With Jay White making such a huge impact in his first G1 tournament this summer, holding victories over two of the greatest champions in NJPW history, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, I decided to take a look at those that managed to make the biggest impressions in their premiere performance in this prestigious tourney. Here are the Top 10 Best G1 Climax Debuts.
For this list, I will only be including the round-robin iterations of the G1, as in the past it has been a single-elimination event which is not what the tournament is now known for, and it’s difficulty comparing these two different types of tournaments effectively. As this year’s tournament is still on-going at the time of writing, I will not be including Jay White in the list. Plus, I will obviously not be including any entrants from the first-ever G1 Climax. With that being said, let’s get started.
10. Go Shiozaki – 2010
What newer NJPW fans may not know is that over the years, New Japan has had a tradition of bringing in freelance talents from other Japanese companies, mainly All Japan and Pro Wrestling Noah, to help fill up the participant slots in the G1 Climax tournament. In 2010, NJPW brought in a former GHC Heavyweight Champion (the top honour in Noah), Go Shiozaki, to compete in the summer heavyweight tourney.
In his one and only outing in the tournament, Shiozaki managed to finish with four wins, two losses, and a time-limit draw with Shinsuke Nakamura, finishing one point behind the eventual winner, Satoshi Kojima. To rank so close to the top performer in your first attempt certainly isn’t bad going, plus Shiozaki‘s G1 performance even earned him a match at Wrestle Kingdom against the aforementioned King of Strong Style.
9. Zack Sabre Jr. – 2017
Zack Sabre Jr. and New Japan Pro Wrestling are the perfect fit for each other, so when it was announced that ZSJ would be taking part in his first G1 Climax in 2017, we all knew it would be special. Although finishing with a respectable five wins out of a possible nine wasn’t enough to get him close to the finals, ZSJ did manage to beat arguably the most popular IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history (and reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion at the time), Hiroshi Tanahashi, in his first tournament match, a major achievement for anybody at any stage in their career.
8. Bad Luck Fale – 2014
With the exception of this year, given his whole Fuck ‘Em attitude, Bad Luck Fale has a really good record in G1’s. Every summer is the big man’s chance to shine, and he certainly did that in first outing in the G1 Climax. Finishing with 12 points across six victories, Fale even managed to beat former champions in Nagata, and most impressively of all, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
7. Yuji Nagata – 1999
Yuji Nagata holds the record for most consecutive G1 Climax appearances at seventeen in a row, winning the tournament on one occasion. This history-making streak began in impressive fashion when the young Nagata managed to win all but one match in his block, losing only to the legendary Keiji Mutoh, who was also IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the time. Nagata finished with the same amount of points as Mutoh, yet did not advance to the final due to his defeat at the hands of one of the greatest of all time.
6. AJ Styles – 2014
After being in the company for only three months, AJ Styles went into his first-ever G1 Climax tournament as the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Not bad for a first-timer. Losing only to Naito and Okada, winning all of his other matches in the process, Styles put on a champion’s performance in the 2014 G1 Climax, only missing out on the final due to his loss against Kazuchika Okada after earning the same number of points as The Rainmaker. Considering he made such a huge impact in a staggeringly short amount of time in NJPW, it’s no surprise that Styles became one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling today.
5. Yoshihiro Takayama – 2002
Entering his first G1 Climax as the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Yoshihiro Takayama managed to win his block and made it to the finals on his very first attempt in this tournament. Although he didn’t win in the most important match, debuting in the G1 as both a champion and a finalist is certainly an impressive feat.
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4. Kazuyuki Fujita – 2005
After capturing his third IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Kazuyuki Fujita entered his first G1 Climax less than a month later, where he totally dominated his block of competition, winning every match possible. That is, until he reached the finals, where he suffered a loss to Mr G1 himself, Masahiro Chono, in under 9 minutes. If Fujita had managed to capture that final victory, this would be arguably the most dominant G1 performance in history.
3. Hirooki Goto – 2008
And here we have the first man to ever win the G1 Climax tournament in his debut attempt (excluding the first G1 in 1991 of course).
A year after returning to New Japan from his foreign excursion and moving up to the heavyweight division, Hirooki Goto managed to defeat Togi Makabe in the finals of the G1 to claim that trophy in his first ever attempt. Although the IWGP Heavyweight Championship has alluded him in the ten years since, Goto will always be a part of history with this impressive accomplishment.
2. Kazuchika Okada – 2012
Now, these next two entries are almost impossible to decide between, they’re practically 1A and 1B, but in my own personal opinion, I believe Kazuchika Okada misses out slightly on the top spot.
After already capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a short amount of time after returning from foreign excursion, Kazuchika Okada became the youngest G1 Climax winner of all time, and the second person to win on their first try, at just 24 years old. The following six years have cemented Okada as one of the greatest in the world today, and this debut G1 performance was certainly a fantastic start to this once in a generation run.
1. Kenny Omega – 2016
After claiming leadership of Bullet Club and moving up to the heavyweight division on January 5th 2016, Kenny Omega managed to put on one of the most impressive G1 performances ever witnessed as he won the legendary tournament in August that year in his first ever attempt, becoming the first non-Japanese talent to do so.
After a five-star match against Tetsuya Naito, Omega had an instant classic with Hirooki Goto the following night to claim the historic victory. Going into this tournament, Omega did not already have the honour of being world champion like Okada had, so it could be argued that Omega was more of a surprising victory. On top of that, Omega actually had one more match during the tournament than Okada did in his first G1, and in my opinion at least, Omega’s match quality throughout his debut G1 was certainly higher than Okada’s, hence why he ranks slightly higher.
Whether you think it was Omega or it was Okada who had the best first outing in the G1 Climax (or maybe even someone else on this list), you cannot deny that both of these men are neck and neck as contenders for best in the world today, and after the epic wars they’ve had against each other, along with the history they’ve created together, Omega and Okada will continue to be linked and compared for decades to come.