NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
G1 CLIMAX 33 Night One
JULY 15, 2023
HOKKAIDO PREFECTURAL SPORTS CENTER
SAPPORO, HOKKAIDO, JAPAN

Watch: NJPW World (free!)

As New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to prominence, so returns the most grueling tournament in pro wrestling. As New Japan Pro Wrestling shifts into a new era, so does the G1 Climax. 32 men, the biggest field in G1 history. 10 men making their G1 debuts, the most debuts in any single tournament in history. 20-minute time limits, 10 minutes shorter than usual. After block play ends, a single-elimination tournament with the top two finishers in each block. A new G1 format for a new era, but the G1 nonetheless. It’s time for G1 Climax 33!

This is an A & B Block night, with C & D Block kicking off their tournament tomorrow night in the same building. That show will also be live and free on NJPW World.

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK B MATCH
YOSHI-HASHI [2] DEF. EL PHANTASMO [0]

I haven’t researched this, but I was fairly sure YOSHI-HASHI has been in the opening match of the G1 every year for the last half-decade. Chris Samsa later informed me that it’s only been twice – 2017 vs. Nagata, 2018 vs. Makabe – that YOSHI-HASHI had opened the tournament. This was a solid tournament opener, with Phantasmo being slowed down after an early Headhunter from YOSHI-HASHI. Phantasmo was able to get his offense off, but was giving a lot of attention to his neck. YOSHI-HASHI was able to avoid the CR-2 and hit Phantasmo with a new finisher, a crucifix bomb, to score the first points of the tournament. ***

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK A MATCH
CHASE OWENS [2] DEF. GABE KIDD [0]

When talking about his early days in New Japan, Lance Archer would recount Gedo’s advice that Archer give “More monster! More monster!” Someone told Gabe Kidd to give more monster, as he was Archer-esque in his G1 opener here. This Bullet Club Derby got off to a jump start when Kidd jumped Owens on the stage with a chair. Kidd ragdolled Owens through the crowd, whipping chairs and guardrails around like a madman before diving off the stage onto a pile of bodies.

Once the match finally got in the ring, Owens made his comeback, driving Kidd into the buckles and hitting his offense. Owens survived Kidd’s onslaught and hit Kidd with the Package Piledriver to score the win in a Don Jardine-special. Owens earned his spot in the new Bullet Club, at least for now. ***

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK B MATCH
TANGA LOA (W/JADO) [2] DEF. KENTA [0]

This was Tanga Loa’s first match since Capital Collision 2022, suffering what was believed to be a minor knee injury. The knee injury turned out to be much more severe, putting Loa on the shelf for over a year and forcing him to miss the big babyface push for Guerrillas of Destiny. Tama Tonga got a spotlight push for the NEVER Title and a featured match at Wrestle Kingdom. Hikuleo forced Jay White to leave the company before having a short reign with the STRONG Openweight Title. Tanga Loa never got his chance to shine until this G1 opener against former Bullet Club teammate KENTA.

Well…he won. **1/4

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK A MATCH

SHOTA UMINO [1] AND REN NARITA [1] WENT TO A TIME-LIMIT DRAW

https://twitter.com/njpwglobal/status/1674614523700076544?s=20

With one press release, New Japan injected a shot of intrigue into this A Block and into the rise of their returning Young Lion class. The crowning of the new generation of Three Musketeers – a title first bestowed upon the legendary trio of Keiji Muto, Masahiro Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto before being passed onto the trio of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Katsuyori Shibata, and Shinsuke Nakamura – has become one of the most talked about aspects of this year’s G1. We all knew the company had high hopes for Umino, Narita, and Tsuji, but with one announcement, New Japan made it crystal clear that these three were going to be the next generation of New Japan headliners.

This has lit a fire under everyone. Names like Okada and Naito scoff at the idea of these kids taking their spots as they rage against the dying of the light. Names like Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin used this as more fuel to their fire, angered at the treatment the native dojo trainees got compared to the forgotten LA Dojo class. Even the Three Musketeers themselves weren’t happy with the designation, being immediately put into an immense shadow while also being forever linked to each other. And with all three in the A Block, they have a chance to take out their frustrations on each other while proving who would be the head of the pack.

Unfortunately for Narita and Umino, they’re gonna need more time. With ten minutes shaved off of the block matches as part of the bigger tournament, the first twenty-minute time limit draw of this year’s G1 came here as Umino was loading Narita up for the Death Rider. This was the first chapter in what the company hopes will be a long story, and it felt like that in the ring. These two know what they’re doing in the ring, but they don’t know how they want to do it yet. They’re both still finding themselves as wrestlers. Narita wants to be a wrestler in the style of Katsuyori Shibata, but he comes off like a cosplayer. Umino wants to be a lot of things and is doing them all at once instead of picking a lane that works best for him. It’s no different than the growing pains that Nakamura and Naito once had. It will take time and opportunity for these two to figure out who they are and reach their peaks. Maybe they never will. Either way, the journey started here in Hokkaido. ***1/2

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK B MATCH
KAZUCHIKA OKADA [2] DEF. GREAT-O-KHAN [0]

At Power Struggle 2020, the Great-O-Khan made his singles debut in New Japan against Kazuchika Okada. Okada put him to sleep with the Money Clip. Three years later, Okada beat O-Khan again, this time with the Rainmaker. Has anything changed with O-Khan in the meantime?

He’s had two reigns as IWGP Tag Team Champion alongside Jeff Cobb, and he’s won the RevPro British Title as well. But as far as singles work goes, he’s still in the same spot he was when he debuted. As an office favorite, many people believed O-Khan would get a big-time push at some point in this company. It’s possible that push is still coming, as New Japan is known to have guys on the bench for years before being given a prominent main event push. SANADA waited twice as long as O-Khan has, and he’s just now getting his run on top. But for the hype he’s had, it’s interesting to me that it just has not turned into anything substantial for him as a singles competitor yet. ***1/2

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK A MATCH
KAITO KIYOMIYA [2] DEF. YOTA TSUJI [0]

While the other two Musketeers at least got one point for their effort, Yota Tsuji fell in his first G1 Climax match to Kaito Kiyomiya. Tsuji started this match off just like he did against SANADA, bullrushing Kiyomiya with a dive before he had even entered the ring. Tsuji’s athleticism was on full display in one sequence in particular, hitting Kiyomiya with a headscissors before bowling him over with a shoulder block. As the announcers pointed out, his immersion in the lucha style during his Mexican excursion helps to make him incredibly dynamic in the ring for a man his size.

His selling was very good here as well, as Kiyomiya worked over his knee. There was a point where I thought Tsuji had hurt himself coming off the headscissors, but it was him putting a little hitch in his giddyup as a result of the knee work. Of the Reiwa Musketeers, Tsuji is the one that’s got the most confidence and knowledge of himself. As a result, he’s the one shining the brightest so far. Kiyomiya overcame Tsuji’s onslaught, hitting his big offense before scoring the win with the Shining Wizard. First notebook match of the tournament. ****

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK B MATCH
TAICHI [2] DEF. WILL OSPREAY [0]

I wrote about the match these two had in this very building in February. It was a battle of pride and heart and passion that will land high on my Match of the Year list for 2023. This match was great, but it was much different than the February match. Ospreay had control from the bell before dropping Taichi on the floor with a DDT. After that, Ospreay played around with Taichi, even grabbing the stopwatch at ringside to note how long he had to make Taichi suffer.

Things changed when Taichi went for a gamengiri in the corner. Ospreay caught the boot, but Taichi’s shin hit Ospreay in the ear. This threw off Ospreay’s equilibrium for a good minute or two, as he couldn’t get his feet under him. From there, it became a much more even fight, as Taichi was able to mount more and more offense against a staggered Ospreay. This led to a red-hot closing stretch, where after hitting a Dangerous Suplex off the top rope, Taichi booted Ospreay out of the air on a flying Hidden Blade attempt and hit the Black Mephisto to score the win. Ospreay’s selling, which was once his biggest flaw, was fantastic here as he tried fighting through his balance issues. Taichi was awesome working from underneath, and the crowd was firmly behind their hometown guy. This was the first great match of G1 Climax 33. ****1/2

G1 CLIMAX 2023 BLOCK A MATCH
SANADA [2] DEF. HIKULEO (W/JADO) [0]

Much like the February New Beginning show had a main event that couldn’t follow Ospreay/Taichi, this match wasn’t going to challenge the semi-main. If SANADA wasn’t the IWGP World Champion, this would have been a fine match two on this show. It wasn’t a bad match either, it just wasn’t any kind of special main event. Hikuleo’s size allowed him to stuff a few attempts at both Skull End and Deadfall, but SANADA fought out of a chokeslam to hit Deadfall and win in just over ten minutes. ***1/4

A & B Block return to action on July 18th in Yamagata. Here is the match card:

  • A Block: Kaito Kiyomiya [2] vs. Chase Owens [2]
  • B Block: Great-O-Khan [0] vs. KENTA [0]
  • A Block: Hikuleo [0] vs. Gabe Kidd [0]
  • B Block: Taichi [2] vs. Tanga Loa [0]
  • A Block: Ren Narita [1] vs. Yota Tsuji [0]
  • B Block: YOSHI-HASHI [2] vs. Will Ospreay [0]
  • A Block: SANADA [2] vs. Shota Umino [1]
  • B Block: Kazuchika Okada [2] vs. El Phantasmo [0]