The G1 Climax has taken off in recent years to hold the title of wrestling’s greatest tournament. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual tournament has featured dozens of wrestlers since its inception in 1991, some of which you may not know or remember.
The tournament has seen many rule and format changes over the years. Recent tournaments have been held under a round robin format with two blocks of wrestlers. The wrestler who finished with the most points in each block would compete against one another to win the tournament.
Past tournaments have been held under single-elimination rules, round robins with one block and four blocks, and other formats as well.
There have been 29 G1 Climax tournaments to date. Historians will be quick to point out that the precursors to the G1 featured many former WWF stars. Everyone from Andre the Giant to Adrian Adonis to Hulk Hogan competed in the World League, International Wrestling Grand Prix, and Madison Square Garden League.
However, for the sake of uniformity, we will only be including wrestlers who competed in the G1 Climax. So without further adieu, here are 15 WWE wrestlers you did not know competed in the G1.
15. Andrade (2011)
Before Andrade was featured on Raw, SmackDown and NXT, he was one of CMLL’s biggest stars. CMLL and New Japan Pro Wrestling have a long-standing working relationship and thus Andrade was invited to compete in the 2011 G1 Climax.
Then known as La Sombra, Andrade only managed to pick up four points in his lone G1 appearance. His two wins came against Wataru Inoue and Strong Man, leading to him finishing tied with those two for last place.
14. Bam Bam Bigelow (G1 Climax 1991-92)
Bam Bam Bigelow competed in two G1 Climaxes in his career, first in 1991 and again in 1992. While he saw great success in the WWF over the years, he failed to make much of an impact in his G1 appearances.
He went 1-3 in 1991, defeating only Riki Choshu. This resulted in him finishing behind Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto in his block. The next year the tournament was held under single-elimination rules. He was eliminated in the first round by Scott Norton.
13. MVP (2012)
Some may remember MVP’s run in New Japan Pro Wrestling following his departure from WWE in 2010. A fun piece of trivia is that MVP was the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion, before Shinsuke Nakamura became synonymous with the title.
During his run with New Japan, MVP only competed in two G1 tournaments. His first coming in 2011 where he had a very strong 12 points. He finished just shy of Nakamura’s 14 point total but followed up his performance with an eight point showing the following year.
12. Arn Anderson (1992)
The enforcer of the Four Horsemen is not known for his work in Japan by any means. This makes his participation in the 1992 G1 Climax that much more of a piece of trivia.
The ’92 tournament determined who would win the vacant NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship. Thus, the tournament featured far more American stars than in other years. Arn Anderson was eliminated in the first round.
11. Terry Taylor (1992)
He is best known for his run as the all-time horrible gimmick The Red Rooster, Terry Taylor also competed in the 1992 G1 Climax tournament.
Taylor was given a first round bye due to his opponent, Hiroshi Hase, suffering a shoulder injury prior to their match. He advanced to the quarter-finals where he was defeated by Kensuke Sasaki. Taylor went on to work for WCW as well as WWE as a trainer and producer.
10. Vader (1991)
Vader (billed as Big Van Vader), is one of the only two men on this list to have competed in the inaugural G1 Climax. He had competed in the International Wrestling Grand Prix in 1988 before competing in the first G1 in 1991.
He finished in last place in the A Block, finishing with a 1-3 record. His only victory came against fellow American Scott Norton. Both men would end up finishing behind eventual winner Keiji Mutoh who went on to have a legendary match in the finals against Masahiro Chono.
9. The Barbarian (1992)
The Barbarian was best known for his teams with The Warlord and Haku in the 1980s. He was one of many who competed in the 1992 tournament to become the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion.
Barbarian lost in the first round to New Japan Pro Wrestling superstar Shinya Hashimoto. Barbarian would compete off and on for New Japan Pro Wrestling until 1997.
8. Shelton Benjamin (G1 Climax 2012-2014)
Shelton Benjamin had a fairly long run in New Japan Pro Wrestling after being released from WWE in 2010. During his tenure he competed in three G1 Climaxes.
He finished with eight points in 2012, two back of block winner Karl Anderson. The following year Benjamin joined the heel stable Suzuki-Gun and finished with ten points. This put him tied for first place but Tetsuya Naito advanced to the finals based on tie-breakers.
Finally, Benjamin competed in the 2014 G1 Climax where he accumulated another ten points. After 2014 he departed to Pro Wrestling NOAH in early 2015 before making his return to WWE in 2017.
7. Tajiri (G1 Climax 2009)
Tajiri had decent success in WWE during the mid 2000s. He was a Cruiserweight Champion and a Tag Team Champion during his run with the promotion. Following his departure from WWE in 2005, Tajiri returned to his native Japan and eventually made his way to New Japan in 2009.
Tajiri made an initial impact in the tournament, winning his first match against then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. He faltered down the stretch, resulting in him finishing in last place with only four points.
6. Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart (G1 Climax 1992)
Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart was a core member of the Hart Foundation in the 1980s and late 90s in the WWF. Among the numerous Americans that competed in the 1992 G1 Climax, Neidhart also participated.
It should be becoming clear that the North American participants in this tournament were mainly fodder for the New Japan Pro Wrestling stars. Very few of them made it out of the first round and this included Neidhart. He fell to Kensuke Sasaki in his first round matchup.
5. Albert (G1 Climax 2006-2011)
Matt Bloom should not be a surprise to any hardcore New Japan Pro Wrestling fans. He was a top foreigner for New Japan in the late 2000s but he left the company right before their popularity began to increase.
During his time with the promotion, Bloom (wrestling as Giant Bernard) competed in six G1 Climaxes. His performances varied over the years as he finished as high as second place in his block in 2006 and as low as second-to-last in 2009.
He returned to WWE in 2012 as Lord Tensai for an unmemorable run before transitioning to a trainer role at the WWE Performance Centre.
4. Barry Windham (G1 Climax 1992)
The former NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion competed in the 1992 tournament to determine a new champion. You may think that his championship pedigree would put him in a position to do well in the tournament but nay, Windham also fell in the first round.
Windham had the bad luck of matching up with Keiji Mutoh in the first round. Mutoh being one of New Japan’s top stars at the time, he defeated Windham en route to a semi-final match with Masahiro Chono.
3. Ric Flair (G1 Climax 1995)
‘The Nature Boy’ competed in one G1 Climax during his illustrious career. WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling had a working relationship in the 90s and as a result Flair went to compete in the tournament.
Flair finished the tournament with a 1-1-1 record having defeated Shiro Koshinaka, lost to Keiji Mutoh, and wrestled to a draw with Masahiro Chono. Without explanation, Flair did not make it to the tournamen’s final four while Chono did with an identical record. Poor Naitch.
2. Rick Rude (G1 Climax 1992)
Rick Rude was the exception when it came to foreigners who competed in the 1992 G1 Climax. While most quickly exited the tournament, the former WWF Intercontinental Champion made it all the way to the finals.
He defeated Super Strong Machine, Shinya Hashimoto, and Kensuke Sasaki before falling to Masahiro Chono in the tournament final. While Rude did not win, he remained the only foreigner to make it to the G1 Climax Finals until Karl Anderson accomplished the feat in 2012.
1. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (G1 Climax 1992)
Perhaps the biggest WWE star of all time, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin competed in the 1992 G1 Climax as a member of the WCW roster. Then named ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin, he managed to make it out of the first round, putting him above his American peers.
Austin defeated Arn Anderson in the first round before being beaten by Keiji Mutoh in the quarter finals. While he did not win the tournament and the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, Austin went on to become one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen as he made his way to WWE in 1995.