In Part II of our G1 Climax 33 Post-Script, we focused entirely on the young guys, and how the numbers support the notion that, indeed, a G1 Climax immersed in banality actually produced a number of promising signs for the future. With that, we concluded our examination of the in-ring, now it’s time to fully bathe in the contrivance of professional wrestling: the performance of the booking team.

Booking: A-

By booking, we simply mean the decisions of wins and losses, as well as the manner, character, or persona the wrestlers presented. The literal booking of the matches, the placement and arrangement of them throughout the tournament, will be included in the “scheduling” portion. We will explain why in that section.

The Short Explanation: 

Two aspects of the booking took precedence over all other this year: the choice of winner, and the strategy of booking the young debutantes, particularly the Reiwa 3 Musketeers. In both aspects, the company resoundingly succeeded.

Tetsuya Naito was the best and most obvious choice to win, for several reasons. In having him defeat Will Ospreay and Kazuchika Okada along the way, they managed to produce a strong winner with a hefty amount of credibility, something they jeopardized with the new format.

Structurally, they managed to maintain patterns perpetuated since 2010, patterns we believe played a critical role in elevating the status of the G1 Climax and the company itself, even beyond its firm historical footing. The new format opened up possibilities to upend those patterns, in ways we considered detrimental: unbreakable ties and convoluted tiebreaker situations. They convincingly teased those possibilities, which unfortunately suggests those scenarios might emerge for real in the near future.

The strategy to build the foundation of the young guys’ booking through a series of early draws was astute, imbuing real significance to every subsequent win and loss. Likewise, they did not fight the stature of each wrestler, but exploited them with traditional methods: Tsuji was allowed to stand on his own, Hikuleo was bolstered by numerous wins, and the Ren Narita-Shota Umino pairing was consistently showcased.

The Correct Choices

There isn’t much to say about this; it’s self-evident why Tetsuya Naito was the best choice to win. It’s not merely that the crowds wanted, yearned, craved Naito to win again; there must have been a sense that this was the best chance to be Naito’s final chance. 

No matter the posturing Naito zealots flexed with varicose bombasticism after the playoffs, Naito has looked very… coarse this year. The Destino has always looked brutally uncoordinated, but even something like the Combinacion Cabron… he’s stumbled over the top rope a few times this year. We all know that Naito has a unique inclination for incorporating these sorts of things into his matches, but these were not artistic choices. These were the fumblings of a guy with negative knee matter. Yes, he turned it on and delivered two match-of-the-year contenders to close out the tournament; he basically sauntered through the bulk of the tournament in a light cantor to get there. Smart, but you can’t help but check the clock and no, Naito has not willed the hands to slow.

That’s not to say Naito’s days are numbered. As shown in the tournament’s denouement, there are years of high-level Naito left. But the days of those performances being ubiquitous are over. This is his chance. If Naito did not prevail here, with his internal systems disintegrated, with a phalanx of young guys shooting up the card… then there was no chance for Naito, save for perhaps one nostalgic run near the end, a Choshu in ‘96 type scenario, which should happen regardless.

Also, SANADA isn’t going to draw with anyone else. Who else could he? One of the new guys? Okada again? While this is a weekday Wrestle Kingdom, it’s not like a Tuesday Wrestle Kingdom. This is a Thursday Wrestle Kingdom, and those aren’t throwaways. The last time Wrestle Kingdom took place on Thursday was 2018, when Gedo & Co. correctly booked Okada to retain over Naito. That Thursday WK drew 35,000. The year before, on a Wednesday, Okada-Omega I drew just over 26,000. And so, Thursday is the first day of the week that Wrestle Kingdom has a chance. It’s pretty clear who needed to be in the Dome main event this year.

The Critical Final Nights

For those of us that are aware of Gedo & Co.’s G1 Climax booking trends—the statistically non-existent tens of us (and, possibly, this author alone)—there was one intriguing question heading into this year’s tournament: how? 

As we noted in our Block Final Nights Preview, the booking trends established by Gedo & Co. in the 2010s directly contradict the historical patterns established back in the 00s, when two-advance was the normal format. Between 2010-2022, the established orthodoxy was forthright, predictably compelling, and pursued with indefatigable zeal:

  • A winner-take-all block final (85.7% of the time, 24 out of 28 blocks )
    • From that, 52 of 56 block final match participants had a chance to win the block (92.9%)
  • A come-from-behind victory, where the block winner went into the block final trailing their opponent, and won the match to win the block (50%, 14/28 block final matches)
  • Wrestlers in the undercard that held tiebreakers over a block final match participant always lost
    • 22.9% win percentage, 8/35,  in the 2010-2022 period 
      • 4 won their match and won the block:  (Shinsuke Nakamura 2014A, Hirooki Goto 2016A, Kota Ibushi 2020A, Will Ospreay 2022D) 
        • Each time, the block final was between a wrestler that could win the block and a wrestler that was already mathematically eliminated. The wrestler with a chance only had to win the match to win the block, and lost)
      • 1 won their match, but did not win the block: Styles 2014B
        • Okada won the block final match to win the block
      • 3 drew with each other, losing the block to the person that won the block final match: Shinsuke Nakamura v. Go Shiozaki 2010B – time limit draw; Shingo Takagi [v. Yujiro Takahashi] 2021A – double count-out)
    • No wrestler in the block final match, with a chance to win the block, was eliminated by an earlier result
  • The wrestlers in the block final match were generally the two strongest booked wrestlers in the block.

Of course, you can’t just graft one-advance mechanics onto a two-advance system, which has always functioned differently. In the nine years of two-advance prior to 2022 (1995, 2002-2007, 2009), the common devices are fundamentally different:

  • Traditional winner-take-all scenarios happened 11.11% of the time. That is, once in nine years (Yoshihiro Takayama v. Katsuyori Shibata in 2003B and Kaz Fujita v. Shinsuke Nakamura in 2005B)
  • 22.22% of the time, 4 times out of 18 blocks, it was winner-take-all to advance in second place (2002B, 2006B, 2007B, 2009B).
  • 16.67% of the time, 3 times out of 18 blocks, saw one wrestler fighting for first place, and the other fighting for second place

We’ll talk more about the corrosive, baleful, irredeemably inferior two-advance system in part IV of this series. That’s a matter for analyzing the format, not the booking. We can only evaluate the booking for what it did within that system, that format. 

The big question this year was how Gedo & Co. would book a two-advance system. Sure, they had done it in their first G1 Climax as bookers back in 2009, but since then they have established the robust sensibilities noted above. They had  pretty much done the same thing every year for over a decade. A change as essential as one-advance to two-advance providing some really captivating subtext. And this year, the booking did quite well.

Here’s how it fit into that winner-take-all historical sequence:

A Block

Block Final Match

  • Hikuleo (T-11th in CP overall, T-3rd in A Block) vs. Shota Umino (T-11th in CP overall, T-3rd in A Block)
  • Winner-take-all to advance
  • Kaito Kiyomiya could have tied Umino; he lost in the undercard

B Block

Block Final Match

  • Will Ospreay (6th in CP overall, 2nd in B Block) vs. ELP (T-11th in CP overall, 3rd in B Block)
  • Winner-take-all to advance
  • Okada won on undercard to free up the match to be WTA

C Block

Block Final Match

  • Shingo Takagi (T-4th in CP overall, T-1st in C Block) vs. EVIL (T-11th in CP overall, 2nd in C Block)
  • Not winner-take-all to advance
    • Tama Tonga won on the undercard; Shingo’s best result would be an unbreakable tie with him

D Block

Block Final Match

  • Tetsuya Naito (3rd in CP overall, 1st in D Block) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (T-8th in CP overall, T-2nd in D Block)
  • Not winner-take-all to advance
    • Tanahashi was eliminated by the Jeff Cobb-Shane Haste DCO

What we see here certainly does not resemble the beautifully tranquil, geometrically sound monotony of 2010-2022 G1 Climax final night booking. It approximates it closely enough, certainly more than we expected under this format, but it’s trending in the wrong direction, for sure. Last year, three of four blocks were winner-take-all; this year, we’re down to two of four, although you could make a roundabout, specious case that the C Block was technically winner-take-all to advance, since Shingo would have had the chance to face Tama in some kind of play-in match if he had won. We’ll explain why that has a different historical precedent in a bit.

As it stands, only one out of eight block final match participants was actually fighting for first place: Naito. Everyone else was either fighting for second place, fighting for an unbreakable tie (Shingo), or already eliminated (Tanahashi). And since Shingo was technically fighting for second place, at the very least we can say the traditional Gedo & Co. booking dynamics held in three of the four matches. The winner of each those matches would have moved on, in some way. The stakes were unilaterally high across the board.

That may seem obvious… why would anyone book a culminating match in a fake sport, where you can control everything, to have zero stakes, interest, or intrigue. Who knows, ask whomever booked the 2005 A Block, where that exact thing happened: Hiroyoshi Tenzan fighting for a three-way unbreakable tie and Yuji Nagata straight up eliminated. Again, two-advance fucking sucks. We’re just trying to find the clandestine benefits to this nonsense.

A and B Blocks require little further analysis, they held true to the winner-take-all system, even if it wasn’t for first place. A Block was already decided, as SANADA ran the table, so the block final was going to be for second place no matter what happened. This actually happened before, twice: 2006B, when Tenzan swept his block and won the whole tournament, and 2009B, when Nakamura ran the table in his block but lost in the final to Togi Makabe.

Some might say this is more complicated than we’re letting on, since Kaito Kiyomiya could have forced an unbreakable tie with Umino, and therefore a winner-take-all for second was not guaranteed. To that we say: guys, it’s fucking Kaito Kiyomiya. If you thought for one second that Gedo & Co. were going to pass up the orgasmic euphoria bookers apparently feel by burying this geek, this pilgarlic, you’re lost. 

B Block did throw in a fun wrinkle, with a wrestler winning the block in the undercard (Okada), clearing the way for a clean, winner-take-all to advance in second place. This has actually happened before: 2002B (by forfeit, so by a technicality, we suppose) and  2007B.

But it’s the C and D Blocks where things are a bit more provocative, and we mean that literally. They flirted with disaster in those blocks, provoking the jittery ire of anyone grasping for clean structure, only to presumably make the soothing orthodoxy that followed more sedative. Basically, they made it seem like everything was going to deteriorate, but common sense prevailed.

Unbreakable Ties 

Unbreakable ties are not unusual, but they are rare, and they are completely fucking stupid. There have been five unbreakable ties in the history of the G1 Climax:

  • 1991B – Masahiro Chono vs. Shinya Hashimoto (tied for 1st, wrestled to a time limit draw) – only one-advance unbreakable tie, Chono wins tiebreaker match
  • 2002B – Manabu Nakanishi vs. Osamu Nishimura (tied for 2nd, wrestled to a time limit draw), Nishimura wins tiebreaker match
  • 2003B – Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuyori Shibata (tied for 2nd, wrestled to a double count-out draw), Nagata wins tiebreaker match
  • 2004A – Masahiro Chono vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (tied for 3rd, wrestled to a double count-out draw which, inexplicably and for only this year, garnered zero point), Nakamura wins tiebreaker match
  • 2009A – Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe (tied for 1st, wrestled to a time limit draw) coin toss (yes, Gedo & Co’s first G1 Climax gave us the infamous coin toss)

We were baffled when so many people, people we respected and considered sober, sensible, grounded intellects, advocated for unbreakable ties in A block, C block, or both. This is not a serious perspective. Hadn’t we rapaciously demeaned the block system enough, rendering it impotent and essentially meaningless through a wretched combination of two-advance and 8-man playoff? Do we need a further layer of disconnect between the blocks and the final? 

We don’t. Tiebreaker matches are vacuous, they add nothing and are ungainly clutter. Fuck ‘em. In this case, ’em is your sentiment. Fuck your sentiments.

We suppose there’s merit to the idea that the system had already been sullied enough through the formatting, so how much more damage could an unbreakable tie, and resultant play-in match, really do to this enfeebled ally? Either way, the company graciously avoided this scenario. Not that they didn’t heavily tease it’s feasibility, but, ultimately, it came down to two formidable pathetic choices: an unbreakable tie result, or EVIL actually wins a critical match after three years of convoluted incompetence.

Good taste prevailed.

They made us sweat it out in C Block, though. The final night scenario looked like this, in order of match line-up:

  • Tama Tonga was at 7 points. He had defeated David Finlay, lost to EVIL  and drew with Shingo Takagi. The best he could hope for was to defeat HENARE and gridlock Shingo in an unbreakable tie at 9 points, either directly or through a four-way clusterfuck
  • David Finlay was at 8 points. If he defeated Eddie Kingston, he would win the block outright.
  • Shingo Takagi was at 7 points. He needed to defeat EVIL, and then either advance in second place through a three-way tie with Finlay and Kingston, or induce an unbreakable tie with Tama for second. 
  • EVIL was at 8 points. He had already lost to Finlay, but could win the block with a draw or win if Finlay lost. If Finlay won, he’d take second place outright with a win

If ever there was a testament to Gedo & Co.’s preference, their ruminative attraction to clean, tidy results, it is the 2023 C Block. The most immaculately spartan scenario here was if Finlay and EVIL both won, and that is what happened. They made things compelling by having Tama win, teasing that unbreakable tie between Shingo and Tama, but ultimately prudence won out.

As for D Block, they actually made a convincingly horrific case for a labyrinthine multi-layer tiebreaker scenario, because that was the only way Hiroshi Tanahashi could have advanced. And despite years of sub-.500 records in the G1 Climax, dating back to 2019 at this point, we cannot let go. Even though he moves like his blood has been replaced with papier mache and his feet are magnetic, we cannot concede on Tanahashi. If the only way for him to succeed is ludicrous, then toss logic out the fucking window.

It looked like this:

  • If Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Tetsuya Naito, Jeff Cobb loses to Shane Haste, and Zack Sabre Jr. loses Hirooki Goto, there would be a five-way tie at 8 points between Tanahashi, Naito, Cobb, Sabre, and Goto:
  • Cobb would win the block with the best record in the group, 3-1
  • Naito, Tanahashi, and Goto would all be tied for the second-best record in the group, 2-2, and Tanahashi would advance in second place, having the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Goto and Naito.

But then Cobb drew with Haste, and Tanahashi was officially eliminated. That is a particular quirk of the two-advance system. In full disclosure, it has happened under the one-advance system: 1994B and 2008B. But, in the 12 years and 28 blocks of one-advance under Gedo, it never happened. There were 30 chances for it to happen; 27 times the wrestler lost, and 3 times the wrestler drew.

In 9 years and through 18 blocks of two-advance (prior to 2023), this happened four times: 2001A, 2003A, 2004A, 2005A. Half the time, the wrestler went into the night with the chance to win the block, and by the time the match began they couldn’t even have advanced outright (2001A, 2005A. Tanahashi falls into the second category: guys that didn’t have a chance to win the block outright, but had a chance to win second place… until someone knocked them out from the undercard (2003A, 2004A)

As a side note, it’s fucking eerie sifting through these things and seeing how things align historical. As in, each of these eliminated-by-the-undercard situations happened in an A block, while all the winner-take-all for second place match-ups mentioned above were in the B Block.

We noted this in our final night preview, but fatuous scenarios like the one that could have salvaged Tanahashi are exceedingly rare. As far as we can tell, it’s happened once, in the 2004 A Block. That ended in a six-way tie between Katsuyori Shibata, Genichiro Tenryu, Shinsuke Nakamura, Masahiro Chono, Yuji Nagata, and Minoru Suzuki. Shibata and Tenryu tied for first with a 3-2 record within the group. Shibata took first place with the tiebreaker over Tenryu. That was the first, and only time record-within-group wasn’t enough to decide the block.

The avoirdupois of the Tanahashi name is enough that you couldn’t discount the possibility. But, ultimately, he was eliminated. That’s essentially the same booking dynamic Gedo & Co. always have done: teasing complications, but allowing precision to prevail.

One final, quick note on final night booking: they kept the block final matches strong. As we noted above, the trademark 2010-2021 booking of the Gedo & Co. G1 Climaxes has been to have the strongest booked wrestlers in each block face on the final night. Or, at the very least, the first night. As you can see above, each wrestler was, at worst, the 3rd strong booked wrestler in their block.

Overall, wrestler in a block final match are amongst the strongest booked wrestlers overall. If we look at 2015-2021, the single block night era, 82% of block final match participants were in the top 5 of overall booking strength (23 out of 28). 

Even so, in the chart below, we gather the overall booking strength of both the block final match participants, and any non-block final block winner:

As it did to every aspect of the G1 Climax that was good, decent, humane, successful, tolerable, or compelling, 2021 fucked everything up. The scheduling of that year was such an abysmal, mentally poisonous affair that we seriously think it should be tossed out. It’s not that the wrestlers didn’t deserve to be there, or even that the company faltered in booking block finalists the way they did. It’s more like this couldn’t be avoided once the format was decided. The one-match-per-block-per-night thing just totally fucked everything. That’s how you got ELP at 27th out of 28th, or Tama Tonga 15th.

This year reverted to sanity. Of the twelve wrestlers that advanced, participated in the block final match, or both, all twelve reside in the top 15. That’s a pretty damn good percentage. 

When we’re talking about booking, we’re talking about construction as well. How does it look when you deconstruct backwards? Does it seem like it was backwards designed, or does it look haphazard and capricious. To have so many wrestlers in this list, and all of them with booking strengths complementary to their final night positions… that is good construction. 

The 20 Minute Time Limit: A-

The Short Explanation:

While match lengths had grown preposterously large since the switch to single block nights (and inception of New Japan World) in 2015, the times retracted in 2022. Thus, shifting to the 20 minute time limit after 32 years of 30 minute time limits was most likely to enact the time limit draws used for the youths of A Block.

The 20 minute time limit kept things tight, a necessity in a double-block night tournament, and most nights breezed by. Catching up was significantly easier. That said, shortening the main events might have played a small role in the flat year-to-year match ratings and tournament buzz.

Just briefly, we wanted to touch upon the effect of the new 20 minute time limit, since this was the most audacious format change of all. They had done four blocks before. They had done two-advance before (and even three-advance in one unfortunate year). They have done expanded tournaments before (though, not this expanded). But they always had 30 minute time limits. This was a truly radical decision.

As Chris Samsa has pointed out, relatively few matches in G1 Climax history have ever gone past the 20 minute threshold. But things got completely out of hand in the post-2015 temporal hyper-inflation. The nadir was reached in 2021, when 27% of G1 Climax matches breached 20 minutes, including 11 that exceeded 25 minutes.

20+ minute matches were the most tangibly culpable reason for the ludicrous escalation in average match times:

Clearly this was an issue, but the increase began well before 2020. You see the sharp spike in 2015, when the company began the single block night schedule, which coincided with the first G1 Climax on New Japan World. This rises sharply beginning in 2017, and explodes during the pandemic.

The steep decline in 2022 simply returned to the pre-pandemic superfluity. The biggest difference: zero matches above 25 minutes.

The change in time limit led to a significant drop in match length average. Match average declined from 14:39 in 2022 to 12:55 in 2023, a 1:44 drop. It pales in comparison to the 2:32 drop from 2021 to 2022, though proportionally it is about the same (a 14.7% drop from 2021 to 2022, and an 11.8% drop). The drop from 2021 to 2022 was more about the absurdly immoderate match times of 2021, and a relaxing of pandemic conditions. The drop from 2022 to 2023 feels more like an actual, procedural decision to scale back.

Of course, that’s not why they did this. Not entirely, at least. The evidence certainly suggests that the 20 minute time limit was intently enacted to open up booking possibilities significantly more propitious to the young guys. This is already a divisive tournament; there would have been an complete exodus after night 3 if those A Block time limit draws had gone 30. The momentum the young guys have coming out of this tournament would have been negated and reversed.

And so, all things considered, this was an inspired, welcome, and beneficial decision.

One aspect to consider, though: did the limit on time limits contribute to the drop in match ratings? Probably, but not much. It’s a minor catalyst… aside from the main events.

This match length-match rating correlation is a bit more complicated than you might expect: while the numbers suggest a connection between higher ratings and 20+ minute matches, the strength of that connection weakens when you look at the circumstances.

More specifically: 20+ minute matches are rater higher than normal not because of their length, but because they are usually a main event. 80% of the time, in fact: 86 of the 108 20+ minute matches from 2016-2023 were main events. And, to reiterate a point made earlier, main events rated considerably higher than the average. And so, the two went hand in hand:

What we noticed most prominently from that grid is the comparison between the overall (CM) average and the other averages. Both the 20+ min. average and main event average are sharply higher than the general CM average. In comparison, there’s significantly less separation between the ME, 20+ min, and 20+ min ME averages. It definitely seems like the impact of main event position is main element in the high ratings for 20+ minute matches.

This is reinforced by the average ratings for the non-main event 20+ min matches from 2019-2021, when there was enough of these matches to offer some distinction (whereas the other four years have few, if any, 20+ minute matches outside the main event). In all three years, the non-main event 20+ minute average is higher than the overall average. Without question, the longer match lengths exceeded the normal.

But those averages were well below the 20+ min main event average. In 2021, the year match times went berserk, the 20+ minute average is actually below the Main Event average. Too many frivolous minutes.  

And so, the numbers show that it is not the amount of minutes, but the placement of those minutes.

Because of that, one could certainly speculate that longer main events might have boosted the overall average this year, since main events were so far down from the main event average of last year (as noted above). There’s some merit to that, we feel. As you can see, in nearly every year 20+ min main events rated higher on average than the general main event average, especially in the 2016-2018 years, when nearly all the 20+ minute matches were main events.. Obviously, there are more elaborate factors at play, but those numbers suggest at least some value to the notion.

But, ultimately, our conclusion remains the same as above with the match ratings: people simply enjoyed things less this year. Looking at the slate of main events, and considering that there wasn’t a noticeable drop in quality on paper from 2022 to 2023, we believe extra length would have had a negligible effect. And to the detriment of the benefits the 20 minute limit brought to the undercard.

If you’ve stuck around this long, I’m not sure who should commit whom at this point. Let’s walk hand-in-hand to the best asylum money can buy (grant money, not our money. It’s going to be a long process; these are competitive grants). In Part IV, we’ll finish this examination of G1 Climax 33 by evaluating the formatting, the scheduling and, ugh, the attendance numbers.

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