Top Ten G1 Climax Matches
Hello friends and welcome to the return of our Top Ten series after a real life problems induced absence and with the G1 nearing its conclusion, I thought we should look back at the best matches to take place in New Japan’s yearly extravaganza
As per our Top Ten, we have a criteria to separate the Okada classics to EVIL's efforts
Dave Meltzer’s ratings
Rankings in the Best Match Award in the Wrestling Observer Awards
Rankings in Voices of Wrestling Match of The Year Poll
Various other Match Polls (Must see Matches, Tokyo Sports Awards)
Opinions of Pro Wrestling Musings Staff
Importance of the bout in the years G1 and NJPW canon
1- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi- 12/8/2018
The 2018 G1 Final was an outstanding No.1 in our list with its 9.77 rating on Cagematch making it not just the Number one G1 match but 4th in the NJPW overall list and 8th overall across all promotions with Dave Meltzer’s *****¾ rating putting the match as one of fifteen to get that rating or higher. Add it’s 3rd place finish in the Voices of Wrestling Best Match of 2018 poll (Okada/Omega IV and Gargano/Andrade placed higher) plus it’s 2nd place in the Observer Best Match poll (Omega/Okada IV winning the award) and it truly deserves its rank.
CageMatch Top Ten G1 Matches
1- Tanahashi vs Ibushi- 12/8/18- 9.77
1- Omega vs Naito- 13/8/16-9.77
3- Omega vs Naito 13/8/17-9.76
4- Omega vs Okada 12/8/17- 9.72
5- Omega vs Ishii 4/8/18- 9.70
6- Tanahashi vs Nakamura 16/8/15-9.64
7- Shibata vs Ishii 4/8/13- 9.59
8- Omega vs Ibushi 11/8/18-9.58
9- Ibushi vs Ishii 28/7/18- 9.57
10- Tanahashi vs Ishii 2/8/13- 9.56
10- Hase vs Chono 6/8/93- 9.56
Everyone plays their role in this match perfectly including the seconds, Kenny Omega (Ibushi) Katsuyori Shibata (Tanahashi). Both combatants hit every note perfectly from mat wrestling to striking to their individual attributes that distance them from their peers.
2- Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito- 13/8/2016
To get to his breakthrough performance against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, Omega would have to win the G1 beforehand and when he beat Naito in the final match of Block B to qualify for the final of the 26th edition of the G1 beating Hirooki Goto the night after, Kenny would make history being the first and so far only non-Japanese wrestler to win the G1 climax.
Second in Cagematch ratings, Meltzer’s 5 star rating would be dwarfed the next year by it’s rematch (more on that later) but according to voters on the Observer and Voices of Wrestling MOTY polls, this match would be one of the best with a 2nd place finish in the Observer poll with a 22% vote share making it one of just two with a share of above 20% with the VOW voters putting it first in their MOTY poll.
Voter shares of top voted G1 Matches in WON Match of the Year
2020- Ibushi vs Suzuki (6th) 4%
2019- Okada vs Ospreay (4th) 10%
2018-Tanahashi vs Ibushi (2nd) 16%
-Omega vs Ishii (4th) 5%
-Omega vs Ibushi (8th) 3%
2017-Naito vs Omega (4th) 9%
- Okada vs Omega (5th) 7%
2016- Omega vs Naito (2nd) 22%
2015- Tanahashi vs Namkamura (2nd) 15%
2014- Styles vs Suzuki (1st) 25%
- Okada vs Nakamura (2nd) 18%
2013- Shibata vs Ishii (2nd) 17%
What separates this match from it’s rematch 365 days after is what it does for Kenny Omega. When Kenny became the third leader of Bullet Club after AJ Styles and Prince Devitt’s departure, the danger of Bullet Club jumping the shark was real but Kenny Omega’s performance against Naito and Goto showed him to be more The Bourne Ultimatum than Godfather Part III of Bullet Club leaders and would change wrestling as we know it.
3- Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega- 13/8/17
Day two of Kenny’s tour de force, it would also serve as Naito’s breakout moment for what would be his finest period as a wrestler.
There is a line from Dave Meltzer in his write up of this match which perfectly describes this contest.
“Believe it or not, no wrestlers were maimed in the making of this match”
The insanity of the neck drops and the spot in which Naito tries to piledrive Omega on the table but misses the table is evidence A in why Omega has been on injury sabbatical and Naito is the shadow of 2017/18 Naito that I adored so much that I was severely pissed off when he didn’t beat Okada for the IWGP belt at Wrestle Kingdom 2018 but it is what makes this match so epic and unforgettable. Those last 5 minutes are just brilliant.
G1 matches in Voice of Wrestling's MOTY Poll Top 10
2019- Ibushi vs White 7th
Takagi vs Ishii 9th
2018- Tanahashi vs Ishii 3rd
Omega vs Ishii 4th
Ibushi vs Ishii 10th
2017- Omega vs Naito 4th
Omega vs Okada 6th
2016-Naito vs Omega 1st
Okada vs Ishii 5th
Tanahashi vs Okada 9th
Omega vs Goto 10th
2015- Tanahashi vs Nakamura- 4th
2014- Styles vs Suzuki 1st
Nakamura vs Okada 2nd
Shibata vs Honma 10th
2013- Shibata vs Ishii 4th
Nakamura vs Ibushi 5th
Ishii vs Tanahashi 6th
Placing one spot higher than Omega/Okada III from the night before in Cagematch’s list and a quarter of a star lower than the six given to Omega vs Okada, Naito vs Omega would would rank higher than it’s rival for Best Match of G1 2018 in the VOW and Observer MoTY polls.
4- Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada- 12/8/17
It shows how awesome the tetralogy of matches between Okada and Omega was when this match was seen as the least good of the four but what cards that they are dealt in this match compared to the other three in their series, mainly a 30-minute time limit compared to the 60 minutes in matches 1 and 2 or no time limit in the final match they actually use to make this match what it is.
Looking for the win from the bell instead of pacing themselves, this match hits different from the others. The pair wrestle at a frenetic pace and at finishing at 24:40, it even avoids the cliché of Omega running out of time to gain the victory he needs to qualify for the final that would have been easy to book.
Dave Meltzer *****1/4-****** G1 Matches
Okada vs Omega- 12/8/17- ******
Omega vs Naito- 13/8/17- *****3/4
Tanahashi vs Ibushi-12/8/18- *****3/4
Okada vs Ospreay 20/7/19- *****3/4
Omega vs Ishii 4/8/18- *****1/2
Omega vs Ibushi 11/8/18- *****1/2
Takagi vs Ishii 8/8/19- *****1/2
Ibushi vs White 12/8/19- *****1/2
Okada vs Takagi 10/10/20- *****1/4
Ibushi vs Suzuki 10/10/20- *****1/4
Takagi vs Ishii 18/9/21- *****1/4
With a 4th place on the Cagematch ratings and its 6 stars from Meltzer putting it untouched at the top of matches at the G1 rated by Meltzer. Its sixth place finish in the VOW Match of the Year poll and 5th place in the Observer poll might seem low, it’s also seen as a view to the standard with the other two other Omega/Okada matches in 2017, Okada vs Shibata and the Omega vs Naito G1 final the next day ranking higher on both lists.
5- Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii- 4/8/18
Classified officially as the biggest upset in G1 history at the time when Ishii (4pts) beat Omega (12pts), it’s the story of this match that makes this so great. Omega is the better athlete but whatever he did, Omega could not finish Ishii off. He was the Spain football team, who kept the ball forever but couldn’t find the goal to win the match only for the underdog to win. This would be perfectly shown by the spot where Kenny hits a brainbuster only for Ishii to kick out at one and then four big hits later from the “Stone Pitbull” got Ishii the win and the upset.
With a 5th place in the Cagematch list and 5 and a half stars from Meltzer and to it the upset nature of the result with it being the biggest points differential upset until Omega’s loss to Toru Yano later in the tournament (albeit thanks to a Guerrillas of Destiny beatdown on Omega just before that match) coupled with Top Ten finishes in VOW and WON’s Top Ten Matches of 2018, both of them finishing 4th on each list this contest is an all-time G1 great.
6- AJ Styles vs Minoru Suzuki- 01/08/14
If I said to you that only one G1 match has finished top of both the Voices of Wrestling and the Wrestling Observer Match of the Year and I asked you which one, who would have picked AJ Styles vs Minoru Suzuki from 2014?
So the first thing that comes to mind is what was the quality of the year?
Wrestling Observer Match Of The Year
1. A.J. Styles Vs. Minoru Suzuki 8/1 Tokyo (298): 1,855
2. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura 8/10 Tokorozawa (143): 1,310
3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata 9/21 Kobe (74): 524
4. Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero 9/19 Mexico City (49): 522
5. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto 11/8 Osaka (47): 471
6. The Shield vs. The Wyatts 2/23 Minneapolis (37): 417
7. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma 8/3 Osaka (10): 330
8. Daniel Bryan vs. HHH 4/6 New Orleans (25): 287
9. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito 2/11 Osaka (20): 226
10. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma 7/26 Akita (19): 181
Voices Of Wrestling Match of the Year
A.J. Styles vs Minoru Suzuki 8/1 376 (11 1st place votes)
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kazuchika Okada 8/10 332 (9)
The Shield vs Wyatts 2/23 282 (8)
Neville vs Sami Zayn 12/11 248 (6)
Cesaro vs Sami Zayn 2/27 201 (4)
Atlantis vs Ultimo Guerrero 9/19 172 (7)
Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii 2/11 102 (1)
Daniel Bryan vs Triple H 4/6 102 (1)
Tomohiro Ishiii vs Hirooki Goto 11/8 95 (1)
Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomoaki Honma 8/3 86 (1)
So was Styles vs Suzuki a better match than those ranked 2-10 in either list? Whatever your opinion, the hard cold facts that we deal with on our Top Ten means Suzuki vs Styles is a definite for our list because of this achievement.
So where does Styles/Suzuki rank among its fellow matches? It’s 9.47 rating on Cagematch put it 17th on the G1 list, 40th on the NJPW list and second in the 2014 list and Meltzer’s rating of ****¾ which was of one 13 to get that mark in 2014 with just the one match to get 5 stars in 2014 makes it the one of two matches on the Top Ten not to get the magic 5 star+ treatment from Uncle Dave.
The match itself on paper is a total Styles Clash (pun probably intended) but it totally works. The match includes the best “targeting a body part” work on fingers I’ve ever seen. Add the RINGS/Pancrase-esque exchanges towards the end and the Bullet Club/Suzuki-gun stand off and this is a hell of a match. 2014 MOTY great? Not in my opinion (Zayn/Neville was my 2014 pick in my fave MOTY thread on twitter) but with the plaudits it received it deserves a spot on the list.
7- Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega- 11/8/2018
A match years in the making, The Golden Lovers fought it out for the top spot of Block B in an emotional match in front of a great crowd. The story of the match which saw the training partners see each other's big moves coming and when it came to the finale, both men hitting each other hard as hell despite their renewed friendship in order to find that key victory.
Meltzer would give the match five and a half stars, Cagematch voters gave it a 9.58 putting it eighth on the G1 list. The end-year lists were not as giving with the Observer voters putting the match 8th on its 2018 list and VOW had it at 16th in their list.
No matter how divisive the match is with watchers, the outcome of the match would see Ibushi start an unprecedented run of four G1 finals and show that the brand of storytelling that The Elite has shown the wrestling world can in fact be Dynamite.
8- Keiji Mutoh vs Vader- 10/8/1991
The only match on the list pre-2013, Mutoh and Vader’s Block A match is also the only G1 match to get the magic 5 stars from Dave Meltzer until Shibata/Ishii in 2013. The remarkable thing is, Dave probably would not have seen this match had it not been for a fan sneakily bringing a camcorder to Sumo Hall that night. Yes young kids, in the old days G1 Climax events were house show events until the final stages with the only hope to see NJPW matches being to send a stranger a cheque and hoping a VHS tape would come through the post (NGL I miss those days).
The top mark that the Mutoh/Vader match received would be one of four that would get the 5 star treatment from Dave. In context, 7 matches from the 2018 G1 have got the maximum or more stars call from Mr Meltzer. Without turning this into a “does Dave Meltzer overrate modern wrestling” debate. The isolation of Mutoh/Vader’s 5 stars in that era shows how heralded the match was in its time. The 8.98 rating on Cagematch might show that Dave might have overrated the match (it did finish 5th in the 1991 list on Cagematch tbf) but just two G1 matches from the 22 years after had rated higher than this match with only 11 other NJPW heavyweight matches pre-2010 rating higher.
NJPW Heavyweight matches with a 8.99+ rating pre-2010
Hiroshi Hase vs Masa Chono- 06/08/1993 9.56
Akira Maeda vs Tatsumi Fujinami- 12/06/1986 9.47
Fuchi/Kawada vs Iizuka/Nagata- 14/12/2000 9.38
Antonio Inoki vs Billy Robinson 01/12/1975 9.31
Kazuo Yamazaki vs Shinya Hashimoto 02/08/1998 9.18
Kensuke Sasaki vs Toshiaki Kawada 09/10/2000 9.16
Hirooki Goto vs Hiroshi Tanahashi 11/11/2007 9.14
Nobuhiko Takada vs Shinya Hashimoto 29/04/1996 9.12
Antonio Inoki vs Riki Choshu 02/08/1984 9.15
Antonio Inoki vs Tatsumi Fujinami 08/08/1988 9.07
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura 30/3/2008 9.06
Keiji Mutoh vs Vader 10/08/1991 8.99
The match itself is a great Japanese babyface vs menacing foreign heel match with the crowd fully enwrapped in the contest to the point when the crowd get the victory from Mutoh they crave, seat cushions get thrown into the ring in joy. Now that’s a babyface reaction.
9- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shinsuke Nakamura- 16/8/2015
The third highest Cagematch rating for a G1 Final with a sixth place overall in the G1 list, the 2015 final would finish 2nd in the Observer MOTY list and 4th in the VOW list with Shinsuke's match versus Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom topping both lists.
The physical exhaustion from both was evident to see and completely understandable after an unbelievable match. Despite the pair trying to get the win early, they would go more than 30 minutes, a fact when announced caused a pop from the crowd in attendance. It would be a case of Nakamura's power bar being the first to empty as two high fly low's would win it for Tanahashi.
Highest rated G1 finals on Cagematch
1- Tanahashi vs Ibushi 2018 9.77
2- Omega vs Naito 2017 9.76
3- Tanahashi vs Nakamura 2015 9.64
4- Goto vs Omega 2016 9.49
5- White vs Ibushi 2019 9.41
6- Okada vs Nakamura 2014 9.28
7- Nakamura vs Naito 2011 9.07
8- Naito vs Tanahashi 2013 8.85
9- Okada vs Anderson 2012 8.81
10- Mutoh vs Nagata 2001 8.80
10- Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii- 04/08/2013
If the Omega/Okada series are the Godfather of NJPW matches then Shibata vs Ishii from the 2013 G1 Climax is Mad Max: Fury Road. Relentless, a battery on your senses and fantastic for it. It’s Frye vs Takayama but for pro wrestling,
The match would be the first ***** match in the G1 for 22 years and would be the first of what would be 22 *****+ ratings from Dave Meltzer for G1 matches. The 9.59 from Cagematch puts the match seventh on Cagematch’s G1 list. This match would rank second on the Observer MOTY list only being beaten by Okada vs Tanahashi on 7/4 and 4th on the VOW list with the two Tana vs Okada matches (7/4 and 14/10) and Cena vs Bryan topping it. Plus it ends up ranking as the top G1 contest of the Must See Matches Poll (that I helped contribute too) which can be found online
Top 10 G1 Matches on Must See Matches Poll
1- Shibata vs Ishii 2013 (12th) 17%
2- Tanahashi vs Ibushi 2018 (61st) 5%
3- Omega vs Naito 2016 (79th) 4%
4- Hashimoto vs Tenyru 1998 (132nd) 2%
5- Ibushi vs Taichi 2020 (192nd) 1%
- Ibushi vs Ishii 2018 (192nd) 1%
- Omega vs Okada 2017 (192nd) 1%
- Omega vs Goto 2016
- Styles vs Suzuki 2014
- Tanahashi vs Ishii 2013
Its legacy comes from what the future looks like and what it could have looked like. It’s the sign of what is to come from the guru of star ratings Dave Meltzer and the high scores from Cagematch voters. This match is my personal favourite under 15 minute match in wrestling history and rewatching it this week, it got me thinking about the evolution of the G1 and the stat I came across when I researched my Top Ten G1 wrestlers ever.
There were 20 matches in the block stages of the 2020 G1 that went north of 20 minutes. Only one match in the 2013 went over 20 minutes and that was the 30 minute draw between Tanahashi and Okada which they are allowed to do because it’s Tana and Okada. It’s a trend that is going upwards with the 2021 edition seeing 23 of its Block matches going over twenty. Is the increase in long Block matches in the G1 the reason the popularity and interest in the G1 has decreased? No (note to self, potential column for the future) but seeing Taichi and Yoshi-Hashi going 22 minutes is not my idea of entertainment.
So, that’s the list of Top Ten G1 contests. All matches bar one are on the NJPW World service with Mutoh/Vader on YouTube. Thanks to Craig William for his stats which help bring some context to this list.