New Japan Pro Wrestling made their (re)debut in the United States on July 1st with the first night of their G1 Special in the US at the Long Beach Convention Center. This review is based on being there live, and I have not seen any of the show that aired on AXS, so some things may have come across differently than on TV. Also, it obviously won’t reflect any issues with the production or issues with the commentary.
For running a show for the first time in a new country, from a live standpoint everything seemed to come across really smoothly, with one exception. Getting into the venue was pretty fast and there were no delays on letting people in. There were plenty of seating charts and the sections, rows, and chairs were all clearly marked. Every seat had a informational booklet on New Japan with a breakdown of the titles and biographies on a lot of the wrestlers, which was a nice touch even though I’m sure most in attendance were familiar with the product.
The only major problem was the merchandise line. It looked to be extremely long and disorganized. A lot of people were complaining about how slow the line was moving and right about the time the show was starting there looked to be about 500 people in line still. This lead to a lot of empty seats all over at the start of the show. At intermission I talked to some people who were in line and they had been there since before the show started. I asked why they didn’t just get out of line, but there was the worry about sizes selling out. One person I spoke with later missed all but the last two matches waiting in line for merchandise. I think New Japan greatly underestimated the demand for merchandise and simply didn’t have enough people working the booth. Then again, the biggest size t-shirt they said they brought was XXL so I think they didn’t do enough market research in that area at all.
Will Ospreay, RPG Vice (Rocky Romero & Trent Bareta) & Briscoe Brothers (Mark & Jay Briscoe) over Marty Scurll, Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson), Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi
The Young Bucks got a huge reaction when they were announced. Marty Scurll was right behind them. This was a really fun opener that really got an already hot crowd even hotter. The crowd was going crazy for everything. I thought the match did a good job of showcasing everyone. In a preview for night 2, The Young Bucks and RPG Vice went at each other for a bit after everyone else cleared the ring. Rocky Romero rolled up Matt Jackson after The Bucks Meltzer Driver attempt was broken up by Will Ospreay. It was really cool to see Rocky Romero get the pin here, because he is a Southern California guy who started at EWF’s School of Hard Knocks and I believe is the only wrestler on the show who was part of New Japan’s Los Angeles Inoki Dojo in the mid-2000s.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada, Evil, Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi) over Jushin Thunder Liger, Volador Jr., Dragon Lee & Titan
LIJ got a huge reaction when they came out, but that was eclipsed by Jushin Liger’s. When Dragon Lee and Takahashi were in this together, it was really good. When anyone else was in, it was somewhat lackluster. The match really didn’t have a lot of direction to it and just seemed pretty randomly tossed together (which isn’t rare on a NJPW undercard). Takahashi hit a Time Bomb on Titan to get the win. This was fun at parts, but overall it wasn’t anything special.
Jay Lethal over Hangman Page in a IWGP US Title Tournament First Round Match
Lethal was selling a rib injury he suffered at Ring of Honor’s last PPV the entire match, which really added to the clunkiness of the match. It really seemed like these two never really got on the same page and there was a ton of sloppiness here. Late in the match Jay Lethal his a Lethal Injection that obviously didn’t really connect and Page sold it anyway, which looked really bad. They did a bit more then Lethal hit another Lethal Injection, and got the pin. This wasn’t very good.
Rating: * 1/2
Zack Sabre Jr. over Juice Robinson by submission in a IWGP US Title Tournament First Round Match
A guy near me kept yelling CJ Parker at Juice Robinson. Cool. Other than that guy the crowd was really behind Juice Robinson in this match, which I wouldn’t have expected especially with Sabre Jr. being the PWG champion. This match had a ton of action in it and they did an excellent job of telling a story. Sabre worked over Robinson’s arms the entire match and Robinson did a great job selling it and really made Sabre’s submissions look believable. Sabre won by submission with an Octopus Hold in a really good match.
Rating: *** 3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Jay White & David Finlay over Billy Gunn, Yoshitatsu, Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka
Billy Gunn got a much better reaction than I thought he would. I’m in the group that thinks it was a mistake putting him on the shows, because most of the people going to these New Japan shows want to see New Japan shows, not New Japan wrestlers mixed in with former WWE guys. In the two previous tag team matches they were playing pretty fast and loose with the rules and at times people were just coming in and out of the match as they pleased. This one played a lot more as a normal tag match, with actual tags. Billy Gunn looked fine on offense, but his bumping and selling were pretty bad. The Tempura Boys did most of the work for his team though. Jay White hit a Flatliner on Yoshitatsu right after everyone else on his team hit dives on the heel team. This was a decent match overall. It was nice to see Jay White get the pin, which should be a big deal in a match where he had Kushida and Tanahashi on his team.
Rating: ** 1/4
Next we had a 15 minute intermission. I wasn’t expecting an intermission with this being on live TV. Outside of the opener and Sabre vs. Robinson the show has been pretty lackluster to this point.
War Machine (Raymond Rowe & Hanson) over Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tanga Roa & Tama Tonga) to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship
War Machine came out wearing gear that looked like they stepped right out of a game of Blood Bowl. War Machine is a lot of fun to watch with their charisma and power offense mixed with some high flying. The match was made a no-DQ match before it started. It started with a lot of hitting each other with weapons and brawling, but really picked up as a match after the first few minutes. Hanson kept hitting his corner-to-corner splash on the GOD, which looks really cool for a guy his size. GOD looked really good in this too. War Machine hit the Fallout on Roa through a table for the win. I think some of their matches in Japan have been better, but this was really good once it got going.
Rating: *** 1/4
Tomohiro Ishii over Tetsuya Naito in a IWGP US Title Tournament First Round Match
After a somewhat lackluster first half, this is where the second half really started to make this a great show. Naito was over big time to the live crowd and got a huge pop. Despite that by the end of the match everyone was going nuts for any of Ishii’s near falls. This was a great New Japan strong style match. Naito had a ton of fast paced offense but kept running into the brutality that is Ishii. At one point Ishii hit his stiff head butt spot that just makes you cringe and it looked like it busted open Naito’s mouth. Naito almost got the pin with a Dragon Suplex, but Ishii hit a brainbuster to get the win. This was a great match.
Rating: **** 1/4
Kenny Omega over Michael Elgin in a IWGP US Title Tournament First Round Match
As you’d expect Kenny Omega got the loudest pop of the night. These guys worked at an incredible pace throughout this match. Omega’s spectacular selling brought Elgin’s power offense to another level. These guys played off each other so perfectly. Elgin hits a crazy German Suplex on the apron that looked like it killed Omega. Omega hit a bunch of stiff looking knees too. Elgin hit a Crucifix Powerbomb from the middle rope that I thought was going to be the end for Omega, but he managed to kick out. Eventually Omega hit another knee strike to Elgin’s head followed by the One Winged Angel to get the win. This was a great match and a really strong contender for the Southern California match of the year. Just a fantastic effort by both guys.
Rating: **** 3/4
Kazuchika Okada over Cody to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title
At the last ROH PPV no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t make Cody Rhodes a heel. There was no problem with that here as the crowd absolutely hated him. Cody did a great job playing it up and making the crowd hate him even more. Cody did a ton of stalling early, but Okada was able to eventually forced him into action. There was lots of really good action early on, including Okada hitting a drop kick on Cody, who was on the top rope, causing him to fall all the way to the floor. Cody eventually got a Calf Killer on Okada, that Okada really sold and some of the crowd actually was buying that he might tap. Okada was able to retake control after a rope break. After a few hard lariats on Cody, out came Kenny Omega with a towel, playing off Cody coming out with a towel when Omega fought Okada a few weeks ago. Omega gave the towel to Cody’s wife, Brandi Rhodes, and tried to get her to throw it in, but she didn’t. Eventually Cody got ahold of it, wiped his ass with it, and threw it back at Omega, showing some cracks in the Bullet Club. Cody hit Okada with his own finisher, the Rainmaker, but Okada was able to kick out. Okada then hit a Cross Rhodes on Cody, that Cody was able to kick out of. Cody tried to use Omega’s One Winged Angel, but Okada was able to reverse it and hit a tombstone followed by a Rainmaker to get the pin and retain the title. This was another excellent match that was brought down slightly with a little bit of sloppiness. Okada might be the best wrestler in the world and Cody really stepped up to meet the challenge.
Overall thanks to an amazing second half this was a great show. New Japan probably couldn’t have hoped for a better debut than this. The crowd was incredibly hot most of the entire show and the last three matches were fantastic. Anytime you have three 4 star matches including a possible match of the year candidate on a show, it’s a great show. If you missed the show, I highly recommend checking out a replay on AXS or on New Japan World if you get a chance.
Night 2 of New Japan’s G1 Special in the US takes place on July 2nd. Keep checking SoCalUncensored for updates and coverage of all pro-wrestling in Southern California.