Every year for 19 days, bleary-eyed wrestling nerds all over the world shake off sleep at ungodly hours of the morning to watch the biggest pro wrestling tournament of the year.
Potential matches of the year are crafted. Tournament math that resembles the complications of algebraic theorems to be solved only by Will Hunting are bandied about. The exhausted fanbase that consumes copious amounts of caffeine are matched only by the exhausted wrestlers who give everything to their artform until they break.
It can only mean one thing……it’s time for the G-1 Climax!
I did a preview for the G-1 last year and it seemed popular enough, so I decided to run it back because this year, I’ll be part of the G-1 coverage here on the blog. I’m looking forward to it! Much coffee has been stocked up! Myself and last year’s excellent reviewer, Michael Fitzgerald, will be splitting the G-1 duties as Michael will be taking A Block and I’ll be taking B Block.
Let’s get started:
1. What exactly is the G-1 Climax?
So glad you asked! The G-1, or Grade One Climax, takes place once a year in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and determines the #1 Contender for the IWGP Championship at Wrestle Kingdom in January. The IWGP championship is the top title in the company, and Wrestle Kingdom is their biggest event of the year. The winner of the G-1 receives a briefcase that contains the contract for the WK title shot inside, and that briefcase is defended like any other title up until that date. To win the G-1 is an achievement in and of itself, and winning the G-1 Climax even once in a career is a highlight that can be held up as equal to any title.
2. Okay. How does the tournament work?
There are 20 wrestlers in the G-1, divided into 2 blocks, A Block and B Block, 10 each. The tournament is a round robin event within the blocks, so all the wrestlers in A Block will wrestle each other in singles matches and all the wrestlers in B Block will wrestle each other in singles matches. Points are scored as follows: 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. The winners of each Block face each other on the final night to determine the winner.
3. How does each night of the tournament work?
Normally, the G-1 alternates between Block A and Block B each night, with the Block that has the night off doing tags against their upcoming opponents. That will not be the case in 2020 – rather, there will be 6 matches on each show (1 Young Lion match and 5 Block matches), and that’s it. Losing the undercard tags don’t really affect THAT much, so while I’m sure they’ll be missed by some, they aren’t essential. The Blocks will still rotate shows each night, with A Block one night, B Block the next night, etc, etc.
4. Does this mean that I have to wake up to watch the show at 4 AM every day?
No! Thanks to NJPW World, every single show will be available to watch whenever you want! And every single G-1 show will have English commentary with Kevin Kelly and at least one other English commentator, so if you’re at all worried about not understanding the commentary, NJPW has you covered. There has been no indication as to whether or not that commentary will be live, due to COVID-19, but it is possible – if not, there will be a delay in getting the English commetnary up on World.
5. NJPW World?
Ah, yes. New Japan has their own streaming service, New Japan World, and it’s a tremendous deal – cheaper than the WWE network at 999 yen, it averages out to less than ten bucks a month. Check it out over at njpwworld.com and get signed up.
6. Wait, doesn’t the G-1 happen in July and August?
Yes. However, this year, the G-1 was moved due to the Summer Olympics, which didn’t happen due to COVID, which also shut wrestling down so here we are now. Expect next year’s G-1 to possibly be delayed until later as well. But there’s still 19 shows to watch this year. Come hang on the BoD night thread with us and watch it! It gets craaaazzzy!
7. Really? It gets crazy on the BoD night thread?
Nah, not really. It’s just us wrestling nerds talking about Joshi. Sometimes Phrederic goes a little nuts, but that’s about it.
Nah, that’s a total lie. Everyone’s perfectly nice. Everyone’s welcome, come hang and watch some wrestling with us!
9. Alright, enough of this crap. Who’s in this thing?
Okay, let’s do that part. We’re going to go Block by Block here.
A Block may, in fact, be the most talent-laden Block in G-1 history. Your competitors are:
KOTA IBUSHI: The Golden Star! The reigning and defending G-1 champ, Ibushi has been in the Finals each of the last two years, defeating Jay White last year while having lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi in the Finals the year previous. Ibushi has been the heir apparent as the ace of New Japan for several years now – having signed a contract long-term with NJPW, his time is now. He is once again one of the very solid favorites to win the G-1.
KAZUCHIKA OKADA: The multi-time former IWGP champion, the Rainmaker has won the G-1 twice and main-evented Wrestle Kingdom a whopping 6 times. Okada headlined last year’s double gold dash at Wrestle Kingdom, defeating G-1 winner Ibushi on the first night before losing the double title match to Tetsuya Naito on the second night. Okada is always a threat to win the G-1 and will be for years to come.
MINORU SUZUKI: The King of Pro-Wrestling, the sadistic leader of Suzuki-Gun is the current NEVER openweight champion and has been a solid G-1 competitor for years. Having been left out of last year’s event, one would think he’ll be out to prove his worth this year. 52 years old and wrestling like he’s 32, Suzuki has had a tremendous year of singles matches and one would think that the G-1 will only add to it. He is likely not a threat to win, but will likely rack up victories and be a very solid competitor the whole way through.
JAY WHITE: The Switchblade, White is the current leader(?) of the Bullet Club, one of the most recognizable heel factions in Japan. Of course, one doesn’t know if White is still the leader or if it’s currently the recently joined EVIL, but one would suspect that to probably play out over the coming months. A personal favorite of mine and a Block winner from last year, White is the smarmiest heel in NJPW, a role that he inhabits to a delightful degree. He is a former IWGP champion and is absolutely a threat to win this year.
TOMOHIRO ISHII: The Stone Pitbull is arguably the best worker in all of New Japan. A ferocious brawler whose stellar selling abilities have earned more stars from wrestling reviewers than exist in some galaxies, Ishii is going to be several guys’ match of the tournament. In fact, he’s done it twice by my count, hitting ***** twice in the G-1, once with Okada in 2016 and again with Omega in 2018. Both matches are well worth seeking out if you want to see the best of Ishii on full display. Ishii is the perpetual ‘almost’ – he’s not going to win the World title, but he’s absolutely a credible threat to do so given a bare minimum of build. He is not a threat to win the G-1.
SHINGO TAKAGI: The Dragon is the former NEVER Openweight champion, having just dropped that title to fellow Block member Minoru Suzuki. A member of the Los Ingobernables de Japon faction, Takagi came into the promotion and was somewhat dubiously considered a junior heavyweight, making an undefeated run through the Best of the Super Juniors tournament before falling in the Final to Will Ospreay. Not long after that, Takagi moved to heavyweight and has been impressing ever since, having a long NEVER title run with the sense that more may await him. I expect Takagi to be in contention to win the Block most of the way through, as he will be protected. Ultimately, I don’t see him overcoming the rest of this stacked Block.
JEFF COBB: Cobbzilla is a wunderkind on the indies and has been for some years now. A former PWG champion and an ROH wrestler, Cobb has been courted by almost every North American promotion over the last two years, but the Hawaiian-based Cobb has apparently made it clear to all suitors that he won’t sign any deal unless it allows him to work in Japan, where he wants to work the most. This will be Cobb’s second G-1; his first was rocky, to say the least, but I believe in his talent and hope that the more that he works in Japan, the more he’ll improve. He is not a threat to win the G-1.
TAICHI: Ah, Taichi. One-half of the tag team champions with Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi is my most-despised member of Suzuki-Gun, and not for the right reasons. A master of….chokes and eye rakes, Taichi needs a very strong worker in the ring to carry him – luckily, this block is full of them. I won’t belabor the point except to say that I’m not a fan of his work, but he’s certainly better than the next guy.
YUJIRO TAKAHASHI: It could have been SHO. It could have been El Desperado. It could have been a whisk broom from a storage closet. Instead, we got Yujiro Takahashi, the Tokyo Pimp. Takahashi is a member of Bullet Club, and he gave up a LONG time ago, let’s just be honest. He had a feud with Okada since NJPW came back, and the matches didn’t break ***. OKADA. A guy that, love or hate him, is generally objectively considered to be one of the best workers in the world, and even he couldn’t carry Yujiro past mediocre. He is terrible and I expect him to very possibly go 0-9 for the entire G-1.
WILL OSPREAY: Okay, I’ve got a lot I could say about Will. Let’s keep it objective here. Ospreay is a multi-time former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion and this will be his second G-1. This will also mark his return to NJPW after being out of the country due to COVID for an extended period. I expect that Ospreay will do very well in this tournament (which brings up a whole host of issues) and will be in contention for the Block very late, probably all the way to the final day. I do not expect him to win the Block.
Now then, to rank the favorites of the Block in order:
- Kota Ibushi
- Jay White
- Kazuchika Okada
- Will Ospreay
- Shingo Takagi
- Tomohiro Ishii
- Minoru Suzuki
- Jeff Cobb
- Yujiro Takahashi
Ibushi is a strong pick to become a 3-time Block winner this year. His tag team with Hiroshi Tanahashi has ended and the two are in separate blocks of the G-1; could we see a rematch from their fabled Final two years ago, which was won by Tanahashi? I think it’s entirely possible, if only because of the Ibushi/Naito history, in which they tangled 3 times in 2019, with Ibushi winning 2-1. GEDO loves to do callbacks to past work when it comes to his booking, and the Naito/Ibushi matches are certainly memorable when it comes to said past work. Ibushi winning the entire G-1 would then be in play if that’s where he wants to go, plus the breakup of the Ibushi/Tanahashi tag team was punctuated by Ibushi having lost faith in Tanahashi still being the ace of New Japan – will he meet the Ace in the Final should Tanahashi win the other block? The possibilities are intriguing to say the least when it comes to Kota and this Block.
But while Ibushi is certainly a top contender for the Block, don’t sleep on Jay White. A Block winner a year ago, I expect White to absolutely contend to win this Block and some would argue he’s a favorite to do so. He’s the best pure heel in the tournament and would provide an excellent challenger to Naito at Wrestle Kingdom, both with his promo ability and the fact that the two weirdly have styles that work well together, as they’ve faced off before and the matches were very good. White probably needs a good tournament here as he’s just coming back to NJPW and was in a top position before he left; there is an argument to be made that him winning the block to re-establish himself as the Bullet Club leader and as a main eventer is the right call.
As for Kazuchika Okada, he isn’t ever one to count out in case GEDO decides he’s going to just return the Rainmaker to his former glory, but his road since NJPW has returned has been bumpy. There was the Yujiro feud, then there was the King of Pro-Wrestling title series…..Okada has been rudderless since returning, so maybe a deep G-1 run is the way to go to get him back on track? He is the early favorite on betting odds, but my thing is that we JUST did this story after he lost the title to Kenny Omega, then got back on track to win the title from Jay White at MSG. Are we going to do it again?
Yes, Will Ospreay is a threat to go very deep in this tournament, but no, I don’t think they’re going to put him over in the end.
Shingo Takagi is in an interesting spot. He’s been very well protected since coming over to NJPW with his long winning streak through the BOSJ and his NEVER title run. Losing to Suzuki really doesn’t hurt anyone in NJPW, because Suzuki is very well-established as a badass force to be reckoned with. With that title off from around his waist, could they be positioning Takagi for bigger things? Maybe, but Shingo is already 37 years old, so his timeframe is starting to tighten up. Takagi’s style isn’t so taxing that he can’t go with it for several years to come, but he’s JUST below that ceiling of main eventers in NJPW, so if they’re going to yank that trigger, one would think they’ve got to do it soon.
As for the rest of the participants, I expect good to decent tournaments out of most, with Takahashi hitting the big goose egg overall and Minoru Suzuki possibly killing stablemate Taichi because I’ve been a very good boy this year.
B Block isn’t quite as stacked as A Block to say the least, but it certainly has its own fair share of potential great matches. Our participants in Block B are:
HIROSHI TANAHASHI: Go Ace! Tanahashi is one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of New Japan. A 3-time G-1 winner, Tanahashi is an 8-time former IWGP Heavyweight champion. He is widely credited with leading New Japan out from a very bad period over the last several years. Tanahashi is coming off a tag team run with Ibushi and is absolutely a threat to win both the Block and the G-1.
JUICE ROBINSON: The former CJ Parker from NXT (although at this point, no one really remembers that), Juice has carved out a niche in New Japan over the last several years. This last year, he’s been part of a tag team with David Finlay, FinJuice, and they both won the World Tag League tournament and the IWGP tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Juice is also a 2-time former IWGP US champion. He is not a threat to win the G-1 this year.
SANADA: Ah, SANADA. The man in Los Ingos that they desperately, desperately want to be main eventer but haven’t quite been able to get over the hump. SANADA has had main event shots at Okada, title shots, but really was known for his team with former stablemate EVIL, with whom he’s a 2-time former IWGP Tag Team champion. SANADA is absolutely a threat to win this Block and to win the G-1.
EVIL: The most recent former double champion, EVIL just dropped the titles back to former champion Tetsuya Naito at the Summer Struggle in Jingu. While some would argue that EVIL’s push was out of the blue, EVIL had been in main events before with World title shots, so his win wasn’t completely off the reservation – it was, it seems, GEDO taking a shot at making a main eventer. I’m not sure that it took. Regardless, EVIL’s standing as the leader of Bullet Club may be impacted by the return of Jay White, but with the two in separate Blocks, one would think that story will play out after the G-1. EVIL is one of the favorites to win this Block.
HIROOKI GOTO: Goto is a stalwart of New Japan and an incredibly decorated veteran – he’s done it all besides winning the big title. He’s a former G-1 winner, a 3-time New Japan Cup winner, a former IWGP Intercontinental Champion, a former IWGP Tag Team champion, and a 5-time NEVER Openweight champion. Goto is one of those guys that is going to win everything except the big title, and he’ll get a few wins here and there – but he is not a threat to win the Block.
TORU YANO: The comedy prince of New Japan and the current King of Pro-Wrestling! (Don’t tell Suzuki) Yano is a comedy wrestler and one of the funniest ones around. Toru Yano is here to do a bunch of jobs, get a few upsets here and there, and just in general make the tournament more fun. I wonder what he’ll do without being in the same Block as Minoru Suzuki, who he seems to always beat in the G-1, but I think he’ll manage. He is not a threat to win the Block.
ZACK SABRE JR: ZSJ is widely considered to be the top technical wrestler in the world, or at least top 5. Zack is a current tag team champion with Taichi, which is his first New Japan belt – he is also a former New Japan Cup winner. He operates in that slightly upper-midcard where he can be heated up at a moment’s notice if necessary for any title and will be protected with some wins in the G-1; but at the same time, he sadly is not a serious threat to win the Block. (Prove me wrong, GEDO)
KENTA: Of course, KENTA is most easily recognized by his stellar WWE run where he……eh, let’s not bother. KENTA came to NJPW after leaving WWE and his Hideo Itami persona behind, having the backing of retired wrestler and LA Dojo trainer Katsuyori Shibata. He turned on Shibata and CHAOS last year at the G-1 finale and joined Bullet Club, and has occupied a very decent place in the New Japan pecking order since. He is the #1 contender to Jon Moxley’s US title, which remains in limbo at this time, since Mox can’t make it to Japan and is unable to defend the title on US soil due to his AEW contract. He will get some win, but he will not win the Block.
TETSUYA NAITO: The current IWGP double champion, Naito holds both the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental title – he is on his second reign as the double champ, having dropped the titles to EVIL and then regaining them a scant few months later when NJPW started up again. Naito received his coronation at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom, where he won the double gold dash in defeating Jay White for the IC title on Night one, then defeating Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight championship and unifying the titles on Night two. As the champion, one would expect Naito to drop 1-3 matches; this will allow him to set up title matches along the way to fill in the time until Wrestle Kingdom. With the situation being a smaller window from the G-1 to WK, don’t expect Naito to lose too much here. Maximum of 3, but I think it will probably be two at most. He will not win the Block.
YOSHI-HASHI: Uh…..YOSHI is just happy to be here.
The favorites of B Block are:
- Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Tetsuya Naito
- Zack Sabre Jr
- Hirooki Goto
- Juice Robinson
- Toru Yano
EVIL has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win this Block, should they want his push to continue. He has the best options for opponents from the A Block, with either Ibushi or Okada being a prime choice for the Final as his opponent. GEDO has put a lot into EVIL’s push since NJPW returned, with EVIL winning the New Japan Cup, the titles from Naito, and taking over the Bullet Club. There’s simply no reason to stop now after going through all that – even if EVIL isn’t winning the tournament, one would have to think that he’s gotta be favorite to at least win the Block.
In second position, I have Hiroshi Tanahashi, although if we flipped him and SANADA, I don’t think it would be out of bounds. Unlike a lot of other folks in the Blocks, the road for Tanahashi is very, very clear – his entire story since NJPW came back has been that he simply doesn’t have it any more. His tag team with Ibushi dropped the tag titles to ZSJ and Taichi, and this was after Tanahashi took a first-round exit in the New Japan Cup. Combine that with he and Ibushi losing their rematch for the tag titles and Ibushi himself saying that he didn’t want to team with Tana for the time being, Tanahashi determined that he had to win the G-1 and face Ibushi in the Final. And that could very well happen; it is arguably the best story that could play out over the tournament. It is absolutely my preferred Final.
SANADA has been RIGHT on the cusp of the upper echelon of New Japan for the last few years now. A nemesis for Okada several times, SANADA is just missing something right now. A G-1 win may, in fact, be that something. Eagle eyes have noticed that this is a very heavy LIJ block, with SANADA and Naito in it and former member EVIL also there – what better way to break out of his old LIJ mold than for SANADA to win the Block? I expect him to beat Naito to set up at least one title match, but he could also use a Block win to set up the shot. Overall, SANADA is a solid pick to win this one, but there’s just something about SANADA that holds me back from picking him.
The rest of the Block is a mix of guys that one would think will have at least one guy pulling off an upset over Naito (for some reason, I kind of think it’s going to be ZSJ, but Goto or Tana are also very strong possibilities; I would put KENTA in there, but he’s already had a shot at Naito), while they trade some wins here and there. This would be a good year and good Block to put someone unexpected over with some strong wins, much like they did with KENTA last year before he lost the Block, and my pick for the unexpected guy to put over strong is…..Juice Robinson. I’d give him 10 points and keep him in until the end. I would not have him win the Block, don’t get me wrong, but I think that this is a good year and a good Block to get him over a bit more.
10. Who’s winning this thing, man?
Last time, I saw 3 possible Finals, and was correct about the Final and the winner. This time out, I see things as much murkier. I can see my way to any of the following Finals:
Ibushi vs Tanahashi
Ibushi vs EVIL
Ibushi vs SANADA
Jay White vs Tanahashi
Jay White vs SANADA
Kazuchika Okada vs EVIL
Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA
That’s 7 possible combinations of Finals that I see as possible. Ibushi/Tanahashi has been writing itself since NJPW came back. Ibushi/EVIL takes the most over face and goes against a heel they want to be big. Ibushi/SANADA gives SANADA the chance to finally break through.
Both Jay White matches allow him to win and declare himself as both back and the leader of the Bullet Club. If Jay makes the Final, I do expect him to win.
Okada’s matches are both interesting – EVIL would allow him to avenge his New Japan Cup loss by winning, and the Okada/SANADA matches are always…..well…..you know…..they’re really….
I’ll just shut up.
Anyway, the field is much more open this year than I thought it was last year. I don’t know who will win. If I’m picking with my heart, it’s Ibushi and Tanahashi. I think it’s the best story and I think that GEDO has been leading us to this place for the last few years – Ibushi won his Block and lost to Tana in the Finals two years ago. Last year, he won the G-1, but lost the title match to Okada. It’s time to give him the crown. However, if he isn’t going to win the title this year at WK, he should not win the G-1 only to lose the title match – I think that it’s going to end up with him and Tanahashi at the Dome any way if neither of them win the tournament.
But that having been said, I think that the Finals will involve a Bullet Club member of some type, which means either EVIL or Jay White. So I’m going to pick Okada vs EVIL as the mostly likely Final, with Okada avenging his New Japan Cup loss and winning the G-1.
11. So, honest opinion – what’s going to be the best part of this G-1?
Minoru Suzuki is going to put Taichi in the GROUND.
As for Ospreay, I have another post that I’m wrestling with putting up or not that contains my thoughts on him and his appearance in the G-1. I will make that decision at some point today.
Strap in everyone, it’s G-1 time! Myself and Michael are looking forward to bringing you reviews all month as the greatest wrestling tournament in the world commences tonight/early this morning!
19 shows. 20 wrestlers. 2 Blocks. 1 Champion.
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
@Mrsoze on Twitter