In Part I of our G1 Climax post-script, we noted how the young wrestlers did a lot of the heavy lifting, as far as in-ring performances. Obviously, the usual nonpareil G1 Climax guys performed to expectations: Tomohiro Ishii, Shingo Takagi, Will Ospreay, etc. But the company took a big gamble in placing most of the newcomers in the A Block, orbiting IWGP World Champion SANADA.
As shown by the Cagematch.net ratings rankings, the gamble paid off. You can just see Gedo sitting in a luxurious executive ergonomic office chair, leaning back, embodying every coach, headmaster, and mentor figure in manga, the type that inevitably say, with steely conviction, some nonsense like “iron sharpens iron” or equally callous drivel about stones polishing each other. Whatever. And then, of course, we learn through perilous circumstances the profundity of their benevolence. WHATEVER, SON.
The point here is self-evident: some of the top performers of the tournament were the ones making their debuts, the ones the company needed to exhibit adroitness in this high-profile situation. By placing them against each other, they could have been exposed, and cast a tenebrous pall over the future of the company. These are the match-ups that will undergird the next decade of the company; if they falter here, the task of regaining the global fanbase would have become exponentially more rigorous.
But the results are in the numbers. Here are the Cagematch rankings for the 32 participants:
The red rows are A Block wrestlers. Three in the top ten, four in the top fifteen.
As with part I, we are grading each aspect of the tournament:
- In-Ring Performances and Ratings
- The Effect of the 20 Minute Time Limit
- The Performance of the Young Wrestlers
- A Meaningless Month in the Life of Kaito Kiyomiya
- The Format
- The Booking
- The Scheduling
- The Attendance Numbers
In this portion, we examine the young wrestlers, and the emerald green stasis.
The Young Guys: A-
The Short Explanation: Six members of the nascent generation of young wrestlers, the ones that have officially emerged in the last year or so, debuted in G1 Climax 33: The Reiwa Three Musketeers (Ren Narita, Shota Umino, and Yota Tsuji), the BULLET CLUB’s War Dogs (Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin), and G.O.D.’s Hikuleo. It was imperative that the company use the G1 Climax to build their credibility and ignite the rivalries between them. Even more so than the winner of the tournament, this was the priority of G1 Climax 33: authenticating the future.
Things came together fruitfully. Placing five of the six in the same block reaped exponential rewards, the booking choices created a bounty of potential paths forward and, most critically, the young wrestlers themselves performed immaculately. In fact, not only did they meet expectations, but as a group they outperformed most of the field.
At the risk of being glib: fuck the crowds returning at a glacial pace, fuck the upcoming Wrestle Kingdom, and fuck the capricious approval of the global monthlies that were all-too-eager to abandon ship the instant Japanese workrate could be filtered through shambolic domestic television formats. None of that mattered as much in this G1 Climax as reinforcing, and in some cases rehabilitating, the young wrestlers that have re-debuted in the last year or so.
Coming into the tournament, here’s a quick look at where we stood with them:
- Yota Tsuji: exploded back into New Japan to challenge SANADA for the title at Dominion, but that was his only singles match as GENE BLAST
- Shota Umino: some have been steadfast in the belief that he lacks the panache and inherent aura to assume an ace role.
- Ren Narita: Began the year with a faction formed specifically to legitimize him. Since then, he’s looked totally lost, stagnant, and underwhelming.
- Gabe Kidd: lost in the shuffle until he joined BULLET CLUB this year. Won the STRONG tag titles shortly before the G1 Climax. Not much singles work lately.
- Alex Coughin: also lost in the shuffle until he joined BULLET CLUB this year. Also won the STRONG tag titles shortly before the G1 Climax. Not much singles work lately.
- Hikuleo: Exiled Jay White from Japan in February, and did very little between then and the G1 Climax.
- For now we are going to set aside HENARE, who competed in last year’s G1 Climax, and Kaito Kiyomiya, an outsider who deserves his own section
Five of them were strategically placed into the A Block with current champion SANADA: Ren Narita, Shota Umino, Yota Tsuji, Hikuleo, and Gabe Kidd. All five lost to the divisive belt-holder. A surprising move, but one which reiterated an old Japanese axiom, even as the company sprints towards a new era: you are not taking the king on the first move, nor the second in Tsuji’s case.
That much seems fairly obvious in retrospect; it was their booking against each other, and Kaito Kiyomiya, that was the critical element. Quite simply, this was the best booking and decision-making of the entire G1 Climax 33 (besides the winner). The results against each other:
Ren Narita: 1-2-2
- Win over Kaito Kiyomiya
- Loss to Gabe Kidd
- Loss to Hikuleo
- Draw with Shota Umino
- Draw with Yota
Narita came in as severely corroded goods. The goodwill generated by his performances in the TV Title tournament have not only eroded, but swung equally far in the opposite direction. He was aimless and looking increasingly like a lost cause. His performances in this G1 Climax ranged from drab and pedestrian to electric and galvanizing.
He ended as well as you could expect. He was the one new guy to get a win over Kaito Kiyomiya. As dolorous as Kiyomiya’s aura has become, he is legitimately great and a former world champion. That pinfall was a major result for Narita. Subsequent to that, Narita’s tag matches opposite Umino through the tournament final nights were as exciting as some of the tournament matches, replete with long and exhilarating pull-apart sequences.
Shota Umino: 1-2-2
- Win over Gabe Kidd
- Loss to Hikuleo
- Loss to Yota Tsuji
- Draw with Ren Narita
- Draw with Kaito Kiyomiya
For those paying attention, this G1 Climax was simply confirmation of what has been self-evident for months: this kid really gets it, and he turned a corner way back during the New Japan Cup. The backstage comments are always an early indicator, and Umino’s became great almost overnight. The confidence, self-assurance, variance… all revealed themselves as he worked his way through Yujiro Takahashi, then Zack Sabre Jr., then David Finlay.
Umino was tremendous throughout, equally awesome in victory, defeat, and draw. As noted above, he’s aired off with Narita, both showing explosive barbarity towards each other as their paths became more firmly intertwined. Months ago, they suffered a horridly embarrassing defeat to Okada and Tanahashi. Now they find themselves pulling each other from that nadir through a hot program.
Yota Tsuji: 2-2-1
- Win over Gabe Kidd
- Win over Shota Umino
- Loss to kaito Kiyomiya
- Loss to Hikuleo
- Draw with Ren Narita
No one in this group had less to lose than Tsuji, He’s already a made man, crowds vigorously chanting his name and favoring him over any opponent, regardless of their stature or tenure. As noted by several, he came into this tournament 0-1 as a graduated New Japan talent, and then began this tournament 0-3. And it’s not like his first win was a grandiose occasion, either: he beat Chase Owens in the 4th match of the July 25th Korakuen show. It was his lowest rated match of the tournament. None of this matters; he is over like a fucking flock of herons. Maybe now we can write more mythology about the heron, instead of the crane, an inferior, ungainly muck-bird with no redeeming qualities.
In fact, just for the record, the Wading Bird Rankings are:
Point of order: obviously puffins are #1, because puffins are #1 in any bird lists, but as far as this one… all six of these birds symbolically represent one of the six newcomers that were are analyzing in this article. Tsuji is the heron. For the sake of manufactured ambiguity and subtext, we’ll let you figure out the other five. We will say this: please do not suggest that Alex Coughlin is an ibis. That doesn’t make any sense.
- Win over Kaito Kiyomiya
- Win over Ren Narita
- Win over Shota Umino
- Win over Yota Tsuji
- Loss to Gabe Kidd
What an odd year for Hikuleo, a bellwether of the disarray of how New Japan has booked the foreign talent. If we stretch back into late 2022, he stood as the surrogate for his brother against Karl Anderson. They had an unspeakably banal match, and Anderson retired soon afterward.
Back in February, Hikuleo was the unexpected choice to expel Jay White from Japanese soil. Of course, that wasn’t exactly a herculean task. I can just as easily take credit for expelling Nelson Mandela from Japan, or Buster Keaton from Mozambique, or Elon Musk from his kid’s lives. Jay wasn’t even on the Christmas Week Korakuens. He was a world title non-entity. If he didn’t have to return to lose the title at Wrestle Kingdom, would anyone have noticed? Having to follow the Omega-Ospreay match, did anyone notice?
After that bit of Athenian justice, Hikuleo meandered for three fucking months until he beat KENTA for the STRONG Openweight title at Dontaku, the next logical step of course. Even more logical: he lost it right back to KENTA two weeks later. And then, not a goddamn thing until his opening night main event against SANADA.
No wonder it took this guy half the tour to start showing promise. No wonder it’s taken this guy half a decade to show promise. Where are the reps coming? Hikuleo got better as the tournament progressed, culminating in an impressive showing in the A Block final main event against Shota Umino, and an equally commendable match against Tetsuya Naito in the quarterfinals.
Tellingly, they loaded him up with wins, He only lost to Gabe Kidd, in an early match that was 90% pre-bell diablerie. They protected the big man. He rewarded that protection; not only did his performances improve but he’s begun to refine his persona. He’s still cool, cooler than his size would demand in this business, but he’s overcoming his ataraxia and starting to project a more minatory presence. Not malevolent, but impactful.
Gabe Kidd: 2-2-1
- Win over Hikuleo
- Win over Ren Narita
- Loss to Shota Umino
- Loss to Yota Tsuji
- Draw with Kaito Kiyomiya
Gabe Kidd had a gimmick in this year’s G1 Climax, and a G1 gimmick usually means a healthy dose of repetition. But Kidd eschewed that tradition. Yes, his first few matches followed a formula: he attacks before the bell, brawls for several minutes, and then culminates the match, either in victory or defeat, within minutes of the official bell.
Or, it was developing into a pattern, but never fully established itself. Because as early as match three, when his pre-match ambush was thwarted by Ren Narita, Kidd subverted the expectations. What followed was a sequence of increasingly hilarious twists: emerging from the side door of Korakeun against Shota Umino, throwing a temper tantrum because he had to come out first against SANADA, and then the ultimate denouement for this month long story: being outmanuevered by Yota Tsuji and Tsuji’s twin brother.
In all, Gabe Kidd exceeded expectations. And he far outperformed his low booking strength. In fact, he is the perfect example to highlight how the young guys in A Block outperformed now only their spots on the card, but pretty much the entire G1 Climax 33 field. To do so, we turn to our Over/Under Indicator metric.
The Over/Under Indicator
The Over/Under ranking is a basic +/- calculation that takes the Card Placement Average Ranking and subtracts the Cagematch Ranking. By doing so, it measures how a wrestler performed relative to their booking strength. To clarify, Card Placement Average is a simple average of every match number from a wrestler’s G1 Climax slate. The higher the number, the higher the wrestler is on the card, on average.
If the result is a positive number, the outperformed their card placement. For example, Tomohiro Ishii is the King of the O/U Indicator; every year he is booked in the mid-card, and every year he is top 3 in match rating scores.
If the result is negative, the wrestler was booked strongly and delivered matches that either underwhelmed or caused distinct revulsion. Unfortunately, there are many contenders for King of the negative O/U Indicator, though the worst is probably 2020 EVIL. That year he was booked very high, littering the semi-mains events with his drivel. He was actually #2 in Card Placement Average, only trailing champion Tetsuya Naito (and just barely trailing him, by the way). EVIL finished 18th in GRAPPL ranking, a loathesome -16 O/U Indicator.
Here are the O/U ranking for G1 Climax 33:
With so many wrestlers in this tournament, the conditions were propitious for some outlandish +/- scores, and G1 Climax 33 delivered. The highest score was produced by Gabe Kidd, an astounding +24, something literally impossible to achieve before last year’s expanded field (in this admittedly meaningless statistic). Kidd’s gimmick might have ruffled some of the more vocally strident fans and analysts, but the Cagematch reviewers were enticed by his matches from the beginning. Despite being 24th in booking strength, Kidd finished 4th in Cagematch rankings.
And he’s simply the tip of the spear. If there’s one critical takeaway from this year’s G1 Climax, it’s the exquisite performances of the young wrestlers of A Block: The Reiwa Three, the NOAH outsider, and the two outliers. They comprise four of the top nine in the O/U Indicator Rankings, and five of the top thirteen.
After Kidd is Kaito Kiyomiya, we have a lot to say about him later in this piece, but for now, we let his in-ring performance stand unadorned: his O/U Indicator was a remarkable +17, jumping from the absurdly low card placement of 23rd to 6th in Cagematch ranking. The numbers drop significantly until we reach Narita and Tsuji, tied for 9th at +4, but from different starting points. Narita was 19th in CP Ranking and 15th in Cagematch ranking, while Tsuji started 7th and finished 3rd in Cagematch ranking.
If those feel inherently different, even with the same +/- score, then you’re in the same boat as us. In the years that we have been calculating this O/U Indicator, we’ve relentlessly scrutinized the way different starting points affect the feeling of the result. Those with higher booking strengths are inherently disadvantaged, even though their results end up more impressive.
We’ve tried all kinds of mangled, manipulated formulas to adjust these results. We begged intelligent people in wrestling stats and figures to aid our feeble minds. In the end, we capitulated; we are merely tracking the % of ground covered, because anything we make to account for the starting point is just us chasing our own manipulated tail. If someone is #1 in both categories, as happened in 2021 with Okada, they are a 0 indicator with 100% coverage.
Kidd, Kiyomiya, Tsuji, Narita, and Umino remain in the top ten of the % Covered Ranking. Kidd is 3rd, Kiyomiya 4th, Tsuji jumps to 5th, Umino jumps to 9th and Narita drops to 10th. At the top of the list are the usual suspects. Will Ospreay covered 100% of his potential gains, 6th in Card Placement Ranking and 1st in Cagematch Ranking (and by a healthy margin). The King of Outperforming His Spot, Tomohiro Ishii, is 2nd, making another heroic leap, from 15th in Card Placement average to 2nd in Cagematch Ranking.
Teenage Fanclub (as in, the Really Old Band w/ the Youthful Sounding Name)
One thing that does deserve mention: we haven’t mentioned Alex Coughlin that much. Adrift in the D Block, literally the oldest block in G1 Climax history (as discovered by the indefatigable Chris Samsa; we had the pleasure of seeing him immersed in lugubriousness when he found out the A Block was not the youngest in history, which sharply turned to elation when he discovered this tidbit), Coughlin’s situation was ambiguous. Did it portend doom, or suggest clamor?
Unfortunately, the portends were correct. Coughlin’s G1 was largely based around establishing his persona as a Jack LaLanne strongman with Marty Feldman’s eyes. Now, establishing gimmick is fundamental aspect of the G1 Climax. Even the glory years of 2015-2019 were replete with guys doing this. 2018 was famously overwhelmed by nearly unwatchable diablerie from Bad Luck Fale, Jay White, and litterbug/storm-the-crowd-to-get-a-motherfucker/trolling-Harold-era Tama Tonga. Even this year, Coughlin’s dog-for-real Gabe Kidd spent much of the tournament doing the same.
The problem here is that Coughlin’s block could have gone two ways: the collected sagacity and experience of the block could nurture Coughlin, or the collected deterioration tat has accumulated over the years would leave Coughlin bereft. It was the latter.
He caught Goto after Goto was injured. He caught Naito at a point where Naito was clearly saving himself for a very long playoff run. He caught Tanahashi… after 2021. Just bad luck all around.
This was exacerbated, or even caused, by some extremely lackluster crowds. And also by his card placement. In part 1, we cited a chart of the worst performers in the first half of the cards. Coughlin was in the middle, 17th overall with 6 matches in the opening half of the nights.
Unfortunately, Coughlin struggled in the ring as well. Many of his matches had long, humdrum, sometimes painful periods of static silence. There was a flatness to his matches, lacking undulation. His feats of strength were awesome, but came across aimless at times. Without some like-minded and like-aged peers, he seemed neglected, stripped of an identity, even as he was trying to establish one. He needed the foundational reinforcement that was found in the A Block. It’s no surprise that his best match was against Jeff Cobb.
Coughlin is the least experienced of all the newcomers. He noted that in the pre-tournament press conference, where he stole the show with one of the best promos of 2023. No one needed more facilitation, more benefaction than Alex Coughlin. That did not happen.
Kaito Kiyomiya: A- (His Performance), A (NJPW), F (NOAH)
The Short Explanation: Kaito Kiyomiya continued a tradition of Pro Wrestling NOAH wrestlers delivering outstanding performances… in the mid-card. Kiyomiya, by any measure, was one of the best wrestlers of the tournament, leveraging all his talents to the benefit of New Japan, New Japan’s young rookie talents, and absolutely nothing in return for him. By wrestling him, a same-age peer that is clearly superior, the A Block youths improved and accrued credibility. But Kiyomiya walks back to NOAH with a 5th place finish in an 8-man block and no resonant victories. At this point, we’re moving past the point of viewing Kiyomiya with sympathy; we have moved onto looking at him with pity, and the next step from pity is contempt.
Before we say this, let’s be clear: we do not mean this in a sexual way… BUT… we’re pretty sure that Kaito Kiyomiya emits some sort of unique pheromone that provokes some sort of impulse, some compulsion within a professional wrestling booker to torment and publicly denigrate the poor kid. A kind of conceptual detumescence. Like in the Barbie movie where the Ken’s could not resist singing that Matchbox20 song, in full.
It doesn’t matter which company. If the title is booker, or even anything synonymous with the title, there is an unquenchable urge to depreciate Kaito Kiyomiya and his future. Taking this to its limits, if we consider the brain to be the booker of the body, then Kiyomiya’s own brain succumbed to this zeal, injuring itself to keep Kiyomiya from taking that WWE tryout he was going to get earlier in 2023 for being Mutoh’s lackey.
As noted in Part I, Kaito Kiyomiya was the highest-rated wrestler in the mid-to-upper-mid-card (as a refresher: ME = Main Event, ME-1 = semi-main event, and so on):
These are the kind of moderate triumphs of Kaito Kiyomiya G1 Climax. The sort of victories and achievements that make sense once they are explained, but they need to be explained. These are Kaito Kiyomiya’s G1 Climax 33 achievements:
- 6th overall in Cagematch rating average
- 1st overall in Cagematch rating averages in the 5th-7th matches of each card
- 2nd place in Over/Under Indicator (a stat that does not exist outside the works of this dopey, ignored author)
- Came within two seconds of drawing with IWGP World Heavyweight Champion SANADA
- Pinned former World Heavyweight Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan (or, rather, living matryoshka doll version of Hiroyoshi Tenzan that was nesting inside of former World Heavyweight Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan)
- Pinned Avatar: the Last Airbender superfan Oskar Leube
- Made it through the entire tournament without injuring himself
- Increasing similarities to pre-timeskip Naruto once his hair goes haywire every match
- Increasing similarities to the lamer version of Dio Brando before his hair goes haywire every match
- Brought a Young Lion back with him to NOAH
And here are the more dubious, and tangible, results of Kaito Kiyomiya’s G1 Climax 33
- Lost to IWGP World Heayweight Champion SANADA
- Was the only non-Chase Owens wrestler to lose to Ren Narita
- Did not win the tournament
- Did not make it out of his block
- Did not have a winning record (2-3-2)
- Did not share a ring with Kazuchika Okada, much less gain revenge on him
- Lost three of four post-league play tag matches with the Young Lion he captured and is bringing back to NOAH
There was a fairly easy way for everyone to benefit from this arrangement: Kiyomiya wrestles all the young guys, they all look good against him, they’re all better for having wrestled someone of his caliber, and Kiyomiya advances from the block. The first three benefit New Japan, the fourth benefits NOAH. The first three were executed beautifully. But, god damn, New Japan just couldn’t find the way to make the numbers work for the fourth one. Tough luck, NOAH. If only it was fucking fake, they could have, you know, ensured that could have happened.
Of course, because it’s fake they can make the opposite happen, and in this case (and all previous cases stretching back to, roughly 1972) New Japan cannot help themselves. Consider that this is them playing nice. It’s going to be an absolute bloodbath once they decide it’s time to wield their leverage again. Also consider: Hikuleo lost to Naito in the first round of the playoffs anyway. Hikuleo already got his unique prize by beating nearly every other young New Japan guy in the block. He didn’t gain anything from losing to Naito in the quarter-finals. No one gained anything from the quarter-finals; that’s why expanded playoffs, and playoffs in any sense, are fucking stupid and corrosive in a G1 Climax. Everything’s pointless until the final, so just have a one-match final.
But in Kiyomiya’s case, making the finals did have some substantial meaning. In fact, as an outsider from a direct Japanese competitor, he’s the only wrestler in the tournament for whom making the playoffs had any significance. Presuming that Kiyomiya was never going to get a fall over SANADA, his one chance at a legitimate feat, something of any avoirdupois to carry back with him to NOAH, was advancing to the playoff round.
All he’s carrying back with him to NOAH is a politely dyspeptic Ryohei Oiwa. The pause when Kiyomiya offers to bring him back to NOAH speaks volumes. You’d imagine Oiwa had advance knowledge of this; it would be outrageous to think he actually had self-determination in the encounter, that his actual answer would decide whether or not he went. And so, he knew the question was coming, he knew he would have to consent to the excursion, and yet he still hesitated.
Of course, despite all the things that have been taken away from Kiyomiya in the last few years (his dignity, his future, a few titles, his robe, his youth, etc.), you can’t take away his performance. And, quite simply, he was the best performer in A Block. Kiyomiya’s a level above them all. Cagematch has Kiyomiya (6th) slightly behind both Kidd (4th) and Tsuji (3rd). Nonsense. For all the bluster surrounding Tsuji, or the advancements made by Umino, or the wide-eyed frenzy of Gabe Kidd, Kiyomiya was better overall.
They’ll catch up, for sure, but Kiyomiya will always have that head start at the top. He’s the same age, but he’s been world champion twice, headlined dozens of shows, won tournaments, been the guy, and so on.The poise and grace he displayed, the inherent feel for a match and the ambiance he brings was top class. One of the easiest conclusions from this year’s G1 Climax is how naturally Kiyomiya could slide into the main event scene, immediately.
If you made it this far, thank you. The next two parts are shorter (or, they should be). In Part III, we evaluate at the booking and the effects of the 20 minute time limit.
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