Wow. To even begin composing this list is a challenge within itself. Day 8 has just been completed which means we’ve seen 40 matches up to this point, every one of them a potential show stealer. In fact, the tournament has been so good that even the really great bouts only seem moderately entertaining especially considering that there are probably 4-5 MOTY contenders spread throughout both blocks. With epic encounters still to come (including the inevitable Okada/Omega III) these first 40 will soon be yesterday’s news, and that would be a damn shame. Here are the top 5 matches of the tournament so far:
SPOILER: This was really hard to pick, but instead of crapping out and making an honorable mentions category (WHICH WOULD LITERALLY INCLUDE NEARLY EVERY OTHER MATCH) I think you should just list off any matches I left off in the comments section. LET’S TALK RASSLIN Y’ALL.
SPOILER 2: I do have to commend the work of guys like Makabe, Fale, Kojima, and the ageless wonder Nagata for really bringing the heat with such a stacked lineup.
5: EVIL vs. Juice Robinson
If ever you need to see a success story of a post WWE career, look no further than Juice Robinson. His charisma and superstar potential was obviously lost during his time at the Performance Center. I admit that his NXT personae (C.J. Parker) was so unappealing that I would openly criticize every action the dude made, including calling him unsafe when he cracked Kevin Owen’s nose open in K.O.’s famous debut match at Takeover R Evolution. I disliked him so much that his departure from WWE filled me with joy. (Call me Tom, because sometimes I’m Petty AF.)
Flash-forward to day 4, where the 28 year old is one of the most wildly cheered characters in the bracket. After capturing his first victory in his debut performance of the G1, Juice would square off against EVIL in what turned out to be a barnburner of a contest. Juice would open up hot, hitting his signature running cannonball gaining the early momentum but EVIL would mount a comeback, and escape multiple Pulp Friction attempts before laying out Juice with his a huge dragon suplex. The closing sequences of the match saw both men land huge strikes while countering each other’s finishers. In the end, EVIL would decapitate Juice with a lariat, and finish him off with the STO. (Also called EVIL, which is neat.) I honestly didn’t think Day 4 would have a match that could even touch this one after it concluded. BOY WOULD I BE WRONG.
4: Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
I can only assume that a great deal of the wrestling universe was heavily anticipating this matchup when it was first announced. After all, it seemed very likely that Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr. were destined to face-off in the finals of the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic for WWE. (Which you can watch in full on a certain network for a certain undisclosed price.) However, both men would suffer surprise upset losses one round before (not that surprising since they signed non-exclusive short-term contracts) and we would be denied what was sure to be a mat classic.
Well the wait was worth it. It’s not hard to imagine these two having instant chemistry together considering that Kota is one of the best high-fliers in the world and Zack has redefined the technician ground-game. Time and time again Zack would slow Ibushi’s pace with a gorgeous counter that transitioned into a submission hold, and every time Ibushi attempted his normal offense, Zack had a brilliant response. Eventually Kota would abandon his usual routine and switch to his kickboxing attack, picking Zack off with some of the stiffest kicks we’ve seen from the man in his illustrious career. Sabre had a smart game-plan, but his eagerness to catch Ibushi in a triangle-hold would be his downfall, as Kota would power out of the move with his last ride powerbomb, and notch his first points of the G1.
3. Elgin vs. Omega
Some backstory. While I’ve always acknowledged New Japan’s existence, it wasn’t until late 2014 that I actually began following the product. When I saw the countless epics put on by Okada, Tanahashi, Nakamura, Styles, Devitt, etc. I began actively taking more interest in the promotion from the far FAR east. However, being able to watch most of the product proved difficult, as there was not yet a network put in place to witness all these classics and I wasn’t too fond of ordering a PPV at 3 o’clock in the morning. The point is that while I’ve seen many G1 matches in the past, it wasn’t until this year that I’ve made an effort to watch the climax in its entirety.
The storyline arc of these characters becomes much clearer as we go from matchup to matchup. This tournament is a long, grueling series that can leave even the top superstars fatigued and beat up. Surprises are bound to happen and unlikely victors can leave a lasting impact. So when Big Michael Elgin squared off against the red-hot Kenny Omega in the most recent day of matches I was pleasantly thrown off my game. Elgin had gone to war with Okada a few days earlier (WE’LL GET TO THAT) and Omega had vicious encounters with the likes of Minoru Suzuki and Tama Tonga. (Even Yano proved to be a worthy competitor.) These men absolutely destroyed each other with their most powerful signature spots: Kenny with a series of V-Trigger knee strikes to Elgin’s dome, and Elgin with multiple powerbombs to Kenny off the mat, turnbuckle, and apron. It seemed that after three straight victories nothing was going to stop Omega from continuing his path towards greatness. One burning hammer later, and Elgin would be the one getting his arm raised, and raising his stock once again for NJP.
2. Naito vs. Ibushi
If we are to talk about one of the top performers of 2017, Tetsuya Naito should be involved in the conversation. Over the last few years the guy has put on a clinic of in-ring spectacles and his IWGP Intercontinental championship run from WK 10 to Dominion was filled with several glorious bouts, including a 5-star masterpiece with one Michael Elgin. In fact, if this year wasn’t already centered on the Okada/Omega works of art, Naito would be a shoe-in. On Day 1, this argument would only grow stronger.
Naito would be facing a returning Kota Ibushi, who was dawning the Tiger Mask W character for a bit, but hadn’t wrestled under his actual name in New Japan since he left to become a freelancer. With such a return comes a great deal of momentum, and it seemed that Ibushi would coast through his first-round meeting no matter whom his opponent would be. That wasn’t the case at all. Naito quickly targeted Kota’s surgery repaired neck with a series of neckbreakers and his gorgeous looking basement dropkicks. (Only Okada and Styles have a better dropkick than Tetsuya). Ibushi would respond, hitting his famous Golden Triangle Moonsault and lighting up Naito’s chest with kicks that you could here from space. Kota probably wasn’t too pleased with Naito calling him a part-timer who shouldn’t even be involved in the G1. (YOWZA THAT WAS BALLSY.)
As the match carried on, both men weren’t just trying to win, but attempting to do some serious damage that would shorten the others career. Naito landed a poison frankensteiner from top rope, and Kota hit a GODDAMN PILEDRIVER FROM THE SECOND ROPE. (MY GOD THE CARNAGE!) In the end, bad positioning hurt the Golden Star athlete as Naito would reverse Ibushi’s powerbomb attempt into the Destino, and while that wouldn’t be enough to put Kota away, a second Destino would be the bullet to the head. Day 1 folks…this was just on day freaking 1.
1. Elgin vs. Okada
While I will double-down on calling Naito one of the top studs of the year, 2017 belongs to one man: The Rainmaker. Kazuchika Okada continues to prove time and time again that he is the absolute best in the world; putting on a tour de force of performances with ANYONE you throw in his path. Not only that, but Okada seems to bring out the best in his challengers, and they know that to even stand a chance they must unleash their full potential. In the main event of night 4, Big Mike would be the next man to step up to the plate.
The match began slowly with both guys feeling each other out. No one wanted to make the first major mistake. Things would get steamy when Okada attempted Elgin’s stalling suplex, but Big Mike shifted his weight and dropped Okada with a German Suplex. As the action moved to the outside Okada went for his signature cross-body over the barricade but Mike caught him and powerslammed him multiple times onto the concrete floor.
Okada attempted a missile dropkick from the turnbuckle but Elgin, with razor sharp focus, countered the move into a powerbomb. The champ responded by nailing Big Mike with a dropkick, and then another, and then another that sent him to the outside again. Neither competitor was letting up.
Cut to the finale of the matchup, where after a superplex and a bucklebomb, Elgin still couldn’t put Okada away. A vicious clothesline dropped Okada right on his head, and Mike’s eyes bulged out as he new he was merely seconds away from not only victory but also possibly a future title opportunity. After a pop-up powerbomb didn’t get the job done, a burning hammer attempt would get countered into a rainmaker. By that point, any man who stood a fighting chance would normally be finished but Big Mike continued to respond with stiff uppercuts and wild haymakers. Perhaps this was Elgin’s night after all. Unfortunately for him, Okada has been in this situation before, and has proven that he can take a great deal of punishment without yielding even a bit. Okada would power through though, hitting a tombstone piledriver, followed by a final Rainmaker clothesline, which would shut the door on this magnificent saga, and put night 4 in the books as the best so far of the prestigious tournament. Oh what a joy it is to be a wrestling fan.
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