The 27th edition of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament begins on Monday and if you’ve ever thought about dipping your toe in the water now’s the time to do it. The format provides a great opportunity for new viewers to familiarise themselves with the heavyweights of the company and will set up the next six months of feuds, taking us all the way up to Wrestle Kingdom in January. I hope this guide will encourage some of you to get in on some of the best wrestling in the world. Let’s get to it!
New Japan has held annual tournaments under various guises since 1974, but following a year off, it was rechristened the G1 (Grade One) Climax in 1991 and has remained that way ever since. The night of the finals is second only to the company’s January 4th Tokyo Dome show in terms of prestige. The current format (since 2012): a round-robin tournament split into two blocks of ten wrestlers. The winners of these blocks will face each other in the final and the winner of that match, assuming it’s not IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada, gets a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Every match has a 30-minute time limit with two points for a victory, one point for a draw, zero points for a loss.
As with the last few years, the tournament is taking place over 19 shows, running A Block one night, B Block the next. There are five G1 contests per card, with the participants from the other block, plus the rest of the roster, wrestling in undercard tag matches (note: for most shows I’ll only be reviewing the G1 matches). The benefit of this layout is that it ensures everyone has a decent number of days off from wrestling hard-fought singles matches and it’s easier to keep track of standings.
Bad Luck Fale (4th year)
It’s been a decent 2017 for the big Tongan. The Bullet Club stalwart reached the final of the New Japan Cup in March and though he lost that match he went on to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP title a few months later. Both that title challenge and the Cup final against Katsuyori Shibata were very good matches, proving he can still bring it with the right opponents. In fact, at this point he’s surely underrated in his ability to deliver in big matches. He also remains a believable monster – a giant compared to most in the company – and is capable of beating anyone.
Hirooki Goto (10th year)
In my primer for last year’s tournament I said Goto’s time had passed and it was hard to see him doing well. Not so. Goto was a surprise finalist, losing to Kenny Omega, and then went on to beat former tag partner Shibata for the NEVER Openweight title at Wrestle Kingdom. His run with the belt was not exactly inspired and he recently lost it to Minoru Suzuki, but despite general apathy towards him and his reputation as a choker, the guy can go in the ring. Still, a repeat of last year’s slightly fortuitous run is hard to see.
Kota Ibushi (3rd year)
Ibushi hasn’t wrestled in New Japan since September 2015, although I’m reliably informed that he’s been getting inside tips about goings-on from his good friend Tiger Mask W. Thanks in part to his participation in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic last year, Ibushi is among the best-known entrants in the G1 and his official return to the New Japan ring is a rare treat. Having somehow been convinced to take part in this gruelling month-long tour, I would imagine the high-flyer known as the Golden Star will be eager to remind the world just how good he can be.
Tomohiro Ishii (5th year)
A quiet year for the Stone Pitbull in general, although as always he has delivered in the tournaments, reaching the semi-final of the New Japan Cup and the final of the recent US Championship tournament in Long Beach. The diminutive badass also enjoyed (I assume) a brief run as tag champion with fellow CHAOS stablemate Toru Yano. He always delivers in the G1 and has arguably been the MVP of last two editions, so even if he’s not going to win it, it’ll be worth keep an eye on his matches.
Togi Makabe (14th year)
Aside from a few recent tag match appearances, Makabe hasn’t been seen much lately. Unfortunately, that’s partly because his Great Bash Heel tag partner, Tomoaki Honma, suffered a career-threatening neck injury earlier in the year. The one-time IWGP champion is a Bruiser Brody-inspired brawler, still one of the most well-recognised faces of the company thanks to his TV show and his reputation is such that he could believably claim a win against anyone in the block. Just don’t expect him to sell.
Yuji Nagata (19th year)
The age-defying veteran has had a fairly quiet 12 months, with his focus now firmly on the development of future talent through the dojo. As he demonstrated in his 2016 run with the NEVER title, however, Nagata is still able to match the level of his opponent, and given who he shares the block with that could mean some very good matches over the coming weeks. As this is his last G1 tournament and I expect him to go out on a high.
Tetsuya Naito (8th year)
The insolent and aloof trickster who leads the Los Ingobernables de Japón stable recently lost the Intercontinental title to Hiroshi Tanahashi after holding it since last September. Perhaps it’s for the best, since he was terribly abusive towards that poor belt and now that he’s out of that relationship he can set his sights on the IWGP title. A heavy favourite for the block, if not the whole thing.
Zack Sabre Jr. (Debut)
The technical expert debuted with the company in March and made an immediate impact by beating Shibata and joining the heel stable Suzuki-gun. It’s proven to be a natural fit for the 29-year old Brit and I’m excited to see him in the ring with everyone in the block, such is the uniqueness of what he brings to the wrestling ring. His pure grappling ability gives me the feeling he’ll be pushing for a place in the final.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (16th year)
Much like last year the Ace of the Century is going into the tournament at less than 100%. On this occasion the injury is a partially torn bicep and he’s forgoing surgery at the moment because he’s still an essential draw for the company. Still, that didn’t stop him from beating Naito for the Intercontintal title at Dominion. His star power and popularity is seemingly undiminished and he’ll main event many of these shows despite not being one of the favourites for the first time in a long time.
YOSHI-HASHI (2nd year)
The puppyish underdog of CHAOS has an innate ability to draw sympathy from crowds, something he was able to harness in an impressive run in the G1 last year. That momentum has largely stalled in the time since, but a recent challenge for Minoru Suzuki’s NEVER title suggests he has a role to play in singles competition. Translating the fire he discovered last year into wins this year is going to be tough, though, and in a block like this a solitary win would be an achievement.
Michael Elgin (3rd year)
Two years on from his debut, Big Mike remains a crowd favourite thanks to his feats of strength and consistently good matches. But 2017 hasn’t been Elgin’s year, not in New Japan at least, and a failed Intercontinental title challenge and first round losses in the New Japan Cup and US title tournament will surely only spur him on to better last year’s 5th place finish. The Canadian has been a quality addition to the roster and a run to the final would be no less than he deserves.
EVIL (2nd year)
Despite coming to the ring dressed as the grim reaper and firing lasers from his fingers, the Los Ingobernables member has straight-ahead brawling style (when he’s not using chairs to gain an advantage, that is). A very short run with the NEVER belt and a New Japan Cup semi-final are the standout singles moments for a man who’s mostly been plying his trade in multi-man tag matches, but even those brief opportunities suggest to me that there’s been improvement. A repeat of last year’s four wins would be a decent showing given the competition.
Satoshi Kojima (15th year)
Last year, Kojima selflessly gave his spot in the tournament to long-time tag partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan – the latter’s final G1. Now, the founder and lone member of Bread Club (not counting his Twitter followers) is back with a point to prove. He won the tournament in 2010, which isn’t so long ago that it’s out of the realm of possibility that it could be repeated, but now that he’s firmly in the veteran category Kojima might consider slapping down some of the young upstarts to be a job well done.
Kazuchika Okada (6th year)
The reigning IWGP champion, leader of the CHAOS stable, and New Japan’s Ace. His ongoing title reign, now 13-months long, has seen an extraordinary series of hard-fought battles against a wide variety of challengers and has demonstrated a level of fortitude and determination befitting The Man. Not since 2000 has a reigning IWGP champion won the G1 and it would be the cherry on top of this outstanding run if Okada could manage that feat this year.
Kenny Omega (2nd year)
Kenny won the G1 last year, becoming the first-ever non-Japanese person to do so. And in his debut appearance, no less. As you may have heard, he went on to unsuccessfully challenge Okada for the IWGP title at Wrestle Kingdom and recently pushed the champ to the limit in a one-hour draw at Dominion in June. A few weekends ago he became the inaugural United States Heavyweight Champion, beating Ishii in the final of a two-day tournament in Long Beach, and while he’s not yet claimed the big belt, he has become one of the Top Five guys in company. After his rise in the past 18 months, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bullet Club leader reach the final once more. But a back-to-back winner? We’ll see.
Juice Robinson (Debut)
In his time with New Japan the former CJ Parker of NXT has improved beyond measure. His endeavour has been rewarded this year in the form of title shots against Goto and Naito, neither of which he won, but both of which did enough to demonstrate that if the development continues the company will have a serious prospect on their hands. He’s going into the tournament hungry and I expect him to pull off an upset or two, while undoubtedly being outmatched most of the time. Go Juice!
SANADA (2nd year)
Los Ingobernables de Japón’s stoic submission specialist has spent most of the last year teaming with his stablemates in multi-man tag matches. A bit of a shame, since last year’s tournament had him looking like a breakout star thanks to some notable victories and strong performances. His singles matches have been limited in 2017, but there are plenty of fresh opponents here and plenty of opportunities to remind people of what he has to offer.
Minoru Suzuki (7th year)
The terrifying Suzuki returned to New Japan (along with his namesake stable) the night after Wrestle Kingdom following a two-year stint in NOAH. He went straight for the top dog, attacking Okada and coming close to besting him in a title match in February. Since then, he’s won and successfully defended the NEVER Openweight title, and given his stable’s propensity for interference of the most blatant fashion I fully expect him to (unnecessarily) cheat his way to several big wins.
Tama Tonga (2nd year)
In the time since last year’s tournament, Tama’s tag team with real-life brother Tanga Loa – Guerrillas of Destiny – has really clicked and by now they have held the titles three times. Last year I predicted a winless run but he came away with four, including a victory over Tanahashi, so despite being a tag team specialist he will be regarded as an unpredictable and dangerous proposition for his block opponents.
Toru Yano (12th year)
The Sublime Master Thief remains comfortingly consistent in his style, that being to cheat at all costs and win via low blow whenever possible. As a serial member of odd couple tag teams, it was no surprise that he and CHAOS stablemate Ishii managed to win the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom, though their glory wasn’t long-lived. For those of you who haven’t encountered Yano before, know that he’s a spoiler and will almost certainly beat one of your favourites. Oh, and he’ll try to sell you his DVDs while he’s at it.
How To Watch
The opening show on Monday will be FREE to watch on New Japan World and features Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi. Not bad, right?
New Japan World is 999 Yen (currently under $9) per month and will be streaming all 19 shows, with the opening four and final three getting English commentary from Kevin Kelly and Don Callis.
Due to a kind of logic I don’t quite understand, a customer is charged at the turn of the calendar month and not on a monthly basis from the sign-up date. Because of this, it’s wise to sign-up as early in the month as possible to avoid being charged twice in quick succession. What I’m saying is: do it, do it now!
The site was recently overhauled and is now easier to navigate, but I would still recommend using Google Chrome if you’re watching on a computer. The video seems to run more smoothly and the auto-translate feature is helpful on occasion too. Also, this year the company launched a dedicated English-language website, which is a great resource for information and I’d recommend its use in keeping up to date with the tournament.
There we go, you’re ready to enjoy a month-long feast of great wrestling. See you on Monday for the opening night.