I began this article right before the last days G1 upon realizing I had no stamina left to bother reviewing matches after it’s over. NJPW’s yearly heavyweight overdose is a truly exhausting experience but worth it if you are a true mark.
If you are into New Japan Pro Wrestling the G1 is a must. The reason is that if you only watch the big PPVs, you miss a lot of the talent that doesn’t get to work solo where you can watch it. Where else are you going to see Yuji Nagata or Toru Yano fight 9 times in a short span?
If you don’t have the patience to go through the whole catalog, and honestly if you aren’t watching live you won’t, these are the tourney highlights. Matches marked with the ⭐⭐⭐⭐ should be considered amongst the best of the year and must-watch matches from G1. All of these are worth your time if you want to dig deep. Ones with the 😍 are especially worth watching but a tick below classic, so skippable if your time is too important or something.
Kota Ibushi v Tetsuya Naito (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – NJ has to stop it with the double finisher match ends because Ibushi’s turnbuckle piledriver was unbelievable and should have been the match finish. A blemish on what could have been a true 5 star but still a classic.
Juice Robinson v Satoshi Kojima – Oh hey looks like Juice may have a strong tourney. Really fun, definitely the high point for Kojima IMO.
EVIL v SANADA (😍) – A mad fun one, which you already knew would happen. The boys got dirty and the finish was hot. What else could you expect from LIJ?
Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – Can we please get a real feud between these two after Kaz drops the belt? They have chemistry that is absolutely off the charts. To me this is an easy five star match. I’d argue it was booked wrong given EVIL didn’t risk making the finals but minor complaint.
Kota Ibushi v Tomohiro Ishii (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – A perfect example of why NJ’s escalation-style feature matches are so great when they work with Ishii being the top guy in that regard.
Kenny Omega v Toru Yano – If this match doesn’t sell you on Yano, you will never get there. It’s stupid in the best way possible.
Tetsuya Naito v Yuji Nagata – Matches like this is why Naito is often considered to be the best in-ring storyteller in the fed. This starts out as a seeming squash but develops into rope-a-dope brilliance from Nagata.
Kenny Omega v Michael Elgin (😍) – Omega/Elgin is always an instant classic.
Bad Luck Fale v Kota Ibushi – An honestly ridiculous match but wow, the high spots are golden.
Tetsuya Naito v Tomohiro Ishii (😍) – I mean when you put New Japan’s best two storytellers together, did you think you’d get anything less than a 4 star?
Juice Robinson v Kazuchika Okada (😍) – The time when you concretely realized your suspicion that Juice Robinson has crossed over into a true 2nd tier star for New Japan. Brilliant storytelling and just a great one from both guys.
Hiroshi Tanahashi v Kota Ibushi (😍) – If you put Tanahashi in there with a good enough wrestler, the guy can still work a top-tier match with one arm, but this is also why NJ is screwing around with the injury.
Juice Robinson v SANADA – SANADA’s best match by far. It feels like this is the point where he realizes Robinson is stealing his rightful hype in the G1 and comes out swinging hard.
EVIL v Kenny Omega (😍) – Despite a handful of surprising botches the high points of this one are super high. Watch EVIL probably get concussed with a misplaced V-Trigger as well! FUN!
Juice Robinson v Kenny Omega – Huge personal moment for Juice and almost guarantees him a shot at the US title sometime. Did I say again that NJ loves ’em some Juice? Well guess what, me too.
EVIL v Kazuchika Okada – EVIL’s signature match of the tourney after getting lit the fuck up by Kenny two nights prior. It’s shocking he was even able to go in this but they worked a barn burner.
Yuji Nagata v Zack Sabre Jr. – The old man gets his points. Nothing super awesome but I recommend the Nagata high points since these are the last big matches of his career.
Tomohiro Ishii v Hiroshi Tanahashi (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – Even with Tanahashi’s arm, this one is great. It’s not quite an all-timer in a year full of them but probably Ishii’s best of the tourney and definitely a must-watch.
Michael Elgin v EVIL – Not a lot of dudes are credible working strong against Elgin but EVIL made it work. Great chemistry from these two, expect more from them in the future.
Kazuchika Okada v Minoru Suzuki (😍) – The old slap-the-shit-out-of-each-other-at-the-end of the match spot is a Japanese wrestling cliché as old as time. Leave it to these two to make it great again.
Yuji Nagata v Bad Luck Fale (😍) – Almost certainly Nagata’s last major match and with his pupil Fale. Not the best match ever but real solid and very emotional. Worth a watch to say goodbye to the legend.
Zach Sabre Jr. v Tomohiro Ishii – Hard and surprisingly fast match from these two with an absolutely brilliant finish.
Hiroshi Tanahashi v Tetsuya Naito (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – This may have been the most hype the crowd has been the entire G1. The crowd was heavy Naito so Tanahashi played as a heel which is very rare. It was great.
Juice Robinson v Michael Elgin – This one probably means a lot for these two’s remaining 2017. They gave up a good chance to push that NEVER belt as a serious one and instead gave Juice the uh, juice. Objectively great match as well.
Yano Toru v Minoru Suzuki (😍) – Brilliant booking. Two guys who absolutely love a gimmick match and they made this an awesome contest. Yano’s best match of the tournament.
Omega v Okada III (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – If you haven’t been able to really give in to the 60 minute matches, this is the one you wanna see. It’s not really 7 stars but it’s an easy 5 star all-timer and maybe the best 30 minute match in history.
War Machine v Cody & Hangman Page (😍) – Way better match than it had any right to be given how little Page and Cody have worked together. Awesome post-match drama here as well.
Omega v Naito (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – This crowd was liiiiiiiiiit for the entire match. Could have been a slightly better match because it prioritized super crazy spots over psychology but an outrageous display of skill and incredibly exciting. After nearly working 20 matches those dudes still went to the wall with it. Not as good as their 2016 G1 encounter but what is? That was one of the greatest of all time, this is just a tick below that. Also DARYL LIIIIIIIIVES!!!!
Increasing Stock 📈
#1. Juice Robinson – Boy, NJ and it’s crowd loves them some Juice and I can’t blame them. This may be the guy who takes the US title off Omega, believe it or not. This dude was jobbing in NXT two years ago and is now the hottest wrestler in Japan. Sometimes you bet on yourself kids.
#2. EVIL – EVIL has always been my least favorite guy in LIJ but he stepped up in a monster way this year and worked killer matches with everyone. It was a lot of fun and I would even say he should be in the title picture by 2019. He is now my second favorite guy in LIJ after Naito. I know he doesn’t care about that but that’s how much his outlook changed over a few weeks.
#3. Michael Elgin – Mike had a really hard 2016 in NJ and 2017 started out the same. I’ve always thought Kaz was the number one opponent in NJPW but Elgin is gunning for that spot. He has chemistry with everyone and almost all his matches were outstanding. This could have been a good time to set up a 2016 Goto run for him but even without that Elgin comes across as one of New Japan’s top talents. He is your next NEVER champion folks. Elgin needs stronger booking overall but finished up with a big run that changed the calculus of his tournament a bit.
Falling Stock 📉
#1. SANADA – SANADA was set up for a huge push and instead most of his work in this tourney was totally forgettable. Excepting his matches with EVIL and Juice, there’s nothing for me to say you need to watch from him. We’re still here waiting for him to take the next step. Also his mask sucks, sorry not sorry.
#2. YOSHI-HASHI – He’s a good wrestler but doesn’t seem to step up when he needs to put on a top-level match. Almost everything he did is missable.
#3. Hiroshi Tanahashi – This is not his fault. Enough with pushing Tanahashi through this injury. It’s time for him to get this damn thing fixed. Over half his matches had times where his work was not good due to that arm. NJPW is in stellar health, let the face of New Japan heal up. The fact that he was booked so strongly made it even worse to me. This is one of the greatest wrestlers in history who spent a lot of time looking off in this tournament.
#4. Hirooki Goto – An inversion of his 2016 tournament where he was very strong and worked a near classic against Omega in the finals. I can’t say there’s a single unmissable match in his entire run.
#1. Okada needs to drop the belt at KOPW, preferably to Kenny, maybe to Ibushi or someone else. The G1 really made me remember how compelling Okada was in 2015 when he was trying to get back over the hump. His championship run has been one of the greatest in NJ history but parts of it are becoming stale. He’s still working phenomenal matches but things are becoming a little too predictable. The writing is on the wall for Naito to have an extended run in 2018 but before WK, that belt should probably go to the real MVP of NJPW the last year and a half, Kenny Omega. I do not want a Naito/Okada feud with Naito coming from under, it simply feels wrong.
#2. NJPW’s old guys are amazing. Suzuki was more entertaining than I expected night by night and what more can you say about Yuji Nagata? He was booked going but his work was outstanding every singles match. You couldn’t do wrong watching all of them. It was a fitting send off to one of the all-time greats.