A thrilling, exhausting three weeks of puroresu goodness are in the books. Before we sleep through the night for a change, let's analysis New Japan's signature round-robin tournament and gaze out at their next few months...
The Winner of the G1 Climax 25:
First of all, let’s talk about the man who emerged victorious, Hiroshi Tanahashi, who defeated Shinsuke Nakamura in an absolutely outstanding match in the finals (their best match against each other), and one of the very best matches of the year, and overall had a very strong tournament. I have absolutely no problem with this result, and I actually think that Tanahashi is the clear right choice. It’s not that I have a particular affinity for the air guitar wielding dork, but after Wrestle Kingdom 9, when Okada left in tears as Tanahashi cut a promo telling him that he, and not Okada, was still the most outstanding talent every 1 out of 100 years ‘Ace’ of New Japan, it was always absolutely clear that Okada was going to have to defeat Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom at some point to conclude this rivalry.
And while I personally wish the story had mercifully concluded at WK9 with Okada defeating Tanahashi, as it had already been going on for three years at that point, it didn’t. That means that there was still one more match necessary to finish this, so I’d much rather we got it out of the way at WK10, rather than waiting yet another year until WK11 and having Nakamura face Okada at this one a continuing to lock off the main event scene from anyone new breaking through. After Tanahashi puts Okada over in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, maybe they can start finally start moving forward, and elevating someone like Tetsuya Naito, who was always meant to be Okada’s big rival, but now with the alignment switch and Naito’s new LOS INGOBERNABLES persona, he is finally perfectly positioned to be just that. Not to mention guys like Kota Ibushi or (hah) Katsuyori Shibata.
A look at some other notables from the field:
While I was fine with the result overall, I thought Gedo really mishandled some stuff outside of the winner. The tournament didn’t really seem to help anyone outside the big four as much as it could have, and if they keep going like this, the product is going to become really stale at the top. A stable main event scene is a good thing, and most promotions have it, but this is pushing stability near the snapping point, especially with one of the big four in Nakamura spending all his time in the last 4 years in the IC title scene, so it’s just been Okada and Tanahashi, to the degree that over the past 55 months, every single title defense except one (Ibushi/Styles at Invasion Attack) featured either Okada or Tanahashi. Even WWE has managed six title defenses in the last 30 months that didn’t include one of Orton or Cena.
Since going on a tour of CMLL, Naito has completely reinvented himself with his new Los Ingobernables persona that has been the breakout star of the tournament, and instantly burst onto the scene during the tour with victories over AJ Styles, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kota Ibushi, all in the show main event slot, allowing him to cut a heel promo when sending the crowd home, a big push for a hot new heel.
The problem is that his back half of the tour saw him defeated by Togi Makabe, Doc Gallows, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Losing to Makabe is fine, even if I think he’s awful, as he’s got a singles title and is protected. The problem in the booking that I think hurt Naito, hurt Naito’s match with Tenzan, and hurt the heat of night 17 of the tour in general is the defeat to Doc Gallows.
It’s far from irreparable, those three big wins remain big wins, but it was a dumb decision. The problem is that not only did his defeat by Gallows mean he lost 3 of his last 4 matches, but he went from going into the final night tied with Styles and Tanahashi, and earning himself a spot in the finals with a victory over Tenzan due to holding the tiebreakers on both to being eliminated before night 17, and ending up 5-4.
The story they had built from before the tournament had even started would have culminated beautifully if the man that Naito literally and figuratively spat on, the man he called a washed up old has-been that he didn’t even think belonged in the G1 tournament (after Naito was Tenzan’s young boy attendant when coming up in NJPW) was the one that would finally put a stop to this brash arrogant bastard’s run to the G1 finals. Instead, what could have been a classic lost much of its heat before it started because Naito was already eliminated. If Naito came in with a shot to win the tournament, the match would have meant so much more, and Naito’s position coming out of the G1 could have been even stronger.
In the end, though, I think Naito will be ok, as the persona has still been established well, and he’s got an exciting feud coming out of the tournament, but he really felt like a supernova ready to explode as of night 11 when he won his third straight main event against three of the best New Japan had to offer, and told the audience that they needed to Tranquilo after assaulting the great Red Shoes Unno on multiple occasions.
I think he’s probably the guy who was really most mishandled in the entire tournament. There were a substantial percentage of folks that thought he’d actually win the G1, and instead he didn’t even manage to finish .500. Since the start of his year with the all-time classic match with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom (which still holds on to my MOTY slot, even after this tournament) where he came so close to defeating The King of Strong Style and then winning the New Japan Cup in February, his momentum has really greatly slowed down, and grinded to a halt here. It looks like he’ll be facing Makabe for the NEVER title in the near future, which is a big fall for a guy who seemed almost locked for a top 2 match at WK10 as of April.
Then, we have the single biggest individual booking misstep of the entire tour. It was a decision that should probably disqualify Gedo from consideration as Booker of the Year alone because it just makes that little sense. On night 16 of the G1, Tomoaki Honma took on Tomohiro Ishii in a rematch of their instant classic NEVER title match from the New Beginning in Sendai where Honma came so close to finally winning gold. Tomoaki’s story of losing every single match in the 2014 G1 Climax and every single match in the 2015 G1 Climax thus far had been building up to this match. And in the rematch, he finally broke his 17 match G1 losing streak by defeating Ishii in an excellent match, and his well-earned victory was one of the best moments I’ve seen in wrestling. Sounds great, right?
Cut to Day 18, where Honma took on Yujiro Takahashi, arguably the single least over performer in New Japan Pro Wrestling, who had the worst match of the night on every B Block show of the tour but one (vs. Michael Elgin). Surely after Tomoaki’s massively important victory over Ishii, that victory wouldn’t be immediately undercut as a total fluke by a loss to a loser like Takahashi, would it? Oh, it would. It’s a decision that truly helped no one, and only did damage. It does nothing for Takahashi, because now Honma is just a fluke, so a win over him is meaningless. It does nothing for Ishii because he lost for no reason. And worst of all, it completely cuts the knees out from Honma. Booking decisions are always the worst when the only thing they do is actively damage someone’s stock without helping someone else’s. Simply terrible. It’s not as though Honma was going to move up the card in some sustainable way permanently, as talented as he can be, but this win absolutely should have been a launching point for a winning streak to Wrestle Kingdom where he wrestled at least for the NEVER title, and then after a valiant defeat, goes back to the lovable loser he’s always been. There’s no reason to just have the moment and immediately waste it, because at a certain point, you’re just unable to care about his matches, which is a shame, as he’s one of their best performers.
Then we come to my personal favorite performer in New Japan. The key thing about having Shibata as your favorite is that you really have to understand that it’s going to take a long time, if ever, for New Japan to forgive him for leaving when they were at their nadir to fight in MMA, and coming back once the promotion started to heat back up, and just accept that he’s going to be a respected midcarder, and that’s it. It’s probably not a smart move for them given how over he’s become, but it is what it is. But even still, I’d hoped after his 4-1 start that he wouldn’t flame out quite as spectacularly as he did, by losing his last 4 matches in a row and ending up under .500. On the positive side, it seems like his big wins, and his performance in general have still kept him very over with the crowd, who absolutely lost their shit for his hot tag against Naito in Sumo Hall on the final night, and were hanging on his every move. I think that sequence might have been the loudest reaction of the night outside of the Main Event. The feud with Naito, while not for a title, at least seems extremely hot. Even though it’s obvious Shibata will be putting Naito over in the feud given their positions in the company right now, it will still likely produce great matches, and that’s really all I ask as a fan of Shibata. He doesn’t need gold. I just want him to get opportunities to put on show stealing matches, like he did at Dominion against Sakuraba, and for much of the G1. Hopefully he at least gets that coming out of this tournament.
Finally, one of the more surprising results was Karl Anderson tying for the fourth most points in the tournament. Given that he seems solidly established as a tag team guy, and pretty much always holds that belt, it seems bizarre that he’d have more points than upper midcarders like Ibushi, Naito, Shibata, or Ishii and tied with guys like Styles, and Goto. The only logic I can see for it in my head is that maybe they’re going to begin to push toward what the crowd seems to be making clear that it wants, which is a babyface turn for AJ Styles after yet another tremendous G1 performance by the Phenomenal One. He even saw pretty heavy cheers at the outset over Okada on the night of the finals in the six man tag. If they do turn AJ, then Anderson would likely have to step into the breach as the Bullet Club top singles guy, unless they bring in someone like Roderick Strong or Adam Cole from Ring of Honor, or dissolve the stable (which they won’t likely do, due to the merch money it brings in).
Performers of the tournament:
Tetsuya Naito: Naito has to be in the top spot here, without a doubt. Los Ingobernables Naito has been a highlight during almost every A Block show, and even often with some of his interactions in the lower card tags during the B Block shows. He delivered huge in his matches against Tanahashi and Shibata, and even managed to get a surprising amount of very good matches out of the bottom half of A block.
Katsuyori Shibata: It seems clear from his results in the tournament that Shibata is what he is in New Japan, after starting strong with a 4-1 record and flaming out with 4 straight losses in the back half, but that doesn’t change that he was absolutely outstanding in the tournament. His matches with Tanahashi, Naito, and Ibushi were three of the best of the tournament, and his match with Styles was very good as well, and, like Naito, he did fantastic work dragging something watchable out of the bottom half of the bracket on a consistent basis.
Michael Elgin: The second biggest breakout star of the tournament behind Naito, and no doubt the MVP of B Block. I can’t imagine even arguing for someone else. His match with Ishii was one of the absolute best of the tournament, and by extension, the year in general, and I’d argue that he got Anderson, Takahashi, Goto, and Ishii’s best matches of the tournament (and he wrestled one less match than everyone else due to Nakamura’s injury). He took someone who couldn’t stand him from his work in Ring of Honor and totally converted me with these performances. Hopefully he either brings this side of himself back to ROH or gets a full-time New Japan deal, because not seeing the new and improved "#BIGMIKE" anymore would be a tragedy of the highest order.
Hiroshi Tanahashi: Generally, aside from the match with Fale, where Tanahashi got a really good match out of him, the other 4 (Styles, Shibata, Naito, and Ibushi) did much better getting something out of the bottom half of the field in the A block, but Tanahashi still belongs in the top five for having 3 of the 5 best matches in the tournament opposite Nakamura, Shibata, and Naito (not to mention the matches against Ibushi and Styles that others loved even more than me, but I still thought were very good).
AJ Styles: His highs weren’t quite as high as Naito, Shibata, or Tanahashi outside of the Ibushi match, but what was really impressive about AJ during the tournament was the way he managed to really bring out the absolute best out of some of the lower half guys. After seeing Tanahashi and Ibushi desperately try to get something out of Tenzan to little avail, I thought no one would be able to, but AJ’s match with Tenzan was one of my sleeper favorites of the tournament. It was a really strong psychology based match that worked around Tenzan’s physical limitations. Similarly, Styles’ match with Toru Yano was the best of Yano’s career and managed to create a truly great match out of Yano’s schtick and shenanigans. And finally, the absurdist farce of his match with Bad Luck Fale was a real highlight during the worst night of the G1. Hell, he was actually even the best part of a match he wasn’t involved in with Anderson v. Takahashi.
A few honorable mentions:
Kota Ibushi: His matches with Styles and Shibata were two of the best of the tournament, his matches with Tanahashi and Naito were both really strong as well, and he did a great job bumping like a maniac to try and get the matches with Fale, Gallows and Makabe over.
Toru Yano: Yano was a sneaky (unsurprising that it was sneaky, it’s Yano) good performer in this G1, who may not have produced great matches (aside from the AJ match), but certainly produced a lot of really fun ones. He’s really got his schtick down to a science at this point. Having the kind of change of pace Yano provides is underrated in a long tournament like this.
Shinsuke Nakamura: If you watched the full tournament, you really get a great picture of the complete, and often frustrating, nature of Shinsuke Nakamura. The majority of the time, he’s merely ‘good’ in the ring and hopes the persona, entrance, and charisma can carry him through, but you can see in his last two matches in the tournament why we always put up with the times when he doesn’t come across like he’s giving the full effort. When he absolutely needs to deliver in the real big match, whether it’s a Dome Show, the G1 semifinals/finals, or similar really big spots, there’s pretty much no one on planet Earth better than he is.
Yuji Nagata: First and foremost, for his match with Kazuchika Okada on Day 16. The truth is, Okada may be the young future Ace, but Nagata absolutely carried that match. His performance in that match as the "cruel stubborn old man" that Okada had never faced was really fantastic. His limbo training callback to dodge a clothesline was one of my favorite little moments of the tournament and was one of the little touches that really made that match special. Additionally, his long form selling of the ribs from match to match after the Yujiro match really elevated all the rest of Nagata’s matches from that point forward by adding a good in-match story throughline.
Yujiro Takahashi: Even though you knew he’d be in the tournament before the field was announced, it never stopped being frustrating that he was every single time he had a match. After watching this many matches in this short a span I feel comfortable calling him not only the worst worker in New Japan, but one of the worst in the world this year. And it’s doubly tragic, because fellow Bullet Club member Tama Tonga remained on the sidelines yet again, even though a case could be made, depending on your feelings on the Bucks, that he’s the second best worker in the entire stable, and consistently put in good work in the lower card tag matches, and didn’t even get the YOSHI-HASHI ‘atta boy’ showcase singles match on the final night.
Doc Gallows: Gallows was really bad in this tournament. Ibushi seemed to get the most out of him, and even that match was really just ok. He and Takahashi were by far the worst in the tournament. At least Fale and Tenzan were able to get carried some of the time. Plus, a couple of his wins were the most frustrating of the tournament.
20 Must Watch Matches of the G1 Climax 25:
Night 1: Katsuyori Shibata v. AJ Styles
Night 1: Kota Ibushi v. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Night 3:Tetsuya Naito v. Katsuyori Shibata
Night 3: AJ Styles v. Toru Yano
Night 5: AJ Styles v. Kota Ibushi
Night 5:Tetsuya Naito v. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Night 7:Katsuyori Shibata v. Kota Ibushi
Night 8:Michael Elgin v. Tomoaki Honma
Night 11: Tetsuya Naito v. Kota Ibushi
Night 13:AJ Styles v. Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Night 13: Katsuyori Shibata v. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Night 14: Michael Elgin v. Karl Anderson
Night 14: Hirooki Goto v. Tomohiro Ishii
Night 16: Michael Elgin v. Hirooki Goto
Night 16: Yuji Nagata v. Kazuchika Okada
Night 16: Tomoaki Honma v. Tomohiro Ishii
Night 17: AJ Styles v. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Night 18: Michael Elgin v. Tomohiro Ishii
Night 18: Shinsuke Nakamura v. Kazuchika Okada
Finals: Shinsuke Nakamura v. Hiroshi Tanahashi
I don’t feel comfortable ordering them in general since I haven’t had a chance to watch the second half back just yet since I wanted to get this up quickly, but I’m comfortable with these as the top 20.
Like the G1 does, it produced a lot of very good, and many genuinely great matches, and definitely elevated the Most Outstanding Wrestler candidacies for guys like Naito, Shibata, and Tanahashi who didn’t have a high volume of great matches before the tournament, but have top tier resumes now.
I think the winner was the right one given what they did at WK9, but I think the real problem with the tournament is that they seemed to do a poor job handling their upper midcarders, continuing to stratify Okada, Nakamura, Tanahashi, and Styles at the top and didn’t do enough to really elevate even one of Ibushi, Naito, or Shibata in any meaningful way. The fact that the final four in contention is the exact big four in New Japan really sums up how chalk heavy the tournament was by the end. At the very least, guys like Naito and Ibushi should have been fighting for the victory on the last night even if they fell short.
The field also is starting to feel a bit stagnant. The tournament could use a shake-up of some kind next year as some of the matchups are getting a bit stale, a few performers have seen their better days pass them by (aside from a few couple matches where they turned the clock back), and a couple are simply not very good to start with. There’s a reason that guys like Elgin and Naito were so exciting, because either their presence in the case of Elgin or their character in the case of Naito felt fresh and new.
Overall, even with those caveats it was still a thoroughly enjoyable tournament, especially in the A Block, with the five top end guys trading great match after great match with one another, but the B Block was disappointing outside of #BIGMIKE’s tour-de-force, which keeps this year’s tournament from being considered truly great on the level with the last 2 G1s. With that being said, I definitely enjoyed waking up for the shows throughout, because I love watching great wrestling, and there was a lot of great wrestling here and would strongly recommend at the very least the 20 matches I listed, plus a few others that commenters will surely mention that they may have loved more than I did.
Coming up in the next couple of months for New Japan are the two ‘Destruction’ events, delineated by where they take place, Destruction in Kobe on September 23 and Destruction in Okayama on September 27. Then on October 12, we’ll see one of New Japan’s next big shows, King of Pro Wrestling, which is on the level with Invasion Attack. Given that there are two PPVs coming up in the next 2 months, it’s still a bit unclear where each match is going to happen, but generally, they’ve set up a lot of feuds that seem like they will continue coming out of the tournament.
When it comes to the IWGP Championship, three people have a claim to a title shot against Okada. First there’s Nakamura, who beat him heads up in the match to determine who would go to the G1 Final. I do not think we’ll see Nakamura get a title shot just yet. I could see that one coming after WK10 if it’s going to happen. Then you have AJ Styles, who pinned Okada clean with the Clash in the six man on Finals night, and was the man Okada defeated to win the title at Dominion, and Styles has not yet had a rematch. I could definitely see AJ getting a title shot in the near future at Destruction or KOPW. Finally, we have Hirooki Goto, the IC champion who has expressed talk of showing that the IC title is just as good as the IWGP Championship (man, that story has been getting around… Jay Lethal is a real trend setter) and defeated Okada for Okada’s only loss in the G1 other than the loss to Nakamura. He also seems in line for a title shot before Wrestle Kingdom. I think given that it is champion vs. champion, it seems plausible that they do Okada/AJ at one of the Destruction shows and Okada/Goto at the bigger KOPW event before he faces Genichiro Tenryu (!) in November, and Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, but the order could certainly be reversed with Goto and AJ.
Now, speaking of Goto, we come to the Intercontinental Championship. Goto was defeated in the tournament by Karl Anderson, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Yuji Nagata. Anderson is still a tag team champion, and I don’t see him becoming a double champion anytime soon, so he’s likely out. Then you have Shinsuke Nakamura, but they’ve had 3 matches in the past few months, it’s too soon for another. Finally, you have Yuji Nagata, and he seems most likely to be the next challenger. I could see him facing Goto at Destruction setting Goto up for the Champion v. Champion match at King of Pro Wrestling.
Finally, we have the NEVER championship. This one seems to have an obvious direction based on the last couple nights of the G1, where it’s clear that Makabe and Ibushi had issues, and Ibushi defeated Makabe heads up in the G1 tournament. That feud will almost certainly continue at Destruction.
In terms of non-title related feuds, the one I’m most excited about is Naito and Shibata. Naito and Shibata have been at each other’s throats since their match in the G1 and in multiple subsequent tag team matches. The absolutely no nonsense persona of Shibata has paired quite well with the absolutely all nonsense persona of Los Ingobernables Naito, producing one of the best matches of the G1 with the pair and a lot of fun interactions in these tag matches where Shibata looks ready to kill Naito.
And now, with the G1 in the books, it’s time to go get some sleep…