The third of six New Japan Tournaments is just around the corner but its the big one. The biggest and most acclaimed tournament of the year, G1 Climax. While the G1 existed since 1991, it actually dates back 1974 two years after the company was established. The tournament has featured many greats from the countries illustrious history, including American stars like Ric Flair, Rick Rude, Vader, and Steve Austin-the man who would become Stone Cold. NJPW’s return to prominence after “the dark years” was due in part to this tournament. The biggest promotion in Japan burned in the early 2000s and business was done but thanks to the hard work of certain wrestlers such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and the G1 becoming a shining light of Japanese wrestling the company pulled itself back up with native audiences. The tournament, alongside Bullet Club faction of gaijins, attracted a lot of non-Japanese wrestling fans to the company as well.
While I had watched a little NJPW through the years it wasn’t until Youtube that I discovered the G1 and even then I only caught a few random matches. The 2014 tournament, thanks to a Daily Motion uploader, I watched the majority of the series and was vastly impressed. Like Best of the Super Juniors it is two blocks, round robin, winners get 2 points, ties get both wrestlers 1, and losses come with a 0. The block leaders going on to the finals. Winner gets a briefcase with a contract for a title match at NJPW’s big WretsleKingdom show in January. Last year I got a subscription to NJPWWorld when it became clear they were cracking down on uploaders-great decision. I’ve loved having the subscription. Now I’m hyped for the tournament.
G1 CLIMAX 26 is an interesting deal as its the first tournament since the recent exodus of talent. Native superstar Shinsuke Nakamura with Bullet Club stars AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows all left to WWE. The former BC guys are on the main roster with Styles being treated decently while Nakamura is on NXT waiting for a call up which should be soon. NJPW, and DDT Pro, lost Kota Ibushi. Sidelined with an injury and once healed decided to go another route he’s part of WWE’s Network special series Cruiserweight Classic. That’s five slots plus a few wrestlers not returning. It was going to be an interesting line up. Lets get into it.
A BLOCK-This is an incredibly stacked blocked filled with the longtime Ace, the current company Ace, a pair of veterans and former champs, a star from Pro-Wrestling Noah and more. This block might be too stacked.
Hiroshi Tanahashi-The question mark for the last few weeks due to his first major injury in years, the long time ace is confirmed for G1. Tanahashi is a former 7x heavyweight champ and has won two previous G1’s including last years. Tanahashi is among the greats and one of the best big match wrestlers. But he is in bad shape, not that THAT will stop him. Especially as he and Okada have a date on the final night of Block A matches. These two have had a legendary feud with multiple 5 star matches and this is only the second time they’ve been in the same G1 block. No doubt to push sales. I think Tanahashi and Okada will tie with neither will go to the finals.
Togi Makabe (Great Bash Heel)-Veteran, former heavyweight champ and 2009 tournament winner. Not really a fan of Makabe. He’s a slugger and respected by the audience but I expect him to be closer to the bottom of the points. Or like last year tied in fourth place.
Satoshi Kojima-Veteran, former 2x heavyweight champ, former 2010 inner. I like Kojima, he’s in his mid-40s and still hitting a mean lariat. While he definitely can still go, don’t expect him to win.
Kazuchika Okada (IWGP Heavyweight Champion) (CHAOS)-The current Ace, one of their biggest stars, the current IWGP World Heavyweight champion, and 2x G1 winner. Okada is among the best wrestlers in the world and will bring the goods night in and night out. He won in 2012 and 2014 but don’t expect him to win this year. He’s the champ. I doubt he’ll win the block, coming up short, because I think all NJPW fans know whose winning and he’s in B block so, we have to hold the fight off for the WrestleKingdom show.
Tomohiro Ishii (CHAOS)-One of 5 representatives of CHAOS faction Ishii is one of the best working. Never won the tournament, never won the heavyweight title, but he’s high on the cards usually fighting for the NEVER belt. Expect stiff strikes, headbutts, and excellent matches. There is a slim possibility of the finals for him I don’t see him winning. I see him delivering some Match of the Year candidates though.
Hirooki Goto (CHAOS)-New to CHAOS but not to G1, Goto is the bridesmaid of NJPW. He wins tournaments. Won G1 in 2008 and has won the New Japan Cup three times. He’s flirted with the top having won the Intercontinental title twice but has come up short for the heavyweight title. Goto will deliver big matches but I don’t see him winning the thing, let alone his block.
Bad Luck Fale (Bullet Club)-The monster of the Bullet Club is back to lose but make sure some of your favorites get losses. Fale is not good, but works for what he’s asked to do.
Tama Tonga (Bullet Club)-Making his G1 debut is long time Bullet Club member Tama Tonga. Tonga’s had an odd year, finally getting more of a spotlight to mixed results. He’s good but his New Japan Cup matches were just okay and the team with his brother Tanga Loa did not catch with NJPW audiences. Tama will probably lose most his matches, but they might be enjoyable sprints.
SANADA (Los Ingobernables de Japon)-Representing the hottest act in Japan is SANADA. New to NJPW this is his first G1. SANADA has worked for All Japan Pro-Wrestling and the US promotion TNA. He has been great in the LIJ vs CHAOS feud and has the look of a star. I expect him to be the break out of the tournament but he won’t win.
Naomichi Marufuji (GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion) (Pro Wrestling NOAH)-One of the only two outsiders involved is star Marufuji from Noah, which is now part owned by New Japans owners Bushiroad. An innovator of offense and influential Junior, this is a delight. I know some Puro fans are down on him over the last few years but I still find him incredibly entertaining. This will be the first time I get to see him mix it up with a lot of these guys and I know a few months prior Okada said he’d like to get in the ring with Marufuji, which is happening the first night! Marufuji isn’t winning this, he’s here to give the tournament a bit more star power after the lose of talent this year.
B BLOCK-One could argue a lack of star power with this block. Might even point out the likely tournament winner is here so their matches will be predictable. I, however, find this block interesting. It features some big names and some cool G1 debuts.
YOSHI-HASHI (CHAOS)-The native fans have been clamoring, as has YOSHI-HASHI. Now he’s making his G1 debut after years of working as a tag team competitor in regular, trios and multi-man matches. YOSHI-HASHI went from the fall guy that fans (at least non-Native fans) shrugged at to being one of the most thrilling underdogs going around right now. He’ll win a few, lose a lot, but his recent intensity makes me very interested to see him go. I’m still surprised he’s not in the same block as SANADA due to their feud which has not had a singles match yet. Guess their holding out on that until later.
Kenny Omega (Bullet Club)-The leader of the Bullet Club, Kenny makes his G1 debut after moving up to heavyweight. The former IC champion has become one of those wrestlers that many American fans are wondering “when will WWE sign him?” I expect Omega to be in the top four along. The leader of the hated Bullet Club taking on Naito of LIJ, which are technically bad guys but adored by a lot of crowds. Him and Elgin will tear it down two as they’ve dazzled with their previous matches. The question is, how serious is Omega going to be?
Tetsuya Naito (Los Ingobernables de Japon)-He’s going to win and it makes sense. Naito might be the hottest thing around but the former heavyweight champs road to that success starts at his lone G1 win 2013. The fans rejected Naito at that moment and when it came time for his headlining WrestleKingdom 8 the company lost faith. They asked fans to vote and they instead voted for Nakamura/Tanahashi to be the top match. Naito languished until last years G1 when he returned from a brief trip to Mexico bringing the attitude of his buddies from Los Ingobernables. From there he put together his own version of the faction and has built up to being the man. He won this years New Japan Cup and won the title from Okada before losing it back. This is the story, Naito is winning G1 as a star and getting his headlining match at WrestleKingdom against Okada. Or he’ll lose, beat who wins the briefcase and get his match anyway…
EVIL (Los Ingobernables de Japon)-Naito’s stablemate EVIL has really come into his own since returning to NJPW after his brief US excursion. EVIL and Naito went to the finals of Tag League last year but other than that, and his work in multi-man matches, he’s had limited singles success winning only one match. I think he’ll be bottom of the brackets here but he’ll fight to prove that he’s a contender. Him vs. Elgin or Shibata are two matches I am hyped for.
Katsuhiko Nakajima (Pro Wrestling NOAH)-Another G1 debut for the only other outsider. Nakajima is very good and when the announcement was made he got a great reaction. Nakajima has been around for a while and this is his biggest stage. While he won’t be winning, and probably in the bottom half, he’s going to bring his all. He will definitely bring a freshness to the block and this might be the only time we see him mix it up with a lot of these guys.
Yuji Nagata-Former 2x heavyweight champ, 2001 G1 winner, and oldest man in the tournament. Yuji won’t win but he will go down fighting. Nagata is far from his prime but he can still go.
Katsuyori Shibata (NEVER Openweight Champion)-The man everyone wants to win G1 every year. Shibata has finally taken his place on the top of the cards, making it appear NJPW has forgiven him for walking out years ago. He’s been over with the audience for years and delivers incredible matches. A lot of his matches this time look great including Elgin, Nagata who had just been feuding with, EVIL and of course Naito. I don’t think he’ll win, but I think he’ll be block runner up.
Tomoaki Honma (Great Bash Heel)-Perennial underdog and G1 loser, Honma is not going to win but he’s going to try really hard. In 2014 Honma came in as a replacement and dazzled the audience despite losing every match. 2015 he dazzled the audience but only scored single win, 2 points. I expect two wins this time out. Also some good matches, I prefer hi in singles then teaming with Makabe.
Michael Elgin (IWGP Intercontinental Champion)-Elgin debut last G1, the only outsider, and he got over despite a number of American fans predicting he would crash and burn. NJPW turned his career around as he’s become a star! he was paired with company Ace Tanahashi for a successful tag team and he recently won their #2 belt in the company’s first ladder match. The success has rolled over into Mexico. Elgin was the lone 4th place wrestler in block B last year, ahead of four others. This year I expect him to be in the top 4 this year. My only disappointment is him not being in the same block as Ishii, their match last G1 was among the five best.
Toru Yano (GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion) (CHAOS)-The spoiler! Yano is here to make sure certain wrestlers lose. That no wrestlers go with perfect streak. He’s a comedy wrestler, most the time I find him lousy, but he serves a purpose.
Some notes. Kojima got in when his longtime partner Hiroyoshi Tenzan did not. Tenzan did do the most G1 tournaments going back to the mid 90s and won three so it was time to retire him from it. Though he had a match after the official line up was announced, hen it was over he got on the mic to complain. This year Bullet Club only has three guys in when last few years they had five. The tag champions are not involved, but they’re Ring of Honor contracted guys. Tama Tonga’s brother isn’t in but, while I don’t hate him and think he has some decent moves, this was for the best. No KUSHIDA, who wanted in. The Junior champ will probably be defending his title against someone at the G! finals. KUSHUDA has been great this year but he does have several opponents lined up plus his involvement in Super-J Cup which has its qualifying rounds on the 20th and the full tournament after G1. I don’t know if I’ll do any write up on that. Some fans wondering why Will Ospreay isn’t in, because he’s a junior and rarely do they have juniors.
Overall, I’m digging the line up and might even join into a Pick’Em Contest.