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First night of NJPW G1 Special in USA shows a major success

Kazuchika Okada hits his Rainmaker clothesline to put away Cody Rhodes during their main event match for the IWGP heavyweight championship Saturday in Long Beach, California. David Espinoza of espinoza2photos.com

New Japan Pro Wrestling's first major solo foray into the United States officially kicked off Saturday night with the first of two sold-out shows at the Long Beach Convention Center. The show was, by almost any measure, a major success; the hashtag #G1USA was the No. 1 trend on Twitter in the United States and second worldwide, and the in-ring performances were stellar across the board.

Before you dig into the second night on Sunday, let's run through some of the biggest highlights from Saturday.


The first ever G1 Special in USA opened with a pair of multi-way matches that highlighted three of the biggest factions in the company as well as a few of its legends. The CHAOS team of Beretta, Rocky Romero, Will Ospreay, Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe defeated the Bullet Club collective of Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi and Bad Luck Fale in the opening contest. Romero, one-half of Roppongi Vice, picked up the pinfall victory to give his team some momentum going into their IWGP junior tag-team title shot Sunday night against the Young Bucks. The description from Jim Ross, who took some time to get his bearings on this show, was right on the money here -- this was an All-Star game, all offense and very little defense.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil, Sanada and Hiromu Takahashi) beat a CMLL-heavy team of Dragon Lee, Jushin Thunder Liger, Titan and Volador Jr. in another short, but sweet, multi-way match. LIJ, which holds the NEVER openweight six-man tag team titles, has become one of the most popular entities in Japan, thanks in large part to its leader, Tetsuya Naito.

The first -- and shortest -- match of the night, pitted Jay Lethal and Hangman Page (a pair of Ring of Honor regulars) in the first, and shortest, of the opening round contests in the IWGP United States title tournament. Lethal sold his rib injury (suffered at an ROH pay-per-view last weekend) throughout, and that will likely carry on into his next match.

Jay Lethal is the first competitor to advance to the semifinals of New Japan Pro Wrestling's IWGP United States championship tournament. He picked up the pinfall victory over Bullet Club's Adam Page, finishing it off with the Lethal Injection.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


Fans were unsure what to expect from the second U.S. title tournament match, which featured English technical wizard Zack Sabre Jr. and former NXT star Juice Robinson, but this 10-minute contest turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the evening.

Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Juice Robinson with a sick-looking modified Octopus hold, where he locked in a double armbar and wrenched all the way back on Robinson's shoulders to pick up the submission victory. Great showing from Robinson, who's star is definitely on the rise.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


It's worth noting that the entire broadcast on AXS TV was done with limited commercial interruptions and no breaks during matches. After a brief intermission, there was one more multi-way match to get things going again. Four competitors loosely tied together under the "Taguchi Japan" banner -- Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kushida, Jay White and David Finlay -- beat a cobbled together group featuring the Tempura Boyz, Yoshitatsu and Billy Gunn. Gunn and Tanahashi will square off Sunday night in Tanahashi's first title defense since winning the IWGP Intercontinental title.

The final four matches of the evening raised the action to an entirely different level. First there was the IWGP heavyweight tag team title match between War Machine and the Guerrillas of Destiny.

In what became a No DQ match, War Machine (Hanson & Ray Rowe) defeated Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tonga Roa) to become two-time IWGP heavyweight tag team champions.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


Then came an absolute war between Naito and Tomohiro Ishii in the third U.S. title tournament match of the evening.

Tomohiro Ishii defeated Tetsuya Naito to advance to the semifinals of the IWGP United States championship tournament. Even with high expectations coming in, this match delivered. Ishii will take on Zack Sabre Jr. on Sunday night.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


While many expected the Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin match to steal the show, it somehow exceeded its lofty expectations.

Kenny Omega defeated Michael Elgin after more than a half-dozen of his patented V-trigger running knees and a One Winged Angel to finish it off. Omega and Elgin tore the roof off of the Long Beach Convention Center in what could easily be another top-5 match of 2017 in Omega's pocket. With the win, the semifinals of the IWGP US title tournament are set; it'll be Omega vs. Jay Lethal, and Ishii vs. Sabre Jr.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


Finally, there was the main event of the evening, as Cody Rhodes challenged Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP heavyweight title -- a match that closed things out on the perfect note.

In the main event of the first ever NJPW G1 Special in USA show, Kazuchika Okada defeated Cody to retain his IWGP heavyweight title. It was not a technical masterpiece along the lines of Omega-Okada, but that's an unfair comparison; it was a fun match with great storytelling, and the appearance of Kenny Omega late in the match points at a rift within Bullet Club. All in all, New Japan nailed their first show, and Night Two on Sunday -- especially the semis and finals of the U.S. Title tournament -- should be tremendous as well.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com


After the match, Omega lauded Okada with praise for his victory, but promised their upcoming third showdown, as part of the G1 Climax tournament, would finally be Omega's moment against the champ.

Here's what's coming up for night two Sunday:

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament finals

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament semifinal: Jay Lethal vs. Kenny Omega

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament semifinal: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

  • IWGP Intercontinental championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Billy Gunn

  • IWGP junior tag team championships: Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice

Remainder of card TBD.