G1 Climax 28

G1 Climax 28

With summer here that means that New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 28 will be starting soon and it looks like it could be a great one.  This year the tournament runs from July 14th with the finals taking place on August 12th.  If you’re not familiar with the tournament it is a round-robin format and is not single elimination (that’s the New Japan Cup).  There are 2 blocks and whoever has the most points from their block will have to wrestle against the person who has the most points from the other block.  It makes for interesting match ups and sets up feuds for the rest of the year as well.  It’s a grueling schedule and the winner could go on to main event Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4th 2019.  I say could go on to main event because they will have to defend their spot.  Most often it’s defended against people that the winner lost against in their block.  If the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, currently Kenny Omega, should win the tournament he would be able to select his opponent.  This hasn’t happened since they started having the winner of the tournament receive a title shot, which started in 2012 at the 22nd G1 tournament.  The winner also hasn’t been successful in capturing the title at Wrestle Kingdom so far as well.  There are a lot of matches to look forward to and I’ll be spotlighting some of the matches from each block that I’m the most interested in.

­A Block

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Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White (July 14th)
The first night has a pretty big match where both combatants have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.  Okada and White are both in the stable CHAOS with Okada being the leader.  Both men also have the shadow of Kenny Omega hanging over them.  Okada’s record breaking IWGP Heavyweight title reign was recently ended by Kenny Omega.  White beat Omega earlier this year for the United States championship, but hasn’t been able to take that title to the same heights as his predecessor.  There’s always seemed to be tension between the two (CHAOS is fine) and this will only add fuel to it.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Minoru Suzuki (July 14th)
Another first night match, but this one shouldn’t disappoint.  Earlier this year Suzuki basically tortured Tanahashi to the point where the ref had to stop the match and give Suzkuki the Intercontinental Championship.  Tanahashi never surrendered and never got a rematch with Suzuki.  These two have had wars in the past, but I don’t know if they’ve had one as emotionally charged as this one.  It remains to be seen if the rest of Suzuki’s group, Suzuki-Gun, will be involved in his matches but they could be a factor.

Jay White vs Hangman Page (July 30th)
These are both first-timers in the G1 tournament and they had a solid match earlier this year for White’s United States Championship.  I think this tournament helps advance both White and Page’s careers since a lot of eyes will be on them.  If they’re able to get over any jitters they might have, this could make for a very fun contest and could lead to bigger things for both men later on down the line.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs EVIL (August 2nd)
I think this has the potential to be a sleeper match.  EVIL had a solid showing in the G1 last year and is one of the only people in 2017 that held a pinfall victory over Okada.  So you can argue that EVIL is on his way up.  You can also argue that Tanahashi is on his way down, but for someone who is getting older he seems to only be getting better.  While it remains to be seen how the Ageless Ace manages to deal with an unforgiving G1 schedule I think he and EVIL have the potential to have a killer match.

Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki (August 2nd)
The last two times these two men have faced it has been a 30 minute time limit draw.  It’s possible that could happen here again, but I don’t think so.  This match is late enough in the tournament that the victor will be obvious once it’s clear what type of story is being told with Okada.  If it is a redemption story and Okada is on his way to his third G1 victory then he gets the win.  If Okada spends most of the tournament having issues with weaker opponents like YOSHI-HASHI or Togi Makabe then his redemption won’t be found in this tournament.  In fact Suzuki will probably torture the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion for most of the match before he puts him away.

Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (August 10th)
On the final night for Block A these two will look to add another chapter to their rivalry that has been going since 2012.  This contest will be fantastic regardless, but like Okada’s match with Suzuki it all depends on the story.  Tanahashi is older and has more injuries and was dispatched relatively easily by Okada earlier this year.  If Okada is still dazed after losing his cherished title, then Tanahashi picks up the win.

B Block

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Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito (July 15th)
I was honestly surprised to see this one announced so early in the tournament.  Omega has taken some shots at Naito since winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and Naito has seemed to downplay them.  Naito is another one that has a possible redemption story to tell since he lost the Intercontinental Championship to Chris Jericho.  He’s also seemed to make it clear that he wants to headline Wrestle Kingdom again, but as champion or winning the championship.  These two have torn down the house in their matches at the previous two G1 tournaments so I expect nothing different.

Toru Yano vs Zack Sabre Jr (July 19th)
I hesitated to include this one since it’ll be the usually Yano buffoonery, but ZSJ is a part of Suzuki-Gun and his mentor Minoru Suzuki is 0 for 4 against Yano in G1 tournaments.  Can ZSJ succeed where his mentor has failed?  Probably not, but it’ll be fun to see him try.

Kenny Omega vs Tama Tonga (July 21st)
Kenny Omega is currently the contested leader of Bullet Club.  Tama Tonga is one of the original members of Bullet Club and seems to be getting sick of the Cody Rhodes/Kenny Omega drama.  I think things build to a head here and Tama could end up with the leadership of Bullet Club along with an IWGP Heavyweight title shot in his future.

Juice Robinson vs SANADA (August 1st)
This should be a good one.  Since coming to New Japan, Juice has improved so much and gotten himself over.  His over the top nature will make an excellent for the Cold Skull SANADA.  SANADA is another one that has improved since making his debut in New Japan and joining Los Ingobernables de Japon.  He definitely seems to be destined for bigger things, but it’ll be interesting to see if that time is now.

Hirooki Goto vs Zack Sabre Jr (August 8th)
Goto was involved in my favorite match at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom when he had an absolute war with Minoru Suzuki.  While I don’t expect the match to be exactly the same, ZSJ can bring the pain and Goto can absorb it pretty well.  I expect this one to be very hard hitting and Goto will probably get twisted into knots before the match is through.

Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi (August 11th)
The Golden Lovers collide in what will no doubt be an incredibly emotional contest.  These two have had death-defying matches in DDT Pro, but haven’t locked up in New Japan as of yet.  I see this match as advancing their story, but it’ll also probably be one of the best matches in the whole tournament.  Ibushi has hinted that he wants gold, but can he go through Omega to get it?

Closing Thoughts

It was really hard to pare down both blocks to a few matches.  Especially since literally every match in B Block is one that I’m looking forward to.  I think A Block is definitely the weaker of the two and I’d probably make substitutions if I was booking everything.  I’m not sure who will win the whole thing, but I’d love a final of Minoru Suzuki vs Kota Ibushi with Ibushi winning the whole thing.  I think it’s too soon for Okada’s redemption since he just lost the title.  I could see Naito winning it again, but he just won it last year so I don’t think he’ll get it.  I really think this tournament could end up being something special though and it does have a little bit of something for everyone.

The Independent Era

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The tickets for the All In event being held in Chicago on September 2nd sold out in less than 30 minutes and with it, possibly ushering a new era of wrestling.  The event itself is being put together by Cody Rhodes and Matt & Nick Jackson, who are known as the Young Bucks, without a major wrestling organization sponsoring it.  The event is featuring talent that is widely featured in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.  They’ve only announced talent and the only match that is even on the card at the moment is Cody vs whoever the NWA champ is (currently Nick Aldis).  Is it safe to say that we’re living in the “Independent Era” of wrestling?

I think ground zero for this current movement ironically begins with WWE starting the WWE Network.  Without its success other independent, and international, feds wouldn’t have tried switching to streaming instead sticking with the DVD/Blu-Ray model they had.  Some feds still use this model, PWG for instance, due to having talent that is currently under contract for other organizations that would not allow them to appear because they would be featured in a pay-per-view type event.  Being able to stream various matches and promotions makes it easier to find the next big thing, be it a new promotion or finding the next Daniel Bryan, and to see them evolve.  Another contribution from WWE has also been not listening to their fans as they continue to seem to push talent that the crowd is reluctant to get behind.  This has also led to people beginning to check out their local indys or check out other promotions that are streaming.

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In addition to independent bookings, merchandise is a major way for indy wrestlers to make money and connect with fans.  The launch of prowrestlingtees.com has helped make it easier to get merch from your favorite wrestler.  The Young Bucks have basically created a model for how to avoid having to do business with WWE and create your own path.  They’re consistently selling new t-shirts and this helped put them in a position to control their own destiny with regard of where they want to work.  Cody Rhodes may have taken a play from CM Punk’s playbook, but instead of walking away he asked for his release.  Upon getting booked on the indy scene Cody’s stock went up almost immediately and he’s become one of the best villains around.  He knew that given an opportunity he could make it work and so far it has.

The viral nature of gifs, YouTube videos, and social media has also helped any number of indy wrestlers gain exposure.  Joey Ryan’s YouPorn-Plex seems to go viral at least once a month.  The Japanese promotion, DDT Pro, also seems to have things go viral periodically.  Especially their weird match types (empty apartment, empty stadium, train, etc) or any match revolving around the Ironman Heavymetalweight championship that can be won by anyone or anything.  A ladder recently had a retirement ceremony.  The Young Bucks even have their own YouTube channel/show, Being the Elite, that not only features Cody, but many other indy superstars like Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, Adam Page, and others.  The show started as a sort of “on the road” type show but has turned into more than that and has been influencing wrestling angles in ROH and NJPW for a little while now.

I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets for this event.  I really believe that we’re at the beginning of a new era of wrestling and one that seems to be lacking in WWE’s active participation.  Sure they have NXT, 205 Live, and Seth Rollins helping to take care of the in-ring side of things, but they produce so much filler content a week that you don’t really need to watch Raw or Smackdown live anymore.  You can either wait until the PPV or catch clips on YouTube.  With the times changing and there no longer really being “appointment TV”, you can give something else a try.  I’m all in on seeing what this “Independent Era” has to offer.

The Inevitability of Zack Sabre Jr.

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There’s been a march taking place in March over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Zack Sabre Jr won the New Japan Cup by submitting a good portion of the NJPW main event scene. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Sanada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi all fell to Sabre in their quest to win the tournament. Because he won that tournament he now has his sights set on Kazuchika Okada and the IWGP heavyweight championship, but he faces some pretty long odds. Okada is in the middle of an all-time run as the champ. You can make the argument that it seems like Okada ALWAYS WINS, but when you’re the Ace of the company that’s how it’s supposed to be. Losses feel unique and if an Ace loses, they need to pick themselves back up and redeem themselves. The match itself should be interesting because Okada has only faced one opponent similar to Sabre and that would be Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki is the leader of Suzuki-Gun and a mentor to Sabre. Both men wrestle a submission based style and while Suzuki is much older and possibly more sadistic, Sabre is younger and inevitable.

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What do I mean by inevitable you ask? Sabre has won gold in just about every promotion he’s wrestled in: Evolve, Rev-Pro, PWG, just to name a few. His submission style isn’t necessarily to work on a limb until you’re forced to tap out. It’s to work on ALL of them and this causes opponents to wonder where he’s going to strike next. He’s composed and calculating and he WILL win eventually. If Okada is able to survive, which seems to be the popular consensus, NJPW has a new star to contend with and he will not stop until he gets gold. It may not be in the form of the heavyweight championship, but it will happen.

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I’d love to see Sabre win, if for no other reason than to just put one over on everyone who thinks that Okada always wins. However, I’m fine with Okada winning as well because I think he’s on a run that will be talked about for many years. Both potential outcomes could lead to interesting things as well. If Sabre wins, he’ll find himself at the top of the company and his mentor as the gatekeeper to get to him. Suzuki is also the current Intercontinental champion. The Intercontinental championship is the second biggest title in the heavyweight division. It could also lead to internal strife within Suzuki-Gun since Sabre would have surpassed his mentor. How long before Suzuki-Gun becomes Sabre-Gun? If Okada wins he’ll find himself closer to having broken another broken. He will be tied with longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi for successful title defenses in a single title reign at 11 defenses. If Okada wins, I think Tanahashi will come out and be the next challenger for IWGP heavyweight championship.  Either way I think the match is going to be a great one and will set the pace for what is already a jam-packed week of wrestling.

Alpha Vs Omega

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Like most wrestling fans, I am eagerly looking forward to New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 taking place on January 4th.  The card is stacked with a main event several years in the making with the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada taking on longtime rival Tetsuya Naito.  While that match is the main event, one of the semi-main events has started to really heat up.  I am talking, of course, about Kenny Omega defending his United States championship against Chris Jericho.  Now this match definitely falls in the category of a dream match, but this all seemed very unlikely just a few short months ago.  Jericho has been perceived as a WWE guy for almost twenty years.  Just to have him step away from that and appear somewhere else is a big deal regardless of whom his opponent is.

Omega and Jericho had some interaction on Twitter.  The general feeling that it was to possibly hype a match that would be taking place on Jericho’s Rock ‘N Wrestling cruise that would be happening in late 2018.  This was their final interaction on Twitter before Jericho shocked the wrestling world.

After defending his United States championship against Baretta at Power Struggle on 11/05/17, Omega was interrupted while cutting a promo by a video from Jericho.  In the video Jericho challenged Omega to a match at Wrestle Kingdom and billed it as Alpha Vs Omega.  The reason for Jericho’s challenge is that Omega claims to be the best in the world, but so does Jericho since he claimed it first.  He used a similar reason to challenge CM Punk at Wrestlemania 28.  I think Jericho is one of the few wrestlers who remembers his own story so when he does something, it’s usually consistent with his character.  He also works much better as a heel and while the match was going to be something special, Jericho added something to it recently.

At a recent NJPW event Jericho ran another video after Omega’s matches, but this time when the lights came up he was standing behind Omega.  I figured Jericho wouldn’t actually be in Japan until Wrestle Kingdom, but I was mistaken like so many others.  Jericho laid a beat down on Omega that went on for several minutes.  Omega was bloody at the end of it and Jericho had even laid out one of his friends, Don Callis, who was an announcer who went into the ring to check on Omega.  The image of a bloodied and battered Omega changed the dynamic of the match.

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Photo Courtesy of WhatCulture.Com

It will no longer be a simple match of who the better person is, but a personal one.  Jericho being the clear heel and Omega being the scrappy face couldn’t be clearer than in the press conference that followed.  I strongly suggest watching the whole thing if you have time, but I have Jericho’s bit ready to go.

I love how the build of this is sort of a reversal of a similar angle Jericho was involved in 15 years ago.  In the build up to Wrestlemania 19 Jericho had called out a recently returning Shawn Michaels.  The two were very similar with their characters and in-ring style and it felt like Jericho was calling out the old man so he could put him down.  Ultimately Jericho lost that match and Michaels stayed around for several more years.  This time Jericho is the old man and he’s picking a fight with the younger version of himself, not someone who’s just making their comeback.  While Jericho is billed as the “Alpha” of the match, since he did all of the things Omega claims to do first, he’s really the “Omega”.  Jericho is probably nearing the end of his in-ring career while Omega hopefully has several years left in him.  I’m most curious if this will be a one-off for Jericho or will it lead to more appearances.  It’s also great to see Kenny Omega get rewarded with a marquee match that will help get more American eyes on the product.  He’s not the only person to help elevate NJPW, but he’s the one that most American audiences may know about.