Wrestling’s second longest running singles tourney turns twenty
What is arguably the biggest tournament in all of wrestling, New Japan’s G-1 Climax tournament, finished its twentieth installment last Sunday. This year’s installment lived up to the hype and prestige surrounding such an anniversaryâ€”the only singles tournament that has been around longer is All Japan’s Champion’s Carnival tournamentâ€”with a healthy mix of the young and old representing New Japan as well as outsider participation from CMLL of Mexico, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and former New Japan wrestler and newly freelancer Satoshi Kojima. Kojima ended up becoming the first outsider to win the G-1 tournament, defeating 2007 winner Hiroshi Tanahashi in the final before a packed Sumo Hall with â€œMr. Augustâ€ and five-time G-1 winner Masahiro Chono doing the intro’s and presentation after the final. The tournament did mostly good business as the Korakuen Hall show drew well, as did shows in Osaka and Aichi, and while the first Sumo Hall show did an almost disastrous number, the final followed the last few G-1 final days in selling out and that is what counted for more. More than anything, the G-1 has become a way for New Japan to create options for the remaining months of the year leading to their January 4th Tokyo Dome show, and this year was no different with Masato Tanaka making a surprise appearance on the final day, Toshiaki Kawada participating in a tag match on the final day, the NOAH feud continuing strong, Naomichi Marufuji’s injury sidelining him from the tourney, the fact that an outsider won, and that the one guy (Shinsuke Nakamura) that everyone thought would win it this year didn’t.
P.C. Says: New Japan should have plenty to do between now and January 4th based on the G-1
The fact that is was a big anniversary for the tournament meant that everyoneâ€”even Strong Manâ€”should have gotten at least one win, and thankfully everyone did. I was afraid during the first days of the tourney that Wataru Inoue would be left with a goose egg when all was said and done, but should’ve thought better of it as the G-1 needs a big upset or shock win here and there to make things interesting and, in some cases, to simplify things. Case in point: Yujiro Takahashi’s upset win over Yuji Nagata to open the final day’s action after he kicked out of a backdrop finisher that Nagata had used throughout the tournament with success all the time. The other maybe less shocking result to simplify things was Shinsuke Nakamura and Go Shiozaki going to a thirty-minute draw (something more common than you’d think in the G-1) to set up their singles match at NOAH’s Ariake Colloseum show this past Sunday. Those results left Block B to the winner of the Kojima/Hirooki Goto match after the block entered that final Sunday with a five-way tie for first.
The fact that there was a five-way tie in Block B, as well as a three-way tie for Block A, going into the final day provides a kind of curiosity and anticipation that the system of having the semi-finals and finals on that final Sunday can’t. Sure, if you have both blocks decided and we know through Saturday night who those final four are, there is a very real and very good kind of anticipation and speculation that goes into it. However, the fact that there were tickets still available Sunday morning and the show still sold out, does show that the anticipation with neither block being decided does sell. Yes, having the semi’s and finals on the final day sells to (as evidenced by the sell-outs the last few years), but I think it’s time for the G-1 to go back to block matches reaching into the final day; it’s more unpredictable, more exciting in many ways, and if this year is any indication, it doesn’t really hurt the bottom line: a sold out Ryogoku Kokugikan for the finals.
Now with the tourney over and done it, there’s the matter of the remaining months between now and the Tokyo Dome on January 4. For New Japan, I don’t believe they’ve had as many potential angles, feuds, title matches, and overall directions that they can go in to set up the Dome show as this year.
Before looking at the IWGP title situation, let’s look at this year’s winner: Satoshi Kojima. As a freelancer, Kojima has the most options of any G-1 winner ever simply because he very likely won’t tour with New Japan in between any major shows; why would he if he can get offers from various sources as a freelancer? Kojima just got a win over Mohammed Yone at NOAH’s Ariake show on Sunday, and within NOAH there are plenty of potential matches for him there. One that quickly comes to mind would be a match with Takashi Sugiura if he were to lose the belt to Shiozaki on September 26 or even a title match down the line if he still has the belt. Then there are matches with Marufuji, KENTA, Kensuke Sasaki, Jun Akiyama, Yone’s partner in the Disobey Takeshi Rikio, Takeshi Morishima, or even a G-1 rematch with Shiozaki for the belt or not for it. Then again, New Japan represents plenty of options as well. Kojima already has been billed for an IWGP title match at Sumo Hall October 11 against the winner of the Makabe/Tanaka title match two weeks before. It’s very unlikely that New Japan would main-event Sumo Hall with an IWGP title match contested between two outsiders so it’s safe to say that Kojima will get Makabe. Unless they are going to go the route of a few years ago and have an outsider (Keiji Mutoh in 2008) have the belt for a while before a New Japan wrestler wins it back at The Dome, Kojima won’t be walking out with the gold. With the likelyhood that Kojima won’t be IWGP champion in the near future there is the likely TenKoji reunion when Hiroyoshi Tenzan finally returns from surgery. Whether that reunion will be a one-shot deal on January 4 or something a bit longer is still up in the air and will depend on how much of a freelancer Kojima decides to be.
The IWGP title situation is just as wide open. Makabe defends against Tanaka on September 26 and then against Kojima October 11 at Sumo Hall. As stated above, I don’t believe he’ll lose either and while I have been wrong in my predictions relating to New Japan (and basically any world title in Japan) in recent years, these seem to be more of a lock. I will say that Kojima as the outsider champion does have its appeal and would be a safer bet than most would think in terms of the Tokyo Dome show, but I still don’t see it happening. The main reason for this line of thinking is that I believe New Japan realizes (or at least should) by now is that they can’t rely on outsiders to draw big crowds forever at The Dome, their people have to be able to do it by themselves at some point. And while The Dome show has always been a perfect place for outsider participation, the main-event has generally been a New Japan-only position and will need to go back to that if New Japan hopes to move forward with the momentum they’ve gathered over the past few years. Makabe/Tanahashi was the match most believed would be the G-1 final last year, and then was what people wanted in an IWGP title match before Tanahashi’s injury was announced. That match is still a relatively fresh one as Makabe and Tanahashi have only had one, maybe two, singles matches against each other to my recollection, and they’ve never met in a world title match. So as far as a Tokyo Dome main-event, this could be a very good bet for a New Japan-only main-event. The other factor in this equation is Shinsuke Nakamura, the odd man out it would seem in recent weeks. Nakamura was the favorite going into the G-1, but didn’t win it. Then this past Sunday he lost in another well received singles match with Go Shiozaki; it was on NOAH’s show, but it was a big singles match loss. Nakamura/Makabe would be an easy pick for January 4 because it’s not too hard to build Nakamura back up now that he appears to have really upped his game in the ring, his finisher is over, and the fact that he and Makabe have historyâ€”they’ve had two major programs feuding with each other in the past three years and have had four major singles matches (last year’s G-1 final, three IWGP title matches) against each other in the last yearâ€”as well as the two being the dominant names among New Japan’s main-event scene in the past two years. It’s up to New Japan which way they want to go as Tanahashi or Nakamura seem to be the most obvious and safest choices for a New Japan challenger to Makabe’s title as Goto needs to still be built up, Tenzan will likely never get another title shot with his recent injury woes, and Nagata is more of a smaller big show challenger as he did challenge against Nakamura last December in Aichi on a show that sold out.
The other thing that the G-1 tourney this year got to me to thinking about was a possible New Japan/CMLL juniors feud. New Japan and CMLL have had a work relationship that saw each send their respective wrestlers to the other for learning excursions dating back to the late 1970’s, so it wouldn’t be a new idea. Despite sending wrestlers every now and then, neither promotion has done anything on a major level with the other’s talent, and this would be an opportunity to give both promotions a major junior program throughout the division. This is something CMLL could use more than New Japan, but something New Japan could benefit from as well. For historical reference, check out the New Japan/NOAH juniors feud from 2002 that produced some of the best matches in either promotion that year. While results are never definiteâ€”look at Mistico’s brief run last year against the expectations of him coming to New Japanâ€”it would be worth the risk because it’s a kind of feud that’s not hard to book and would be an opportunity more for younger talent to make a mark in the ring while the more established names get the whole thing off the ground.
The added benefit to a feud like this is the fact that Tetsuya Naito has gotten a pretty good following in Mexico while on an extended excursion. What better way to make this guy remembered when he comes back to New Japan than to have him lead an invading army from the promotion he was sent to by New Japan? In the case of a CMLL juinors take over, you could have the army initially made up of Mistico, Shocker, Negros Casas, Hector Garza, Volador Jr., Rey Bucanero, and Ultimo Guerrero, as that would supply plenty of tag matches of all varieties and dream junior matches at big shows (Mistico/Liger anyone?). This would be followed by a host of lesser known but still useful juniors from the Mexican promotion; lesser known to Japanese fans, as the juniors who would be involved in the feud are ones that are making names for themselves in Mexico and just about all of them could be considered the heirs to CMLL’s top spots in the years to come. Such juniors would include: Maximo, La Sombra, El Texano Jr., and La Mascara. These â€œlesserâ€ guys would be needed because the bigger names are needed much more in their home country and wouldn’t be doing as many dates as the lesser drawing guys due to the financial environment with regards to the wrestling business (it’s still very bad, and literally not everyone can get work). In other words, the name guys would get this thing off the ground and the guys who need to make more of a name for themselves would keep it goingâ€”this would go the same for the New Japan side of this feud. If the in-ring action can duplicate the likes of the 2002 juniors feud, this could work.
The wild card in the post-G-1 months in New Japan has to be Prince Devitt. Devitt was brought into the tournament days before it began as a replacement for Naomichi Marufuji who was injured at DDT’s Sumo Hall show and unable to perform in the tournament. Devitt was the one who ended Marufuji’s IWGP junior title reign, won the IWGP junior tag belts with Ryusuke Taguchi, and won New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament all within the span of one month! While New Japan could’ve gone with another NOAH participate like KENTA or Morishima, this was the right choice as it was a New Japan junior and a gaijin one at that, so the variety element was even more prevalent in the tourney. Devitt repaid the faith that New Japan put in him by putting on what was basically the unanimous choice for best performance in the tournament in terms of match quality. This is something that has been following Devitt throughout 2010 as this does appear to be his best year in the ring as a wrestler and he is at the top of many best junior wrestler lists for 2010 (my take on all of that will come later in the year when I view more of his matches from this year). The fact is, this guy is the double junior champion and scored a clean pinfall win over Tanahashi in the tournamentâ€”that alone could get him a rematch on a major show just for the sake of him paying back the job to Tanahashiâ€”in a block where Tanahashi could’ve been upset by a couple of heavyweights, but wasn’t. New Japan could make him the gaijin junior ace or have him start having matches with heavyweights in big settings; whatever way they go, they have that option with a junior (native or not) for the first time since Kanemoto after his strong showing in the G-1 back in 2006. My opinion: I’d go 65/35 for making him the gaijin junior ace as having him wrestle heavyweights in big match settings would help him gain more of a following, but at the same time keeping him within the junior division is the safer way to ensure that this guy will be thrilling crowds and being one the best if not the best worker in the junior division.
The Reality is…New Japan’s position within the pro wrestling hierarchy in Japan has provided them will the ability to work with another major promotion while being able to bring in basically anybody that they want. Genichiro Tenryu, Toshiaki Kawada, Tajiri, Masato Tanaka, Satoshi Kojima all either wrestled or made an appearance during the G-1 tour. Tanaka got a title match out of the appearance, Kojima won the G-1, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a little bit of Taijiri in New Japan before 2010 is done. The fact that the NOAH work relationship has remained in motion after nearly two years tells you not only how needed New Japan is by another major promotion, but also how much reach New Japan has within the industry as they can carry on a major program with another major promotion while bringing in freelancers and outsiders left and right. The last few years has seen New Japan transform into the wrestling equivalent of sinkhole as anyone or any promotion that they express any interest in working with gets pulled in for at least a few dates. The Zero-One feud in ’08 manifested itself almost out of thin air, and I’m certain that if All Japan wanted to bring in some of their wrestlers as a small contingent involved in a program of some sort against New Japan wrestlersâ€”even with the NOAH program still in motionâ€”that could happen tomorrow if New Japan gave it the greenlight. The fact is, this is what New Japan used to be about and what had made them great throughout their history. Think back to the 90’s and their involvements with WCW and WAR at the same time, and all the great matches, feuds, and moments that produced? And with all of the potential outsiders that could be coming in and all the different feuds and matches that could happen involving all the IWGP titles and what Kojima could do after October 11, people are forgetting something that could be just as good: all of the matches that didn’t happen in the G-1 tournament, but still could happen involving Naomichi Marufuji against New Japan’s heavyweight division.
SEVEN MATCHES UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
Masahiro Chono Vs. Keiji Mutoh, 1991 G-1 Climax Final
The first and, many say, still the best G-1 final. It’s tough to argue as this very well could be the best match of both men’s careers and even with the injury woes that both men lived through during the 90’s and this past decade, that’s a lot, lot, lot of ground to cover. The fan’s reaction to the finish is still one of my favorites of all time. You’ll know why.
Tatsumi Fujinami Vs. Hiroshi Hase, 1993 G-1 Climax Final
I’ve always been a fan of Hase’s and have always seen him as underrated in terms of his place amongst the top names and workers of New Japan during the 90’s. This match is an example why as Hase’s Cinderella run in the ’93 G-1 climaxes in the final against an aging legend.
Keiji Mutoh Vs. Shinya Hashimoto, 1995 G-1 Climax Final
Both men are looking for their first G-1 tournament win. This would begin Hashimoto’s heartbreak in the tournament and would help Mutoh win wrestler of the year in the Tokyo Sports Awards at the end of the year. It’s been called one of the best matches in both men’s careers. You decide.
Riki Choshu Vs. Masahiro Chono, 1996 G-1 Climax Final
Choshu said that this would be his last G-1 and it was. No surprise (he was the booker at the time) that his G-1 history ends in the final, but it’s fitting since it’s against the man who already was Mr. G-1 and Mr. August. Chono had won three of the first five G-1 tournaments leading up to this one.
Masahiro Chono Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, 2002 G-1 Climax Final
Possibly Chono’s last classic. A great power struggle between these two and it came during the year that Takayama became more than just a good shoot-style wrestler. This was just months after Takayama had his face punched in by Don Frye in Pride and because of it was becoming one of the biggest draws in wrestling. The night before Takayama had what was in my opinion his best match up until that point (still might be his best ever) against Osamu Nishimura. Chono is going for his first G-1 win in over five years, and looking to maintain the Mr. G-1 label.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan Vs. Jun Akiyama, 2003 G-1 Climax Final
This one should be a candidate for best G-1 final ever. Akiyama’s time in New Japan and NOAH had given him the know-how to do an epic, and Tenzan is game for that. This was during both men’s best period as singles wrestlers before injuries and poor booking killed Tenzan’s career. Easily one of the best of Tenzan’s career and one that could rank up with some of Akiyama’s best from the All Japan days and his best in NOAH. Great, great stuff.
History of the G-1 Climax Tournament 1991-2009
This is a video showing the final moments of each of the 19 G-1 Climax finals with some post-match from them all. If the article didn’t properly illustrate what this tourney means to Japanese pro wrestling, this video should do it. No matter how good or bad the business is doing (and most are aware of how bad the business has been in Japan during parts of the last decade) this is that special time of year when all seems right. I don’t have to tell you to enjoy it because I know you will.
Tags: cmll, G-1 Climax, IWGP, Keiji Mutoh, new japan, prince devitt, Pro Wrestling NOAH