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wrestling / Columns

Reactions to the NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco

July 12, 2018 | Posted by Dino Zee
NJPW Firing Squad Bullet Club OG

This past Saturday, I was one of the people sitting in the audience at the Cow Palace in San Francisco (it’s Daly City, but there’s really only one town arguing that point) as New Japan invaded our area with the G1 Special, headlined with a match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship between Kenny Omega and Cody!

I bought my ticket the day sales started, when absolutely zero matches were announced, so seeing what the card turned into was a nice treat. Still, I was going to attend that show no matter what, as evidenced by the purchase itself. And wouldn’t you know it, I had a freaking blast.

So this week, I’d like to give my overall thoughts on the show. This will not be a “recap” of each match, but more my general feelings as the show went on, things like that. I leave the recapping to the recappers, because I just don’t take the notes necessary for that kind of thing. In fact, I spent most of my time just enjoying the show, hoping my brain would recall enough for this write-up.

There won’t be any photos from my visit, for a few reasons. For starters, I only took one picture. It’s just a simple shot of the set, nothing spectacular. Secondly, as you may recall from my meeting Jushin Liger column, the camera on my phone is kinda crummy. I don’t want to make everyone suffer through slightly blurry photos in this HD age. Finally, our seats were basically two rows from the very top. There was never going to be any close-up, amazingly detailed shot from me, anyways. But, since there’s absolutely no bad seats in the Cow Palace, we were still able to see all the action without any problem.

I love that damn place so much.

We got to our seats about 10 minutes before the show started. I was extremely excited for the first match, as I have been a huge fan of Tama Tonga since first seeing him in CMLL almost six years ago. Knowing that he would be teaming with his dad, HAKU, only increased the excitement. They teamed with Tanga Loa (brother to Tonga, duh), Yujiro Takahashi, and Chase Owens to take on the CHAOS contingent of Gedo, Rocky Romero, YOSHI-HASHI, and Roppongi 3K, Sho and Yoh. The match itself was fun, but I was so geeked seeing Tama Tonga, that nothing else really mattered. I also hate YOSHI-HASHI, so it made it extremely easy to root for the Bullet Club side.

That Tonga would collect the pin following a gun stun only made it that much sweeter. Sure, it was a little bit of a bummer that the dude I was most excited to see was only involved in the first match, but maybe there’d be something else cool later on in the show, right?

The tag match between Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano taking on Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr. was next. I had extremely mixed feelings on this, as I generally can’t stand Yano, but I love Suzuki and respect Ishii and, in a bit of a shock to me, I dig Zack Sabre. I was able to catch him last year at a local APW show and I like his style. But overall, none of these guys are huge favorites. The crowd, myself included, loved watching Suzuki and Ishii beat the crap out of each other, and Sabre had his fun offense on full display as well. To my chagrin (a theme that would continue for most of the evening), Ishii and Yano would get the win after Ishii murdered Sabre with a lariat. I just don’t like seeing Yano happy, okay?

However, the next match was the one I also extremely excited for, as two of my favorite New Japan talents, Hiroshi Tanahashi and KUSHIDA, would team up to take on the vile, dastardly duo of Hangman Page and Marty Scurll. The only thing that really bummed me out was that the Tanahashi/KUSHIDA team didn’t get separate entrances, because KUSHIDA’s theme is the stuff that dreams are made out of.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this match. All four men bring something different to the table than the other three, and they all mixed well with each other. The crowd was absolutely nuts for the Bullet Club contingent, which isn’t hard to see as Scurll has this super weird charisma that I also dig as a fan. I was quite sure that I’d be seeing my team romp their way to a victory, and popped huge when KUSHIDA finally applied the Hoverboard Lock (I love the move, kill me). Unfortunately, things would turn an in an instant, Page was dropping Kushida with his reverse piledriver, the Rite of Passage, for the win. Yeah, the ending was a bit of a letdown, but this night was all about actually seeing New Japan live, and trying to accept that it was actually happening. If my favorites didn’t all win, I was sure I’d be okay. In that sense, the whole thing was worth it to be able to see KUSHIDA and Tanahashi. You know, because they freaking rule.

Up next was the NEVER Openweight Championship between Hirooki Goto and Jeff Cobb. Cobb, of course, is also the APW Champion out here, a title he won in the Cow Palace, and so, would you believe it, he had a ton of fan support throughout the match. I’ve met Cobb a few times at local shows, and the dude is just a solid guy. Always pleasant to the fans, always giving us really fun matches… yeah, I’m a Cobb fan, too.

Goto, on the other hand, is someone that hasn’t really connected with me, even though I really want to like him. I feel like that’s the overall story of his career, too. He should be higher on the card than he is – he has the look, he has some cool moves – but something’s just off, and he feels better when he’s a bit lower on the card, for whatever reason.

This match was exactly what I figured it’d be – an athletic, hard-hitting contest between two guys that can both dish it out and take it. Anytime I can see Cobb effortlessly throw someone – anyone – around, it’s going to be a good night. As usual, he didn’t disappoint, showing his incredible strength time and time again. But Goto showed his heart, willing his way through every Cobb offensive outburst, eventually hitting Cobb with the two versions of the GTR to end the match. Again, sure, a bit of a letdown. But the silver lining was seeing Cobb receive the star treatment he deserves by a fanbase all to ready to give it to him. I hope there’s bigger things ahead for Cobb in New Japan. The man is gold.

Next up was the match I was most intrigued by, as the IWGP Tag Titles were up for grabs with the Young Bucks defending against EVIL and SANADA. I’ve long been one of those guys who are, to put it politely, not feeling the Young Bucks. Over the last year or two, however, I’ve taken a more charitable approach to them, and have found myself enjoying their hijinx. At this point, I see them as extremely entertaining athletes who do some incredible moves. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still can’t hear about them being the best tag team in wrestling or anything, but that’s just one asshole’s opinion. I still appreciate them for what they do. I think that’s okay.

EVIL is someone I enjoyed when he was in Ring of Honor as Watanabe, and EVIL is someone I’ve never really dug, though I’ve heard that he’s much better in this current New Japan run. So, I was really interested to see if I’d enjoy this match, or if I’d smark myself out of it and just hate on the Bucks.

Surprise, surprise, I loved this match. Because, again, the Young Bucks are fun as all hell, and I don’t care if that shoots my “I prefer wrestling!” cred a little bit. The two just do some of the absolute craziest shit one could imagine seeing, and I think you have to really be trying too hard if you can derive no joy in one of their matches. It’s fine if it’s not your thing, but for their to be nothing in a Bucks match that you thought was cool seems suspect.

These four went all out, with the usual goofy Bucks stuff mixed in with their top-rate aerial wizardry. SANADA… did a lot of Dragon Sleepers, and EVIL was there to try and hold it down for his team. Everything in my being told me the Bucks were retaining, duh, so it made it a little easier to just cheer for them and enjoy the ride. Yeah, I even joined in on a couple of the “YOUNG BUCKS!” chants, which probably disappointed 2015 me sooooo much, but 2015 me can jump off a cliff. Bucks are a good time, damn it! The best parts of this match for me was the Los Ingovernables duo hitting the freaking Indie Taker (!!!), and the Bucks finishing things off with the Motherloving Meltzer Driver. Having never seen the Bucks live, this was every bit the treat I figured it would be, even if there’s still a stubborn part of me that wanted to not like it.

YOUNG BUCKS!! YOUNG BUCKS!!

We were then treated to the tag match between Okada and Will Ospreay taking on Tetsuya Naito and BUSHI. I’m not a huge Okada fan, but I think he’s fine enough. This match wasn’t my favorite one on the card, to be honest. It wasn’t a terrible match, but I don’t really remember anything standing out to me, either. Okada and Ospreay were victorious after a Stormbreaker. Again, the spectacle of “I’m seeing Okada! I’m seeing Naito!” was far more incredible than the match. I kinda dig BUSHI, too, so that was fun. Ospreay is kinda whatever to me, though. I’m sure, like with the Bucks, I’ll appreciate him eventually.

At this point, there were only three matches left – the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP United States Championship, and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches. And at this point, I was already blown away by the incredible wrestling I had taken in. Little did I know what was still to come.

So, let’s get this out of the way, right away – I’m not a fan of The Time Bomb. I think Hiromu Takahashi is more than slightly overrated, and I hate that he beat KUSHIDA. So, even though I knew it was futile, I was rooting hard for Dragon Lee to take the belt.

Days later, I’m still actually not sure if I loved or hated this match. It was an incredible exhibition of pro wrestling moves, that much is for sure. However, there was a distinct lack of wanting to convey to the audience that any of these moves actually hurt, which could be a bit off-putting. Especially when, say, the two men hit each other with roughly 37 german suplexes in a row.

Look, I’m fine with Fighting Spirit and all of that jazz, but this was just a tad bit much for me. At the same time, I was absolutely geeking out seeing what move they’d next refuse to sell, which made it a fun little game overall. And then, of course, there was that Phoenix Driver.

All jokes and wrestling-based commentary aside, that was a nasty, nasty thing to witness live. Second, for me, only to Brock Lesnar’s Suicide Shooting Star at Mania 19, which I also attended. I was convinced that Takahashi was done at this point, and recoiled a bit when Lee immediately went over to pick the man up by his head. Amazingly, Takahashi finished the match, even connecting with the Time Bomb for the win. For all my non-fandom of the man, I give him all the respect in the world. I still don’t know how the hell he continued on, if I’m being honest. It was an intense sprint of a match, unlike anything I’ve ever really seen, and I’ll definitely remember it for a long time. That’s got to count for something, even if I’m still not sure that I loved it. Just not my taste, it’s not disrespect to the guys who did the match, or the fans that enjoyed it.

The United States Championship match between Jay White and Juice Robinson was the match that surprised me the most. I didn’t have the highest expectations, as I’m still not sold on White, and while I love that Robinson has had this incredible run in New Japan, still haven’t come around fully on him, either. But this match was insane, with barricades flying, Jim Ross getting hurt, Josh Barnett looking for a fight, a ton of big time moves, a crowd that was incredibly hot for Robinson, White showing that he’s absolutely a damn good heel, and then the feel good win with Robinson getting the title! Yeah, run-ons for life, baby!

Juice Robinson is most assuredly nothing like the CJ Parker of old. This guy has found a great character, earned the respect of the fans, and seeing him receive the love of the fans throughout the match was a really cool thing to experience. I’m still not sure this will be a long reign, but it made those of us in the Cow Palace extremely happy to see him win.

The Main Event was perfectly fine. After the crazy night of action we’d taken in, we were definitely a little spent, but not completely out of it. Kenny and Cody gave us a fun match, with two big bumps in the ladder superplex, and the powerbomb from the ring to the table on the floor. The story they told – the desperate fight between two men who want all the glory – was easy to follow, and they were their professional best. It wasn’t the match of the night, but man was it going to be hard to grab that honor anyways. Seeing Kenny get the big win after the One-Winged Angel was a cool moment, too.

And then the two seemingly made peace, with Omega thanking us all for coming, and wishing us a wonderful night. It was a great way to end the show, and left us all feeling good for getting to experience this event.

Oh, right. TAMA TONGA, BABY!!! What an incredible way to end the show, with Tama Tonga finally stepping up to let everyone know that he had enough of this Elite nonsense. And the beatdown was ON. And I loved every single glorious second of it. You know, because Tama Tonga freaking rules. He started the night right, and he ended the night right. #FiringSquad.

With it now all said and done, as I look back, I think that this was easily the best live show I’ve ever attended, from a pure wrestling standpoint. No interviews, no shenanigans, just match after match, and all of them of good to great quality.

Maybe the first day ticket sales weren’t great. Maybe not announcing a match for a while wasn’t the best idea. But the execution of the G1 Special was incredible, and I’m so happy that I was able to attend. I’m so lucky that I was able to experience this.

2018 has been such a crazy year for me as a fan, and the shows I’ve attended, and the people I’ve been able to see live. The G1 Special will go down as an all-time favorite. Thank you, New Japan.