It’s a historic night for the world’s second largest pro wrestling federation—and arguably top in match quality—as New Japan Pro Wrestling presents its first live show from the United States.
Jim Ross and Josh Barnett are calling the action on AXS TV, and you’re invited to watch along with The A.V. Club starting at 8 p.m. eastern.
Here’s the line-up for night one of the G1 Special in USA show from Long Beach, California:
- Mark and Jay Briscoe, Rocky Romero, Trent Baretta, Will Ospreay vs. The Young Bucks, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, Marty Scurll
- Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Volador Jr., Dragon Lee, Titan vs. Seiya Sanada, Evil, Bush, Hiromu Takahashi
- Jay Lethal vs. Hangman Page (U.S. title tournament)
- Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Juice Robinson (U.S. title tournament)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Jay White, David Finlay vs. Billy Gunn, Yoshi-Tatsu, Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka
- Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa vs War Machine (IWGP tag team championship match)
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii (U.S. title tournament)
- Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin (U.S. title tournament)
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Cody (IWGP heavyweight championship match)
If you’ve never witnessed the glorious, balletic brutality of NJPW’s strong-style wrestling, my colleague Matt Gerardi offers a primer here.
Cody receives a strange reaction. At the ROH pay-per-view last Friday, Cody gets a thunderous response from the Bullet Club-heavy crowd. But in front of a New Japan audience, even in America, Cody gets booed to the rafters. Perhaps because his opponent, the IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, is the best freakin’ wrestler on planet earth, and there’s novelty in seeing him make a rare stateside appearance.
The question was never whether Okada could have a great match—his bout against Bad Luck Fale earlier this year proved Okada could tango with any dance partner. This was a showcase and a test for the former Cody Rhodes, who has emerged as one of the more intriguing characters of 2017. Here’s a wrestler who left the safety net of the WWE to pursue a career as a free agent, appearing for TNA Impact, wrestled at the Tokyo Dome for NJPW, and reigns as the current Ring of Honor champion. The Cody we saw tonight was crisper, with more snap and intensity, and a good 15 m.p.h. faster than when much of America saw him last as Stardust.
Halfway through the match, Kenny Omega strolls down ringside with white towel in hand, mirroring Cody’s action during the Okada-Omega II several weeks back. They’re setting up conflict between Cody and Omega with the Bullet Club; Cody even attempts a One-Winged Angel on Okada in the closing moments. Both wrestlers traded each other’s finishers, and the match ended when Okada hit a spinning jumping tombstone followed by a Rainmaker.
A really good main event—Okada great as ever (with a post-match promo in English and Japanese), Cody more than holding his own, but perhaps a notch below Elgin vs. Omega.
All in all, a show with stratospheric expectations lands somewhere in the 20,000-foot altitude, as several excellent matches topped out in the 4 1/4 stars range. I also expected the Long Beach crowd to go absolutely nuts from start to finish, and they really didn’t until Ishii/Naito, and peaked at the end of the Elgin/Omega match. Wrestling wise, this was a B- show.
And kudos to AXS TV, which for broadcasting a live wrestling show for the first time, did a fairly admirable job (with several technical hiccups, but that’s forgiven). Jim Ross and Josh Barnett were also a pleasure to listen, and J.R. got looser (and funnier) as the show went on.