Get Into This: The Layman’s Guide To New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax

Welcome back for Part 4 of Get Into This, the official WithSpandex introduction to New Japan Pro Wrestling!  As a reminder, here are your links to Part 1 (general info), Part 2 (the heavyweight roster), and Part 3 (the junior heavyweight roster).  Today’s installment is a pretty big deal, because I’ll be covering one of the biggest tournaments not just in NJPW, but in all of professional wrestling.  SummerSlam might call itself the biggest party of the summer, but this one might be even bigger.  Welcome to the world of G1 Climax!

(Please note: GIFs via SquaredCircle subreddit.)

What is G1 Climax?

It’s a tournament held annually by New Japan.  It’s been happening since 1974 under various names and formats.  The current format is round-robin.  There are two groups of wrestlers, with each competitor facing off with everyone else in the group once each.  A win is worth two points, a draw is worth one, and a loss gets you nothing.  The champions of each group wrestle a final match to determine the big winner.  Originally called the World League, NJPW founder Antonio Inoki is a 10-time winner of the tournament.  The prize for the victor has also varied over the years – as of now, it’s a guaranteed heavyweight title shot at Wrestle Kingdom.  More on that later.

Other than Inoki, are there other tournament victors who stand out?

You bet!  Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Vader are all G1 winners that probably ring a bell with American wrestling audiences.

Cool.  So, what do I need to know about this year’s tournament?

With 22 wrestlers, this G1 tournament is the biggest in history.  Also, the tournament finals received a BIG venue upgrade, going from the 13,000-seat Ryogoku Sumo Hall to the 18,000-seat Seibu Dome.

Nice!  So, when is it?

When WAS it, you mean.


The tournament ended late Saturday night (in America, at least).

Aw, man!  So this is more of a recap, then?

Yep!  I’ll walk you through some of the big stories of this year’s G1.  Let me go ahead and show you the roster first.  Remember to consult Part 2 of Get Into This if you need a refresher on any of these guys!

Block A:

  • Hiroshi Tanahashi.  The high-flying ace, unfairly compared to John Cena.
  • Satoshi Kojima.  Master of lariats, current NWA World Tag Team Champion.
  • Yuji Nagata.  “Blue Justice,” the man immune to aging.
  • Tomoaki Honma.  Heartbreaking loser, can’t stop doing diving headbutts.
  • Katsuyori Shibata.  Punishing striker, basically the Davey Richards of Japan.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura.  The King of Strong Style, coolest man in Japan and several other countries.
  • Tomohiro Ishii.  Underrated workhorse, capable of absorbing tons of punishment.
  • Shelton Benjamin.  Invading American star, making his third G1 appearance.
  • Davey Boy Smith, Jr.  Just like Benjamin, he’s an outsider representing Suzukigun.
  • Doc Gallows.  Current IWGP Tag Team Champion, and one of five Bullet Club members in the field.
  • Bad Luck Fale.  Current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, the “Underboss” of Bullet Club.

Block B:

  • Togi Makabe.  The Unchained King Kong, specializing in brawling.
  • Hirooki Goto.  Shibata’s running buddy, and a former G1 champion in his own right.
  • Tetsuya Naito.  Last year’s G1 winner, now riding an arrogant streak that the fans love to boo.
  • Hiroyoshi Tenzan.  Kojima’s NWA Tag Team Champion partner, and a three-time G1 winner.
  • Kazuchika Okada.  The Rainmaker, looking to reclaim his heavyweight championship.
  • Toru Yano.  Wily prankster, trying to sell his DVDs with every breath.
  • Minoru Suzuki.  Maniacal former shootfigter, hates Yano’s guts.
  • Lance Archer.  One of Suzuki’s henchmen, returning to the United States later this month to kill my editor.
  • AJ Styles.  Current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, leader of Bullet Club.
  • Yujiro Takahashi.  Another Bullet Club crony, high sleaze factor.
  • Karl Anderson.  IWGP Tag Team Champion partner of Gallows, rounding out the Bullet Club contingent.

Now then, let’s start at the beginning, with the unlikely rise of Shelton Benjamin…

Benjamin started the tournament pretty hot, huh?

That’d be an understatement.  He won his first four matches of the tournament, jumping out to an early lead in Block A.  Ultimately, he couldn’t keep up the momentum and ended up only winning one of his remaining six matches.  Still, a gaijin winning so decisively was enough to make people sit up and pay attention during the early rounds.

Speaking of outsiders, was Bullet Club a big threat here?

I would say so.  If AJ Styles or one of his minions could win the G1 Climax, his title would be in no immediate danger.  Five Bullet Club members seemed like a pretty stacked deck, but AJ was really the only one with a legit shot at the tournament victory.  On the final day of round-robin competition, he was one of the four wrestlers with enough points to contend for the final, along with Okada (Block B), Tanahashi, and Nakamura (Block A).  However, a clutch victory over Minoru Suzuki and a Day 1 victory over Styles would send Okada to the Seibu Dome as Block B’s winner.  In Block A, Tanahashi suffered an upset loss to Davey Boy Smith, Jr. (of all people), meaning that Nakamura would be advancing.

Well, that sounds like the best possible outcome.

It really was.  Okada versus Nakamura for New Japan’s biggest tournament… the fans are the real winners, if you ask me.  To the Seibu Dome!  (SPOILERS FOLLOW, duh.)

Obviously it wasn’t just Okada vs. Nakamura on the card – what else happened during the show?

A few opening matches that showcased a lot of the Bullet Club and Suzukigun guys kicked things off.  Later, there were quite a few special guests.  As I previously wrote about, Jeff Jarrett showed up to promote Global Force Wrestling.  Also, Ring of Honor brought some talent over.  Adam Cole and Mike Bennett (accompanied by Maria Kanellis) were in a tag team match against Jushin “Thunder” Liger and Captain New Japan.  Just in case you’ve ever wondered what Captain New Japan’s greatest weakness is…

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Needless to say, the Ring of Honor guys won that one.  Then, Time Splitters defended their IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team titles against the Ring of Honor team reDRagon – Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish.  All four of these wrestlers are great, and they put on a really entertaining match.  Time Splitters successfully defended their titles via a KUSHIDA submission.  Oh, and WRESTLE KINGDOM 9 was announced!

You’ve mentioned Wrestle Kingdom… what exactly is that?

Well, it’s sort of New Japan’s answer to WrestleMania, except Flo Rida doesn’t show up to shove midcarders.  It takes place on January 4 of every year inside the world-famous Tokyo Dome.  In recent years, Wrestle Kingdom has started to feel like it’s truly approaching the scale and importance of something like WrestleMania, even if attendance only maxes out at about 35,000.

Gotcha.  What else happened before the tournament final?

Tomoaki Honma got a shot at redemption.  One of the big stories of this year’s G1 was his losing streak during the round-robin matches.  He wound up going 0-10, but people can’t help but rally behind him, so he was a crowd favorite going into his match with Tetsuya Naito.  Unfortunately, he came up short again.  It’s interesting to see how this will push the character of both wrestlers.  Naito has begun to embrace the role of entitled, jerkass heel, while Honma ends up becoming more popular with every loss.  He’s like Negative Zack Ryder.

Tomohiro Ishii had a match with Karl Anderson, which got a little sketchy when it looked like Ishii suffered a legit arm injury.  Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata then had a Wrestle Kingdom 8 rematch.  If you recall, I said during Part 2 of this series that their match at WK8 is one of my favorite matches of this year.  THIS installment, however, fell a bit flat for me.  It felt unnecessary in the narrative sense.  It made all the sense in the world back in January – Goto was returning from injury and needed to prove to the world that he could still hack it, so his opponent had to be his best friend and toughest foe.  They re-earned each other’s respect, started teaming together, and now… well, now what?  They’re enemies again?  They’re both great at what they do, but I prefer the original to the sequel.

And then it was on to the G1 final matches, right?

Correct.  The third-place consolation bout was up first.  AJ Styles versus Hiroshi Tanahashi, non-title match.  This was a lot of fun to watch.  AJ actually insisted that the rest of Bullet Club stay away from the ring during the match, so we actually got a fair fight.

Did the NJPW production team make any hilarious errors on AJ’s entrance video?


WOW.  But it was a good match?

Heck yes!  I’m not saying I’m ready to run out and buy customized gloves yet, but I’m confident in stating my belief that AJ is doing the best work of his life in New Japan.  Maybe it’s because the caliber of the NJPW roster is pushing him to excel, maybe it’s that he’s finally having fun away from the eternally broken carnival ride that is TNA.  Or maybe it’s neither of those things.  Again, I’m not looking for Phenomenal One Fanclub membership here, I’m just admitting that this is a big improvement for him.  Either way, Tanahashi picked up the win by countering the Styles Clash into a roll-up.  And then… something weird happened.  Bullet Club came out and ganged up on Tanahashi, but Jeff Jarrett ran to the ring, fresh off his Global Force Wrestling appearance.  You may know where this is headed.

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I won’t lie to you… in the moment, I popped pretty hard for this.  But looking back on it, there is absolutely no reasonable endgame to Jeff Jarrett joining up with Bullet Club.  If it’s just a one-off thing, then it’s silly.  If it’s setting up something long-term, then the founder of Global Force is now aligned with the top heels IN A DIFFERENT PROMOTION.  Plus, the whole thing smacks of the NWO.  More specifically, late NWO.  The NWO where everyone and their cousin was a member.  Hell, I think I was in the NWO for two weeks back in 2000, and I was a WWF kid.

All right, let’s move on from that swiftly.  Time for the main event, right?

Yes indeed, and I’m happy to say it was worth the wait.  EVERYTHING about Okada and Nakamura just clicked.  Sometimes wrestling just comes down to two skilled people stopping time in its tracks and being masters of their craft, and this was one of those times.  Plus, this was just downright fun to watch.  I love that Goto/Shibata match from January, but it’s almost scary how stiff it is.  This had the same intensity-meets-respect vibe, but it got me pumped up rather than nervous.  Goto/Shibata is a documentary about MMA, and Okada/Nakamura is a summer action movie.  Both are gratifying, but there’s a tonal difference.  The crowd was rightfully losing their minds near the end, especially during the counter sequences.  Nakamura hit what might be the coolest counter I’ve ever seen in pro wrestling.  See, for those who don’t know, Okada’s finisher is the Rainmaker.  It’s a short-arm lariat that usually turns the victim inside-out like they just got hit by an anti-aircraft round.  So, my heart skipped several beats when THIS happened:

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I honestly would have been 100% happy with either man winning.  In the end, Okada needed THREE Rainmakers to score the pin on Nakamura and become a two-time G1 Climax winner.  Seek this awesome match out, because it has gone straight to my Match of the Year short-list.

So, Okada’s got his title shot – where do you think they go from here?

It’s difficult to say.  Styles could hold onto the title until Wrestle Kingdom, but that seems awfully far away.  If Bullet Club wants to get points back after bringing Double J into the fold, they would do well to start planting seeds of dissent between Okada and Nakamura, making the rivalry start to turn less than friendly.  That’s just how I’d do it, though.  And with that, we’re closing the book on Get Into This!  Fear not, I’m still around to cover the big New Japan stories.  But as far as your introductory look at NJPW goes, I feel like I’ve laid a pretty solid foundation.  Go now, and watch more Japanese wrestling!  Become the most esoteric of your friends!  Or at least be that weirdo who hums Jushin Liger’s theme while you’re stuck in traffic.