NJPW G1 Climax 2019 Results: Opening Night Winners, Grades and Reaction

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2019

NJPW G1 Climax 2019 Results: Opening Night Winners, Grades and Reaction

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    The most prestigious tournament in professional wrestling kicked off Saturday in Dallas as New Japan Pro-Wrestling presented the first night of the G1 Climax.

    IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada battled familiar foe and NJPW icon Hiroshi Tanahashi in the lone B Block match, while stars such as Will Ospreay, Evil, Sanada, Zack Sabre Jr., Kota Ibushi and Kenta, among others, rounded out the evening's A Block competition.

    Find out who emerged victoriously in night one of the 29th annual tournament with this recap of the AXS TV broadcast.

Roppongi 3K vs. Guerrillas of Destiny

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    The opening match of the evening pitted IWGP heavyweight tag team and Ring of Honor tag team champions The Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) against Roppongi 3K (Yoh and Sho).

    The latter team cut a frenetic pace early, using their speed and elusiveness to keep the dominant opposition off guard. G.O.D., though, sent Yoh into the guardrail, then spent a portion of the match isolating and beating down Sho.

    A big spear from Sho gave way to the hot tag to Yoh, who exploded into the match. Unfortunately, Tonga cut off the babyface onslaught with a cutter, then joined Loa for a super powerbomb for the victory.

       

    Result

    Guerrillas of Destiny defeated Roppongi 3K

       

    Grade

    C+

       

    Analysis

    This was a fun, action-packed match that rarely slowed down enough for the audience to lose interest. The Guerrillas of Destiny may be champions in both NJPW and ROH, but this felt like more of a showcase for Yoh and Sho, who impressed both in terms of their babyface comeback and their ability to sell the power-based offense of Tonga and Loa.

    The right team went over, especially considering their high-profile nature across to promotions, but Roppongi 3K remains the perfect team to kick off these shows, thanks to their incredible energy.

Shota Umino and Tomohiro Ishii vs. Ren Narita and Jeff Cobb

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    One week before they do battle in the G1 tournament, Tomohiro Ishii and Jeff Cobb found themselves on opposite sides of a tag team match, the former teaming with Shota Umino and the latter, Ren Narita.

    The Stone Pitbull and Cobb engaged in a brief, physical encounter early in the match before Young Lions Umino and Narita took to the squared circle, each better than they were at this time last year.

    The match descended into a physical one, the strikes hitting harder and the suplexes and slams taking more out of the opposition.

    Late, the action broke down and Cobb was able to deliver Tour of the Islands to Umino for the win.

    Ishii and Cobb came to blows after the match, adding more tension to their budding rivalry and heat to their match next week.

        

    Result

    Cobb and Narita defeated Ishii and Umino

       

    Grade

    B+

       

    Analysis

    This did what it was intended to in that it built excitement for next week's G1, B Block match between Cobb and Ishii. The physicality with which they approached this relatively meaningless tag team match is a great indicator of how brutal and violent the striking will be when they compete against each other in singles competition.

    Umino and Narita were impressive in their brief stints in the match and will undoubtedly develop into stars of NJPW's future. Here, though, they were background noise to the Ishii-Cobb fireworks.

Yoshi-Hashi and Hirooki Goto vs. Chase Owens and Jay White

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    Former IWGP heavyweight champion "Switchblade" Jay White teamed with fellow Bullet Club member Chase Owens to battle the man he will battle next week in G1 competition, Hirooki Goto, and partner Yoshi-Hashi.

    The Bullet Club tandem isolated Yoshi-Hashi early and looked to be on their way to victory.

    A hot tag to Goto sparked a comeback for Chaos. Even as Owens impressed and nearly scored an upset victory, Goto found a way to fight back. At one point, he even had White begging off.

    Late in the match, Goto delivered an Ushigoroshi, followed with the GTR and pinned Owens to score the victory.

       

    Result

    Goto and Yoshi-Hashi defeated White and Owens

       

    Grade

    C+

       

    Analysis

    This was a fun match that put over the Goto-White contest for next week's event but, more than that, showcased Owens as the Crown Jewel he has labeled himself as. Owens' growth as a worker has been one of the fun elements of NJPW shows to watch over the last year, and this was no different.

    There will come a time when he has the opportunity to either break free of Bullet Club and succeed on his own or rise to power as a leader of the group.

    Speaking of Bullet Club, White is as over a villain in NJPW as there is. The heat he received in this match was nuclear in nature and establishes him as the most hated star in the promotion. Considering the varying degrees of love fans have for the NJPW wrestlers, it is a welcome change of pace to have a heel who is just unabashedly hated by the audience.

Six-Man Tag Team Match

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    A team of beloved babyfaces in Toru Yano, Juice Robinson and the legendary Jushin "Thunder" Liger battled Los Ingobernables' Tetsuya Naito, Takagi Shingo and Bushi in a six-man tag team match.

    Liger and Bushi started the match for their respective teams as the crowd came alive, their respect for all involved evident. The heels focused on isolating Liger early, wearing down the older competitor in hopes of a one-sided and easy win.

    It was not to be.

    The middle portion of the bout was dedicated to a preview of the B Block tournament match between Robinson and Takagi and did not disappoint. Robinson tried for Pulp Friction, but Takagi countered with a Gory Special slam to create separation and allow a tag.

    Naito and Yano paired off late, the tranquilo leader of Los Ingobernables having none of his opponent's comedic nonsense. As action broke down, Yano was able to deliver an undetected low blow to the now-legal Bushi and rolled him up for the win.

       

    Result

    Yano, Liger and Robinson defeated Naito, Shingo and Bushi

       

    Grade

    B

       

    Analysis

    This had a few stories going on at once, the most notable being Robinson and Takagi's preview of next week's match. Their exchanges here were solid and depicted two wrestlers with immense drive and, at the same time, incredible respect for each other.

    Beyond that was Naito's intolerance for Yano's nonsense and the heel's singling the seasoned Liger out as the weak link of the competition.

    Whereas the tag matches preceding it were more about the action in the ring, this was as much about storytelling. It worked to great effect and delivered a rare, fun win for Yano in a trip stateside.

G1 A Block Tournament Match: Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer

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    The A Block of the 2019 G1 Climax tournament kicked off with Will Ospreay battling Lance Archer, the latter seeking revenge for a defeat suffered at the hands of The Aerial Assassin.

    The urgency nearly cost Archer, who charged at Ospreay and ate a Spanish Fly immediately. A Yang Time further stunned the big man and handed Ospreay the advantage early. A bad decision in the form of a Sasuke Special by Ospreay landed him in the grasp of Archer, who hoisted him overhead and delivered a chokeslam through a table on the arena floor.

    From there, Archer seized control of the bout and worked over his smaller opponent. Eager to prove he can hang in the land of the heavyweights, Ospreay showed resiliency, fighting his way back into the match.

    At one point, he delivered a big Code Red on the floor, no doubt a message to the Amazing Red, whom Ospreay has repeatedly and publicly challenged of late. Just when it looked like Archer would beat Ospreay back into the ring and win by count-out, The Aerial Assassin caught him with a massive springboard dropkick.

    Reversals and counters dominated the closing minutes of the match, with neither man able to use their signature offense to put the other away. Ospreay delivered an Os-Cutter for two. Archer answered with an Iron Claw that forced his opponent to seek the sanctuary of the bottom rope.

    Fresh off doing it the last time they battled, Ospreay again kicked out of Archer's Blackout, much to the dismay of the former heavyweight tag team champion. 

    Ospreay delivered a super Spanish Fly, but Archer shot his shoulder off the mat at two, to the surprise of the fans in Dallas. The big man answered with his own top-rope maneuver, a super Blackout. From there, he followed with another Iron Claw and was able to score the hard-fought pinfall victory.

       

    Result

    Archer defeated Ospreay (earns two points)

       

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    After the first match of the 2019 G1, two things are readily apparent: Ospreay is one of the best in the world, and Archer is among the best big men in the sport.

    The chemistry they have is undeniable, and the matches they have had together have been outstanding. Archer does not hesitate to bump around for the smaller junior heavyweight, while Ospreay is able to sell all of the big man's power-based maneuvers, making them look even more extraordinary than normal.

    They set the bar almost insurmountably high.

    Ospreay may not have the success in the G1 that he did in the Best of the Super Juniors, but his reputation as, arguably, the best wrestler in the world continues to grow.

G1 A Block Tournament Match: Evil vs. Bad Luck Fale

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    Evil took the fight to Bad Luck Fale from the opening bell, but The Rogue General overwhelmed him on the arena floor, driving him to the ground. 

    The assault continued in the ring, where Fale not only grounded and pounded his opponent but mocked him, delivering a general's salute to a chorus of boos.

    Evil fought back, delivered a big bodyslam and took Fale to the floor. The competitors introduced steel chairs into the fray, and Evil made his larger opponent pay for it, driving him throat- and chair-first into the steel post. Back inside, he followed with a cannonball for a near-fall.

    A big splash from the recovered Fale nearly earned him the win, but Evil was able to evade defeat.

    Fale tried for a big boot, but Evil sent his leg into the referee, who caught it. Evil followed up with a lariat clothesline that downed both his opponent and the official. Evil swung a chair at The Rogue General, who ducked and answered with a low blow to a chorus of boos.

    Fale delivered his own chair shot and finished Evil off with the Bad Luck Fall for the win.

       

    Result

    Fale defeated Evil (earns two points)

       

    Grade

    B-

       

    Analysis

    The effort was there from both guys, but they had the unenviable task of following up the extraordinary match that preceded it.

    The competitors did a great job of building on last year's tournament, where Fale used every underhanded tactic, something Kevin Kelly made mention of repeatedly. Here, Fale goaded Evil into introducing the weapons, then used them to his own advantage. It was a clever bit of storytelling that worked wonders.

    Evil did most of the heavy lifting, but Fale's character work helped elevate it beyond the level of quality it may have otherwise achieved. 

G1 A Block Match: Sanada vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

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    Once upon a time, Zack Sabre Jr. and Sanada waged war in the finals of the 2018 New Japan Cup. Sabre won that bout and, on the opening night of the 2019 G1 Climax, sought to make it 2-0 against the impressive young star in tournament competition.

    The competitors traded submission attempts in the opening minutes of the match. It was not until a significant period of time passed that Sabre threw the first strike, a European uppercut. The Brit frustrated Cold Skull, walking around the ringside area and taunting fans in an attempt to halt any momentum his opponent may have built for himself.

    It worked, as he quickly trapped Sanada in an armbar, forcing him to expel energy by rushing to the safety of the ropes.

    Sanada responded moments later, trapping Sabre in the Paradise Lock in the ropes. A baseball slide dropkick sent the heel to the floor. A crossbody to the floor grounded Sabre.

    Back inside, Sanada tried for the TKO, but Sabre slithered his way out and applied an octopus, looking for a tapout.

    An exchange of uppercuts gave way to Sanada applying the Skull End. Sabre countered out, delivered an ugly tornado DDT and applied a Skull End of his own. The action continued, counters and reversals reigning supreme before Sanada applied a swinging Skull End. From there, he tried for a moonsault, but Sabre got the knees up and applied a triangle that was unsuccessful in securing the submission.

    More counters and reversals ensued, and Sanada scored a bridging rollup for the win.

        

    Result

    Sanada defeated Sabre (earns two points)

        

    Grade

    B+

       

    Analysis

    Sanada and Sabre were meant to wrestle each other. Their chemistry is off the charts, as seen in the way they so effortless flow in and out of submission and pinfalls. There is such fluidity to their movement that, at some point, it stops being combat sport and becomes artistry.

    When they match up, it is a tale of two wrestlers attempting to outwrestle each other. There are no gimmicks, no weaponry. Instead, two supreme athletes battle for a pinfall or submission win, sometimes with a little arrogant stalling from Sabre on top of it all.

    Sanada winning here was a bit of a surprise given Sabre's dominance in tournament competition of late, but he is as close to a sure thing as there is in NJPW right now. If this tournament is designed to get over a young star, Cold Skull should be it.

G1 A Block Match: Kota Ibushi vs. Kenta

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    Kota Ibushi vs. Kenta was, arguably, the most anticipated match of the G1's opening round. The fans in Dallas treated it as such, voicing their support of both wrestlers as the bell rang.

    The competitors traded strikes and engaged in some ground wrestling before Kenta slapped Ibushi in the face. The Golden Star answered with a slap of his own that dropped Kenta to his knee.

    Kenta delivered a suplex and trapped his opponent in a headlock as he seized control of the bout. The hard-hitting Kenta punished Ibushi, then teased an unprotected knee strike before insultingly kicking him in the face.

    A flurry of strikes by the competitors ensued, each laying into the other with nasty forearms to the face.

    Ibushi finally mounted some offense, including a moonsault for a count of two. Later, Kenta delivered a leaping clothesline for a count of two. With Kenta on the apron, Ibushi teased a deadlift German suplex back into the ring. When Kenta fought out, Ibushi dropped him to the floor with a backdrop kick.

    Ibushi flew through the air, but Kenta countered with a knee that sent The Golden Star crashing to the mat below.

    Back in the ring, Kenta delivered a top rope double stomp for a near-fall. Kenta teased Go To Sleep, but Ibushi fought out and flattened him with a clothesline.

    A back-and-forth ensued until Kenta caught Ibushi with a running knee that turned him inside out. The warriors recovered and came face-to-face with each other, each exchanging words and strikes, daring the other to answer. A high kick from Kenta nearly knocked Ibushi unconscious. Two more continued Kenta's relentless assault.

    They were not enough to keep Ibushi down. Go To Sleep, though, was.

    After the match, Kenta showed Ibushi respect, helping him to his feet. 

        

    Result

    Kenta defeated Ibushi (earns two points)

       

    Grade

    B

       

    Analysis

    This was The Kenta Story, a return to form for a once-proud competitor.

    After years spent wallowing away in NXT and on 205 Live, he returned to the squared circle against one of the premier stars in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He not only hung with The Golden Star, he essentially dominated him for the majority of the match.

    Yes, Ibushi fought back and stunned him on an occasion or two, but Kenta ramped up his fury and put him to sleep for the decisive victory.

    The idea that his talents were allowed to waste away like they were, even when signed with NXT, makes him one of those rare anomalies. If this performance was any indication, it is one of those anomalies that will make NXT, WWE and its runners look foolish.

A Block Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

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    The two biggest stars in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and two of that promotion's most iconic competitors ever, squared off in the main event of the night as IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada battled familiar foe Hiroshi Tanahashi.

    Ten minutes into the match, Tanahashi looked unfazed by the action to that point in the match, delivering a senton for a count of two. Okada answered with a big forearm that grounded his longtime rival. He followed with a DDT in the ring after having delivered one to great effect earlier in the bout on the arena floor.

    The competitors exchanged blows, with The Rainmaker selling the effects of an injured knee. He threw caution to the wind, though, and delivered a neckbreaker to Tanahashi cross said knee as he sought to build some momentum for himself. 

    As Okada delivered his famous Rainmaker pose, Tanahashi rolled him up and nearly snatched victory from out of nowhere. He followed the unexpected pin with a Texas Cloverleaf that tested Okada's resiliency. Though his opponent made it to the ropes, Tanahashi continued his attack, delivering High Fly Flow from the top rope to the arena floor, wiping Okada out.

    Back inside the squared circle, Okada answered with a shotgun dropkick. Tanahashi delivered the sling blade. Another dropkick from Okada was followed up with a tombstone. Tanahashi recovered and delivered another sling blade as the arena came alive.

    He scaled the ropes and came off with High Fly Flow, but Okada got the knees up, crushing the midsection of Tanahashi as he landed. The defensive maneuver did damage to The Rainmaker, though, who continued to favor the aforementioned knee.

    Tanahashi tried for another sling blade, but Okada countered into a backslide. He rolled through, held on to Ace and delivered a Rainmaker. A second followed and Okada tried for a third, but Tanahashi countered into a small package for two. A dragon suplex netted the same result.

    Okada recovered, delivered a jumping spinning tombstone and finished Tanahashi off with the third Rainmaker of the match.

       

    Result

    Okada defeated Tanahashi (earns two points)

        

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    Okada and Tanahashi are incapable of having a bad match together.

    They have done this dance together for so long, had so many extraordinary matches, that even the ones that fail to live up to their very best are infinitely better than some wrestlers could ever dream of. This was a hard-fought match that lived and breathed on counters, reversals and near-falls. It was dramatic, it provided the American audience the competitors greatest hits and put over the IWGP champion in grand fashion.

    The match did not need to be anything more than that.

    Okada going over was the right decision because it puts last year's winner at a disadvantage right out of the gate. Furthermore, it keeps the idea of the reigning IWGP champion winning the tournament for the first time in 19 years.

    As far as giving the American audience a taste of what the current NJPW product is all about, the main event (and entire show) excelled.