G1 Climax 32 Day 1 Report: Okada vs. Cobb, White vs. SANADA

Bruce Lord gives his analysis of NJPW G1 Climax 32's debut card in Sapporo featuring Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb and Jay White vs. SANADA.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

Hello and welcome to the first installment of POST Wrestling’s written coverage of the 32nd edition of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Grade One Glimax tournament! As was the case last year, myself and Mark Buckeldee will be handling the written reports while an all-star cast of POST regulars will join John and Wai for audio podcasts covering the entirety of the tournament as well.

The recent news that this year’s G1, like the preceding two, would still be limiting crowd participation to clapping has put something of a damper on hopes for the 32nd G1, but the sense of buzz around the tournament is still much stronger than it was last year. The COVID and injury malaise which has affected all of pro wrestling still lingers, but sometime after this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan began to shake off the general funk and sense of North American disinterest in the product which had been plaguing it. Factor in a whole new tournament block system and a host of fresh faces in the mix, and you have a tournament which should kickstart a range of feuds and stories both in Japan and worldwide, as well as continue to deliver the best in-ring action of any pro wrestling tournament on the planet (yes, even after accounting for Yujiro).

Your opening night of tournament action features five undercard matches, four tournament matches, and comes to you from the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center in Sapporo, the site of SANADA’s defeat of Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title and Kazuchika Okada’s defense of the IWGP World Heavyweight Title against Tetsuya Naito earlier this year…as well as Toru Yano locking Minoru Suzuki in a dog cage to win the King Of Pro-Wrestling Title. They can’t all be winners, folks.

  1. Undercard – There aren’t any notable matches or surprises on the undercard, unless you’re interested in a preview of the even greasier presentation of Tom Lawlor we’ll be seeing in tournament matches or the novelty of Bad Dude Tito in a Japanese ring.
  2. G1 Climax C Block Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Aaron Henare – A decent enough G1 debut for the long-sidelined Henare.
  3. G1 Climax D Block Match: El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay – A very enjoyable iteration of an always great in-ring pairing, reflecting each man’s current in-ring standing and style – RECOMMENDED
  4. G1 Climax B Block Match: SANADA vs. Jay White – Your mileage will likely vary on this one, depending on your taste for both men’s counter-styled wrestling.
  5. G1 Climax A Block Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb – A match with proper main event G1 feel, and some impressive and unique spots. – RECOMMENDED

Tom Lawlor vs. Kosei Fujita

Tom Lawlor defeats Kosei Fujita via pinfall at 3:48.

Ryohei Oiwa & Toru Yano vs. TMDK (Bad Dude Tito & JONAH)

JONAH pins Ryohei Oiwa at 6:17.

David Finlay, Jado & Tama Tonga vs. House Of Torture (EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi)

Yujiro Takahashi pins Jado at 6:04.

Suzuki-gun (Lance Archer, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Juice Robinson & KENTA)

Juice Robinson pins TAKA Michinoku at 5:56.

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito)

Tomohiro Ishii pins BUSHI at 9:56.

G1 Climax C Block Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Aaron Henare

This starts pretty slow with some standing switches and headlocks being traded. Tana hits a springboard crossbody and Henare replies with a springboard kick and a smashing of Tana’s traditional air guitar. Henare maintains control with strikes and neck submissions. Tanahashi gets back into things at the five minute mark with a somersault senton but Henare counters the sling blade with his “Berserker Bomb” spinning backdrop, following up with a Samoan drop and a senton from the second rope. Henare goes for his “Ultima” full nelson finisher but the Ace powers out before the fingers and be locked, and hits Twist and Shouts and a sling blade for two. An Aces High sets up the High Fly Flow, but Henare has the knees up. A spinebuster nets Henare a two count, and he swiftly follows up with the Ultima, but ultimately releases it to hit his Streets Of Rage fisherman’s buster.

Aaron Henare defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi via pinfall at 11:12.

The takeaway: This match between former World Tag League partners needed to establish Henare, who feels as though he’s spent most of his NJPW career in limbo, as a legitimate main roster presence in his first G1 match. While it wasn’t the flashiest or most impressive of matches, a win over Tanahashi still holds some symbolic value even if the Ace is hardly the credible G1 contender he was a few years ago. Henare worked a bit more slowly and methodically than he has in the past, matching up with Kevin Kelly’s comments that Henare is describing himself as the de facto big man in the C block. 

G1 Climax D Block Match: El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay

Our second consecutive G1 debut of the night goes ahead as scheduled, with ongoing Canadian air travel chaos being unable to keep the Headbanger out of Japan for long. El Phantasmo is in the rare position of being the de facto babyface working to rev the crowd up before the bell rings, but Ospreay is all business and starts things off with a bang, sending El-P outside with a shotgun and hitting a back-flipping moonsault from the mat to the floor. Pip Pip Cheerio nets a quick two. Ospreay no-sells El P’s back rake, and sets him down with a heavyweight-styled running big boot. El P buys some time with a top rope quebrada and tries to wear Ospreay down in the corners. Ospreay regains control with a flipping double kick and follows up with a spinning backbreaker. El P creates a bit of distance but is selling the back heavily as Ospreay goads him into a forearm exchange. This morphs into a lightning quick sequence of counters, culminating in El P catching Ospreay with a reverse spanish fly from the second rope at the ten minute mark. More forearms from Ospreay and two big sit out powerbombs net a two count. El P hits a super rana but Ospreay rolls out of the way of Thunder Kiss ’86. Ospreay sets up the OsCutter with the Robinson Special, but El P knocks him out of the air with a Sudden Death kick. Another OsCutter is countered with a backslide for a near fall, but Ospreay immediately demolishes El P’s face with a Hidden Blade while El P looks to the ref to confirm the two count.

Will Ospreay defeats El Phantasmo via pinfall at 15:08

The takeaway: The story here was that although El P has moved up to the heavyweight classes (or is at least moonlighting in them for the tournament), Ospreay has long since acclimatized himself to the heavyweight style, and El P had to rely on his junior division speed and evasion to avoid Ospreay’s power moves. The second El P lost that canniness to check with the ref, Ospreay immediately capitalized with preternatural speed. This gave a unique thread to the fifth New Japan singles match between the two, wherein Ospreay’s won the last three of their matches after having dropped the first two. Ospreay’s positioned as having all of the strength of both a heavyweight and a junior, with none of the weaknesses of either.

G1 Climax B Block Match: SANADA vs. Jay White

Another G1, another inexplicable facial hair choice by SANADA. “Holy shit, it’s hot!” Jay White is running his own commentary as he stalls at the beginning, once again trying to bait the crowd into cheering for SANADA rather than just clapping. It’s all distraction and evasion for the first few minutes, with White hitting some guardrail offense on the floor. Back inside, White keeps it slow in the corners and on the floor. SANADA evades some of White’s Two Sweet-styled chops, hitting a dropkick, a nice armdrag, and an atomic drop, eventually setting up the Paradise Lock. SANADA revs the crowd up while catching his breath before kicking White out of the lock. White responds with a DDT and Blade Buster for two. White pantomimes at SANADA being no heavier than a baby after nailing a deadlift German, and a uranage nets the World champion another two. After quickly being sent to the floor, SANADA buys a moment’s respite with a TKO. After a spinning Skull End, SANADA sinks the submission in, and so it’s left to Gedo to distract him and break the hold. White no sells some forearms from a winded SANADA, but as he’s dropped to the mat he accidentally low-blows White. White rolls out of the way of a Mutoh moonsault and demands a DQ from Red Shoes. SANADA gets a schoolboy for two while he’s pleading his case, and presses the advantage with an elevated TKO for two. There’s a quick series of Blade Runner, O’Connor Roll, and Skull End counters, with White eventually gouging the eye (in full view of Red Shoes) to avoid the latter, and delivering a Blade Runner for the win.

Jay White defeats SANADA via pinfall at 18:07.

The takeaway: After having resigned myself years ago to SANADA staying in his laconic mode, never living up to the phenomenal upside he so clearly has, his recent US Title match with Ospreay at Dominion showed a welcome dose of fire and personality. While he wasn’t at that level of intensity in this match, he did feel a bit looser than usual. Still, this was ultimately what it looked to be on paper, a match shaped by White’s stalling and counter-based offense. I enjoyed the quick reversal sequences in this match, but if unlike me you’re one of those people turned off by White’s in-ring approach, this won’t do much to change your mind.

G1 Climax A Block Match: Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb

Cobb overpowers Okada in a pair of opening lockups, but gives Okada space to recover each time. Okada shoots off the ropes but is unable to budge the Olympian. Cobb feings a Rainmaker pose but instead crosses over, grabbing Okada from the air and sending him rolling to the floor with a fallaway slam. Cobb does some guardrail damage to Okada, allowing him to slowly crawl back into the ring, where Cobb hangs ten on Okada’s back. A running vertical suplex gets Cobb a two count. After both men struggle for suplexes, Okada gets his first real offense in with a DDT and flapjack. Cobb immediately makes it to the ropes after a sloppy Money Clip attempt which goes completely unremarked upon by the English commentary (the maneuver has been completely nerfed at this point, folks). Keeping the G1 hits of yore coming, Okada hits the DDT on the floor and a neckbreaker back inside gets a two count around the ten minute mark.

Cobb slows Okada’s roll with a dropkick and a leaping European uppercut, and pulls Okada out of the corner into a Spin Cycle. Cobb lifts Okada from the floor while standing on the second rope for a suplex, but ultimately uses a leaping dropkick to set up a fallaway gutwrench suplex from the second rope. A standing moonsault has Cobb calling for the Tour of the Islands, but Okada hits a shotgun dropkick. There’s an exchange of tombstones without either man releasing their hold (!). Another Money Clip attempt doesn’t last any longer, but Okada hits a top rope elbow,setting up the Rainmaker pose about eighteen minutes in. A quick counter sequence leads to Cobb hitting his own Rainmaker.

Both men are knocked down after a standing forearm exchange. Okada uses the Money Clip to forestall the Tour of the Islands and hits a spinning Rainmaker, but Cobb headbutts his way out of a follow-up attempt. Okada wriggles out of another Tour attempt, hitting an enziguri and an Emerald Flowsion to set up and deliver a full Rainmaker for the win.

Kazuchika Okada defeats Jeff Cobb via pinfall at 21:30.

The takeaway: The looming collision between Okada and Cobb on the last day of the A block was the biggest story in last year’s G1. Putting this rematch, in which Cobb is out to avenge his loss, at the top of the first night of this year’s tournament not only makes sense, but is proof positive of how far Cobb has risen within New Japan (the first nights of the two preceding tournaments were headlined by Ibushi/Okada, and 2019’s by Tanahashi/Okada). While not quite as grand as their encounter in last year’s G1, this didn’t run the risk of wearing out its welcome the way some Okada main events can, and the sheer power displays from Cobb, plus Okada’s use of the Emerald Flowsion for the first time since his last match with Marafuji (if I don’t miss my guess) made for a very entertaining main event.

Final Thoughts

While not an end-to-end burner, this was a fun start to the tournament which placed a balanced focus on both the existing power structure within New Japan (Okada and White) and some of the fresh faces in the G1 mix (El Phantasmo and Henare). I’ll be back tomorrow with another report on the second night of the tournament, featuring Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi, Toru Yano vs. JONAH, KENTA vs. Zack Sabre Jr., and Shingo Takagi vs. Juice Robinson in the main event.

About Bruce Lord 28 Articles
Bruce Lord lives in Vancouver where, between AEW and NJPW binges, he blogs and podcasts about industrial and goth music at idieyoudie.com.