Hey-o Goodbrothers, what's the haps?
Now that New Japan Pro Wrestling's 24th annual G1 Climax Tournament is halfway done, I thought I ought to pay homage to it's radicalosity with a big dumb blog post, like so many other schmucks. Not sure who my audience is on this one, since Poncho already knows this stuff and Rusty probably doesn't care, but who knows, maybe I'll pat myself on the back when I re-read this in a few years. It's happened before.
G1 Climax 24 is a twenty-two man tournament. They're split into two groups of eleven. Each guy in each of the groups will wrestle every other guy in their group, which means that each guy will have 10 matches to qualify for the finals. There are 12 Pay-Per-View events scheduled over a period of about 3 weeks. The winner of the finals will face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion (NJPW's top title, currently held by AJ Styles) at next year's Wrestle Kingdom, which is like Wrestlemania, if there were WWE vs ROH vs TNA matches at Wrestlemania. (It's multi-promotional.)
The cool things:
Every match is important. So far, everybody has wins and losses (with the exception of one guy, who I'll write about later) which means that no matter where a guy usually is on the card, there's still the possibility of an upset. By the way, there are plenty of upsets.
Every character has their own story. From the bottom to the top, and all through the middle, every guy has a story to tell in every match. The booking has been immaculate. Finishes that were working for guys to rack up wins earlier are now getting kick-outs. Alliances are being tested. Everyone has something to prove, and has the chances to prove themselves. Momentum gains and slacks.
The wrestling is superior. Classicly hard-hitting Japanese wrestling, with that unmistakably epic feel, boiled down to 8-15 minute matches (another 5-10 for the main event) makes for a series of easily digestible cards. The events never feel bogged down or over-booked.
The production goes on forever. One of my top 3 favorite things about NJPW is the way it's shot. Lots of full-figure camera work, with close-ups only when appropriate. You really can see what's going on without the production trying to out-think or manipulate you too much. It comes together really clean, plus there are never more than two backstage interviews, and the rest of the show is wrestling. Someone pinch me.
Shades of grey. There aren't always the traditional molds of good guy/bad guy in Japanese wrestling, and maybe especially within the current regime of NJPW. The characters are more three-dimensional, sometimes even switching between cad and crowd-pleaser from match to match. Take Hiroshi Tanahashi, for instance. One of NJPW's biggest stars, he's been at the top of the card for years, but can draw cheers or boos depending on the context of his matches. He always makes his entrance as a babyface, but if he is facing a younger opponent, he will be disrespectful to them in the match, thus drawing the audiences disapproval and becoming a heel. Sometimes he gets downright nasty, a real bad guy, but then again sometimes he stays a good guy, and crowd favorite, throughout. It's all dependent on his opponent, and the context of their contest. Kind of like real people.
The Japanese spots:
These come up in every match, and I think they're really cool.
The clean break spot. Early in the match, one guy will grapple the other into the ropes, and the referee will call for a "creen blake". Will there be a clean break? Will the aggressor press his advantage? Will the aggressor back off and gloat? Will the defender retaliate with gusto? The Japanese crowd favors good-sportsmanship, so this is a great spot to establish the characters in the context of their match.
The strike-fest. At some point in every match, the dudes will start to just slap/chop/elbow the shit out of each other. It's a good spot for one of them to come off as a bad-ass, regardless of who wins at the end.
The brainbuster. All these guys do brainbusters. The commentators even call them "blain-bustah". Rarely an actual finish, it's just a big suplex that will come at a heated moment and get a 2-count. The commentators have a lot of fun with it. Doesn't actually happen every match, though.
Usually in NJPW shows, there are a mix of singles matches, tag team matches, and 6-8 man tag matches. The singles matches are for feuds and bigger names. Tag matches are for tag teams (NJPW has two sets of tag belts for different weight classes). The multi-tags are for anyone else who doesn't have something going on. Since I've only been following NJPW for the past year, this G1 Climax has given me a great opportunity to get to know more of their roster as they compete in singles matches.
It's tempting to really expound on each competitor, but for now at least I'm gonna keep it brief. It's 5 in the morning and I need to wrap this up.
Guys I newly like: I've gained a huge fandom for Togi Makabe and Davey Boy Smith, Jr. I've gained some appreciation for Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima. The standout in this category is Tomoaki Honma, the "Vampire Chicken". The 11th hour replacement for the injured star Kota Ibushi, veteran of hardcore matches, ultimate underdog, unlikely hero. Honma's head-drops have become regular comedy fodder around the house, as I impersonate the way he cocks his head before pancaking to the floor (except I have to catch myself.) He's the only guy to not have a win in the tournament so far. Actually, he's the only guy not to have at least two wins! If he ever does pull one out, the crowd is going to go apeshit, and I'll be right there with them.
Guys I like more: Tomohiro Ishii and Tetsuya Naito are having more character-driven matches now that they aren't involved with the Never Championship. Toru Yano and Karl Anderson are having the best matches I've seen from either, by far. AJ Styles, who I've seen in many great matches, continues to impress in the far east, which takes him up another notch and a half, and really helps to solidify his legacy.
Guys I like less: The only guy who fits in here is Minoru Suzuki, but I think he might pull himself back up. I just haven't been a fan of his matches so far. His most recent, against stablemate Lance Archer was pretty good though, so we'll see. I had really liked him before, but the matches have just been disappointing.
Guys I like the same: I'm still a super-fan of Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura, a big fan of Shelton Benjamin, Yuji Nagata and Hiroshi Tanahashi, and a fan of Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto, and Lance Archer.
Guys I dislike the same: I just can't say I'm a fan of Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, or Yujiro Takahashi. Takahashi is the only one of the three who I actually think sucks, the big beasts Fale and Gallows maybe just aren't my cup of tea, but I haven't seen either in any good matches (with the exception of Fale-Nakamura from Dominion, which Nakamura carried). I think the only seriously bad match to come out of G1 this year so far was Fale-Gallows, but Takahashi has had a few near-stinkers, if it hadn't have been for his opponents to clean things up as much as possible.
I'm sure there are other things I've wanted to share, but it's super-late, I need to work tomorrow, and so it's probably time to finish up without even sitting around for a while to try and think of something clever to sign off with. Too bad. Sayonara.