With the 2015 edition of the G1 Climax kicking off this Sunday, NJPW’s streaming video service (NJPW World) wisely updated their mass collection of content to include the first 18 G1 Climax Finals (1991-2008). Best of all, NJPW World included them in a handy playlist making binge-watching easy!
Having only seen a few of these finals, I thought it would be a great idea to look back at a few and analyze the history, the build and the background of some of the finals. We’ll start off today looking at “The First Five”, the inaugural five G1 Climax finals running from 1991-1995. These matches feature some of wrestling greatest legends like Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta), Mr. August Masahiro Chono, New Japan legend Shinya Hashimoto as well as Hiroshi Hase, recent WWE Hall of Fame Tatsumi Fujinami and even WCW import “Ravishing” Rick Rude.
Before we begin, I wanted to remind you that Voices of Wrestling is hosting a free G1 Climax 25 Pick’Em contest (sponsored by IVPVideos.com). For details on how to participate, sign-up and prizes you could win, check out voicesofwrestling.com/g1climax25-signup.
NJPW G1 Climax 1991 – Finals
August 11, 1991
Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/p/at_0_g1_01_01/e/sp/789 (NJPW World Subscription Required)
Annual tournaments were not a new thing for New Japan Wrestling in 1991. In fact, New Japan has run an annual tournament since its inception in 1974. The former World League (74-77), the MSG League (78-82), International Wrestling Grand Prix League (83-88), 89’s World Cup Tournament all preceded 1991’s round-robin summer spectacular known as the G1 (Grade One) Climax.
The concept is largely unchanged from its inception — a round robin tournament featuring the company’s top heavyweight competitors. The winner of the two division square off in the tournament finals and a new G1 Climax champion is crown.
Traditionally, the winner of the tournament earns a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (provided they aren’t the champion at the moment). Both Keiji Mutoh (1995) and Kensuke Sasaki (2000) won the tournament while holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship while Kazuyuki Fujita (2005) and Yuji Nagata (2007) reached the final stage but were ultimately unsuccessful.
This leads us to the very first G1 Climax Finals: Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono from Tokyo’s Sumo Hall, August 1991. It’s remarkable just how young both men were at this time. After so many years of the old guard (well, Antonio Inoki) winning and dominating New Japan’s tournaments, it was a refreshing sight to see two bright-eyed youngsters competing for the crown — Chono, just 28 years old and Mutoh, 29.
Mutoh, at this point was still a New Japan mid-carder though he was relevant to the American fanbase after his stint with the National Wrestling Alliance in 1989 as The Great Muta. Of course I’m not privy to the betting lines for the 1991 G1 Climax, but I’m sure not many people were putting money on the 29-year-old to come out of his block which featured Scott Norton, Big Van Vader and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tatsumi Fujinami.
On the other side, Masahiro Chono was in a more favorable position. While he had to best rising star Shinya Hashimoto as well as “Crusher” Bam Bam Bigelow and New Japan booker Riki Choshu, Chono arguably came in with a higher chance of victory. Upon Chono’s return from excursion he was immediately putting in big spots, winning the IWGP Tag Team Championship and defeating the legendary Lou Thesz. Chono certainly wasn’t a made-man at this point but he was a good step ahead of the still un-pushed Mutoh.
Either way you slice it, the booking of the inaugural G1 Climax tournament was a genius move by Choshu. Not only did he selflessly go 0-3, putting over Chono, Hashimoto and Bigelow in the process but his idea of putting two young but dynamic midcarders in the finals paid off in a big way.
The match was spectacular, the atmosphere electric. In the end, it didn’t really matter who got the pinfall or submission (Chono won via pinfall), these were two made men (three if you count Hashimoto who tied Chono in points).
The feeling in and around the match was spectacular. TJ Hawke of the Old New Japan review blog put it perfectly in his review of the match:
“This really had the feeling of two titans battling it out to see which one was superior. The great part to me was that they managed to deliver an incredibly satisfying showdown here, while still managed to give the impression that nothing was settled. After watching this, you felt like either man could have won. Chono just hit his biggest move before Mutoh could connect on the moonsault.”
NJPW G1 Climax 1992 – Finals
August 12, 1992
Rick Rude vs. Masahiro Chono
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/p/at_0_g1_01_02/e/sp/789 (NJPW World Subscription Required)
2013 was a spectacular year for wrestling due in large part to the growing resurgence of New Japan Pro Wrestling and the prevalence of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and The Shield on WWE television. I’m on record as saying it was one of the best years in wrestling history with August 2013 being the best month in pro wrestling history.
With that said, 1992 may be the closest content. It seemed like nearly every promotion across the world was hitting on something, finding the right touch and producing great matches that have stood the test of time.
There may be no better example than the 1992 G1 Climax finals between 1991 champion Chono and WCW import Rick Rude. New Japan at the time had a working agreement with WCW and with WCW attempting to revive the NWA World Title, there was no better spot to determine said champion than the G1 Climax.
This brought a new dynamic to the G1 Climax as the winner would win one of the most prestigious titles in pro wrestling history. Sure, it was losing some (a lot) of its steam and it was a shell of its former self but there was still something to winning that NWA Title.
As a results of the added stipulation, the G1 Climax format changed from the round robin style of last year to a 16-man, single elimination tournament featuring the top dogs from New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as a number of WCW stars including Steve Austin, Barry Windham, Arn Anderson and of course, Rude.
After six straight sell outs at Tokyo’s Sumo Hall, the finals came down to Chono and Rude. Chono was victorious, winning consectuive G1 Climax crowns in addition to winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
The match is shockingly good, receiving ****½ stars from Dave Meltzer and very close to ***** for me. Again, TJ Hawke summed it up perfectly:
“They told a very simple story that clearly worked. Rude was mostly a step ahead of Chono all the way through this match. Every time that Chono looked to be on the verge of making a big comeback, Rude would cut him off yet again…This was basically the perfect example of how to execute the “slow burn” for maximum returns.”
Chono would hold the NWA Championship until January ‘93 when he dropped it, strangely enough, to IWGP Heavyweight Champion The Great Muta at the third WCW/NJPW Supershow. Muta would then lose the title to Barry Windham at February’s WCW SuperBrawl, Windham would himself lose it to Ric Flair at the 93 Beach Blast before the title was vacated when WCW officially left the National Wrestling Alliance.
Some guy named Shane Douglas was the next champion and I’ll assume he held the highly-regarded title for years to come.
NJPW G1 Climax 1993 – Finals
August 7, 1993
Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Hiroshi Hase
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/p/t_0_g1_01_03/e/sp/789 (NJPW World Subscription Required)
New Japan once again used the 16-man single elimination format from the prior years tournament but this year featured an exclusively Japan roster of talent.
After dominating the first two G1 Climax tournaments, Chono took a backseat to the legendary Tatsumi Fujinami (40 years old at the time), who defeated 32-year-old Hiroshi Hase to win the crown. The match was far less dynamic than the prior two G1 Climax finals though definitely stiffer by a large degree.
It was a solid match, don’t get me wrong but when matched up with the prior two, it lacked a certain something. A certain buzz, a certain feeling. You weren’t seeing a new generation emerge, you weren’t seeing the next in line for the top spot in New Japan. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, it absolutely was, but it felt like more of a formality than a finality. More of a showcase, rather than something that would revolutionize the company or have ramifications on the future. It wasn’t bad, you should still go watch it, but don’t expect epic.
“When you compare it to the epicness of the previous two G1 finals, this did not seem terribly impressive. Fujinami and Hase worked hard though, and the match was clearly quite good.” – TJ Hawke
NJPW G1 Climax 1994 – Finals
August 7, 1994
Masahiro Chono vs. Power Warrior (Kensuke Sasaki)
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/p/t_0_g1_01_04/e/sp/789 (NJPW World Subscription Required)
By this point, Chono has proven himself worthy of the “Mr. August” nickname reaching his third final in four years. It was an accomplishment worthy of a praise, but this match, well, wasn’t.
New Japan returned to the two block, round robin format for the 1994 G1 Climax with 12 competitors split amongst the blocks. Chono went through rival Mutoh, Choshu, Osamu Kido as well as native guests Yoshiaki Yatsu, Yoshiaki Fujiwara to reach the finals. Power Warrior, Sasaki’s Power & Paint persona used to team with Road Warrior Hawk as the Hell Raisers, went through a tough lineup besting Hase, Hashimoto, Fujinami as well as Shiro Koshinaka and Takayuki Iizuka (yes, it’s the Iizuka you’re thinking of).
The match, well, it occurred. I’ll let TJ Hawke tell the tale:
“For a few moments at the beginning, you might delude yourself into thinking that this match will be all about the fierce fighting. If the match stayed like that, we might have had a cool final to look back on. Instead, both guys worked in a methodical fashion with nothing of note or interest going on. By the time they turned it on late in the match, there was no reason left for anyone to care. Chono finally put me out of my misery with an (admittedly) awesome STF.”
I’m sure out of context this match would be good enough but when watched along with the three prior G1 Climax finals and watched with the context that it’s the freakin’ G1 CLIMAX FINALS, LET’S GO GUYS! Ugh. It’s really a boring, uselessly methodical match. Methodical isn’t inherently bad but when it’s utterly meaningless and leads to nothing. Yeah, you get the 1994 G1 Climax Finals. Oh well.
NJPW G1 Climax 1995 – Finals
August 15, 1995
Keiji Mutoh vs. Shinya Hashimoto
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/p/at_0_g1_01_05/e/sp/789 (NJPW World Subscription Required)
Now we’re talking! Both Mutoh and Hashimoto had proven themselves as stars of the promotion with Mutoh standing out as one of its pinnacle stars. He just had one more thing to accomplish: win a G1 Climax.
A few months prior to the finals, Mutoh defeated Hashimoto at the Fukuoka Dome to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. With momentum on his side, it looked like Mutoh would finally get his wish.
New Japan once again used the round-robin format, this time with eight-men total. Different though was a brand-new finals tournament where the top two scorers from each block would advance to a four-man mini tournament to determine the winner.
Mutoh beat Scott Norton in the semifinals while Hashimoto bested Mr. August Chono to solidify our main event.
The match, while not the spectacular nearly ***** affair that Mutoh/Chono or Chono/Rude was, is certainly worthy of being a G1 Climax Final. Mutoh does everything in his power to get the win, best of all, the crowd is 100% behind him popping huge for every single high-impact move and near-fall. In one of the coolest spots, Mutoh gets busted open on a DDT which leads him to rise up from the canvas and shake his head as to say “Yeah, you think this is going to stop me?”
The ending sequence is pure insanity as Hashimoto goes for a splash which Mutoh avoids. Mutoh tries for a moonsault but Hashimoto avoids. Mutoh hits a hurricanrana, then a moonsault but only gets a two count. Mutoh desperate as all hell to finally win a G1 Climax hits another moonsault as only he can to finally get the pinfall.
“The last ten/twelve minutes were a joy to watch” –TJ Hawke
Keep checking back as I continue my journey through the G1 Climax finals — in the meantime, be sure to sign up for our G1 Climax 25 Pick’Em contest at voicesofwrestling.com/g1climax25-signup and join the NJPW/G1 Climax discussion on our re-design/re-imagined forums: voicesofwrestling.com/forums.