The G1 Climax is one of the biggest tournaments in modern pro wrestling. Dating back to 1991, the G1 takes place every summer in New Japan Pro Wrestling, pitting their biggest heavyweight wrestlers against each other in a month-long round robin brawl for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Over time it has built a reputation for producing some of the best matches of the year, making it an annual highlight of the pro wrestling calendar.
Prior to the start of the G1 Climax lineage, New Japan had been holding similar annual summer heavyweight tournaments, under various different names, since 1974. These G1 Climax predecessors not only featured a whole host of Japanese puroresu legends, they also included some of the most famous names in Western wrestling, so let’s take a look at them – here are the Top 10 WWE Legends You Didn’t Know Competed in G1 Climax Predecessor Tournaments.
10. King Kong Bundy
Lasting just one round back in the 1985 International Wrestling Grand Prix, the man who would less than a year later main-event WrestleMania 2, King Kong Bundy, didn’t have the most memorable run in New Japan, especially compared to his WWF career, yet the living legend did enough to be a part of this little piece of wrestling trivia. In fact, in another New Japan tournament that year, Bundy actually had a match with the man he would face on the grandest stage of them all the following year, Hulk Hogan.
9. Jimmy Snuka
Although his name is now showered in controversy, Jimmy Snuka was once one of the most popular wrestlers in the WWF. Between his first two runs with the company that made him famous, Snuka competed in the round robin International Wrestling Grand Prix in 1986, racking up 16 points in the process.
8. Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt. Slaughter is more American than a bald eagle eating apple pie, which is what makes his time in New Japan so surprising. Competing in the 1981 MSG League, a round robin tournament held from May to June, Slaughter actually ended up having his first ever match against his most iconic opponent – Hulk Hogan. A whole ten years before their WrestleMania match, Hogan defeated Slaughter in a tiny gymnasium in Japan. What a difference a decade can make.
7. Tony Atlas
Tony Atlas isn’t exactly the first person you would associate with Japanese wrestling, putting on great, technical classics, or even singles competition for that matter, yet in 1982, he entered NJPW’s MSG League, finishing with a decent 30 points.
6. Adrian Adonis
New Japan, especially in its earlier days, has a reputation for being very serious and treating pro wrestling as a legitimate sport based on competition and skill over flash and showmanship, which is what makes Adrian Adonis’ two appearances in their International Wrestling Grand Prix so unexpected. Now, admittedly, whilst Adonis is mostly known for being ‘adorable’, at this time in his career, he was sporting a leather jacket and plain black trunks inside the ring, perfect attire to compete in NJPW in 1984 and 1985.
Interestingly, The Barbarian, known for teaming alongside The Warlord as The Powers of Pain in WWF, is the only man on this list who competed in a tournament prior to 1991 for New Japan (the 1987 International Wrestling Grand Prix, known for being the tournament which crowned the first ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion), as well as a G1 Climax tournament in 1992. That’s about as interesting as Barbarian’s time in NJPW gets really.
4. Mike Sharpe
“Iron” Mike Sharpe is possibly the most well-known jobber of all time. Competing on WWF television consistently from the mid-80s to the early 90s, losing to all the biggest stars at the time. What people may not know is that Sharpe also had a decent run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, at one point teaming with the legendary Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately for Sharpe though, his win-loss ratio wasn’t too much better on the other side of the globe, as in the 1985 International Wrestling Grand Prix, he was unsurprisingly eliminated in the first round.
3. Hulk Hogan
Before Hulkamania was running wild across the globe, Hulk Hogan was one of the biggest gaijins in New Japan. In 1981, he competed in the MSG League, racking up an impressive 36 points. and then in 1983, Hogan actually won the International Wrestling Grand Prix, defeating the legendary Antonio Inoki in the finals, a major achievement at the time. It’s no surprise that Big Vinny wanted to snap up Hogan to become the face of his company after this major victory, brother.
2. Scott Hall
Years before he became the bad guy, Scott Hall, competing under his real name prior to joining the NWO, was a part of the 1987 International Wrestling Grand Prix, earning a rather average 13 points overall. At the time, Hall was only three years into his hall of fame career, but his surprising inclusion in this tourney is a great indication of how much potential he already showed at this early stage.
Chief Jay Strongbow
Big John Studd
1. Dusty Rhodes
Considering he’s a WWE Hall of Famer, a legend of pro wrestling, and such an iconic, inspirational figure for so many people, it’s quite surprising that hardly anyone talks about the son of a plumber’s time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Five years before he cut his most famous promo on Ric Flair, Dusty certainly wasn’t experiencing hard times when he finished in the top four of the 1980 MSG League. Rhodes’ stint in New Japan was short and sweet, and added yet another interesting note on one hell of an iconic career.
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