After months of build up, New Japan has announced the first batch of matches for their G1 Special (which has nothing to do with the G1) in Long Beach next month. On the first and second of July American fans (plus anyone who decided to make the journey) will be treated to two nights of wrestling featuring the incredible talents of Okada, Omega, Naito and… Billy Gunn.
Which is where the controversy comes in. Despite this being a New Japan show and a New Japan show alone, there’s a distinct whiff of War of the Worlds about it. We’ve even got Hangman Page going one on one with Jay Lethal on the first night in what is basically a Ring of Honor match. However, people could probably forgive that. What they apparently can’t forgive is Tanahashi defending the Intercontinental Title against Billy Gunn.
In a piece of booking that resembles your local indie promotion trying to drag in some 90’s WWE fans, the Ace of New Japan will be taking on the Ass Man. One of the best wrestlers of modern times will go up against a guy who was very athletic but was alright at best, and you have to wonder, why?
Because while I don’t think I would have booked Okada vs. Cody on this show, it does at least make sense. Cody has been in an ongoing storyline in New Japan this year and has picked up three singles wins. It’s been a bit stop-start, but NJPW is apparently behind the youngest wrestling Rhodes. On the flip side, no one is behind Billy Gunn. His last appearance was at New Year Dash in a losing effort alongside YoshiTatsu against Hangman Page and Yujiro Takahashi. His last victory was in December with the same partner against Chase Owens and fucking Bone Soldier.
This entire decision screams of New Japan missing what their fans are looking for. I can’t speak for everyone, but most people I know who watch NJPW over WWE do it because it’s different, not because of the similarities. They are going to these Long Beach shows to see a New Japan show, not to see Jay Lethal and Billy Gunn. It’s not like they are going to pull in any casuals, the show is already sold out.
These shows still have the potential to be brilliant. Naito vs. Ishii, Omega vs. Elgin and Juice vs. Zack Sabre Jr. are great matches while I am quietly confident that Okada will get a big performance out of Cody (although if he drops the belt, I’m throwing a temper tantrum). I’m just worried that it’s setting up the American branch of New Japan to be another company. One that books the same guys every other indie books at the moment. New Japan is made special by its differences from Western wrestling, and they’d do well to remember that.