Sam: G’day all! Summer is well and truly here (or winter for me Down Under), Wrestlemania is a fading memory, the WWE summer ‘experiments’ are in full effect which means it is time for one thing: the New Japan G1 Climax! The Year of The Bracket Stacking!
For those of you who are new to New Japan, brace yourself, this month long tournament pits the best of the best in the NJPW heavyweight ranks against one another for one of wrestling’s most prestigious prizes. It has been running in one form or another since the 70s and the previous winners list reads like a who’s who of Japanese wrestling including names like Antonio Inoki (10 times), Massihiro Chono (5 times), Keiji Muto, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kenny Omega, even Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant. The current field sports three former winners: Hiroshi Tanahashi (3 times), Kazuchika Okada (2 times) and Tetsuya Naito (2 times).
The current format sees twenty wrestlers split into two ten man brackets (Blocks A and B) and starting this Saturday in Dallas, Texas, they will all 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 but truthfully there is no better time to jump into New Japan. This year is one of the best lineups New Japan has ever assembled putting former WWE wrestlers Jon Moxley and KENTA, new additions to the heavyweight ranks Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi alongside the pinnacle of the NJPW heavyweight roster including Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and freakin’ Tomohiro Ishii. There will be more singles matches than you can shake a stick at and it is the absolute best way to get a taste for the NJPW product and their wrestlers.
Today I’m joined by my NJPW sensi of sorts, The Implications. Over the next week 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. Today it’s the A Block and this time next week we will look at the B Block. We also have plans for a weekly review of the tournament featuring match of the week and MVP of the week so keep your eyes peeled for that too.
So strap yourselves in, let’s get started and hope we do better than we did last year.
Imp: Okada vs Ibushi on the final day… yep, yup, cool, cool, coolcoolcool, you got this Imp, don’t overreact, you’re one of those cool dudes, totally chill, totally-
Sam: AAHH MA GAAAWWWD!!! RAAAIINNN MAAAKKKKEEEERRRR!
Imp: The Rainmaker sure is an interesting one this year though, seemingly slap bang in the middle of returning to his former dominant champion self. I can’t see anything other than his momentum taking him through this block in strong fashion, but there’s also no way he’s winning bar an elaborate booking masterplan.
Which then leads to one of the following men we’re about to bang on about beating him, as in it’s a given, it’s going to happen. The question is just who? It’s a running tradition in the G1 that pinning the champion is just as meaningful as it would be in any other setting, in that you can count yourself in for a title shot down the line. Like last year, after what I’ll call the ‘Rich Latta Wet Dream’ between Kenny Omega and Tomohiro Ishii, on the road to January the Stone Pitbull soon found himself in an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match.
A nice example of how this rule of thumb isn’t just reserved for the hand of rotating main event scene lads of the era.
Some years the champion has lost right out the gate to a surprise opponent, hell the very first NJPW show I watched was Night 1 of G1 Climax 2014 and at the end of the night Shinsuke Nakamura was flat on his back being pinned by Bad Luck Fale. All I’m saying is: ‘Things. Can. Happen.’
But man, that final night between The Rainmaker and The Golden Star is sure to have implications for both men just as Tana/Okada did in last year’s A Block Final. So if anyone’s beating Okada… it’s not him, we’re not doing Ibushi v Naito again, lads.
Sam: Last year’s G1 was interesting for Okada to say the least. After losing the IWGP Title to Kenny Omega he went through a bit of a quarter life crisis, Okada ditched The Rainmaker moniker, the robes, gold hair and Okada-bucks that go with it to become The Balloon-Maker, literally the red headed step-child to his normal character. For a wrestler that many label the best of his generation, he also had a decidedly quiet tournament with only his final night match with Hiroshi Tanahashi really sticking in the memory.
Coming into this year’s G1 having rediscovered himself, reclaimed his IWGP Heavyweight Championship and defended it, Okada should be ready to remind everyone exactly how special of a talent he is. Across from him in the block is a lineup of stellar talent who will be chomping at the bit to prove themselves against the champ and pick up a potential title opportunity.
So can he beat the odds and win it?
The champion is always a big player in the G1 and I think Okada will be in the hunt until the final night of the tournament but ultimately I think at least one of the challengers to his throne will prove hungrier. Afterall the champion can’t exactly win a title shot at his own belt.
Sam: Last year I predicted that Tanahashi wouldn’t figure much in the G1 and the guy went on to win the whole damn thing. Will I make that mistake again this year?????? Um, yeah. EXCEPT THIS YEAR IT WON’T BE A MISTAKE DAMNIT.
Seriously though Tanahashi has been looking fairly worse for wear since his return from elbow surgery and has eaten a few loses on the road to the G1, most prominently at the hands of Jay White. Of course it would be a newbie error to write him off completely but I just cannot see where a surging Tanahashi fits into the picture in New Japan this year.
Of course that is not to say you shouldn’t pay attention to him, afterall he is renewing his generational feud with Okada as the main event for night one in Dallas, Texas. He went 1-1-1 with Okada last year so both men will have something more to prove to each other. I’m also extremely excited for rematch of last year’s epic G1 final and my personal match of the year against Kota Ibushi on August 3.
Imp: Last year’s winner, the man that has been the embodiment of the fighting spirit of New Japan Pro Wrestling for reaching two decades. But does Tanahashi still have it in him to rise up as ‘The Ace’? With the end of the Heisei Era, did we also see the mark for the end of Tanahashi’s time at the top of NJPW?
I said pretty much this same thing last year, expecting a true transition to the next era for NJPW alongside that of their nation. Instead, what we got was a final hoorar, a trip back in a possible last reminder of all the reasons we fell in love with The Ace of the Universe in the first place. But how much did that take out of Tanahashi? Does he have it in him to deliver in this seriously stacked tournament?
Personally, I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a strong run, but there’s a very high chance the gorgeously haired man finishes middle of the pack. There is a lot, A LOT, of hungry talent in this block. Folks looking to really elevate themselves to that next level, like Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr, SANADA, EVIL, Ospreay and you can bet your ass KENTA’s going to leave a mark (quite literally with those strikes).
To do well this year Tana’s going to have to be at the top of his game, which going in he simply isn’t. Looking really off at Wrestling Dontaku in May, he’s gotten back into things since, but has developed an aversion to hitting the High Fly Flow. Instead he seems to be trying to win his matches without having to climb to the top rope, is the wear and tear finally catching up to him?
Whatever it is, this block is so damn strong that any hesitation on Tana’s part will cost him. So even though I’m writing a book on the man, I’m going to – can’t believe I’m saying this – I’m going to have to predict a low middle finish for The Ace! I just don’t think he’ll be able to rise up to that level he did last year every single time the G1 roles round anymore, he’s not the man he was 10 years ago.
Imp: Get ready for strong style KENTA! In the words of the man himself, he felt ‘defanged’ in WWE. So if you’ve never seen this man wrestle outside of big boy school, man you are in for a treat!
I’m stuck in two minds here, will he have an amazing Kojima-esque run from 2007 with a massive star return blazing an epic trail to the final? Or put in a great shift with impressive performances like Ibushi’s return a couple years ago, with him just falling short in the way of results? I really don’t know as it could go either way, but I feel those are the two most apparent choices.
That said, I’ve not predicted anyone to actually win this block yet. There’s so many with legitimate reasons to both beast it and to just not quite. Whilst KENTA’s here as a legitimate unknown, there’s no real run for him to be judged upon. He’s a wildcard, bitches!
In that fashion, I’m going to put KENTA in that section of people that’ll have an amazing run, only just falling short. He’s facing Zack Sabre Jr on the final day, a match I could see as being every kind of relevancy come the final day. However, I’m going to predict it’ll be the former NOAH legend’s final opportunity on the line over the British Champion’s.
As I said though, without Minoru Suzuki in the tournament, there’s also a real chance ZSJ gets the baton to run this year… dammit, so many have the potential in this block!
Sam: Barring a match or two I have only ever seen KENTA in the WWE as Hideo Itami and while the reviews of his WWE work tends to be fairly negative, I have to say that once he found his feet in 205 Live his performance was severely underrated. He played the Minoru Suzuki of the division, a man who carried himself with such an aura of intensity and danger, he even had one of my favourite Network feuds of the year last year with Mustafa Ali. If that was him with no fangs then sign me the hell up for him in NJPW.
Looking at KENTA here, he really is a wildcard in this block as we have barely seen him against any of the other wrestlings, we don’t know what he is going to look like and what New Japan’s plans for him are. One thing that is certain is that there are so many great matchups for him: a match against Tanahashi as the early 10’s Ace of Noah v the Ace of New Japan at that time, the title implications against Okada, the match against Ibushi which will tell us a lot about where KENTA falls in the New Japan heavyweight pecking order and my most anticipated match of the block against Zack Sabre Jr.
While Itami constantly yelling ‘respect me’ in 205 Live was a tad overdone, I hope he comes into the G1 with that kind of chip on his shoulder, a man driven to dose out pain and prove himself as still one of the kings of Japanese pro wrestling.
A lot depends on what his New Japan status is, this could just be a one off run after all. However rumors around the traps say negotiations with other promotions have not gone well so I’m going to punt that Gedo is going left field and will use the G1 to make KENTA a New Japan star. I predict by the end of the G1 he will have the scalps of some of the top wrestlers in the heavyweight division as the A Block winner.
Sam: A Block Winner
Imp: Riding all the momentum in the world, 2019’s Best of the Super Juniors winner, now the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion and Nando’s frequenter looks to take the G1 by storm… breaker. Stormbreaker. It’s his finisher, Sam.
Sam: It sure would be capturing lightning in a bottle if he could do it……
Imp: He’s facing Tanahashi on the final night, which could either be a real indicator of his potential success or the former Heavyweight Champion’s struggles. A match that could just as easily be for everything as it could nothing come that final day.
Aaah, so difficult to predict… feck it, I’m going for it. Ospreay to win the block for the Juniors! No I’m not just going with him as he’s a fellow Brit, in my head this then leads to the Junior Heavyweight title main eventing the first night of Wrestle Kingdom in January. Tad of a bold prediction, but before the block announcements I thought there was a strong chance either him or Shingo could get that spot. Then poor Takagi got drawn in the same block as Naito, and this is his year dammit!
So, sorry Shingo, guess it’s not you then.
Sam: Will Ospreay is the toughest one to pick in this entire competition, he could do anything from coming dead last, to winning the whole damn thing.
I’m going to take the middle road. Ospreay will win the G1 and the Heavyweight Championship in the next five years but this is the year he establishes himself as a threat in the higher weight class. He will pick up some big wins but not enough to truly challenge the scorer.
Imp: A Block Winner
Imp: Argh me neck.
Sam: The man with the rubber neck and firework-proof chest.
If there is one thing we know about Kota Ibushi apart from those two is that he is pretty much a sure fire bet to be a future IWGP Heavyweight Champion. With Ibushi it is a question more of when rather than if.
So I now ask that question, is now the time that Ibushi is elevated to the IWGP Championship match? There is a good argument for it: he has just signed a supposed ‘lifetime contract’ with New Japan, at 37 he is at the peak of his career performance wise, he just dropped the IWGP Intercontinental Title which potentially frees him up to take on bigger challenges and he is one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster, probably the most popular who hasn’t already won ‘the big one’.
Having said all of that I just have to side with the man who beat him for the IC Title, Tetsuya Naito. Ibushi’s case is good but it is not yet what I’d call ‘narratively compelling’, he just doesn’t have a great story as Naito does.
I have no doubt he will light up the tournament with incredible matches and will probably remain in contention until the final night but I don’t think 2019 is Ibushi’s year.
Imp: Right, my serious write up for the handsome bloke. As much as I love Ibushi, as much I’m hyped for his rise within New Japan, I’m predicting Naito to win and I’d be real good with not seeing those two wrestle for a while. It’s rare in this company to see two lads go up against each other so many times within such a short span, so the fact they have hopefully hits at a future apart for a while.
Not that that’s stopped them being in tag matches together though, it’s currently the feud that’ll never end! Fingers crossed the G1 acts as a reset of sorts, propelling folk to their Wrestle Kingdom destinations.
The reason I’ve brought up Naito so much, in what’s supposed to be my Kota section, is that me being so certain of a tranquilo final really does directly hinder the former IWGP Intercontinental Champion’s chances. If it were any other year, yeah, Ibushi would be right up there for my pick of the block. But this is Naito’s year dammit! So sorry Ibush, you’ll kick ass, have multiple MOTY contenders, perhaps even finish runner-up, but you ain’t winning the thing.
Zack Sabre Jr.
Imp: Minoru Suzuki may not be in the G1 this year, but his royal protégé sure as hell will wreck folk on the King’s behalf! It’s a hell of a tough block though, were the Brit on the other side I might have predicted a decent run for the lad. But bloody hell, is it just the case that this block is simply too stacked?
I can’t tell if ZSJ really is valued by NJPW as a guy who’s only a matter of time away from a great push or as a respected, talented hand who’ll deliver in the odd less major main events like Ishii. In that manor, ZSJ falls into the seriously talented upper mid-card slot of this block. How do you pick which one out of ZSJ, SANADA, EVIL or Ospreay to finish in the top half of the table? It could literally be any of them or all of them. This is so difficult, Sam!
Looking at Sabre’s 2019 so far, he’s had a pretty strong run in singles competition: beating Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom, a continued run to the semi-final of the New Japan Cup and then beating none other than ‘The Ace’ Hiroshi Tanahashi at Madison Square Garden. His stock has continued to rise since the G1 last year, but there’s the argument that’s the same case for a fair few folk in this block!
Sam: ZSJ is close to being my favourite wrestlers in New Japan, between his wince inducing in ring style and his cocky, immensely punchable persona, there is just so much to love or hate about wrestling’s favourite vegan. His run in New Japan has been that of a very slow build up towards the top of the company: a New Japan Cup win, sixth and then third in his G1 Blocks, a singles win at the Tokyo Dome and then the win at MSG over Tanahashi. It is a deep block but I believe New Japan have big plans for Sabre in the future and he will at least hold onto that trajectory through the G1.
One big match to mark down is his July 14 match with Okada. With New Japan’s UK show Royal Quest coming up there is every chance the current Rev Pro UK Champ gets a win to set up an IWGP Title Match at the event.
Imp: Calling it, this is the year SANADA truly arrives with one hell of an amazing G1 run. I’ve even got the man penned as a candidate to beat The Rainmaker and everything. A continued rise for the Cold Skull, after a star making performance in the New Japan Cup convinced the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion to choose him as his first challenger.
Year on year SANADA’s performances have improved, a bar set reasonably high to begin with in 2016 after beating Hiroshi Tanahashi in his very first G1 match. This is without doubt the best year he’s had in between tournaments however, the expectations are much bigger this time around. Especially with his tag team partner EVIL looking more determined than ever, if anything SANADA’s going to have maintain that quality he’s shown to even stand a chance of succeeding in this Block.
Any other year I’d be calling for him to really break out, but whenever I go to try and figure out my predictions for the final standings I even can’t quite fit him in the top 5. This is such a strong block, really any of the lads who are anywhere near the top will deserve a round of applause.
Will SANADA have a great G1? Yeah, pretty confident of that. Will that be enough to even break the top 5? Man, there’s real chance it genuinely won’t. If he does, he’s literally just scraping in and I’m forced to say Zack Sabre Jr won’t be.
Really, for those 4th and 5th spots it could genuinely be any of KENTA, Sabre Jr, SANADA, EVIL or even Will Ospreay if I’m not quite right with my wild prediction.
Keep an eye on when SANADA vs Kota Ibushi rolls into town AKA the ultimate handsome battle, there are no losers here.
Sam: Where I’ve ranked the pair of LIJ heavies in A Block shows just how deep this block is rolling and how tough it is going to be for the New Japan midcarders. Someone has to lose afterall and even though this year SANADA was runner up in the New Japan Cup, has debuted a new look and had a title match against Okada I it may end up being him. He should be pushing his case to be a top singles star and yet I cannot see him coming any higher than fourth in the block.
I loved SANADA’s run in the New Japan Cup but with Naito poised to take center stage in the second half of the year, the Cup result is going to be the highlight of the year for the Cold Skull. Having said that a first time ever match with stablemate EVIL is something to mark your calendars for.
Imp: Calling it, this is the year EVIL truly arrives with one hell of an amazing G1 run. Ah feck, they can’t bo-. Well the LIJ lads being in the same block ruins everything, they can’t both have standout runs!
In recent tag matches the King of Darkness hasn’t been as together with the rest of his Los Ingobernables de Japon stablemates, this is relatively normal for them but this year he seems to be taking the G1 extremely seriously. Showing frustration easily and not exactly being image of tranquilo, perhaps feeling the pressure in the aftermath of the success of his tag partner.
Where he falls could heavily depend on his matches against the aforementioned SANADA and other major players like Okada & Tanahashi. Will his determination to show he can succeed just as well as his stablement drive him to victory or end up hindering his performance? Is the story of his G1 that of his rise or origin of a true fall into darkness?
Sorry EVIL, I’m not crazy enough to place Tanahashi in the bottom 3. But you can place low with a great story! That’s a good enough trade off, right?
Sam: Oh boy, this was a tough one. As we have both said about a thousand times, this block is stacked and baring everyone tying on 10 and 8 points, for there to be a winner there has to be a loser and unfortunately I’m calling EVIL as the big casualty of the combination of a star studded block and two big name newcomers to the G1.
This is going to be a tough pill to swallow, especially considering how well this guy has done in the past but I’m predicting that this year EVIL tumbles down the table to eighth.
Bad Luck Fale
Imp: The big lad always finishes with a decent tally of points, but Jesus this year he’s drawn well hell of an unfortunate block. This Block is stroooong. I really can’t see either of these final two big men having that great of a tournament, wouldn’t be surprised at all if in response we get a whole load of cheating. He’s not called The ‘Honourable’ Boss.
He’ll collect a couple of points, but I really don’t expect him to trouble those at the top that much. If anything he might capitalise on scraps such as a fatigued Hiroshi Tanahashi or a distracted EVIL.
8 heavy hitters and 2 big lads leads to some ‘bad luck’ for Fale.
Sam: Last year The Underboss went the whole tournament without getting pinned or submitted but due to the shenanigans of the Bullet Club he finished last in his block on 6 points.
Fale is the kind of guy that can instantly look like a credible threat but this block is of current top guys or guys that could be that in the near future all of whom could use a win over the biggest man in New Japan. To put it simply a big showing from Fale is simply not required and he is best used being a monster for others to slay.
Imp: He’s Suzuki-gunna kick your ass! Yet still somehow finish around bottom of the pack, funny how that happens. Well, not for his opponents, Archer’s still gonna earn the hell out of that paycheck first.
Look out for his first match against Will Ospreay, the two of them scored top bins right in the postage stamp right back at the New Japan Cup. That whole Dallas card is stacked, but trust me, you’ll be talking about these two after they’re done. Amazing chemistry together, playing off their strengths to elevate each other almost perfectly. Both will likely come out looking great before we dive right in to the crazy schedule come July 13.
He’s a large, agile, water fountain of a man. Just fingers crossed he doesn’t surprise everyone and start picking up points, because in spite of all that I’m predicting him to finish rock bottom. It was either him or Fale, but NJPW have always been kind to the Bullet Club OG over the years.
Sorry Lance, you’ll get to chokeslam a lot of people though. So lose-win?
Sam: Archer has done a ton of PR legwork for the opening night in his hometown of Dallas and he’s got a new finisher THE CLLLAAAWWWWWW so you’d expect big things from him right?
Any other year I might say yes but while I expect him to deal out plenty of pain to his opponents I think he will end up looking at the lights at the end of the night a lot this tournament.
Most Anticipated Match
Sam: KENTA v Zack Sabre Jr.
There are some very sexy matches in the A Block but this one is pretty simple for me, it is my two favourite wrestlers in the block against each other in a matchup with more than just points up for grabs. While KENTA’s character in New Japan is still an uncertain thing, I loved his demeanor in 205Live and so far have only seen an enhanced version of that. Across the ring from that ruthless, vicious beast is a man who is perhaps not as sadistic but five times more petty and equally skilled in the art of causing pain to his opponent.
KENTA will be motivated to prove his skills against the most technical wrestler in New Japan and ZSJ takes any competition or attempt to match him as a personal slight against himself. When I see those two characters together I can only see it exploding as ZSJ loses his temper and KENTA hits the Brit harder and harder. These kind of character match ups are what make wrestling for me so while there may be some more high paced or athletic contests on offer there will be no greater demonstration of technical skill and no better mesh of two characters that will mix like oil and water. Hopefully this will set up a rivalry that lasts a long, long time.
Imp: Zack Sabre Jr. v Will Ospreay
*Clap clap clapclapclap* “British wrestling!” *Clap clap clapclapclap*
As soon as this block was announced I immediately looked up when this match was, the two British stars dancing together for the first time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’ve also been booked as really big deals, with Sabre Jr winning the New Japan Cup last year and continuing that streak to the semi-finals this year, then Will Ospreay dominated the Best of the Super Juniors in impressive fashion.
Seriously, Will Ospreay’s output in June was one of the best, most consistent months of any wrestler of this generation. I don’t mean one or two great matches, but like 3… MOTY contenders… a week… minimum… sometimes on back-to-back days. It was insane! If that’s the level he’s wrestling at BEFORE he enters the ring with ZSJ, good God, what are we going to see when they’re actually in the ring together?!
Colour me excited. The greatest technical wrestler today vs the man who is quite possibly becoming this generation’s greatest high flyer, I cannot wait.
Also being English I had no choice but to pick this one, Queen’s orders.
That wraps it up for us this week. Let us know what you think of our predictions Who do you think will take out the A Block? Let us know in the comments below, on Twitter @Sir_Samuel & @TheDamnImplicat or you can even jump into the LOP Columns G1 Climax thread here.
We are also currently running a tournament in the LOP Columns Forum called the Young Lions Cup. Why not check out a column by one of the site’s newest writers down there or give it a go yourself, you can sign up here.
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