The G1 Climax brings wrestling fans together. Before the tournament, I had never spoken a word to John. He writes about WWE for the site while I write mostly about NJPW. He reached out to me a week into the G1 wanting to know if I liked the idea of us working together on articles compiling various takes on the tournament. We’ve talked every day since and it’s been my absolute pleasure to include him in these articles. If you follow WWE, please take the time to seek out his WWEekly column and follow him @Johndeathman.
Our goal here is to celebrate the G1 by highlighting who and what we thought were the best moments of the tournament. There will be three awards: MVP, Runner-Up and Biggest Moment. After that we’ll finish off with our ten favorite matches. Feel free to discuss these selections with us on Twitter.
MVP: Tomohiro Ishii
In what’s become commonplace over the last five years, Tomohiro Ishii was the clear MVP of the G1 Climax. What’s even more sickening (in the best ways possible) is that at the age of 42, this may have been his best tournament to date. No one on the New Japan roster works harder during the G1 than Ishii. It doesn’t matter where he’s positioned on the card, he’ll have, at worst, the second best match of the show each and every night. Like a fine wine, Ishii only gets better with age. Fans have worried about his longevity due to his intense G1s year after year but the man continues to put on classic performance after classic performance. The wrestling history books would be doing fans a disservice by not acknowledging what we saw out of Ishii this year.
Runner-Up: Kota Ibushi
While I just finished raving how great of a tournament Ishii had, Ibushi doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed. Yes, Ishii is the MVP but for the first time in five years you could make the argument that Ishii was outperformed. I’m not here to make that argument but with that said, Ibushi was phenomenal this year. Even if you excluded his match in the finals against Tanahashi you still received an absolute classic tournament from Ibushi. Just like Ishii, Ibushi didn’t care where he was positioned on the card, his goal was to have a standout match which he delivered night after night. Ibushi is an extremely motivated wrestler. He doesn’t waste anyone’s time by taking a night off, he lives completely in the moment and it’s that passion which makes him such a beloved wrestler.
Moment of G1 Climax 28: Katsuyori Shibata seconding Hiroshi Tanahashi at Finals
The history between Shibata and Tanahashi is checkered which made his appearance that much more special. They were in the same young lions class back in 1999 and were thought of to be the next great era of New Japan. Shibata left the company in 2004 in pursuit of different goals amidst a rocky period in the history of the company. When New Japan allowed him to return in 2012, Tanahashi took offense. He didn’t feel Shibata deserved another chance after walking out when the future was bleak. This led to a series of four singles matches between 2013 and 2015 that many fans consider to be forgotten classics. As many current fans know, Shibata suffered a career-jeopardizing brain injury early in 2017. Him sitting in Tanahashi’s corner and cheering on his young lion classmate to a G1 victory…it doesn’t get much better than that in wrestling.
So that is that, another G1 tournament has come to an end. It’s been another month or so of excellent matches, stories and drama as the best heavyweights in NJPW (and my favourite Yoshi-Hashi) fought it out for the big trophy and the number one spot at Wrestle Kingdom. I present to you now my top ten matches of the tournament. These will only be tournament matches on this list so unfortunately that means no tag matches. There could have been the greatest tag match in the world but it won’t be here. All that being said, enjoy the list and have fun telling me how wrong I am.
MVP: Tomohiro Ishii
It couldn’t really be anyone else. Ishii has consistently brought the best out of his opponents from his opening match with Yano to his closing match with SANADA. He is the quiet and understated work horse who keeps the tournament going being it in the first tournament match of the night or the main event. If I had wanted to every Ishii match could have been on this list as they were all quality matches. His matches with ZSJ, Ibushi, Omega, Naito and SANADA were all show stealers.
Runner Up: Switchblade Jay White
The best character of the G1. Jay White looked set to win it all and taking the top spot from Tanahashi and Okada. He was continuously trying to cheat his opponents and truly became the heel of the A block despite the fact it had Suzuki and Fale in it. He would attempt to corrupt his stable mates and it’s easy to believe he isn’t going to break that faction. He got the crowd to hate him and his ongoing feud with the English commentary team was continuously entertaining.
Moment of G1 Climax 28: Ibushi’s Balcony Moonsault
Kota Ibushi is mental. If it weren’t for NJPW and Kenny Omega keeping him somewhat grounded it isn’t too hard to believe him taking part in deathmatches continuously and throwing himself off of high structures. That was just what he did here. In a match against Tama Tonga, Ibushi was taken to the outside where he fought back and then leapt off a balcony onto Tonga. It was over the top, dangerous and could have gotten him banned in another venue.
Rob’s Top 10 Matches
1. Tanahashi vs Ibushi
A match littered with as much emotion as there can possibly be in wrestling. So many fans had counted Tanahashi out, considering his flame to be all but extinguished. He was battling a man who rivals him in a lot of ways. Both men came out with their storied rival in their corner which only added to the emotion felt in the match. Neither man wanted to lose and have their rival critique their fighting spirit. The insanity of the moves met the insanity of the emotion in a perfect balance. The G1 Climax ended with a match deserving of the label classic.
2. Tanahashi vs Okada
The rivalry of the decade. Many have called the Tanahashi/Okada series one of, if not thee, greatest of all time. Since 2012 they have met in twelve singles matches, this being their third G1 encounter. The previous two ended in a time limit draw and this one was no different. Tanahashi and Okada are unable to defeat one another within the confines of a G1 Climax match. It’s a great story that continues to grow and will one day have an incredible payoff.
3. Ishii vs Omega
While the series between Okada and Omega rightfully took center-stage last year, there was another one deserving of high praise. In 2017, Omega and Ishii had three matches that topped nearly anything else the year had to offer. The dynamic between the two is off the charts. The best underdog in pro-wrestling is without a doubt Ishii. He has the heart of a warrior and never backs down from anyone. Although he’s never reached the top of the food chain, his win over Omega seals his challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He may not win but there’s no doubt that Omega will have to prepare for war if he wants to main event Wrestle Kingdom.
4. Ibushi vs Omega
The match everyone circled on their calendars when the blocks were announced. Ibushi and Omega hadn’t wrestled a singles match against each other since 2012, in this very same arena which was named that year’s Match of the Year by Tokyo Sports. The moment was very special for all fans who had followed their journey. Ibushi pulling out the win gives hope for a future match but if they decide otherwise we were still treated to a very nice moment which can be appreciated by all.
5. Omega vs Naito
New Japan is littered with classic series after classic series right now and this is yet another one that doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. The chemistry and dynamic between Omega and Naito is nearly unmatched by any other duo in wrestling. No matter how they choose to portray their story, you can see the incredible amount of respect they have for one another’s style and passion for wrestling.
6. Okada vs EVIL
After spending nearly two months trying to regroup from the loss to Omega, the Okada we’ve come to know and love made an appearance here against EVIL. This was classic Okada, elevating EVIL to one of the best matches in his relatively young career. Very minimal wasted motion from either guy. There was pride beaming down from both men as they channeled the magic they created in last year’s tournament. This is a match that will fall under the radar but you owe it to yourself to not allow that to happen.
7. Ibushi vs Ishii
One of the most exhilarating sprints you’ll ever see in pro-wrestling. They went 17 minutes but gave us more than what most matches give in 40. Ibushi and Ishii alone are both show-stealers so when you put them together you’re guaranteed for that to happen. The fact that this wasn’t the scheduled main event is one of those mysteries that will haunt me for the rest of my life. An absolute show-stealer in every possible sense.
8. Ishii vs Goto
All killer, no filler. Nothing fancy, just meaty strikes for nineteen minutes until one was forced to buckle. Every match between Ishii and Goto is an absolute killer. Ishii brings out the best in everyone he faces and Goto’s at his best when he’s no frills. Both men laid into each other with absolutely no regard for one another’s well-being. This is a style rarely seen in New Japan. It was an old school slugfest to the highest possible degree.
9. Ishii vs SANADA
As I previously said, Ishii brings out the best in everyone he faces and we’ve never seen a SANADA match at this level. The intensity of which Ishii brought out of SANADA was a career-defining moment. He stood toe-to-toe with the toughest man on the roster and never looked to take the easy way out. If SANADA was going to lose (and he did) this was the best possible way for him to end his tournament. After spending his first two G1s with lackluster performances, he ended this year on a career high note that will carry him a long way moving forward.
10. Naito vs Ishii
Nobody gets Ishii’s goat quite like Naito. When Ishii feels as if he’s being taken lightly, the fire which emerges from under him is unreal. Naito spent the majority of the match clowning on him which only made Ishii fight harder. You know you’re a good underdog when the crowd rallies behind you rather than perennial crowd-favorite, Naito. This is another one which may get swept under the radar but the dynamic between these two is always a good time and shouldn’t be missed.
John’s Top 10 Matches
1. Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega (B Block Finals)
My favourite match of the G1 has to be the showdown of Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi. It was a brutal and dramatic match with the highest of stakes as Ibushi had to beat his closest friend to win the block. As I watched it appeared Omega was holding nothing back in an effort to win quickly and minimize the damage done to Ibushi. This didn’t stop him hitting a vicious Piledriver and plenty of V triggers. Omega would even kick out of the Kamigoye at one point, to everyone’s shock. Both men took each other to the limit but Omega could never hit the One Winged Angel and would eventually fall to a second Kamigoye. This was an astounding match and the best in the tournament.
2. Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (G1 Final)
A final match that excelled all expectations and provided the second best match of the tournament. Tanahashi and Ibushi have had wars in the past but none have felt quite as vicious as this. There were several wince inducing spots during this match as both men proceeded to beat the hell out of each other. Neither man wanted to give in as move after move and strike after strike, the other would get back up and keep fighting. This was a showcase of the fighting spirit NJPW was founded on. There were explosive flurries, nail biting near falls and a pace that drove the audience into a frenzy. Tanahasi would eventually win after hitting three High Fly Flows on Ibushi. It felt like a final and both men gave their all.
3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada (A Block Final)
Another long standing feud in NJPW is the Ace vs the Rainmaker. This was the next chapter in that feud and saw both men exhaust a thirty minute time-limits. It appears that neither man can beat the other in G1’s as this is the second G1 they have tied. This was a fight pure and simple. It was physical, personal and neither man would hold back. If Okada won, he would be the A block winner. If it was a tie or he lost, Tanahashi would be the A block winner. Had it not been for the other two matches ahead of this, this would easily take the number one spot as it was emotional, intense and exceptionally well done. Okada may have lost his title but he has not lost a step in terms of match quality.
4. Tomohiro Ishii vs Kenny Omega (B block night 7)
The first, but certainly not the last appearance of Tomohiro Ishii on this list. The Stone Pitbull and Omega have had a history of amazing matches and this might just be one of their greatest. A twenty minute or so slug fest where both men basically beat each other up. It wasn’t pretty and much like any time Ishii is in the ring, featured some destructive strikes. By the end of the match, Omega had lost his winning streak and a part of his lip. He gave as good as he got but in the end Ishii could overcome Omega’s offense, avoid the One Winged Angel and put Omega away with the Brainbuster. The best bit is we now know we’ll see this again relatively soon as Ishii has laid down the gauntlet to Omega for the belt.
5. Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega (B Block Night 1)
The first main event of the B block would turn out to be one of it’s best. Another top level feud in NJPW and another that always delivers high quality matches. This was a constant match of one upmanship as both men would try to wind the other up and then look to hurt the other. Omega was cocky, Naito was tranquilo and eventually both men would be knackered. This was an excellent way to start B block off with a bang as they would make a memorable match and continue pulling off the magic both men are capable of. This time it was Naito’s turn to eat the pin as he was bested by the One Winged Angel. He would also be broken down by Destino counters and other staples of Omega offense. It may no longer be the best match of the tournament but it was still excellent enough to belong on the list.
6. Tomohiro Ishii vs SANADA (B Block Night 18)
Ishii’s second appearance on the list is his showdown with SANADA. SANADA is an excellent wrestler and has had an excellent G1 but really came alive in this showdown. Both men refused to be intimidated by the other and would continuously go back and forth with each other. They continuously tried to reverse each other, strike each other and even saw Ishii hit his own Skull End. It was one that showcased both men as masters of their crafts and further proved how well these types of opposing styles mix together. It was tough to choose between this one and ZSJ’s encounter with Ishii but this one gets the win as it was a battle of desperation and another win for Ishii as he eventually won with the Brainbuster.
7. Zack Sabre Jr vs Tetsuya Naito (B Block Night 18)
To many this will be the match that ruined the G1. Naito looked set to be a finalist in the G1 and a set favourite to take the B Block. His final obstacle was the submission specialist Zack Sabre Jr. This would be his undoing as he would anger Zack and the two would soon get into it. This was a war on all levels as both men would take it to the other. Zack would even turn the tranquilo pose into a submission attempt. The ending to this one also helps sell it as Naito hit Destino on Sabre and was gearing to hit another one when Sabre reverses it and hits the Zack Driver out of almost nowhere. It was shocking and to those who hadn’t yet seen it a showing of strength of the Zack Driver.
It was almost his encounter with Juice Robinson. This was a relatively one sided affair that saw ZSJ tie Juice in knots and debuted a devastating new submission that would cause Juice to give up. It had a figure four like base and a double arm bar synched in. Zack would call this the Cremation Lily and its emergence and incredibly painful looking application earn it a mention in this list.
8. Jay White vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (A Block Night 2)
One of my original favourite matches survives still as this was the coming out party for the villainous Jay White. After originally losing to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, it was time for the Switchblade to prove he had developed and he could beat the Ace. The fact he had beaten Okada on the first night of A block added some extra tension as it was in question whether he could beat one of the other NJPW top stars. The match itself was also amazing as White was using every heelish trick in the book to overcome Tanahashi. He was physical, fought dirty and would continuously trash talk. He had no interest in appealing to fans, almost celebrating the ire the fans were giving him. He would eventually win with the Blade Runner and would further set himself up as a big threat to the rest of the block. After this win I had him pegged as my guy to win the block but EVIL ruined that.
9. Hangman Page vs Minoru Suzuki (A Block Night 8)
Hangman Page had a point to prove going into this. He had a low win/loss record despite working his ass off. He was now going against one of the meanest guys in the company, Minoru Suzuki. He wasted no time in taking it to Suzuki. Attacking him almost instantly and continuously trying to keep the upper hand. This wouldn’t last and Suzuki would make him pay for attacking him. They would trade submissions and strikes before setting up for a shocking finish. Suzuki had choked out Page and was setting up for the Gotch-Style Piledriver when Page out of nowhere hits the Rite of Passage on Suzuki and ends up picking up the win. This was a massive scalp to take and again the surprise of the ending just added to the rating and memorability of the match.
10. Yoshi Hashi vs Hangman Page (A Block Final)
So yes, I couldn’t go the whole list without mentioning Yoshi-Hashi on this list. I feel he finally found something to connect with the crowd through his fire and hard work this G1. It can be easy to forget about Yoshi and he tends to be an undercard player most of the time. He had a match with Page as his last hurrah of the tournament and he used it for all it was worth. Both men put on a fast paced, time aware match that pulled out every stop. It was quick but not one second was wasted. It was back and forth continuously and it saw Yoshi-Hashi end the tournament with a win over one of the top workhorses of the tournament. It may have felt like a kick in the balls to Page after beating Suzuki but it took Karma to put him away, not the crappy Butterfly Lock. Both men ended the tournament on a brilliant match and six points.
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