It’s the most, arduous time of the year. The start of the 29th G1 Climax saw New Japan head to Dallas as block A got underway.

Being in Texas, we’re running on Central Time. Or, in layman’s terms, an 11pm start rather than 11am in the UK. Yay. So, opening night comes from the American Airline Centre in Dallas, with English commentary from Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero, and we’ve got the AXS presentation, which is a little jarring compared to how we’d usually get this.

Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
It’s impossible to hide all the empty seats in the arena. There’s several blocks visible by the stage that didn’t get curtained off…

We’ve a jump start out of the former junior tag champions, taking the Guerillas out for duelling topes con giro, before they found themselves quickly on the back foot. YOH wrecks a barricade after Tama Tonga threw him through it, as SHO began to take the brunt of the offence. A dropkick from Tama sent SHO reeling into the corner, before his attempt at a comeback was snuffed out. SHO eventually got free with a spear and tagged in YOH as he found his way through Tama with a corkscrew forearm. Tama tried his luck with a Gun Stun, only to get shoved off for a superkick as the dual leaping knees wiped out the heavyweight tag champs. From there, SHO & YOH measure up Tama for a 3K… but he countered with a massive Gun Stun to SHO, before the Guerrillas quickly polished off YOH with a super powerbomb. Decent stuff to get the show underway, as the Guerrillas won this spring of an opener. **¾

During the first commercial they found the switches for the arena lights…

Jeff Cobb & Ren Narita vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Shota Umino
Hey there Young Lions! We’ve a block B preview here, as next Saturday in Tokyo will see Cobb and Ishii fight in their opener.

The big lads start with clunking shoulder tackles, before Cobb hits a nice leapfrog/dropkick… only for Ishii to charge through him. Dallas loved that one… and then the Young Lions tagged in so the big lads could cool off. Narita took down Umino, but he’s quickly met with an elbow and a low dropkick before Ishii tried to cave his chest in with chops. This may be a half-full arena, but those chops are bloody echoing.

Narita has some luck with forearms, but a shoulder tackle takes him down before Ren landed a nice brainbuster/suplex. Tags take us back to Cobb and Ishii… Cobb goes wild with overhead belly-to-bellies, before an Athletic-plex to Ishii continued to wow Dallas. The pair trade forearms again, but Cobb’s clothesline is ducked as Ishii finds it in him to pull off a German suplex. Umino’s back, and somehow able to suplex Cobb for a near-fall, before Narita gave Umino his belly-to-belly. Cobb tries to finish him off with a standing moonsault, but it’s a Tour of the Islands that gets the win as this was bloody fantastic. I think this G1’s going to be just fine… ***¼

Cobb and Ishii have a hell of a pull-apart afterwards, as big Jeffrey was left with a bloody nose. Let them fight!

Bullet Club (Jay White & Chase Owens) vs. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI
We’ve got White vs. Goto again next week – with the Switchblade eternally peeved about Goto “getting another chance”.

As usual, Jay refused to start against Goto, who had to deal with Chase instead… who provided the foil for a cheapshot early doors. Goto stops Owens with a big forearm before he chased White outside… where he found Gedo providing a distraction as Chase flew in with a baseball slide dropkick to the outside. YOSHI-HASHI comes in and stung Owens with a chop, but he too fell to the distractions as Owens yanked YOSHI into the ropes before White did his between the apron and guard rails charges. A Bunker Buster looked to give YOSHI some hope, but Jay White quickly snuffed it out for a while before Goto got him some.

A hiptoss drops White, as does a Saito suplex, before Chase Owens’ attempts at interference proved fruitless. White replied with a Saito suplex of his own before Chase came in and tried his luck, cracking Goto with a knee lift as the Jewel Heist clothesline drew a near-fall. Following a twisting brainbuster and a diving knee, YOSHI-HASHI’s forced to make the save… but White turfs him outside as Owens tried to take it home… only for his package piledriver to get blocked as Owens got caught with a stronger Judas Effect as the ring filled, then cleared. One Ushigoroshi later, and Goto was able to finish off Chase with a GTR. Perfectly fine as a match, but this didn’t light any fires for me. ***

Toru Yano, Juice Robinson & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
One of Liger’s final times in the US, it’s fair to say he got a good reaction here for his part in the trios match. Heck, he even got his own entrance.

Okay, so did everyone.

Liger gets us going alongside BUSHI, only to get his eyes raked early on before a Romero special was broken up by a knee drop from Shingo. Some triple teaming left Liger in trouble, as we settled down to Naito pulling him into some submissions as he also tried to yank off the mask. Shingo tried his luck, but ran into a Shotei as Juice got the tag in to trade clotheslines with Takagi. A leg lariat decked Shingo, as he and Juice went back and forth until a full nelson slam dropped Shingo for a near-fall. Dusty punches follow, but Shingo suckered Juice before a Pulp Friction attempts was countered neatly into Noshigami. Beautiful!

Yano’s in next to take apart turnbuckle pads, but he’s quickly caught by Naito’s Combinacion Cabron. Naito tries to go for the loose pad, but nearly gets rolled up, before hair pulling and shenanigans led to a neckbreaker from the LIJ leader. BUSHI tags in to finish off Yano, landing a missile dropkick… only to get caught with a low blow and a roll-up as Rocky Romero popped for the loss. Perfectly decent graps, as we completed the undercard. **¾

They announced a September tour of the US – Lowell, Mass., Hammerstein Ballroom in New York and the ECW Arena in Philadelphia as part of Tiger Hattori’s retirement tour. Hey, it’s great to see New Japan trying new markets after hitting the west coast so much…

G1 Climax, Block A: Lance Archer vs. Will Ospreay
There’s a new look for Lance Archer, who’s decking Young Lions for his man Suzuki…

Ospreay’s music got overdubbed, so he’s not elevated in Dallas.

A Spanish fly countered Archer’s charge at him as Will followed outside with an Orihara moonsault. Yep, a bloody hot start! Back inside, a 450 gets a near-fall as Ospreay stood up to Archer with chops… before he went airborne again, taking Archer outside, only for his Sasuke special to get caught and turned into a chokeslam through a previously oddly-unused table at ringside. Back inside, Archer began to rule over Ospreay with chops and clotheslines, before a tonne of rope-walking led him back to the Old School. Ospreay’s bloodied up by all this, but Archer just continues to charge at him with running elbows. An attempted boot from Ospreay just makes Archer mad, before he just got clocked with a handspring enziguiri.

The over-the-top 619 is next for Ospreay, then an enziguiri before he leapt over a pounce! Second time was the charm for Lance, as Ospreay got flipped into the corner, before a buckle bomb saw Ospreay bounce back towards Archer ahead of a nasty regular powerbomb. There’s no respite either for Ospreay on the floor, as he’s powerbombed onto the apron… only for a fourth powerbomb in the aisle to get countered into a Code Red! Archer tried to shove Ospreay away to beat the count, but Will somehow defied that to get back in and nearly put him down with a shooting star press! The Robinson Special followed, only for him to need two cracks at the OsCutter as Archer kicked out! Some Kawada kicks from Ospreay left Archer on a knee, but he avoided the Hidden Blade, before he slapped Ospreay on the top rope, then brought him down with a Muscle Buster!

Ospreay kicks out, but gets caught with a Blackout… but still it’s not enough! Archer goes to the EBD Claw from there, only for Ospreay to get to the ropes as he had to fight out of an avalanche chokeslam… which he did as another Spanish Fly planted Archer instead. From there, Ospreay gets a near-fall from the cover, then goes back to the Kawada kicks. A Storm Breaker’s next, but Archer flips out, only to take some head kicks as a hook kick decks him… but an OsCutter off the top gets countered. Instead, Ospreay had to break a Dragon superplex, but he couldn’t avoid a leaping knee on the top rope as Archer polished him off with an Avalanche Blackout. Ospreay bounced off the mat, then got caught with the EBD Claw as Archer forced Ospreay to the mat for the pin. A hell of an effort from Ospreay, but I fear this G1 will see him fall short a lot… ****½

This is only match ONE of the entire tournament….

G1 Climax, Block A: Bad Luck Fale vs. EVIL
I’ll eat my hat if this comes close to that last one.

EVIL jumps Fale to try and spark some interest, taking the match to the outside and into the aisle as he caught Fale with a running clothesline. A slam attempt backfires for EVIL though, who just got dumped with a slam by Fale instead, before the pace ground to a halt with Fale throwing EVIL into the side of the ring. Fale wears down EVIL some more, getting a lackadaisical near-fall, but EVIL eventually manages to take down the big man with a slam. A clothesline keeps Fale out there, as EVIL went under the ring to do a spot of chair baseball… only to get cut-off as Fale tried to delay his fate. It didn’t work.

Back inside, EVIL lariats Fale, but can’t avoid a shoulder tackle, nor a big splash, as Fale nearly took the win. Fale heads out for the chairs from there, but gets stopped by the referee as EVIL just kicked the chair into his face, before a running clothesline drew another two-count. In the end, Fale lands a Grenade for a near-fall, before the referee took a spill as EVIL used him to help take Fale down again. Now we get the chairs, as EVIL used them scot-free as he went chair baseball-ing, only for Fale to block it and hit a low blow as he went to use the hardware. Fale hits a home run, then a Bad Luck Fall, and that’s the win. Well, it took two matches for my picks to get busted, and that’s the most noteworthy thing about this match. **

G1 Climax, Block A: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA
Unlike last week in Manchester, this one started out with some urgency as Sabre looked for a cravat early on with some aggression.

SANADA tries to escape, but Sabre has his number as the pair floated from move to move to move at a rapid clip until they reached a natural stalemate. Beautiful stuff. The pace races up again as the pair float around pinning attempts, but we don’t even get one-counts until SANADA tries for a Paradise Lock… and instead countered the counter to get a two-count. Bloody hell. Things “calm down” a little as Sabre used a stranglehold on SANADA, only for it to get reversed… and Sabre to just walk out of it. Sabreism. Beautiful.

Another flowing sequence ends with SANADA landing a dropkick, taking Sabre outside… but Zack walks away from a dive as commentary hinted that anyone beating Sabre’d get a match for that Rev Pro title. Zack mocks the count-out as he took all the time he could on the floor… before he ended up blocking a Paradise Lock, flipping SANADA into a cross armbar as Sabre began to work over SANADA’s arm. An attempt at a hiptoss from SANADA’s instantly stopped by an abdominal stretch, only for SANADA to land the throw anyway, before a double leapfrog/dropkick… just allowed Sabre to switch places and go back to the arm. A missed overhead kick allows SANADA to tie up Sabre in the ropes with a Paradise Lock. After getting free (albeit by way of a low dropkick), Sabre’s swiftly back in charge with an Octopus stretch, pulling SANADA to the mat ahead of an eventual rope break. Someone in the crowd really liked Sabre calling SANADA a dickhead, and it seemed to fire him up too as SANADA locked in a Cold Skull, only to get caught with a tornado DDT as Sabre locked in his own Dragon sleeper.

Sabre keeps up the pressure with a guillotine choke, but SANADA countered with a rope hung neckbreaker – almost like a Magic Killer – before a TKO planted Sabre in the middle of the ring. After he came close with a backslide, SANADA’s punted with a PK… but quickly gets back in with a swinging Skull End and a moonsault… only to land into a triangle armbar as Sabre’s neck began to give him issues once more. Avoiding a powerbomb escape, Sabre went back to the arm, only for another Skull End to follow. That’s escaped as Sabre tries for a Euro clutch, but SANADA reverses it… and nicks the win! This one started off really smoothly, but the pace slowed down just a little as Sabre ended up failing to put away SANADA despite having the bulk of the contest. ****

After the match, Sabre triangle chokes the referee as he was sour in defeat.

During the commercials the crowd applauded for the arrival of Red Shoes to referee the final two matches.

G1 Climax, Block A: KENTA vs. Kota Ibushi
This is almost certainly going to be special – KENTA, making a return to New Japan after an overly-stuttering spell in WWE, had a massive point to prove.

Shibata’s shown watching on from the back of the arena, and we start with a lot of swinging and missing as KENTA dove into the ropes. Kicks are checked back-and-forth, before KENTA just slapped the spit out of Ibushi’s mouth. There’s an instant receipt, as Ibushi looked to go after KENTA’s bad shoulder, only for him to get cut off with kicks in the ropes and a leaping knee drop as Ibushi was hung in the ropes. KENTA throws some kicks that fold Ibushi in half, before a running PK achieved the same effect as KENTA seemed to be having it all his own way. Red Shoes refused to count a pin, so KENTA drops some knees to the back of Ibushi’s head ahead of a back heel as we were slowly starting to get the KENTA of old. Hideo who?

Some more kicks just rile up Ibushi as he got back to his feet, but a snapmare and a kick left Ibushi back on the mat for a near-fall. Slowly, Ibushi tried to fight back, but a high dropkick puts him back down, following up with a leaping clothesline off the top for another near-fall. After Red Shoes shrugged off a chant aimed at him, Ibushi slapped KENTA on the top rope, sending him onto the apron ahead of a deadlift German suplex attempt… only for KENTA to elbow free and get caught with the overhead kick. Ibushi followed out with a pescado, but he seemed to land in a bicycle knee from KENTA, while also jarring his ankle on the landing. KENTA took advantage with a flying stomp to knock Ibushi off the railings, before the pace quickened back inside.

Dropkick, clothesline and a bloody Shibata-ish dropkick traps Kota in the corner, before he planted both feet through Ibushi for a near-fall. From there, KENTA called for the Go 2 Sleep, but Ibushi wriggles out and turned back in with a clothesline instead. Ibushi mounted his comeback with a Last Ride, but his Kamigoye’s countered… only for KENTA to come back with a leaping knee. With both men on their knees, the pair trade forearms, then kicks, as a head kick sent Kota down to the mat as KENTA nearly took the win right there. He doesn’t stop, as more head kicks took us past the 20 minute mark, before we got a Go 2 Sleep… and that’s it! KENTA’s first match back for New Japan ends in a win… This was KENTA’s first match since late January – and it kinda showed. While KENTA was not winded, the pace slowed down markedly as the match wore on, as there were some signs of that proverbial ring rust. That being said, this was a damn sight better than I expected for the time they got, given how hit-and-miss Hideo Itami in WWE was at times. ***¾

G1 Climax, Block A: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
Surprisingly, we’ve a 5-5-3 record in this match, with all three of those draws coming in G1 matches. Expect this to go long as this long, stories feud touched down on American soil for the first time.

Dallas went ballistic just for the bell, so yeah, the hot crowd is back!

Tanahashi suckers Okada with a forearm after a mock clean break, and those two suddenly burst out into a series of forearms before Okada booted Tanahashi to the mat. He’s quickly back up, shrugging off a Rainmaker attempt before another smooth sequence led to the standoff. Tanahashi tries to score with a crossbody, but Okada just dropkicked him off the ropes, sending him to the floor as Okada took his time to follow in with a DDT as we crossed 5 minutes. That DDT gave Okada an advantage, but he wasn’t pushing the issue, rather staying methodical as he used elbows to try and keep Tanahashi in the corner. A Dragon screw out of nowhere surprises the Ace, as Okada used a chinlock to keep the match going low and slow.

Okada teases another Dragon screw, but the tables turn as Tanahashi hits it instead, as he proceeded to take Okada into the corner with a dropkick, following it up with a flip senton for a delayed two-count. The ten minute call almost seemed to serve as a call to up the ante, as Okada fires back with the sliding back elbow, then a spiking DDT, before he caught Okada with a Dragon screw through the ropes, which resulted in a nasty-looking landing. A desperation flapjack stops Tanahashi though, giving both men time to recuperate… but from the get go again, Okada forges ahead, landing a neckbreaker slam for a two-count. The top rope elbow’s next as we got the Rainmaker zoom, only for Tanahashi to nick in with a wheelbarrow roll-up and a Dragon screw as he used Okada’s own set-play against him.

Okada heads out as his knee bothered him… but Tanahashi rolled back the clock with a High Fly Flow crossbody to the floor as he bounced off the IWGP champion. Back inside, Tanahashi manages to land a Twist and Shout, before he shrugged off a dropkick to land a Slingblade… but Okada keeps up with the dropkicks as these guys were really hitting their stride. A tombstone rocks Tanahashi, before a Rainmaker’s countered into a Slingblade. More High Fly Flows follow, but Okada gets the knees up to block the frog splash. The pair fight over a tombstone, but instead Tanahashi got free… and ended up seeing his backslide rolled into a Rainmaker. Okada keeps hold of the wrist, as we get more Rainmakers… before a small package from Tanahashi countered it into almost a match-winning roll-up. Dragon suplex… two-count for Tana! More near-misses see Tanahashi try to slap way Okada from holding onto his wrist, eventually succeeding, as commentary flagged up that somehow, Okada was bleeding from his back. Out of nowhere though, a spinning tombstone plants Tanahashi, before a Rainmaker planted him for the win! For the first time, a decisive winner in the G1 between these two, after a match that perhaps isn’t going to be one of their all-time best, but that’s a hell of a bar between these two. ****¼

One match deep, we may as well give the standings…

Block A:
Lance Archer, Bad Luck Fale, KENTA, Kazuchika Okada, SANADA (1-0; 2pts)
EVIL, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr., Hiroshi Tanahashi (0-1; 0pts)

The post-match speech from Okada saw him promise that the G1 would return to the US – and he’ll still be champion when that happens. If they do come back to the States, they’ve got a hell of a first show to beat, that’s for sure. We’ve a week off as everyone flies back to Japan for next Saturday as the tour resumes – and hopefully that’s enough time to get over any jet lag because in spite of some matches, this was a really hot start to this year’s G1. The bar is high, and the month has only just begun… settle in, it’s going to be a wild one!