The Great Wave
By Ross W Berman IV
Look, I want to give you some well-written piece about the most prestigious contest in professional wrestling, where I run the facts and figures and numbers of this tournament through some kind of Adderall-junkie analysis, but my brain is absolutely broken from a month-long binge of Michelin Star-grade wrestling matches. It wasn’t until the last day or so that I’ve been able to say the words “G1 Climax” without interrupting myself with a banshee-like shriek, and threatening to run off into the wilderness, never to be heard from again.
This year’s G1 Climax was pure and it kicked like a mule, and as good as this year’s G1 Climax was on the front of the palate, it will age like fine wine as time goes by.
Somewhere between SANADA & Ibushi’s breathtaking victories over The Rainmaker, and Jay White dick-kicking his way through B Block, it hit me. This G1 Climax was about the future.
The fact that it took so long is a testament to the absolute blur that this tournament became. The signs were in front of me from the beginning. There were notable exceptions from this year’s field of 20.
There was no Satoshi Kojima. There was no Togi Makabe. There was no Minoru Suzuki. An entire generation seemed to be missing from this year’s G1 Climax. The elder statesmen of NJPW had been shuffled off the stage, with out the pomp & circumstance of Tenzan or Nagata, who were given ceremonial “final tournaments” to walk into the sunset, or at the very least beat the piss out of Young Lions in opening tag matches.
Makabe and Kojima were nearly a decade from their main event prime, but Suzuki is an unofficial face of NJPW, despite technically being a freelancer. While he hasn’t made it to the finals of the G1 Climax in some time, his G1 matches were still appointment viewing in the past few years. To leave a competitor like Suzuki out of the G1 sends a very pointed message. Youth is in.
Seemingly this year’s patriarchal figure was Hiroshi Tanahashi, last year’s G1 Climax winner, and The Ace of the promotion…well, technically the former Ace.
In Dallas, on the opening night of the G1 Climax, Hiroshi Tanahashi was bested by longtime rival Kazuchika Okada in the main event. The match was one of the duo’s shorter bouts, but it was what happened after the match that really sent the message.
Tanahashi, in the post-match press conference, gestured with his hand, representing where he felt he stood, but Okada- Okada was far above him. The Ace had finally admitted that The Rainmaker had surpassed him, which can be backed up by Okada’s critically acclaimed, financially successful runs with the company’s top title. Okada is The Man.
To be The Man, you have to beat The Man, and only two people can say they did this during this year’s G1 Climax. SANADA and Kota Ibushi were the only people able to stop The Rainmaker’s path of destruction through A Block. Win after win, Okada dared any and all of NJPW’s best and brightest to surpass him, like he’d surpassed Tanahashi. Former Pro Wrestling NOAH star KENTA, current internet sensation Will Ospreay, long overlooked EVIL, behemoths like Archer and Fale, all fell to The Rainmaker. Okada was downright cocky, going into his match with SANADA on August 3rd.
As the final 15 seconds of the 30minute time limit clicked down, SANADA did something no one had done all tournament, and something he’d never done in singles competition. SANADA pinned Kazuchika Okada. It was the culmination of two years of work, that had seen SANADA go toe-to-toe with The Rainmaker numerous times, building a resume of great matches, and a reputation amongst New Japan diehards that is helping draw him to the main event of NJPW. Any other year, and this could’ve been SANADA’s year, but unfortunately this year belonged to the second man to beat the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in this year’s tournament.
Kota Ibushi has been in the shadow of Golden Lovers partner Kenny Omega for some time. Last year, Ibushi defeated Omega in the G1 Climax block competition, stepped out of his partner’s shadow, and advanced to the finals, but fell to Hiroshi Tanahashi. This year, Ibushi defeated Tanahashi, whom he has compared to god, and escaped the shadow of last year’s loss. Then, in the Block A final, Ibushi did what seemingly all but SANADA had been able to do, and defeated Kazuchika Okada, stepping out of the largest shadow in all of NJPW, advancing to the finals against the new face of evil in NJPW, Jay White.
If anyone could beat Ibushi, it was the wily Bullet Club leader. Jay White had low-blowed his way through a who’s-who of NJPW’s Rogues’ Gallery. B-Block was a thorny field of Moxley, Yano, Taichi, Goto, Takagi, and other dominant forces of the company. With every stolen victory, White became the main event villain that New Japan management have seen him as for some time. By putting Jay White and Kota Ibushi in the main event, NJPW gave us our first taste of the future of good and evil. The Golden Star would vanquish Switchblade on August 12th to claim his rightful place as the new face of NJPW.
Like Tanahashi, Okada can’t be the face of the promotion forever. There will come a day when he will, like Tanahashi before him, face his umpteenth defeat at the hands of an Ibushi or a SANADA, and will say that they have surpassed him. When he returned to wearing short pants, at Wrestle Kingdom 13, Okada effectively said that this is who he is. He is The Rainmaker with short tights and blonde hair. Despite his crimson-haired period of balloon obsession, there won’t really be much more to The Rainmaker than what we’ve seen in the past 7 years. For better or worse, Kazuchika Okada is likely already being swept away from the spotlight by the tides of time. With the right kind of eyes, you can see the high water mark of Kazuchika Okada’s reign as the face of New Japan Pro-Wrestling- that place where the great wave of charisma and technique finally broke and rolled back.
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