The G1 Climax is one of the most wonderful times of the year, well… it usually is.
This year’s G1 Climax wasn’t the best experience, to say the least. Reasons ranged from a lot of bloat in the list of participants, to some very questionable booking decisions. While the tournament itself wasn’t that enjoyable, the final two nights sure did deliver on what’s expected of a big G1 Climax show. The final that we had after almost a month of tournament matches was Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito.
Two characters on two very different trajectories in their careers, and yet following a common thread in both of their careers, they have to met again in a shot at glory. Okada came into this year’s G1 Final with 3 big losses already in 2023 to SANADA, Bryan Danielson and Will Ospreay, something which is very rare for New Japan’s top guy. Tetsuya Naito entered this year’s G1 final with the sense that this could very well be his final shot at main eventing at the Tokyo Dome. This helped create a real sense of urgency for both men in needing to defeat the other.
However, the difference here from a lot of big Okada matches, and even his other matches vs Naito, was that Okada on this rare occasion, was clearly overwhelmed at the start of the match by the crowd response (which I can confidently say is the loudest I’ve heard all year) as he tried to hide his tears. Naito on the other hand was laser focused on his goal. Tbis also shows in both of their approaches to the match as well. Naito is cool, calm and locked in. He gives Okada the clean break on the rope, while a gotten-to Okada annoyed by Naito’s calm tries to take a cheapshot.
Naito’s relentless work on Okada’s neck really helps sell his determination. But the match truly kicks into its best gear when Okada takes over, paying Naito back for the neck attacks with two hellacious DDTs. That’s another of the match’s strong points. These two take such wince inducing bumps in this match, it only makes it more engaging.
Okada leans totally heel, even producing a cocky foot-on-chest cover on Naito. Naito eventually regains momentum and works on Okada’s neck in downright disgusting ways. At one point, Naito even refuses to let go of a submission when Okada gets a ropebreak, yet the Naito chants still drown out any attempt at any Okada chants, it’s surreal. Not only is Okada shook from the beginning, he is in enemy territory where his opponent can do anything to him at their will. He’s almost helpless at points. It’s what makes Kazuchika Okada one of the most compelling characters in all of pro wrestling to me. Asking Naito for more, displaying a façade of confidence when he keeps getting nailed with sharp elbows.
The only person who doesn’t realise that Okada is completely lost in this match, is Okada himself. This match is a complete deconstruction of his character. Nobody sees through Okada like Naito does. It’s why even after all these years of being at top of New Japan, Naito is the only one that Okada can’t get a firm lead over.
Naito has it won but as usual, his hubris is what creates Okada’s final opening. He goes for the stardust press once again, like he did in the semi-final and fails once again! The finishing stretch is nothing short of an absolute thriller like you’d expect from these two. As if the sick bumps in this match weren’t enough already, they even incorporate the knockout tease from the Naito vs Ospreay match from the previous night. In the end Naito prevails, as he should have. He not only wrestled a perfect match, he wrestled HIS perfect match. Usually you’d see a Rainmaker nearfall here but Naito came up with counter after counter firmly establishing that at this stage it would’ve been his undoing.
This year’s G1 Final was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had from pro wrestling, and I wouldn’t have expected anything else from this pairing.
Sure this year’s G1 was mostly rough. However, Okada vs Naito in a big time match with an amazing crowd going crazy for Naito, I personally haven’t felt a bigger “New Japan is Back” moment than this all year.