wrestling / Columns

Csonka Reviews Every NJPW G1 Finals Match

August 20, 2015 | Posted by Larry Csonka

WELCOME: Prior to the 2015 G1 Climax Tournament, New Japan World made sure to make every G1 final match available to watch and it was due to this that a project I had previously wanted to do but couldn’t came to life. So today, with the 25th edition in the books, I will take a look back at every finals match. I will discuss the matches in order, and then rank them from worst to best. This is far from a revolutionary idea here, but is something that I have wanted to do for some time and now have the ability to do so. Call it a personal goal that I wanted to achieve. I hope that you enjoy the column, and feel free to share your thoughts on the matches that you have watched and enjoyed…

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1991 – Keiji Mutoh vs. Winner Masahiro Chono [****½]: The first G1 Climax final was everything I wanted out of a big time, important match. This had a great atmosphere, great work by two pros as they battled for ultimate supremacy. The match was a great example of evenly booking both men to give the illusion that either could win the match at any moment; it’s edge of your seat shit guys. Just going back and watching to listen to the crowd and watch them react to the roller coaster ride that was the match was so much fun. The only thing that hurts the match is the fact that the work from earlier (Mutoh working the legs and Chono working the arm) felt like busy work that didn’t mean as much as it should have late in the match. Had they worked that into the match it’s even better. Also, Chono trying to obliterate Mutoh with piledrivers was awesome. This was an excellent match that loses nothing given its age, it’s just a great match.

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1992 – Rick Rude vs. Winner Masahiro Chono [****½]: Masahiro Chono would go two for two in the G1, as he would pick up the win over Rick Rude in 1992. Rick Rude is a guy I always recommend newer fans check out, because he was a total package and this is one of his best matches. The match works because of its simplicity; Chono as the reigning G1 champion was obviously the favorite, but the foreigner kept staying ahead of him, cutting him off just at the right times, which brought the crowd into it very well. They had such anticipation for some parts, which would be dashed and made them question the outcome. It’s amazing how when you have two pros working together that the simplest of stories works so well, I just sat there in amazement in how they weaved this together, the reactions they got and how it went from good, to better, to great and then finally to excellent. Everything had a purpose, was done at the right time and Chono goes two for two in excellent finals matches.

1993 – Winner Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Hiroshi Hase [***¾]: We head into the 1993 finals with two fresh faces, as Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Hiroshi Hase to win the tournament. Hase had the injured knee coming into the match, which appeared to be Fujinami’s focus early. But they abandoned it way too much for my liking. These guys worked hard, but the middle portion strayed too much from what they were setting up and it also dragged a bit for my tastes. This was not bad or anything of the sort, but felt like a significant let down from the previous two years in terms of the work and also the feel of the match. Thankfully Fujinami would return to his previous work, applying the sharpshooter repeatedly; which led to Hase finally tapping out. In the end this was a good match and satisfying finish, but not up to the level of the previous matches. It should have been better.

1994 – Winner Masahiro Chono vs. Power Warrior [**½]: Power Warrior was Kensuke Sasaki for those of you that do not know who we’re discussing. He teamed with Hawk (of Road Warrior fame) as Hell Warriors and was a Road Warrior when the two teamed with Animal for six man tags. This match is the first disappointment of the series for me. In many ways Chono was someone who performed to the level of his opponent, and with that obviously comes good and bad; this was the bad. Now before I say anything else, the match isn’t a BAD match, it just completely lacks everything that allowed its predecessors to succeed. The style is slower and more methodical. There is nothing wrong with this, because Rude and Chono was simplicity at its best, but this just was… there. This is a G1 finals main event and it felt almost lackadaisical at times; we’re going to do our thing and you will like it. But I didn’t, and it just lacked in every way for a major match. Chono wins his third G1 in a disappointing effort, especially when considering the gems he put on in the first two tournaments.

1995 – Shinya Hashimoto vs. Winner Keiji Mutoh [***¾]: Keiji Mutoh returns to the finals for the first time since 1991 and this time he made good defeating Shinya Hashimoto. Some frustrating leg work early, I say frustrating because as the match built (slowly, slowly built and not in the great building drama way) they said fuck it. The first half is pretty dry, like reading stereo instructions dry, but the final stretch after Mutoh got busted open was so much better and they finally captured the crowd and also worked in some beautiful near falls. After failing with the moonsault previously, Mutoh hit two moonsaults to pick up the win. They worked themselves into a good match, but much like the Fujinami vs. Hase match from 1993, this ended up being a good match that should have been better. The good news is that it was a vast improvement over the previous year.

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1996 – Masahiro Chono vs. Winner Riki Choshu [***½]: Masahiro Chono was making his fourth G1 finals appearance, and for the first time would be defeated as Riki Choshu took the crown. He didn’t do it easily, as this was a match dominated by Chono. He controlled most of the way and the continuous beat down was done well enough that it got the crowd way into Choshu. When Choshu had control his focus was the knee of Chono, which wasn’t sold enough for my tastes. After what seemed like a week of Chono destroying Choshu, Choshu locked in the sharpshooter for the victory. It ended up a good match, but I kept waiting for more and never really got it. The story was a good overall, which really helped the match, but given the participants, I hoped for more.

1997 – Winner Kensuke Sasaki vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [***¾]: Kensuke Sasaki was back, and while his 1994 final as Power Warrior was a bust, he made up for it here with a spirited effort. Going into the match I wasn’t overly excited about it, as I’ve never been a huge fan of either (I didn’t hate them, but didn’t love them) but they delivered a good finals here. They worked a really focused sprint here, going about 10-minutes and making sure that the action was continuous. I also appreciated their sense of urgency, mixed in with the intensity of their attacks as it made it feel as if they both wanted to win and were winning to do anything to do so. It’s not a match set to be a “long, epic story” like many other finals matches, but it’s in that change of pace that it succeeds where other matches have failed or lacked. You don’t want this type of final all the time, but this frantic style and length of match are where so many G1 tournament matches find success because the guys go all out.

1998 – Winner Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamazaki [****]: After failing in 1995, Shinya Hashimoto returned to the finals and claimed the crown, defeating Kazuo Yamazaki. Yamazaki brought his UWFi style to the match, working kicks and brutalizing the knee on Hashimoto. It was the brutality of the attacks and selling from Hashimoto that got the crowd heavily invested and created a tremendous atmosphere. We lose a bit, as when Hashimoto made his super, fire filled, babyface comeback the fighting spirit apparently healed his knee; I would have appreciated a little more selling for this due to the work that Yamazaki put it, but it came across as completely forgotten. I love fighting spirit spots, but you can’t abandon what had been the focus of a match. The good news is that Hashimoto’s comeback isn’t an overly long one, with lots of back and forth with his opponent, so it’s more believable that he could fire up and kick ass for the short time frame. We ended up with a great finals match, and a reminder of how good Hashimoto was. If you have New Japan World, make sure to go and seek out some of his work.

1999 – Keiji Mutoh vs. Winner Manabu Nakanishi [*¾]: Keiji Mutoh was back for his third G1 final, and looking for his second victory. He didn’t get it here, as Nakanishi took the win. Many times in wrestling we have the conversation that “a guy isn’t ready” for his spot, and as I watched this that is all I could think, Nakanishi is not ready or deserving of the spot. He dominates a poorly laid out and executed match, and comes off as just a bad professional wrestler throughout. The crowd seemed to like the finish when he made Mutoh submit, so they had that and Mutoh working hard going for them. But with that being said this was a supreme disappointment as a G1 final, and easily the worst G1 final so far in the look back. I joke about Nakanishi being slow and not good in 2015, but he was shit back in 1999 too.

2000 – Winner Kensuke Sasaki vs. Manabu Nakanishi [**]: Kensuke Sasaki returned to the finals and picked up the win to stop the reign of terror that was Nakanishi. Much like the previous year’s match, this was not good. I will say that I actually liked this a little more than the previous year, but as I am rewatching this I am simply amazed that New Japan thought that Nakanishi was a guy that should be focused on. The match was just, there; Nakanishi did stuff, it didn’t really matter, the match went too long and felt too long and then Sasaki won. Move along expeditiously children…

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2001 – Winner Yuji Nagata vs. Keiji Mutoh [***¾]: Keiji Mutoh once again returned to the finals, and while he suffered another loss, he did redeem himself for that 1999 stinker with Nakanishi. Thankfully he and Nagata were game to turn things around after two horrible years of finals featuring Nakanishi. Mutoh and Nagata worked a very different match than the typical G1 final; Sasaki vs. Tenzan was a sprint, others try to tell this wild back and forth story at times, but Nagata and Mutoh basically put on a 20-minute grappling match that would have felt right at home in a 2015 Evolve event. The work was well done; it felt aggressive and not overly choreographed, and overall it simply worked for me. I wouldn’t call this a great match, but it’s very good and was exactly what we needed after the two previous efforts.

2002 – Winner Masahiro Chono vs. Yoshihiro Takayama [**¾]: Mr. G1, Masahiro Chono was back in 2002, defeating Yoshihiro Takayama to win another G1. Chono was starting to break down physically during this time frame, he wasn’t worthless, but his performances were starting to lack. The one thing he still had was his connection to the crowd, and it was that connection that really helped this match. The match feels like an average performance overall, but the way the crowd gets engaged made me enjoy it more than I likely would. Chono kicking Takayama repeatedly about the head, shoulders and face always makes me smile; but this isn’t something you have to watch.

2003 – Jun Akiyama vs. Winner Hiroyoshi Tenzan [****¼]: Ok, I can be really rough on Tenzan at times and he’s not my favorite by any stretch, but this match was pretty damn great. It was a long match, but scripted out to have a lot of different changes in control and completely against what you’d expect from a regular G1 finals match. It was laid out like a big time match, and when someone would turn the tide they did so with no bullshit, they did it emphatically and made a point when doing so. What came from this is a great emotional story between these two, which really pulls you into the match and doesn’t give your time to pause and think because you don’t want to take your eyes off the screen. In the end they broke down into the major match, throw big time shit at each other; but it never felt clichéd because of the way that they built to it. This was quite excellent and a surprise during my marathon of watching these. Some matches you look at and think “that looks good/bad on paper” and then they surprise you one-way or the other. This was a very pleasant surprise.

2004 – Winner Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [****]: Tenzan is giving me the middle finger for as much as I dump on him these days, because I am starting to really enjoy his older stuff. I really wish I had more time to watch older stuff and do things like this. This is young Tanahashi, who is nowhere near the performer he would become, so the credit for the match has to go to Tenzan here. Tenzan controls for the most part, putting a beating on young and generic Tanahashi. Young Tanahashi does a tremendous job selling the beating here, and took pretty much everything that Tenzan had to offer. I feel that Tenzan worked a great match here, sure you could say that he got all of his shit in, but the way it was done worked because Tanahashi was the resilient babyface that survived and looked good in defeat. This was some great work here, and I am coming away with a bigger appreciation of Tenzan. That’s the benefit of doing a project like this.

2005 – Winner Masahiro Chono vs. Kazuyuki Fujita [***½]: Bow down everyone, Mr. G1 Masahiro Chono is back to win another tournament. In the 2002 finals I discussed that Masahiro Chono was breaking down, and he didn’t get miraculously better here. The man didn’t move well, and when you look back it’s very surprising that he was booked to make the finals due to that. But despite the fact that Chono was a shell of himself in many ways, the man worked smart and what we got was a good match. Fujita basically kicks his ass for the majority of the match, allowing Chono to sell and bring the crowd into the match. Chono was have been a mess physically, but he had so much equality with the New Japan fans that that they loved him and wanted him to win. Chono survived the onslaught of Fujita, and for one more time was able to win the tournament. It’s not the best wrestling match, but it’s a well laid out match with an emotional story and a great reaction from the crowd and Chono post match. This was a perfect example of a match that can be enjoyable even if the “WORK RATEZ” aren’t the best. I appreciated the emotional journey, which is what this one was all about.

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2006 – Winner Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Satoshi Kojima [**]: Tenzan, you beautiful bustard, you tricked me into thinking that I would really enjoy this match. And then, then you and Kojima wrestled for well over 20-minutes and it… it simply existed. The work was fine, the match was fine, but it was just there, like a long TV match to kill time. Some may see that these guys worked around 30-minutes, and see the names and thing that there is some epic match here; but there really isn’t. They did stuff, they did a lot of stuff and it was just there. Finally, they decided to have the real match in the final moments. The only thing of value from this match is about the final six-minutes or so where they go balls to the wall, and the crowd really wakes up and is into it like it matters. This is easily one of the lower tier matches that you can skip, but if you’re really curious, just watch the final stretch and move on.

2007 – Winner Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata [****]: Three years after his G1 finals debut, Hiroshi Tanahashi made a return to the finals and scored the big win over former G1 champion Yuji Nagata. I am a huge fan of both men, and while far from perfect, I really enjoyed the match. Nagata was still in good form here, and had the advantage of being a former champion competing against the younger man who had already failed, which I felt presented a good story. Tanahashi’s growth as a performer as compared to three years prior was amazing; just comparing the two matches you see a young man with potential transform into a superstar. I enjoyed what both men did when in control and felt that they had some great transitions that made some of the work come off even better; it was a certain crispness and slight differences to the norm that made it stick out. Tanahashi looked to have it won with the high fly flow, but Nagata kicked out. Tanahashi then decided to destroy the leg with several dragon screw leg whips… and that led to another high fly flow for the win. I thought we were heading towards complete greatness, but that ending stretch didn’t make sense to me. I was expecting Tanahashi’s desperation to lead to something else, maybe even a new submission or something, but just hitting his finish again felt anticlimactic and a bit lazy. It’s still a great match to me, but I feel that a slight change to pay off the destruction of the leg could have made it even better.

2008 – Togi Makabe vs. Winner Hirooki Goto [***]: We head to 2008, and on paper it’s a match that doesn’t scream G1 finals to me in some ways, but I am optimistic because sometimes things are not always what they appear to be. Goto tried to run wild early, but Makabe was a dick and cut him off using a chair shot and Goto went to the juice bar to try and sell things more. Makabe’s strategy really felt like, “I’m going to be a dick and use a chair, kick you in the balls and then we’ll bump the ref” in order to get Goto sympathy. It worked to a degree, the crowd was involved and Makabe actions really created a come from behind story for the eventual winner. But it never clicked with me, I didn’t hate it and felt that at the end of things it was a “good” match, but it also felt like they were trying to make it epic and it came up way too short of that considering that it was a G1 final.

2009 – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Winner Togi Makabe [***]: I am not the biggest Makabe fan, and at the time felt that Nakamura should have won the match and the crown; but alas that did not happen and the inferior performer came away with the win. Much like the previous year, there were aspects that I liked and felt that overall this was a “good” match, but disappointing for a G1 final. The big issue, and this will be a recurring theme, is that Nakamura takes care to work the arm of Makabe to try and stop him from using his lariat; Makabe then sells it during the work well. And then, when he makes his come back, it’s “fuck your arm work, eat some lariats while I pretend nothing happened”. It’s enjoyable, but when you have been watching some of these great performances and then see these things, they stick out like a sore thumb.

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2010 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Winner Satoshi Kojima [***¾]: The story of the match would be that Kojima came in with the taped up arm, which Tanahashi targeted from the go. He made this the focus of the match, which made perfect sense. Kojima looked to try and work the knee of Tanahashi when he was able to go on offense, and each man enjoyed a certain level of success as they worked their plans. Tanahashi also went after the right arm of Kojima, looking to beat him down enough to stop the dreaded lariat. The work was good and they were getting the crowd into the match very well, and at the end of the day they reacted well to the Kojima win. Unfortunately, Tanahashi’s investment in working the arm didn’t; mean shit down the stretch as Kojima said, “fuck you good sir, it’s lariat time.” I liked it, and I can by fighting spirit but there is a point to where it makes the early work mean jack and shit. This was good, and with a little more attention to detail and payoff of the early work, it could have been great.

2011 – Winner Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tetsuya Naito [***¾]: To me this was one of those matches where the bigger star (Shinsuke Nakamura) doesn’t take his rival as seriously as he should. We see Nakamura working over Naito oddly, without the clearest gameplan, almost messing with him because he doesn’t feel he has to put in the regular effort to win. Naito is able to turn the tide and start working the knee of Nakamura in an effort to neutralize the Boma ye. This became Naito’s focus, and made complete sense and then Nakamura would pretty much brush it off, and come back with the Boma ye to score the win. Like a few of the matches on this list, it’s a case of a good match that should have been great, but essentially was held back by lazy selling and making what appeared to be effective work look like busy work, killing the time you invested in the match.

2012 – Winner Kazuchika Okada vs. Karl Anderson [****]: I am a big fan of both guys, and have been a big supported of Karl Anderson over the years. It’s not just that I find Anderson to be a good wrestler, he doe s his job well but has also stepped up when given the chance in big time singles matches. He did that here. Also, Anderson and Okada have great chemistry and use finishers that allow them to use fun and creative counters, which help build to a good finish when they work together. Okada’s control of the match here was very well done, working the neck well to set up the rainmaker. He was really coming into his own here as a top performer and this match was a great example of that. The one real knock on the match is the fact that Anderson’s main goal seemed to be working the arm of Okada in hopes of stopping him from using the rainmaker. Okada stopped selling that work down the stretch big time, which came off as a big negative to me, because that effort came off as busy work to fill the time, it didn’t mean anything. It sounds repetitive, but it’s a theme in big time matches that stick out when you do a marathon watch and see matches where they took the time and care to make it matter. Overall I really enjoyed this, and it was the best G1 finals match since 2007.

2013 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Winner Tetsuya Naito [***]: Heralded by many as a great “MOTY” caliber match, 2013 brought us this match. 2013 was a tremendous tournament, with the main story being that Naito was returning from a devastating knee injury to have the rocket strapped to his ass here. Tanahashi was having awesome matches with just about everyone in this tournament and was owning it from a match quality standpoint, so having him be Naito’s finals opponent was brilliant. Unfortunately, Naito forgot his own comeback story during the match because he essentially said fuck selling the leg through out the match. Tanahashi punishes the leg, and Naito just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. This happened repeatedly. In the end, I appreciate the action here and the work of Tanahashi, even if it feels completely wasted by Naito not giving a fuck. It’s a very disappointing match in retrospect, because they had a perfectly built in story to use and Naito was like, “nah, I’m good”.

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2014 – Winner Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura [****¾]: Okada vs. Nakamura was the kind of main event that you want to close out a tournament like this. They got over 20-minutes, it never felt long and the fact that it had been so long since they wrestled each other made it feel special. Both guys were on such a high level going into the match, and they were trying to deliver a classic, and not only did they do that, but I felt that they delivered one of the very best G1 finals matches. The closing stretch of the match was so awesome, the crowd loved it and this came across big time. Okada was obviously one of the top guys of the company (along with Tanahashi and Nakamura) but stepped up his game even more for this match. He had the great matches, but he overall looked better and came off like a complete star in this performance. The work was beautiful, and it was just one of those matches that pulled me in from the opening bell and gave me everything I wanted out of the match. Okada’s trio of rainmakers was a beautiful and violent finish to such a great match. If you haven’t watched the match, you need to make the time for it.

2015 – Winner Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura [*****]: While several people were still looking for a Nakamura win here, I personally was 100% set that Tanahashi was winning; a Nakamura win would have completely shocked me. So now the key is to work a match that makes me believe that Nakamura has a chance, and I was skeptical because in the past I did not think these two have delivered on the level that they should. The basic story was Tanahashi working the knee of Nakamura to try and weaken the Boma ye, while Nakamura worked the arm to set up the arm bar, which he has been successful with in the tournament. This work remained a constant thread through the match, not always a complete focus, but always called back to in the right way. Both guys are very good, especially in the big match environment, and I felt as if they did all of the big things, but maybe even more importantly the little things to make it all work and come together. We had a slow start, and then they simply built off of each part of the match, and in each instance the crowd responded about as perfectly as you could hope. The final 10-minutes was pretty epic, with both men unloading their arsenal in order to win this tournament. When things get going this wild, I do appreciate it a bit more because it not only makes the match feel important, but also whet they are fighting for is even more important. It all led to both men battling up top, and Tanahashi knocking Nakamura partial off, hanging there, and then the high fly flow connected. Two more HHFs later, and Tanahashi was the winner of the 25th G1 Climax after an amazing match. It had the feel and work of the big time match, it had the crowd and I was completely emotionally invested in this match. There have been a lot of great matches in the tournament this year, some truly upper tier stuff that was more than worth my time. There were matches I was into, matches that I loved and at times stuff so good it had me wondering what in the actual fuck I was watching. This match felt big time, this match had that special feeling and was more than perfect to close out a tournament of this importance. These men, who I felt didn’t always have the best chemistry and also put in some amazing efforts in the days just prior, managed to step it up and take it past the greatness that they delivered previously, but they surpassed it. I can safely say that not only was this the best match of the entire 2015 tournament, but that this match is now the best G1 finals match I have watched

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RANKING THE MATCHES FROM WORST TO BEST…

1999 – Keiji Mutoh vs. Manabu Nakanishi [*¾]

2000 – Kensuke Sasaki vs. Manabu Nakanishi [**]
2006 – Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Satoshi Kojima [**]

1994 – Masahiro Chono vs. Power Warrior (Kensuke Sasaki) [**½]

2002 – Masahiro Chono vs. Yoshihiro Takayama [**¾]

2008 – Togi Makabe vs. Hirooki Goto [***]
2009 – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Togi Makabe [***]
2013 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito [***]

1996 – Masahiro Chono vs. Riki Choshu [***½]
2005 – Masahiro Chono vs. Kazuyuki Fujita [***½]

1993 – Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Hiroshi Hase [***¾]
1995 – Shinya Hashimoto vs. Keiji Mutoh [***¾]
1997 – Kensuke Sasaki vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [***¾]
2001 – Yuji Nagata vs. Keiji Mutoh [***¾]
2011 – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tetsuya Naito [***¾]
2010 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Satoshi Kojima [***¾]

1998 – Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamazaki [****]
2004 – Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [****]
2007 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata [****]
2012 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Karl Anderson [****]

2003 – Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [****¼]

1991 – Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono [****½]
1992 – Rick Rude vs. Masahiro Chono [****½]

2014 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura [****¾]

2015 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

So Long: And there you have it, my personal look at the every G1 finals match. Thanks for taking a look back with me, I hope that you enjoyed it, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading 411…