One of the greatest elements of the yearly G1 Climax tournament is how unpredictable it can be. With so many wrestlers competing against each other within a month’s period, each year gifts us with some truly unexpected wins, and NJPW fans have seen plenty since the tournament’s creation back in 1991. Here are my Top 15 Most Shocking G1 Climax Victories.
Honourable Mention: Toru Yano vs. Katsuyori Shibata – 2016
Toru Yano won a match with an actual wrestling maneuver… against Katsuyori Shibata. If Yano normally wins a match during a G1, it’s thanks to a low blow or some other underhanded tactic. And sure, he did do a low blow during this match and it was full of his signature brand of shenanigans, yet the actual victory was a result of Yano out-wrestling The Wrestler. As Shibata was about to choke out Yano for the victory, the CHAOS member grabbed the leg of his opponent, took him down thanks to his amateur wrestling background, and covered him for the quick, shock win.
15. SANADA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2016
The opening day of G1 26 was full of surprises. The main event saw Pro Wrestling NOAH star Naomichi Marufuji absolutely destroy the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, but right before that took place, we had another shocking victory when LIJ newcomer SANADA forced Hiroshi Tanahashi to submit. SANADA was a well-known name in wrestling thanks to runs in TNA and All Japan before arriving in New Japan in April 2016 when he helped Tetsuya Naito beat Kazuchika Okada.
After a few tag matches and a singles loss to Okada, SANADA entered his first G1, where he was pitted against Tanahashi on the first night. Although he was well-travelled, SANADA was yet to be a main-event name in pro wrestling, so to see him get a rare submission victory over a legend like Tanahashi was a surprising sight, and a good glimpse into the future promise for his NJPW career.
14. Karl Anderson vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2012
For years, Karl Anderson was a prominent tag team wrestler in NJPW. Along with Giant Bernard, Anderson was part of Bad Intentions, the most dominant tag team in New Japan history. They still hold the record for longest reign as IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, and most successful title defenses in a single reign. When Bernard left for WWE in 2012, Anderson had to venture out on his own. After picking up a couple of victories in that year’s New Japan Cup, he was eliminated by Hiroshi Tanahashi. Following the tournament, Anderson would lose other big matches leading up to that year’s G1.
After winning four out of seven matches, Anderson went into his last block competition bout against then reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi, the man who had eliminated him from tournament competition just a few months prior. After a great, competitive contest, this tag team gaijin wrestler shocked everyone when he defeated the legend and reigning champion clean in just eleven minutes, becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to make it to a round-robin G1 finals. It was an emotional victory that clearly meant a lot to the good brother. Sadly, Anderson’s singles career didn’t go much further after that, but he did get to dance along with Maria, which judging by his face made him happier than any singles championship ever could.
13. YOSHI-HASHI vs. Bad Luck Fale – 2017
Bad Luck Fale has a history of picking up huge victories during G1 Climax tournaments, most notably his two wins over Kazuchika Okada. In 2017, he dominated his block competition, picking up wins over Naito, Ibushi, Ishii, Goto and more, but one of the few men he couldn’t put away was… YOSHI-HASHI…
With a swift roll-up, the lowest ranking member of CHAOS got a massive (literally) win over the gigantic Fale. Considering Fale was only two points away from being in the final that year, this was a major victory, especially by YOSHI-HASHI standards.
12. Kazunari Murakami vs. Tatsumi Fujinami – 2001
Not only did Kazunari Murakami defeat six-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tatsumi Fujinami back in 2001, he did it in the fastest time in G1 history. Sure, Fujinami was towards the end of his career during this period, but still, beating somebody in 36 seconds, especially during a tournament built on the spirit of competition, that’s got to be considered a shock, right?
11. Toru Yano vs. Michael Elgin – 2017
Toru Yano is the king of shenanigans. He gets away with so much bullshit in his bouts that anywhere else would hand him a DQ. As we know in New Japan, referees are far more liberal with the rules, particularly during important occasions like the G1. With so much at stake, referees want to see a definitive decision be made, rather than a throwaway DQ or count-out victory. On this day in 2017 though, all that went out the window.
After low-blowing his opponent while the referee wasn’t looking, causing Elgin to clutch at his front area, Yano pretended to be low-blowed himself once the official’s back was turned again. When the referee saw Yano clutching at his pulverized particulars, which is exactly what Elgin was doing at the exact same time may I add, the match was awarded to Toru Yano as a result of disqualification from a low blow that didn’t even take place. If you’re a long-time New Japan, that is an absolutely shocking decision.
In G1 matches, I’ve seen blatant low blows, chair shots, table spots, wrestlers going well past the twenty count outside the ring, etc all take place with no consequences whatsoever, so to see a DQ actually take place over something the referee didn’t actually see still astounds me to this day. Oh well, I’m not going to complain about a Yano victory.
10. Genichiro Tenryu vs. Masahiro Chono – 2004
Although Tenryu is an NJPW legend, and a victory over anybody shouldn’t be considered shocking for him, it’s the manner in which it happened that makes it so surprising. Masahiro Chono, the man who had won the G1 a record four times, and would go on to win it once more the following year, a multiple time champion, was beaten in 38 seconds by Tenryu in 2004, only two seconds longer than the all-time record for shortest G1 match.
After catching Chono in the corner with a pretty weak powerbomb, Tenryu picked up the win. It was less shocking than it was underwhelming really, but strange finish or not, Mr August did lose in one of the quickest times in G1 history, which has got to be considered a shock no matter what the circumstances.
9. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2017
When ZSJ debuted for NJPW in February 2017, he was coming off of an appearance in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament. To the surprise of many, Zack was not considered a junior wrestler in New Japan, despite his cruiserweight credentials and svelte physique, instead being brought in as a heavyweight. On his first night in the company, he joined Suzuki-Gun, and defeated Katsuyori Shibata for the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship with help from his Suzuki-Gun brothers.
Despite having little experience in New Japan, Zack was entered into that year’s G1 Climax tournament, being pitted against Hiroshi Tanahashi in his first match, the ace of the company. Well, to the shock of many, Zack Sabre Jr. not only gained the two points in his first G1 match, he managed to submit one of the toughest wrestlers around when he forced Tanahashi to tap out. We’ve seen on many occasions the extent Tanahashi is willing to fight through pain, the man has more fighting spirit than sense, so to make him give up is a major achievement.
People had serious doubts whether Zack could compete believably as a heavyweight prior to the G1. One match in, and he was already one of the most dangerous men in his block thanks to his superior submission skills. That is the genius of Zack Sabre Jr.
8. EVIL vs. Kazuchika Okada – 2017
When a group has a clear leader like Los Ingobernables de Japon does, you don’t really expect one of its other members to get a singles victory over the company’s biggest champion, but that’s what happened back in 2017 when EVIL absolutely decimated Kazuchika Okada. After ambushing him at the start, EVIL threw the IWGP Heavyweight Champion all over the arena, slamming him into chairs and barricades. In shocking fashion, EVIL countered The Rainmaker with his own finisher, EVERYTHING IS EVIL, to get a victory over the champ, and earn a title shot in the process. Victories nobody sees coming are definitely evil.
7. Naomichi Marufuji vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2012
Naomichi Marufuji is best known for his work in Pro Wrestling NOAH, where he has served as the company’s Vice President and won several championships. During his career though, he has made several appearances in NJPW. Prior to 2012, Marufuji was exclusively a junior heavyweight competitor in New Japan, fighting for the division’s championship and competing in junior tournaments. In 2010, he was supposed to make his G1 debut, yet an injury kept him from competing at the last minute.
Luckily for Marufuji, the man known to NJPW as a junior would be given this opportunity again two years later when he jumped up to heavyweight as a G1 entrant. After winning his opening match but losing the following two, Marufuji didn’t get the greatest start to his G1 journey, which is what made his next victory all the more shocking. The acting Pro Wrestling NOAH Vice President beat then reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi clean during the G1 Climax. It was a major victory in Marufuji’s NJPW career that would kick off even bigger and better things for him, and grant him an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match in September of that year.
6. Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Masahiro Chono – 2005
In 2005, Kazuyuki Fujita was on a role. After capturing his third IWGP Heavyweight Championship that year, Fujita entered his first ever G1 Climax tournament less than a month later, where he completely dominated his block of competition, winning every match possible, with no bout going beyond the ten minute mark. It was without question one of the most dominant performances in G1 history – it seemed a certainty that Fujita would become the first reigning champion since 2000 to win the G1.
When he reached the finals, Fujita faced Mr August himself, Masahiro Chono, the winner of the first G1 back in 1991. By this point, Chono had won the tournament four times, yet was also nearing his 42nd birthday. Unlike Fujita, Chono lost twice during the block stage, and every match he had went above the ten minute mark. Even for a legend like Chono this would be a major task to defeat such a dominant force.
However, in a shocking turn of events, not only did Chono defeat Fujita, handing him his first loss of the tournament, he beat him in Chono’s shortest match of that year’s G1. In less than nine minutes, Chono did what seven other men could not, and put the reigning champion Fujita down for the three in an impressive time. It took a lengthy application of the STF, followed by two Shining Wizard for Chono to just barely get his record fifth G1 victory. When you’re as legendary as Chono, a victory can never be considered too much of a shock, but when facing against a beast like Fujita, even for a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a win can be quite surprising.
5. Prince Devitt vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2010
2010 was a massive year for Prince Devitt. At the start of summer in June of that year, he won his first Best of the Super Juniors tournament, picking up the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Dominion not long after on June 19th. In the following month, Devitt was part of the winning team in the J Sports Crown Openweight 6-Man Tag Tournament, managed to successfully defend his title against Atsushi Aoki, and was crowned a dual NJPW champion when he became one half of the IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions. Things couldn’t be going better for Devitt, that is until August brought him his biggest opportunity yet.
After Naomichi Marufuji was injured before that year’s G1 Climax, the junior champion Devitt was chosen as his replacement. As successful as Devitt had been lately, he was still classed as a junior heavyweight. The separation in weight classes is rarely crossed in singles matches in New Japan, so for a junior wrestler to get a victory over a heavyweight is a major deal, especially one who isn’t meant to be competing in the first place. Well, not only did Devitt get a few victories in the G1, he managed to pick one up on the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi, who was at the time a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
To get a victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi is a big accomplishment regardless of who you are, especially during this time before his body began to break down, but throw in the fact that he was in a lower weight class, and he wasn’t ever supposed to be in the tournament, that is what makes Devitt’s 2010 win over Tanahashi so shocking. Devitt was one point away from the finals by the end of the tournament.
Devitt remained in the junior division following on from this monumental victory. It wouldn’t be for another three years that he would once again throw his hat into the G1 and return to the heavyweight division, but certainly this run in 2010 definitely helped prove that he was worthy of heavyweight level competition, and worthy of eventually leading Bullet Club.
4. Juice Robinson vs. Kenny Omega – 2017
Juice Robinson’s first G1 Climax was a journey to prove himself. To prove that choosing to leave WWE was the correct decision, to prove that volunteering to study as a young lion in New Japan was the right move, and while he lost more than he won that year, he was definitely rewarded with a major victory.
At the time, Kenny Omega was on fire: leader of the Bullet Club, first-ever IWGP US Champion, in the midst of his feud with Okada, putting on five+ star matches left, right and center, and most importantly, reigning G1 Climax winner. If Juice Robinson was going to get a W over anybody, it wasn’t going to be The Cleaner… which is what made it all the more shocking when he did.
Apart from a few minor streaks of offence, this bout was completely one-sided in the favour of Omega, who brutalised the former NXT star. After hitting him with one hell of a V-Trigger to the side of the head, it seemed as though it was all over as Omega hoisted Juice up for a One-Winged Angel, yet to the shock of everyone watching, the man once known as CJ Parker reversed the move at the last possible moment into a roll-up, which resulted in a successful three count.
The crowd erupted. Juice himself couldn’t believe it, he let out an audible “OHHHHHH FUCK!” as commentary screamed “JUICE! JUICE! JUICE!” in a state of disbelief, Juice even had to check with Red Shoes (the referee) to confirm the victory. Topped off with a lovely, “WHAT THE FUCK?!” on the ramp, the victory showed off Juice’s likability and captivating emotion. This win over Omega was the start of Juice’s rise to stardom in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and he’s been a delight to watch ever since.
3. Hiroshi Hase vs. Masahiro Chono – 1993
Hiroshi Hase is known for a few things: a former pro wrestler turned Japanese politician, being involved in the infamous ‘Muta Scale’ match, and for being one of the first junior heavyweights in NJPW to graduate to the heavyweight division. After making the rare move up a weight class, Hase mainly competed in tag team matches for a few years, not finding much main event success as a singles wrestler at the time. He wasn’t deemed worthy enough of competing in the first G1 in 1991, and in 1992 when the tournament was single elimination, he lost to Terry Taylor in the first round.
The early 90’s was a completely different story for Masahiro Chono, the winner of the first two G1 Climax tournaments, capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in the process. By the third tournament, everyone was looking to see if Chono could score the triple. Well, that historic achievement was spoiled in the semi-finals by a man that the year prior couldn’t even get past the first round, and was competing for the junior title a few years beforehand.
It didn’t matter who beat Chono in 1993, it would have been shocking regardless. At this point, nobody other than Chono had won a G1 before, so to put away Mr August was a major achievement. Hase would go on to lose in the finals to WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami, but the win he picked up in the semi’s was almost as important as winning the entire tournament.
2. YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kenny Omega – 2016
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. On top of that, unlike Juice’s victory which came from a surprise roll-up, this victory was as clean as a whistle, making it all the more shocking coming at the hands of a man that has yet to win a single championship in his entire pro wrestling career.
- Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii – 2015
Tomoaki Honma didn’t exactly take the most conventional route to New Japan Pro Wrestling. After being rejected from the NJPW dojo, Honma started out as a deathmatch wrestling in the late 90’s, competing for independent promotions, smashing light tubes over people’s skulls, before making the move to All Japan. In 2006, he finally reached New Japan, where he competed mainly as a tag team wrestler for many years.
Honma’s singles career never really took off during the first decade of his time in New Japan. In fact, he didn’t participate in a G1 Climax tournament until 2014, where he was entered as a last minute replacement for an injured Kota Ibushi. In his ten tournament bouts that year, Honma lost every single one of them, yet it was in defeat that he gained popularity. Honma became the ultimate underdog in New Japan, exploding in popularity with fans willing him on to finally get a victory. The movement was nicknamed “HonmaMania” and issued in a new chapter of his career.
The following year, Honma earned his place in the G1 again, except this time he wasn’t anybody’s replacement. He was planned to be in it from the start, and was set to get some victories under his belt… except that three count continued to allude him. Seven matches down, seven defeats. Seventeen G1 matches in total, not a single victory. It seemed as though it would be two clean sweeps in a row with only two bouts left, one of which was against The Stone Pitbull, Tomohiro Ishii.
Prior to the 2015 G1 Climax tournament, Ishii and Honma had fought one-on-one on six occasions, with each victory being awarded to Ishii. Their more recent fights had been critically acclaimed thanks to hard-hitting, fired-up action. No matter how much fighting spirit Honma brought to the bout though, he just couldn’t take down Ishii.
With every odd stacked against him, Honma stood across the ring from his greatest opponent with 0 points in the G1, determined to get a victory. As always, the two warriors brought everything they had, landing a barrage of stiff strikes on each other, yet no matter what Ishii hit Honma with, he could not put him away. After a leaping headbutt to the chin caught Ishii, Honma began raining down headbutt variations until finally, a diving headbutt secured him that long-awaited victory.
After hearing that three count, the crowd erupted with joy. Honma had proven himself worthy after so many years. With that victory, the streak had ended, and we were gifted with one of the most shocking, and not to mention emotional, G1 Climax victories of all time.
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