What a tournament it was. The G1 is over for another year, and once again it has gifted us with some of the best bouts of the year. These are my Top 25 G1 Climax Matches of 2019.
25. Juice Robinson vs. Shingo Takagi – Night Two
This war is worth watching just for the beautiful lariats alone. Two men that are on a roll lately collided in a first-time match-up which certainly did not disappoint. It was a non-stop barrage of hard-hitting strikes, and an exciting, promising start of B Block competition. Shingo Takagi competing in a G1 is a recipe for brilliance, and if Juice Robinson keeps up this level of serious intensity, this tourney could be a star-making performance for him.
24. Toru Yano vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Night Fourteen
This match combined two of the things I love the most in New Japan: Ishii’s hard-hitting style, and Toru Yano’s wonderful brand of nonsense. The chemistry between these two friends was absolutely wonderful, with Ishii trying to predict all of the shenanigans Ishii was going to throw at him, whilst Yano fired himself up to bring the fight to Ishii in impressive form. We saw Ishii manage to kick out of all the trickery Yano threw at him, and we also saw Yano absorb Ishii strikes like they were nothing. A surprising and highly entertaining effort from both men that makes me glad the G1 exists: without it, we wouldn’t get these kind of unique battles.
23. Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Night 15
Coming into this match with a bit of a winning streak after a horrendous start (thanks, Boris), Zack Sabre Jr. had a swagger in his step, and it showed throughout the match. ZSJ was at his cockiest when he fought Kota Ibushi, taunting him as he thrusted kicks right into his chest. Perhaps not the best idea as Ibushi responded by hitting him back with his own punishing strikes.
Zack and Ibushi always have great matches together, they just have that chemistry. Ibushi tries to match Zack’s technical prowess, while Zack tries to match Ibushi’s intense striking: a dynamic that always results in quality viewing. Watching Zack trying to ground anybody is fascinating, yet there’s an extra level of fascination with Ibushi as he himself is very technically skilled, while also being more than capable of busting out a lightning quick, insane move to change the entire dynamic of a match.
Zack attempted to ground Ibushi and ultimately get a tapout victory by targeting his injured ankle, however Ibushi managed to fight through the pain, and responded with a fury of intensity. Despite only being a fifteen minute bout, it’s definitely one of the best matches both men have had this year.
22. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi – Night 18
Tomohrio Ishii can bring out a competitive fight in anyone. Usually willing to do anything to get away from any resemblance of sportsmanship in a fight, the devious Taichi seems to step up his game whenever he is stood opposite the Stone Pitbull. For the third time this year, we got a vicious and chaotic punch-up between Ishii and Taichi. Clocking in at around twelve minutes, this may be my favourite Taichi match to date. Even the biggest hater of this Suzuki-Gun member has to check this one out.
21. EVIL vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Night 11
Hiroshi Tanahashi is still a god level wrestler (with god level hair). Despite his body being broken from years at the top, practically held together by athletic tape at this point, Tanahashi is still capable of absorbing extreme levels of punishment in the ring before erupting in fighting spirit to get the massive comeback on his opponent. After a seriously strong showing from EVIL that featured some of the best lariats seen in the whole tournament, Tanahashi fired his way back up into the fight towards the end to create a thrilling final sequence.
20. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Night 12
When Goto and Ishii fight, it’s hard to believe they’re actually really good friends, given how they legitimately look like they’re attempting to knock each other’s heads clean off their shoulders.
While this isn’t quite as insane and incredible as their G1 match last year, it’s a physical encounter fueled by strong style that is a delight to watch, as you would expect. Goto continues to have a solid showing in this year’s tournament, and Ishii is continuing to be the G1 MVP as he is every year.
19. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jeff Cobb – Night Two
Have you ever wanted to see two fridges with legs fight each other? If so, I’m definitely concerned about what goes on in your mind, but this is about as close as you’ll ever get to witnessing that. Ishii and Cobb traded blows and suplexes for eighteen and a half minutes straight, trying not to show their opponent any signs of weakness. Each behemoth stood strong as they bludgeoned the other in a festival of throws and forearms. If you’re a fan of hoss fights, do not miss Ishii vs. Cobb.
18. Shingo Takagi vs. Hirooki Goto – Night 18
Surprise, surprise: Shingo Takagi had yet another great, really physical match. It was a slow builder leading to a good ol’ strikefest of uncomfortable proportions, capped off with one of the hardest damn lariats I have ever seen in my many years as a pro wrestling fan. It;’s exactly what you would expect from these two strong style enthusiasts, and it was brilliant.
17. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay – Night 11
A battle between two incredibly skilled pro wrestlers simply showing off how good they are. Starting off as a technical battle, ZSJ vs. Ospreay was a display of how well both men know each other, and how far they’ve come over the last few years. What made this bout so fascinating to watch was seeing how many different ways Zack Sabre Jr. could counter and transition the unpredictable and ridiculous offense from the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Compared to the other top tier G1 matches we’ve seen this year, this one is less of a violent, vicious brawl, and more of a scientific showcase of incredible pro wrestling.
16. Lance Archer vs. Will Ospreay – Night One
With this one match and a whole new hairstyle, Lance Archer established himself as the anime villain of this year’s tournament.
Back in the New Japan Cup, these two had easily the greatest match of Lance Archer’s singles career. The KES member took Ospreay to the limit by using his overpowering size to dominate the then reigning NEVER Openweight Champion. Despite his efforts though, Ospreay absorbed a barrage of grueling punishment, and managed to lift his much larger opponent up for the Stormbreaker, and a very impressive victory.
So when it was announced they would be facing again in the G1, many fans were hyped to see these two being matched up again, and it did not disappoint. When Archer attempted to get the upperhand immediately with a cheap shot lariat, only to be countered into a Spanish Fly by Ospreay, followed by a Corkscrew Moonsault to the outside, it was obvious we were in for a chaotic, thrilling brawl to kick off the tournament.
In what felt like a true, unpredictable fight, Archer came off looking like a dominating giant, particularly when he lifted Ospreay into the heavens for a hellacious Chokeslam through a table. Both men played their role well, and it made for a really exciting contest that set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
15. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Night One
Yet another chapter in the most storied rivalry in New Japan today. While I don’t quite enjoy their legendary battles as much as most New Japan fans seem to, their encounter in the G1 last year had me on the edge of my seat. It is undeniable that there is a special aura in the air when Okada and Tanahashi are on opposite sides of a ring to each other. While they don’t quite hold the hatred for each other that they once did, the wealth of history between them and professional rivalry makes any match between them a monumental occasion. Throw in the fact one is the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and the other is the defending G1 winner, and you’ve got the most important match of this year’s tournament.
Placing this bout on the first show of this year’s G1 was the biggest way possible to start proceedings, and it was met with an incredible atmosphere from the Dallas crowd. Although it wasn’t quite up to their last encounter, it was still the best match of the night fueled by an exhilarating passion emanating from the audience in attendance. A pure big match main event feel fitting of the first night of a momentous tournament, rounded off by a major win from Okada, marking the first time in the four G1 meetings these two have had that has ended in something other than a thirty-minute draw.
14. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Will Ospreay – Night 17
The reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion got a clean victory over one of the most legendary heavyweight champions in New Japan history. That is no small achievement, a testament to how highly NJPW see Ospreay as a star in their company, and it’s easy to see why they do with matches like this. Fitting that epic Tanahashi drawn-out battle mold, the crowd was burning hot with excitement for this one, with two crowd favourites stood in opposite corners of the ring.
As the veteran heavyweight, it was clear Tanahashi was trying to out-power and outsmart the junior Ospreay, but it quickly become obvious that wasn’t going to work. Targeting the leg, Tanahashi gained the advantage for a lot of the match, before an absolutely thrilling closing stretch saw Ospreay unleash all of his greatest weapons upon The Ace of New Japan. Possibly Tanahashi’s best match of the tournament, and the biggest win of Ospreay’s career.
13. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito – Night 8
Whenever another Tomohiro Ishii G1 match goes by, another instant classic takes place. I love that this tournament is a yearly reminder of just how much I absolutely adore watching this man brawl.
Naito vs. Ishii was an intense battle full of physicality. The two traded huge blows throughout, with Ishii particularly brutalising his foe with a barrage of chops, punches and a brutal leaping headbutt. They had the crowd enthralled in the final five minutes, making for a really exciting watch. Yet another fantastic fight between these two that rivals the incredible wars they’ve had in the past.
12. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi – Night 13
A rematch from last year’s epic G1 finals. While not quite up to that standard in terms of quality or length, this is still one of the best G1 matches under twenty minutes you’re ever likely to see. Tanahashi was a beast in this bout, taking the advantage early over the former G1 finalist, but Ibushi fought back with his impactful range of strikes. Easily my favourite moment was a callback to the unforgettable brutal slap battle from their last encounter, with this one possibly being even more stiff than their last.
In order to put the legendary Tanahashi away, Ibushi had to hit him with two of his hardest ever kicks straight to the head, followed by a Nakamura Bomaye, and finally, a Kamigoye for good measure. In around fifteen minutes, these two experts told a better story than most could ever hope to do in half an hour.
11. Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay – Night Five
You’d have absolutely no idea based on watching this match that both had to be medically evaluated within the prior week to see if they were capable of continuing the tournament. As you would expect from a match between these two absolute lunatics, it was dangerous, thrilling and highly impressive. With it starting as a more technical bout, it seemed as though Ibushi and Ospreay were taking it easy to rest their bodies, but despite their nagging injuries, both men were trying to destroy each other in typical fashion by the end of the match.
Over the almost half an hour time span, Ospreay and Ibushi built to a thrilling end and an overall brilliant, brutal bout. The Ospreay hot streak doesn’t show any signs of stopping, and I’m sure it will continue to burn through right until the end of 2019.
10. Jay White vs. Juice Robinson – Night 16
G1 29 was a coming out party for Juice Robinson. This entire tournament was an exhibition for his in-ring abilities, and powerful, emotional intensity. We saw this play out brilliantly in a match against his old rival, Jay White. It plays out like you would expect from a Switchblade match: the Bullet Club leader dominated for a good portion of the bout, with the magic deriving from the comeback Juice makes towards the end.
The way their final five to ten minutes played out is absolutely superb. Juice did a fantastic job of showing how good he is in the ring, how intense he can get, and how dangerous his godly left hand can be. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling that makes you root all the more for Juice, and despise that little bastard Switchblade massively. The highlight for me has got to be the final two minutes which featured some really surprising turns, and a really well played end to the match. Whatever you do, do not miss this one.
9. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jay White – Night Four
Tomohiro Ishii is already one of the best wrestlers in New Japan, yet during the G1, he somehow ascends to a new godly tier of his own.
Starting out with Jay White’s typical mind games and underhanded tactics, Ishii was quick on White’s gameplan, trying to counteract with some trickery of his own (as well as trying to launch a chair into his face). As he usually does, White was getting the upper hand thanks to his mind games and trickery (assisted by Gedo of course), but by god did Ishii fight back in the second half.
It’s hard for a man as hard-hitting and powerful as Ishii to work like an underdog, but he is a master of it. Fighting against the masterful heel tactics of White and Gedo, Ishii bulldozed through everything White had to throw against him. Every swerve Switchblade had was countered expertly by The Stone Pitbull. It was a true display of just how fantastic Tomohiro Ishii is – yet another cant miss bout from the king of the G1.
8. SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada – Night 13
Ever since SANADA arrived in New Japan, his career has always gravitated towards Kazuchika Okada. SANADA made his first ever appearance in NJPW during an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match where he cost Okada his beloved title belt. Since then, SANADA has battled The Rainmaker on many occasions, yet every single time, the LIJ member has been on the losing end. With each victory that escaped his grasp, SANADA became more and more obsessed with beating the leader of CHAOS, but the losses carried on stacking up.
Going into this match, Okada was 6-0 against SANADA, and was yet to be beaten during the G1. Starting out as a pretty standard Okada vs. SANADA match, the tension built and built over time to lead to one of the best closing sequences in recent G1 memory. SANADA had Okada on the ropes but as was the case with all of their past matches, he just could not put him away. For minutes on end, he had his signature submission, Cold Skull, locked in deep, but Okada would simply not tap. When he released the hold and opted for the moonsault instead, The Rainmaker put up his knees and hit a couple of short-arm Rainmakers to seemingly ensure victory.
When going for the final blow, SANADA countered with a lariat of his own. With every near fall, finisher or major reversal, the excitement carried on growing until the match ended thanks to a tight Cold Skull, followed by a succession of two Muta moonsaults. The perfect G1 streak for Okada was finally over, and SANADA had finally earned the victory he had obsessed over for three years. A thrilling end to one hell of a main event.
7. Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Night 10
Without question, this was the greatest Juice Robinson match I have yet to see. His performance in this match was the embodiment of the journey he has been on since his match against Jon Moxley. If you wanted to showcase who Juice Robinson is in 2019, this is it. And of course, as with every G1 match, Tomohiro Ishii was an absolute beast.
The two men were erupting with fighting spirit from bell to bell, leaping out of the gates immediately with colliding shoulders. At no point did the action slow. Each man refused to lay down no matter how much they were brutalised by their opponent. When hit with a punishing strike or an impactful throw, both Juice and Ishii would pop right back to their feet, even more fired up than they already were, with no signs of pain on their face, until eventually their bodies were forced to crumble from the torture they had received.
Juice Robinson repeatedly calling Tomohiro Ishii a “motherfucker” directly to his face, laying in shot after shot to his opponent’s chest, and competing with a murderous look on his face throughout the match – that is the Juice Robinson I want to see going forward. His entire run in G1 29 has made me really excited for the future of Juice.
6. Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi – Night 17
The decider for the A Block came down to a match five years in the making. The last time Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada had a singles match (let’s ignore that strange Tiger Mask W bout) was in March 2014. At the time, Kota Ibushi was still in the junior heavyweight division, and didn’t have a chance of besting the then IWGP Heavyweight Champion, but now, with far more experience and several years competing as a heavyweight under his belt, Ibushi entered the final match of A Block competition with a serious chance of making it to the finals.
As you would expect from a match with over five years of build and so much at stake, the atmosphere was electric inside Budokan Hall. My heart was pounding throughout this bout thanks to the tension built from two masters of their craft. It was a simple and well-paced story of a cocky champion confident of victory, and a desperate challenger willing to do anything to capture victory. And the best part of it all was that Ibushi didn’t try to absolutely destroy himself, which is always a bonus.
Both men came out of this match looking fantastic, not that they needed it. It’s a clash befitting of that NJPW main-event reputation caliber. It was an incredible way to end the A Block, an unmissable encounter every New Japan fan cannot miss.
5. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay – Night Seven
It is unfair how talented both men in this match are. By this point, after years of watching him as a champion in New Japan, I shouldn’t be surprised by how good of a professional wrestler Kazuchika Okada is, but my god, Kazuchika Okada is a really good professional wrestler. The timing on the near falls in this match were absolutely perfect: the split-second accuracy made an Ospreay win seem all the more plausible, building excitement throughout.
Despite being close friends, Ospreay did not hold back with his offence in this one, being vicious and bringing the fight to Okada with every opportunity. Ospreay even decided to use Okada’s move set against him with a deadly Tombstone that seemed to be the beginning of the end for The Rainmaker, but then the IWGP Heavyweight Champion hit an absolutely ridiculous counter straight into his finisher which secured him the win. Easily their greatest match to date that left me wanting to see more from these CHAOS teammates.
4. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jon Moxley – Night Six
Easily out of all of Moxley’s G1 matches, this was the encounter I had the most anticipation for: it’s fair to say I was not disappointed. Ishii vs. Moxley was a fight fueled by violence and desperation. It was clear there was no bad blood between them yet they obviously wanted to rip each other’s heads off at the same time. It was a wonderful dynamic that made for one hell of a brawl.
Beginning with Ishii squaring up to Moxley, the match quickly evolved into a violent exchange. Gaining the early advantage, Moxley rag-dolled Ishii around Korakuen Hall, slamming him into guardrails and walls. For somebody so powerful and dangerous, Ishii is incredible at playing the underdog, being beaten senseless before firing up with a major comeback. After several minutes of being battered, Ishii fought back to give Moxley his toughest test in NJPW so far.
Each man was desperate for the victory by any means necessary. They hit each other with the hardest strikes they could, and busted out brand new tricks in order to win I don’t think Tomohiro Ishii has ever even gone past the second rope before, yet he was willing to leap from the top to the outside onto a table just to get the advantage on Moxley. It was the closest thing I will ever see to a fridge flying.
A highlight was when after destroying each other with a flurry of trading forearms, Ishii and Moxley resorted to simply headbutting each other, using every part of their body to cause punishment. The closing minutes saw several exciting finisher reversals, a perfect running knee by Moxley, and a near-fall that definitely had me fooled. It was twenty minutes of wild wrestling goodness, and immediately became the match to beat for everyone else in the G1.
3. Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White – Finals
A brilliant end to a wonderful tournament. The story told in these finals was executed to perfection. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read any further, just go watch it immediately.
Starting out with the theatrics of Bullet Club being ejected, it set the stage and excitement for a G1 victory free of controversy – we were getting a decisive winner. But of course, that wouldn’t stop Switchblade from utilising all of the tricks at his disposal. For much of the match, it was an impressive solo effort from Jay White, who targeted Ibushi’s injured leg, and unleashed a wave of powerful suplexes and strikes. The leader of BC dominated majorly throughout the first half, that is until a switch seemed to go off inside Kota Ibushi. Suddenly, he had entered what the English commentary team dubbed “murder mode”.
From this point, Ibushi looked like an unstoppable terminator. The Golden Star stared at White, and unleashed a torrent of violent slaps to the face and body, cornering a helpless White into the corner. Ibushi was so explosive with fighting spirit that in a panic, Gedo ran to ringside in order to aid his protege. Despite what they threw at him though, Ibushi continued to claw his way back up and do whatever he could to win. I was on edge whenever White went to hit that Blade Runner, and filled with hope whenever Ibushi loaded up his knee. I was fooled by false finishes, gasped at counters, and delighted by the result. Easily both men’s best performance of the tournament, and a fitting end to it all.
2. Shingo Takagi vs. Tetsuya Naito – Night 14
When Shingo Takagi arrived in New Japan Pro Wrestling, he brought with him a reputation for putting on high quality matches, so expectations were high. Ever since he broke out as a singles star in May of this year, Takagi has somehow exceeded all expectations significantly. Without question, he is one of NJPW’s best acquisitions of the last few years, and is contender for best wrestler of 2019. His combination of speed, strength and overall talent is staggering, and the matches he’s put on in the last few months alone have been sublime.
In one of his best showings so far, Takagi went up against one of his oldest friends in the industry, and LIJ leader, Tetsuya Naito. The dynamic of the two stablemates trying to prove themselves to each other made for a fantastic story inside the ring. Starting out reluctant, feeling each other out, Shingo began bringing the fire to Tetsuya, and from there, it was an all out war. They say that when you fight your friend, you hit them harder – well, these two must be really close because they tried to kill each other, particularly Shingo. The speed he was hitting lariats and shoulder blocks with was terrifying.
These LIJ teammates gifted us with one of the best matches of the entire tournament. It had a unique pacing and feel to anything else we’ve seen, and continues on the summer streak of Shingo Takagi. If this is what we’re getting from him in just three months, imagine what the next year of The Dragon is going to bring us.
Juice Robinson vs. Jon Moxley – Night Eighteen
EVIL vs. Kazuchika Okada – Night Fifteen
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. KENTA – Night Seventeen
KENTA vs. Kazuchika Okada – Night Nine
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Night Five
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada – Night Three
- Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Night 16
Jesus Christ, this was intense. Tomohiro Ishii and Shingo Takagi are without question two of the best wrestlers in the entire world in 2019. Their burning intensity, bone-shaking power, and ability to captivate audiences and bring them into the emotion of a match make them masters of their craft, so it’s no surprise when they collided against each other, it was one of the greatest matches of the entire year.
How either man has a head still attached to their torso after this match is beyond my understanding. Simply put, this brawl had some of the greatest lariats I have ever seen in my life. The force they were striking each other with was both concerning and beautiful. The more punishment they took, the more Shingo and Ishii were determined to display their fighting spirit by no-selling the inhuman levels of pain they must have been suffering.
Shot after shot, they just kept getting back up and raising the intense levels of excitement even higher. Ishii and Takagi have no bad blood or really any kind of relationship, they’re simply two physically dominating units that were determined to prove they were the better man inside the ring, and by god did it make for an incredible, thrilling, competitive contest.
Tomohiro Ishii is amazing. Shingo Takagi is amazing. This match is amazing. Whatever you do, do not miss this absolute masterpiece.
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