It's September during COVID, and that means it's time for NJPW's G1 Climax tournament!
Welp, this year's extravaganza of round-robin wrestling looks pret-ty rough. For the last several years the G1 has been four weeks of mostly uninterrupted awesomeness, but based on the available talent in 2021 I think we're in for a bit of a letdown. Far too many valuable stars are unable to get back into Japan thanks to the Delta variant, and thus both blocks have a fair bit of filler. Complicating things is the threat of one or more stars catching the virus during the tournament, which could derail the company's plans. Usually one or more top seeds will hit an early slump to create suspense, and then surge near the end of the block to make the finals. But they can't really do that this year because if say, Okada loses his first three matches and then gets COVID and has to miss multiple shows while he recovers, he's mathematically eliminated. So the booking here has to be very straightforward and also allow for a Plan B in case one or both of the intended finalists gets sidelined.
Anyway, let's look at these blocks - it's gonna be a rough go....
The United Empire's third-best guy is making his G1 debut here. He's apparently been improving in recent weeks, though I haven't caught any of his bouts in a while. He's not winning this block or even coming close to winning this block, but hopefully he puts in some good showings.
The defending back-to-back G1 winner is looking to make it a threepeat, and thus see his fourth consecutive G1 final. After his severe case of pneumonia it was great to see Ibushi back in action at Wrestle Grand Slam. Ibushi is always a tournament MVP, but I don't think he wins his third in a row. He'll go deep into the tournament, maybe even make the finals, but I don't think he takes the trophy this time around.
The perennial unsung hero of the G1 is back, and he'll rack up a slew of great bouts here, while once again falling short of the finals. Dude's a workhorse.
Kenta has had some strong G1 showings but it all depends on how far they go with Bullet Club interference. I think it's time to disband this stable, as it's a watered down version of its former self and most of their matches lately are tiresome because of the heel shenanigans. NJPW is supposed to be *different* from North American wrestling. Anyway, Kenta will probably be one of the block leaders but won't make the finals.
The Guerrillas are here to take some losses and maybe play spoiler here and there. Tanga's not going far.
Naito is one of the block favorites and may make his first G1 final appearance since 2017. He's been put on the back burner since WrestleKingdom, enjoying a brief Tag Team Title run (which should've lasted much longer), but this is his chance to get back on track as a top singles star. Naito vs. Shingo should certainly be an interesting matchup.
Zack Sabre Jr.
ZSJ is always reliable for a bunch of good G1 bouts, and his unique grappling style helps his work stand out. I would say he has an outside chance of making the finals but it's a bit of a longshot.
The champ is entering the G1 with the belt for the first time, a role usually reserved for Okada. With that in mind, he'll dominate the first half of the tournament but fall short of the finals in the end. I wonder if we'll ever see the IWGP Champion win the G1. Seems like it would be pointless to book it that way, but stranger things have happened.
He's here to do jobs.
He's here to have comedy matches, mostly do jobs, and steal a couple wins.
Jeff has been absolutely on fire as of late, and his matches here should be tournament highlights. He's got a chance at winning the block, and if it comes down to Cobb vs. Naito let's say, Jeff would make an excellent monster heel for Naito to overcome. Or at the very least he could be the block frontrunner for Okada to just barely beat into the finals.
Man, what a disappointment this guy's main event push has been. LIJ Evil was one of the company's most promising rising stars. His Bullet Club counterpart is a chore to watch. Evil's matches the last 15 months have been overly long, full of nonsense interference, and just boring. Look no further than his G1 30 run, which produced maybe one or two good matches over four weeks. Evil has a chance of winning the block and the tournament but I really hope he doesn't. Put this guy back the way he used to be.
Goto is Ishii's mirror in the G1. Good for a bunch of strong showings but ultimately won't ever be a G1 winner.
And Okada is sort of Naito's mirror in this one. A former perennial headliner who's been kinda stuck in limbo the last several months. Okada has an excellent chance of taking this one home, and it would be his first G1 trophy since 2014. He's got a lot to prove in this tourney to show he still belongs as the company Ace, and a great showing here punching his ticket to the Tokyo Dome would do nicely.
I really don't see it with Chase Owens. He looks and wrestles like generic indie guy to me. I certainly don't need to see him wrestle nine times over four weeks. He'll finish in the bottom half of the block.
One of last year's finalists has a decent shot at repeating that accomplishment, and will probably have a very good showing regardless. He's in a similar position as Jeff Cobb - upper echelon on the verge of breakout status, but may not quite get there this year.
This guy has really turned things around the last couple years and can more often than not be counted on to deliver the goods in-ring. He's not getting anywhere near the finals but he'll have some solid matches.
Man, Tana's been in the midst of a rebirth this year. Two championships and a bunch of excellent matches to his name, at age 44. He'll be one of the block MVPs and a frontrunner, but I think he'll come up short in the end.
See Loa, Tanga. Jobs and spoilers.
YH is the tournament underdog. He'll come close to beating a number of upper-card guys but probably only win one or two matches.
Top 3 Matches - Block A
Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi - We didn't get to see this match in the Dome earlier this year, so I'm stoked to see it now. Shingo might be the best worker in the world right now, and Ibushi is a force of nature. Get ready for some fireworks.
Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii - These two have stolen at least one G1 in the past and I always welcome the possibility for them to do it again.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Shingo Takagi - The LIJ founder vs. the LIJ breakout. This match has a very interesting dynamic. Does Shingo eventually leave the group and go off on his own, or does Naito eventually turn on him out of jealousy? Or does Naito cede the leader role and become more of a mentor? Lots of interesting options....
Top 3 Matches - Block B
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb - These guys are 1-1 in recent bouts and always work great together. Should be interesting to see who breaks the tie.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - The two legendary frenemies lock up once again. I forget what their ongoing win-loss record is together but they're incapable of having a bad match.
Jeff Cobb vs. Hirooki Goto - This oughta be a splendid slugfest between probably the two strongest guys in the block. If Goto's going to have a defining match in this tournament I think it'll be this one.
I think Block A is going to come down to either Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito or Shingo Takagi. Of those three, Ibushi's made the last three finals and Shingo is the champion, so Naito seems the most likely to actually get there. It's been four years since he's made a trip to the G1 Final, so this seems as good a time as any to give him another crack.
Block B will come down to either Jeff Cobb, Evil, Kazuchika Okada, Sanada, or Hiroshi Tanahashi. Sanada and Cobb are sort of longshots and would get that slot as an acknowledgment of their up-and-coming status. Putting Evil in the final would make for a very dull climax to the Climax. Tana is always good for an epic match but he's won two G1s in the last six years. That leaves Okada, who's been the IWGP Champion in four of the last six tournaments but hasn't made the finals in seven years. I think he's got the best shot here.
So my finals prediction is Naito vs. Okada. It's a marquee match we haven't seen in 20 months, fresh enough to feel special but established enough that the company isn't giving away a new big-time match. As a final it will draw money while re-establishing two of the company's top stars, either of whom can headline WrestleKingdom 16. The company has pushed numerous first-time champions in the last year and a half, so this seems like a good time to play things safe and give the new main eventers an established guy to play off of. And I think Okada takes the whole thing down, winning his first G1 Climax in a dog's age.
WrestleKingdom 16 is going to be three nights next year (which seems excessive but what do I know?), and I think one of the main events is going to be Shingo vs. Okada for all the chips. The G1 should provide a slew of good matches, while likely being a sizable step down from the last several tournaments due to the roster holes. But we will certainly see....
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