and Landon Wayne
It's just about that time again folks. One of the most consistently exciting stretches on the pro wrestling calendar, the NJPW G1 Climax is upon us. For those of you not familiar with this grueling multi-week tournament, New Japan assembles two blocks of the top heavyweights in the company and pits them against each other in a round-robin format. A wrestler gets 2 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and of course none for a loss. In the event of a tie score between Wrestler X and Wrestler Y, whomever won their head-to-head matchup is declared the winner at the end. On the last night of the tourney, the point leaders of each block face each other in the Finals, and the winner of the G1 gets a Right-to-Challenge certificate to face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at next year's WrestleKingdom. There's just one caveat though - if Wrestler X wins the tourney but lost individual matches along the way to Wrestlers Q and M, Wrestler X must put the certificate on the line against each of them prior to WrestleKingdom. If Wrestler Q defeats Wrestler X in the followup match, Wrestler Q becomes the new #1 contender.
The G1 Climax is easily the most prestigious tournament in wrestling today and routinely delivers some of the best matches of the entire year. New Japan lost a few of its top participants from 2015 (and I still miss them terribly), but has filled the gaps nicely, adding a few new faces and borrowing two of Pro Wrestling NOAH's top stars. This tourney should yield some spectacular stuff. So let's get into it - Landon and I will give our thoughts on each participant, pick our probable Finals match, and name the three matches from each block we're most looking forward to.
Bad Luck Fale
Justin: I can't say I've ever been much of a Fale fan; unless he's in there with Okada or Tanahashi his matches are usually pretty plodding. I'm not sure what's left to do with this guy as he hasn't really improved over the past two years. He had a brief IC Title run in 2014 and that seemed to be his ceiling. As far as the G1 goes he's just kind of a spoiler for the top guys.
Landon: A haiku for you all:
Fale is a lump
I don’t know why he's in this
I’m not excited.
Justin: Goto is one of those solid, dependable stars who's almost always gonna deliver you a good match but seldom a great one. He'll match up well with several of the Block A competitors but probably won't lead the pack.
Landon: Joining CHAOS, and the recent feud with EVIL, has given Goto a noticeable change in demeanor and intensity during his matches. It’s possible that Goto comes out of this year’s G1 as the winner of the A-Block. However, in a stacked block full of a lot of the conventional best in the company, it’d be a long shot.
Justin: Ishii is one of two guys (Shibata being the other) who I think should be point leaders and for whom the G1 will hopefully be a launching pad to a main event run. Ishii is almost always in one of the best matches on any given NJPW card and it's time for him to become an IC Champ and frequent Heavyweight Title challenger.
Landon: I’m a blatant CHAOS supporter, and especially a huge Ishii fan. I’ll enjoy every match he’s in regardless of opponent. I don’t think he’ll win, because his time may never be for the Heavyweight title. But he’ll kill anyone trying to get 2 points from him.
Justin: Kojima was originally slated for this spot but "willingly" gave it to his buddy Tenzan. I'm actually in favor of this change as I like Tenzan's matches a little better. But he's mostly here to be a solid opponent for the younger guys. No chance of him finishing at the top.
Landon: 3rd Generation, not winning. Good matches....what? There’s really nothing to say about him.
Justin: I don't see Makabe being a leader either but he'll likely get one or two wins over top guys to keep it competitive.
Landon: Makabe is going to look for the matches he likes; brutal, quicker-paced matches. While he’s seen better days as far as placement on the card, he will still give great matches in the tournament, possibly playing spoilers later in the month. No way he’s winning however.
Justin: I'm super excited about NOAH's ace being included. Marufuji is a fantastic worker and we haven't gotten to see him mix it up with NJPW's finest very much. His matches with Okada and Tanahashi should be instant classics.
Landon: I really don’t know much about Marufuji, other than he’s been called the Ace of NOAH. An appropriate place to be this month, I suppose. All I know is that the match between him and Tanahashi is supposedly going to be amazing.
Justin: I've always found it strange that the IWGP Champion participates in a tournament whose prize is to challenge the IWGP Champion. What happens if Okada wins the whole thing and retains the title until WrestleKingdom? Anyway, Okada's great against nearly any opponent so I expect several good-to-excellent showings from him. Plus he'll be one of the point leaders (but probably not in the Final).
Landon: Kensuke Sasaki was the last IWGP champion to win the G1 tournament, in 2000. Back then, the winner did not automatically get a title shot, much less at WrestleKingdom. Okada won’t win now, I’d bet a year of NJPW World on it. But, being "The Man," he will have at minimum 3-star matches across the board.
Justin: Sanada has impressed me thus far in New Japan and I think he'll grow into a perennial top challenger. This tourney will be a fantastic test to see how he handles opponents of differing styles. I don't see him getting anywhere close to winning, but he should have a good showing.
Landon: SANADA needs to impress here. Not just to prove himself, but he needs to legitimize Los Ingobernables de Japon, after the clean sweep of losses at Dominion. His match with Okada and the last two tag team matches showed his potential, which could be capitalized on in the A-Block.
Justin: Last year's winner is invariably one of the tournament MVPs and I expect the same this year. He'll have MOTY candidates against Marufuji, Ishii, Goto, and of course his legendary rival Okada. This will be their ninth meeting and I'm assuming that match will occur at the end of the tourney. Tanahashi could very well make it to the Finals but he won't win.
Landon: The Ace of New Japan returns to in ring action after an injury pulled him for a month. Notable is that he’s been placed in the block without either Elgin or Omega, possibly keeping him away so that a feud can kickstart after the tournament leading possibly to WK. I expect that he might be the A block leader, considering his contemporaries in the block.
Justin: Still not super impressed with Tonga's work thus far. Hopefully this will be a chance for him to prove his detractors wrong and earn his expanded role in the company.
Landon: After the attempted run at making him and his brother the dominant team in NJPW derailed in part to the erratic booking and a moderate fan backlash (Everyone I’ve talked to doesn’t seem to care for the brothers as a team), the G1 could be a recoup for Tama Tonga. One of the six making their debut in the tournament, he will share the same goal of the others, trying to prove his worth in the midcard or main event scene. Don’t expect much point-wise though.
Justin: Elgin's NJPW debut was in last year's G1 where he immediately won over Japanese audiences with his smash-mouth style. He unexpectedly managed to capture Kenny Omega's Intercontinental Title at Dominion and will meet Omega again here. Each of Elgin's matches should be good at worst.
Landon: He debuted last year, and is now the Intercontinental Champion. Good turnover. Anyway, Big Mike will be doing his thing this year again, maybe with a better win ratio coming out of it. Expect him to lose to the top contenders for the winner’s spot, but toss people around for the rest of the block. Look for a potential new contender for the IC title in this block.
Justin: I've enjoyed what I've seen from Evil so far, particularly against Goto, with whom he has undeniable chemistry. Looking forward to seeing what he can do against some of the Block B participants.
Landon: Copy/Paste SANADA. Los Ingobernables need momentum, EVIL may get it for them.
Justin: Everyone's favorite underdog is back and presumably aiming to win at least two G1 matches (Last year marked his first and only win in these tournaments). Honma is always fun to watch and he'll have some top-flight stars to work with in this block.
Landon: Kokeshi fall over. Kokeshi 1/18. Kokeshi may go 2/27. Kokeshi have nowhere to go.
Justin: The former Champ and heavy favorite looks to redeem himself after his rather surprising loss to Okada at Dominion. He'll also have to face his LIJ compadre Evil in one of these bouts, which should be tremendously entertaining. Naito will undoubtedly be a block leader for the duration of the tourney.
Landon: Why is Naito not champion right now? Why is this not a babyface race to win the tournament? I don’t know, because Gedo is off his meds I guess. He may be set to win this tournament, setting him up to have a really great 2016 overall. But we’ll see I guess.
Justin: I know basically nothing about Nakajima other than I've heard his name before. People seem to be excited about his inclusion so his matches should impress. We'll see.
Landon: Unlike Marufuji, Nakajima’s reputation does NOT precede him. I have zero knowledge of the man.
Justin: This salty veteran found a new lease on life a few months ago after winning the NEVER Openweight Title. A subsequent loss to Shibata left him disappointed but his G1 matches should be full of energy and stiff action.
Landon: The veteran has been bolstered recently by his brief reign as the NEVER Openweight Champion. Walking into the G1 he's in the same position as Tenzan in the other block. He’s sure to have good matches and potentially be a spoiler, but nothing more.
Justin: Omega might be the single participant I'm most excited about here. He's never been in the G1 before, and hadn't even participated in the Super Juniors tourney since 2013. He's got plenty of potentially tremendous matchups here and I expect him to be a favorite down the stretch. He'll almost certainly get a win back over Elgin to earn an IC Title rematch this fall.
Landon: Kenny may have lost the IC title just to win the G1 Climax. It’s a good chance that a heel wins the tournament, and the two biggest heels that New Japan has are in the B-Block. Regardless, this will be his first true test as a heavyweight. Seeing him going against someone other than Tanahashi or Elgin will be interesting.
Justin: Shibata is consistently one of the best guys to watch in this tournament as every match is full of rugged strikes. Along with Ishii, Shibata deserves to be elevated to semi-main eventer status (at least) over the next year. He'll be one of the Block B leaders.
Landon: People are going to die. Omega may die. Yano WILL die. Shibata may come out as a top scorer this go around. But, with the NEVER title, the time is not right for Shibata. Maybe next year.
Justin: Yano's mostly been a comedy wrestler but his matches are certainly never boring. I'm interested to see how a humorless mofo like Shibata responds to Yano's antics. Ditto Elgin. I don't expect any five-star classics out of Yano but his matches should undoubtedly entertain.
Landon: YANO IS BACK. I have missed the Sublime Master Thief so. His match is always gonna be a break from the seriousness of the B Block matches that day. Of course he won’t win the block, but his matches will be fun as always.
Justin: Yoshi will be one of the lower-echelon guys. It'll be him vs. Honma for the bottom spot in the block I imagine. He's there mostly to provide an easy win for each member of a fairly stacked field.
Landon: Coming off some of the best momentum of his career, HASHI can use this year’s G1 to propel himself to new levels, much like Tonga, SANADA, and others. I want to see him succeed, but he may end up lower on the point totals. There’s potential, and I REALLY wanna see it.
Justin: It's a somewhat unpredictable scenario this year. I'd say Tanahashi is pretty much a lock for the Finals but he'll lose the match. So the question becomes, who gets the rub by beating Tanahashi in the Finals? The obvious pick is probably Naito, but a) we just saw Okada vs. Naito at Dominion (and Invasion Attack), and b) it that match was already a co-headliner at WrestleKingdom 8. I could certainly see it happening that way but I'm not terribly excited about it. Much more appealing to me would be Kenny Omega defeating Tanahashi in the Final and facing Okada in January. As a longshot we could also see Shibata vs. Tanahashi. I'd say Naito-Tana is the most likely scenario but for my official pick I'm going with Omega vs. Tanahashi.
Landon: This isn’t a story of the Block A winner. To me this is the story between Omega and Naito over who will face Okada. I think, with a refocusing of the Bullet Club and LIJ, that Omega will win the Block and Tournament. This will simultaneously end business with Elgin, get him over Tanahashi, who will most likely be his finals match-up, and set him up to lose to Okada at WrestleKingdom 11.
Justin's Top Match Picks
Both blocks offer some potentially scintillating (thanks JR!) matchups. Anything involving Tanahashi, Okada, Ishii and Marufuji should be no less than ***1/2. My top three match picks are:
Tanahashi vs. Ishii
Tanahashi vs. Marufuji
Okada vs. Ishii
As I said, anything with Omega or Shibata will be must-see, and Naito has some intriguing pairings as well.
Omega vs. Shibata
Omega vs. Naito
Shibata vs. Naito
Landon's Top Match Picks
Tanahashi vs Marufuji
Ishii vs. Makabe
Goto vs. Tanahashi
Omega vs Naito
Omega vs Yano
Shibata vs Nakajima
That's where our heads are at going into this year's G1. While the presence of AJ Styles, Nakamura and Kota Ibushi is very much missed, this field is still very exciting and should result in four weeks of top-notch wrestling. The fact that there isn't a clear favorite to headline WrestleKindom 11 could be a good thing as it makes the tourney more competitive and unpredictable. Stay tuned in August for a follow-up piece with our thoughts. Thanks for reading!