The G1 Climax is now in its 29th year. With so much history to look back on, there’s plenty of great content for newer fans to indulge. If this year marks your first G1 Climax tournament, or you just haven’t ventured into the archives as much as you’d like to, I’ve put together a collection of significant past G1 bouts that, selected either because of their historical value, or their overall match quality. I’ve avoided selecting more well-known past matches, favouring lesser-watched bouts by modern fans. For each entry, I’ve provided a link to the match on NJPW World, so make sure you watch anything that catches your interest. These are 10 Past G1 Matches You May Not Have Seen (But Really Need To).
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 forward after Antonio Inoki’s better years had past.
In one of the best matches between two of the Musketeers, the bout began 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 the standard we see regularly today, and the opening ground work will certainly divide opinion, yet this piece of history still holds up as a great, final-worthy match that any New Japan fan should experience.
When one of the greatest of all time has been in such a prestigious tournament, you’d think more people would talk about it, right?
Although it isn’t brought up much these days, the sixteen-time world champion, Ric Flair, competed in the 1995 G1 Climax tournament. Despite his extensive career by that point, Flair only managed to win one of his three matches in this 8-man tourney. His best outing came when he faced the equally legendary Keiji Mutoh, These two former world champions had a great back-and-forth technical, brawling battle that really picked up in the closing minutes.
As the match progressed, Mutoh’s face gradually became more crimson from the flowing gash on his forehead, leaving his entire face painted by his own blood. Mutoh was transformed into Muta before our eyes as his skin was shrouded in red, adopting a more intense attitude along with it. In the final sequence, Mutoh fired up against a retreating Flair, slamming the WCW icon all over the blood-soaked canvas. A gorgeous moonsault decided this hidden gem from mid-90s New Japan.
For newer fans of New Japan Pro Wrestling, it’s definitely worth going back through the archives to witness what the cocky leader of Los Ingobernables De Japon, Tetsuya Naito, was like prior to becoming tranquillo. Before 2015, Naito was your standard babyface wrestler known as The Stardust Genius. After transitioning from the junior heavyweight division, the 2011 G1 Climax Finals were Naito’s first major spotlight as a heavyweight competitor, something which the veteran Nakamura certainly wasn’t happy about.
The pre-LIJ Naito is a contrast to what we would expect from him today. Naito sold well throughout and put on a star-making performance in this bout, whilst Nakamura began nonchalant and full of arrogance towards his inexperienced foe, before gradually realising what a threat he actually 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, and a great example of the wrestlers they used to be before truly hitting their primes.
Dear god these two men hit hard. This match was basically one big contest to see who could bludgeon the other man with the most force. It wasn’t complex whatsoever but it is satisfying in its simplicity. My favourite moment from the brawl is without question when Shibata was getting hammered by the strikes of Ibushi. Appearing dazed and absorbing a barrage of attacks, Shibata suddenly caught Ibushi’s leg and hit a lighting fast slap to the face, before quickly locking in a sleeper for the win. The speed in which Shibata managed to completely change the momentum in his favor is evidence of just how great of a fighter that man was.
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 Mutoh 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 arts, it is a treat.
I’ve included this match because, for a start, it’s a great, exciting bout (worth watching just for Rick Rude’s tights), yet it’s also a good example of the strong partnership between NJPW and WCW during the 1990’s, and plays a part in quite a fascinating rivalry.
In 1992, the G1 Climax tournament was held to determine the vacant NWA Heavyweight Championship, which had been on hiatus for a year due to Ric Flair taking the title to the WWF during his controversial departure from WCW. As such, this lead to many WCW roster members being included in the tourney, including Jim Neidhart and “Stunning” Steve Austin. The unique G1 came down to the legendary Rick Rude and Masahiro Chono (the winner of the previous year).
First off, this is a great match. In those opening moments, the crowd could not have been more exhilarated to see a new NWA World Champion being crowned in front of them. It was a lengthy, methodical, slow burn of a contest that sent the crowd into eruption once the first bell rang: definitely something you should all check out.
Now, what makes this such an interesting bout is that it was considered one of the best matches of 1992, yet the same two men just two months later, would go on to what many class as one of the worst matches of all time. When they took their rivalry over to American soil at WCW Halloween Havoc, Rude and Chono produced a truly ‘boo-ring’ bout (you know, cause it was Halloween). If I had to sum up this match in one phrase, it would be, “Resthold, after resthold, after resthold, after even more restholds.” It’s ten minutes of rest holds followed by a missile dropkick, an inadvertent ref bump, and then despite tapping out to Chono’s submission, Rude wins the match via disqualification. That’s it.
The way these two could go from such a historic and exciting clash to a universally-panned mess that made history for the wrong reasons, all within two months, that is actually impressive. Don’t seek out the WCW match, just focus on the G1 and everything will be okay.
Why should you watch this match? Because YOSHI FREAKING HASHI BEAT KENNY OMEGA.
In a truly shocking moment, Mr Bottom of the NJPW Totem Pole himself, the man with the indescribable hairstyle, YOSHI-HASHI, got a clean victory over Kenny Omega. Now although he hadn’t gotten into his stride as a global main event star by this point, Omega was already leader of Bullet Club and had defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. This was to be his first ever G1 Climax match, a presumed easy victory given his opponent, yet YOSHI-HASHI of all people fired himself up enough to get the surprise victory.
This was the year that Kenny Omega would actually win the G1 Climax in his very first try, going on to have the now legendary Wrestle Kingdom match against Kazuchika Okada, all of which makes this blemish on his tournament record all the more astounding.
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 are brimming with stiff kicks, extensive leg work, and one of the most punishing Brainbusters you’re likely to ever see, with the fans lapping up every second of it. A great taste of the late 90’s New Japan style. Plus, this one gets extra points because you could recreate it in WCW vs. The World for PS1.
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 other men’s faces 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 (or any of his matches with Ishii in fact, their G1 2014 bout is another absolute banger). If you want a taste of what Nagata can do, definitely give this great match a watch.
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. Or if you just need a reminder of what a damn great professional wrestler he is considering he hasn’t had much chance to show that in the last three and half years, here’s the evidence of it.
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 appeared as though Machine Gun really had a chance of 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 during the final minute of the match. Not only was Okada the youngest ever winner, it was this victory that first established the guaranteed Wrestle Kingdom title shot for the winner of the G1. It’s easy to see why despite only returning to New Japan from his horrendous time in TNA seven months earlier, and only being 24 years old at the time, he was already a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and a record-breaker in New Japan’s most prestigious tournament.
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