Is the G really number 1?
Hello there Puro fans and welcome to the newest instalment of the Rising Sun… after the previous look at the fall of the former musketeer Hashimoto I thought that this time I’d a look at the tournament that led to the arrival of the 3 musketeers, the G-1 Climax.
The G-1 Climax was established in 1991 as a way of filling the summer schedule with an important event and also a way of establishing a credible number one contender to meet the IWGP champion (assuming the champ fails to win) and also to produce a bonafide top liner.
In this sense alot of non Japanese fans may believe to be the NJPW version of the King Of The Ring, and in a sense this is true, only really a handful of the tournaments have produced new stars that lit up the top line scene, 1991 being the first and the beginning of the story.
In 1991 the tournament produced not one but three fully fledged stars who had been on the brink of full time main eventing in NJPW, the 3 Musketeers of Chono, Hash and Muto. Muto and Chono met in the first final, a epic near 30 minute battle with Chono breaking out a powerbomb for the duke. But Hash, Chono and Muto by overshadowing the big names in progress and match quality (Vader, Fujinami, Choshu and Bigelow) had placed themselves at the top.
1992 was a straight elimination tourney with stars from the NWA/WCW joining in to fight for the vacant NWA Heavyweight title. People like Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham and Terry Taylor fought it out with Muto, Hash, Chono, Sasaki and others for the gold with Chono becoming the only man to win back to back G-1’s defeating Rude in the final for the gold.
1993 was a year that had another elimination setup and favoured for once some of the older combatants. The usual suspects were present – Hash, Chono, Muto but it was the turn of Fujinami and Hase to take centre stage as they usurped the dominate G-1 pairing of Muto and Chono in the semi’s and the Dragon took the duke with a Scorpion Deathlock in the final. In this tournament a few outsiders such as Ashura Hara, Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Hiromichi Fuyuki as well as older wrestlers Kimura and Kido took part and for the first time more older wrestlers pushed the youngsters aside.
So in 1994 the forth climax switch back to a group stage and the two winners facing off in a final… Chono was again proving this was his stage and won his group easily from rival Muto and Power Warrior, the emerging Saski under a gimmick and a pupil of Choshu won group B. Chono earned his nickname of Mr G-1 taking out Sasaki with his STF and people were wondering if it was to be renamed the Chono Summer festival such was the one sided booking in his favour. And despite his constant victories he was trusted with a IWGP title reign, so what was the point in booking him to be so strong here?
Especially when his fellow musketeers where the ones he defeated and they still got there time with the belt.
In 1995 the only change to the layout was a semi final and at least the fans got a new winner. But it was still a musketeer as Muto now shed off his Great Muta gimmick and IWGP champion raced to the final against Hashimoto and defeated him with his Moonsault. It was the first time the champ had won the tournament and left the contendership void. Happily it was filled by the monster UWF-i fued later on in the year but the booking again defied belief? Why have the IWGP champion crush all his rivals?
So in 1996 I and many people where hoping one of the emerging pack such as Tenzan, Kojima, Nagata, Sasaki or Nakanishi would take the tourney and push forward as the top line was very much musketeer v musketeer and becoming slightly stale. Maybe they could push forward a new star like the original climax did in 1991? But us hopeful fans had our wishes dashed when Mr G-1 reached the final and was defeated by the dinosaur of Riki Choshu in a completely brainless idea. At least when he faced Hash in the IWGP title match common sense prevailed and Hash retained.
But along came 1997 and a return to the knock out format, and a few foreign and outsider names… In came Buff Bagwell, Steven (William) Regal and Scott Norton, by now a established Gajian competitor and also Yasuda and Nakanishi were making their G-1 debuts. And at last a new wrestler won the crown and faced a new combatant in the final with Sasaki taking on Tenzan and defeating him with the NLB and establishing his time at the top. Sasaki was to finish Hashimoto’s last title run not soon after and then defeat the other musketeers in title defences which helped freshen the top line slightly and give fans new hope the tournament would allow in future years the likes of Nagata, Tenzan and Kojima the chance to do just what Sasaki did.
So how annoyed where they when in 1998 Hashimoto was finally given a G-1 due to his non-involvement in the title picture. But then due to the title picture being confused by Fujinami’s defeat by Chono and Mr G-1’s resulting vacation due to neck problems Hash never received his spot, proving it to be an exercise in stupidity… Not least when Norton won the title from Nagata who wasn’t even in the G-1 in a decision match.
But the bookers saw sense in 1999 as Nakanishi won through against Muto in the final after dominating a group which contained Hash and Chono. The fact that Muto was also the IWGP champion helped his stature. He went on however to lose his title match against Muto at the Toko Dome show in October and fell since then into a upper mid-card hole undoing any good work done by the win.
2000 saw an extension of the format but alot of filler performers thrown in…Goto, Saito, Kido, Hirata, Fujinami and Koshinaka now all reaching the end of their careers as well Brain Johnson, Kenzo Suzuki and Yukata Yoshie who where all still very green were all thrown in the 4 groups of 5. The semi’s featured Nagata, Sasaki, Nakanishi and Chono and hope was that Nagata would emerge with a big push… Instead Sasaki downed him and defeated the previous winner Nakanishi with a Crab hold, a young lion move, to take his 2nd crown and become only the second champ to win the whole tourney. This again left the winner devoid really of meeting full challengers but with the NOAH split at least the AJPW lads could come and provide in the shape of Kawada a real challenger to the crown.
At last the G-1 in 2001 looked like for the first time, in a long time the bookers had an idea, they booked Yuji Nagata to win over the now legend status worthy Muto in the final after overcoming Mr G-1, Masa Chono in the semi…surely his star was in the sky for sure? Well no, the champ at the time Fujita had alot of MMA commitments and finding a time to have the title match was hard, then Fujita tore his Achilles tendon and so Nagata’s title shot came about finally on 16/2/02. But because of Fujita’s injury Nagata as the next ace was pushed into a MMA fight as a replacement… and was KO’d in under a minute so the gold was passed on to Yasuda to the dismay of everyone.
Then in 2002 came the rise of Takayama, a huge wrestler by Japanese standards who had won the hearts of the people due to his efforts in the MMA world. An outsider had never won the G-1 and Takayama threatened to do so and rip apart NJPW, it was up to an old face to stop him… Masa Chono took his unprecedented 4th tournament and whilst no new star was fully created (although Suzuki and Tanahasi gained a reputation in the group stages) the fans forgave it for its brilliant story telling.
So on to last years G-1, the 12th annual tour… And this was perhaps the one year where everything clicked into place as nearly man Tenzan was reborn through the tournament and took up his rightful headline spot. It started off with him losing ground before catching up and defeating his day one opponent, NOAH’s invading heel Jun Akiyama in a great final. He then went on to capture the IWGP gold from Takayama to complete a great story and show the correct usage of the G-1 for the first time in a long long time…
So what of this years? Well Tenzan and his fellow generation members are already in for a fight as documented before in the Rising Sun as Nakamura, Shibata, Tanahashi, Blue Wolf and Yoshie have all picked up big wins. The big names such as Sasaki, Tenzan, Nagata and Chono are all still there fighting with them but could this be the year when the ‘New 3 Musketeers’ take centre stage and storm the stagnant top line scene?
I hope so as in its 13 years and 14 instalments the only real people to benefit have been Hashimoto, Chono, Muto and Sasaki… even last years success story was tarnished by poor booking of Tenzan’s two title reigns that followed his big win. So 13 years and 4 stars? Hopefully at least 2 of the mentioned 5 can break through this year because as show attendance and interest from the press shows the G-1 isn’t really number one anymore.
Till next time Puro-heads…