NEW YORK— Wrestling at Madison Square Garden will never be the same.
The “World’s Most Famous Arena” played host to the G1 Supercard show on Saturday, and history was made when Kazuchika Okada won the IWGP heavyweight championship. Okada’s victory marks the first time New Japan Pro Wrestling’s prestigious world title has ever changed hands outside of Japan.
And it happened on 7th Avenue between West 31st and West 33rd, right in the heart of New York City.
“When I walked into the ring, the view I saw was amazing,” said Okada through a translator. “The view was a lot different from Tokyo Dome. Both are great, but there are only limited people who can watch that view. I’m glad that I’m one of them.
“I would like to bring pro wrestling to a different level, with Okada in the center all the time.”
Featuring stars from New Japan and Ring of Honor, the card delivered another classic in the Ring of Honor title match.
Matt Taven crowned himself the new ROH champion in a ladder match over Jay Lethal and “The Villain” Marty Scurll, paying homage to the classic from 25 years ago, in the very same arena, between Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall at WrestleMania X.
“When I saw Jay Lethal splat against that ladder, I knew there was nothing stopping me,” said Taven. “I wish I could bottle up that feeling and have it for the rest of my life.”
A 10-year veteran of the business, Taven finally climbed a seemingly impossible mountain top as he unstrapped the ROH belt dangling above the ring.
“This is about a six-year-old boy, who wanted this more than anything, having his dreams come true at Madison Square Garden,” said Taven. “I left all the doubts behind, all the questions behind, because there is no one who can claim to be the Ring of Honor world champ besides Matt Taven.”
Taven has now held every title possible in ROH, and even Lethal—the most decorated world champ in company history—conceded defeat.
“The best man was Matt Taven,” said Lethal. “I could cry and try to convince you that because it was a three-way ladder match it was somehow unfair, but I agreed to the terms and I lost. It’s as simple as that.”
The match of the night was the IWGP Intercontinental title match, which saw Kota Ibushi win a breathtaking affair over Tetsuya Naito.
“My first-ever night at Madison Square Garden became a very meaningful night for me,” said Ibushi through a translator. “This is a very big win for me because my opponent was Naito, who I believe is my greatest rival.”
The card moved at an unremitting pace and highlighted stars from around the world. Dragon Lee won the IWGP junior heavyweight title in a three-way against Taiji Ishimori and Bandido, and Jeff Cobb won a clash of styles against Will Ospreay to retain his Ring of Honor Television championship and win the NEVER Openweight title. Zack Sabre Jr. shined in his British Heavyweight Championship title defense over New Japan “Ace” Hiroshima Tanahashi.
“Strong style is dead, long live Sabre,” said Sabre. “I defended [my title] in Madison Square Garden, a 31-year-old vegan socialist professional wrestler, and I’m taking over the entire wrestling industry.”
Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa also solidified their position as one of the most elite tag teams in the world, winning a four-way against the Evil and Sanada, PCO and Brody King, and the Briscoe Brothers. Yet the celebration was marred due to the post-match arrival former WWE stars Enzo and Cass, leading to expletive-laden reactions from Tonga and Loa.
Kelly Klein defeated international sensation Mayu Iwatani for the Women of Honor title, and then was quickly attacked by Mandy Leon, Velvet Sky and Angelina Love. Flip Gordon returned from injury to win a six-man “New York City Street Fight” with Juice Robinson and Mark Haskins against Bully Ray, Shane Taylor and Silas Young, as well as Rush continuing his undefeated streak with a win over Dalton Castle.
There were also surprises, as the legendary Great Muta returned for the opening match Honor Rumble. The crowd cheered with delight as, at one point, the ring contained the footprints of Muta, Jushin Thunder Liger, King Haku, and Minoru Suzuki. Ring of Honor’s Kenny King ultimately won the match and the right for a future challenge at the ROH title.
But the night will forever be remembered for its finish, which was the first-ever IWGP title win on American soil.
“I made a great memory here at Madison Square Garden, but it’s not the end,” said Okada. “It’s only the beginning, and I promise to be back again.
“There so many different matches held this week in New York, but New Japan was the greatest of all. If you want to be as successful as us, good luck.”