For the first time ever, the celebrated G1 Climax kicks off outside of Japan! This year’s epic tournament begins in Dallas, Texas, so to celebrate this historic occasion, I’ve decided to highlight the bouts that kicked off past G1’s in style. These are the Top 10 G1 Climax Opening Day Matches.
For this list, any match that kicked off the first day of either A Block or B Block competition of a G1 Climax will be eligible. Since the competition split the blocks into separate days of competition back in 2015, I felt it was only fair to also include the first day of B Block competition even though that takes place on the second show. Also, as this is down to personal opinion, if the match isn’t available online for me to watch personally in full, I won’t be ranking it.
10. Minoru Suzuki vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2018
Minoru Suzuki and Hiroshi Tanahashi have a history of fantastic matches together. In 2012, these two had the first New Japan match in fifteen years to get five stars from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Now, this G1 clash isn’t quite up to the standard of that 2012 classic, yet it is full of long, tension building submissions, a series of murderous slaps and strikes, a surprise comeback finish, and is more than worth your time. Suzuki dominated with his adoration for torturing limbs with lengthy holds, before Tanahashi fought back with some top tier Dragon Screws.
The fact Minoru Suzuki is omitted from the 2019 tournament is truly a crime, but admittedly I can’t wait to see him seek his revenge on everybody who gets in his way.
9. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – 2017
This is strong style right here. Whenever Goto and Ishii are on the opposite side of a ring, I have a lot of fun. Watching these two refuse to back down from the other as they unload a torrent of stiff strikes is pure entertainment for me.
Although they would go on to a five-star epic match in the 2018 G1, these two CHAOS stablemates put on a fantastic show in their first tournament match of 2017 as they absolutely battered each other. How they managed to go on and wrestle the rest of the tournament after this is beyond me.
You’ll get nothing flashy from this encounter, just two guys having a straight-up, smash mouth brawl, and then somehow remaining great friends afterwards.
8. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – 2014
Given that they both started out in New Japan at the same time as part of the nicknamed “New Three Musketeers”, Shibata and Nakamura had a lot of history with each other already when they faced off in the 2014 G1.
Starting out by showing off their MMA experience, Nakamura and Shibata felt each other out with some amateur wrestling. It appeared that this was going to be a clean show of sportsmanship between two peers – that went all out of the window when Nakamura decided to taunt his opponent.
Feeling disrespected, Shibata began swinging with rage at his foe, and from there, all hell broke loose as the fight spilled to the outside. Nakamura and Shibata brought that strong style they’re both so famous for hard. Shibata emitted anger throughout, and executed a fantastic combo to finish affairs in an erratic and exciting fight.
7. Yuji Nagata vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2011
When Yuji Nagata starts slapping people, I can’t help but start to get excited. If you too enjoy watching grown men smack their open palms hard into another man’s face repeatedly, check this one out.
Newer fans of New Japan may not realise what a competitor Yuji Nagata was and still is, you only have to watch is 2019 bout with Tomohiro Ishii to know that. If you want a taste of what Nagata can do, definitely give this great match a watch.
6. Naomichi Marufuji vs. Kazuchika Okada – 2016
Maybe one of the most shocking starts to any G1 was back in 2016 when immediately after witnessing SANADA submitting Tanahshi in his first G1 match, we got another pretty surprising victory when Naomichi Marufuji, arguably one of, if not the top star in Pro Wrestling NOAH, defeated NJPW’s golden ace (and at the time reigning champion) on his home soil.
Of course, Marufuji is no stranger to big wins in New Japan, given that he’s a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and Super J-Cup winner, but this wasn’t even his first win over a major title holder during a G1. When he made his G1 debut in 2012, he picked up a win over then reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi, so Marufuji made it 2/2 by beating Okada on the very first day.
When two people meet in the ring for the very first time, you can’t hope for much better than this. Considering they’d never touched once prior to this, the caliber of the two singles bouts they had in 2016, starting with this one, is definitely impressive (but not surprising).
Marufuji absolutely dominated in this match, working the arm to a torturous degree. He schooled the IWGP Heavyweight Champion by countering almost everything he had, and destroyed his limbs to prevent him from hitting his finisher. In very convincing fashion, Marufuji picked up a major victory in the main event of the 2016 G1, resulting in one hell of a first-time encounter in the process.
5. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi – 2018
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.
Usually during a G1, competitors are forced to wrestle ZSJ’s style when they come up against him, making him a unique threat and tough to beat, however, as we saw back in 2018, 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 reserve their energy for the rest of the tourney 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.
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi – 2015
2018 saw one of my personal favourite ever G1 Climax finals, when Tanahashi and Ibushi battled in an epic match. Three years earlier, they met at the other end of the G1 spectrum when they kicked off the tournament with another fantastic contest.
Ibushi brings a wealth of intensity in an effort to defeat the Ace of New Japan, unleashing a barrage of hard kicks upon Tanahashi. The Golden Star brought out some of the craziest weapons in his arsenal, including a seriously impressive Super German Suplex from the middle rope, and a lawn dart into the turnbuckle, yet ultimately, the veteran experience of Tanahashi prevailed.
Whether they’re in the opening night or the final match, Ibushi and Tanahashi know how to put on a great G1 Climax match.
3. Kenny Omega vs. Minoru Suzuki – 2017
Admittedly, I completely overlooked this match back in 2017, but after another viewing, I instantly fell in love with it. I’m a huge fan of both Omega’s and Suzuki’s respective styles, as different as they may be, yet I didn’t really see how they could gel together well – I’m glad to say I was proven wrong.
With visible fear on his face at the sight of his experienced opponent, Omega shot out of the gates with a flurry of forearms to attempt to put the legend away, but you can never prevent the pain from Minoru Suzuki for too long.
Highlights have got to include Suzuki catching Omega out of mid-air with a knee lock, Suzuki pulling in Red Shoes so he’s shielded from a V-Trigger, Suzuki going ham with a combo of strikes for an uncomfortably long time, and Suzuki selling a V-Trigger like a true knockout blow.
If it wasn’t for some interference and shenanigans from Suzuki-Gun and Bullet Club, this would maybe be ranked even higher than it already is.
2. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi – 2017
It’s a Naito vs. Ibushi match, of course its absolute chaos.
Whenever these two have a match together, they constantly attempt to kill each other and themselves to an excessive degree. To you and I, being dropped on your head is not a pleasant experience, yet it seems these two won’t step into a ring together without insisting on permanent neck damage by the second bell.
In my personal favourite car crash of theirs, Naito and Ibushi filled this G1 match with a bounty of huge, exciting moves broken up by moments of downtime which help you digest what you’ve seen. From the moment the bell rang, the crowd was erupting with excitement with defeating chants for Naito despite it being Ibushi’s return match to New Japan.
Taking control early, Naito targeted Ibushi’s head and neck, dominating and disrespecting his opponent along the way by spitting at him and lying on his back as his foe lay beaten outside. But of course Ibushi fought back with a pummeling of savage kicks, at one point completely ignoring the referee’s calls due to being blinded by rage.
Of course, this match is mainly remembered for some absolutely ridiculous spots. We’ve got the second rope lifting Super German Suplex, an unreal display of strength and balance, but without question the peak of this bout was the unbelievable leaping piledriver from the second rope. Watching this live as it happened, I openly gasped at the sight of that move.
Like any of their matches from the last couple of years, this won’t be for everyone, and at times they take their obsession with breaking their necks to dangerous, uncomfortable levels, yet this was an unforgettable way to open a G1 nonetheless.
SANADA vs. EVIL – 2017
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kenny Omega – 2016
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomoaki Honma – 2014
Genichiro Tenryu vs. Minoru Suzuki – 2004
SANADA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2016
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White – 2018
AJ Styles vs. Katsuyori Shibata – 2015
Kazuchika Okada vs. AJ Styles – 2014
Hirooki Goto vs. SANADA – 2018
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2017
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega – 2018
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 crafted a masterpiece which proved to be extremely hard to beat, and they did it on the very first day.
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.
The fact we may never get to see Kenny Omega face Tetsuya Naito ever again, let alone compete in another G1, that is a crying shame, but at least their final encounter was an absolute classic.
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