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  • Long known as the “Ace” of the company, Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Kota Ibushi in front of over 12,000 fans at Tokyo’s historic Nippon Budokan to win the grueling G1 Climax tournament.
By Justin Barrasso
August 12, 2018

TOKYO — New Japan Pro Wrestling has re-entered the Ace Age.

Long known as the “Ace” of the company, Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Kota Ibushi in front of over 12,000 fans at Tokyo’s historic Nippon Budokan to win the grueling G1 Climax tournament and restore his place atop the New Japan hierarchy.

Tanahashi celebrated in a manner that those who have followed the former seven-time IWGP heavyweight champ know well: he played air guitar in the ring much to the delight of the crowd.

“I was a bit rusty, I haven’t been playing air guitar for a while,” said Tanahashi, who has dealt with nagging injuries for the better part of the past two-and-a-half years. “Even when my body was broken with a lot of injuries, my mind never changed, and that’s the reason I am able to keep fighting. So now I will continue to play because I feel great.”

The G1’s theme, “Be a Survivor,” was simpler said than accomplished over 19 days of matches starting July 14 in the sweltering heat of the Japanese summer. Buses, trains, and flights through Japan, starting in Tokyo and traveling to Hookaido, Niigata, Shizuoka, Aichi, Kagawa, Kagoshima, Fukuoka, Osaka, and Kanagawa before returning back to Tokyo, make the G1 the single-most challenging tournament in all of pro wrestling.

Enduring a constant test of strength and endurance was needed just to arrive at the final three days at Budokan, let alone with the entire tourney.

“I survived and I won,” said Tanahashi through a translator. “Ibushi is so good, he could be the best wrestler in the world, but I don’t have on-and-off like him. That’s why I was the better wrestler. If he was on all the time in the ring, he would be the top wrestler.”

Ibushi fought valiantly, but he opted not to shake Tanahashi’s hand after the match.

“I don’t know what to say,” said an emotionally spent Ibushi, who also spoke through a translator, after the performance. “This past four weeks was the time I gave the most effort in the 36 years of my life. But I didn’t have enough.”

The loaded card also featured the New Japan return of Rey Mysterio, as well as saw Kazuchika Okada split from his manager Gedo. Other highlights took place when Cody Rhodes challenged for Juice Robinson’s U.S. title, the Young Bucks and Marty Scurll dropped their NEVER Openweight six-man titles to Bullet Club OG, and Tomohiro Ishii laid down a challenge to IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega.

Speaking with reporters after his six-man tag loss to a team led by Mysterio, Okada announced that he and longtime manager Gedo–who is also New Japan’s lead booker–will remain allies but will no longer work together as a team.

"I will be all by myself without Gedo from now on,” said Okada. “He worked as my manager for six-and-a-half years, but we are going to break up for our positive futures. I’m smiling, not because I’m happy, because this is kind of sad. But it’s a positive decision.”

Okada also expressed his interest in a one-on-one match against Mysterio, who shared that exact same sentiment.

“I would love to see a singles match between Okada and Rey Mysterio,” said Mysterio. “Let’s see what happens.”

Sunday’s G1 show highlighted the best of the New Japan product, which is tremendous wrestling embedded with a plethora of personality. The company, which is in the midst of its international expansion, is delivering the type of wrestling and storylines that wrestling fans enjoyed at the dawn of WWE’s storied “Attitude Era”. The product feels edgy, is superb in the ring–offering another potential match of the year candidate in Tanahashi-Ibushi–and offers a roster hungry to prove it is the best in the world.

The depth of the New Japan roster, and richness of the personalities that accompany them, was on full display at Budokan.

Cody Rhodes teamed up with Hangman Page in a victory over Juice Robinson and David Finlay. Rhodes pinned IWGP United States champion Robinson following a Vertebreaker, then issued a challenge for the title.

“I’m the next United States champion,” said Rhodes. “I’ve heard how Juice Robinson has improved, how he’s changed, but to me, he’s done nothing but a bad impression of Kairi Sane.”

A title change also took place. Bullet Club OG’s Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa tagged with “Bone Soldier” Taiji Ishimori to win the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag titles from the Young Bucks and “The Villain” Marty Scurll.

Following the win, Tonga and Loa officially inducted Ishimori into the Firing Squad.

“We are Bullet Club, the only Bullet Club,” said Tonga, who hit the Gun Stun on Scurll to end the match. “A lot of people have been asking, ‘Where does Bone Soldier belong?’ I’m the one who brought him. Welcome to ‘The Club.’”

Factions are an integral part of New Japan lore, and fans were thrilled to see Tetsuya Naito-led Los Ingobernables de Japon battle Minoru Suzuki’s Suzuki-Gun. The match ended LIJ’s Sanada forced Yoshinobu Kanemaru to tap, which then led to more chaos between the two sides after the match.

Faction warfare continued as Kenny Omega led the Bullet Club Elite against Chaos.

Chaos’ Tomohiro Ishii finished the match by pinning Bullet Club’s Chase Owens, and the real fireworks followed afterward in a stare down between Ishii and Omega over the IWGP heavyweight title.

“Ishii, I’m willing to give you what you think is rightfully yours,” said Omega, who just lost to Ishii in the G1. “An opportunity. You beat me, so you’ll get your shot.”

The G1 Climax ended in spectacularly fitting fashion, capping off an outstanding wrestler tournament with a finale that had the crowd on the edge of its seat. Tanahashi-Ibushi represented how a wrestling match should be, evoking a masterful showing of emotion that needed no translator.

The match told a captivating story of the old guard looking to hang on against the hungry challenger. The crowd’s chants of “Ai shite masu!”, Japanese for “We love you”, toward Tanahashi only added to the emotion and intensity of the match. Tanahashi drew inspiration from the sellout crowd, delivering a high crossbody and two High Fly Flows to secure the victory. 

Ibushi appeared to have the match won on a few different occasions, seemingly sealing his fate with a breathtaking swan dive German suplex followed by a German suplex right on Tanahashi’s head. But Tanahashi kicked out of the ensuing pinfall at two-and-a-half, ensuring that this G1 would only add to his legacy.

The victory means that Tanahashi is now a three-time G1 winner, and he has the right to challenge for the IWGP heavyweight championship, currently worn by Kenny Omega, at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in the Tokyo Dome on January 4.

“Winning the G1 means I am the best in New Japan,” said Tanahashi. “In January, we are going to have our Wrestle Kingdom show at the Tokyo Dome. There will be many more big shows after that, and I am the one to lead the company.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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OUT
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IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)