It’s that time of year again. The summer of wrestling tournaments. In the US WWE is launching the womens tournament Mae Young Classic. Filming starts today, sadly episodes won’t be up until late August and finals in Fall. Super indy PWG launches their popular Battle of Los Angeles where almost half the talent is coming from the UK at the same time as CHIKARA heads to the country to launch their annual King of Trios. Mexico’s CMLL has a Grand Prix in several weeks and Pro-Wrestling Noah launching their Jr. Tag League.
The big one, however, is NJPW’s G1 Climax 27. The fourth of a total six, maybe seven and possibly only five, NJPW tournaments this year. This has been an incredible year for their tournaments so far. New Japan Cup featured a fantastic run by Katsuyori Shibata that lead to his beautiful, yet tragic, match at Sakura Genesis. Delivering a MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH with Okada retaining and Shibata’s health problems catching up with him, effectively making that his final wrestling match. The premiere Best of the Super Juniors happened next featuring fantastic action and the final BOSJ of legendary Jushin Thunder Liger. In the finals it was Will Ospreay and KUSHIDA delivering another MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH. Then, in the companies successful solo US debut, a single elimination US Title Tournament where Kenny Omega and Tomohiro Ishii delivered match after match and over delivered in the finals. Not a MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH but hey! Naito and Elgin got one while Omega and Okada gave only the second MELTZER RATED 6 STAR MATCH and then later the only MELTZER RATED 6 1/4 STAR MATCH. Later this year we get Heavyweight Tag League at and maybe a single elimination Jr. Tag League before that. Possibly a Young Lions Cup for the young lions from the New Japan dojo. But before those two, we got this one, the G1.
So lets break it down. Twenty en split into two blocks, round robin style. 2 points to winner, 1 point a piece for a draw, 0 for he loser. Winners of matches get tiebreaker if their opponent ends at the same points. Block A and Block B winners face off in the finals and the winner claims the right for the main event title match at the next Wrestle Kingdom. Lets look at who we got.
The IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi (Stable: Taguchi Japan)-The Ace! The current Intercontinental Champion! Tanahashi walks into the tournament he’s won twice before to further prove he is still the top guy int he company. One of the most decorated champions of NJPW history and a living legend in wrestling already Tanahashi’s biggest opponent is his age. At 40 he’s seeing the wrestlers older than him fade out of the big picture and younger stars trying to, and in come cases succeeding, in eclipsing him. Expect Tanahashi to deliver quality matches night after night, play a bunch of air guitar to cheering crowds, and most likely winning at least 5. I don’t see him winning, nor going to the finals. Then again, no one saw him winning 2015’s tournament. Pay attention to his losses, because anyone who beats him might be in like for an IC title shot.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito, Bad Luck Fale
Togi Makabe-Makabe is interesting. He is in his mid 40s, a former G1 winner and IWGP Heavyweight champion, and a bit of a TV star. He has a small segment on some show where talks about and tries sweets. Makabe is a brawler and is capable of delivering good matches but he’s a solid mid carder right now so he has little chance of making it to the finals. Thinking four wins, tops.
THE BIG MATCHES: Tomohiro Ishii, Yuji Nagata, Tetsuya Naito
Yuji Nataga-Blue Justice Yuji Nagata is an elder statesman. At 49 he has declared this to be his final G1. He won in 2001 and like Makabe and Tanahashi he is a decorated champion. Nagata is not only losing, but will be lucky to get out with three victories. Last year NJPW vet and wrestling legend Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s final G1 did not include too many wins and Liger’s final BOSJ ending in one victory on the final Block A night. Still, Nagata usually delivers at least three star matches and there are some matches here I’m very interested in.
THE BIG MATCHES: Togi Makabe, Zack Sabre Jr, Hiroshi Tanahashi
Kota Ibushi-If you are a hardcore WWE fan you may be familiar with Kota from their Crusierweight Classic. Ibushi makes his official return to NJPW (he has been playing Tiger Mask X on several shows) and is the big guest for the tournament this year. Last G1 Climax tournaments he did he was under contract but this time he’s a free agent, traveling the world and doing his thing. There is much hype with his return as people want him to face off against his former partner and rival Kenny Omega who is red hot. Will NJPW blow a marque match on a sold out show? Probably not. Kota will be in the running, might make it to the finals, unless Goto spoils it on Block A’s final night.
THE BIG MATCHES: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Zack Sabre Jr, Hirooki Goto
Hirooki Goto (Stable: CHAOS)-Goto wins tournaments and chokes at the big match. Multiple time winner of the New Japan Cup and Tag League as well as winning his first G1 and making it to the finals last year. He does well in these. Goto has been positioned as a gatekeeper. this means he’s an upper midcard guy who can deliver in important spots but will not be one of faces of the company. I like Goto a lot, so I look forward to all his matches.
THE BIG MATCHES: Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi
Tomohiro Ishii (Stable: CHAOS)-Ishii is the fucking man. The guy never takes a night off and at age 41 and working such a stiff style, it does kind of worry you. Ishii has had a strange year. A weird tag team with Yano which came and went in a few months. He went to the semi’s in New Japan Cup and the finals of the US Title tournament. So still not winning the big one and he won’t here. That does not mean he won’t bring the goods. Last year him and Okada had a MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH that was amazing. People call him the best wrestler working today or the most underrated wrestler today. Either way you land, Ishii is amazing.
THE BIG MATCHES: Hirooki Goto, Zack Sabre Jr, Tetsuya Naito
YOSHI-HASHI (Stable: CHAOS)-Second G1 Climax, YOSHI-HASHI probably is looking to improve from last years where he got three victories. I don’t see him getting more than that because someone has to eat losses unless its Nagata who will be losing a lot. YOSHI is pretty good but he’s not the guy who knocks it out of the park night after night. It will be interesting to see how he does.
THE BIG MATCHES: Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii
Bad Luck Fale (Stable: Bullet Club)-The Underboss and founding member of the Bullet Club is back. Some Western fans were saying BC had run their course but the recent US Specials and Hot Topic deal has show that to be untrue. BC is hotter than ever. That doesn’t mean much for Fale. Fale is another gatekeeper wrestler and since he’s a monster he will be booked strong. Might even make it to the finals like he did with the New Japan Cup this year. I don’t think he will, being spoiled on the last Block A night but expect four to five wins.
THE BIG MATCHES: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushii, Tomohiro Ishii
Zack Sabre Jr. (Stable: Suzuki-Gun)-The technical wizard, indy darling, and another Cruiserweight Classic competitor. In afct many thought it would be him and Kota Ibushi in the finals but neither signed contracts so that match did not happen. It will happen here. One of many first time meetings which makes ZSJ G1 debut a big deal with Western and European fans. His standing with the Japanese fans is hard to read, despite years working for Pro-Wrestling Noah, this is a different crowd. I am thinking at least three wins, maybe four.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii
Tetsuya Naito (Stable: Los Ingobernables de Japon)-BC may be the hottest stable outside Japan, but in the country NJPW calls home its all about LIJ and their leader Tetsuya Naito. The former tournament winner was the odds on favorite last year until Kenny Omega ruined his shot at the finals in a MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH and then won the whole damn thing. That did not deter Naito’s success. He won and lost the IC title and is considered by some to be Japan’s biggest star today. Will Naito win his second G1? Will he go on and win his second Heavyweight title? But more importantly, will he get the Wrestle Kingdom main event that was ripped from him after his first G1 win by a fan vote? The vote that turned him from future superstar babyface Naito to midcard and falling Naito which lead to the Naito we have today. I think its his year but I thought last year was his year so what do I know? Still, no less than five wins.
THE BIG MATCHES: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto
Satoshi Kojima (Stable: Taguchi Japan, TenKoji)-Kojima returns after giving his spot last year to friend and tag partner Tenzen. Kojima is a legend in Japanese wrestling, a former G1 winner and decorated champion. That said, at 46, he’s probably not likely to go far. Maybe four victories? Despite this Kojima is still very good and can go with the best of them.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kazuchika Okada, Minoru Suzuki, Tama Tonga
Michael Elgin (Stable: Taguchi Japan)-Elgin made his NJPW debut at 2015 G1, the next year he was IC champion and finished close to the top of his block. This year has been a mixed bag. He lost his rematch against Naito, MELTZER RATED 5 STAR MATCH, and dropped out in first rounds in both the New Japan Cup and US title tournament. Woth his contract up at the end of the year, who knows what is going on. I still see four to five victories in his future and a contract renewal. NJPW know they got a talented wrestler so I expect bigger thanks after a renewal.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kenny Omega, Minoru Suzuki, Kazuchika Okada
Juice Robinson (Stable: Taguchi Japan)-Proof that you can succeed without WWE right here. Juice was jobber in their NXT developmental and left. In 2015 he joined NJPW and was working similar to a NJPW young lion, watching these matches at ring side. In 2016 they gave him more to do including being Tanahashi’s tag partner in the Tag League after Elgins injury. 2017 saw him get to the second round of the New Japan Cup and also be included in the US tournament. The fans in Japan and here love Juice. That does not mean he’s going far. Soemone has to eat pinfalls so I’d say maybe two wins, possible three? All the matches will be worth watching though.
THE BIG MATCHES: EVIL, SANADA, Minoru Suzuki
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada (Stable: CHAOS)-Okada is on a tear. At 29 Okada is the company’s ACE. Two time G1 winner, multiple time champion. In fact, his current run, is legendary status. He has had a string of amazing matches since winning the title for his fourth time last year. His combined runs are close to eclipsing Keiji Mutoh (aka Great Muta) and shy of his rival Tanahashi. This is a big tournament for Okada because he’s not been beaten in a singles match since last years G1 as well as the fact anyone who beats him here might get a shot before G1. King of Pro-Wrestling is around the corner this tournament will give us a clue to who that will be. So why is the champ in a tournament like this? Its an honor to win, and if he does, he books his own main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Okada is winning at least five matches but the question is, can he beat Omega again? And in less than 30 minutes?
THE BIG MATCHES: Michael Elgin, Kenny Omega, Minoru Suzukia
Toru Yano (Stable: CHAOS)-The spoiler. A comedy wrestler who gives his opponents a night off. Look, I don’t like Yano but the native fans do. Western fans don’t see him winning many matches but he always gets at least four.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kenny Omega, Minoru Suzuki
IWGP United States Champion Kenny Omega (Stable: Bullet Club, The Elite)-The hottest talent in the world right now? Omega solidified himself last year. He went from top talent to Japanese superstar winning G1 Climax 26 then one of the overall best with his two matches against Okada. Losing one, time limit draw the other. His match with Omega at Block B finals is the big one and probably proof neither will go to the finals. This tournament may also give us a future US title contender. Keep an eye on SANADA as Omega recently called their upcoming match an easy win.
THE BIG MATCHES: SANADA, Minoru Suzuki, Kazuchika Okada
Tama Tonga (Stable: Bullet Club, Guerillas of Detsiny)-Entering his second G1, Tonga is looking to improve. His first run was a mixed bag but his tag team with brother Tonga Roa has become a great team. Tonga is a founding member of BC but only in recent memory been a premiere guy and with WWE rumored to be interested in him and his brother its possible NJPW gives him even mroe here. I don’t know, I still only see four wins.
THE BIG MATCHES: EVIL, SANADA, Michael Elgin
IWGP NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki (Stable: Suzuki-Gun)-Making his G1 return after 2 years in Noah, Suzuki is a mean SOB. One of Japans MMA stars and a legit badass. He was on Omega’s list of guys to face so thats a first time match as is several other encounters. Suzuki is some peoples odds on favorite to go to the finals. Naito vs Suzuki is the general prediction and I can see it though its not mine. I think Suzuki will do great.
THE BIG MATCHES: Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, EVIL
IWGP NEVER 6 Man Champion SANADA (Stable: Los Ingobernables de Japon)-Second year for the LIJ member that Western fans think will one day be groomed to be a top guy. He’s athletic, talented, and good looking. In fact, I agree and I got SANADA going to the finals as a surprise and a test run. He has quite the competition ahead of him including his trios partner EVIL on night one. Honestly I see SANADA losing early and then tying in points but holding the tie breaker. I’m probably wrong though.
THE BIG MATCHES: EVIL, Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada
IWGP NEVER 6 Man Champion EVIL (Stable: Los Ingobernables de Japon)-EVIL enters his second year. While the odds are on SANADA being the break out star EVIL will look good. He has risen to midcard guy and edging to upper midcard. I like him for his style which is similar to Goto and Ishii. He’s a bruiser with some incredible moves. Last year he went four and I don’t see less than that.
THE BIG MATCHES: SANADA, Kazuchika Okada, Juice Robinson
G1 Climax starts on the 17th with Block A and cotinues on the 20th with Block B then its rapid fire from there. It ends in August with three nights at Sumo Hall. The finals night will feature Heavyweight Tag and Jr. Tag title matches. There is a press conference on the 16th. Watch it all on NJPWWorld.com. Its around $9 a month and worth it.