G’day all! Summer is well and truly here (or winter for me Down Under), Wrestlemania is a fading memory, the WWE summer roster experiments are in full effect and we are all biding our time for Summer Slam. As well as a host of goings on in the land of the stars and stripes, on the other side of the world it is time for the G1 Climax, NJPW’s annual round robin tournament that starts this Saturday night (Japanese time).
I’m Sir Sam and am joined today by LOP’s resident New Japan columnist and all around awesome guy, The Implications, for part two of our G1 Climax preview and predictions, looking at the second block of the tournament, Block B. In case you didn’t catch our introduction to the G1 and Block A preview, you can check it all out here.
If you are new to NJPW then the G1 is amongst the best times of the year to get stuck in and really get to see the best of what the company has to offer week after week. This year every match of the tournament will be broadcast with English commentary and you can sign up for NJPW World, their equivalent of the WWE Network any time.
Block B is an utterly stacked deck of wrestling talent including the likes of Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Zack Sabre Jr. so let’s not muck around with formalities and get straight into it.
Imp: Each year, whenever I first take a look at the G1 lineups I ask myself, who’s got the most momentum? Sometimes you can just feel who is going to do well, which wrestlers are on somewhat of a role going into the grueling tournament. In that respect 2017 well and truly felt like Naito’s year, from conquering Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom to having one of the most memorable IWGP Intercontinental Title runs in the company’s history. Everything fell perfectly into place at exactly the right time.
This year feels a little different, if 2018 has been anyone’s year so far it surely has to be Kenny Omega’s. He’s coming into this G1 with so much momentum and as IWGP Heavyweight Champion one would assume that isn’t going to be ending any time soon. However there is one caveat, the champion never wins the G1 Climax. With the logic often being that everyone brings their absolute best when up against the champion. Over the course of a month long tournament of continuous matches, it just becomes too much.
That said, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion is often right at the top and I expect this year to be no different. With Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi on the final day, expect all the drama to be ramped up to max. That match in all likelihood will decide the Block winner in some shape or form, be it via consequence or directly. So will Kenny Omega win? No idea.
This year feels somewhat different going in and I’m predicting either Kenny to be the first champion to win his block (if that fact’s right) or a new face to reach the final. Just no idea which it’ll be, hell, we could even get Naito reigning victorious!
Sam: The new IWGP Champion and now undisputed leader of the Elite side of the Bullet Club has freed himself from his two biggest rivalries of the last two years, only to be blindsided by another mutiny within his faction just when things were finally looking to be back on solid ground. That said, even with the Tongan rivalry bubbling up on the eve of the G1, Kenny Omega comes into the 28th G1 in the best form of his career and even as champion he has to be counted as one of the favourites.
There are a number of tantalising matches waiting for him against the likes of Zack Sabre Jr who he has never faced 1-1 before, the leader of The Firing Squad Tama Tonga, his Gold Lovers partner and wrestling soulmate Kota Ibushi and the man he had the arguable match of the tournament with last year, Tetsuya Naito.
I’m a massie Omega fan, he has been my gateway drug into New Japan so Of course I would love to see him win. However as it is exceedingly rare for the IWGP Champion to win the G1 so I will have to go with my head and not my heart and put him with a run that is close but no cigar with his Golden Lovers partner costing him in the final match of the block.
Imp: No idea… errrrr…. Argh… sod it, 3rd!
Imp: Momentum wise, 2018 doesn’t feel like Naito has quite enough to be winning this year. The last two winners, like Naito in this year, both had a stint with the IC title before the G1 tournament. However something tells me that theme will not be turning into a streak. I just have this inkling that this is the year the Los Ingobernables de Japon leader has to overcome multiple odds in order to get back to that Wrestle Kingdom main event.
Like something will cost him in this tournament, be it concentration or wear and tear or ‘Surprise Chris Jericho!’. Whatever it is, I’m not predicting him to win. He could very well top the block, but I’m expecting that honor to be contested between three wrestlers come the final stages. And if Naito does end up winning Block B, it very well could be as a consequence of Kenny Omega drawing against the very next man on this list.
Also Naito winning the Block, but not the overall G1 would heavily contradict my prediction for Block A of Okada topping the Block, but not winning the overall G1. Someone’s got to win the bloody thing.
Sam: While Omega comes into the G1 riding a wave of success, Naito comes in following on from the worst beating he has possibly ever take,n in his match against Chris Jericho at Dominion. Just like Kazuchika Okada, the man he main evented Wrestle Kingdom 12 with, Naito has a lot to prove in this G1 and will need to build up his form throughout the tournament. Standing in his way is an incredibly imposing group and a draw that will see him up against the official best wrestler in the world right now, Kenny Omega, on the first night. Hardly a time to be looking for a tune up.
That said, I feel like the story of Naito’s fall in 2018, a story that has seen him slowly dragged down from the height of the Wrestle Kingdom main event to the beatdown by Jericho, is all being executed with a grander plan in mind. Ultimately the reason he lost at the Tokyo Dome was because he tried too hard to please the crowd. His inner demons from losing out on the main event in 2014 rose up, Naito began to care too much about what the crowd that once turned on him thought and instead of finishing Okada when he could, he attempted to ‘put on a show’ to prove he belonged. If he had truly not cared, if he had truly been tranquilo, he would have won. Against Jericho at Dominion, Naito was given a lesson on what it really means to not give a f***, he was broken down, bloodied and beaten by a man who couldn’t care one bit what anyone in the crowd thought of him or his performance.
The lesson from Jericho at Dominion was Naito hitting rock bottom, losing the last thing he had to pride himself on, the IWGP Intercontinental Title. Now, stripped of everything that ultimately weighed him down it is time for the hero of this story to redeem himself. It is time for him to ascend to the pinnacle of the company again but this time get the job done right. Yes, you read that correctly, this year Tetsuya Naito will take out his second G1 in a row and finally make good on his original rise to stardom in 2013 by winning the main event at the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
Sam: 1st, G1 Winner
Imp: The third man on my list of folk that really could end up winning this. That’s assuming NJPW don’t throw any surprises our way, all the champions are in Block B after all. But it really does feel like this year should be the rise of the phoenix (Eurovision reference!), finally the dawn of Kota Ibushi the main event superstar. Becoming the man he was all positioned for in 2015 after facing Shinsuke Nakamura in the penultimate match of Wrestle Kingdom, before going his own way to do… to do lots of ‘things’.
There is another important facet, the years of subtle storytelling that was the falling apart of the Golden Lovers. I don’t think that story is anywhere near complete. Ibushi staring at the title during key moments of Omega’s rise, the tale has only just begun. Kenny isn’t the only one with a strong desire of success, it’s the similarities between the Golden Lovers that drew them to each other in the first place.
So long story short, expect the final match of this block in the Budokan to have so much drama. In order to escalate this, I highly expect Ibushi to at least be 3rd in the block come this bout. And given the history between Omega and Ibushi, I’m vying for Ibushi to not only beat Omega, but to win the entire G1 Climax. It’s a risky bet, NJPW like to take a looong time to flesh out their stories, however I feel it’s not too unlikely a chance that we could get Omega vs Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom.
I may be totally wrong, but that match is happening at a Wrestle Kingdom. The question is, is it this one?
Oh yeah, and don’t forget that this will be Ibushi’s first match in the Budokan since being banned for jumping off a balcony 6 years for the Japanese promotion ‘DDT’ against, that’s right, Kenny Omega.
Sam: To paraphrase the Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like Kota Ibushi”? The guy is a unicorn.
No. The guy is a unicorn with pegasus wings that breathes fire.
Possibly the most naturally gifted pro wrestler going around today. A few years ago New Japan would have handed the world to him but he instead turned his back on it all to chase the wind in America, Mexico and all the way to a London alley where he shot fireworks off his chest during a match (seriously, google it).
Point is if Ibushi is committed to New Japan he could be booked to win this whole damn thing and chase those good vibes all the way to the main event at the Tokyo Dome. More likely though is that he will put on some great matches, pull off some jaw dropping moves but ultimately come up short. Oh but you had better watch that match with Omega.
Imp: 1st, G1 Winner
Zack Sabre Jr.
Imp: Zack Sabre Jr has been elevated to something truly special this year in New Japan Pro Wrestling. I mean he was always something special, but in 2018 his alliance with Suzuki-Gun, met with the awesome display in the New Japan Cup, has turned him into a true top contender. There’s now this aura that he really could beat anyone, hell he’s the only wrestler so smart that he’s immune to Yano Toru’s tricks.
The question isn’t ‘who is there that he couldn’t beat?’ It’s ‘who could snatch a cheeky victory?’ The cheek of the likes of LIJ members Naito and SANADA, the amazing athleticism of Ibushi, the lightning form of Omega. There are so many top names in this Block, I feel ZSJ may get lost within the highly talented shuffle.
But that’s what I thought heading into the New Japan Cup, look how wrong I was with that one.
Sam: 2018 has so far been the best year of Zack Sabre Jr’s career, in Feburary he beat out a host of top names on the way to picking up the New Japan Cup and just two weeks ago he handed Okada his first singles loss after losing the IWGP belt. Given how strong Sabre Jnr’s trajectory has been this year, he could even go as far as spoiling a whole host of prediction sheets and taking out the whole Block. Hell given his form he could rightfully be considered the dark horse to win it all.
However, I think the New Japan Cup win at the start of the year may end up being the Brit’s high point for 2018. He has big big things ahead of him in New Japan but I’d say a very strong performance with potentially a win over Omega to set up a title shot later this year is a more realistic proposition for ZSJ. However don’t be surprised if the man with the body of a human Gumby twists and submits his was to the top of this tournament. Yeah, 2018 Block B is an absolute beast.
Imp: Another one that was going into the G1 as a damn strong hand, but then the G1 Special in San Francisco happened. Now Tama Tonga’s a hell of a lot more than just ‘a strong hand’. Being the leader of his own brand new stable comes with its perks, an almost certain chance of strong booking being one of them. I’d be very surprised if this man finishes in the lower half of this Block, but even more so if he wins it.
We could see this tournament as more of a stabalising of Tama Tonga’s new higher role within NJPW. A future champion in the making, establishing Tonga as a force to be reckoned with. He could even topple the champion himself, Kenny Omega, in what is now one of the must see clashes of G1 Climax 28. So expect this man to come out looking the strongest he ever has, he’s the dark horse this year. The one man who could topple my outside prediction of an Omega victory, before we even get to Budokan.
Sam: Tama Tonga’s presence in Block B is one of the most interesting stories that could emerge from the G1 this year. The defacto leader of the new Firing Squad faction (although they claim to be all equals) could be in line for a huge push through the G1 to launch the new faction. Alternatively though, he could well be here to make up the numbers. Tonga has a natural charisma that certainly caught my eye when I started watching New Japan and he is amongst the most athletic of wrestlers going around. For a while he has seemed on the verge of launching a singles career but has been kept in the tag division alongside his brother Tanga-Loa. In past G1s I’ve found he has run a little hot and cold, putting on spirited matches one night but not quite delivering in the next.
One thing to absolutely watch out for though is his July 21 match with Kenny Omega. The two had a firey match in 2016 and there is no doubt that this year Tonga will have put a bullseye on the back of the IWGP Champion and his former leader.
Imp: This is an interesting one, before the announcement of the blocks I would have predicted this man to have a hell of a performance in this year’s G1. But now he’s up against NJPW champions Omega, Juice and Goto. Plus damn high calibre competitors such as Naito, ZSJ, Kota Ibushi and new Firing Squad leader Tama Tonga. SANADA’s performance is going to have to be out of this world if he’s to end up anywhere near the top of this Block.
That said, NJPW seem to be happy to play the long game with the likes of the Cold Skull and his LIJ compatriot EVIL. So it’s not like it’s the end of the world if he doesn’t have an absolutely incredible G1 Climax this year. But I still expect him to be relatively solid. He’ll get a surprise win or two, and will probably finish middle of the pack with a few top names notched onto his belt. Which ain’t no insult, given the strength of Block B that’d be a hell of an achievement.
Sam: SANADA is the hardest competitor for me to place in this bracket. On one hand it is clear that he is a guy that has a big future in the company, so placing highly in the G1 would be a natural way for New Japan to bolster his prospects. However he is in a block with at least four wrestlers that truly feel like they are at the very peaks of their career right now and are not simply marked as ‘the future’.
In the end I’ve hedged my bets and gone with smack bang in the middle of the bracket for SANADA, behind the ‘big four’ but ahead of the rest of the field.
One match I’m really looking forward to is his match with LIJ stablemate Naito. Since allying up the pair have never met in singles action and SANADA will do everything to remind Naito that while he may be the ‘now’ of LIJ, he may not always be the future.
Imp: Juice! Juice! Juice! Juice! The American hero, with sparklers on his nipples and an eagle flying out his ass, he defeated evil “Kiwi Knife Lover” Jay White with a broken freakin’ hand. Coming into the tournament as your new IWGP United States Champion, all the momentum will be on his side.
Except for one thing, that broken freakin’ hand is still freakin’ broken. And over the course of such a draining tournament, I don’t like the flamboyant disco man’s chances.
Sam: The new US Champion is going into his second G1 off the back of a big win over Jay White in San Francisco so has that all important momentum on his side. Against all odds the former NXT member has managed to carve out quite a nice niche in the New Japan singles roster and the back half of the year may well be his test to see if how he goes carrying a belt in the singles division.
That is all after the G1 though and in 2018 at least, I can only see a classic ‘respectable’ showing of a handful of wins and close losses for Juice.
Imp: As I said in my words what I wrote for Block A, this is the year of youth. So sorry, Ishii and sorry Goto, but I’m betting strong on your chances. Hirooki Goto may be the NEVER Openweight Champion and he may have had success and big matches in the past, but now just doesn’t look like it’s shaping up to favour him in any manner at all.
He’ll keep his shiny belt, fight other big lads who do hard clotheslines and big suplexes, but he’s not winning G1 Climax 28. He’ll be lucky to finish in the middle if I’m honest. This year feels like the changing of the guard, I tell ye. Unfortunately for Goto, he is one of said guard that is to be changed.
He still has that NEVER title though, so he’ll still be relevant. Just not main eventing any time soon.
Sam: No love for the veterans in Block B unfortunately. New Japan love their long term storytelling and Goto’s long road, coming up short time and time again in his chase for the IWGP Championship is actually a hell of a story they could chose to finally pay off. However putting Goto in this utterly stacked block of wrestlers with so much momentum behind them is doing him no favours whatsoever, I just can’t help but think that 2018 will simply not be his year.
It is a testament to how strong this block is that I have to put the 2016 G1 runner up this low on my sheet, however he is by no means a complete outsider and if the New Japan brass chose to pull the trigger on him it will truly be an epic journey.
Imp: The last man you would want to come up against after weeks of intense matches. With knocks and injuries all building up during its course, only to come head to head with a man that WILL headbutt you. Would you prefer to face this man first and go through the rest of the tournament with bruised ribs, or face him later on when you’re already hurting to begin with?
That said, if any block is strong enough to rise to the physical challenge of the Stone Pitbull, it’s this one. So I’m predicting him to land pretty low down the Block B ladder of success, maybe even last. But his matches, oh his matches, they will be physical my friend.
Sam: Imagine being in this block for a second. You’ve scrapped through matches against Naito and Omega and kept a screic of pride, managed to keep your limbs from being snapped by ZSJ, avoided having your head decapitated by Kota Ibushi and then you come up against frekin’ Ishii.
I mean the guy isn’t going to win it but he has a set number of brain cells he has taken a blood oath to destroy during every tournament and he isn’t about to come up short this G1.
Imp: The comedic rest for all the competitors! A bit of a fun break within all the hard hitting, tense as hell action. Don’t count this man out, he’s toppled big names in the past. He’s cheeky antics are very often used to cause an upset, causing the state of things at the top to be a lot closer. Those wins often come via count out or roll up, but they’re still wins dammit!
That said, I expect all the efforts from this man to only climb him one space up. This Block is damn strong, but Yano and mischievous ways always help him somehow find a few points. So second to last instead of last itself, a kind of achievement whilst also not really.
Sam: Well at least there is one position we can be fairly certain of (EDIT: or not apparently). Would be pretty funny if he beat one of the favourites though. Also book in his match with Ishii, the ultra badass Stone Age Pitbull v the comedy wrestler will absolutely be worth watching.
Most Anticipated Match
Imp: Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi (Saturday, August 11)
It all comes down to the final match, the return to their epic bout from 6 years ago. A different promotion, a different time. Stars in the making, compared to the superstars they are today. The final 3 days of the G1 Climax is one of the best weekends of wrestling every single year, trust me the quality is truly amazing. Twitter will once again explode with everyone and their technology adept dogs banging on about how great NJPW is, that 3 day weekend really is special.
And the main event in the middle, the final day of Block B, when we will already know who’s walking in to Sunday night’s main event from Block A. We get a match with so much history, years of storytelling and so much potential going forward. I highly recommend seeking out Omega vs Ibushi from DDT in 2012, I’m expecting a ton of references to that match.
Ibushi is still the only man to have kicked out of the One Winged Angel. He may be aligned with Omega today, but don’t forget that the Golden Star is 1 – 0 over the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion. With the aid of all the drama the final nights of the G1 bring, something special is hitting us this night and I for one cannot wait.
Also Kota Ibushi is 100% backflipping off that exact same balcony again.
Sam: Kenny Omega v Tetsuya Naito (Sunday, July 15)
How can I pick just one match from this insanely awesome bracket? There are the stable wars of Omega v Tonga, Naito v SANADA and Goto v Ishii, the long term story of Omega v Ibushi, the get square matches for Naito and Ibushi against Zack Sabre Jnr the man who beat them in the New Japan Cup, the intrigue of the first time matchup of Omega and ZSJ and even the opportunity for the hungry young guns, SANADA and Juice, to truly make their mark.
Amongst it all though I’ve chosen to go with Kenny Omega v Tetsuya Naito on the opening night. These two closed off last year’s G1 Climax with one of the greatest G1 matches of all time and the year before did nearly the same thing in the Block final. As mythic as Omega’s bouts with Okada have become these two may have even better chemistry. They are both quick as lightning and willing to do whatever it takes to get the crowd to stand up, just look at their pile driver spot on the commentary table last year absolute insanity. Whenever they have met in the past they have manage to drag something amazing out of one another and I expect no less this year.
On top of all that they get to lock up right at the start of the tournament this year, fresh and free from any niggling injuries real or kayfabed. Expect the block’s two favourites to go hell for leather as they try to stake their claim early as the man to beat in Block B.
That does it for today Lords of Pain, thanks for joining us for our G1 preview. Let us know in the comments below what you are looking forward to in Block B and who you think can take it all out. Don’t forget to look out for Imp’s updates as the tournament progresses. For more in depth discussion you can also join the conversation on the LOP Forums, the G1 Climax thread is here. Finally you can follow both of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat and @Sir_Samuel.