NJPW G1 Climax 25: The Roundup
This is the last one, I promise!
For those of you who’ve been dubious about dipping your toe in the wrestling ocean that is the G1 Climax tournament, here’s the edited highlights version.
By my reckoning, there were twenty matches at four-stars or higher over the course of the tournament. That’s an exceptional standard, and it’s ignoring the dozens more than were merely very good. Here, in chronological order, are my Top 10 matches of the tournament:
- Shibata vs. Styles (Day 1)
- Honma vs. Okada (Day 4)
- Naito vs. Tanahashi (Day 5)
- Ishii vs. Nagata (Day 10)
- Shibata vs. Tanahashi (Day 13)
- Nagata vs. Okada (Day 16)
Ibushi vs. Tanahashi (Day 1)
What a way to cap the first show. Going back through my reviews I was reminded of the moment Ibushi lawn-darted Tanahashi into the turnbuckle! Those crazy bastards. As an introduction to New Japan you couldn’t wish for better.
Ibushi vs. Styles (Day 5)
A number of matches during the tournament had ten minutes full of nothing before hitting the closing stretch. Not this one. This was all good. I took it down a quarter-star on rewatch, the only thing keeping it from reaching the full monty being its relatively truncated closing stretch, but it is otherwise fantastic. If we don’t get a first-time-ever Nakamura vs. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom, can we get a rematch of this? Please?
Ibushi vs. Shibata (Day 7)
Shibata’s relentless style will often bring the best out of his opponents and Ibushi is at his best when he’s practically being bullied. Consequently, this was badass. Not a single moment wasted.
Goto vs. Okada (Day 8)
As far as I can tell Goto is no-one’s favourite wrestler, and yet, given the opportunity, he performs like a great. This was the Intercontinental title holder proving his worth to the Heavyweight Champion and doing it in style. All too often a match can extend itself beyond the natural peak, but this one ended in a crescendo of headbutts and a definitive Shouten Kai. Very satisfying.
Goto vs. Ishii (Day 14)
I loved this match. A true strong style battle with impeccable pacing and almost breathtaking intensity. Stick Shibata or Nakamura in this exact match instead of Goto and I’m certain people would be falling over themselves to give it five-stars. I admit this is not a style of match that should be repeated regularly, but as an exception it was appropriately exceptional.
Honma vs. Ishii (Day 16)
If Honma hadn’t won then perhaps I wouldn’t rate it so highly, but objectivity be damned! This was so much fun. A genuinely joyful moment is a rare thing in professional wrestling and that this one was such a long time coming made it all the more sweet when it finally arrived.
Elgin vs. Ishii (Day 18)
Elgin’s success this tournament has caught many, myself included, by surprise. Okay, so he lost this match, but he may have guaranteed himself years worth of employment thanks to the way he’s performed and the extent to which he’s gotten over throughout. This was perhaps the purest distillation of both men’s work this year; an almost primal display of testicular fortitude. Ridiculous? Maybe. Entertaining? Definitely.
Styles vs. Tanahashi (Day 17)
I had unreasonably high expectations of this one and they were largely met. The structure, I felt, was a little too self-consciously that of an ‘epic’ and the first half somewhat stilted (by their impeccable standards), but the moment Tanahashi leapt to the outside with a High Fly Flow the match took off (pun intended). The selling, particularly from Styles, was excellent.
Nakamura vs. Okada (Day 18)
The first match where Nakamura was willing or able to turn up. In the end, Okada was not ruthless enough with his CHAOS stablemate and was made to pay for his mercy. I’ve been harsher in my ratings for this, the A Block final and the tournament final, because they get the cheat codes – the finisher kick-outs that no other matches have (nor should they) – and in many ways I feel this makes it ‘easier’ to have what people typically think of as a great match. However, the match ended with the juji gatame counter that Nakamura had been utilising throughout the tournament and to have that bow tied so neatly was very pleasing.
Nakamura vs. Tanahashi (Finals)
A suitably epic final between two of New Japan’s renaissance men. It had all the crowd heat, the stakes and the near falls that you could possibly want. Tanahashi – the master of the modern day epic – led the match and Nakamura held up his end of the deal. I’ve seen several reviews that have this at five-stars and, although I’m not one of them, I think we can all agree that this was a fitting end to a fantastic tournament. If someone ever mentions how Japanese wrestling crowds only ever sit on their hands in respectful silence, show them this match to prove them wrong.
Some of you chipped in with your favourites, with a lot of love shown for both block deciders and Elgin vs. Ishii. My own personal favourites were Ibushi vs. Styles and Goto vs. Ishii and I anticipate many more will be clogging up my Match of the Year candidates by the year’s end.
A.J. Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi had similarly impressive tournaments, working to their opponents’ strengths, having good matches with everyone, and generally proving themselves to be two of the best and most versatile professional wrestlers on the planet. These guys set the bar for 2015 with their performances in this tournament and I’m not sure anyone can match them. I heard someone describe Styles as the in-ring Paul Heyman; a man who can accentuate the positives and disguise the weaknesses of every one he faces. They were dead on. Tanahashi, as you know, emerged victorious on the 19th night and became a two-time G1 Climax winner. It was fully deserved on the basis of his performances and, despite being the most obvious result, it was also the right result. Clearly, rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
The losing finalist for the second year in a row, Shinsuke Nakamura, didn’t hit top gear until the penultimate show and, even before his elbow injury, looked well below his best. His ample charisma helped carry him, but the matches were so disappointing that he was almost a non-factor. Then, of course, he went and got to the final. But without those bouts against Okada and Tanahashi he’s not even in the Top 10 wrestlers of the tournament, which is almost unbelievable for 2014’s Wrestler of the Year. Speaking of Kazuchika Okada, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion had a good tournament, leading B Block throughout and only failing to make the final on a head-to-head result. He doesn’t quite have the natural crowd response as a babyface that others do, but when you consider his ability for his age you have to believe he’ll get there.
Hirooki Goto had two excellent matches and many very good ones. You could almost see his confidence grow with each outing and he comes out of the tournament looking far stronger than he went in, even as the incumbent Intercontinental Champion. Tetsuya Naito’s new persona was near fully-formed on Day 1 and got better from there. His momentum faded slightly, but when given the chance to perform he tended to deliver. This Naito is more than capable of reaching the main event once more. Tomohiro Ishii’s last couple of weeks were spectacular. Six four-star (or higher) matches in a row, including some of the best matches I’ve seen all year. He may only work his way, by my word does he know how to put a match together. Karl Anderson and Bad Luck Fale were somehow in the running right until the end. They’re both respectable guys to lose to, but their days as upper tier singles competitors must be drawing to a close.
Michael Elgin, as I mentioned, can now expect to be a mainstay in the G1 for years to come. Good on him. Toru Yano provided some of the tournament’s most entertaining moments and shocking upsets (Shibata, Ibushi and Fale!) as well as its most gruesome visual. Togi Makabe shouted a lot and had a good match with Shibata, but did little else of note. Kota Ibushi, I think, is in danger of becoming an also-ran unless he gets a notable win in the near future. I have no complaints about his work though, because he had some fantastic matches in the first few weeks. Katsuyori Shibata likewise shone in the earlier stages – even leading A Block at the halfway point – before crashing to earth with four losses in a row. Many of you have mentioned how much you like his work and I can only hope it’s rewarded soon, perhaps a run with the NEVER title is in order, although I’d buy him with any title belt around his waist.
Doc Gallows and Yujiro Takahashi have both, I hope, wrestled their last G1. Hiroyoshi Tenzan looked like a man that needs to retire while he can still walk, despite some very good showings against Styles and Tanahashi (yeah, I know). Satoshi Kojima and Yuji Nagata had sneaky good tournaments and both brought the goods when given the spotlight. In fact, Nagata’s constant selling of his stomach injury was one of my favourite details of the whole thing. And, finally, Tomoaki Honma! We all thought we knew the score, didn’t we? If he was going to get a win it’d be against Takahashi on B Block’s final show. But then, gloriously, he beat Tomohiro Ishii in the main event at Korakuen Hall. What a moment, perhaps the defining moment of the G1 Climax 25, and one I’ll remember for a long time.
Final thoughts: This was a looooong tournament and I’m glad it’s over, to be honest, because nineteen shows in under a month is a lot. I sincerely hope the talent felt the benefit of the days off, but they were still out there taking bumps on their non-block appearances. The coverage on New Japan World was great. It was a shame that most shows had no commentary and half a dozen were single-camera, but it’s an understandable sacrifice given the value their streaming service provides.
Wrestle Kingdom 10 and its aftermath may prove make-or-break for the long-term success of the company. The January 4th show must be the last time Tanahashi and Okada face off on a major show and now is the time to position the next group of main-eventers. They are blessed with an abundance of world class talent, but fail to pull the trigger and the success that seems so easy now could quickly disappear. To transition from one successful phase to another is very difficult – look at All Japan in the late 90s or WWE post-Attitude Era – but it is in New Japan’s hands.
Thanks for reading these, it’s been quite an effort to get them all done. Thanks to Scott, too, for allowing me to post them on the blog. You’ll be unsurprised to hear I’m going to take a break from reviewing wrestling shows for a while! Bye for now.