Updated: Sep 19, 2021
It's that time of the year. Well, not quite. For the second consecutive year the G1 Climax will take place in September thanks to the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo which was supposed to take place in 2020 but was delayed a year to 2021 thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has seen many potential names that could have taken part end up be missing from the 31st edition of the G1 prompting many takes that this might be the weakest field in G1 history.
So instead of a preview of the tournament, I thought I would look back at the last 30 years of the G1 and rank the greatest competitors in the history of New Japan's annual heavyweight tournament.
I will be classifying the wrestlers by the various criteria in a kayfabe setting:
Overall Win-Loss record
Win-Loss record in the following four age groups (20's, 30-34, 35-39 and 40's) with competitors needing to wrestle more than one G1 in an age group to be classified in that particular age group.
Win-Loss record against major promotion world champions (IWGP, WWE, GHC in the 2000's and Triple Crown in the 90's) and former G1 winners
Victories over the IWGP Heavyweight Champion during their reign.
Time of victories and defeat
Also, I'm not including any records from the summer tournaments that were predecessors to the first tournament using the G1 name. The main reasons being that it's difficult to compare the criteria of matches involving IWGP Heavyweight Champions pre-1991 and post-1991 when the championship as a lineal trophy was started in 1987 and also, the thought of writing anything complementary to Antonio Inoki might force me to throw my laptop out of my office window and I spent enough money on my laptop that I really don't want to do that.
1- Masahiro Chono
There's a reason why they call him Mr. August. Masa's five G1 wins should be the obvious reason as to why the former leader of the NWO Japan faction is the greatest G1 wrestler of all time but his stats over the 16 appearances that he made in the G1 see Chono on his own island in G1 history.
With a 66% win-loss record only bettered by Keiji Mutoh (68%) and Kazuchika Okada (67%), Masa's W-L record spanning the four age groups puts him in the top seven in all four groups, the only wrestler to achieve this.
10-1-1 83% (1st)
15-6 71% (2nd)
16-10-1 59% (8th)
13-8-1 59% (2nd)
5-2 71% (2nd)
12-7 63% (8th)
10-5 66% (4th)
37-16-3 66% (3rd)
19-7-1 70% (3rd)
26-13-3 61% (4th)
28-15 65% (5th)
14-10-1 56% (5th)
30-15-2 63% (8th)
22-14-1 59% (2nd)
19-7-1 52% (6th)
26-20 56% (10th)
25-12 67% (3rd)
11-10 52% (7th)
20-11-1 62% (8th)
11-12 47% (12th)
6-5-1 50% (8th)
15-4-1 75% (1st)
7-5-1 53% (10th)
12-9 57% (9th)
13-7 65% (6th)
12-12 50% (5th)
5-1-1 71% (1st)
7-8 46% (8th)
13-7 65% (5th)
23-31 42% (10th)
21-16 55% (8th)
24-31 43% (9th)
24-22 52% (10th)
9-9 50% (5th)
Chono would win a G1 in each of the four age groups with two of them coming in his twenties in the first two G1s being one of just three to win the G1 back to back. Plus his record against IWGP champions at 12-11-2 including a record of 6-4-1 against champs when in his forties make Chono the greatest Grade 1er of all time.
2- Hiroshi Tanahashi
The only person to even come close to Chono in the conversation on the greatest G1 competitor, Tanahashi's 3 G1's come in two different decades with only Chono and Kensuke Sasaki matching that feat. The Ace's G1 performances from 2007-2011 let his overall record down with a 52% win record including a three year stretch from 07 to 09 when Tana went 1-3-2 against world champions and G1 winners with the only victory actually coming in the G1 final against Yugi Nagata in 07. His defence of his Crown in 2008 saw Tana go 2-4 in the group stage.
Tanahashi's record after his 35th birthday at 50-29-3 is the best amongst those who have wrestled in the G1 from the age of 35 into their forties with a record of 17-8-1 against champs and G1 winners a massive contrast to his adventures in the years before he turned 35 when his W-L against champions was 8-11-2.
Win-Loss Record from the age of 35 into their forties
The master of the Rainmaker became the youngest winner of the G1 winning on his debut appearance in 2012 at the age of 24 beating Masa Chono's record at 27 years old. In his nine appearances in the G1 so far, he has placed in the top two in his block seven times with only Tanahashi (8) and Nakamura (8) having more top two finishes in their blocks since the implementation of the two block format full time from 2001. Okada's average wins per tournament of 6.3 in the last 9 years beats Tanahashi's average of 6.0 in the nine year span between 2010 and 2018. The one potential naysay on Okada's record is the strength of schedule on Okada's G1 CV. Nine of Okada's 14 wins against former champions have been against over 40-year-olds with his record against champs under 40 being 5-9-3, which makes for an interesting G1 Climax 31 with two over-40's, Tanahashi and Hirooki Goto and a 34-year-old EVIL in his block. His record against wrestlers never to hold a major world title at 42-12-1 is the best amongst his peers. There will be six wrestlers that have never held a major world title in Block B this year.
W-L Record against non-world champions
Okada 42-12-1 76%
Nakamura 20-7 74%
Chono 31-14-1 67%
Naito 38-20 65%
Tanahashi 57-35-4 59%
4- Shinsuke Nakamura
It's a case of what could have been with Nakamura and his record at G1 had he stayed with NJPW instead of moving to the US to join WWE in 2016 with a W-L percentage of 65% under the age of 35 and his win average in his last 5 G1's being 6.2 with Tanahashi having the same average in the same timespan.
It's Nakamura's first six G1's in his 20's that makes his G1 legacy what it has become with a record of 26-13-3 with his W-L against former champs being 13-7-2.
Win-Loss record in their twenties against Champions
Another sign of his exemplary performance in his twenties was his ability to win matches in less than 10 minutes, winning eight matches before the ten minute mark. For comparison, Tanahashi has won just four matches under 10 minutes in his 18 G1s. How we could have done with Nakamura in his 20's in last year's G1.
Nakamura also has the distinction of having the joint most losing finalists placings losing in the 2009 final, in a year where he ran the board in Block B with six W's before losing to Togi Makabe in the final as well as losing in the final in 2014 and 2015.
5- Keiji Mutoh
With Mutoh's G1 career ending in 2001, there is a difficulty in comparing Mutoh's CV to those who competed in the G1 with increased field sizes and with three of Mutoh's ten G1 appearances taking place in the single-elimination knockout tournament format. One stat that can be compared though is that Mutoh was a losing finalist on three occasions, a similar number than Nakamura, only winning one final in 1995. All four of Mutoh's final appearances would take place in the two blocks format with Keiji getting to the final four twice in his three knockout tournament appearances. Mutoh would have early success against champions in the first half of his G1 career with a record of 5-3 including a historic victory over Big Van Vader in 1991 but the second half would see no victories against champions with three losses in that same time frame.
6- Kensuke Sasaki
It's another case of "what if" with Sasaki with his G1 career ending in 2004 at the age of 38. Like Mutoh, Sasaki took part in ten G1's and like Mutoh, three of those appearances were in knockout tournaments but unlike Mutoh, Sasaki won a knockout tourney in 1997. Sasaki's other G1 win came in 2000 when he would go undefeated winning five matches and drawing one in the only G1 to have four blocks, each of them having five wrestlers. Only one guy since 2000 would win a G1 without a blemish to their name.
7- Kota Ibushi
Ibushi's G1 body of work of just six G1s is small but very noteworthy. Three consecutive finals including back to back victories, a 12-9 record against champions and a win average of 5.8 per year is impressive additions to his CV but out of his 22 defeats, six of them have come against over 40's. In Kota's block in 2021, he will face four wrestlers over the age of 40.
Percentage of losses against world champions in their over 40's
Okada 3/22 13%
Tanahashi 5/38 13%
Chono 4/25 16%
Nakamura 6/29 20%
Naito 8/39 20%
Ibushi 6/22 27%
Ibushi's record against wrestlers in the top half of his block in the previous three years is 10-2 earning Kota a reputation as a big match winner. If only Ibushi's time in NJPW's heavyweight started earlier and his body of work in the G1 would end up being bigger and a definite spot on the Rushmore of G1 competitors.
Naito is yet to have a record of .500 or less in any edition G1 while in his thirties, a landmark only achieved by one other wrestler (Okada). This stat plus Naito's two G1 wins surely should rank Naito higher than 7th? The reason he isn't is that in the last three years, Naito's record against wrestlers in the top half of his block was 4-8. Compare that to Okada's record of 6-5-1 against fellow top half of his block wrestlers and Ibushi's record against top half wrestlers. Naito's biggest weakness in the past three years has been matches that have gone more than 20 minutes in the group stages with a record of 6-6 when matches go north of twenty. Compare this to his record in 2012 to 2017 when he picked up six wins in matches that went under 10 minutes, the most in that time period. Maybe a change of strategy is needed in G1 Climax 31
9- Hirooki Goto
Hot take time. Hirooki Goto is a better G1 wrestler than Hiroyoshi Tenzan. I'll explain more later in Tenzan's entry (spoiler alert-he's tenth) but Goto deserves a top ten entry for many reasons.
Goto is Mr. Consistency when it comes to the the G1. In his twelve participations in the event, he has finished with a record of under .400 in the block stage just twice. In 2014, he finished 4-6 in the year there were eleven men blocks and in 2018 with a 3-6 record, the only year he has failed to beat a former champion. Goto's record against champions is 11-15 with his record against those in the 35-39 age group letting his W-L down with only two wins in 14 matches against champions in that age group bracket, which makes his overall record is 54-49 an even greater achievement with what could have been had he improved on his 2-12 record. A note for 2021, none of the three former major world champions in Goto's block are in the 35-39 age group.
How can you put a 3-time G1 winner who won back to back Grade 1's so low? Easy. If you take away the four year period between 2003 and 2006 when Tenzan won his three G1s, he was very average in August time. His W-L record away from his golden period is 46-64-1 (41%). Tenzan's record in the 35-39 age bracket is 11-12 which is sweetened up by his 6-0 run in his victorious campaign in 2006. Compare this to the likes of Ibushi, Naito, Mutoh and Tanahashi who W-L percentages are in the 60's in the 35-39 group. Tenzan's W-L in his forties? 20-34 with a record of 6-16 against champions. The stat that Tenzan has beaten 3 IWGP Champs when they were the current belt holder during a G1 is impressive on paper but 2 of those happened in consecutive years in 96 and 97 against the same man, Shinya Hashimoto during this lengthy run with the IWGP title in the mid-90's but there is also an argument to be made that that statistic is something that can be thrown to the side when the guy who holds the record for most victories against a reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion during a G1 is...... Toru Yano with four with two of those coming in the last three years.