Tonight is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 special from the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.
The promotion’s third trip to the United States within 12 months is the most ambitious and the one where a ceiling was discovered. When the company ran the Long Beach Convention Center on consecutive nights in July 2017, tickets were gone immediately and forced the company to go bigger with the booking of the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach this past March. Despite the show’s proximity to WrestleMania weekend two weeks out and a concern that traveling wrestling fans would choose one over the other, tickets again disappeared instantly.
Booking the Cow Palace was a significant jump, but also a logical one because of the increasing demand for tickets. They will not come close to selling out the venue but will sell more tickets than the previous Long Beach cards. There are several factors from returning quickly, minimal lead time to announce a card, and probably some disappointment that Rey Mysterio is not on the show after being teased.
To fill an arena of this size, New Japan will need a major card with several key names. The live experience of watching New Japan can carry an event once or twice, but expectations increase beyond match quality, which is a now expected in 2018.
New Japan president Harold Meij has announced their next U.S. date will be September 30th as they return to the smaller Walter Pyramid in Long Beach for “Fighting Spirit Unleashed”.
Below is a preview of tonight’s show, which airs at 8 pm Eastern on AXS TV in the United States and New Japan World for the rest of the world with Jim Ross and Josh Barnett calling the event.
KENNY OMEGA VS CODY FOR THE IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
It’s Omega’s first title defense and the most important element of tonight’s show. The two drew the biggest attendance in Ring of Honor’s history at Supercard of Honor with Cody defeating Omega and making him the logical challenger when Omega won the title last month. Their match in April was very long, some very critical, I enjoyed the match a lot and thought it told a great story. Omega is fresh in the babyface role and Cody is a tremendous performer in his role.
It will be a test to grip the audience into Cody’s near falls as no one is buying the idea of Omega dropping the title. I would expect involvement from The Bullet Club to introduce the next chapter of their saga after the mini-reunion at Dominion, minus Cody.
While Cody could show up at the G1 finals in August, this could be the last major card they have to set up “All In” angles for everyone. Cody is challenging for the NWA title on that show but it’s still a question regarding the major stories for the other Bullet Club members.
I’d expect this one to be a long match and Omega retains the title.
JAY WHITE VS JUICE ROBINSON FOR THE UNITED STATES TITLE
For the second straight U.S. card, Jay White is a major position and will be following the junior heavyweight title match.
Robinson has a unique charisma that is going to translate seamlessly to this audience just as it rose up through his Korakuen Hall appearances and into a true success story of an ex-WWE performer crafting a completely different identity and getting over.
Robinson is working with a broken hand and that will likely be the heavily focused upon body part by White.
In March, White was in a similar spot with Hangman Page and the two worked very hard. It was the audience having sat through a lot of great action and not seeing the two at the level they were positioned. I can’t say a different outcome isn’t possible, but I feel more confident that Robinson is going to come off very strong to the Cow Palace audience.
Both are part of the G1 and it’s a very important tournament for both.
White is in the bigger spot in the company and considering he’s facing Kazuchika Okada in his first G1 match, I can’t see them beating White so close to that match where they want you to believe he can beat the Chaos leader.
HIROMU TAKAHASHI VS DRAGON LEE FOR THE IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
On paper, this is expected to steal the show with the renewal of one of the best in-ring rivalries of this generation.
This had a similar set up to the IWGP title match where Lee defeated Takahashi in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, prior to Takahashi winning the junior heavyweight title from Will Ospreay at Dominion.
It’s the second match the two have had in the United States after a Ring of Honor pay-per-view match in 2016.
I’d expect no less than the two to go all out in this match and attempt to have the best match possible. Their creativity and ambition when it comes to aerial tactics and variations on high flying spots are out of this world. From an athletic standpoint, this will be near impossible to match.
Much like the main event, the outcome seems logical in favor for the champion to retain.
KAZUCHIKA OKADA & WILL OSPREAY VS TETSUYA NAITO & BUSHI
I’d expect a strongly worked 13 or 14-minute match with enough interaction between Naito and the opposing members to leave the audience satisfied before Bushi is pinned.
Okada and Naito are in separate blocks of the G1, so I wouldn’t expect any major teases of anything to come, although it’s the pair of this past year’s Wrestle Kingdom main event and is a match that ultimately, I see Naito one day defeating Okada in a major match when they pull the trigger and go all the way with Naito.
THE YOUNG BUCKS VS EVIL & SANADA FOR THE IWGP TAG TITLES
Their match at Dominion was phenomenal and if it wasn’t for the final three matches, they would have received a lot more attention. On this card, they have a much better chance of standing out and tearing down the house.
The Bucks have graduated into one of the bestselling tag teams, as in selling injuries (but also lots of merchandise) in the industry. It’s become a highlight of the show to watch how the Bucks are going to adjust their style as they acclimate to the heavyweight tag division.
EVIL is in an interesting spot this summer. After his win over Kazuchika Okada at last year’s G1, it felt like he was officially made and yet he didn’t follow up with a memorable title match last October and has gone the way of Hirooki Goto, who has a huge performance and then comes back to Earth in the exact same role.
I expect another excellent tag match from these four and the Bucks retain.
HIROOKI GOTO VS JEFF COBB FOR THE NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE
It’s a huge showcase for Jeff Cobb in front of an audience that will be strongly behind him.
I love this pairing a lot as I see the two styles complimenting the other well. When Goto has the right opponent, he shows flashes of excellence and other times his matches can be painted by numbers and don’t reach that next gear that the great performers can do consistently.
It’s an important match for Cobb as a strong showing should earn him more opportunities with New Japan.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI & KUSHIDA VS MARTY SCURLL & HANGMAN PAGE
This match features an incredible amount of talent for a match so low on the card. I would expect KUSHIDA does the heavy lifting and then Tanahashi does just enough to feel you got your value out of seeing him live. They are not positioned to outshine the rest of the card, but I’d expect it to be very good for the amount of time they are given.
Tanahashi and Page have been teasing a future singles match and will have one during the G1, so I could see an angle being shot involving the two to further that program.
MINORU SUZUKI & ZACK SABRE JR. VS TOMOHIRO ISHII & TORU YANO
This is the second match of the night and the audience is going to be extremely heated for Suzuki’s entrance, for Ishii, the comedy from Yano and hopefully into Zack Sabre Jr. as well. Back in March, I expected Sabre to be treated like a God in Long Beach after the New Japan Cup win, and the reaction wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
This is a simple match as the audience wants to laugh with Yano and see Suzuki and Ishii kill each other. That’s it, and you can toss in Sabre submitting Yano for the win.
ROPPONGI 3K, YOSHI-HASHI & ROCKY ROMERO VS GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY, YUJIRO & HAKU
Haku is going to be the star of the match and an instant babyface when he is tagged in.
This match should feature some dives from Roppongi 3K and build up to Haku’s tag, some fun over-the-top selling by Romero and Haku beats Romero with the Tongan Death Grip.