Fixing What You Didn’t Break

We’re not mad. Why would we be? Change is good. Change is the cycle of life, assuredly. When something becomes stagnant, rather than clinging to orthodoxy, people or institutions should embrace adjustments. Change is good. 

Say, for instance, your democratic republic has been stable for hundreds or even thousands of years. BORING. Spice things up, you fuckers! Let go of conventionality for convention’s sake. Open the door to some fascist despotism and give them they keys to the arsenal? Change is good.

For many of us, we go through our whole lives with four functioning limbs. This banal, conformist situation perpetuates for days, weeks, months, years, decades. Why let your fear of the unknown incapacitate you? Stop being such a baby and shake things up a bit. See what a severed foot feels like. Maybe make a project of it, and see how long it takes to carve out your xiphoid process with a compostable plastic spoon, a little bit each day. Change is good.

And, without question, if your company is experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity, especially on a global scale, even through multiple talent diasporas and a worldwide viral cataclysm, what are you going to do when you come out on the other side? Suckle at the withered, dessicated teat of comfort? Fortune favors the bold! Take your most prestigious event and fuck it, fuck it good, fuck it to death! Change is good!

Truthfully, we’re forcing indignation for the sake of a forced, tortured bit. Even though we’ve written for years on this totally inaccessible topic, we can’t be mad at the changes New Japan made to the structure of the G1 Climax for 2023. Ultimately, whatever bromides you want to cast about things being broken, and when or when not to fix them, or whether you should use one of those puns in the title of your memoir, it simply doesn’t apply. We know Japanese wrestling was broken, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault (unless you’re one of the people that do think this was all someone’s fault. In which case, I’m sorry they stopped booking you years ago). 

New Japan did not break the system; if anything, they held to their systems as long as they could. Coming out of the pandemic, things have been so thoroughly disenchanted, the time was never more propitious to just try something new and see what happens. There was a meager amount to lose. Especially after last year’s totally unnecessary fiasco, just a scheduling disaster in every way. Of course, they didn’t gain anything, either. If anything, it brought them closer to modernity. While the company very overtly chases after an 80’s flavor of American professional wrestling, this G1 Climax allowed them to assume a very current trend in American wrestling: the wrestlers bailing out the company’s dubious ideas and concepts. 

And, in large part, it was #501 in the PWI 500 who salvaged things. Without Tetsuya Naito’s semi-final and finals matches, the tournament concept could have been derided and denounced wholesale. But because, as we noted in Part III of this post-script, Naito did deliver so exquisitely, it projects the illusion of excellence over the whole enterprise. Finish Strong is not just a youtube show hosted by Charlton (allegedly). Without those performances, the formatting would have been far more egregiously off-putting. And even then, those performances are just cursory distractions; with or without them, the format was weird.

We finish our post-script by looking at the armature of the tournament, the shell within which the performances and booking that we examined in Parts 1-III were framed. We also look at the attendance numbers, about which there was much palaver.

Format: C-

The Short Explanation: G1 Climax 33 was formatted unlike any G1 Climax before it. It maintained the four-block structure from 2000 and 2022, but unlike those tournaments it brought back the two-advance system that had not been used since 2009. With two advancing from each block, an eight-man tournament final decided the winner.

While the tournament’s semifinals and final produced legendary match-of-the-year contenders, we’re unconvinced the same effect could not have been achieved under the old one-match final format. Actually, we’re completely convinced that it would have been better under the old way, that the playoffs thing is a completely vapid promotional stunt, and had zero effect on either the attendance numbers or tournament buzz. And, since it didn’t further the young guys, or serve as a highlight for them, the sooner we fucking return to the old ways the better.

Joe Lanza, in his daily G1 audio coverage, off-handedly noted that “there’s no real advantage to coming in first place” under this system. That was more poignant than Joe probably intended.

In the 19  years since the New Japan Cup began in 2005, the G1 Climax has run a playoff-format final only six times, with a 12 year gap between 2010 and 2021. We’re just speculating here, but the reason why seems self-evident: why run a single-elimination tournament at the end of a round-robin tournament, when you already have a dedicated single-elimination tournament? It didn’t make sense to bring it back last year, or this year, or any year that there is a New Japan Cup. It undermines both tournaments, but more heavily etiolates the very essence of the modern G1 Climax. Discarding the playoffs in 2010 was one of the more inspired decisions by Gedo & Co., and really cleaned up the yearly calendar.

Hand-in-hand with the playoff tournament final is the two-advance system(and, once, the disturbing three-advance system). Besides 2000 and 2022, every G1 Climax playoff has been the result of multiple wrestler advancing from the same block. It sucks in real life, and that suckiness is exacerbated in fake life. Its a repugnant beta noire to all things good and decent, which can be defined very simply: two blocks, one-advance-per-block. This is not merely a recency bias. This was the format for five of the first six round-robin G1’s (ignoring the effectively non-canon single-elimination tournament G1 Climaxes in 1992-1993 and 1997-1998). We are talking about peak years, from 1991 to 1999. 

Two blocks is simply the natural, Platonic form of the G1 Climax. Of the 32 G1 Climaxes thus far, only three have gone a different route, each year running four blocks, and each year being a total fucking chore: 2000, 2022, 2023. The standard two-block/one-match-final system naturally lends itself to an exhilarating escalation (sometimes on paper, mostly in practice):

  • The A Block is decided in a winner-take-all main event on Night 1 of a three-night stand at Sumo Hall 
  • The B Block is decided in a winner-take-all main event on Night 2 of a three-night stand at Sumo Hall
  • The G1 Climax is decided in the main event on Night 3 of a three-night stand at Sumo Hall

It is the most galvanizing 72 hours in professional wrestling. And every facet of this is critical:

  • The block final main events have to be winner-take-all when the match begins. You can throw in some undercard subterfuge, as they did in 2014, 2016,  and 2020, just to freshen things up, but winner-take-all always works. 
  • It has to take place over three successive nights
  • It has to be at Ryogoku Kokugikan

Deviating from this formula is disastrous. Imagine Ibushi vs. Tanahashi in 2018, but instead of Ibushi v. Omega fighting for the B Block win the night before, Ibushi and Omega both advanced regardless and then faced each other in a semi-final. It significantly detracts from the block final, eliminates the urgency of the three-night stand, and negates the entire function of the blocks. But more than that it simply nullifies the block win. 

Winning the block no longer matters. Whether you finish first or second place, you advance. Advancing becomes the objective. And advancing is not an accomplishment. We firmly believe that winning a block in the G1 Climax should stand as a minor but notable achievement in a wrestler’s career. It should be noted alongside title wins, awards, etc. But that only matters when the block win has consequence: a direct path to the G1 Final, directly transferring the profundity of the block win to the final itself. In two-advance, what does it matter? That’s not a question you should strive to provoke in pro wrestling; the whole artifice kinda crumbles. Not like a cookie… more like a sugar cookie dropped into the Sinhara Forest Reserve and immediately trampled by leaf monkeys and magpies. And then eaten by puffins, which aren’t endemic to Sri Lanka, but have to be included in any story because puffins rule. The point is, wrestling is always hanging by a thread.

That Scene Where the Guy from the Mayo Clinic Explains Things to Mr. Burns with All the Germs Getting Stuck in a Doorway (i.e. A 32-Man G1 Climax)

Unfortunately, we don’t see this format being reverted to the old ways any time soon, because that would require a significant reduction in field size. And now that they’ve gone so far above the standard, contracting down to 20 seems unlikely.

No matter which number you choose, it’s arbitrary. Obviously, the whole thing is defined by its own artifice, but the number of participants in the G1 Climax is simply a matter of evens. That’s the only requirement: an even number that balances across blocks. It’s never been driven by a notion of how many guys should be in the tournament. It made no goddamn sense that they decided to run a 32 man field for G1 Climax 33, but a 28-man field for G1 Climax 32, but increasing for the second year in a row made some sense considering the conditions. They have a bounty of young guys that have manifested in the last year, and the smart move was to include all of them. 

There was an immediacy to the classic 2020-2021 format. One person emerged from each block, and went straight into a final match. Simple, uncomplicated, sublime. Every step you add in between this process dilutes the impact. Four, eight, sixteen, it doesn’t matter. Before, the block winners carried the accumulated credibility and substance of their block into the final, directly. Now, they simply earn a high seed in a fake sport where seeding is meaningless.

The playoffs are a totally different context. There’s a mental delineation between blocks and playoffs. We see this message reiterated in sports ceaselessly: the playoffs are a different animal, a new season, a fresh start. Whether it is a sport where everyone advances, or only the top points-getters, it’s the same. Whether you or your team are the top seed or the bottom seed going into the playoffs, it doesn’t matter. Did you get wrecked in the pools? Don’t worry, just get them in the DE’s. Did you wipe out your division? Don’t get overconfident, stay sharp for the playoffs.

The point: it’s different. It doesn’t feel like a continuation of the blocks like the single match final did. It feels like we’ve moved from one phase to another, and that’s not compelling.

And without question, this year delivered some match of the year contenders in the semi-finals and final. But the quarterfinals was simply time and space, occupied. Two very good matches in Finlay vs. Ospreay and Okada vs. Sabre, but ultimately the quarterfinal round merely added separation between the blocks from the final, instead of strengthening the connection between them. Yes, the final two nights provided great matches, but couldn’t that have been accomplished, more effectively and cathartically, with a simple block finals and one-match final string of shows? Okada and Naito could have won their blocks in a winner-take-all block final main event against their semi-final opponents and accomplished the same, if not more. 

We managed to get two block winners in the final—which seemed unlikely, considering that they were bringing back two-advance after that system lay dormant for 14 years—and yet by the time the final began the blocks were a distant, impertinent memory.

Scheduling: B

By scheduling, we mean a few different aspects of the tournament:

  • The actual scheduling of dates
  • The number of matches per date
  • The placement of certain matches on certain dates

The last one might traditionally fall under “booking,” but as noted above we’ve narrowed the definition of booking to simply mean the decisions made on wins and losses. In this case, the placement of the matches goes under scheduling because we are judging the feeling and flow of the tournament, which is largely the result of the way the matches are scheduled. And that was especially true this year.

The Short Explanation: After the abysmal, miserably gauche scheduling of 2022, resulting in a thoroughly disconnected tournament devoid of momentum, they corrected course tremendously. The return to double-block nights was a smart complement to the 20 minute time limit. 

There was also an adroit structure to the tournament in totality. By shifting certain matches and venues to historically dormant parts of the tour, they managed to avoid the dreaded “dog days of the G1.” The tournament seemed to elevate as it went on, instead of the usual dip or undulations.

That said, this shift came at the expense of the most important nights of the tour: the opening nights and the block finals. Whereas in the past the opening nights were stacked, and the block finals usually had one or two reliably marquee matches, the bookends of this year’s tournament were toned down, with some baffling match-ups. We believe this had a negative effect on the public response to the tour.

It gets a B just for correcting the debilitating mistakes of 2022. Almost anything would have better than the godawful, disconnected fucking nightmare last year. So many dreadful decisions played a part in 2022’s failure, but at the heart of it was the decision to schedule one match per block, per night. That dropped the number of G1 matches per night from five to four… except for Nights 9-16, which all had five. Followed by Night 17, which had 4. Followed by Night 18, which had 8! The fuck!

And because it would have been difficult to impose rigidity upon such a flimsy armature, or a round robin tournament in general, there was no kind of set rotation for the wrestlers. Thus, wrestlers like ELP went nearly two weeks in between matches (Credit to Chris Samsa for digging that back up for us). Some wrestlers, like EVIL, did not have their first match until Night 6. It was a fragmented, meandering morass.

Thankfully, everyone moved at the same pace this year, everyone in a block progressing together. That solved the biggest issue with last year’s tournament. Any feelings of ennui, exasperation, or disconnect cannot be blamed on the scheduling. At least, not in that way. They did find another way to cauterize excitement, although it wasn’t apparent at first, Basically, they spread things out, dispersing and dissolving a lot of the tournament’s natural energy flow for the sake of balance. If there’s one thing wrestling finds repellent, it’s balance.

The Voice That Lulls You to Sleep, the Balanced Diet You Force Down Your Throat, and Other Allegedly Healthy Things That Suck the Life out of Life

Momentum is so key in the G1 Climax. It may be easy to forget that, since 2022 had no momentum, and actively sabotaged any chance of momentum, but the G1 Climax has a predictable pattern of momentum. The tournament has historically began with a surge, and then always loses that momentum, fluctuating somewhere around the middle nights, and only regaining firm footholds on the final block nights. The schedule this year has been praised for solving the main issue: inconsistency between nights. The first 12 nights were 8-match, double-block nights, concluding with four single-block nights consisting of 4 G1 Climax matches per night. Nice, evenly structured, and beautifully symmetrical.

The scheduling has also been praised for supposedly, and cleverly, eliminating the yearly dog days, which usually set in somewhere around Nights 9-11. This year, with only 12 pre-block-final nights, they adroitly placed reliably strong venues in those arduous night slots: Korakuen, Osaka, Dolphin’s, the Sun Plaza… places that can be counted upon to deliver vociferous support. And thus the dog days are over.

Except that they aren’t gone at all. They just changed location.

The dog days came in the front half of the tournament instead of the back end. Besides the habitually incredible Xebio Sendai, Nights 3-6 were onerous shows to consume. And for some, you could extend this period back to Night 1, because Hokkaido did not exactly rouse into frenzy for the opening Nights.

And that is where we find some of the real faults in the scheduling of G1 Climax 33: while they scheduled a consistent and well paced tour, they never gained real momentum, because they did not overload the first two nights as previous years had done. Think of main events of past opening nights: Okada vs. Marufuji, Omega vs. Naito, Ibushi vs. Okada, Naito vs. Tanahashi. This year: SANADA vs. Hikuleo and… actually, just forget Naito vs. Cobb, because the Hikuleo vs. SANADA main event, in that building, with that crowd, on Night of the Grade One Climax, was never going to be given a chance, and signaled a tournament many seemed prepared to disregard.

Combined with the poor attendances at the front end, and it was a perfect recipe for an induced diaspora. There didn’t appear to be any incentive to endure the tournament, which was grueling to keep up with even in peak years. Why bother when so much of the bill was uninspiring to the monthlies audience, and the crowds were barely differentiated from the clap crowds of the pandemic era? This is why the G1 Climax system, in place under this booking regime, was so smart of sacrifice the middle days for the sake of the bookends: that is what people remember the most.

Just like with the final night booking patterns, it’s a level of predictability that works, because it is conceptual. It’s not a gimmick, it’s just basic, fundamentally logical structure. It’s fine to play around with form every once in a while, but as noted above, wrestling thrives through contrived imbalances—imbalances of strength, passions, exposure, consequence— and scheduling them out just flattens everything.

Of course, that can be overcome, to some degree, by really loading up the final nights.

They didn’t.

Finish Strong

In Part III and above, we once again discussed the decade-long booking pattern established by Gedo & Co. We end up discussing this in pretty much every G1 Climax-related article we write. It’s one of those things that fascinates us, though we wonder if anyone else finds it interesting as a base, since it’s the type of thing no one thinks about unless you’re specifically looking for it. We only figured it out by accident, researching match time stats.

To reiterate:

  • They almost always book the block final night main events to be winner-take-all for the block victory
  • It’s painfully obvious most years which match will be the block final main event, once the schedules come out pre-tournament
  • The strongest booked guys generally are the ones fighting for the block win in the block final main event.

And we often think, as we’re writing this nonsense, does anyone even want to know these patterns, to be aware of them? This is a basic principle of life, the ability to completely divorce products from processes. For instance, every day when we get home from work, we go to the kitchen and capture the sun-drenched flavors of Tuscany of Boar’s Head Rosemary and Sundried Tomato Ham, sharling a slice (cut to a level 2, of course, just above shaved but with just enough width to peel and roll) with my dog when my wife is not looking. We rarely think to myself that we’re eating flesh, that what we’re eating could easily be any of us, or our idiot dog, and when we do any thoughts of veganism drift away into the nebula because we’re simple, cornfed folk incapable of making the direct connection to life and product.

So maybe it’s not an active thought in people’s minds, but the result is clear: the peak of the company, and the tournament, came when these patterns were the most egregious, laying bare the artifice as we saw, for instance, Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi circle around each other in 2019, when everyone knew goddamn well that their final night match would be for the 2019 A Block. And, in fact, they were the only two wrestlers still alive on the final night.

For some, this diminishes the tournaments, dampening the dynamics with a suppressive sense of determinism. And, without question, this sense of deflated cognizance can permeate the entire enterprise. It discourages one’s investment in certain main events, or certain stretches, since the ending is all that really matters.

BUT, as we estimated above, it’s the bookends that people remember the most. Those that follow every fibre of the tournament’s progress, through every match and every night, are a smaller coterie than the monthlies that pick-and-choose. And even then, how many of us, the completists, remember mid-tour circumstances. We might remember specific matches, but divorced from the immediate context, we have scant recollections or tangible sensibilities connected to those parts of the tournament.

That’s not to say that memorable things haven’t happened between Nights 3 and 18 (or so), or that we couldn;t recover these memories, it’s just that the potency of Night 1, 2, 17, and 18 are so much more pharaonic. As the beginning and the ending nights, they almost demand high stakes and palpable consequences. But demands are not binding, and this year they did not concede.

Just as the opening nights were peculiar, the block final nights were as well. If you’re wondering why it’s better to embrace predictable scheduling, loading up the first and final nights, rather than imbue the entire tournament with a smooth uniformity, this is why:

We couldn’t find the gif, but you know what these screencaps are from: the final night encounter between Tanga Loa and Kazuchika Okada. That is the type of match-up that could surprise people, a match that could exceed expectations on a mid-tour night. Depending on the intricate tapestry being woven, Tanga could even claim an unfathomable upset win over Okada. But on the final night of G1 Climax 33, it was self-evident that this match existed for Okada to win the block from the undercard, and clear the way for ELP v. Will Ospreay to be winner-take-all (as we noted in Part II, for second place). 

Not every block was as perplexing. In fact, we credit them for scheduling mostly compelling final nights. A Block came down to the unlikely pairing of Shota Umino and Hikuleo, but the way the night built upon itself was scintillating (and, of course, hilarious to see the Emerald Polite Nod stumble yet again). C Block’s build to EVIL v. Shingo is a good example. The D Block’s slate with a Goto-Sabre semi-main and Tanahashi-Naito main event felt downright nostalgic. 

The problem is, these were all best-possible scenarios, a consequence of the two-advance system. Producing compelling final nights was infeasible given the format. There is too much to account for in a two-advance system. And, as shown over the last thirteen years, the best possible scenario, even if it is pursued and crafted with extraordinary zeal year after year, is for the final block match to be the decider. When second place is in play, and sometimes the prize itself for the block final main eventers, things become murky. 

We credit their booking for finding ways to get around this. Even if, as we lamented in Part III, they teased the godawful fucked up unbreakable tie solution (which suggests that they will do it for real, if this format perpetuates). But they never had a prayer; the booking could only salvage so much due to the format, just as the brilliant final rounds of the playoffs could only salvage so much of the tournament itself.

In short, it feels like we lost something, but the booking was merely a symptom. It was admirable to take this chance, especially when the underlying thrust of this G1 Climax was the development of the young guys, in A Block and elsewhere. If they want those young guys to approach, or even surmount,  the past, they should be provided with the same frameworks. They can paint their history however they’d like, but a canvas, however ordinary, would be nice.