New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual G1 Climax tournament has come to a close with the Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi, raising the trophy after one of the most epic battles of his career versus Kota Ibushi. If you’re not quite at the level of personal fanaticism required to watch every night of the G1, you may at least want to know the can’t-miss matches you should go back and catch up on. This is every match I had rated 4.75 or higher on my G1 tracking spreadsheet.

12. Zack Sabre Jr v Tomohiro Ishii – Night 8

Photo credit: NJPW

Of course ZSJ is the ultimate opponent when it comes to showcasing mat work skills but the fact is that Ishii is highly underrated technically. Despite the general expectation of ZSJ attempting bullfighting against a power opponent, Ishii maintains a level head, conservative approach, brilliant psychology, and gives Zack everything he can stand on the mat. This is a huge disadvantage to Sabre because surely it’s not possible to submit Ishii.

11. Kazuchika Okada v Minoru Suzuki – Night 13

Photo credit: NJPW

Despite Okada’s and Suzuki’s poor starts, both have since stabilized into strong runs but both are in must-win scenarios chasing Tanahashi. Suzuki is taking no chances and immediately brutalizes Okada all around the stadium. Of course putting Okada down is never as simple as that. He struggles back into the match, but can he find the offense he’s been missing since he’s lost the IWGP Heavyweight Belt? Suzuki had a solid performance in the G1 (including redeeming the worst feature match of 2017 by putting in a near-classic against Mike Elgin) but if you needed a definitive match for him, this is it.

10. Tomohiro Ishii v Hirooki Goto – Night 6

Photo credit: NJPW

If you wanted this to be a ridiculous anime-level slugfest, mount up.

9. SANADA v Kota Ibushi – Night 8

Photo credit: NJPW

An initial flurry of otherworldly athleticism from two of New Japan’s most impressive bodies gives way to the realization that someone is going to have to actually outwrestle the other. Ibushi is faster than everyone he wrestles, but he does not seem to be able to speed past SANADA. Failure to do so leads to Ibushi’s potent offense being weakened. Can Ibushi still win when he’s not the better athlete?

8. Kenny Omega v Hirooki Goto – Night 4

Photo credit: NJPW

The 2016 G1 Climax final began the true ascent of Kenny Omega into the top ranks of New Japan. Kenny has since dethroned the top wrestler in the promotion while Goto has simply maintained his place in the upper midcard. Is there any possibility that Goto can still compete with this version of Omega?

7. Kota Ibushi v Zack Sabre Jr. – Night 2

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Zack Sabre Jr. is the hottest wrestler in New Japan in 2018. He comes off a dominating win in the New Japan Cup and a very recent victory against Kazuchika Okada. Both men come in at full strength–does Sabre still hold the hot hand or is momentum even a consideration when facing a wrestler the quality of Ibushi?

6. Hiroshi Tanahashi v Kazuchika Okada – Night 17

Photo credit: NJPW

Little Kazu rode a shaky start and a flourishing identity crisis into a stable run. He’s starting to put it all back together, but has he solved enough of his problems in a win-to-get-in situation to pin the Ace in 30 minutes? On the other side, can Tanahashi overcome the man who has stolen his mantle as New Japan’s shuyaku or will he be content to point his way into yet another G1 final?

5. Kota Ibushi v Kenny Omega – Night 18

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With Naito’s loss to Zack Sabre, it comes down to Lover v. Lover to face the A block winner in the final. Ibushi seems unstoppable but Kenny is the top wrestler in the promotion now. Will Kenny be able to reach a third straight G1 final? This match significantly plays off the psychology of what these two insane people might do, constantly edging toward a terrifying spot.

4. Tomohiro Ishii v Kota Ibushi – Night 10

Photo credit: NJPW

Ibushi came into the tournament as one of the block favorites but seems to be unfocused and ineffective at times. He’s lost two coming in that he should have won and that weak mess is not gonna fly against this Ishii. Kota needs to wake up and understand the level at which he will have to perform to make it through this G1 and Ishii might just be the person to awaken him.

3. Kenny Omega v Tetsuya Naito – Night 2

Photo credit: NJPW

Naito and Kenny spent most of 2016-2018 jockeying for an opportunity to dethrone Okada including their classic G1 final in 2017. Naito kicked off the G1 last year with one of the best matches of the tournament on the first day with Ibushi and they again give him the job of establishing the tournament’s tone on the first night of the block. Naito has suffered some losses lately but his win over Omega last year has to be fresh in both their minds. Can the tranquilo one get his career back on track with a statement win in his opener?

2. Tomohiro Ishii v Kenny Omega – Night 14

Photo credit: NJPW

Kenny is at the time of this match undefeated and looks particularly indestructible. Something has felt special about Ishii this year though, he’s putting up the best matches of his career. Ishii is gonna bring the juice but enough to beat an on-fire Omega? Well let me tell you, buddy, you have no idea how much juice Ishii has in that tank and he empties it completely in this.

1. Hiroshi Tanahashi v Kota Ibushi – G1 Final

Photo credit: NJPW

I’m going to say the potentially controversial part up front: I think this is Hiroshi Tanahashi’s best match ever. It’s hard to ever give that sort of definitive statement on a guy who has had as many classics as Tanahashi, but even if you don’t think it’s the best, you’ll think it’s one of the top few.

The core of this match is all about Ibushi’s unstoppable offense. Even when Tana gains the upper hand, Ibushi is firing off some of the most brutal strikes we’ve ever seen from him. Tanahashi has to dig to a place he hasn’t been able to reach in a few years to compete. He had a great tournament in a weaker block but does he have enough to repel Ibushi’s newfound power? It’s a fitting and intense end to the best G1 in history from top to bottom.


Summary

  • Kota Ibushi – 5 matches (2 of the top 5)
  • Kenny Omega – 4 matches (3 of the top 5)
  • Tomohiro Ishii – 4 matches (2 of the top 5)
  • Kazuchika Okada – 2 matches
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2 matches (1 of the top 5)
  • Zack Sabre Jr – 2 matches
  • Hirooki Goto – 2 matches
  • Tetsuya Naito – 1 match (1 of the top 5)
  • SANADA –  1 match
  • Minoru Suzuki – 1 match

Total Quality Rankings

  1. Ibushi – 4.60
  2. Omega – 4.36
  3. Ishii – 4.31
  4. Sabre Jr. – 4.19
  5. Naito – 4.19
  6. Okada – 4.17
  7. SANADA – 4.00
  8. Goto – 3.92
  9. Tanahashi – 3.90
  10. Elgin – 3.83
  11. Suzuki – 3.81
  12. EVIL – 3.81
  13. Robinson – 3.78
  14. White – 3.75
  15. Page – 3.72
  16. YOSHI-HASHI – 3.56
  17. Yano – 3.50
  18. Makabe – 3.20
  19. Tonga – 3.03
  20. Fale – 2.78

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