By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “G1 Climax Tournament Night 1”
July 16, 2022 in Hokkaido, Japan at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Streamed live on New Japan World
This is a 28-man round-robin tournament, which is spread out over 20 shows held in a 33-day span. There are four blocks, each comprised of seven wrestlers. Thus, each competitor has six tournament matches. Most of the 20 events have between four and six tournament matches. This is the first year there have been four blocks since 2000.
Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton are here to provide live commentary from ringside, and Kelly said he will be at all shows. They talked extensively about how the layout of the tournament means some wrestlers will get lengthy breaks between singles matches.
1. Tom Lawlor (w/Royce Isaacs) defeated Kosei Fujita at 3:46. Kelly said Yuto Nakajima has an elbow injury; this was supposed to be a tag match, but the injury turned it into a singles match. Lawlor is in the A Block, which has a lot of the huge men (Jonah, Jeff Cobb, Lance Archer, Big Luck Fale.) Lawlor hit a V-Trigger kneestrike to the back of the head for the win. Kelly stressed that is the type of finisher that can get him wins against some of the big men in his block.
2. Jonah and Bad Dude Tito defeated Toru Yano and Ryohei Oiwa at 6:15. Kelly said Yano is a nervous wreck and hasn’t slept because he’s so fearful of his competition in the A Block, including Jonah. Yano is acting terrified. Funny stuff, and I usually am eye-rolling at Yano’s humor. Jonah hit a standing powerbomb on Oiwa, made the cocky one-foot cover, and scored the pin. Yano scrambled in fear.
3. EVIL, Sho, and Yujiro Takahashi defeated Jado, Tama Tonga, and David Finlay at 6:10. Finlay carried the shillelagh with him to ringside. The announcers make a big deal about the handshake between Tonga and Finlay. (Still no mention of what has happened to Tanga Loa and why he isn’t in this tournament.) While the referee was distracted, Sho hit Jado with his wrench, allowing Yujiro to hit his Pimp Juice DDT on Jado for the pin.
4. Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Juice Robinson, and Kenta defeated Taichi, Taka Michinoku, Lance Arcer, and Zack Sabre Jr. at 5:47. Juice still has his IWGP U.S. Championship belt despite being stripped of the title due to injury (he had appendicitis and missed a month). No surprise who was losing here, as Taka is the only man not in the G1. Kenta and Sabre traded some forearms and fantastic mid-ring offense; I noted this before, that they previously had one of the best heel-heel matches I’ve seen. Juice nailed the “Left Hand of God” punch on Taka for the win.
5. Yoshi-Hoshi, Hirooki Goto, and Tomohiro Ishii defeated Bushi, Shingo Takagi, and Tetsuya Naito at 9:52. Just like the previous match, Bushi is the only one here not in the tournament and is the likely candidate to get pinned. Ishii hit the brainbuster on Bushi for the pin.
6. Aaron Henare (2) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi (0) in a C Block tournament match at 11:11. These two actually teamed in consecutive World Tag League tournaments just a couple years ago. They traded mid-ring forearms early. Henare tied up Tanahashi on the mat. Henare hit a Blue Thunder Bomb at 6:00, then a second-rope senton splash for a nearfall. Henare applied a Full Nelson in the center of the ring but Tanahashi powered out of it. Tanahashi fired back with a sling blade and a top-rope crossbody block. He went for the frogsplash, but Henare got his knees up at 9:00.
Henara nailed a spinebuster for a nearfall, and Tanahashi has been selling pain in his gut. Henare again locked in the Full Nelson, then he hit a Fisherman’s suplex for the clean pin. Good match to start the tournament with a mild upset; I somewhat expected this as Tanahashi will now be “chasing the leaders” in the block the rest of the way.
7. Will Ospreay (2) defeated El Phantasmo (0) in a D Block tournament match at 15:06. Ospreay hit a kick at the bell that sent Phantasmo to the floor, and Ospreay followed it up with a flip dive to the floor. In the ring, Ospreay hit a Mafia Kick and he remained in charge. Phantasmo fired back with a top-rope Asai moonsault to the floor at 3:00, seemingly floating in mid-air. In the ring, Phantasmo hit a dropkick to Ospreay’s face as Will was tied in the Tree of Woe. Ospreay hit a handspring-back-spin kick, and they were both down at 6:30.
Ospreay caught ELP, spun him around, and nailed a backbreaker over his knee for a nearfall, and he was back in charge. Charlton pointed out that ELP is all business tonight, with none of his silliness, dancing, and back rakes. They traded mid-ring forearm shots. Ospreay hit a cutter. ELP hit a Spanish Fly move off the second rope for a nearfall at 11:00. Ospreay came back with a forearm to the back of the head that leveled Phantasmo. Ospreay then hit a pair of sit-out powerbombs for nearfalls.
ELP hit a top-rope hurancanrana, but he missed a top-rope dive. ELP nailed a superkick for a nearfall at 14:00. They traded rollup attempts. Phantasmo got a backslide for a believable nearfall; ELP looked at the ref in disbelief it didn’t get the pin. But in that moment of distraction, Ospreay nailed the Hidden Blade/roaring forearm to ELP’s jaw for the pin. Excellent as expected.
8. Jay White (w/Gedo) (2) defeated Sanada (0) in a B Block tournament match at 18:06. White once again tried to get the crowd to chant “Sanada,” but the fans are following the COVID restrictions and not using their mouths to make noise. They brawled to the floor early, with Jay dropping him stomach-first on the guardrail. In the ring, White hit a punch to the ribs and got a nearfall at 4:00, and the announcers talked about Sanada’s ribs clearly being in pain.
Sanada hit a basement dropkick to the knee, and they were both down at 6:30. Sanada tied White in the Paradise Lock, trapping Jay’s legs and arms, then he kicked him in the rear to get a nearfall. White nailed a DDT, then a brainbuster for a nearfall at 9:30. White hit a deadlift German Suplex and he was in charge. White hit a Rock Bottom uranage for a nearfall. Sanada came back with a TKO cutter, and they were both down at 12:00. Sanada applied the Skull End modified Dragon Sleeper. Gedo distracted Sanada, allowing White to kick the rope, sending it into Sanada’s groin. However, when Sanada fell down, he accidentally kicked White in the groin.
Sanada missed a moonsault. White demanded the referee disqualify Sanada for that accidental low blow. Sanada got a rollup for a believable nearfall. Sanada hit a roaring elbow at 15:30, then a TKO move for another believable nearfall. Sanada avoided the Blade Runner and got another rollup for a nearfall. Sanada set up for the Skull End again, but this time Jay White gouged him in the eye to escape. White then hit the Blade Runner spinning faceplant for the pin. The announcers quickly pointed out that Sanada had just recovered from a broken orbital bone, which makes him more susceptible to the eye gouge. Very good match.
9. Kazuchika Okada (2) defeated Jeff Cobb (0) in an A Block tournament match at 21:09. An intense lockup to start, with Okada bailing to the floor to regroup. Cobb hit a Samoan Drop move, easily tossing Okada over his shoulders, with Okada again rolling to the floor. Cobb whipped Okada into a guardrail at 3:00. In the ring, Cobb stood on Okada’s back and made the surfing pose. Cobb hit a running brainbuster and got a nearfall at 5:30. Cobb applied a mid-ring bearhug, and he was dominating the match.
Okada hit a DDT at 7:30 and they were both down. Okada hit a running forearm that dropped Cobb. Okada applied the Money Clip sleeper hold, but Cobb quickly reached the ropes. They brawled on the floor, and they were both down. In the ring, Okada hit a neckbreaker over his knee for a nearfall at 11:00. Cobb nailed a dropkick to the face, and they were both down. Cobb hit a swinging back suplex. Cobb hit a dropkick as Okada was seated on the top turnbuckle at 13:30. Cobb then hit a gut-wrench suplex from the corner, tossing Okada across the ring.
Cobb hit a standing moonsault for a nearfall. Okada fired back with a shotgun dropkick. Cobb hit a tombstone piledriver. Okada managed to hit his own tombstone piledriver, and they were both down at 15;30. Okada applied the Money Clip sleeper hold, but Cobb reached the ropes. Okada nailed his dropkick to the face, but he couldn’t hit the Rainmaker clothesline. Instead, Cobb hit his own short-arm clothesline, and they were both down at 18:30.
They got up and traded forearm shots. Okada again couldn’t hit a Rainmaker, with Cobb hitting a headbutt. Cobb went for the Tour of the Islands swinging powerslam, but Okada avoided it. Okada then nailed the Rainmaker clothesline to score the clean pin. Really good match.
* Okada got on the mic and said that was just the first monster beaten in a monster’s row in the A block. As tough as that was, it was fun, and he’s ready for more. (Chris Charlton is a treasure for his on-point translations.) Okada said there is much more to come for him in this tournament.
Final Thoughts: An excellent start to the tournament, as Okada, Ospreay, and White are all likely candidates to win their respective blocks, and they all delivered strong starts toward that goal.
The undercard feels so meaningless, and depending on time, I may skip a lot of them in coming weeks. I think New Japan is making a mistake by having these wrestlers appear in non-tournament matches, not just because of the fear of injuries, but the real concern of COVID-19 variants continuing to spread. I am fine with just four, fix or six tournament matches per show, but they’d be better off letting the other G1 Climax competitors completely have the night off, and perhaps not even go to each spot.
The show clocked in at about three hours.