Growing up in the 90s, other than WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble, one of the main events I would always look forward to was the King of the Ring. Now it’s long since relegated the annals of history but the tournament to crown a top wrestler in the then WWF was always a highlight.
WWE were by no means the inventor of this format but, in the west at least, they certainly helped its rise in popularity. So much so that the idea of a yearly tournament remains a staple of the wrestling world with PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles and also New Japan’s annual G1 Climax. The G1 remains one of, if not, the premier wrestling tournament today.
With prestigious former winners such as Chono, Mutoh and Fujinami, the G1 delivers in an incredible display of athleticism and, more importantly, drama every year.
For the uninitiated, the G1 has 20 competitors organised into two blocks, and is a round-robin tournament with 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw (yes, this does happen) and 0 points for a loss. The winner of block A meets the winner of block B in the final and the overall winner gets an IWGP Heavyweight Championship title shot at NJPW’s annual supershow Wrestle Kingdom, held at the Tokyo Dome.
The G1 is a massive part of building up the title picture for the subsequent months. Last year, I managed to watch pretty much all of it and with this year’s line up of entrants, it’s safe to say I’ll be trying to do the same over the next few weeks.
So, let’s take a look at who’s in, who’s been missed out and then some predictions of what kind of craziness we can expect on New Japan World over the next few weeks.
The Rainmaker is sure to put in a money-making performance in this year’s G1. Riding high as the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Okada suffered a run of bad form last year after being betrayed by his former manager and perennial hanger-on Gedo. However, a combination of heart, courage and a change of pants helped Okada return to his previous glory.
Okada is probably one of the outright favourites to win but there are those whose previous victories over the champ could prove a sticking point as the man who makes it rain money sets out to make his mark in NJPW’s biggest tournament of the year.
— Pro Wrestling Unlimited (@PWUnlimited) January 5, 2019
Zack Sabre Jr.
Submission master and self-proclaimed British wrestling legend, ZSJ has recorded wins over the likes of Okada and is a difficult opponent to beat. A student of the more classical, technical school of British wrestling, Sabre Jr.’s unorthodox style lends itself to upsetting some of the bigger names here such as Okada and, dare I say it, Tanahashi. At a recent Rev Pro show in Manchester, Sabre vowed to be the first Brit to win the G1 and also claimed he would take his title shot at Royal Quest in London. Could ‘Zack Sabre time’ turn into Zack Sabre’s time?
— Ryan Dilbert (@ryandilbert) July 7, 2019
The Ace of New Japan is probably winding down his in-ring career at present but could he have one more amazing run in G1 left as he did last year? The often imitated but never replicated bona fide star of NJPW has been used in angles helping to push younger talent, such as skyrocketing Jay White’s trajectory towards the IWGP Heavyweight Championship earlier this year. Could this be the role that he fulfils this year, then, while keeping his incredible legacy intact?
Banned from the historic Budokan after jumping off a balcony, Ibushi’s unpredictability is a real attraction. Last year, Ibushi’s path to the title shot at the Tokyo Dome seemed like a dead cert. After a legendary match against Tanahashi, the possibility of having Ibushi face off against tag team partner/friend/muse/lover/then IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, however, it was not to be. Hopefully, we can look forward to another exciting showing from Kota and with opponents such as Ospreay, Tana and Okada, this could rekindle some of his memorable recent rivalries.
The stoic yet somehow maybe the most enigmatic member of Los Ingobernables de Japon should surely look forward to making it to the block finals this year. He consistently delivers great quality matches and is able to mix up mat wrestling with some more high flying attacks in the form of his Keiji Mutoh inspired moonsault.
It’s also a shame he’s in a separate block to Yano, as Yano’s attempts to get out of the Paradise Lock have become a low key highlight of the block stages. In short, SANADA is one to watch this year.
SANADA’s title success has come more in the form of his tag team partnership with EVIL. Perhaps not given enough credit as a single’s performer, could this be EVIL’s first year of making a name for himself? Despite not enjoying much singles success, EVIL has had great matches with the likes of Chris Jericho. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against some of the other power players in the competition.
Bad Luck Fale
The Rogue General is the biggest, baddest wrestler in the G1. Last year, his attitude was to fly in the face of the New Japan establishment by tearing a swathe of destruction through his opponents in the midst of re-establishing Bullet Club as an unpredictable force to be reckoned with as the faction split with sub-group the Elite. Fale’s mission will no doubt be the same this year – destroy opponents at all costs.
We haven’t seen much of Archer as a singles competitor recently with the Suzuki-gun member appearing almost exclusively as one half of the Killer Elite Squad. Archer’s destructive tendencies seem to exert themselves from the moment he steps through the curtain. The scourge of audience members, announcers and Young Lions alike, it would be tempting to write Archer off as too wild to get anywhere in the G1. However, he is one of the biggest men in this competition. For a huge wrestler, his agility and speed are incredible. I’m looking forward to seeing what Archer can bring to the table this year.
When it comes to speed and agility, though, there is none better than Ospreay. The first man to truly establish himself as an Openweight in New Japan by securing the NEVER title and then, a few months later, win the Best of the Super Juniors and then the Junior Heavyweight title, Ospreay has made a big impact in the first half of 2019. His dedication to the company and his single-mindedness in achieving his goals have served him well this year. However, being the first man to enter the New Japan Cup, the BOSJ and the G1 all in the same year might not be enough. I would love to see Will go all the way in this competition but, as the lightest man in the G1, this is going to be an uphill struggle for the Aerial Assassin.
A wildcard entry in the A block. Recently returning to Japan after a stint in WWE as Hideo Itami, most fans expected KENTA to return to his original promotion NOAH. However, KENTA made waves by joining NJPW and was announced as an entrant in the G1. Having been away from the stronger style of Japanese puro for a while, it remains to be seen how quickly KENTA will adapt back to the world of stiff kicks and hard knocks after his stint Stateside.
Naito is one of the best wrestlers in New Japan, period. His matches are always entertaining and he’s no stranger to the IWGP Heavyweight title picture. The OG Ungovernable has made no bones about the value he places on the title so winning the G1 is surely an absolute must. While many believe that the A block is where it’s at, there is such a depth of talent in block B that I can’t imagine Naito having a bad match with any of the entrants here.
Ishii is a man seemingly carved from granite and his performance in the G1 over the last couple of years has been rock solid. The Stone Pitbull is not to be messed with and I wouldn’t count him out of having a real shot of finishing high up the block. With United States Champion Jon Moxley in the same block, I think an unorthodox clash of styles could make for a potential upset by Ishii. And what about the prospect of Ishii against Shingo? Both men are powerhouses and could literally tear the roof off.
Juice has had his fair share of ups and downs over the last year. In the previous G1, he was suffering from an arm injury that really held him back. However, the Lifeblood leader’s spirit and courage are not to be easily discounted. Rekindling his old NJPW Dojo rivalry with Jay White would also be an interesting by-product of this G1.
Known for his cheating, wily ways, last year Yano seemed to turn over a new leaf, at least for a while. As we were reminded of Yano’s experience as an amateur wrestler in his younger days Yano actually started wrestling his opponents in the G1. However, this was characteristically short-lived. Could we see a return of a more serious Yano or just more the same from this perennial crowd-pleaser?
Goto has had some wars in the G1 in the past, battling against the likes of Kenny Omega and Minoru Suzuki. Despite his best efforts, he has previously been crowded out of the running by the likes of Naito, Okada, et al. However, he does put in a solid showing every year, it’s just a shame it’s never quite enough. But with all of the new blood entering this year, maybe Goto will have something to prove.
The leader of Bullet Club has courted much controversy over the last year. After winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Switchblade Jay White’s reign was ended by his former Chaos stablemate Okada. We can only believe that the ‘knife pervert’ has his eyes on the prize in the shape of a Tokyo Dome title shot. Perhaps his evil goatee will give him just the edge he needs. Either that or the ever-meddling Gedo in his corner.
A legitimate phenomenon, Cobb is a first-time G1 entrant and if anyone does, the former Olympian has the potential to upset some of the more experienced entrants this year. Jeff has long deserved a push and this might just be it.
Shingo has presented himself as an Openweight since joining New Japan last year and he deserves a good run in the G1, having proved himself a dominant force in the junior division. Shingo’s amazing showing in the BOSJ competition stands the Dragon in good stead. Who else is excited to see Shingo square off against his long-time friend and fellow LIJ member Naito?
Speaking of excitement, who can’t wait to hear Taichi’s wonderful singing voice? No? The former NEVER Openweight Champion comes to this G1 as an outsider in terms of the winning stakes but in terms of potential to cause serious damage, the unpredictable Suzuki-gun alumni cannot be underestimated.
The real wildcard of the whole G1, the Mox has been making waves since leaving WWE and arriving first in AEW and then in New Japan. Having won the IWGP United States title and seemingly adopted Shota Umino, Moxley looks to secure a shot at the big time in Japan. Moxley’s affiliation with NJPW will only serve to raise the company’s profile in the US as they attempt to break WWE’s monopoly.
What is a G1 without the King of professional wrestling? Unfortunately, we’ll find out over the next few weeks as Minoru Suzuki is not an entrant in this G1. However, while many will mourn the lack of pro wrestling ghoul, Suzuki, this does serve to set up an angle whereby an angry Suzuki disrupts the G1 in any way he can, similar to Tama Tonga’s string of disqualifications in last year’s tournament in an act of rebellion against New Japan management. Except with so much more violence. And let’s face it, Suzuki-gun are great at this kind of thing having run an invasion angle at rival promotion NOAH a few years ago.
In all honesty, it’s too close to call for me, especially in the A block. Will Zack Sabre Jr. fulfil his promise and win the G1 and then take his title shot at Royal Quest at the end of the summer?
It would be incredible to see Kota Ibushi go all the way this year but in a field that includes Okada and Tanahashi, it’s difficult to predict what will happen.
In the B block, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see Jon Moxley going all the way to the final but would New Japan push a newcomer that quickly over their homegrown talent? It’s difficult to say. Perhaps it’s Naito’s year again, then. Or perhaps Jay White will make his way to the final and head on to the Tokyo Dome main event to challenge Okada.
There are always possibilities.
With NJPW’s continuing expansion into the US and overseas market, this year’s G1 is shaping up to be a defining event for the company. As NJPW expands its US presence with a slate of events that bring the G1 to those shores for the first time, G1 Climax 29 showcases some of the best talents in the world today and we’re all the richer for it.
All images courtesy of NJPW1972.com