By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Masahiro Chono vs Keiji Muto
G1 Climax Final
It is the amount of stamina that would have been required of Masahiro Chono to win the 1st official G1 Climax that boggles the mind when you look at it with hindsight. Though the size and scale of the tournament has increased vastly and is arguably a bigger drain on a wrestler’s body now than it was in the past, for Chono to wrestle four high impact singles matches in four days is a laudable accomplishment. That one of them included a thirty minute time limit draw with Shinya Hashimoto, as well as a victory of Hashimoto on the same day as the final itself, only further highlights the impressiveness of this achievement.
Chono would top a group which would also see him defeat Bam Bam Bigelow and Riki Choshu. His opponent in the final was Keiji Muto, another of the Three Musketeers, though his route to the final was more linear in nature even after an opening night defeat to Scott Norton. Victories over Tatsumi Fujinami and Big Van Vader, alongside the inability of Norton to capitalise on this victory, saw Muto head into the final. As the match began, Chono had already spent fifteen minutes in the ring that evening in his Decision Match victory over Hashimoto (both men finish on five points). Everything seemed to be in Muto’s favour as the two relative youngsters went into battle, with all of the other five singles contests between the two being Muto victories.
However, this is where the legacy for Mr G1 began.
Dourer than the overtly charismatic wrestler we’d see in years to come, Chono matched Muto whilst grappling standing up and on the mat in the opening exchanges as he looked to slow the pace down to offset the earlier exertions he had undertaken. A cross arm lock would see Muto head to ringside after breaking the hold, shaking off the numbness and regrouping. It would be Muto who would land the first of his trademark pieces of offense, the snap elbow hitting but leading to the handspring back elbow colliding with nothing but turnbuckle. To further his misery, Chono dumped Muto on his head with a vicious back suplex before slapping on another armlock.
Muto’s early assault targeted Chono’s legs in an effort to soften him up for the figure four leglock whilst also lessening the effectiveness of the STF. An Indian Deathlock with bridge continued to put pressure on Chono’s joints, whilst also sparking the crowd into life as they cheered for Chono to break the hold. Not content with just the legs, Muto would use a cattle mutilation and cross armbreaker to work on the arms in order to completely decimate Chono’s offensive arsenal. Every moment stuck in these holds left Muto recovering whilst Chono’s weariness could only worsen. A stamp to the face was one way of escaping the hold, before Chono blasted Muto out of the ring with three kicks, the last sending him off the apron and into the guardrail.
It became a game of taking risks as Chono dived through the ropes and off the turnbuckle to take the fight to Muto. Further ringside action didn’t pan out so well as Muto back body dropped Chono before dropping him with a piledriver on the concrete floor! A top rope dropkick led to the first real pinfall attempt and a nearfall for Muto, as he would also get with a back and German suplex, but he just couldn’t put Chono away. A Gotch-style piledriver was Muto’s next weapon; again, Chono kicked out. Desperate now, Muto would go for the moonsault, only to miss and get slapped into the STF. Agonisingly, he inched towards the ropes and was able to force the break.
They traded octopus holds in a vain effort to force the submission, before Chono would dropkick a missile dropkick from Muto out of midair to leave both men down. Another failed attempt at the STF looked like it opened the window for Muto to finish Chono off, but a moonsault this time hit Chono’s knees. With Muto stunned, Chono immediately dropped him with a powerbomb into a pinfall for the victory.
What better way to crown a new winner in a rebranded tournament then with a match that arguably was a Match of the Year contender? With Chono, Muto and Hashimoto in the ring after the match, New Japan’s heavyweight division looked in fine condition going forward. Little did we know at the time that this was arguably Chono’s greatest match with injuries meaning he never quite fulfilled the potential he showed here, at least in terms of in-ring action.