We’ve run our of superlatives to describe what is happening in New Japan Pro Wrestling. New Japan’s 2012 was one of the greatest years New Japan has ever had, and with a quarter of the year to go, New Japan in 2013 may already be the singular greatest year any promotion has ever had, period.
The 2013 G1 Climax has been so good, that before these finals even took place, the tournament had already produced three Show of the Year contenders and no less than five serious Match of the Year contenders. Throw in January’s Wrestle Kingdom (lauded at the time by some as possibly the best top to bottom wrestling show ever), and April’s Invasion Attack, and New Japan may sweep the top five shows of the year worldwide. Others shows that wouldn’t even crack New Japans top five, such as Dominion, would easily rate as the best show of just about any other promotion on the planet.
Coming into the final night, nine of the twenty competitors were still alive and had a chance to advance to the finals. The withdrawals of Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hirooki Goto due to injury complicated the intricate booking to the point that we’ll never know how exactly it was supposed to turn out, but regardless of the multiple forfeit wins handed out which likely changed some plans, the standings and the rebooked match order still led to tons of drama as the show progressed.
1. Block B: Yujiro Takahashi (8) vs Yuji Nagata (8) – Both men were essentially eliminated before the result. There were a bunch of wacky tie breaker scenarios for Yujiro to advance with a win, but they were highly unlikely. Nagata could also get to 10, but I believe there were no tie breakers he could win. At least none that I had the patience to figure out. So I figured going in that Nagata would win, if for nothing else to simplify things. And he did, after making a frenetic comeback after Yujiro took most of the match. By the end of this, Nagata was spitting blood like the Great Muta spits red mist, which made for some visual. This eliminated Yujiro, and also kept Naito alive (more on that later). ***
2. Minoru Suzuki (10) vs Toru Yano (6) – A Suzuki win would put him in the finals, which logically meant he was losing because they weren’t going to wrap up Block B this early. This is the drawback of the round robin format, but i’m sure the injuries didn’t help matters. Suzuki attacked before the bell and killed Yano on he outside. He wrapped Yano’s leg in the railing and did a running kick, then slid in trying for the count out win but Yano made it back at 19. He worked over the leg forever back on the inside, and the crowd was hot for every submission because they knew he could wrap up the block with a win. He went for the Gotch Piledriver, but Yano held on to the ref. Suzuki got frustrated, let it go and went after the ref. Yano tried to sneak attack him, but Suzuki hit a mule kick and went for a quick small package for a 2.9 that popped the crowd. Yano went for two roll ups, but Suzuki kicked out of both and hit his dropkick. He slapped Yano hard to the face, and went for the choke. Yano pulled his legs out form under him, and sat down for the pin in a creative finish. Suzuki needed a ton of help to advance now, and the loss put Anderson in control of his own destiny. The crowd took this from a good match to a really good match. ***1/2
3. Block B: Shelton Benjamin (8) vs Shinsuke Nakamura (10) – With the Suzuki loss, Nakamura was in the finals with a win and an Anderson loss. Benjamin could get to 10 and cause tie breaker chaos if Naito beat Anderson, which would put Naito in the finals because he would hold wins over all five other men with 10. The question, is would they tease Nakamura or Anderson with a Nakamura win, or have it become a do or die for Anderson against Naito with a Benjamin win. Got all that? Adding to the intrigue was that Nakamura & Benjamin are feuding over the IC title, with Nakamura winning the singles match, and Benjamin scoring a pin in a tag. So they were (sorta) 1-1 coming into this. Anyway, the match was pretty damn good with great back & forth action. Nakamura missed a Boma Ye, but recovered to hit one off the middle turnbuckle. He went up top for a top rope version, but Benjamin met him there for his leaping T-bone.
Benjamin hit a Blockbuster for two. Big pop as people bought that as a finish. He used his ankle lock, and Nakamura fought like death to break it. Nakamura escaped, came in for a Boma Ye, and got caught in the Paydirt. Shelton wins, so they went with teasing the massive tie which would advance Naito, against Anderson winning the block outright. Again, this was a good match that the crowd bumped up a level. Great closing stretch and sets up another IC title match. ****
4. Block B: Karl Anderson (10) vs Tetsuya Naito (8) – All of the Block B confusion came down to a pretty simple resolution. The winner advances. Crowd was behind Naito strongly. Anderson worked him over early, and thankfully for all of us he didn’t focus on the knee. I don’t know if somebody had a chat with Naito, but they abandoned having his matches revolve around the knee after the second or third show, which was smart whether by design or not because he can’t sell the knee for shit (EDIT – I write these things as I watch. Clearly I spoke too soon. You’ll see why later). Anyway, Anderson worked a vicious looking ground & pound spot into his attack, and controlled this for a long time. Naito made his comeback and missed a Stardust Press. Naito went for a top rope hurricanrana, and Anderson escaped by BITING HIS LEG. That was great. Anderson hit a Stun Gun from the tope rope, but Naito kicked out. Naito kicked out of a piledriver. Crowd was amped. They traded nearfalls, and Naito reversed a Stun Gun attempt. Naito wrapped up Anderson in a Koji Clutch type submission move, and the crowd went…mild. The move in not over. Unfortunately, that was the finish, as Anderson tapped. So flat at the end. So, Naito advances on tie breakers. Even though I predicted that, I wasn’t happy with it because Naito has not had a great tournament. ***3/4
5. Block A: Davey Boy Smith Jr (10) vs Lance Archer (6) – The battle of Killer Elite Squad, with Archer playing spoiler, because a DBS win combined with a Shibata loss would put DBS in the finals. This was a lot of fun. These guys were pounding each other and going nose to nose. Archer broke out his rope walk for the first time in the tournament.
DBS used a belly to belly but only got a one count. He used the sharpshooter, but it was too early and nobody bought it. I also sensed the crowd was a bit work out from the previous matches, and no babyface to pull for here. Archer did a moonsault but landed on Davey’s legs. That didn’t look good. Archer went for a Blackout off the top, but Davey slipped it and hit a Tiger Suplex for two.
Archer came back with a full nelson bomb. Crowd was hurting this as they were working hard. DBS hit a powerbomb for two. DBS teased a dive to the outside, but Archer recovered in time to knock him from his perch into a seated position. Archer laid in with some vicious strikes, and hit the Blackout out of the corner for the win. This eliminated Smith. Good match, but tired crowd hurt it. ***
6. Block A: Prince Devitt (8) vs Togi Makabe (10) – Devitt was eliminated and playing spoiler. Makabe needed to win to stay alive. Devitt wore a wolfman mask and mocked Makabe by pounding his chest after he attacked him pre bell. That was awesome. This had two ref bumps, the second of which forced the ref to be helped to the back.
The usual chaos & Fale interference ensued. Crowd was white hot for all of this. There was no ref for several minutes until Red Shoes showed up. By that point Fale had hit the thumb thrust, so Devitt used the Bloody Sunday and eliminated Makabe. ***1/2
7. Block A: Kazuchika Okada (9) vs Satoshi Kojima (6) – At this point with Makabe & Smith losing, the Tanahashi/Shibata winner would advance. But Okada could advance with a win and a Tanahashi/Shibata draw. So this match still had some meaning. Give Gedo & Jado serious credit for some savvy booking, especially considering the two injuries presumably mucking things up. LOUD Okada chant, but they liked Kojima, too. Intense from the start, with Kojima looking like he intended to finish off his somewhat surprising run of good matches with another solid effort. Kojima used Tenzan’s Mongolian chops, which was really cool and had the crowd chanting “Ten-zan! Ten-zan!”.
Somehow I lost my notes on this, but there was too much cool stuff to list anyway. Just a great, great match, with the crowd on absolute fire the entire time. Kojima won it with a HUGE lariat, and he wrapped up what might end up being his final great G1, if not his final G1, period. If so, he leaves on a high note with a string of great matches. This eliminated Okada officially. ****1/4
8. Block A: Katsuyori Shibata (10) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (9) – Winner faces Naito. Have they tipped the finishes by all of a sudden securing the rights to Shibata’s theme music? It was also amusing, that from the KES match onward, the crowd gasped each time they failed to break for intermission and went right to the next match. Dueling chants to start off, and a hard, and I mean HARD slap by Shibata. Tanahashi return fired with a weak one. Tanahashi avoided some dangerous looking kicks and bailed out of the ring. The Wrestler worked his wrestling and mopped the mat with Tanahashi. Figure four, and they traded slaps from that position. Tanahashi took a real beating in this.
The finish was a shocker, as Shibata went for the Go 2 Sleep, but got reversed into a small package. Tanahashi moves on with 11 points, and I was stunned. Good, but not long enough to be really great. ****
9. Kota Ibushi, Akebono, Kazushi Sakuraba vs YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Takashi Iizuka – They added Ibushi & Ishii to this since they had no G1 opponents on this night due to the injuries. Iizuka went after the announcer, and spray painted his face. Saku saved him off, but ate the railing for his trouble. The announcer was irate, carrying on shirtless with a silver face and screaming about the paint. Heh.
The ring cleared out for Ibushi & Ishii, who traded strikes. Ibushi ended the sequence with a nice dropkick.
During all this Iizuka went after the announcer again and decked him with a kick. Ibsuhi & Ishii traded more elbows, and Ibushi got the better of the strikes which set the crowd off into a frenzy. He hit a standing SSP into a second rope moonsault for two. Ishii took Ibushi’s head off with a lariat. The other four men were brawling around the ring, which was great, because Ibushi vs Ishii is all anybody cared about anyway. YOSHI-HASHI tagged in and the match grinded to a halt. Act surprised. Ibushi hot tagged Akebono who did a great job cleaning house. In came Saku, who missed a double stomp by about a foot on HASHI. I love Saku, but he’s a dreadful pro wrestler and probably the worst guy on the roster, and keep in mind this roster includes YOSHI-HASHI. Iizuka tried to use his iron fingers, but Ibushi cleaned house, clearing the way for Saku to tap out HASHI. This was way better than it had any right to be, considering Saku, YOSHI-HASHI, & Iizuka were in it. They focused on Ibushi vs Ishii which was smart. Pretty hot tag match. ***3/4
10. G1 Final: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito – I wasn’t thrilled about Naito making it here, because he’s been so underwhelming. If anybody can get something out of him, it’s Tanahashi. Nothing of note in the first 10 minutes. Tanhashi drop kicked the bad knee. Oh no. High Fly Flow to the outside flattened Naito.
Dragon screw over the middle rope. Texas cloverleaf attempt, but Niato made the ropes. Magically, Naito’s knee was fine and he was running around and doing shining wizards. C’mon man. They did a long elbow exchange (long), and then Naito badly mistimed a flying forearm. Ugh. Hey look, his knee hurts again. I’ve come to the conclusion I just don’t like Naito. Very overrated. Tanahashi went after the knee, and Naito came back with some hard slaps. Straight jacket German, slingblade, and a missed HFF by Tanahashi. Naito used the Gloria, but missed a Stardust Press. Two dragon screws & another Texas cloverleaf by Tanahashi. God, I wanted a tap. He made the ropes. Naito used his Koji Clutch type submission thingy, and Tanahashi did the two arm drop before making the ropes. Naito suddenly stopped limping again, and flew up the ropes to do a hurricanrana from the top, which Tanahashi reversed beautifully into a Styles Clash. He then hit a HFF across Naito’s back, and went for another but Naito got the knees up. Crowd was on fire. Naito, the “genius”, remembered to grab his knee after using it to counter the HFF. Dropkick to the knee by Tanahashi, but Naito hit him with his own slingblade, and used a dragon suplex for two. Another Gloria, and the Stardust Press for the win. This match had its flaws, but Tanahashi worked his ass off (and yeah, Naito did too even though i’m not a fan of his stuff), it was very dramatic, and had off the charts crowd heat. I’m sure others will like it a lot more than I did. ****
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