wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Ranks Every NJPW G1 Climax Final Match

August 17, 2018 | Posted by Larry Csonka

WELCOME back, back to the column that makes lists and hopes that you enjoy them. This week’s column will look back at the G1 Climax tournament finals matches, ranking all 28 from worst to first. The only criteria for the list are that the matches have to be G1 Climax final tournament bouts and that they have to be awesome. The only rules are “have a take, be respectful of other’s opinions and don’t be a dick.” We all have opinions, we’re going to disagree, just be cool about it. Lets get to work…

– 28. 1999 – Keiji Mutoh vs. Manabu Nakanishi [*¾]
– 27. 2000 – Kensuke Sasaki vs. Manabu Nakanishi [**]
– 26. 2006 – Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Satoshi Kojima [**]
– 25. 1994 – Masahiro Chono vs. Power Warrior (Kensuke Sasaki) [**½]
– 24. 2002 – Masahiro Chono vs. Yoshihiro Takayama [**¾]
– 23. 2008 – Togi Makabe vs. Hirooki Goto [***]
– 22. 2009 – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Togi Makabe [***]
– 21. 2013 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito [***]
– 20. 1996 – Masahiro Chono vs. Riki Choshu [***½]
– 19. 2005 – Masahiro Chono vs. Kazuyuki Fujita [***½]
– 18. 1993 – Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Hiroshi Hase [***¾]
– 17. 1995 – Shinya Hashimoto vs. Keiji Mutoh [***¾]
– 16. 1997 – Kensuke Sasaki vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [***¾]
– 15. 2001 – Yuji Nagata vs. Keiji Mutoh [***¾]
– 14. 2011 – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tetsuya Naito [***¾]
– 13. 2010 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Satoshi Kojima [***¾]
– 12. 1998 – Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamazaki [****]
– 11. 2004 – Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [****]

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10. 2007 – 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 really 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.

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9. 2012- Kazuchika Okada vs. Karl Anderson [****]: I am a big fan of both guys, and have been a big supporter 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.

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8. 2003 – Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan [****¼]: Ok, I can be really rough on Tenzan at times and he’s not my favorite by any stretch, and current day Tenzan has a terrifyingly disfigured ankle, 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.

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7. 1991 – Keiji Mutoh vs. 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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6. 1992 – Rick Rude vs. 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.

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5. 2014 – 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 an excellent match. If you haven’t watched the match, you need to make the time for it; I miss this Nakamura.

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4. From 2016: Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto [****¾]: The crowd is very pro-Omega. They started off with a deliberate pacing, going back and forth and seemingly setting the stage to go long. Goto attacked the knee of Omega, which Naito worked on big time yesterday, and the crowd was not pleased with that. They aren’t booing because of his work, but because he’s a massive choke artist. It’s making for a great atmosphere, and I love that he knee stuff from yesterday was not ignored. They worked to the floor, where Omega battled back and hit a moonsault off the barricade but immediately started to favor the knee. He then slammed Goto on the apron and then hit the apron bomb to turn the tide. Back in the ring, Omega did a little Rick Rude neck breaker with the hip swivel towards Chono for added emphasis. Omega grounded Goto, working a modified camel clutch to follow up on the apron bomb. Nice focused work by Omega here, and was rolling until he missed the corner elbow. Goto got a good hope spot, but was cut off with a bulldog for a near fall. Goto fired up as they traded chops center ring and then decapitated Omega with a lariat. Goto finally put together his first sustained series of offense, hitting the top rope elbow drop for a near fall. Omega battled back, hitting the Finlay roll into a second rope moonsault for the near fall. Omega sent Goto to the floor with the dragon snap suplex, and followed with a great plancha. Omega kept favoring the leg, having issues getting to the top and selling it after a missile dropkick. It slowed Omega enough that Goto scored with the ushigoroshi, and then ht a lariat to Omega on the apron that folded him inside out. They battled up top. Goto with the USHIGOROSHI off the second rope, which got a great near fall. He then worked the sleeper, Omega kept fighting and countered the German and hit the running knee strike and then the suplex onto the knee. Omega trying to fight through the pain hits the running knee strike but Goto escapes the one winged angel and works the sleeper again. Omega then climbed the ropes with Goto on his back and did the Nestea plunge off the top with Goto on his back, taking a SICK bump on the fall. My God. They struggled to their feet, exchanging strikes center ring. Omega then kicked Goto o the face and hit the sit out last ride for a great near fall again! Omega struggled to his feet and MISSED the Phoenix splash! Goto fired up here, Omega countered a suplex but his knee buckled and Goto hit a spinning faceplant for a near fall. Goto went for the GTR, but Omega hit a knee strike, they traded strikes and Omega then ht the snapdragon suplex for another near fall. Goto caught a knee strike, turns Omega inside out with the lariat and hits the shouten kai but Omega somehow kicks out as the crowd is going crazy for this. GTR countered, bloody Sunday by Omega! Styles Clash by Omega but the ode to Bullet Club only gets 2. One winged angle then connects, and Omega wins! Omega was the third westerner (Rick Rude and Karl Anderson) to make the finals and the first to win the G1. In all honesty that was a brilliant match, especially from Omega. Omega digging deep into the past to use moves by Ibushi, Devitt and Styles to try and win were beautiful homages, but in the end he won on his own with his own move. And take nothing away from Goto, he was half of a final that no one predicted or really wanted, but he brought his A Game, and they delivered an absolutely awesome main event. The pacing was excellent, the build felt organic, the crowd was amazing and they went home at the right time and didn’t try to go way too long to make it “feel” like an epic, it didn’t need that because it was one. Some want to point to the way overbooked Tanahashi match as Omega’s coming out party, but that true moment was tonight, all of the reactions he received were star reactions and after a lot of work and some misfires, they have finally made Kenny Omega. Kenny Omega, from junior comedy guy wrestling kids and dolls, to a Bullet Club stooge, to G1 winner.

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3. 2015 – 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 what 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 this the best match of the entire 2015 tournament.

2. G1 27 Finals: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega [*****]: They had a lot to live up to after the match that they put on last year and they more than lived up to that match and delivered an all time classic and one of the very best G1 finals matches ever. . I thought that they worked an absolutely excellent match, with the focus of both men being on the neck and or back, which fits into both men’s finishers. They went long, but kept an amazingly brisk pace and also worked with the sense of urgency you want to see in a match situation like this. This isn’t just any other match, this is the G1 finals. This had great action, a molten crowd, amazing near falls and a great and dramatic build to the finish. They did an excellent job of making you believe that either man could win, which not only made for amazing crowd reactions, but also kept the energy at an extremely high level. I loved the focus on the neck, not only because it played into both men’s finishers, but also because over the years, big time NJPW matches have focused on leg work, so this made this one feel different and fresh, which isn’t always easy to do. This was top-notch work from both men and the perfect way, match wise to close things out, and the right man won. I am thrilled that Naito won, although to be honest with you, I always imagined him main eventing the dome after challenging the briefcase winner and being the first guy to win it that way, but this was amazing. Finally, when you consider the grind of the tournament, this performance from both men is even more impressive. Omega is certainly really banged up and Naito has been working through a major shoulder injury. This was special not only due to the in ring, but due to the reaction Naito got for winning.

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1. From The NJPW G1 Climax 28 Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi [*****]: Just when I think I have seen something great and something special, something new comes along and absolutely blows it away. We all know that Ibushi is a special performer, and when he’s on there are few better, but at age 41, Hiroshi Tanahashi, looked at as the beaten down and fading ace comes along and shows us why he is an all time great. Not only is he the man that helped turn NJPW business around and start their amazing rise, but he still delivers in the big time matches, and why many have started to double him, we should all stop until he starts shitting the bed and gives us a reason to believe he’s fading and his skills are diminishing. As for the match, this was absolutely unreal and up there not only as the match of the tournament, the match of the year, and possibly the best G1 final ever, but it was quite possibly one of the very best professional wrestling matches I have ever seen. In fact, I’d go as far to say this is one of if not the best performance/match of Tanahashi’s career, and that’s saying a lot. From the pacing, the way they captivated the crowd, Ibushi flipping the switch into violence to answer Tanahshi’s challenge, to the amazing babyface fire of Tanahashi, it was simply amazing, and they had me at the edge of my seat for the entire match. The crowd was locked in, the commentary was amazing, and it was a perfect storm and I don’t use that term lightly. As for emotional investment, they also had me with that the entire time, as we watched Ibushi trying to prove himself when it mattered as Tanahashi previously challenged him to, to the old gunslinger battling through everything his young, stronger, and faster challenger had to give. But for everything Ibushi had to give, Tanahashi had an answer, survived, dug deep and finally overcame to ride as the ace one more time. In the end, Ibushi’s arms were long enough to box with God, just not powerful enough to beat him. This was absolutely phenomenal and is essential viewing if you love wrestling. This was beautiful, this was art, this was professional wrestling at its very best.

This was the sixth time Hiroshi Tanahashi has made a G1 Climax final, and third win overall. Of his six matches, I have given him 5 stars two times in the finals, and he holds an overall star rating of 4.13 in his six G1 finals appearances. Also, I spent Sunday night doing a fresh rewatch of the top 10 matches so that they would all be fresh in my mind and to see if anything has changed. With that being the case, my opinions have largely stayed the same, with this year’s Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi match taking the throne as the best G1 finals match, in my opinion. I have seen some try and downplay the match due to “a hot crowd, the environment, and enthusiasm” and other such things, but those are all elements of great matches. All time great matches, 5 star classics, to me are the result of the right time, the right place, the right crowd, the right performers, the right style of match leading to a virtually perfect effect. I can’t say for certain that I’ve seen “an absolutely perfect match,” but I have seen a lot that fit the criteria I believe in. I can find some small flaws in the 1989 Flair/Steamboat trilogy, which I value all at 5 stars. Liger vs. Sasuke from the Super J-Cup 1994 is 5 stars to me, but some will dock it while I think they played it off well and didn’t hurt the match in my eyes. It’s just what I am feeling at the time, and if I get that feeling that this is an all-time great match, on the level of other matches I have given the rating to, I’ll bust out the 5 stars; there’s no super secret, scientific mathematical formula to it, it is a feeling, and when it’s right, it’s right. It’s fine to disagree and to have a discussion, but don’t be silly and claim things like the spectacle, audience, and enthusiasm involved don’t play into a match and how it’s received.

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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“Byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye Felicia!”