NJPW’s G1 Climax season is here! For the past decade, it’s become a summer tradition among wrestling fans to follow the biggest tournament of the New Japan Pro Wrestling’s calendar. But how did it become one? To learn about that, we need to go back to 2013 and G1 Climax 23, the first time everyone in the world was able to watch the whole tour live in the comfort of their homes.
After surviving the Inokism era, New Japan established a new direction focused on young stars like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, with the team of Gedo & Jado in charge of the booking. The company started to gain momentum, and quickly became the undisputed number one promotion in their country. And then, they started to think about going international. At that time, Japanese wrestling was viewed by a huge portion of the Western fandom as something difficult to get into, given the poor access that they had to watch it aside from sketchy websites and torrents. How could New Japan build an audience in foreign territory? The first idea was an American tour. So in 2011, New Japan embarked on their first ever tour in the United States.
It failed miserably.
To the point that Jersey All Pro Wrestling, the promotion hosting the events, took such a financial blow that led to them doing only a show every year until their disappearance in 2018. Fortunately, the company founded by Antonio Inoki didn’t throw in the towel. They lost a battle, not the war. And sure enough, everything started to change at the start of 2012.
The first key factor was the return of young lion Kazuchika Okada. His first match back was at Wrestle Kingdom 6, taking on his also returning dojo rival YOSHI-HASHI in what was billed as “NEW JAPAN RESPIRATION: triumphant homecoming match.” It had nothing triumphant about it, but you could argue that Okada was dealt a bad hand.
First off, he was sent to TNA just as the company was basically taken hostage by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. That meant that he had little, if any, opportunity to even try. He spent most of his time doing a gimmick based on Kato, the Green Hornet’s sidekick, just the right way to handle a potential star. Then, he came back with what seemed like a bad gimmick for him. And to top it off, he was paired with YOSHI-HASHI and proceeded to have a terrible homecoming match. He showed no charisma, no confidence, and his moves had neither impact nor grace. The best way to sum up the match was the terrible and ridiculous early version of the Rainmaker that led to the victory.
Another major factor was the purchase of New Japan in late January of that same year. The card game company Bushiroad bought New Japan from Yuke’s, and with it came a new way to approach business that would eventually make the company the biggest and most profitable wrestling company in Japan. But for that, they needed new and marketable stars. And that’s where Okada comes into the fold again. He had challenged Tanahashi at the end of Wrestle Kingdom 6 to a perplexed response from the Tokyo Dome audience. Despite all of that, Gedo and Bushiroad seemed to agree that he was a potential star, and the emergence of one such star would make new fans interested, since they could be on the ground floor of his rise. The match against the ace took place at the aptly named The New Beginning show on February 12. In a stunning upset, Okada beat Tanahashi. This victory kick-started one of the most legendary rivalries in modern pro wrestling, one that would impact the company’s future success thanks to the drawing power and the attention garnered by their matches. If you were online as a wrestling fan in April of 2013, you knew about Tanahashi and Okada. It was the talk of the town. By that time, they already had three incredible matches and with the benefit of hindsight, you could say that the best stuff was yet to come.
The last, but not least, important factor was the accessibility to New Japan shows outside of their country of origin. King of Pro Wrestling 2012 was the first time that the company collaborated with Ustream to broadcast an iPPV live to everyone willing to pay for the event. It gave foreign fans the chance to watch major shows live for the first time ever, including the Tokyo Dome show. This meant that the Western wrestling media could cover New Japan more regularly, which made many fans pay attention. Although the iPPV format gave both media and fans a lot of headaches, it was instrumental in the transition to actual streaming services like New Japan World. Ustream was a pay-for-event model, but it was announced that the G1 Climax, the most prestigious tournament in the New Japan calendar, was going to stream in its entirety, and you could get all the shows in a bundle. But what was this G1 thing anyway, and why was it such a big deal?
The history of the tournament can be traced back as far back as 1973. Known by different names such as World League, MSG League, IWGP League, or World Cup Tournament, the G1 Climax name was established in 1991. The previous iterations of the tournament were not acknowledged per se, but it was clearly a continuation. The tournament has had different formats since the first edition, but the most common is the round-robin with at least two blocks that takes place over a few days. The winners of each block go on to face in the final. At first, victory in the G1 didn’t grant you any championship, just a beautiful gold trophy, but New Japan has historically used the tournament as a way to push future stars. Some of the most accomplished wrestlers to win it are Masahiro Chono (five times), Keiji Muto, Shinya Hashimoto, Kensuke Sasaki (two times), and Hiroshi Tanahashi (three times). All of them are all-time great stars and first-ballot hall of famers. In 2012, New Japan decided to up the ante by awarding the winner a contract that guarantees an IWGP Heavyweight Championship opportunity at the yearly Tokyo Dome show on January 4, the company’s biggest show. The stakes were higher than ever, so the 2013 edition of the tour came calling.
The G1 Climax 23 took place in nine days, all between August 1-11. Every night of the tour featured ten tournament matches. No tags, no nights off for the wrestlers. It was going to be a grueling experience for everyone involved, including the viewers at home. If you were two days behind, that meant you had 20 matches waiting for you. Like it was mentioned before, Ustream put up a bundle to watch the whole thing live. The price of admission: $150, $30 if you were only interested in the final night. This seems preposterous nowadays that you can watch the whole thing live for less than $20 in New Japan World. But this was the first time that the G1 Climax was available to watch live for everyone willing to do it. It was also a different mindset since wrestling fans were used to paying high prices for imported shows. And just by looking at the list of participants, it seemed like it was gonna be worth every penny.
The field of the G1 Climax 23 might feel familiar to the fans that have been following the company since the early tens, but only seven participants are also in the 2023 edition. All of the participants worked regularly in the company, so there were no outsiders like La Sombra, Rush, or Naomichi Marufuji in other editions. It’s a testament to how New Japan is slowly but surely making way for new talent while they let the old stars fade out. We will run down the participants according to their final standings in the blocks, since there’s no need to avoid spoilers.
G1 Climax 23 A BLOCK
Hiroshi Tanahashi (11 points)
The undisputed ace of New Japan at the time. He, alongside Nakamura, was the reason the company thrived in the post-Inokism days. By the end of the year, he would be inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, a testament to his vital role at the moment when he was at the peak of his powers. This was his 11th consecutive G1 appearance since he debuted in 2002 and won the tournament in 2007.
Katsuyori Shibata (10 points)
One of the most controversial additions to the tournament. Shibata was dubbed one of the new three musketeers in New Japan alongside Tanahashi and Nakamura in the early aughts, but left the company soon after. We’ll dive deeper into the narrative around him later. This was his third appearance in the tournament.
Davey Boy Smith Jr. (10 points)
Following his WWE run, the son of the legendary British Bulldog became a regular in New Japan. He was part of Suzuki-gun and formed a tag with Lance Archer, Killer Elite Squash (KES), which won the IWGP tag titles three times. At the time, they were NWA tag champions. This was his G1 debut, but only participated in one more edition, 2014.
Prince Devitt (10 points)
The wrestler now known as Finn Balor was a staple of New Japan’s junior division since 2006. In 2013, he was in the midst of his biggest push. In April of 2013, while still Junior champion, he turned on long-time Apollo 55 partner Ryusuke Taguchi to align with Bad Luck Fale. A month later, the now self-proclaimed ‘Real Rocknrolla’ would also join forces with Karl Anderson and Tama Tonga to form a little stable named BULLET CLUB, of which he became the de facto leader. He would go on to win the Best of the Super Juniors as champion, which led to challenging Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada accepted, with the condition that he beat Gedo in a Junior title match. This match took place in Korakuen Hall and is considered by many, including Devitt himself, as one of the most fun matches he had in his New Japan run. He won that match and went on to lose to Okada a few days before the start of the G1, his second and final appearance (he debuted in 2010 as a replacement for Marufuji).
Togi Makabe (10 points)
Although he has developed a certain reputation among the younger New Japan audience, Makabe was still relevant and a hard worker. He came to the tour after a great title match against Okada on Dominion, one of the big three shows of the company’s calendar. That would be his last shot at the IWGP Heavyweight, but he would later be one of the early highlights of the NEVER Openweight title scene. This was his ninth consecutive appearance since his debut in 2004.
Kazuchika Okada (9 points)
The Rainmaker became a two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion after defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at Invasion Attack 2013. That was their first 5-star match, according to Dave Meltzer, which certainly contributed to a lot of fans checking out New Japan for the first time. Okada debuted in the G1 Climax the previous year, winning the tournament as a 24-year-old, which broke the record for youngest wrestler to ever win the Grade One. The only wrestler who won the whole thing as a first-timer was Hirooki Goto in 2008. All of it is a testament to the magnitude of push that the Okada was getting at the time.
Hirooki Goto (8 points)
Goto’s been one of the low-key best wrestlers in New Japan, and he was firing on all cylinders in 2013. He was a great hand in elevating new talent so he was pushed accordingly to make his opponent’s victories more meaningful. This was his sixth appearance on the tour, having won the tournament in his debut at the 2008 edition.
Lance Archer (8 points)
One half of three-times tag champions Killer Ellite Squad, Archer was finding in Japan the stability that he once had in TNA. After a brief run in WWE, he went to New Japan and started to work on his inner monster. He’s the only foreign wrestler in this tour that still works regularly for the company, and this was his third consecutive appearance after his debut in 2011.
Satoshi Kojima (8 points)
Since he’s still kicking and giving all that he has, it’s wild that many people considered 2013’s Kojima an afterthought. He still could draw (the next Okada defense was against him), had one of the early highlights of the tour (the first night’s main event against Tanahashi) and was an all-around great performer. Not to mention he was one of the most decorated wrestlers at the time, as a singles wrestler and as a tag partner with Hiroyoshi Tenzan. This was his 11th G1 since 1996, and won the 2010 edition.
Tomohiro Ishii (6 points)
Ishii deserves a section dedicated to him, so the only thing you need to know about him is that he was 37, and this was his first G1.
G1 Climax 23 B BLOCK
Tetsuya Naito (10 points)
Naito entered his fourth consecutive G1 after debuting in 2010 with a chip on his shoulder. Heralded as the company’s next big star, it was now or never for the Stardust Genius, and we’ll dive into the whole thing later.
Minoru Suzuki (10 points)
Suzuki’s matches have become a meme in the last few years, but he was on fire at this stage of his career. His style was slow and methodical, as opposed to the slapfests of today, which also rule. He was pushed as a main eventer, and headlined Wrestle Kingdom 6 alongside Tanahashi. The duo also had one of the best matches of 2012 in King of Pro Wrestling later that year, and Suzuki was the first challenger to Okada’s second title reign in a specially grueling and torturous match. This was his fifth G1 since his debut in 2004.
Karl Anderson (10 points)
Another “wrestler turned into meme” that was actually great at the time. Before adopting the “I don’t give a shit about anything” persona, Anderson grew into a smooth and hard-working pro wrestler when he arrived in New Japan thanks to the working relationship that the company had with the NWA. The Machine Gunka is probably the wrestler that benefited the most from that partnership, working mostly in tag matches with Giant Bernard as the team Bad Intentions. New Japan noticed his attitude and talent, since he was a finalist in the 2012 G1, the first time a foreign wrestler was in that spot since Rick Rude in 1992. Early in 2013, he had the best match of his career against Tanahashi at The New Beginning. This was his fourth consecutive appearance since his debut in 2010, and came in as a member of the newly formed BULLET CLUB unit.
Shelton X Benjamin (10 points)
This is the most surprising entrant for recent New Japan fans. But believe it or not, Benjamin, as a member of Suzuki-gun, took part in three consecutive G1s, this being the second. And he also did pretty well in the standings. Most won’t remember any of his, for the most part, solid matches. He was just a good professional wrestler having good professional wrestling matches.
Shinsuke Nakamura (10 points)
In 2013, Nakamura was the coolest thing in the world. No other wrestler had the swag and, most importantly, the talent to back it up. He was flamboyant, but also a badass. He was such a star that he elevated the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, a belt that didn’t seem to have any purpose or identity after being launched at the 2011 US tour, to the level of Heavyweight Championship. He entered the tournament just after winning the belt for the second time, defeating La Sombra (Andrade), the same opponent that took it from him in Mexico about two months prior. This was his tenth G1, which he won in 2011, and was a finalist in 2009.
Yuji Nagata (10 points)
Mr. Blue Justice himself might be another one of those wrestlers that contemporary fans take for granted. Sure, he was past his prime, but Nagata was still great (and still is!). This was his 13th consecutive appearance since he debuted in 1999. He won his only G1 by defeating Keiji Mutoh in the 2001 final, and was a finalist in 2007, when he put over the rising star Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Kota Ibushi (8 points)
This was a very interesting moment from the crazy timeline that is Ibushi’s career. This was his first participation in the tournament after years of working as a freelancer for New Japan. He was no ordinary freelancer, since he was pushed to the top of the Junior division and won both the IWGP Junior title (two times prior to G1 Climax 23) and the Best of the Super Juniors (2011). Two months after the tournament, he signed a deal with both DDT and New Japan in truly Kota Ibushi fashion. His transition to heavyweight was one of the major stories going into G1 Climax 23, and he would be up to the task.
Toru Yano (8 points)
A comedy genius for some, an annoyance for others, the fact is that Yano’s G1 spot is a key one. He’s always been the “night-off” guy, especially in a format like 2013’s, when the tour was only nine nights, and everything happened in less than 15 days. Dudes need to get a break between all that carnage, and a little comedy match is mostly painless. His presence in basically every tour line-up since 2005, with this being the eightt, confirms that he’s indeed an essential part of the tour.
Yujiro Takahashi (8 points)
Remember when Yujiro was somewhat pushed as a singles wrestler? Nowadays, he gets a few pins in tag matches leading to G1, but he even had an IWGP Heavyweight title match against Tanahashi at the end of 2012. And it’s actually really good! Maybe speaks more of the level of talent of the ace at that time, capable of putting out a 25-minute main event championship match with a Yujiro. This was his fourth consecutive G1 since his debut in 2010.
THE RISE OF TOMOHIRO ISHII
Entering your first G1 after working regularly for New Japan for almost a decade is a strange occurrence, but that’s the case for Tomohiro Ishii. The Stone Pitbull grinded the Japanese independent circuit until he eventually settled in New Japan in 2005. He was always one of the less important members of his units, whether it be Great Bash Heel or Chaos. The only thing that he could sink his teeth into until 2011 was a feud with Tiger Mask. By 2012, New Japan started to realize that this dude that was trained by Riki Choshu and Genichiro Tenryu might be great. Ishii had his first singles title opportunity against Hirooki Goto for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. He then went on to have a feud against Masato Tanaka for the new NEVER Openweight Championship. Those hard-hitting matches forged the identity of that new title. This was not just an openweight thing, this was for rough wrestlers willing to beat the shit out of each other. Midway through 2013, Ishii was a cult favorite for the New Japan fanbase, especially in Korakuen Hall.
And then came the G1 Climax 23.
This was Ishii’s opportunity to finally prove himself in the best singles tournament in wrestling. Yes, he was 37. To put that in context, that’s two years older than 2023 Okada, who already has 11 G1 tours on his back. And it’s not like the office had huge expectations for Ishii, they probably just wanted him to have good matches.
He didn’t do that. He had great matches instead.
The official coming-out party for Ishii took place on August 2, in front of a packed Korakuen Hall. He was in the main event of the second night of the tour against the ace of the company, Hiroshi Tanahashi. It was the perfect place, the perfect time, and the perfect opponent. They proceeded to have a banger. Tanahashi immediately read the room and acted like an overconfident prick. This match was designed to showcase Ishii’s toughness and capacity to be the ultimate underdog. The Korakuen crowd was 100% behind him, and when he connected a devastating Vertical Brainbuster Piledriver (a move that he hasn’t used in ages) for the pinfall, the place went insane. Ishii would go on to have one of the most memorable performances of the tour, setting the standard of his work as a singles wrestler that still continues to this day, ten years later.
THE SHIBATA COMEBACK
While Tomohiro Ishii was expected to be just a good worker, Katsuyori Shibata had a lot more weight on his shoulders coming into this field. He left New Japan in early 2005, when he was seen as one of the new three musketeers alongside Tanahashi and Nakamura. This didn’t sit well with the big seats or his fellow wrestlers. Japanese wrestling, as Japanese culture itself, is loyalty-based, so just jumping to other companies is considered a big sign of disrespect. Shibata went to the emerging Big Loud Mouth, a company that went all in with him as the top draw and failed miserably.
After a few shots here and there and brief comeback to New Japan to fight (and beat) Tanahashi at the January 4 show of 2006, he left pro wrestling to focus on MMA. That didn’t go well either, since his record was 4-10-1. So, with the tail between his legs, he returned to New Japan in August of 2012, accompanied by another MMA fighter, Kazushi Sakuraba. He was pushed alright, but nothing to write home about. There was still resentment, and his addition to the G1 field was a test to see if he could hang with the best of the best or if he was just gonna wing it and not care.
In the end, Shibata completed the G1 tour having a few bangers along the way. His matches were fun to watch, not just for the narrative behind his participation, but because he felt different from almost everyone on the field. He kicked ass, but he also did compelling mat work. The obvious stand-out match was against the MVP of the tournament, Tomohiro Ishii. The match took place in the legendary Osaka show that we’ll discuss after this, and it was an instant classic. Meltzer went five stars, which was a pretty big deal before breaking the scale became commonplace, and everyone seemed to agree that it was one of the hardest-hitting matches they’d ever seen.
Watching it a decade later, one of the great things about it is that it doesn’t feel choreographed in any way. There are sloppy moments when both wrestlers collide or hit one of their moves and it doesn’t feel as impactful as usual. But that’s part of the charm. It felt real, just two guys agreeing on just beating the hell out of each other. “Wanna do a chops vs kicks exchange as hard as we can? Sure. Want me to drop you on your head? Ok, but you go next”. The energy is just unreal before the bell even rings. Everyone knows they’re gonna see something special and they’re ready for it. Shibata atoned for most of his sins that night, and was a contender to win the block until the final match against fellow musketeer Tanahashi. Little did we know that it would be more than just a block decider, but that’s a story for another time.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: THE OSAKA SHOW
August 4, 2013, is up there among the greatest nights in wrestling history. It’s the date of the fourth night of action of the G1 Climax 23. This event currently holds the third highest rated show of all time in Cagematch with a 9.78. And you can consider it number one, since the first two are tribute shows (the Hana Kimura and Brody Lee memorials), which are highly rated for reasons that had little to do with in-ring action. The Osaka show from the 2013 G1 is the exact opposite, because its reputation is entirely based on what happened between the ropes in what can only be described as a New Japan perfect storm.
One of the many reasons why the show is so special is because it has that perfect build-up that is the wet dream of every wrestling promoter. As the card progresses, the matches keep getting better, and you can feel that the excitement of the crowd is constantly going up. A good example of this structure is the Super J Cup 1994. It’s not the best show in terms of notebook-worthy matches, but the atmosphere keeps building up and never goes down, peaking the show at the right moment. That night in Osaka, New Japan followed that formula to perfection. The undercard matches were really good, you might be surprised about how much fun Anderson vs. Tenzan and Kojima vs. Davey Boy Smith were, but the best was still to come.
The first big blow of the night came from Shibata and Ishii and their legendary match that we already discussed, but it’s difficult not to spend more time writing about how awesome it was. You hit play on that New Japan World video, and these beasts are staring at each other across the ring, waiting for the bell to ring as if they were animals waiting to be unleashed, and the crowd picks up on that vibe immediately. Poor Goto and Archer had to follow this up, and they did as well as they could. This wasn’t the obligatory WWE Divas segment after Undertaker’s WrestleMania match, but the crowd needed to cool off for a bit. You could even say that it was by design, because the next match was slow and methodical. Suzuki and Naito delivered another really good contest, with Suzuki torturing the right knee of Naito before the plucky Stardust Genius came back and won with the Stardust Press.
Tanahashi vs. Devitt was a superfun match full of antics in all the right ways. Show this tape to all the members of House of Torture before every event. This is how you get heat instead of groans. Devitt had the right charisma for his role, as well as Bad Luck Fale. They’re the perfect foe to overcome for Tanahashi, who had none other than Captain New Japan, the original Bone Soldier, in his corner to even out the odds. Of course, the captain gets manhandled by Fale, but the crowd is super into all of this early BULLET CLUB stuff, as well as the immaculately timed Tanahashi comebacks. Okada vs. Makabe was also great, which might surprise a few, but these two had a banger in the main event of Dominion two months prior. They deliver a hard-hitting affair, with Makabe fighting from underneath due to his injured back and getting his heat back after his loss in Dominion.
And finally, the main event between Nakamura and Ibushi. Entering his first G1 while still technically a junior, this was Ibushi’s spot to show that he belonged in this division. Across the ring was peak Nakamura, and they proceeded to have a main event worthy of the status of this show. The story of the match started as the classic “heavyweight keeps the high-flyer grounded,” with Ibushi breaking out a few times to execute those picture-perfect high spots that put him on the map. But at some point, these two started to strike each other like maniacs. This might be the first “Ibushi flips his inner switch” moment, looking possessed while throwing closed fists at Nakamura to the delight of the crowd. The final sequence of the match encapsulates everything that we loved about New Japan in 2013. After hitting Ibushi with a bunch of flying knees and a Boma Ye, Ibushi kicks out at one as the crowd erupts. A perfect, beautifully done one-count kick-out spot. Instead of doing NXT faces, Nakamura just gets up and hits another Boma Ye to put Ibushi out for good. One of them won and the other lost, but each wrestler gave his own statement in those few seconds. Nakamura’s was “I’m King of Strong Style” and Ibushi’s “I’m here to stay”. Just a perfect way to cap off a night that will be remembered as long as pro wrestling exists.
THE SAGA OF THE STARDUST GENIUS
Naito’s road to the G1 Climax 23 was a strange one. In fact, you can say that his career up to that point was somehow off. He was paired up with Yujiro Takahashi in 2008, for the most part as the tag team No Limits, but also as a rival after they split up. That doesn’t vow well for anyone, especially if you’re trying to create a superstar. Also, he seemed to have bad luck when he was featured in a singles role. In Wrestle Kingdom V, he faced a drunk/stoned Jeff Hardy in a match that basically destroyed TNA’s relationship with New Japan. One year later, on the same spot, he lost to Keiji Mutoh, a guy famous for putting young talent over.
On top of that, the feud with his former tag partner never seemed neverending. Even after reaching a G1 final and having a few shots at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the ever-threatening shadow of Yujiro still loomed near. In fact, he injured Naito’s right knee at King of Pro Wrestling 2012, at least in kayfabe, since he actually got hurt in the G1. Eight months passed, and Naito came back to the ring, getting his heat back from Yujiro. In a strange turn of events, he declared his intentions to win the NEVER Openweight title from Masato Tanaka. He got his title match just a few days before the G1, and was unable to beat the champion.
The story around the Stardust Genius coming into the tournament was clear: could he actually win the whole thing and become a star? And would his knee allow him to complete the G1, let alone winning it? After beating Karl Anderson in his final block match, he went on to face the company’s biggest star, Hiroshi Tanahashi, in the final, that night. That match is a classic on its own, with Tanahashi once again bringing on his A-game as a heelish wrestler. Unlike Nakamura on the previous night, the ace wasn’t going to ignore the injured knee if it meant winning the most prestigious tournament in pro wrestling. After an epic struggle befitting the prestige of the G1 Climax, Naito was finally able to hit the Stardust Press for the victory.
He did it. He won the big one. This was the start of his long-awaited push that would put him among the biggest stars of the business. And what better way to do that than facing and potentially beating the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on the main event of the biggest show in the New Japan calendar? Things were certainly pointing upward for Naito. Eventually, everything would work out, but every story has peaks and valleys. And Naito’s had a lot of those. He was about to go down a valley that almost killed his career.
G1 Climax 23 AFTERMATH AND LEGACY
Most people know the big story going into Wrestle Kingdom 8. After Naito’s big win at the G1, he lost a lot of his momentum in the following months due to perplexing booking decisions. He insisted once again to face Masato Tanaka for the NEVER Openweight Championship, putting his contract that guaranteed the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at the Tokyo Dome. The logic is understandable, it’s normal for a babyface to want to avenge a loss. But it makes Naito look like a fool for risking such a big spot for the NEVER title. He won the match at Destruction, but didn’t seem like he accomplished much. Now he was carrying the contract briefcase and a title that would be meaningless in his Tokyo Dome match.
Then he went on to face Yujiro AGAIN at King of Pro Wrestling, putting the title and the contract on the line. What had Yujiro done to deserve such an opportunity aside from injuring Naito a year prior? Again, it was babyface logic at its worst. To top it all, he faced Tanaka one more time at the last big show of the year, Power Struggle. This was just for the NEVER title, but again, what’s the logic? If Naito loses, he comes into the biggest match of his career looking like an absolute loser, so why not put the contract on the line too? Why was this done in the first place? Why wasn’t he facing the likes of Ishii and Shibata to look like a million bucks before his big moment?
After all of that and a disastrous face-off with Okada that was supposed to warm up the match, New Japan panicked. They weren’t sure that the match would draw as a Tokyo Dome main event. But they had a backup plan, since Tanahashi and Nakamura were also scheduled to have a singles match for the IWGP Intercontinental title at the same event. They decided to go for a double main event, and fans would be allowed to vote for the match that would go last. We’ve seen the “double main event” scenario in the last few years, but only on this occasion was the match order decided by a fan vote.
As expected, the IC title match doubled the Heavyweight title match in votes. The fans had spoken, they preferred the current major stars over the future stars. Riding the wave of disappointment, Naito lost the Wrestle Kingdom match and shortly after lost the NEVER title against Ishii. He then went on to have a short run in CMLL, where he was supposed to clear his mind while New Japan figured out what to do with him moving forward. But this little Mexico vacation would prove to be historically significant, since it was there and then when Naito became familiar with a stable known as Los ingobernables that forever changed his career and persona.
Another big story spun out of the G1 Climax 23, but we wouldn’t know about it until almost a year later. Shortly before the 2014 edition, Tanahashi published a book. In that book, he discussed some of his fellow wrestlers. But the section that made it into the news was the one dedicated to Shibata. The ace trash-talked him for his attitude and his exit of New Japan just when business wasn’t looking great. Their block-deciding match in the 2013 G1 did look hard-hitting, but not much more than other Shibata matches from the tournament. To this day, we don’t know if Tanahashi, one of the best workers ever, in and outside the ring, was just kayfabbing in his book to spark the flames of the rivalry, but it worked either way. They had another kick-ass match at the G1 Climax 24 and an even better one shortly after. Both were aggressive and tense, just how great pro wrestling should be. Winning back the respect of Tanahashi was Shibata’s last chance at redemption in New Japan, and he finally got it after this feud.
A few other narratives solidified in the aftermath of G1 Climax 23. This tournament was the first one that involved the newly formed BULLET CLUB, a unit that would open a lot of doors for Western fans. They became a massive deal, especially after American darlings like the Young Bucks and AJ Styles became part of the stable. Tomohiro Ishii became a household name when it came to in-ring action, and his presence in the tour every year guaranteed that, at minimum, you were going to see a few great matches. Ibushi began his transition from junior to heavyweight in the G1, and would climb the ladder little by little, with Ibushi-style detours along the way, until he eventually became a two-time G1-winner. Okada and Tanahashi’s rivalry was far from over. They put out a new classic at King of Pro Wrestling following the G1, and Okada would win the 2014 edition of the tournament. This became ground zero for the most interesting chapter of their rivalry, the one that took place between Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10 and that firmly elevated Okada as the top of New Japan.
As for the G1 Climax itself, 2013’s edition made the tour one of the can’t-miss events of the pro wrestling calendar. There’s been a lot of debate about which year’s edition of the tournament has been the best ever since this one, and it’s hard to argue against the G1 Climax 23. Whatever you think of that matter, the undeniable fact is that there’s not been a G1 like this one ever since. 2014’s edition was also incredible, but it featured two more wrestlers (one per block), had a few more dates (12 events between July 21 and August 10), each wrestler had a (much deserved) night off and the last day of the tour only had one G1 match (the final itself). From the G1 Climax 25 on, there’s not been a card that only featured tournament matches (that’s changing this year!). Also, the tour takes place during an entire month. Those are the undisputed facts. You could argue that 2013’s was too brutal, a death march for the wrestlers, and it was impossible to maintain that format and schedule. But the fact remains the same, no G1 has been the same ever since. What we have now it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. Either way, the tournament has produced legendary moments ever since in almost every edition, solidifying its status as a wrestling tradition. Maybe the best gift that the G1 Climax 23 gave us is the interest to keep watching every year so we don’t miss those moments that remind us why we love pro wrestling.
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