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 the host of goings on in the land of the stars and stripes, on the other side of the world it is one of the hottest times of the year as New Japan gears up its most prestigious heavyweight tournament, the annual G1 Climax.
For those of us who are new to New Japan, brace yourselves, this month long tournament pits the best of the best in the NJPW heavyweight ranks against one another for what is one of wrestling’s most esteemed prizes. The previous winners list reads like a who’s who of Japanese pro wrestling including names like Antonio Inoki (10 times champion), Andrew The Giant, Masihiro Chono, Hulk Hogan or more recently Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and last year’s winner Tetsuya Naito.
The current format sees twenty competitors split into two, ten man brackets (Blocks A and B) and starting this Saturday they will fight the other members of their block, earning two points for a win, one for a draw. At the end of the month the winners of each block face off in the Grand Final to be crowned champion and receive a contract for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom in January.
It all seems like a lot to take in, especially for a newbie like me but truthfully there is no better time to jump into New Japan. Watching matches from last year’s G1 is what helped me get my bearings in the promotion when I started watching at the start of this year. To help today I’m joined by resident Main Page NJPW specialist The Implications (check his review of the G1 Special in San Fransisco here). Over today and Friday we will bring you our predictions for each block as well as the match we are most looking forward to from each side of the ledger.
So strap yourselves in and let’s get started.
Imp: Okada’s not winning, he’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis. I mean, come on, the man’s coming out with balloons with childishly drawn smiley faces on them attached to his disco pants.
That said, I shall root for the man to find his way through this tough time and triumph to win the block. He’s totally losing the final though, the childish fella’s still got so much importance that him losing to any old bloke in the final would give them a right good boost.
So jump for that crossbody and, “Scooby dooby doo!” your heart out, Okada. After that little title reign you deserve a bit fun.
Sam: For me Okada’s story through the G1 is the most intriguing of all. He spent so damn long as IWGP Champion and while he was no doubt disappointed to lose the belt, heavy lied that crown. Now he is freed from the burden of carrying the company we could see a whole new evolution of his character. This potential evolution started out with a loss to Zack Sabre Jnr but I still expect a very strong showing in the G1 as he finds his feet as a hunter instead of the hunted.
I predict his chances will come down to his final match against his longest standing rival Hiroshi Tanahashi and he will have to once again beat the former Ace to get through to the G1 Final.
Imp: 1st, G1 runner-up
Sam: 1st, G1 runner-up
Imp: Tanahashi is now in the part of his NJPW career known as ‘Dad Wrestler’. Best buds with the still super over legends such as Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and to some extent Ryusuke Taguchi. That last one was never a top star of NJPW, but he’s totally a Dad… right? That’s not just me? Come on, all the bad butt jokes? Taguchi’s totally an NJPW Dad.
Anyway, yeah, Tanahashi vs Okada is the main event for the final day. So either they’re both towards the top of the Block, or at least one of them is. Tana is still over as hell though, he’s one of the few favourites going in. However he may end up playing second fiddle to one of the rising stars, such as EVIL or “Switchblade” Jay White.
Sam: The former Ace of the company, is now beginning to enter ‘certified veteran status’ on the roster. Never was this more clear than at the second biggest show of the year, Dominion where instead of challenging for a title or even just having a high profile non-title singles match he tagged with Jushin Thunder Liger and Rey Mysterio. Having said that he isn’t far removed from a thrilling title match against Okada and a very nice run with the IWGP Intercontinental Title.
I predicted that he will hold Okada’s chances in his hand but he himself will not ultimately make the final.
Imp: Everything is Eeeevil. I’m calling it. This is the year of EVIL, my friends! He isn’t winning the G1, but he really could be winning the block, if not coming very close. NJPW have shown they see a big future for this man, it’s just a matter of time. So it wouldn’t surprise me if his foundation became a hell of a lot sturdier this year.
So that’s my prediction, EVIL to finish second behind Okada. Why not? There’s something about the G1 this year that feels like something will be different from recent iterations, like a push for the future or an untraditional final/or winner.
Sam: EVIL had an amazing G1 last year talking the scalp of the IWGP Champ at the time Okada on his way to a 3rd place in his block and a 6/9 record. The NJPW brass is firmly behind him and rumors are even circulating of a possible match with Chris Jericho down the line for the IWGP Intercontinental Title. I expect another impressive showing for a guy who the company clearly has big plans for.
Imp: Oh Suzuki, the guy I was certain would be in Dad territory came this stage of his career. How I’m happy to have been so, so wrong. Still creating that incredible aura all these years later, a character with such fantastic longevity. In terms of the G1 though, he’s not main evented Wrestle Kingdom since 2012 aka the birth of The Rainmaker. He may still be relevant, but his days as a potential IWGP Heavyweight Champion are mostly likely behind him.
He’s not a Dad Veteran Wrestler, he’s NJPW’s cool, badass Uncle. But as I said earlier, I sense a tide of change upon us, the year of youth.
Sam: The indomitable Minoru Suzuki, is there a more intimidating man in wrestling? I’ll admit on first impressions, it took me a while to ‘get’ Suzuki, however after seeing him live earlier this year I was turned right around. This is a guy whose presence and body language can turn a simple chop or forearm strike into a game changer.
He will win more than he loses, possibly simply because no one has the guts to let him know he isn’t going over. Oh and on that note, if he asks, please just say I agreed he’d win the whole thing.
Sam: 4th unless he is reading this
Imp: I strongly feel that Jay White had the breakout match of the Switchblade character’s career last Saturday at the G1 Special in San Francisco. Everything just came together perfectly and he felt like one the best heels on the roster. Now he’s lost the IWGP US Championship, will we see an impressive showing from the New Zealand man?
Maybe, it’s up in the air. He often gets strong booking though, so I’m going with an upper half of the middle finish. An impressive debut showing in the G1, he’s just not quite ‘evil’ enough yet.
Sam: As is traditional for Aussies to do to Kiwis I’m dying to claim Jay White as a compatriot flying the flag in his first G1. The company has clearly got big plans for ‘Switchblade’ handing him a Wrestle Kingdom match with Tanahashi and a win over Kenny Omega earlier this year. However despite holding the US Title for most of the year there is no doubt he has cooled off ever so slightly since then. As a result I’m expecting a respectable but not earth shattering G1 for the Kiwi.
Imp: NJPW really rate Michael Elgin, but whenever they appear to push him they immediately pull him back the next show. It’s odd, he has an impressive physique and has recently gotten into fantastic shape. It would be interesting to know why NJPW constantly push him, then rope him back. Plus, with expanding to the West comes a pretty big Elgin issue, I really can’t see Stateside fans standing with a Big Mike push at all.
He’ll finish in the middle though, as I said, NJPW seem to still be fine with him… kinda.
Sam: A month ago at Dominon Big Mike looked like he was trending upwards, picking up the NEVER Openweight Championship and looking great in the process. However in yet another example of the stop/start booking that has plagued his NJPW run, he lost the belt on his first defence. He has the look and skill set to take him a long way in this tournament however I think that when the dust settles he will sadly end up simply somewhere in the middle.
Bad Luck Fale
Imp: So I ‘did’ have Fale to be pretty low down the G1 ladder this year, but then I saw the fantastic shape he’s in and then the G1 Special happened. The Tongans have risen, the Firing Squad are officially taking over and I highly suspect Bad Luck Fale will be a vital part of that unit.
With that, I completely change my prediction and the man will get a solid middle finish. Eh, that counts a jump up, his most memorable moment from the past few G1s was tearing apart Daryl. However the Firing Squad will need a bit of an umph just to make them feel that little bit more legit, be it a debut or two or surprise members. But I feel Fale is a lock in.
Sam: The former Underboss of The Bullet Club is a hard one to pick, he has hard virtually no singles action since the G1 last year and hasn’t really featured much in the Bullet Club’s numerous tag matches either. That said, the Tongan giant has recently shed a ton of weight and has been training up a storm at his dojos. On top of that while he was conspicuous in his absence during the San Francisco beatdown of the Bullet Club by his Tongan compatriots and it is hard to imagine one of the Bullet Club’s founding members not playing a big part in this feud.
However with a number guys the company wants to get behind competing in this block I can’t see him doing quite as well this year, ending with respectable showing but ultimately in the bottom half.
Imp: Hangman is having a hell of a year so far, Being the Elite going from strength to strength hasn’t hurt, but in the ring he’s really been bringing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gains a lot more fans during this tournament, I would be totally surprised if he’s near the top though. This will do the man wonders, recent G1 debutants have done pretty damn well for themselves. I sense this year will be no different.
That is until Joey Ryan’s ghost gets him at All In. I mean, there’s, like, no coming back from that.
Sam: The second of the G1 debutants, Page is coming out of the Bullet Club Civil War looking hot and has a big opportunity to impress in the G1. I can’t see him troubling the scorer too much but I think he will pick up a few victories on the way to a decent debut.
Imp: Block A’s official Dad! Aka the strong hand who is regarded a legend, but really is there to put on some solid matches in defeat. That’s normally the role of the NJPW Dads in the G1, sometimes they like to surprise you though! But I’m sticking with the norm, as I said earlier, I’m boldly predicting this to be the year of youth!
So with that declared, logic dictates the oldest person in the Block must finish last.
Sam: It has been a long time since Makabe truly troubled the scorer in a G1, however you can never count out a veteran sneaking out a surprise draw or even an upset. If you like your wrestling hard hitting make sure you watch his match against Suzuki on July 16.
Imp: Imp fell asleep at his computer when Sam mentioned his name.
Sam: I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about YOSHI-HASHI, the few times I have seen him in the ring he has always looked solid enough and he seems to have a smidge of charisma but it seems he has never been able to build any kind of momentum. I don’t expect that to change in the G1 this year. As they say, someone has to take the pin and this it will be Mr Hashi.
Most Anticipated Match
Imp: Kazuchika Okada v Jay White (Saturday, July 14)
In all honesty, the most anticipated match for pretty much everybody is likely to be Okada vs Tanahashi. I thought I’d let SirSam take the reins on that one though, as there is another matchup that has my interest. Switchblade has stated multiple times in press conferences that he strongly believes there needs to be more inter-stable matches.
Despite being a member of CHAOS, he has pushed the idea of an Okada vs White match. Was that purely because the man was IWGP Heavyweight Champion? Or was his motives less selfish, like for the good of the stable or the future of New Japan? He has become more and more aligned to the heel side of things, with CHAOS being pretty much a face stable it does make him stand out as being slightly different from the rest of the group.
Whatever the reasoning, he’s got his match and it’s something that could be very interesting. Will he go out for himself and sod respect, or treat the affair as two stablemates giving each other the best they’ve got? It’s also the main event of the first day, with that comes a certain expectancy of match quality. Naito vs Ibushi really set the tone last year, what will happen to start us off this time?
I’ve already told you, it’s the year of youth.
Sam: Kazuchika Okada v Hiroshi Tanahashi (Friday, August 10)
I think the result of this Block will come down to the final night when the two Aces of New Japan, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi renew their epic rivalry. Earlier this year Okada beat Tanahashi to break his rivals own IWGP Title defence record but even after all these years the former face of NJPW came within a hair of taking down The Rainmaker.
Now Okada has been dethroned as champion there is a very real possibility that Tanahashi could get the upset over the man that has seemingly mastered him. Even taking out the potential for a surprise winner and even if this doesn’t end up deciding the block winner, these two have never had a bad match so I have no doubt they will add yet another masterclass to their already burgeoning list of classics.
That does it for today Lords of Pain, thanks for joining us, we will be back on Friday with our breakdown and predictions for Block B. Let us know in the comments below what you are looking forward to in Block A and who you think can take it out. You can also join the conversation on the LOP Forums, you can find our G1 Climax thread here. Finally you can follow both of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat and @Sir_Samuel.