In preparation for the final of this year’s G1 Climax (which no doubt will be amazing), I decided to go back and watch a load of previous tournament finales to pick out the best this prestigious annual tradition has to offer. Here are the Top 10 G1 Climax Finals.
10. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito – 2013
Prior to becoming the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito was known as the Stardust Genius, a promising young talent beloved by fans. Yet after being shoved down their throats for months on end, Japanese fans turned against Naito, which caused him to eventually turn to the dark side during a trip to Mexico, and become the superstar he is today.
At this point in time, fans were still cheering for Stardust Genius (it would only be a few months before they would begin to turn), which is completely apparent considering how scorching hot the crowd was during this G1 Climax final from 2013. At points, Naito was getting loader chants than Tanahashi was, the ace and savour of the company.
This match definitely divides opinion with NJPW fans, mainly due to Naito’s unwillingness to sell any injuries to his leg, which was worked over by Tanahashi from the beginning. Despite this, it is still an exciting affair, with an amazing closing sequence which saw Tanahashi try his best to keep the budding new star down, yet Naito kept coming back for more. Naito even began blatantly stealing Tanahashi’s iconic moveset to use against him, making the crowd and commentary alike explode for the Stardust Genius.
These two would go on to have an arguably greater bout in the 2017 G1 Climax, which earned a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer, yet this is certainly a match you definitely need to watch.
9. Yuji Nagata vs. Keiji Muto – 2001
It’s strange to think now since he is one of the longest-serving veterans in the company, yet at one point Yuji Nagata was an up-and-coming main event star that needed one big victory to establish his spot. In 2001, the torch was passed to a new potential ace of the company when Nagata defeated the legendary Keiji Muto in the G1 finals.
If you’re a fan of counter wrestling and submission, you will adore this. With shades of an MMA fight from bell-to-bell, there is a high amount of ground work and holds, transitioned from Muto’s signature moves. Possibly not to everyone’s taste, yet for fans of the technical, it is a treat.
8. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tetsuya Naito – 2011
After transitioning from the junior division, this was Naito’s first major spotlight as a heavyweight competitor, something which the veteran Nakamura certainly wasn’t happy about.
Unlike his aforementioned match with Tanahashi, Naito sold well throughout and put on a star-making performance, whilst Nakamura began nonchalant and full of arrogance towards his inexperienced foe, before gradually realising what a threat he was, becoming more aggressive until he was at the point of tearing Naito’s head off. It’s neither man’s best G1 final performance, yet still a fantastic showing from both.
7. Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono – 1991
There always has to be a first, and it was Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono who were given the honour of headlining the inaugural G1 Climax.
Mutoh and Chono were part of New Japan’s Three Musketeers, a trio of top stars that were to lead the company after Antonio Inoki’s better years. In one of the best matches between two of the Musketeers, the bout begins slowly, building to an epic finish, filled with near falls and big moves, with an excitable audience throughout.
Perhaps through modern eyes it doesn’t really hold up to what we see today, and the opening ground work will certainly divide opinion, yet this piece of history still holds up as a great, final-worthy match.
6. Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamasak – 1998
The 1998 finals match is one of the shortest in G1 history, however it’s also one of the most brutal.
These fifteen minutes of physicality is brimming with stiff kicks , leg work, and one of the most punishing Brainbusters you will ever see, with the fans lapping up every second of it. Plus, this one gets extra points because you could recreate it in WCW vs. The World for PS1.
5. Kazuchika Okada vs. Karl Anderson – 2012
If you never got to see Karl Anderson do his thing in a singles match prior to arriving in WWE, you need to watch this.
Anderson became the first non-Japanese wrestler to reach the finals in 20 years back in 2012, facing the man who would go on to become the youngest winner of the tournament in his G1 debut, Kazuchika Okada. Immediately you could feel the contrast between the two – Okada kept composed throughout whilst Anderson seemed desperate and worried.
Anderson targeted Okada’s arm from the start in order to eliminate his Rainmaker. Okada kept trying to fight back but Anderson seemed to have an answer for everything. It seemed as though Machine Gun really had a chance in winning, yet it wasn’t meant to be. After one of the most spectacular finishing sequences in G1 history, Okada hit a dropkick to the back of the head, followed by a Tombstone, and then his greatest weapon, The Rainmaker, to pick up this historic victory.
At the time, Okada was a heel, yet you wouldn’t really be able to tell judging by how much the crowd and the commentators erupted in the final minute of the match. Not only was Okada the youngest ever winner, it was this victory that established the guaranteed Wrestle Kingdom title shot for the winner of the G1.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – 2014
Founding father of Chaos vs. future leader and rising star of Chaos. An intriguing dynamic that produced one hell of a match.
Clearly Nakamura was out to prove his dominance, and to show Okada that he needed to bring his game up an extra level before he would be ready to be the one true leader of Chaos. The definite highlight of this match is without question Nakamura’s stunning counters, particularly the Boma Ye to the back of Okada’s head, and a spectacular Flying Yuji Gatame transitioned from a Rainmaker.
The ending moments saw a passing of the torch within Chaos, as Okada defeated Chaos’ founder with several Rainmakers to secure his second G1 Finals victory.
3. Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto – 2016
I must admit, the first half of this match isn’t anything too special – by no means bad, it’s just a slow building exchange to lead up to the exhilarating climax (pun intended). In the final ten minutes, the psychology used is absolutely perfect. Kenny Omega unleashed almost every single move he had against Hirooki Goto, and when it seemed as though nothing could put his foe away, The Cleaner decided to borrow from his rivals and friends of the past to claim the victory.
Omega pulled out a Golden Star Powerbomb and a failed Phoenix Splash (borrowed from his at the time former tag team partner, Kota Ibushi), then a Prince Devitt-esque Bloody Sunday, closely followed by a Styles Clash, and then finished off with a beautiful One-Winged Angel, to become the first ever non-Japanese winner of the G1 Climax tournament.
That succession of moves, teamed with Omega’s historic victory made for an amazing match, and one of the best moments of the last few years.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2015
What do you get when you take two of New Japan’s biggest stars of all time, and place them in the finals of their most prestigious tournament? Pure magic, that’s what.
In this 50-minute, five-star epic, Tanahashi and Nakamura bring the big fight feel throughout, starting slow, and building throughout until they unleash every weapon in their arsenal in an exhilarating final 10 minutes. It really is an example of two of the best in the world at their very pique – I implore you to log into NJPW World and watch immediately (after reading a few more of my articles first though of course).
1. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – 2017
Kenny Omega really is a match of the year machine. In 2016, he faced Tetsuya Naito in the semi-finals of the G1 Climax tournament, and it was easily one of the greatest matches of that year. Fast-forward twelve months later, and the same two men met once again during this prestigious tournament, this time in the finals, and they managed to somehow improve of their previous masterpiece.
What makes this match so great is that Omega and Naito both reach deep down into their past to pull out every single signature move they have, with Omega using the rarely seen Croyt’s Wrath and Naito using his impressive former finisher, the Stardust Press. Both men show off their junior heavyweight roots throughout as they perform some incredible athletic maneuvers to try and capture the victory, and the future IWGP World Heavyweight Championship opportunity. After multiple major reversals and false finishes, Naito put away Omega with a gorgeous Destino, and wrapped up one hell of a match. This was Omega’s fourth match of 2017 to get more than five stars from Dave Meltzer, and it’s easy to see why.
If anybody plans on having a better match than this in a future G1 Climax final, they’re going to have to pull out a galaxy of spectacular moves to beat it.
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