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Pantoja Ranks The Last 10 G1 Climax Tournaments

September 2, 2022 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 26 Image Credit: NJPW

During the G1 Climax 32, I called it the worst iteration of the annual tournament I had ever seen. Most people seemed to agree, though it got me thinking about how I’d rank them all against each other. So, since I’ve seen every G1 since 2013 (though I only started watching them live with the G1 25), I’ve decided to look back and see which ones were the worst and which were the best. To be fair, I don’t think any G1 has been flat out bad.

10. G1 Climax 32 (2022)

Image Credit: NJPW

Looking a bit deeper and comparing it to other years, my feelings on the G1 32 haven’t changed. There was something truly lacking about this year and I’m not sure why. I didn’t even have a major issue with the four block structure like a lot of people. It just never really felt special outside of a handful of matches. I also wish they didn’t tease the chaos tie for D Block only to go with the expected ending. Maybe a problem with this is that I’ve seen so many G1s at this point that I’ve come to know every Gedo trope. The guy who starts poorly and makes it deep (Naito), the teasing of a tie only for it to go the obvious route (D Block), it coming down to the final match scheduled, and the champ not making it to the end. This actually didn’t have as low of a floor as some other years but it also didn’t have nearly as high of a ceiling. All in all, this wasn’t a bad tournament but it was hugely underwhelming.

Five Best Matches: David Finlay vs. Juice Robinson, Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay, JONAH vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Worst Match: Bad Luck Fale vs. Toru Yano

Tournament MVP: David Finlay

G1 Climax Finals: Kazuchika Okada over Will Ospreay (****)

9. G1 Climax 31 (2021)

Image Credit: NJPW

Again, my issues with a recent G1 Climax could stem from years of watching Gedo’s booking tropes play out. You just know what’s coming so it’s hard to get invested in any of it. There were a lot of good things about this tournament, with Zack Sabre Jr. being the standout by having some of the best matches. The guys who always deliver did (ZSJ, Shingo, Tanahashi, Ibushi, Okada, White, etc.) and the rest of the group struggled to really pull me in. The biggest issue with this tournament was that it had a lower ceiling than most. Even the G1 32 had multiple ****½ bouts but this one legitimately only had one (ZSJ vs. KENTA), which has never been the case before. I did appreciate that the Guerrillas of Destiny overperformed my expectations but that was often negated by lackluster performances from SANADA, Hirooki Goto, and Yujiro Takahashi. I think what also hurt here was that the finals was kind of dull. Okada and Ibushi can certainly have great matches but this one didn’t really click the way others did. This tournament was a big case of Gedo’s booking being incredibly stale. The talent is there in New Japan but he is holding them back in a major way.

Five Best Matches: KENTA vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Shingo Takagi vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada

Worst Match: The Great-O-Khan vs. Tanga Loa

Tournament MVP: Zack Sabre Jr.

G1 Climax Finals: Kazuchika Okada over Kota Ibushi (***½)

8. G1 Climax 25 (2015)

Image Credit: NJPW

This was the first G1 Climax that I actually got to see live and I really enjoyed it, though it certainly doesn’t hold up against some of the others I’ve experienced. Unaware of Gedo tropes and his booking style, it was cool to see things unfold and not have any idea about how this would unfold. This is the tournament where I fell in love with the likes of Katsuyori Shibata and Tetsuya Naito, while also getting to experience part of AJ Styles’ great New Japan run, which was only topped by his first year in WWE. Guys like those three, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Kota Ibushi were fantastic but the real kicker might’ve been the inclusion of Michael Elgin and the story of Tomoaki Honma on the hunt for his first G1 win. When he finally got it in Korakuen Hall, it was a special moment. However, the likes of Doc Gallows, Yujiro Takahashi, and Bad Luck Fale were consistently bringing things down. I did like having the New Japan Dads in there though as Kojima, Tenzan, and Nagata all put on great shows. It also helps to have a phenomenal finals and this might’ve been the best I’ve ever seen.

Five Best Matches: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi, Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Worst Match: Bad Luck Fale vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Tournament MVP: Hiroshi Tanahashi

G1 Climax Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi over Shinsuke Nakamura (****¾)

7. G1 Climax 30 (2020)

Image Credit: NJPW

There was a lot of concern coming into the G1 30. It was pushed back to the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pretty much all of wrestling that year just felt off with the small or nonexistent crowds. That being said, New Japan managed to deliver a strong G1 Climax and one guy stood out as the reason it worked exceptionally well. That man is Jay White. I liked him when he returned from excursion but he had a really back 2019 thanks to Gedo booking him like so many other heels with stalling, shenanigans, and interference. He changed that tune with a stellar G1 featuring bangers against Suzuki, Taichi, Ibushi, and Ishii, just to name a few. He didn’t win the tournament but took the briefcase later in the year and had the best Tokyo Dome main event I’ve ever seen as a result. Other guys in the tournament delivered like Tanahashi, Suzuki, Ibushi, Taichi, and Shingo to boost it up. A major issue holding it back was the finals though as Ibushi vs. SANADA was hugely uninteresting and hammered home the fact that SANADA hasn’t worked out when put into top slots.

Five Best Matches: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito, Jay White vs. Minoru Suzuki, Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi, Jay White vs. Taichi

Worst Match: Toru Yano vs. YOSHI-HASHI

Tournament MVP: Jay White

G1 Climax Finals: Kota Ibushi over SANADA (***)

6. G1 Climax 28 (2018)

Image Credit: NJPW

I want to like this G1 Climax so much more than I do. 2018 was the last year where New Japan truly felt great to me and I was still excited about the promotion. On top of that, the B Block in this G1 is an all-timer. Naito, Omega, Ibushi, Juice, Ishii, ZSJ, and there was even Yano bringing it for several highly recommended matches. Hell, one of my personal favorite matches of the tournament was ZSJ vs. Omega because he took Kenny far out of his comfort zone. Even the third leg of the Omega/Naito trilogy was great yet couldn’t crack my top five bouts of the tournament. Seeing the Golden Lovers go at it was also special. The Finals of the tournament ruled too. So, what’s holding this back from ranking higher? The goddamn A Block. What a terrible block that was. Only Tanahashi/Suzuki cracked four stars, which is the lowest number of ****+ matches for any block I’ve ever seen. Okada was busy dicking around with balloons (yet still winning matches and not struggling), White hadn’t quite put it all together yet, and even Tanahashi wasn’t at his best. There was also Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga legitimately ruining matches by not caring about them, putting on bad performances, and eating DQ losses. What a shit show it was.

Five Best Matches: Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi, Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Worst Match: Bad Luck Fale vs. Michael Elgin

Tournament MVP: Kota Ibushi

G1 Climax Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi over Kota Ibushi (****½)

5. G1 Climax 29 (2019)

Image Credit: NJPW

While the G1 29 didn’t have a block match the previous year’s B Block, nothing was as bad as the A Block, making this a more consistent year. This was also boosted by the company doing something they desperately needed (and badly need to pull off again), which was adding new talent to the G1. This marked the G1 debuts for Shingo Takagi, Jon Moxley, and Will Ospreay, who were probably the best performers. Ospreay nearly died against Ibushi and had a stellar outing against Tanahashi, Takagi had the match of the tournament against Ishii and was on point each time out, and Moxley breathed new life into the company. Whether it was a MOTYC against Ishii, a hard hitting fight with Shingo, or even losing in goofy fashion to Yano, he was just what New Japan needed. This was also KENTA arriving in New Japan and having some great matches of his own, really helping to cement that this was a much better all-around G1 than 2018. It made you think the company was going to be fine after the departure of the Elite boys but it was the last time anything fresh happened.

Five Best Matches: Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Jon Moxley vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Will Ospreay, Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Worst Match: Bad Luck Fale vs. Will Ospreay

Tournament MVP: Jon Moxley

G1 Climax Finals: Kota Ibushi over Jay White (****)

4. G1 Climax 23 (2013)

Image Credit: NJPW

The oldest iteration of this tournament that I’ve ever seen also happens to have my pick for the single greatest (and my favorite) G1 Climax match of all-time. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii is perfect pro wrestling, less than 15 minutes, and is the kind of thing you can show to literally ANYONE and they can get engaged in it. That very same show featured Nakamura vs. Ibushi in a match that nearly got the full five from me. In fact, this tournament helped introduce Ibushi into the heavyweight scene, proving he could hang with Nakamura or Ishii. Okada was also a highlight here as in 2013, he was arguably at his best. His match vs. Tanahashi here got ****½ from me and was still their worst outing together in 2013. That’s nuts. Guys like Makabe, Kojima, and Nagata were also younger and that meant we got better performances from them. On a smaller but possibly more important scale, this was Ishii’s G1 debut and he solidified himself as a top worker who would go on to steal the show often in future years. The only real problem with this tournament was the finals. Naito vs. Tanahashi was wildly disappointing with inconsistent leg work and really showed why babyface Naito wasn’t working.

Five Best Matches: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kota Ibushi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada, Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe

Worst Match: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Minoru Suzuki

Tournament MVP: Tomohiro Ishii

G1 Climax Finals: Tetsuya Naito over Hiroshi Tanahashi (**¾)

3. G1 Climax 26 (2016)

Image Credit: NJPW

I always love when New Japan tries new shit with the tournament and 2016 saw them do just that. They brought over stars from Pro Wrestling NOAH and it worked masterfully because Naomichi Marufuji and Katsuhiko Nakajima were among the best wrestlers in the tournament. Nearly everything they did was great from Nakajima waging war with Shibata and Nagata to Marufuji beating the shit out of Okada and having a banger with Tanahashi. I don’t really have any negatives to say about this G1 because even the lesser guys were doing solid work. I do think that Honma proved to be a problem of sorts here as his fun matches kind of died once he won his first G1 match in 2015 and everything after didn’t quite work as well. Of course, the biggest news in this G1 was the rise of Kenny Omega, as he had several great matches, beat Naito in a MOTYC, and then bested Hirooki Got in a better than expected finals. It made him a legitimate star in the company.

Five Best Matches: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tetsuya Naito

Worst Match: Tama Tonga vs. Togi Makabe

Tournament MVP: Kenny Omega

G1 Climax Finals: Kenny Omega over Hirooki Goto (****¼)

2. G1 Climax 24 (2014)

Image Credit: NJPW

For the longest time, I held up the G1 24 as the greatest wrestling tournament ever. However, upon closer look, I actually like one G1 Climax a bit more. Before we get to that one though, we should look at why this 2014 tournament was so good. The expected wrestlers delivered like Okada, Naito, Shibata, Nakamura, and Tanahashi but you had two others really stand out. Honma’s chase for a victory made him into a beloved fan favorite and he had some great matches, while AJ Styles was at his very best here. His New Japan debut may have saw him win the IWGP Title but the matches weren’t great until he hit the G1 and was on fire. He literally felt like a must-see wrestler every single time out. There was also the likes of Fale, Anderson, Benjamin, Yujiro, and others who exceeded expectations and had better matches than most could’ve planned. This tournament is remarkably consistent and it’s actually the only one I personally own on DVD. It’s really fun to go back and watch.

Five Best Matches: AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki, AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata

Worst Match: Minoru Suzuki vs. Toru Yano

Tournament MVP: AJ Styles

G1 Climax Finals: Kazuchika Okada over Shinsuke Nakamura (****¼)

1. G1 Climax 27 (2017)

Image Credit: NJPW

The G1 27 basically everything I could want from the G1 Climax. Tremendous matches almost from top to bottom thanks to some of my favorite guys to watch in the company like Naito, Ibushi, Tanahashi, Okada, Ishii, Omega, and more. A finals that is legitimately the best I’ve ever seen, which saw Naito beat Omega in a classic. Standout efforts from new guys like Zack Sabre Jr., who started a run as a consistent G1 highlight. Hell, guys like EVIL and SANADA were still really good, while YOSHI-HASHI put in the effort, and Juice Robinson was really good throughout. Hell, this even had the final G1 run in history of Yuji Nagata, which featured some major performances and an emotional finale from him against Bad Luck Fale. The right guy ultimately went over in the end as it was certainly time to take Naito to the top. This is one of those tournaments where outside of a small handful of matches, everything ranged from really good to spectacular, earning it the top spot.

Five Best Matches: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Worst Match: Michael Elgin vs. Toru Yano

Tournament MVP: Tetsuya Naito

G1 Climax Finals: Tetsuya Naito over Kenny Omega (*****)

article topics :

G1 Climax, NJPW, Kevin Pantoja