G1 Climax 2009, Day 1
a Live Report and Review by Gordi

Date: August 8th, 2009
Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium
Announced Attendance: 4,500

A couple of factors that might have played into the smaller crowd:

1) There was a big fireworks display in Osaka Saturday night. Fireworks are a pretty big deal here in Kansai. Chitose and I went to Kobe last week to see the display there. They shot off 10,000 fireworks in 50 minutes, and a quarter of a million people crowded into Kobe's harbour district to take it in. Fireworks would affect a wrestling crowd in an odd way: People might have avoided coming into Namba in order to keep from getting caught in the crowds. Also, since the infamous night in 2001 when a dozen people (10 kids and two elderly people) were trampled to death and 190 were injured on a crowded overpass after a display in Osaka, a lot of people in the region have tended to just stay home at night and watch the fireworks on TV. I had students who were charmingly worried for my wife and I when they heard we were going to Kobe, and touchingly pleased that we made it out OK. In fact, the Kobe fireworks audience had to be the LEAST pushy and dangerous crowd I've ever been a part of, and the whole atmosphere was amazingly laid back and peaceful... but I can get how the memory of a tragedy like that could linger and cause people to avoid going out...

2) It's STINKING hot here right now. High humidity and 36 degrees Centigrade (which is a temperature so stupid that it doesn't even appear on the Fahrenheit scale). This is, no fooling, the hottest and muggiest weather I have EVER experienced, and it is pretty damned severe. You take a shower, and by the time you're halfway done drying off you're already coated in sweat again. It's kind of nuts. The temptation is definitely to stay in with the air conditioning running full blast, rather than to risk death from heat stroke (or trampling).

On the other hand, 4500 of us did take the risk. Was it worth it?

Ryusuke Taguchi & Prince Devitt vs. Milano Collection AT & Taichi

As you might have expected, this was a high-flying fast-paced tag team opener. These guys are great in that role. They could fight each other on every NJPW card in Osaka this year and I don't think I'd mind at all. I think I enjoyed this match even more than the one at Dominion, the spots were every bit as creative but felt a fair bit less contrived and the execution felt a bit sharper overall. High marks all around for this one!

The crowd, though, was a little flat compared to the maniacs who jammed the place for Dominion. People were popping, but nobody was going too nuts. I'd most likely blame the heat and humidity, it just sucks the life out of you. I can't IMAGINE trying to wrestle a long, hard-fought match in these conditions. Hats off to all the wrestlers, for sure.

Toru Yano vs. TAJIRI

Maybe under those circumstances, these guys can be excused for wrestling a match that didn't exactly set the crowd on fire. They did some fun stuff with Yano out-heeling Tajiri, and William Regal's former man-servant did some very amusing over-selling... but the quick DQ finish came as a huge anti-climax.

Takao Omori vs. Togi Makabe

This one was, frankly, pretty boring. The action kind of meandered around without ever coalescing into anything compelling and I kind of found myself just willing Omori to hit the Axe Bomber (or eat a Diving Knee or a Lariat) and put an end to the thing. I guess that's another thing Makabe has in common with Brody in addition to the chain and the Immigrant Song: The way his matches either kick tons of ass or just go nowhere.

There wasn't much to Tomohiro Ishii, Karl Anderson & YAMATO vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask & Kazuchika Okada. I was totally looking forward to seeing Nakanishi in Osaka again after how insane it was to be part of the crowd that went so nuts for him at Dominion... but the energy just wasn't in the Gym today. People on the floor were getting more into it than people in the cheap seats (which was not the case last month at all)... but even the hottest fans weren't able to get a Naka-ni-SHI! chant going this time, and I was totally hoping for one. I would have joined in if they'd started one... but I didn't have it in me to try and get one going myself. Tossing the most over guy in town into a throwaway ten-minute six-man tag didn't seem the best way to heat the building up, either. Doubly so with the way they booked this one.

Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto

This was an incredible match that let us go into the break on a high. Nagata just kicked the living crap out of Goto, it was insane how brutally stiff he was being. I am VERY surprised at how Goto has started out in this year's G-1, but believe me when I say that he in no way looked weak in being pinned here. Nagata dominated much of the action, but that just allowed Goto to display his amazing fire and toughness. I can remember when Nagata was the young guy taking sick amounts of punishment from the older generation of stars in his struggle to take the G-1, and it felt totally right to see the shoe on the other foot in this match.

NJPW did a great job of showing highlight videos from previous G-1 tournaments before the card got underway, and their effort paid off in terms of putting stuff like this into a proper "historical" context. It was a damned nice touch and it added a ton to the overall feel of being witness to something important (in pro wrestling terms).

Apollo 55 were taking pictures and signing shirts. I hung around and watched for a bit, and I found it pretty interesting: They were going out of their way to interact personally with everyone who came through, even though there was a pretty steady stream of customers at their little booth. I got the sense that they genuinely enjoyed meeting their fans. I looked at the Apollo 55 shirts, but they didn't have any that were close to my size. The t-shirt guy was able to dig up one red New Japan lion shirt in XXL, so I was pretty happy to snap that up.

Anyway, I walked back past the Apollo 55 booth and there was nobody in there with them at the moment so I asked Devitt how much they'd charge for a picture. He said that it was free if I got a shirt and I told him they didn't have shirts in my size. He told me to come by at the end and they'd take care of me. I was very pleasantly surprised by that. In the end, not only did they take a pic with me, they also happily signed my lion shirt, and Devitt chatted briefly with me about training. That last bit really impressed me, for this reason: Even the nicest guys can go into auto-pilot when faced with chatting with huge lines of people. By noticing that I'm a guy who trains, Devitt showed me that he was still making the effort to interact on a slightly more personal level with his fans even at the very end of the intermission. So, if anyone was wondering: He genuinely seems like a good dude.

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