Another year gone by, and another G1 Climax finished, and I am not sure at this point if New Japan Pro Wrestling can actually have a bad one of these going forward. Sure, I know that every wrestling company can eventually falter, and some are going to make big mistakes along their way, especially a company like NJPW that is trying to grow its market share of the fan base. But, it seems like every year we are blessed with one of the most entertaining six weeks of wrestling imaginable.
Was this year better than last year’s epic tournament? I don’t think so. Sure, the stories were a bit more interesting, and there were a lot of new developments that came out of this year’s final, but I think that Kenny Omega missing from the equation kind of let a bit of wind out of the sails. That doesn’t mean that this one was a dud. I think that it is hard to live up to that amount of quality, but I also think that every year doesn’t have to top the last one, you just have to set yourself aside the main players in the roster, and also lay the groundwork for the rest of the year until you get to January and he Tokyo Dome shows.
As far as accomplishing those goals, I would say this year did a lot better than last year’s. Jay White, SANADA, Will Ospreay, and KENTA have all been established as being higher on the card going forward, you have Kota Ibushi redeeming his loss from last year’s final, and you also have an angry Minoru Suzuki ready to cause havoc until the New Year comes. You also have a refreshed Bullet Club, and you have questions about how much longer guys like Okada and Tanahashi can stay dominant at the top with so many hot contenders nipping at their heels.
Let’s do a deep dive before we close the chapter on this G1 and continue on to the rest of the year. We’ll be breaking down the wrestlers who stuck out, matches that stuck out, as well as stories that were set up that made the tournament feel extra special this year.
I don’t know if I have ever seen a tournament that did a better job at establishing so many new players at the same time and doing it so well with each person. I think you could honestly make a case for everyone who entered this event coming out looking better than when they went in. The only person I thought lost a bit of stock was Tetsuya Naito. I love Naito, and I love LIJ, but I felt that if he didn’t win this year, he was probably just being passed over. There has been this feeling of Naito being ready to be at the very tip-top of New Japan for years now, and I’m not really sure that is a certain thing anymore. Really, when you look at it, there is only a couple of spots for the very top. That is the same as any wrestling company. While he still will get title shots and maybe even a run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, I just don’t see Naito being placed any higher up than that. It looks like the plan for the future is going to be riding out Tanahashi, Okada, and Ibushi with maybe Jay White or Will Ospreay coming up to round out that fourth spot. Does that leave much room for a guy like Naito? I don’t really think so. But, I could be wrong. Gedo and NJPW have a way of really surprising you at times, and it could be that they still have big and special things ahead for Naito.
But if you want to talk really big and special, we have to talk about Lance Archer. Holy crap, I am so happy for that guy. Archer has been working in Japan for a while now. He has always been there, willing to do what the company asks of him, he gets other guys over, and he doesn’t make a lot of waves outside of the ring. You can’t really ask for better when it comes to having a company guy. Now he has been given a little leeway and freedom to show audiences what he can really do, we can only hope that he keeps delivering like he has this summer.
Archer is now having the best wrestling of his career. He is going out and putting on 8s and 7s, all the while still getting people over when need be. It will be interesting to see just how high a guy like Archer can get in the company, and my bet is probably pretty damn high when it’s all said and done.
Will Ospreay was my tournament MVP. The entire G1 it felt like he was having the best match of the night every time it was an A Block night. I still think of the weekend when he was able to get two perfect matches out of Kota Ibushi and then Kazuchika Okada, and it isn’t like they aren’t great wrestlers or anything, but I don’t know if I have ever seen someone have that kind of stretch of days where they had two incredible matches like that.
Even guys like Taichi and Toru Yano had their stocks raised a bit. Yano ended up getting a pin on one of the finalists, and Taichi was able to show that he still had that talent that people used to see back when he was younger. His Naito match sticks out to as probably his best outing, but he had some really entertaining bouts through the entire tournament.
Shingo Takagi also had an amazing summer. He not only went undefeated until he met Will Ospreay in the finals for the Best of the Super Juniors, but he also went up from Junior Heavyweight and competed in this tournament, having amazing matches throughout, including a 10/10 with Tomohiro Ishii. You can see that the company sees the talent in him with the amount of faith they have put in him his summer.
For the ones at the top, it looks like Jay White and Kota Ibushi, the two finalists, definitely came out of this tournament looking like they are in a lot better position in the company. Jay lost his first three matches and then swept the rest of the tournament to make it into the finals, and each match towards the end got better and better. Kota took a similar route, but he looked even better. To say that this may be the best Kota Ibushi we have seen so far is an understatement. It’s hard to believe that Kota keeps getting better and better as time goes on, but he does. He keeps developing his style to make his bigger moves and spots mean more, and that is really impressive.
There were six matches that I had ranked at 10/10. I had sixteen matches that were ranked at 9/10, and I had twenty-six matches that ranked at 8/10. I don’t even know how they were able to keep putting on these high-quality shows, but they pulled it off very well. One thing I always figured was that with the tournament not being completely televised in previous years, you may be able to get some off nights here and there, but with everything being put on NJPW World, it is sort of like you can’t have any bad matches during the entire six weeks.
Picking out a favorite from the six 10/10 matches was pretty hard, but I would have to say that Okada vs. SANADA was probably the favorite out of the bunch. The reasoning for it being my favorite was that I didn’t expect it to be that good, and I also loved the crowd that night. When you watch a lot of Japanese wrestling, you get used to them staying pretty quiet at times, but they were on fire through this entire match, and that really made it special.
Here are the perfect 10/10 matches that I had:
- Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
- SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada MUST SEE
- Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
- Will Ospreay vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Kota Ibushi vs. Kazuchika Okada
I can’t make a perfect comparison to my ratings from last year, as I didn’t document everything as well as I did this year’s, but I would have to admit that I did find 2018’s tournament to have a bit higher quality regarding work rate, and this year’s having better quality regarding storytelling.
Stories going forward/Things to watch for
I think the story I am most excited to play out going into the rest of the year and into Wrestle Kingdom is what will become of Kota Ibushi. Will he be able to carry the new mantle of the chosen one? Could we be looking at someone else taking the briefcase before January 4th? We could see a possible KENTA match coming around the bend, considering he had such a dominating win in the G1, and that usually means a rematch.
KENTA is another guy that we should keep an eye on. With him joining Bullet Club and turning on Shibata in the process, it is going to be fun to see how his journey in New Japan ends up. He was amazing in NOAH, and I feel like positioning him as one of the top heels in the company was one of the best things that Gedo could have done. I am excited to see him work against guys like Ishii and Goto too.
As for the IWGP Champion, Kazuchika Okada has a long fall and winter ahead of him as far as keeping the title safe. His first defense after the tournament will be against Minoru Suzuki, and he also most likely will have to make a defense against SANADA after being pinned by him in the tournament. I don’t see either of those guys going over on Okada, but the way they have booked him recently has been showing that maybe Okada doesn’t have the grip he once had on the heavyweight division.
That’s it for now. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for coverage of the Super J Cup as well as other promotions as we finish up the summer and head into the fall.