It’s G1 Climax final week, which is the theme of our weekly look at the NJPW World archives, but we’ll be seeing some other iconic matches this week from outside the G1 as well! Check out our G1 history page for an easy jumping off point to past G1 finals, with 1991 and 2018 available to watch for free until midnight JST Monday!
August 4 2013: Ishii and Shibata Batter in Osaka
Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata headed into G1 Climax 23 with much to prove. Ishii, a 17 year pro, was entering his first ever G1, while Shibata was in his first tournament in nine years. Ishii had arrived in NJPW a few months after Shibata had left the promotion in 2005, but initially as a junior heavyweight. Although he would enter the New Japan Cup and World Tag league, he wasn’t included in G1 conversation until a strong showing in 2012’s NEVER Openweight Championship Tournament saw him reach the semi-finals before losing to eventual winner Masato Tanaka.
Three months earlier, Shibata had made his shocking return to NJPW. Choosing that year’s G1 final to stand in-ring and announce to the world ‘I’m here to pick a fight,’ it seemed only natural that he would be in contention in the 2013 tournament. Yet many would view Shibata as an outsider for months to come. Did Shibata or Ishii truly belong in the G1 ranks, and the upper echelons of the NJPW roster? Both men were determined to prove their worth, and the results were intense and brutal.
August 5, 1996: Sasuke is J-Crowned in Ryogoku
In just a few weeks, the Super J-Cup will see some of the world’s best junior heavyweights collide for three thrilling nights in Tacoma, San Francisco and Long Beach. It isn’t the first time that the month of August sees top flight junior heavyweight action however, as in 1996, the G1 Climax coincided with the culmination of a tournament between eight champions, with all their titles on the line. It was, indeed ‘All or Nothing’ in the J-Crown.
Earlier in June, the Sky Diving- J saw a unique event consisting entirely of junior heavyweight championship matches from promotions all over the world. The event led to a unique proposal from Jyushin Thunder Liger: what if all those titles were contested in one tournament with the winner walking away with all the gold? So it was that the J-Crown was created, consisting of:
NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship (held at the time by Masayoshi Motegi)
NWA World Welterweight Championship (Negro Casas)
British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Championship (Liger)
WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (Gran Hamada)
UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (Shinjiro Otani)
WWF Light Heavyweight Championship (El Samurai)
International Junior Heavyweight Championship (Ultimo Dragon)
and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (Great Sasuke).
The single elimination tournament boiled down to one huge matchup. Sasuke added the WWF, WWA and NWA Junior titles to his collection on his way to Ryogoku, while on the other side of the bracket, Ultimo Dragon picked up the British Cruiser, World Welter and UWA World Junior Heavyweight Championships.
It was all to play for, and in only their second ever meeting, Sasuke and Ultimo put on a match for the ages. In a dazzling display, both pulled out all the stops, including a terrifying dive from Sasuke to the floor, a move that saw Sasuke injured but able to continue to seize victory, and become the most decorated junior heavyweight of all time.
August 6, 2016: The Pitbull and the Champ
Osaka is rarely kind to the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and rarely kind to Kazuchika Okada. In 2019 as champion, he was defeated by SANADA, following a loss to EVIL two years prior, both losses coming at a point when he was 6-0 in the tournament. In fact, Okada is now at 2-6 in Osaka G1 matches. If someone wants to claim the impressive feat of defeating the Rainmaker in the G1, Osaka is the place to do it. One of the biggest and most spectacular wins for an Osaka Okada opponent was in 2016, when Tomohiro Ishii stepped to the plate against his CHAOS teammate.
Ishii had wrestled Okada twoce in prior G1s coming up short each time; despite the considerable fight Ishii brought, it seemed as if there was a clear pecking order within CHAOS that Ishii couldn’t re-shuffle. In 2016, Ishii sought to prove that theory wrong, and after 19 thrilling minutes, he did.
August 7, 1993: Fujinami and Hase
A very different prospect from the five week, two block 20 man tournament that G1 Climax 29 has been, the third G1 in 1993 saw a field of 16 compete in a single elimination tournament over five days. Following on from the prior year’s elimination tournament that had a theme of NJPW taking on WCW in many of its matches, eventually determining a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion, the 1993 tournament saw four of its entrants come from Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion, which had engaged in an inter-promotional rivalry since late 1992.
Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi was also represented in the tournament in the form of its founder, Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Fujiwara and eventual finalist Tatsumi Fujinami had bad blood for nearly a decade after Fujiwara left New Japan to form the original UWF, only to return as an invading force. The two were destined to meet in the first round, and after overcoming a personal rival, Fujinami’s momentum seemed unstoppable, even in the face of hot favourite Keiji Muto in the semi-final.
Hiroshi Hase had also overcome a hot favourite in the semi-final in the form of Masahiro Chono, ensuring that this would be the first G1 Climax not to be won by the man who would become known as Mr. August. Hase had transitioned from the early days of the IWGP Junior Heavweight Championship to becoming a wildly popular fan favourite heavyweight, following a very similar career path Fujinami himself had done a decade prior. Who would rule the lion’s kingdom in August 1993?
August 8, 1988: Super Monday
Five years before his G1 final in Ryogoku, and three years before the inaugural G1 even took place, Fujinami truly arrived at the top in NJPW. Super Monday in Yokohama saw he and Inoki go to a one hour draw over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, in a match that truly saw the torch passed to the Dragon, and saw the beginning of the end of Inoki’s active in-ring career.
Inoki had won the 1987 IWGP League to become the first IWGP Heavyweight Champion to regularly defend his title (earlier IWGP league winners would receive a title belt that was defended once a year). He would hold the title for 325 days, with four successful defences, until an injury in May forced him to vacate his title. Fujinami would defeat Big Van Vader to fill the vacant spot, and even though his own injury issues would necessitate relinquishing the title for a brief period, he would win the IWGP title right back when he beat bitter rival Riki Choshu.
Fujinami was the man, but he still wasn’t The Man. Many assumed it would be a matter of time before Inoki would come to claim the title he never lost from the man who never beat him (one on one at least). On December 12 1985, Fujinami and partner Kengo Kimura became the first ever IWGP Tag Team Champions when Fujinami shockingly pinned Inoki in the middle of the ring. Could history repeat in this singles match?