win against all odds. Yet, it was still up to the wrestlers to take that classic format and maximize what they could get out of it. (****1/4)
October 16th (Block A Night 9)
-Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada was absolutely fantastic, though I’m sure it’s WWE-esque ending will upset a lot of people who are already upset that Ospreay is getting pushed in the first place. The pace of the action, the creativity in the counters, the random bursts of counter-heavy offense…whew, it had the potential to be one of the best of the year, but the finish that saw the Assassin turn more definitively heel lowered the ceiling on the star rating and placed more emphasis instead on the future of the Ospreay character. Maybe, this close to WrestleKingdom, the heel turn will lead to Ospreay vs. Okada on arguably the grandest stage pro wrestling has to offer. I was thrilled to see Ospreay go down the darker path, with his girlfriend Bea Priestley and a new goon serving as his heater adding a new dimension to the increasingly engaging Assassin persona. Seriously, what a match (****1/4)…and then what a full-fledged heel turn!
-Previously, I had never honestly bothered with a Taichi match. I made the reasons why known in earlier running diary editions. Given the stakes with my favorite NJPW star, Kota Ibushi, in line to potentially win the A Block, however, I watched Taichi for the first time. I must say, I was impressed with the toughness on display. Ibushi is the best striker in the game. Literally, for the entire match – somewhere along the lines of 18-minutes – Taichi traded kicks with him. I’m dead serious for those who did not see it. Truly one of the most unique matches I’ve seen, solely consisting of kicks before Ibushi put him away with his finisher. Credit to both guys for going the more daring route. We’re talking about 90 wrestling matches in the span of less than one month. It is not easy to perform something distinct. Taichi vs. Ibushi was memorable. I’m not entirely sure how to rate it since I’d never seen anything quite like it before, but I’ll go ***1/2.
-Ibushi’s potential three-peat as a block winner added an extra layer of intrigue to the Jay White vs. Tomohiro Ishii main-event. If White won, then the A Block would have been his, but Ibushi would advance to the Finals if Ishii scored the victory. If you could conjure up a scenario that would have made this more compelling than it turned out to be, then please share in the comments. Some of my favorite friends in the wrestling media borderline loathe the Switchblade routine (tons of interference from Gedo, rampant cheating – you know, bad guy stuff). I think it can be the same caliber of dramatic that it has been for my entire 33 year wrestling fandom, particularly in the right situations like this one. The lines were clear: Ishii (the Mick Foley of New Japan) against White (the Triple H of New Japan) and, if Ishii won, Ibushi (the Shawn Michaels of New Japan) wins. Coupled with the excellent in-ring action, the story unfolded brilliantly to provide maximum drama. Accordingly, I thought this was one of the best matches of the entire tournament (****1/2).
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