I had a great conversation with Rich Latta on last Sunday’s Doc Says podcast. We talked about the G1 Climax, but he brought a fun game to the table, offering me trades of modern New Japan wrestlers for WWE stars of past eras and putting me on the spot to accept or reject the trades!
Though I’m decreasingly in a column-writing state of mind, my interest in wrestling sure has not waned. The G1 Climax has dominated plenty of my extracurricular attention since it started a couple of weeks ago, to the point when I sat down to watch it on Sunday, I found I had actually gotten completely caught up. If it were not so awesome – take the group stage of a major soccer tournament and mix it with a touch of NCAA March Madness (the Cinderellas), then add in some of the best pro wrestling action you could ever see (over twenty 4-star matches by my count thus far) with a group of hungry wrestlers seemingly hell bent on out-performing anything that preceded their collective efforts in the history of their industry – it might actually be exhausting. So, here are some blog-style thoughts on the tournament:
The Best Matches of the G1 Climax (Through Day 8)
Note – 4-stars in qualitative terms means right at the level of great, 4 ¼ expresses definitive greatness, 4 ½ reflects the achievement of all-time level great, and 4 ¾ means that the match might really be 5-stars and one of the best matches I’ve ever seen
#1 Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay (Doc’s Rating – **** ¾) – A legitimate Match of the Year contender in a calendar full of all-time greats between the two wrestlers in New Japan who most often push higher the athletic ceiling of the in-ring performance
#2 – Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada (Doc’s Rating – **** ½) – SirSam tweeted after this match something along the lines of, “To those saying Ospreay is the best wrestler in the world, Okada’s response is, ‘Hold my beer.’” Bottom line is: matches like this fuel that absolute blast of a discussion
#3 – SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼) – Looks like this is the one that I liked more than just about everyone else, but as a fan of both ZSJ’s in-ring style and SANADA’s highly adaptable overall skill-set, what I saw from them was 20-plus minutes of awesome
#4 – Lance Archer vs. Will Ospreay (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼) – What you get when you combine one of the best runs of classic matches anyone has ever gone on with an intensely motivated big man looking to reinvent himself on New Japan’s second grandest stage
#5 – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jon Moxley (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼) – Moxley is a huge star, and matches like this offer an excellent contrast to the typical aesthetic of New Japan. Impressively, Ishii and Mox lived up to considerable hype, as this was arguably the low-key most anticipated fight of the tournament
#6 – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼) – Watching the presentation of a “must-win” situation in pro wrestling done well is a thing of beauty in the eyes of this enthusiast; combine that dynamic with two of New Japan’s finest performers and you get this match
#7 – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jay White (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼) – This is the cut-off match for me separating the tippy top from the next tier of greatness, and some of that for me came with the intangible quality of unpredictability and with the thought that the winner could top the B block
Special mentions to EVIL-SANADA (**** ¼), Ishii-Cobb (**** ¼), Okada-Tana (**** ¼) (Note – I unfortunately watched their classic 2013 Invasion Attack match hours prior, so this was great, but nowhere near the all-time level they have reached in the past), White-Goto (**** ¼), and Juice-Shingo (**** ¼)
Honorable Mentions to Tana-ZSJ (****), SANADA-Ospreay (****), KENTA-EVIL (****), SANADA-Ibushi (****), Moxley-Shingo (****), Okada-ZSJ (****), KENTA-Ibushi (****), White-Cobb (****), Juice-Goto (*** ¾), EVIL-Ibushi (*** ¾), KENTA-Tana (*** ¾), Archer-Tana (*** ½), and Moxley-Cobb (*** ½)
QUESTION OF THE DAY Part 1 – What is your favorite match (doesn’t have to the best) of the G1 thus far?
The Most Valuable Wrestlers of the G1 Climax (Through Day 8)
#1 – Will Ospreay (4.375 average star rating) – He owns the tournament’s top two matches and he is as close to averaging an all-time great per in-ring outing through four bouts to date, and while they may not compare exactly to his Best of Super Juniors run, it is still incredible what he is doing
#2 – Kazuchika Okada (8 points, tied for tops in the A block) – If you disregard one of his matches, then his other three hold a 4.250 star rating average, one of his matches was arguably the best of the lot so far, and he sits atop the overall points leader-board with four wins and zero losses
#3 – Tomohiro Ishii (averaging 4 ¼ stars per match) – Four matches for Ishii, three out of the top seven including one of the consensus Top 5 across most sites, and another that might well be the sleeper hit of the tournament (vs. Cobb). And to think I did not much care for his style until about a month ago (it’s an acquired taste)…
#4 – Jon Moxley (8 points, tops in the B block) – Moxley entered the tournament as one of the hottest acts in the game and he has furthered his growing “can’t-miss” reputation during it, particularly in his last two matches opposite Shingo and against Ishii in one of the best bouts thus far
#5 – KENTA (8 points, tied for tops in the A block) – Many will feature him higher up their lists, but I remain largely unimpressed with the physically broken down mostly striker (though I do love his attitude and his effort). Figuring that might prompt a desire for greater context, I’ll add that what I see is a guy who has lost his fast ball, so to speak, and really lacks anything in his act that is aesthetically pleasing. I want to be impressed, but I always come away from his matches fulfilled far more by his opponent. I’m hoping to have my mind changed, but I just don’t see it with KENTA
Jay White (2 points, best three matches average over 4-stars) – An unconventional choice, but given the higher level he is wrestling at as he is coming into his own blending an engaging heel shtick with his underrated athletic talents and the developing, well-told story of his failure to live up to the hype in this tournament, it was hard for me not to look beyond his poor record
SANADA (2 points, 4.125 star rating average across all four matches) – The New Japan Cup Finalist has quietly put together an outstanding tournament’s worth of performances. He has been tremendous, and is arguably the most underrated talent in the entire promotion
Kota Ibushi (4 points, 4.125 star rating average across all four matches) – Ibushi badly sprained his ankle in his opening match against KENTA, but gutted through it to cap off that great match and then battled back to relative health quickly to produce three other great matches, including the tournament’s best bout to date
Honorable Mentions to Hiroshi Tanahashi, Lance Archer, Juice Robinson, Jeff Cobb, Shingo, and EVIL
QUESTION OF THE DAY Part 2 – Who is your MVP of the G1 so far?
Most Points (Through Day 8) (for the uninitiated but interested)
Okada (A block) – 8 pts (4 wins – 0 losses – 0 ties)
KENTA (A) – 8 pts (4-0-0)
Moxley (B block) – 8 pts (3-0-0)
Juice (B) – 6 pts (2-1-0)
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