G1 Climax 30 Report: Sept. 24 – Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Mark Buckeldee reviews Thursday's B Block show from Sapporo headlined by Tetsuya Naito taking on Zack Sabre Jr.

Photo courtesy: NJPW

By: Mark Buckeldee 

Welcome to POST Wrestling’s report on G1 Climax 30 day 4, coming from Hokkai Kitayell in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This is the 2nd day of shows in Sapporo, the northernmost part of the G1 Climax tour. Hokkaido was originally going to be the host of a summer tour this year, in order to run shows while avoiding clashing with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Of course, neither of those events came to pass.

The crowd feels less wild and invested compared to the 2 shows in Osaka, but people forget that the Osaka crowds are probably New Japan’s hottest, most rabid audience outside of Tokyo. My fear is that most shows will have crowds on a similar level to this show, as it noticeably hurt some of the matches at times.

The start of these Block B reviews will feature a short, spoiler-free summary for each match highlighting any matches that I recommend, highly recommend, or anything that is must-see. This should help give you, the reader, an idea for what is worth your time without spoiling any surprises for you.

  1. Yota Tsuji vs Yuya Uemura – Uemura tries a new tactic while Tsuji fights to avoid a second defeat to Uemura in my favorite of the Young Lions match so far. – RECOMMENDED
  2. B Block – Hirooki Goto vs SANADA – A good but slightly aimless match anchored by Goto trying to succeed with limited striking power.
  3. B Block – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Toru Yano – A goofy comedy match with a couple of funny spots but slightly sup par for a Yano match.
  4. B Block – Juice Robinson vs KENTA – Robinson fights from underneath against a cunning KENTA. Good but too long.
  5. B Block – YOSHI-HASHI vs EVIL – YOSHI-HASHI puts in a good shift as a plucky babyface. This has an extremely hot finish, arguably EVIL’s best match after his heel turn. – RECOMMENDED
  6. B Block – Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr – Two clever wrestlers who really suit each other trying to out-think each other with a constantly changing tempo. – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Yota Tsuji vs Yuya Uemura

This is the first “rematch” in the Young Lions matches that are opening the G1 Climax shows. Uemura holds win over Tsuji with a Lion tamer style Crab Hold. Uemura is more focused after his loss the night before to Gabriel Kidd, focusing on Tsuji’s legs with some good submission work.

Tsuji does well selling the leg and he hits his first dropkick of the tour, a Suzuki-esque effort. We get some great struggle and fire here before Tsuji uses his Spear and running Powerslam combo to set up a Boston Crab. Uemura keeps going for the ropes but Tsuji keeps dragging him back to the center before sitting down to force the tap out.

Yota Tsuji submitted Yuya Uemura (8:13)

An impressive Young Lions match that evolved from their previous match. Uemura’s submission work is particularly good and has that 80’s New Japan feel to it while Tsuji did a good job with his selling and his fire. This was very focused, which made it stand out compared to some of the less disciplined B block matches on this show. I look forward to how these matches evolve over the tour based on this.

B Block – Hirooki Goto vs SANADA

SANADA started by targeting Goto’s arm, capitalizing on work on day 2. While SANADA soon abandoned the arm work to focus on his trademark offense, it still had a big impact. Goto relied a lot less on big forearms, trying to focus more on using big bombs to get the job done. SANADA was constantly showcasing his athleticism and aerial prowess in this match, although little of it was successful.

Some of the work was really fluid, like a rope running sequence into the Skull End or Goto desperately using the Goto-Shiki cradle when things looked bleak. SANADA did feel a bit aimless at times like he had no clear strategy or end goal, and that mirrored how the match felt to me. Goto’s stronger focus and big power moves saw him get the win with a GTR.

Hirooki Goto pinned SANADA (11:03)

This was a decent match but nothing special. In many ways, it showed the flaws of SANADA, with aimlessness and a lack of focus or urgency. Goto was the core of this match, from his not relying on the arm to his strong spirit, come back and well times power moves. I look forward to Goto continuing this focus on his injured arm for a few more matches. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the start of Katsuyori Shibata’s 2015 G1 Climax run.

B Block – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Toru Yano 

This was a goofy comedy match ala, Yano. Tanahashi was up for it and we had some great visuals like Tanahashi and Yano yelling at each other and Tanahashi playing air guitar with a turnbuckle pad. Yano’s themes this year appear to be athletics tape and entranceway count out spots. Poor Tanahashi sprinting on those knees. Tanahashi would blind Yano with tape but the master thief can steal matches blindfolded. I mean, he literally stole this match with a low blow and a roll-up while he had tape over his eyes like an alcoholic, non-Catholic version of Daredevil.

Toru Yano pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi (7:15)

This match had some fun ideas and some nice visuals, but it felt a little lackluster and below expectations. Still, it had a memorable finish and you can see the story that Tanahashi’s age is catching up with him as he is now 0-2.

B Block – Juice Robinson vs KENTA

KENTA once again played mind games at the start before dominating Robinson with a series of wear down holds, although some kicks and glimpses of old KENTA were sprinkled in there. If I were being cruel, I would say that there were more rest holds than I’m used to in modern New Japan. Robinson was a good face in peril with his selling and got some good hope spots. When he got momentum, it included a well-worked fake out DDT spot. KENTA would have some short flurries off offense or hit some big moves where it almost felt like prime KENTA before easing off again.

KENTA dominated most of this match, which was a clear heel vs face structure. Robinson’s comebacks and big spots were crisp, and his selling and fire were really good. The match heated up in the last few minutes with lots of intense strikes from KENTA and a slick counter sequence before 2 left hands of God and a Pulp Friction saw Juice Robinson get the win and top the leader board with 4 points.

Juice Robinson pinned KENTA (17:01)

Something that I’ve noticed with the B block is that the short Yano matches on before intermission mean that the 4th match on the cards gets too much time. This match didn’t need to go 17 minutes and felt a bit slow and plodding at times because of it. KENTA is polarizing for me as I like the sneakiness and his moments channeling his prime, but you can see the wear and tear in how he wrestles. Robinson impressed me with his selling, his timing, and his aggression here. It feels like he’s putting things together really well, but the match suffered because the crowd restrictions stopped them from getting behind the babyface. This was a good heel vs face match but nothing you’ll remember in a week’s time.

B Block – YOSHI-HASHI vs EVIL

EVIL tried to ambush YOSHI-HASHI with a chair, but the CHAOS member used his big stick to avoid it. This was a hot start for YOSHI-HASHI, and he looked good before Dick Togo interfered to save EVIL. This lets the King of Darkness hit a suplex onto chairs on the outside. YOSHI-HASHI would come back and look more focused than I have seen from him in years. The story was that EVIL would have to cheat to regain momentum before he started to targeted YOSHI-HASHI’s back.

Although there were the usual issues of execution, YOSHI-HASHI was up for this and showed a lot of fire with a series of big hope spots. The long Butterfly lock spot, which looked like it couldn’t hurt any kind of fly, hurt the match instead. I did love EVIL grabbing the ear as an attempted counter. The match soon hit an incredibly hot finishing stretch where YOSHI-HASHI looked like a serious threat. There were some big near falls for YOSHI-HASHI before Dick Togo tried to save his man. Even that wasn’t enough to overcome the CHAOS whipping boy and it felt like an upset was on the cards before a low blow and EVIL’s EVIL got the win.

EVIL pinned YOSHI-HASHI EVIL (17:21)

Okay, this match did go a little too long. It did involve plenty of interference and shenanigans. YOSHI-HASHI’s execution is… unique if you’re being generous, sloppy if you’re being cruel. Despite all of that, I really liked this match.

YOSHI-HASHI put in a great performance by his standards, full of fire and intensity with both a hot start and finish. You can argue that EVIL needing to cheat to gain control as many times as he did hurt his aura, but it suits him as someone who can turn an almost certain defeat into a victory in seconds. I appreciated that EVIL dropped some of his more convoluted spots like the weird chair spot and making the referee grab his opponent’s leg. I hope that’s a running theme for this G1. YOSHI-HASHI was a great underdog babyface, even if he needs someone to take him to task over that Butterfly lock. The combination of the underdog story and the finishing run makes this my favorite EVIL match since he turned and my favorite YOSHI-HASHI match in years. It might not be what you’re looking for, but I still think this is definitely worth a look.

B Block – Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr

The match starts cagey before both men showed off their mat wrestling. He doesn’t use it a lot, but Naito has decent skills and he wasn’t afraid to flex those mental muscles against Sabre Jr. Early on there is a great spot where Sabre Jr sees an opportunity and uses Naito’s Tranquillo pose to get a series of near falls with some crafty pinning combinations. Both wrestlers are known for being able to vary the pace of the match and that was a key theme to this one as it constantly kept you off guard.

Both wrestlers used a lot of different holds as the match went on. Sabre got some big surprise offense in out of nowhere with a lovely Tornado DDT and a spectacular flying headscissors into a triangle choke. Naito channeled Shinya Hashimoto with a leg sweep to regain momentum before using his new elbow thrusts to the neck. It’s interesting to see Naito control a match with striking, albeit very distinctive strikes. The match slowly built to bigger spots and signature offense, including a good sequence with Naito’s Pluma Blanca submission.

When the 25-minute time call is made the pace instantly goes up two gears. A sense of urgency and desperation is injected into the match with a counter sequence that ends in a Zack Driver, but Sabre Jr is too tired to make the cover. The finishing sequence has some great touches but eventually, Naito manages to counter another Zack Driver and gets that match-winning Destino.

Tetsuya Naito pinned Zack Sabre Jr (28:28)

This match was the longest in the G1 Climax so far. So long that you could joke that Naito is stealing Okada’s shtick. You could say that it was aimless for long periods and there was lack of a clear story. Sabre Jr didn’t have a specific body part that he focused on. Despite that, I was engrossed throughout this one. Naito works really well with Sabre Jr and it was great to see him show off his technical side. The constantly changing pace kept you in the dark and both men used some new offense in this one. I applaud Naito’s new elbow thrusts and you might not notice it, but I could swear that this one didn’t have any dueling strikes.

The action was molten after the 25-minute call and before then there was some great hold work. I thought this was great stuff and quite different from most of what has come before. That said, I also won’t be shocked if it doesn’t make most people’s top 15 by the time the final night comes around.

Show Summary

On paper, this show felt like a one-match card. In many ways, this is right, as this was probably the weakest night of the tour so far. The main event was a cut above anything else on the card with the chemistry between Sabre Jr and Naito. I had fears about Naito’s performance level coming into the G1, but he has impressed me so far. The crowd didn’t touch the ones in Osaka for me and that hurt most of the matches.

The Young Lions match was one of the better ones for a while and I have high hopes for the rest of the tour based on the difference between this and the night one match. The other B block matches were decent and had good moments but, aside from YOSHI-HASHI vs EVIL, they will soon be lost in the shuffle. It could be my YOSHI-HASHI fandom showing through, but I think that one will surprise quite a few people. Still, if you’re really strapped for time it wouldn’t be heresy to suggest just skipping to the main vent.