Featured image by @jyxeff
First reviewed here.
This match marks a fascinating midpoint for Eddie Kingston in 2023. The Supercard of Honor match exposed his character flaws in the most high stakes setting imaginable. He lost his temper, got picked apart with ruthless brutality, and was then sent packing onto the injury list. After a few months away for surgery and recovery, Eddie Kingston jumps into the deep water with the G1 Climax. To be fair to him, he’s already attained a level of success in Japan at this point: having won the NJPW Strong Openweight Title at the start of the month. But the G1 Climax is a different beast entirely, especially in a block of eight people.
Even with a third of his future Triple Crown on his shoulder, Eddie Kingston still seems to be overwhelmed by the occasion. That’s something that can work to his advantage as it did when he won the Strong Title, channeling his love for Japanese pro wrestling into the power needed to overcome KENTA. But in a round robin tournament against seven people, that kind of passion can take its toll. Entering Korakuen Hall–“holy ground for pro wrestling,” as he calls it–on this night, Eddie Kingston wears the toll of the tournament on him. His arm’s bandaged up, and it’s not too long into the match until Ishii starts exploiting Eddie’s bad back.
Eddie’s so damn rich in character and expression, that he’s able to squeeze so much out of something as well-worn as the Tomohiro Ishii Formula Match. No one does that match quite as well as Ishii, but no one makes it feel quite as fresh as Kingston does here.
Take the signature marker many people associate with this match type: the strike exchange. About halfway through the match, Eddie and Ishii are trading chops as they’re wont to do. Ishii seems to get the upper hand, and not only does it rock Eddie, it frustrates him too. Multiple times in the exchange, Eddie throws his hands up, and it’s not entirely clear if it’s from the pain or from the exasperation that he’s not making progress. Probably a mix of both.
It’s that kind of character work, combined with the intensity of the action that makes the changing tides hit that much stronger. When Eddie hits a chop so hard that Ishii momentarily staggers, Eddie reacts with such genuine shock that it sweeps one up in the moment with him. We realize it in the same moment that he does: there’s a chance. In retrospect too, it’s a moment that beautifully foreshadows two similar instances at the very end of the year.
Eddie has some work to do before getting to that point though.
Here against Ishii, his body’s coming apart and Ishii has no trouble picking that apart. Big blows to the arm, real mean kicks to the back when Eddie displays pain there. These are waters Ishii’s comfortable in, this is the kind of wrestling that made him famous. As he always does, Eddie puts up a great fight, but there’s work left to be done.