By all accounts, Block B has been the “superstar” block of G1 28. All current champions compete in Block B, so title matches for the foreseeable future are limited to this group. While Block A largely features newcomers at the starts of their NJPW careers, and legends nearing the ends of theirs, Block B is a feast of career prime excellence.
The non-tournament tag team matches for Block A that precede the Block B tournament matches shouldn’t be ignored, though. Several compelling stories are being told through those matches that are worth your viewing time, chief of which involves the tag team of “Switchblade” Jay White and YOH. White has clearly viewed himself as the leader, trying to mold YOH into his ideal follower. He constantly tells YOH that doing things Jay’s way clearly gets results, while listening to Rocky Romero does not. Despite orders from Rocky Romero not to listen to White, YOH has demonstrated a noticeable mean streak in these matches, particularly through the use of a Chris Jericho-esque Lion Tamer submission hold that just looks brutal. White has failed to make the save for YOH several times, but the reasons why have varied. Once, it was to show his control. Once, it was due to his cowardice. Once, he actually did it. Combine YOH’s inner conflict with SHO’s clear disdain for teaming with YOSHI-HASHI (seriously, watch those eye rolls when they enter together), and we have a lovely recipe for “Will Roppongi 3K go bad and join Jay in a new CHAOS?” Yes, please!
Block B’s main stories so far center around four general points. First, Tama Tonga does not care about being in or winning G1, and sacrifices points to “make a statement.” With blatant interference from Tanga Loa in every match, and Bad Luck Fale in most of them, Tama has lost by disqualification more often than not. His Twitter interactions with fans, subsequent Twitter suspension for them, and supposed beef with one Roman Reigns have all contributed to a total WTF reaction from most fans, along with significant displeasure at ruining a number of potentially great G1 matches. Tama does not care.
Secondly, Kenny Omega’s undefeated streak has caused many to believe that he’ll make it to the finals in a clean sweep (See what I did there?), choose his own Wrestle Kingdom opponent, and that it will be Kota Ibushi. While more than a few Golden Lovers and Bullet Club fans want to see this very badly, the tournament isn’t over yet. That current IWGP Heavyweight champ Omega has beaten everyone placed in front of him so far is daunting for the rest of Block B, but assuming that Omega is a lock for the finals ignores both math and the rest of the tournament.
Thirdly, United States champion Juice Robinson lost four of his first five matches, staying at 0 points until this past Saturday. In a sincere and passionate backstage promo, Juice said that if he couldn’t win any matches and get on the scoreboard, he didn’t belong in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He would vacate the US title, hand it over to the company return home to Chicago, and sit on his couch until he could figure out what else to do with his life. This offer was rendered unnecessary when Juice finally got a win, but his broken left hand (and his inability to use it offensively without getting disqualified because of the cast) has been the source of his woes. It will likely continue to be.
Finally, the first half of the G1 was a coming-out party for SANADA. We’ve seen him use his opponents’ wrestling styles and signature moves against them, to surprising success. He hit Tama Tonga with a Gun Stun. He out-technical wrestled Zack Sabre Junior. He beat Kota Ibushi. This SANADA can go against anyone, and play his game better than he can. Well, almost anyone…. I’m still very angry about that one, don’t @ me.
If you want to catch up on some of this action, but are completely overwhelmed by where to start, then you’re in luck! Below are the “Must-see” matches of Block B so far. As always, your mileage may vary.
Tomohiro Ishii v Toru Yano
Yano announced before the G1 began that he would not rely on his typical “Sublime Master Thief” shenanigans, and would instead do honor to his university by wrestling the way that they had taught him. Some manner of cheating scandal at said university seems to have prompted this change of heart. In any case, all of Yano’s block matches so far have been great fun, with minds blowing at how well Yano can actually wrestle! The referees even try to keep him on the straight and narrow, stopping him when he resorts to his familiar tactics, and reminding him of his vow to rely on “fair play.” It’s fantastic! This match is a case of longtime tag team partners facing each other, and knowing each other extremely well. The ending sequence will surprise you, in all of the right ways. Watching all of Yano’s tournament matches would not be a bad idea, and yes, I cannot believe that I am saying this. Enjoy!
Kenny Omega v Tetsuya Naito
A rematch from last year’s G1 finals, the outcome of this match would determine a great deal. Popular opinion held that if Naito beat Omega here, then he probably wouldn’t win the tournament, as he could challenge at “King of Pro Wrestling,” or elsewhere. He didn’t, and Omega is still undefeated at the halfway point. This match, though, is everything that one could expect and want from these two, and was easily the match of the night. Omega’s trash-talking about Japanese wrestlers in general, and attacks on Naito in particular, made this match more personal than their previous encounters. It’s a great match.
Kota Ibushi v Zack Sabre Jr.
Sabre tapped out Ibushi during his clean sweep to win the New Japan Cup, so Ibushi was looking to avenge that loss. The styles of these two are so much fun to watch together, and you just need to sit down and watch this. Taka Michinoku is the greatest hype man of all time. That is all.
Tomohiro Ishii v Tetsuya Naito
These two never disappoint when they meet in the ring, and following Naito’s first-round loss to Omega, he was definitely on a mission here. Their wrestling chemistry is truly special, and not much can really be said besides watch this match ASAP.
Hirooki Goto v Tomohiro Ishii
Goto’s prior tournament matches were perfectly good, but they lacked that G1 spark of “next level awesomeness.” Then this match happened. Wow, if you like a good hoss match slugfest “beat the everloving daylights out of each other” match, then you’ll LOVE this. Ishii is great pretty much all the time, but when Goto reminds you just how good he really is, you hang your head in shame for doubting him. This is one of those times.
SANADA v Zack Sabre Jr.
This match defines “completely unexpected.” SANADA also tapped out to ZSJ during the New Japan Cup, but this rematch was nothing at all like their first. Nobody, NOBODY would have guessed that SANADA would use ZSJ’s own technical wizard wrestling game against him, or that he would do so amazingly well at it. I watched this match with my jaw literally dropped open for most of it, and could not quite process what I was seeing. ZSJ’s post-match comments are hysterical, as he blames Brexit and the British Conservative Party for distracting him. Everything about this is fantastic.
Tomohiro Ishii v Zack Sabre Jr.
ZSJ’s wrestling style seems more challenging to employ against an opponent with short, thick limbs, and no neck to speak of. Ishii’s wrestling style seems more challenging to employ against an opponent who can cling to you like pet hair from any angle at any time. That’s what makes this match awesome. Neither man has won all of his matches, but both have had extremely good to great runs so far in the tournament. This match could have easily gone either way, and regardless of who you support, you won’t be disappointed.
SANADA v Kota Ibushi
Billed as another NJPW “Handsome Battle,” this match took place in SANADA’s home prefecture, and boy, could you tell. The audience was super hot for this match, but Rocky’s insistence on commentary that the crowd was evenly split was not what I heard. Once again, fans have at least a general idea of what to expect from Ibushi matches, but the key question was how would SANADA respond to a fearless golden god of athletic caliber to rival his own? The answer was “with jaw-dropping awesomeness.” I’m being deliberately vague here, because summarizing a match like this does not do it justice at all. Suffice to say that fans of both men will be very pleased, and you’ll look at SANADA a little bit differently after this match.
Tomohiro Ishii v Kota Ibushi
For quite a lot of fans, this is the match of the tournament so far. At just over sixteen minutes, it feels like a much longer match because of everything that happens in it. Indestructible Ishii? Check. Demon Ibushi? Check. Kamegoye from Ishii? Check. Ibushi moonsault off the balcony? Obviously. This match makes you feel good about being a wrestling fan. Just outstanding stuff.
As shown from this match list, tournament MVP at this point has to be Ishii, with Naito close behind him, and Ibushi a solid third. G1 28 picks up tomorrow, with Block A tournament matches. Check back with us for the home stretch of the most gruelling tournament in all of wrestling (for us, not just for the wrestlers), and see if your predictions held true.