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NJPW's G1 Specials in the USA: A live perspective

When I first heard about New Japan coming to the United States, I had it already set in my mind that I had to go. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to shows I’ve been covering for this website for the last three years -- I mean after all, how could I pass something like this up, going to and experiencing a real New Japan experience? Considering that I'm still a bit of a ways off in funds to travel to Korakuen Hall, going to Long Beach was a far more realistic goal.

Once the weekend was over and everything went down the way it did, I was more than happy that I was able to go and cover the two events. It felt like something special was happening. Maybe after all of this talk about New Japan expanding into North America and California...maybe it was actually feasible? Maybe it could work?

Bullet Club, in particular Kenny Omega, may be the key. He was without a doubt the star of the weekend; each performance he brought to the table was excellent. His wins in stellar matches over the likes of Michael Elgin and Jay Lethal led to an incredible match on the last day of the weekend, defeating Tomohiro Ishii to become the first ever IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion.

With his contract coming up after the end of the year, it seems very clear now that where New Japan is going in the United States will more than likely be based on where Omega goes. But while Omega was the clear king of the weekend, I can’t help but think about just how amazing Ishii’s career has been in the last few years.

It was only about a decade ago that Ishii was a midcarder in New Japan, seemingly destined to be in the same multi-man matches for the rest of his life, being just another cog in the wheel. But through sheer determination and his incredible work, he became one of the most popular wrestlers of the weekend, something one would never expect during the times he was feuding with Tiger Mask. 

I loved the main event of the second night. I can’t call it my match of the year, because the performances put on by Omega and Kazuchika Okada have been some of the best stuff to come along in decades. But as much as Omega ruled that night, I have to give credit to Ishii’s performance in that match. His tenacious drive to win in every match he participates in always resonates.

I mean, that spot where he fought valiantly to escape Omega’s dragon suplex, going as far as to biting the ropes to prevent it -- that was something really special, and of course I’ll always remember when everything he tried failed and Omega put him through the table anyway.

You also have to hand it to Cody Rhodes. Aside from Billy Gunn and Yoshitatsu, who were booed out of the building, he was the top heel of the weekend. The kind of reaction he got relates to the crowd, who were mostly comprised of fans who watch the NJPW product and were probably familiar with promotions like Ring of Honor.

The fact that Cody -- who some argue hasn’t lived up to the high standards of the promotions he wrestles for -- would get the big title shot against Okada, and even had a chance to win, was something so completely egregious that it had to be seen to be believed.

I had expected Cody to rise to the occasion and have a killer match with Okada, and he did, meeting the high standards of an IWGP Heavyweight title match. The last few minutes of the match were particularly great, with Cody constantly teasing the Cross Rhodes over and over, complete with the crowd freaking out whenever he had it locked in. But when Okada nailed Cody with two Rainmakers to win the match, people were elated. 

And that’s another thing about the weekend that stood out, fans leaving home happy on both nights. Okada beat the nefarious Cody to retain the title, and Omega defeated three great opponents in amazing fashion to become the first IWGP United States Champion. It kind of makes you wish WWE would take the hint when it comes to their own product.

There were other things on the shows that I loved as well. The Young Bucks were not too far behind Omega in being the biggest stars of the weekend, putting on excellent performances. Night two featured a super memorable match with Roppongi Vice, pulling out all the stops including a tribute to Dave Meltzer’s father with one of the craziest versions of the Meltzer Driver yet, going off the top rope onto the floor. 

Roppongi Vice breaking up after the match was a bit sad, as they always gelled well as a team and had consistently great matches over the years. At the same time, there’s a bit of intrigue with the split. How will Beretta do as a singles heavyweight? Will Rocky Romero break out as a singles junior star, or will he find another partner? 

During the second show, it was announced that New Japan would be returning to the United States in 2018. That in itself wasn’t weird, because with these two shows selling out in such quick fashion, it seemed inevitable. But weirdly, they didn’t announce where it would be, or when they would be back. It seems like New Japan is very interested in coming to North America on a more frequent basis, but they still don’t have everything worked out.

NJPW promoter Takaaki Kidani is still set on establishing a dojo and an office in California in the next year. So far, it seems like the time is right to expand business to California. But a lot of variables are still in play. Will Omega stay with New Japan, becoming the top star for their North American expansion? Will the 3,000 people who attended both shows continue to show up, or was this a one weekend only experiment that just happened to work out very well?

Who knows, and maybe no one will know until New Japan at least tries doing the things that they want to do. But this weekend felt like the start of something special, or at the very least a step in the right direction that pro wrestling in the United States needs to take.

New Japan is a long, long ways away from achieving the kind of success that WWE has in the United States, but if they continue to establish the right people like they have in the last year, it could very well lead into something incredible.