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Jeff Cobb on his success in New Japan: “I am sticking with my game plan, and it’s taking me down the correct path”
Jeff Cobb is using this year’s G1 Climax to make an emphatic statement.
Working a distinct style rooted in his amateur wrestling background, Cobb has flourished in New Japan Pro-Wrestling since turning heel last November. Now part of Will Ospreay’s United Empire faction, Cobb is adding to his highlight reel by dominating the first half of the G1, winning his first seven matches against Chase Owens, Yoshi-Hashi, Hirooki Goto, Tama Tonga, Taichi and Sanada, as well as a victory on Tuesday night against Hiroshi Tanahashi.
“The most memorable part of my first seven matches is winning my first seven matches,” Cobb says. “Going undefeated this far is rare, but not something I doubted I could do. My goal is to go undefeated the entire tournament. That’s the point I am going to prove, that no one is more dominant than I am.”
The victory against Tanahashi is another sign of Cobb’s rise in New Japan.
“Tanahashi is a legend, so the victory means more momentum for the United Empire and more momentum for myself,” Cobb says. “He’s also the U.S. champ, and that’s a title I want to bring to the United Empire.”
The G1 final is set for Oct. 21 at Tokyo’s famed Nippon Budokan. Cobb will be placed in that spot if he wins his two remaining matches. His next G1 opponent is Evil, who he will face on Thursday. Then, six days later, he meets the great Kazuchika Okada, who is tied with Cobb for first place in the B Block. Cobb and his United Empire stablemates have wreaked havoc over the past year for Okada, and their match is shaping up to be a defining showdown to decide the block.
“As much as I am annoyed by Okada, I do have respect for him,” Cobb says. “I respect people like him, the ones at an especially high level on all the tours and shows, no matter how banged up or hurt they are. He’s definitely been a New Japan cornerstone. But a new era has come upon New Japan.
“The United Empire is tired of waiting for handouts, for opportunities, so we are just showing our dominance, whether that be in Japan, the USA or Europe. So it’s obvious Okada is in for a beatdown of biblical proportions.”
This is Cobb’s third G1, and he is relishing the idea of winning and then challenging for the IWGP world heavyweight title. He lost to the reigning champ, Shingo Takagi, in January at Wrestle Kingdom in a match for the NEVER openweight championship.
“The G1 is the most grueling tournament,” Cobb says. “Everyone involved wants to win, and the prize is main-eventing the Tokyo Dome. It’s stupid to not aspire to be the top dog of this promotion. Being the IWGP world champion means you are the best in the world, period. It’s only a matter of time for me.”
Now entering his prime, Cobb has brought a Stan Hansen–Gary Albright–esque flair to New Japan. He possesses strength and versatility, especially for such a powerful heavyweight. His amateur-based wrestling fits in perfectly with the company, and he is well-respected by his peers in the locker room. Multiple opponents of his in New Japan have told Sports Illustrated that they are thrilled to share the ring with him, knowing they are always in for a high-quality performance.
This stretch in Japan came after a brief run in AEW in February 2020, where he challenged Jon Moxley as a hired gun for Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle. Moxley emerged victorious, and though Cobb has great admiration for what AEW is building, he saw his future in New Japan.
“New Japan is the right decision for me,” says Cobb, who is not closing the door on a return to AEW. “I have a lot of unfinished business here in New Japan—tons of guys I have yet to suplex and tons of championships to win. I also respect what Tony Khan is doing, especially the level of excitement he has brought into the pro wrestling community and all the amazing crossovers going on.
“Having said that, will I show up in AEW? Right now, I have my sights set on the G1 and the IWGP world heavyweight championship. But if there’s something that interests me or the United Empire, you never know.”
After experiencing pieces of success during his 12-year career, Cobb is hitting a new level of greatness in New Japan, which he plans to continue to demonstrate in the G1.
“My mentality for wrestling has changed throughout the years,” he says. “If you look at video of my first few years, I did all that flippy stuff and realized that was not me. That’s not going to win me matches—my background will, and amateur wrestling plays a big part in that. That’s why I am sticking with my game plan, and it’s taking me down the correct path.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Hangman Page is back in AEW. And he now has a title shot in his future after winning last week’s Casino Ladder Match on Dynamite.
- Big E played a role in the best heavyweight boxing clash of the year. He attended the Tyson Fury–Deontay Wilder title fight on Saturday, and even introduced the fighters.
- Tony Khan is relishing the intensity of AEW’s growing battle against WWE. Rampage and SmackDown will go head-to-head for a half-hour on Friday, and I’m guessing we will see CM Punk wrestle for AEW during part of that window.
- Dynamite will not air until Saturday because of a conflict with the NHL on TNT. But AEW is upping the ante on Friday with a special “Buy In” online pre-show ahead of Rampage featuring Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki, which has the potential to be extraordinary.
- I would have preferred that the two matches for WWE’s Queen’s Crown tournament on Raw receive more time than they did. The matches (Doudrop defeating Natalya and Shayna Baszler in a win against Dana Brooke) lasted less than a combined nine minutes. The first-round matches Friday on SmackDown (Zelina Vega beating Toni Storm and Carmella prevailing against Liv Morgan) were even shorter. Hopefully WWE treats the tournament with more legitimacy and affords their wrestlers more time to apply their craft in the ring, which will add far more meaning to the whole tourney.
- In contrast, the King of the Ring tournament instantly felt important after watching a really entertaining match that saw Xavier Woods defeat Ricochet.
- Isaiah “Swerve” Scott combined with Santos Escobar for an outstanding match last night on NXT for the North American title. After the match, which Scott won, Carmelo Hayes cashed in his title shot and became the new champion. Scott now moves to SmackDown for a career-defining opportunity, while the extremely talented Hayes has a new chance to become one of the most recognizable stars in NXT.
- Bret Hart will be making an appearance at this weekend’s Warrior Wrestling show in Illinois. Bret just celebrated the anniversary of first WWE title win, which took place during a taping for Coliseum Home Video in Saskatchewan on Oct. 12, 1992.
- Jon Moxley successfully defended his GCW title this past weekend in a deathmatch against Nick Gage, and the show even included a guest spot from hardcore legend Mick Foley.
- After earning a title shot by winning this year’s N-1 Victory tournament, Katsuhiko Nakajima defeated Naomichi Marufuji this past weekend in Osaka to become Pro Wrestling Noah’s new GHC heavyweight champion.
Independent wrestling is flourishing once again
Following an incredibly difficult stretch during the height of the pandemic, professional wrestling’s indie promotions have returned to prominence.
GCW announced this weekend that there will be an upcoming show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. The Briscoe Brothers, who are signed exclusively to Ring of Honor, even showed up at GCW’s Atlantic City show on Saturday, and they are two wrestlers who perfectly capture the ethos of the indie promotion. GCW is doing something right now that no other indie group has done with its coast-to-coast touring, packed houses and nonstop buzz.
But GCW’s excellence is just one factor in the current rise of independent wrestling. AEW deserves credit for highlighting the stars of the indies, with Tony Khan’s growing powerhouse continuing to feature wrestlers still working the indie circuit—like Wheeler Yuta, Daniel Garcia, Lee Moriarty and Dante Martin—which significantly benefits independent wrestling. And it is noteworthy that AEW actually benefits from the association with the indies. Those who have paid their dues on the indies are afforded a certain credibility from the fan base, so it is shrewd to see a mainstream company choose to highlight indie stars.
And then there is Beyond Wrestling. No promotion has a better feel for how to reshuffle the deck and allow the cream to rise to the top. Beyond has returned to live weekly wrestling, running its Uncharted Territory show each Thursday. The Discovery Gauntlet, which provides opportunity to a new talent every week, is now being presented in a tag team format. That allowed The Mane Event’s Jay Lyon and Midas Black, along with 9 To 5’s Louis Lyndon and Jack Verville, a showcase last week to display their undeniable value to the industry. And that is the beauty of Uncharted, which builds up all of independent wrestling and helps the entire scene flourish.
Other promotions have also flourished, propelled by their ability to adapt their business model during the pandemic. Limitless Wrestling has carried the momentum from its exceptional The Road video series, which was pivotal for the company during the pandemic. H20 Wrestling delivers an old-school approach, as Matt Tremont’s Hardcore Hustle Organization develops fundamentally sound students. H20, along with ICW: No Holds Barred/No Peace Underground, both found ways to stay visible during the pandemic.
It feels as though indie wrestling has hit a monumental shift and reached a point where there is no longer a glass ceiling. An influx of talent no longer with WWE has also helped the indies, bringing a unique feel to their matches (Matt Cardona immediately comes to mind). PWG even returned to its old model after not running during the pandemic, which speaks to the promotion’s excessive popularity.
After a harrowing stretch during the height of the pandemic, the indies are back.
Tweet of the Week
There is an air of excitement every time Danielson steps in the ring.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.