What a tournament this has been.
After four incredible weeks of nineteen live pro wrestling shows, the G1 Climax is over for another year. Ninety-one tournament matches later, and we finally have a winner. Let’s celebrate how great this experience has been by looking at the twenty best matches the G1 had to offer us, and trust me, whittling it down to just twenty was so difficult. G1 28 gifted us with more match of the year candidates than any one tournament should be able to.
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20. Hirooki Goto vs. SANADA – B Block: July 15th
When put in with the right opponent, Hirooki Goto can pull out a fantastic match. Just look at his brawl with Minoru Suzuki at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, and his outstanding G1 Finals match against Kenny Omega in 2016. In his first B block match, Goto went back and forth with SANADA in an impressive showing off constant finisher countering, some fantastic signature move variants, and as always, SANADA’s freak athleticism. Show this to any new NJPW viewer, and they’re guaranteed to become a fan of both men instantly.
19. Kota Ibushi vs. Hirooki Goto – B Block: Wednesday August 1st
When a match like this isn’t anywhere near the best match either wrestler involved has had during a tournament, that’s when you know we’re having a fantastic G1. Goto attempted to use strength and strong style, whilst Kota utilised speed, strikes, and high spots. You’ll be entertained, and you will question Kota’s sanity, just like every other match he has had this tournament.
18. Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki – A Block: August 2nd
As soon as that bell rang, it was obvious Minoru Suzuki intended on decimating Kazuchika Okada. Without even letting him complete his entrance, Suzuki pounced upon The Rainmaker, and started assaulting him in the crowd.
Okada immediately went into survival mode, trying to outlast the brutality of Suzuki. On two occasions Okada struggled to get back in the ring for the 20 account. As he always does though, Kazuchika fought back to exchange punishment with The King in a very entertaining main-event brawl.
17. Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii – B Block: July 19th
I implore everyone to watch this match purely to hear how long Kevin Kelly can scream, “DESTINOOOOOO!” for – it is genuinely impressive.
With several prior matches to build upon, Ishii and Naito traded counters throughout in entertaining and impressive form. Ishii exploded at one point with a sequence of torturous chops, something which will never not be entertaining, yet Naito didn’t break his state of tranquilo-ness as he just smiled through punishment that would make any normal man crumble into tears. Also, it’s fascinating to see how somebody so cocky that regularly spits on people, as we saw in this clash, can still remain the most popular wrestler in the whole of Japan. That’s the wonderfully weird world of pro wrestling for you.
16. Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito – B Block: August 4th
How either of these men have any use of their necks after matches like this I will never know. Combine Naito’s tranquilo ways with Ibushi’s insanity and you’ve got a formula for greatness. Arguably not quite as good as their previous G1 Climax match from last year, Ibushi vs. Naito is still a match you cannot miss.
15. Kenny Omega vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – B Block: Wednesday August 1st
If you want to show somebody a match that exhibits why ZSJ is so exciting to watch in the ring, show them this.
A fast-paced exchange that is a perfect example of how dangerous Zack can be. The normally dominant Kenny spends this entire match trying to overcome Zack’s masterful counters and lightning fast reactions. If these two ever eventually battle for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, it will be something truly special.
14. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii – B Block: July 26th
Ishii and ZSJ have a brilliant chemistry together – similar in ways, yet couldn’t be more different in others. Zack targeted Ishii’s arms throughout, whilst Ishii went with the tried and tested tactic of trying to beat the crap out of his opponent. There was a point where Ishii placed Zack against the ropes, unleashed a torrent of forearms and chops against him, and each time ZSJ dropped to the floor in pain, Ishii picked him right back up and continued to punish.
One of the key ways the excitement of this match was built was through the commentary. Kevin and Rocky were making sure fans were aware of how rare it was for Tomohiro Ishii to tap out from submissions, whilst simultaneously hyping up how dangerous Zack’s submission ability is, as well as reminding us all that ZSJ has actually made Ishii pass out in the past. This all built up towards the finish, and it paid off superbly.
13. Kenny Omega vs. SANADA – B Block: July 28th
G1 28 is SANADA’s time to shine. If he hadn’t already, he has cemented himself as a main-eventer in this tournament, somebody who could easily be a future world champion. This match was an exhibition of just how good both of these men are. Starting off slow, the excitement built and built and built until in the final five minutes, the whole crowd were bursting with excitement as Omega and SANADA punished each other in entertaining fashion.
Considering he’s already holding the top prize in NJPW, Omega doesn’t exactly have to put on a great show every single night, especially when he’s working with a broken heel, yet here he is, every single night putting on one of the best bouts. So much for Kenny coasting through the G1.
12. SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – B Block: July 21st
You will be hard-pressed to find a pure exhibition of technical wrestling in 2018 better than this one. With barely any elements of an actual fight or malice between these two, this was simply a constant exchange of trading holds, strikes and transitions, with the aim to out-do each other in the grappling arts to prove who the better technician is. The crowd and commentators did their part in building the suspense and excitement this battle of master craftsmen deserved, making it one of the most interesting and thrilling matches of the tournament so far.
11. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: July 15th
Zack Sabre Jr. and New Japan are the perfect combination. Everywhere else we’ve seen the Vegan Tarantula, the commentators and promotions always just talk about how he’s a technical wizard, how he’s the best technical wrestler on the planet, etc (which is fine because he is), yet in New Japan, they add an extra level to that.
From day one, ZSJ has been portrayed as a genuinely dangerous wrestler, somebody who people should fear getting in the ring with. His submission and limb targeting skills are so advanced that NJPW always build his big matches around the fact he could seriously injure an opponent, with his foes often being banged up after their encounters with Sabre, regardless of whether they win or lose.
Throughout the G1, competitors in B block will had to wrestle ZSJ’s style when they come up against him, making him a unique threat and tough to beat, however, as we saw early on, it is possible to beat Zack at his own game.
Thanks to his slim physique and high technical ability, Kota Ibushi was able to go hold-for-hold with Zack throughout their first B block match. It made for a fun and fascinating exchange of reversals, holds and transitions. Both men did not hold back with their strikes, at one point slapping the souls out of each other. Their styles mix superbly together, and this is certainly one no New Japan fan should miss.
10. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – B Block: July 21st
In what many people are heralding as match of the tournament so far, Goto and Ishii put on a perfect prototype of what a strong style match should be. Full of exchanging shoulder blocks, chops, clotheslines, and a whole lot of fighting spirit, neither man would stay down in order to win those two points, even if it ended in both of them collapsing in pain. You’ll need to prepare yourself before you watch this one, as you’re guaranteed to be leaping out of your seat with excitement.
9. SANADA vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: July 26th
The battle of the handsome boys with teenager haircuts.
Along with SANADA, another competitor who is having an outstanding G1 is Kota Ibushi, one of the best in the world today. The fact that this bout is the first time these two have ever had singles match together is unbelievable considering how well they gelled together. Showing immediate chemistry, SANADA and Ibushi exchanged strikes and holds from start to finish in exciting fashion.
It was an impressive display between two of the best athletes in New Japan trying to display their technical prowess against the other, matching speed and fluidity throughout. It really felt like two of the best wrestlers in the world trying to prove who was the better athlete. Playing to a hometown crowd, this was arguably SANADA’s greatest ever performance in a wrestling ring, and certainly shows extremely high promise for the LIJ member for the the future.
8. Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto – B Block: July 19th
When Hirooki Goto is in the ring with the right person, he can have an absolutely fantastic match (just look at his match against SANADA in the first B Block show). When Kenny Omega is in the ring with anyone at all, he can have an absolutely fantastic match. Put these two together, and what do you get? A five-star epic.
Following on from their incredible 2016 finals match, and their 2017 G1 encounter, Omega and Goto shot out of the gate intent on gaining 2 points in any way possible. Clearly inspired by his fellow Golden Lover’s insane performance earlier in the night, Omega wasn’t going to be out-crazied so he slammed his opponent onto the wooden bleachers in the crowd, climbed up the stands, and hit an incredible moonsault onto Goto and some unlucky young lions. This match is certainly much more than one crazy spot, yet this best bout is worth watching for that athletic spectacle alone.
Goto put up a great showing against the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, hitting a reverse GTR with Kenny dropped on the ropes, yet Omega once again bested the first ever man to win this prestigious tournament in his debut attempt.
7. Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA – B Block: August 11th
For many, Tomohiro Ishii was the MVP for this year’s G1. Even when he had nothing to gain from a match other than pride, as was the case with this final day bout, he still threw his stone, fridge-like body into everything. When he clashed with SANADA, an insane athlete who put on a star-making performance throughout the tournament, he ended his incredible G1 journey with yet another MOTY candidate.
6. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – A Block: August 10th
Admittedly, I’m not as big of a fan of previous Tanahashi vs. Okada matches than most New Japan fans seem to be, yet their most recent encounter had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Whether it was the atmosphere in the Budokan, the tension of deciding who would win the A Block, or the excitement from the crowd and the commentators, but by the end of this bout, my heart was pounding in my chest and my stomach was fluttering from anticipation.
Okada and Tanahashi are both two of the most relaxed competitors when it comes to displaying their emotions towards their opponents, however, when they face each other, they cannot hide the disdain between them. This match is filled with violence, emotion and high drama. Whilst I would have preferred a definitive finish to this one, it is still one of the best bouts we saw in the G1.
5. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: July 28th
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi was a gift to us all.
Take Ibushi, a crazy athlete who had a fantastic G1, take Ishii, a stone-hard fridge of a man known for pulling out amazing matches in G1’s, put them together and you have one of the greatest bouts of the year. You will be hard-pressed to find a match that fits in as much insanity and brutality as this one does.
From start to finish, these two go to town on each other without a single moment’s rest. Rather than a display of athleticism and speed which we saw with his aforementioned bout with SANADA, Ibushi channels his inner badass and goes toe-to-toe with Ishii’s punishing strikes. Despite that, there was one moment where classic Ibushi made an appearance, as he dragged his opponent out passed the crowd, climbed up a balcony, and delivered an insane moonsault onto Ishii (clearly getting some practice in for his match at the Budokan).
This wasn’t really a test of who was the better striker or the better wrestler, it was a test to see who had the most fighting spirit, who was tougher, and who had the most screws loose in their head. For them to craft a match that’s as captivating and wild as this is in 16 minutes, that is genuinely incredible.
Watch this match. Make your friends watch this match. Make everyone watch this match. It’s just that good.
4. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega – B Block: July 15th
Some wrestlers have an undeniable chemistry with each other that allows them to put on outstanding matches regardless of how many times they stand across the ring from each other – case in point: Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito.
In the 2016 and 2017 G1’s, Naito and Omega’s matches against each other were arguably the best bouts in both tournaments. For the third year in a row, they have crafted a masterpiece which will be hard to beat. Filled with the ridiculous set of knee strikes, inhuman springboard leaps, and drops on the head that we’ve come to expect from these two, this is as every bit as good as you could expect it to be.
3. Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Finals: August 12th
This was the match that four whole weeks and nineteen shows lead up to, and boy, it was well worth it. With Kenny by Kota’s side, and a rare appearance by Katsuyori Shibata accompanying Tanahashi, it was obvious this was going to be emotional before the bell had rung. We got to see Kota pull out some mental, punishing strikes, and Tanahashi flaunt his god-like hair and legendary moveset.
The image of their slap exchange may never leave my mind, and the final sequence was perfect in making both men come out looking greater than they entered. Brimming with emotion, excitement, and plenty of tension, it was the culmination of ninety tournament matches with fantastic results.
2. Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: August 11th
Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have ten years of history together. In fact, Kota is basically the reason Kenny came to Japan in the first place.
When Omega saw footage of Ibushi for the first time, he became obsessed by him, and knew he had to travel to Japan to face him. So in 2008, Kenny had his first ever singles match in the country against Kota Ibushi for DDT Pro Wrestling. The 2/3 Falls Match changed his career forever.
Kota and Kenny instantly gained respect for each other, became a team, moved to New Japan together, put on arguably the greatest match in DDT history against each other, separated for years without crossing paths, and reunited this year in a truly emotional display. Ten years of history leading to this match.
Six years after their last match against each other, Kota and Kenny were forced to face each other once more inside the very same arena. Judging by this bout though, you’d have no idea that these two had any sort of positive relationship with each other.
Simply put, these two near enough murdered each other. Knowing how difficult it would be to put away their fellow lover, both men put everything they had into every shot, and took serious risks from start to finish. Featuring some of the most brutal moves you will see all year, combined with true emotion and impeccable storytelling, this is a match no wrestling fan should miss.
- Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – B Block: August 4th
If you like physicality, you will adore this match. The amount of punishment both of these men took in this match is truly astonishing. It was bloody, it was brutal, and it was beautiful.
Starting off slow, Omega was beaming with arrogance as he boded Ishii, yet after a good ten minutes or so of build, they turned up the intensity to maximum and did not turn it back down until the bell rung. Kenny was clearly on a mission to prove that the V Trigger is one of the most effective and re-watchable moves on the planet, whilst Ishii was clearly on a mission to prove that he genuinely is made of stone as he absorbed blow after blow from his opponent. By the end of it, they were left bloody and brutalised, thanks to this absolutely incredible match.
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