RADICAN’S TAKE: NJPW has regressed during G1 Climax 33 after taking steps forward in 2023

By Sean Radican, PWTorch Columninst (Twitter: @SR_Torch)

EVIL (art credit Matt Charltonn and Sam Gardiner © PWTorch)


The G1 Climax 33 Tournament lost me today.

I was willing to take the ride. I was willing to sit through eight block matches per night. I was willing to watch 32 men go on a journey to earn their shot at main eventing Wrestle Kingdom. I was willing to watch the young talent find their way. I was willing to watch The Reiwa Three Muskateers (Ren Narita, Shota Umino, and Yota Tsuji) embark on their first G1 jouney in the same block. (Talk about pressure).

Why was I willing to do this? NJPW earned the benefit of the doubt. 2023 felt like the company was getting back to form. Gone were the illogical storylines and the company was back to performing in front of crowds doing what it does best and putting on great matches with great storylines with great talent up and down the card. Heck, even the U.S. NJPW brand Strong has been putting on entertaining shows since switching to an all PPV format.

The G1 tournament this year just hasn’t been that interesting overall. The first four nights were rough to get through largely due to apathetic crowds. It seemed like things picked up starting with night 5, but nothing truly exciting has happened duing the tournament.

There have been a lot of really good matches, but nothing to point people towards in terms of showing them a high-end MOTYC.  There also hasn’t been an exciting angle or storyline to mention to people that ask what will hook them in if they invest their time watching this tournament.

I was excited about the A Block because of the presence of The aformentioned Reiwa Three Muskateers as well as Keito Kiyomiya from NOAH. Every one of them was involved in at least one draw during block action. In the past, draws haven’t been a thing. I could see doing maybe one draw in the block, but to do multiple draws involving the wrestlers I want to see the most in terms of results and to get an idea of how management views them, was completly uninspired booking by NJPW.

The product really suffered during the panemic in part due to bad storylines and pandemic era crowds bound to COVID-19 restrictions where they couldn’t cheer and were limited to stomps and claps during shows. As stated earlier, this year felt different. The company is in a state of transition adjusting to the loss of Kota Ibushi in 2022 and Jay White in 2023.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing Sanada try to take the next step and cement himself as more than just a visitor in the world title picture. He’s delivered more often than not even though he still seems to be trying to find the best version of himself. There have been good feuds and stroylines up and down the card, which has given NJPW a comfortable enviornment as they replenish the top of their card with new talent.

Will Ospreay has stepped up big time in the ring and as a character. He was unbearable to watch when he turned heel and formed The United Empire, but he has reveresed course and built up his character to be more believable and while dropping all the U.K. tough guy elements from his character that weren’t belieable. Ospreay comes off like a real star in NJPW now and that hasn’t always been the case.

The A Block didn’t go as expected. Sanada went undefeated, but it didn’t feel the same as say Okada running through the G1 field in years past during block action. The most puzzling decision of the A Block was having Hikuleo get through as the second man out behind Sanada. Hikuleo had some truly ordinary performances while starting 0-3 before finishing 4-0 and showing some improvement.

The most anticipated match in the A Block between Okada and Ospreay was memorable in that Ospreay got his first win over Okada, but it didn’t feel as epic as the previous matches between Ospreay and Okada, who had to work within the confines of a 20 minute time limit for all block round matches.

It felt like NJPW had given up on Hikuleo after he dropped the NEVER Openweight Championship back to Kenta only 18 days after beating him back in May. It was truly baffling to see NJPW management reverse course and push Hikuleo through to the playoffs this year. I truly do not get the thought process here, as he cleary isn’t ready to be a big player in NJPW yet.

The C Block has delivered some good hard-htiting matches and brawls.  I never thought the C Block would see Finlay and Evil get through, but they did. It just seemed ridiculous to have two wrestlers from the Bullet Club umbrella advance. The biggest crime of the touranment so far was the Evil vs. Shingo Takagi main event on night 15.

I haven’t found myself hooked by many of the stories in the tournament, but I was all in on seeing this tie breaker match. I thought NJPW had done a good job of scaling back on their relentless push of Evil and House of Torture, which was one of the big reasons people began to check out of NJPW a couple of years ago. NJPW had slowly been earning back the trust of fans by getting back to what they do best and that’s putting on great wrestling matches with great stories and great wrestlers. That was out the window by the end of this show.

Takagi has been an afterthought in NJPW for the most part since dropping the IWGP World Hvt. Championship a couple of years ago. It would have been a really fun story to at least see him go to a tie break match against Tonga.  NJPW has shoved Evil down our throats in the past, but lately he’s been utilized on the undercard. To see his schtick with all of the interference and ridiculous ref distractions in the main event of a block night where he wins the match is a near unforgivable booking offense from NJPW.

NJPW had been doing so well with their booking, but by making the G1 Climax this year so bloated and combining that with their booking beginning to decline, they’ve done nothing to get people excited to tune in. I can’t call my friends and say you have to watch this match or tell them they have to follow Shota Umino’s journey through the tournament. There’s just not much to get excited about.

Night 15 offfered a glimmer of hope with the chance to see something exciting from a storyline perspective. Takagi winning would have at least made all of the draws more palatable, as they would have at least given us a sudden death playoff match against Tonga had he beaten Evil. Instead, NJPW gave us every Evil match we’ve seen.

The ref ignored all of the interference and gave House of Toture tons of leeway as they interfered at ringside. The most frustrating thing about all of the cheating and interference in Evil and all House of Torture matches is there are no conseqeunces. They are allowed to cheat in every single match without reprecussions. The only payoff is when a babyface beats them.

Thats the carrot NJPW hung in front of viewers on night 15. A chance to see Evil and House of Torture outfoxed by L.I.J. The problem is we’ve seen it happen before. We’ve sseen babyfaces overcome and fall short to the House of Torture time and time again. The most frustrating part about the House of Torture is there’s just no reason to care what they do because win or lose, they just keep doing the same thing.

I can live with the House of Torture doing their thing in the six man or heavyweight tag division in NJPW and largely since NJPW turned it around that is where Evil and his pals have been relegated to. Why did NJPW bring them back front and center to conclude the C Block is beyond me and their action during the main event ruined my enjoyment of the show overall.

The other block matches on the card for night 15 were really good, but given how the main event turned out, it’s hard to recommend that people watch any of this show or the rest of the touranment going forward. Tonight was a massive step backwards for NJPW and hopefully NJPW booker Gedo can course correct headinto into the final nights of the tournament.

Contact Sean at pwtorchsean@gmail.com. Follw him on X @SR_Torch

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