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NJPW 2015 G1 Climax 25: Tomoaki Honma's Epic Quest

Honma

By Zach Dominello, Wrestling Observer

Last year, Tomoaki Honma replaced an injured Kota Ibushi in New Japan’s G-1 Climax 24 tournament. As part of Block A, Honma would finish the tournament in last place on ZERO points. Despite losing every single G-1 match in his debut appearance in the now legendary New Japan heavyweight tournament, Tomoaki Honma won the love and support of fans around the world - Honmania ran wild, and it has't stopped running!

Honma’s 2014 tournament matches against Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii were some of the most brutal, breathtaking and heartbreaking matches of the year. What made Honma’s performance in 2014 so great is that he is a master of making believers out of the most cynical fans. It became clear early on that Honma was going to be taking a lot of falls in his G-1 matches. In the end, he was defeated in all of them, but during every one of those matches, he made us believe that it was possible he could pull off that one big victory. And every time he didn’t, it made us want to see it happen even more (and it made my heart break a little more).

This year, Honma’s G-1 journey continues. Honma was announced as a participant of G-1 Climax 25, but this time there was no asterisk against his name. Rather than being chosen as a last-minute replacement, Honma's inclusion in the 2015 G-1 is a testament to his deserved popularity and stellar performance in last year's Climax.

Naturally, the biggest story of the G-1 is learning who will earn the briefcase and a potential main event spot for the title of their choosing at Wrestle Kingdom. Last year, Okada won the tournament, defeating Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals. He went on to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 9. In an excellent main event, Okada lost, and left the ring in tears, but it was his G-1 victory that got him there in the first place.

As intriguing as predicting, and then discovering who the winner of the G-1 is, it's the little stories that develop throughout the tournament that I savor. So far in the G-1 Climax 25, we've witnessed Tetsuya Naito's brilliant character progression, not to mention a newly garbed and revitalised Hirooki Goto. We've also been blessed/cursed with the continuation of Tomoaki Honma's tragic, multi-tournament spanning quest for a victory.

Honma

At the time of writing, we're just past the halfway mark of the tournament, and Honma is still yet to pick up a win. Once again, his performances have been top-notch, and his crowd reactions get louder and louder each passing match, but he's still winless. And it's not like he's not trying. Honma wants to win. The people want Honma to win. That third count by the referee just never quite makes it to the mat. After Honma's recent Day 10 loss to Satoshi Kojima, the frustration and disappointment he expressed was agonising. His everlasting G-1 losing streak is beginning to take its toll not just physically, but mentally. I don't just mean for Honma, I'm talking about myself too! Each consecutive loss crushes my spirit just a little more.

And seeing how much Honma wants, no, needs a win, I don't know if my little heart can take much more.

As much as I, and many others, are figuratively dying for Honma to finally get his "G-1 Moment," not everyone thinks it's what's best for (Honma's) business. The main concern among the camp against a Honma G-1 win is that a victory will destroy Honma's mystique. Honma has been burning the candle at both ends for years creating and developing his fan favourite, underdog persona. He started out in New Japan as a mid-card, ex-death match wrestler, but now he's a mid-card, ex-death match wrestler with a cult following, and a reputation for putting on big time performances in his infrequent big time matches. He's also got a reputation for losing not just his big matches, but the majority of his matches, but like I mentioned earlier, it's his ability to make us believe he can pull off a near impossible win that makes him so great to watch.

The major concern is that if Honma begins to pick up wins, he'll lose that unique quality that we all love about him. There is something to that point. Tomohiro Ishii, who has a similar character to Honma, in that he's the guy who's smaller than most, but has that never say die attitude and ability to get the crowd behind him. In 2013, Ishii participated in his first G-1 Climax. While he finished bottom of his group on 6 points, one of his G-1 wins was actually one the biggest, and best matches of his career. I'm of course referring to his win over Hiroshi Tanahashi. If you haven't seen that match, stop what you're doing right now, log into your NJPW World account and watch it. I hate waiting so you'll just have to catch up. Fast forward on your VCR of life to 2015, Ishii is again a participant in the G-1, but this year, something’s a bit different. Ishii is still great. He still has excellent matches and crowds still cheer him on, but the thing is, he now wins a decent number of tournament matches. In fact, at the time of writing, he’s in a 5-way tie for second place in his group. In a way that’s great.

As an Ishii fan, I want to see him win matches, but with all these victories, it feels like Ishii has lost something - something intangible - that air of being the ultimate underdog. That’s the same concern people have for Honma if he starts winning G-1 matches. His magic will disappear, and he’ll become, well, normal.

As my pre-intermediate English students like to say, “a coin has another hand.” Come on, they’re trying. English is hard. Granted, the camp against a Honma G-1 victory has a valid point, but so does the pro Honma camp. While I agree that too many wins will water-down Honma’s mystique, all I’m asking for is one tiny little victory. It’s not like I’m expecting Honma to win the whole tournament and headline Wrestle Kingdom. Honma is suited to his position on the roster. A Never title run isn’t out of the question, but top guy status is a stretch. I don’t believe a singular G-1 victory will hurt Honma’s appeal. If he does get that win, and that’s a big "IF" at this stage, it shouldn’t be over just anybody.

At the time of writing, Honma’s remaining tournament matches are against Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii, and Yujiro Takahashi. Honma has reportedly vowed to win all three of those matches, beginning with Shinsuke Nakamura. While anything is possible, I wouldn't hold my breath - because that would lead to suffocation.

As amazing as it would be to see Honma defeat the King of Strong Style, it's more likely that if he does get a win, it will be over either Yujiro or Ishii. A last tournament day win over Yujiro Takahashi would be an immensely satisfying moment, and a heartwarming end to Honma’s enduring quest. Perhaps the bigger story, however, would be a win over rival Tomohiro Ishii in the Korakuen Hall main event on August 12. One of Ishii’s greatest matches during his fantastic Never Title run was against Honma at Wrestling Dontaku 2014. Even better (in some fans’ eyes) was their match together at The New Beginning in Sendai 2015 for the then vacant Never Title.

Honma

On both occasions, Honma, as he is wont to do in big time matches, came up short. With the history between the two, and their unquestionable chemistry together in the ring, their upcoming G-1 match is almost guaranteed to be must-see viewing. Add Honma finally getting a G-1 win on top of that, and you will have one of the most exhilarating, sweet, and joyous moments not just in this G-1, but in New Japan history. That's not hyperbole. A Honma G-1 win would really mean that much (to me).

Personally, I’d be happy with a win over either Takahashi or Ishii. Honestly, I think I need Honma to get a win more than Honma needs to get a win. In the end, Honma may simply lose all his tournament matches for a second year in a row, and his epic journey will continue into next year’s G-1 Climax 26. I really hope that doesn’t happen. The build towards a Honma win that began in 2014 has been pretty much perfectly done. It doesn’t need to be prolonged any further. Tomoaki Honma deserves his G-1 moment. He is ready, I'm ready, and all the Honmaniacs around the world are ready.

Prepare your canary yellow streamers - you're gonna need 'em.