For the first time ever this past weekend, New Japan Pro-Wrestling held their first independently produced shows in the United States out in Long Beach, California as a way of expanding their brand into America with the G1 Special in USA, a prelude to their annual G1 Climax Tournament set to begin later this month.
Many of NJPW’s biggest names were featured as they set out to crown the first ever IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion and also firmly plant their feet into new territory.
The two-night spectacular featured a packed tournament for the newly created title that had Kenny Omega, Jay Lethal, Tetsuya Naito, Zack Sabre Jr., Hangman Page, Tomohiro Ishii, Juice Robinson, and Michael Elgin all competing to be the inaugural champion. Thankfully the tournament didn’t disappoint as there were some fantastic matches out of this with first round highlights being being Naito vs. Ishii and Omega vs. Elgin, which to me was the show stealer of the first night given the intensity of both performers and how well they complimented each other as performers. Elgin continues being today’s Bam Bam Bigelow with deceptive agility with his size.
However, it was Omega yet again that proved why he already might be the best wrestler of this year with another outstanding performance throughout the tournament. The previously mentioned bought with Elgin was hard hitting, but then came the semifinal match with Jay Lethal which was exciting and the finals against the Stone Pitbull himself, Ishii were was a hard hitting battle. Omega hit one of the hardest men in the business with a snap dragon suplex through a table! Not afraid to say I marked out a bit.
Omega seemed like the odds on favorite to win going in and he absolutely was. Omega just feels like the perfect candidate for the championship as he is the most well recognized non-Japanese name within the company and is constantly putting on fantastic matches.
Now outside the tournament, there actually quite a bit of storytelling going on throughout the G1 Special. Most notably being the continued teased tension among the Bullet Club during the first night main event where IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada defended his title against recently crowned Ring of Honor World Champion Cody Rhodes. As predicted, Okada and Cody really put on an exceptional match, but the real story was when Omega came down to convince Cody’s wife Brandi to throw in the towel to spare Cody more punishment as Cody tried to try and convince Bullet Club to do the same thing during Omega’s rematch with Okada at Dominion 6.11.
The tension stemmed from Cody’s desire to face whoever would win and clearly didn’t want to stir up the ranks of the Bullet Club. The tension even carried over when Cody snatched away Omega’s newly won title at the end of the event only to put the belt around Omega’s waist, seemingly putting to rest any thoughts of problems within the most popular wrestling stable today. But who really knows.
Then there was the official disbanding of Roppongi Vice after failing to recapture the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships from the ever over Young Bucks. Rocky Romero no longer wanting to hold back partner Beretta, gave his blessing to go solo in the heavyweight division. War Machine recaptured the IWGP Tag Team Championships from the Guerrilla of Destiny in a No DQ match after GOD had used a chair to win the belts back at Dominion 6.11.
The only other title defended was Hiroshi Tanahashi’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship against Billy Gunn, which many people saw as an odd choice, but it did make for a better match than expected as Gunn more than held his own against one of Japan’s absolute best.
The rest of the card was built up of multiple man tag team matches, which did make sense given this was a bigger platform for NJPW to showcase many of their great talents from Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Sanada, Kushida, and long time legend Jushin Thunder Liger. That and there is an abundance of stables and tag teams in NJPW from such as Los Ingobernables de Japon, Chaos, and The Tempura Boyz. Safe to say everyone involved in the show got their chance to shine.
New Japan has stated plans for touring the United States in spring of 2018 at the latest and that they plan to open a US office and dojo out in Los Angeles. While primarily in overseas, New Japan Pro-Wrestling has reached out to many wrestling fans across the world thanks to their streaming service NJPW World and its American airings in AXS TV. While not having the huge reach as Vince McMahon does with WWE, it can be said that NJPW is now about to give WWE some competition, but it won’t be that easy. Ever since the demise of WCW, there really hasn’t been anything promotion capable of reaching the same lengths as WWE, however, this could be a good first step.
I am highly doubtful this will escalate to the lengths the Monday Night Wars did, but in terms of offering a noticeable alternative, New Japan Pro-Wrestling might succeed where many have failed.
Did you see the G1 Special? What did you think of it? What was your favorite match? Who do you think will in the G1 Climax this year? Let us know in the comments below!