With the G1 Climax 29 now firmly in the rearview, I think we can safely say it was one of the best ever.
Arguably the most star-studded ever, twenty of the most diverse, talented and charismatic wrestlers on the planet went to war over nineteen gruelling days. Dave Meltzer has run out of stars, Toru Yano has run out of athletic tape and I have been given the impossible task of naming my top five favourite matches from this year’s tournament.
I mean, how do you even begin? There are so many ways you can go. I mean, you can pretty much add in any match Tomohiro Ishii has in the G1; that man reaches another plane of existence in this format. On the other hand, Toru Yano is incredible in literally the exact opposite way. But I digress, I settled on five matches that stood out on their own as the marquee matches of this year’s G1. Let’s do this.
5. Tetsuya Naito vs Shingo Takagi – Day 14
We start off with a battle of Los Ingobernables de Japon as Tetsuya Naito went up against Shingo Takagi. Any match between any of the members of L.I.J. usually lives up to expectations but this one had an unknown quantity in their newest member. Nearly a perfect record in this years Best of The Super Juniors, Shingo immediately jumped up to heavyweight for this year’s G1 and did not miss a step, being a stand-out performer. This match was no exception as these two went hell for leather in pursuit of two points.
Going from a cagey feeling out process where neither man wanted to make a mistake to just dropping bombs on another for pretty much 15 solid minutes, this 27-minute war is everything you want in a G1 match; big moves, big action and a dramatic ending. These two hit move after move, well after the 25-minute mark. Shingo had a few moments where many thought we’d get the upset of the tournament, but alas, two Destinos later, Naito emerged victorious. Given the Meltzer five star treatment, it’s rightfully thought of as one of the best matches this year already.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay – Day 7
Now, for me as an Ospreay fanboy, he was going to make it into this top five regardless. But this match was a bit special. There’s always been a big ‘what if’ factor between these two ever since Okada brought Ospreay into CHAOS. Could Ospreay ever break out from behind Kazu’s shadow? Could Will even surpass Okada in modern-day Japan? This battle between teacher and student has never let anyone down, and this is no exception. Another case of faction warfare, these two start off in the throes of almost friendly competition but once again, it becomes a game of ‘can you top this’.
Several times I got my hopes that Will could pull off the upset victory and they were dashed quite expertly by the fact that Kazuchika Okada is what every main event hood ornament of a company should be booked like. There’s a smidgen of doubt every time he steps into the ring that he might lose, but ultimately he wins because he is just very good at his job. But when Ospreay hit he Oscutter off the railing, or when he countered the Rainmaker into the Spanish fly, I wanted to believe. This match also had the distinction of the New Japan Cup winner facing the Best of The Super Juniors in the G1, so it was almost like the UEFA Super Cup of tournament matches, but except this was, y’know… good.
3. Jay White vs Kota Ibushi – Finals
Whereas most matches enter this countdown on work-rate, this one makes it in on pure emotion. The final was the age-old battle of good vs evil; the beloved Golden Star of New Japan against the despicable leader of the Bullet Club, “Switchblade” Jay White. It was literally a wrestling angel against a wrestling devil and the devil was pulling every dirty trick from up his sleeve.
Bringing the entire Bullet Club to ringside (including new recruit KENTA) after vowing to keep it one-on-one the night before, only to have them thrown out only for White to plead for Red Shows to keep his manager Gedo out there, with him IMMEDIATELY cheating so he gets thrown out as well; the shenanigans were in high order here. White working the injured ankle of Ibushi, and Ibushi fighting through to hit spectacular moves; the entire world was pleading with Kota to fight through the pain and see off the despicable White.
Even with a ref bump and Gedo returning again, The Golden Star fought through the pain and won the G1, seeing off Jay White and vanquishing the demons of his finals loss last year. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t all show and no go as some of the sequences in and out of both guys’ finishers (Ibushi’s Kamagoye and White’s Bladerunner) were sublime. This wasn’t the best G1 final in recent years, but it was definitely the most emotionally charged.
2. Tomohiro Ishii vs Jon Moxley – Day Six
Are you in the market for two men beating the ever-loving crap out of one another? Well, here you go.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this years G1 was that of the debut of Jon Moxley. Freshly released out of his ‘cage’ that was WWE and fresh off an IWGP US Championship victory, many wondered how he would fare in this tournament format. Turns out, the man flourished, having a superb opening few days leading B Block before two straight losses towards the end ended his hopes of a WrestleKingdom main event. One of the victories in his early hot streak came in a war with NEVER Openweight Champion Tomohiro Ishii and when I say war, I mean it. These two beat the hell out of each other all around Korakuen Hall.
Ishii’s hard-hitting, no-nonsense style melded with Moxley’s brawling tactics perfectly and they just went balls to the wall. The Stone Pitbull always turns it on in the G1, but in this match he went to another level. No feeling out process, just a fight from the off. We even saw Ishii leave his feet to drive Moxley through a table off the top rope in a way that is best described by Buzz Lightyear as ‘falling with style’. Moxley did mention that his ‘wife hates tables’ so I doubt she’s a fan of Tomohiro right about now. After chairs and tables and stiff lariats, Moxley finally saw off Ishii with a Death Rider – a statement that he was not playing around.
This match not only showed that Moxley wasn’t on some WWE nostalgia tour, but that whoever is still sleeping on how good Tomohiro Ishii is, needs to wake up. The man is having the best year of his career.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA – Day 13
We close with what is the best G1 Climax match I’ve ever watched. If there’s a better one, please send them over as this will be hard to top.
We’ve spoken at length about Okada in a previous entry but the case of SANADA is fascinating. The man is the future of New Japan Pro Wrestling for my money but the company keep pulling back on him at the last minute. He seems to be on the verge of stepping into that ‘big six’ of the heavyweight division and then is dragged back in as a bit-part player of L.I.J. This match gave the New Japan bigwigs no choice.
The longest tournament match ever without surpassing the 30-minute time limit was a masterclass of professional wrestling by a scholar of the game, and it’s next honour student. These two have faced off before at New Beginning in Osaka 2018 and that was great, but this was another level of brilliance. The final few minutes of this match are as close to perfection as you can get in wrestling: just back and forth, going between Skull End and Rainmaker as the clock ticked down. SANADA kept locking in the Skull End only for Okada to top out and when all seemed lost for ‘Cold Skull’, he pulled a Hail Mary from nowhere, reversing the Rainmaker into a pop-up TKO, and nailing a moonsault. But with seconds on the clock, SANADA needed to make sure and risked it all with a second moonsault. It was worth it. SANADA pins the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and makes the biggest statement he could short of winning the whole thing.
This had it all. 29 minutes of a wrestling masterpiece with a closing stretch of enthralling drama between two of the best in the world. New Japan has its next superstar on their hands and that man also has an IWGP Championship match in his back pocket as well. So they’ll go again and I, for one, cannot wait.
These five matches will give anyone a great taster of what the G1 Climax is like every year. The G1 is action, the G1 is drama, the G1 is intensity; it is wrestling in it’s purest, rawest form and even though it is a struggle to keep up with outside of a Japanese timeline, it is worth it for the moments you can witness live.
Roll on G1 Climax 30.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @MattyID. Thanks for reading!