[Please note: due to how late I am in reviewing this, some injury news has come out of one of the matches, so there will be full spoilers for Hiromu Takahashi vs Dragon Lee. I’ll place it last on the list here, so this is your warning. Everything else is spoiler free, as always.]
Just over one year after treading the waters of an international expansion, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to the USA as it holds the second annual marquee event, the G1 Special in San Francisco. The legendary Cow Palace will play host to an array of match-ups, none bigger than Kenny Omega’s first ever IWGP Heavyweight Championship title defense as he looks to finally bury this rivalry with the wannabe leader of the Bullet Club, Cody. The American Nightmare, Cody himself, is looking to take not only Omega’s newly won championship gold, but claim ownership of the most dominant faction in New Japan – but will it be a clean victory for either man, or will one of them have to face the firing squad? Jay White will also defend the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship against Juice Robinson, as Juice looks to become the first ever American US Champion, but he will have to do battle with the Switchblade with a broken hand. Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee do battle once more, as their legendary rivalry makes the shores of the United States, with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on the line. Hirooki GOto defends the NEVER OPenweight Title against Jeff Cobb and the Young Bucks have a rematch with EVIL and SANADA, of Los Ingobernables de Japon, for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Not to be outdone, the legendary King Haku makes a rare appearance with his sons as part of the Bullet Club, in a 10-man tag team match to open the show, and former champion, Kazuchika Okada, makes his first appearance since losing his title.
+ Kenny Omega (c) (w/ The Young Bucks) vs Cody (w/ Brandi Rhodes) (IWGP Heavyweight Championship): for Omega’s first title defense, in front of a foreign (to him) crowd, with another Gaijin wrestler, this was about as good as you could expect it to be. It was going to be difficult for this match to follow not only the previous two matches on this show, but the Okada match still being fresh in everybody’s mind, but for the most part this was a good match. Lots of story played into things, almost more so than the wrestling itself, and it certainly made for a compelling watch. A good post-match from Kenny Omega sealed the deal, and whatever happened after that was just as good. This wasn’t the best match of Omega’s career, or even on the show, but it was great for what it was trying to do
+ Jay White (c) vs Juice Robinson (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): having to follow Hiromu/Dragon Lee could, and perhaps should, have been the death sentence, but dammit, I was wrong and these two put on the absolute match of the night. Jay White may have cemented himself as a Ciampa-style bad guy in this match, as he played to the crowd and consistently denied them what they wanted, which was a big Juice win. A mid-match moment with English commentators Jim Ross and Josh Barnett will be something to follow with, and I think it added to the match, whether it was planned or not (I just hope JR is okay). This was a lot of fun, and surprised me in many ways
+ CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI): Okada without the championship is a strange sight to see, but he had a new look, a slightly modified entrance and theme song, and it made for a unique showing. Ospreay and BUSHI were absolutely on fire here, but the crowd loved everything Okada or Naito did. The ending surprised me, because it did deny the audience of one of the main things I assume they came to see, but overall this was a great build up to the three bigger matches still to come, and it proved that Okada has not lost a step since losing his title
+ The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) (c) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA & EVIL) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): I can’t say I enjoyed this as much as their Dominion encounter, but it was another great matchup for the newly minted Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. There was some unrealistic stuff (lol, imagine thinking this was realistic at all) which made me think this might been a bit too far, but it all made sense by the end, so I can’t fault it. The Bucks were insanely popular in front of the San Fran crowd, and it made for a great atmosphere
+ Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA) vs Bullet Club (Hangman Page & Marty Scurll): From the moment they made their entrances, Scurll and Tanahashi were the mega stars of this match. The cries of ‘woop woop’ were matches only by ‘Go Ace’, which frankly makes the ending that much more surprising, but in hindsight not entirely unwarranted. I flip-flop on Hangman every show, but this time he gets a plus from me
+ CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) vs Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.): we’ve seen this match what must be a half dozen times in recent months, but this was another good match. Suzuki and Ishii were once again the stars – I don’t know how many NJPW events in a row now I’ve said they just need to let Ishii and Suzuki fight one-on-one forever, but the same is true here. Overall this was fun, once more, and the ending will certainly surprise you
– Hirooki Goto (c) vs Jeff Cobb (NEVER Openweight Championship): I am sad to say I was left severely underwhelmed by this encounter. I really wanted, and expected, Cobb to show off lots more power moves, and to say the crowd was not into the match, especially the ending, is an understatement. Maybe the audience was not as versed in their NJPW stars as I expected
– CHAOS (Gedo, Rocky Romero, SHO, YOH & YOSHI-HASHI) vs Bullet Club (Chase Owens, King Haku, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi): off the top of my head, I think only three guys on either team actually did anything. This was essentially all about King Haku making an appearance, and while frankly he was old and out of shape, I still would never want to fight him in a bar somewhere. Tama Tonga looked good as always, and even YOSHI-HASHI did a bit more than you might expect. Gosh Romero is tiny, eh. This was as standard as it gets
Hiromu Takahashi (c) def. Dragon Lee (to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship):
So first things first, yes, Takahashi broke his neck in this match. I knew that going in, and it just made everything after the Steenalizer/Phoenix-plex that injured him that much more – Hiromu took another powerbomb before hitting the moves for the win, and it made me so uncomfortable I don’t even want to rate the match. If you’re desperate for a recommendation, then sure, of course this was great until that point, but that’s like really enjoying a sandwich until you find a dead rat on the last bite
> where the hell is Ibushi?
> I saw someone refer to Okada, in his new garb and demeanour, as “Kazuchika Mid-kada”. I laughed for minutes
Should you watch this event: The final three matches here are perhaps the best you could hope for out of those involved (shocking injuries notwithstanding). As always, The Young Bucks were great, Tanahashi is still The Ace, the crowd loved everything Bullet Club related, and overall this was a really good show. White/Robinson is match of the night, and you should go out of your way to see it asap, but everything listed as a positive above is well worth watching.