I’m a big fan of New Japan, while I wouldn’t say it’s my primary go to, as what I watch would vary depending on what is going on in Puroresu, like watching Champions Carnival over what NJPW were doing at the time etcetera but New Japan would make a sizeable portion of what I watch and their global expansion does intrigue me, as I believe that wrestling fans should have a viable alternative to WWE. And by ‘viable alternative’, I refer solely to the quality of the in ring product and not it’s monetary or marketing reach.
While I enjoyed the first G1 Specials that was used to crown the inaugural IWGP US Heavyweight Champion that saw Kenny Omega crowned after a fantastic tournament and final against Tomohiro Ishii and this year’s Strong Style Evolved that was headlined by the reunited Golden Lover’s and now heavyweight tag team and legendary junior heavyweight tag team, The Young Bucks. There was a few things that I, as a longer established fan of New Japan found jarring at the G1 Special in San Francisco.
I get that this global expansion is about garnering new fans, specifically westerners, but should this expansion come at a cost to fans of the company that have already bedded in and are familiar with the product.
Reading this, you might be thinking that I am about to shit all over it and the effort that was made. I will be discussing my dim view of certain aspects of the show but there are still bits I enjoyed.
On the positive side of things, NJPW played to its strengths using talent that are generally over, like Bullet Club, Chaos, Suzuki-gun and L.I.J in varying types of multi man tag matches. In the first half of the show, the IWGP Tag Team titles match between The Young Bucks and former champions SANADA and EVIL stood out amongst an okay NEVER Openweight title match between Goto and Cobb, and forgettable to okay tag matches. In the second half the Chaos vs L.I.J match was alright although not spectacular, the IWGP Junior was as expected, high risk and slightly mental to the detriment of Takahashi. The IWGP US title match saw the arrival of Juice Robinson into the main event picture, claiming his first title in NJPW after he took a chance on himself to come over to the Dojo after a less than good run in NXT.
The first title defence of Kenny Omega’s reign of IWGP Heavyweight Championship fell very flat for me, I didn’t think Rhodes was at the level to challenge Okada last year and that viewpoint hasn’t changed, obviously New Japan didn’t want ROH to have the last say in the rivalry that built up between the two but did it require the IWGP to be on the line? The match itself felt very ‘sports entertainment’ to me, with the reliance on the backstory being the main aspect that got across to me as I watched it, the use of tables, ladders and the bringing in of the belt to be used as a weapon. I know from previous, that Kenny uses the tables in these big matches, I just felt these items were overused in a title match for this prestigious belt where I would have preferred the in-ring action to take centre stage.
And it was during this bout that ineptitude of calling New Japan live for the commentary team, Jim Ross and Josh Barnett, who haven’t been great in the previous specials, constantly getting minor stuff wrong as well as the wrestlers themselves. They do not do AXS TV’s coverage of NJPW, shouldn’t they at least know the difference between BUSHI and SANADA? I got thinking why Kevin Kelly isn’t on the broadcast, and then I found the answer AXS TV is reported to be financially backing these NJ excursions into the states, so obviously they are going to want their regular duo on commentary which is understandable. RevPro had their own experiment recently in the UK and they had the hindsight to at least get Kevin Kelly to make for a more authentic NJ feel in what was a RevPro event with extra NJ than usual. Jim Ross and Josh Barnett haven’t improved since the first American show so I wonder do AXS TV or NJPW even notice, or is it even that big of a deal for them considering they don’t seem to notice how clunky their production is, i.e video graphics etc which a far behind the ones that New Japan fans who regularly watch on NJ World are used too.
So, was G1 Special all that special to me? No. Was it all bad? No. It just wasn’t as good as I would have hoped for. The unique selling point of NJ is it’s not American Wrestling, perhaps making the experience more like a home based event will be more fruitful in this global expansion.