The Climax has come to a close, as Kazuchika Okada reigns supreme again in the G-1, defeating Will Ospreay in the Final. This post will serve as bit of a wrap-up/preview, as we head towards the Fall months in New Japan, a bit of a freeform nonsense as we try to decipher it all.
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
PART 1: HOW IT ALL ENDED
So, let’s get the first part out of the way – I was wrong. I was very sure that Tetsuya Naito was winning this thing, and obviously that proved to be very much incorrect. Instead, we had a few upsets on the last day, a relatively predictable end for a few Blocks, and a relative shocker in one.
A BLOCK: Went pretty much as expected. Lance Archer got a bit of shine going into the last day, but he wasn’t beating Okada and I just couldn’t buy it no matter how hard I tried to. At least the AEW rep got to go all the way to the end, I suppose? Regardless, there was only one way things could go here.
B BLOCK: The shocker. And yes, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Tama beat Jay, mostly because the storyline intersected so perfectly for him. The chance for Tonga to beat Jay as a way to give him a receipt for being turfed from the Bullet Club, especially as he was a founding member, made total sense, along with the weaving in of both GEDO and JADO on opposite sides.
Now. The problem I have here is that I don’t for one second believe that they have any intention of pushing Tama Tonga into a main event, World title position where he could possibly win. This felt like a blatant challenger of the month scenario for Jay, which is perfectly fine, but he’s gonna get Blade Runnered into oblivion (or the midcard, whichever you consider worse, I suppose). And while Tonga has been an excellent babyface during this run and deserves his props for that, he’s just not quite at the level he needs to be for a World title contender. And that showed against Okada next, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
C BLOCK: Finished up as expected, with Naito making the big Block comeback and beating ZSJ with a quick flash pin to set off the tantrum to end all tantrums from Zack. The match wasn’t great but as an angle? Brilliant shit, with Naito egging it on the entire time while ZSJ destroyed various ringside accoutrements and furniture. This was really fun stuff and probably went the way it had to, considering that the semis were the next day.
D BLOCK: Sadly, the fabled 7-way tie did NOT materialize, as Will Ospreay won the Block outright with his win coupled with Shingo’s loss to El Phantasmo. Ospreay was my pick before the last day and it made the most sense, as it gave us a first time ever match in the semis with Naito. While I would have liked to watch Takagi/Naito (because we’re not getting that match outside of a tournament setting since I don’t expect any more LIJ defections right now), the fact is that Ospreay/Naito was the stronger match for drawing purposes. There was some very reasonable thoughts that NJPW would save this match for Wrestle Kingdom, and I think that there’s an argument to be made that if you weren’t going to put one of these guys over in the G-1 that they should have, but I also think there’s a very real possibility that they run it back in the Dome or at Royal Quest regardless.
So, I suppose we better get this out of the way quickly and be done with it. People who read my reviews are very aware about my personal feelings towards Will Ospreay and his history. I’m going to be very upfront here – I should not review his matches. Regardless of anything else, it is uncomfortable for me to watch his matches and it robs me of some of the objectivity necessary to evaluate them fairly; as such, most of the time I simply don’t watch them. I don’t apologize for this – writing this stuff is a hobby, not a job, and I write what I want. I judge absolutely no one for watching his work – wrestling is problematic and I find it impossible to have, for lack of a better term, clean hands to come to it, and I’m not sanctimonious since I’m just another sinner. I think this is likely true of every piece of entertainment on the planet. So if I come off as preachy or dickish in any way, I apologize for that; but I won’t apologize for how I feel. Regardless, I will do the best I can here, as I felt if I was going to finish reviewing the G-1, I certainly couldn’t skip the semis and the finals.
Because we knew how this was likely going to go, they started with Okada and Tama. And it went pretty much as expected, with Okada giving Tama as much as he possibly could, since he was winning anyway. There was a pretty spectacular nearfall with a Gun Stun that made you think that if only Tonga could have gotten into the cover in time, he may have won. He needed this, since he’ll be paired against Jay in a title match to fill some time before the Dome, but the result here was never in doubt despite the fact that Okada tried his hardest to make us doubt it. I had the match at **** and very much enjoyed it.
Ospreay and Naito went out and did the match I thought they would, a spectacularly-worked piece of melodrama, except with the ending that I didn’t see coming. They did their final sequence and Naito did the big kickout off the Hidden Blade and I thought they were going my expected route, but Will went to the Stormbreaker for the first time in the tournament and ended the whole thing. The pacing here was absolutely tremendous as it normally is in Naito’s matches, where he seems to know exactly how to build to big, explosive sequences between more solid working stretches, and Ospreay is certainly capable of working those sequences as well as anyone on the planet. I had the match at ****1/2 and from a relatively objective standard, one of the better matches of the tournament.
Okada and Ospreay finished things off with a ****3/4 match. The two of them work particularly well together, especially in this tourament with Okada wanting to sell his ass for everyone he’s in the ring with. My only, very tiny bit that sort of bugged me in this match was the pop-up spots from Will – he did it more than a few times, and while I really enjoy that spot, for some reason here it stood out. I don’t totally know why it did, but I could see the ‘pop-up into a move, double-down’ sequence coming more than I feel used to. But these two are objectively perfect for each other – Ospreay’s counter of the Rainmaker into a Spanish Fly remains one of my favorite Rainmaker bits, and Ospreay’s borrowing of past moves that beat Okada (the High Fly Flow, the Styles Clash) hit multiple strong story beats.
It’s very clear, at least to me, that they are building and building to Ospreay finally getting a clean pin over Okada at some point in the future. One of the things about the United Empire is that they tend to be arrogant heels, but not heels who cheat, which creates an interesting dynamic – Ospreay’s only victory (he’s 1-7) against Okada is the one where the Great O-Khan returned to New Japan and interfered in the match. But since then, the UE tends to only second each other and not really get involved in each other’s matches, thus giving them a different heel faction feel. Overall, at some point Ospreay is going to beat Okada, likely at a huge show and very possibly for the World title if they go that route.
While I can’t say that I’ll watch the match again, to pretend it wasn’t of high quality does a disservice to the reader and my own credibility. It was a great match.
PART 2: THE RETROSPECT
BEST MATCH: While most will say the Final and are well-positioned to do so, my choice is absolutely the Okada/JONAH match from A Block. There were arguably better worked matches in the tournament, I suppose, but for structural drama in a match, Okada’s work from beginning to end against the big monster JONAH was absolutely brilliant. And the match built and built and built to the point where the crowd absolutely forgot themselves, culminating in JONAH catching Okada with a powerbomb and going to the top as the buzz built to a near-frenzied pitch. This was a match where they absolutely MADE a wrestler in JONAH as Okada selflessly gave him everything he could in the only job that he would do in the entire event. Clean as a sheet in the middle, this match truly MEANT something to give us a new top monster. While I was critical of JONAH in New Japan Strong as a guy who did all the things Jeff Cobb did, but not quite as good, I freely admit that this match proved me very wrong. He was perfect here and when it comes to remembering things from the 2022 G-1, I doubt anything will stick with me like watching JONAH ascend those turnbuckles as the crowd realized what was about to happen. Absolutely magnificent professional wrestling is what this match was.
TOURNAMENT MVP: This was Okada in a runaway. This wasn’t even a fair fight – I thought it would be Ishii just on match quality, but good God, Okada put on an absolute clinic in the monster Block. He sold match to match, yes, but take a brief moment and just watch the very beginning of his match with JONAH. Watch his face. See the subtle movement as JONAH walks to the center of the ring, the almost tangible facial reactions of ‘I might be in trouble against this guy’ and then realize that he manages to convey those types of emotions as the match requires them in every given situation for the entire G-1! This was one of the first times that I started really watching a wrestler’s facial expressions more than anything over the course of the event and it was all due to how incredible Okada was at selling the moment in there. His story and arc as he fought his way through the Block of huge men was told so brilliantly, he deserves all the compliments he was showered with.
THE NEW GUYS: What a tournament for both the 1st timers in the event and the ones on the tour this was! First-timers David Finlay, Tom Lawlor, Aaron Henare and El Phantasmo all had fantastic events. Finlay led his Block at one point, Lawlor had a ****1/2 match against Okada, Henare was consistently holding his own and ELP made the move from Junior to Heavy look easy. But it wasn’t just them, as both Royce Isaacs and BAD DUDE TITO managed to get over on their undercard tags, making Strong proud. This was a really great event for all of them and injected some badly needed new blood into the New Japan scene.
ON THE OTHER HAND: Bad Luck Fale was an absolute embarrassment on this tour. He looked barely mobile in spots and quite frankly should not have been in the G-1 – it’s almost unfair that they put him in there to die. Yujiro Takahashi was almost as problematic, as he moved in slow motion while ruining matches as part of the House of Torture. And he was in contention all the way to the last day! Chase Owens was never a threat to do much of anything other than bore us, even though Jay White decided to carry his ass to a decent tilt. Overall, if you want an argument AGAINST a 4 Block G-1, it’s the inclusion of these wrestlers in it.
PART 3: NOW WHAT?
Well, it seems clear that Okada vs Jay will headline the Dome. We’ve already set the match with Jay beating Okada clean for the title – Okada’s revenge seems clear and I don’t see White dropping the title until then.
As for the rest…..I would assume that Ospreay’s time is either next year or the year after. His trajectory seems to be following Naito’s, in that he has already had a short reign as the champion and now has to climb again, much like when Naito won the title and dropped it back to Okada almost immediately, then took a few years to get back to the top as a babyface. As he has never defeated Okada completely cleanly, they’ve clearly decided to make that a focal point to build towards, and I would suspect that win will come at some point as a very big deal.
Speaking of Naito, his arc this year feels like a setup for the future as well. He lost all of his big matches but still won enough to make you believe, and the story of his year was how he kept coming close but not quite closing. I suspect that was done intentionally to lay the foundations for next year or so. With a big part of his story being that he thought this G-1 was his ‘last chance’ to headline the Dome, one would think that it will carry into the next year as a possible redemption story.
Where is Kota Ibushi? Who knows? By several accounts, the former champion hasn’t even begun lifting weights yet, so his future remains cloudy. When/If he comes back, I expect a monster push for him, but I don’t know that we’re getting that this year or maybe ever. He remains one of New Japan’s booking mysteries, as GEDO loves to do multi-year leadins and really can’t do so with Ibushi; but if he does return, it will be as a top star and I expect his push will reflect that.
Jay White remains the best overall wrestler in the world at this moment in 2022. Sorry, Scott.
I wonder if a sea change is coming in New Japan. COVID-19 certainly changed some timetables for excursions to be sure, but we’ve got multiple Lions all over the world. Shibata is continuing to turn out quality guys at the LA Dojo, while wrestlers like Shota Umino as an example feel like they’re more than ready to return at this point from their abroad trips. Combine that with the influx of Strong talent like Lawlor, Tito, JONAH, Isaacs and the like, and New Japan could look very different over the next two years. We’ll have to see.
Also, someone please figure out what happened to Karl Fredericks.
And with that, I’m closing the book on the 2022 G-1 Climax. Time to get back to Strong.
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
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