Sunday, July 8, 2018

G1 Climax 28 (2018) Guide

What is the G1 Climax?
The G1 (Grade One) Climax is New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest tournament of the year.  Once again, 19 of the world's best wrestlers and Toru Yano have been divided into two blocks of 10 where they will compete, round-robin style, in singles matches with a 30 minute time limit to be the one who earns the most points in their block. A win gets you two points, a tie means one, and a loss receives nothing. On August 13th the winners of each block will meet in the final a no time limit match for a chance to face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan's biggest event of the year (It's like Wrestlemania, but it clocks in at well under six hours).

Where can I watch it and will I be able to understand the commentary?
You can watch the entire thing streamed or on VOD on New Japan World. A subscription costs 999 Yen per month which at the time of this writing is just over 9 US Dollars. As New Japan is really pushing their English language content this year, every show will have English commentary. The shows are generally uploaded very quickly after the livestream. In addition to letting you watch shows live, your New Japan World subscription will grant you access to much of New Japan’s back catalog including the recommended matches included for this year’s competitors.

Okay, but why should I care?:
Because New Japan has some of the best wrestlers in the world. and over the past few years they have regularly produced some of the best matches on the planet. However, unlike the WWE, which also has some of the best wrestlers in the world in part because they've taken on a lot of former G1 participants they don't typically just have their stars randomly wrestle 1 on 1 matches (see Jeff Hardy vs The Miz on Smackdown). Instead the big names typically face off in multi-man tag matches leading up to singles confrontations (often over titles) on big shows. However, tournaments are an exception and for heavyweights the only other singles tournament on the New Japan calendar is the 16-man, single elimination, no champions allowed New Japan Cup which between all four rounds means only 15 singles matches. Since 2011, The G1 has typically had 20 participants (excepting 2012 which had 18 and 2014 which had 22) which has meant 91 singles matches over the course of 4 weeks. Not only does this mean a lot of fresh match-ups, but the wrestlers are able to tell individual stories that develop tournament unfolds. As a result, over the past few years the G1 Climax has reliably produced some of the year's best wrestling.

Now without further FAQ, let's kick off the competitor bios. These will be listed in the order they were placed in New Japan's select-a-fighter sceen from the intro video
Catch the video here 


Once in a Century TalentHiroshi Tanahashi
Tanahashi is so pure he can't even play a heel wrestler in a movie without being a good guy

Who is he?
Tanahashi's combination of drive, charisma, and in-ring ability have made him a fixture of the main event scene for well over a decade now. His fantastic performances in the last decade and a half have been credited with reviving interest in New Japan after some of the company's darkest years. I don't think its a reach to say that Tanahashi's reign as the Ace of New Japan was critical for laying the groundwork for New Japan's current golden era. In his long tenure at the top of New Japan, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship seven times and became a two time G1 winner. However at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Kazuchika Okada defeated Tanahashi in the main event signaling the end of Tanahashi's reign as ace of the promotion. A beloved and (mostly) squeaky clean babyface for his entire career, recent years have seen the ageing Tanahashi adopt a more aggressive edge in order to compete with younger top level talent like Okada, Omega, and Naito. Lately though, he has been coming up short more often. While he always promises to rebuild and come back stronger, one has to wonder if even a man of his (once in a century) talent can keep that promise at age 41 and with so many miles on his legs (this will be Tanahashi's 17th G1).Still, while he may no longer sit at the top Tanahashi is beloved by the New Japan fans and is capable of putting on tremendous matches.

As far as personality goes, Tanahashi has been the biggest of babyfaces for his entire career. When I think Tanahashi, i I think of him slapping hands and posing with fans' teddy bears dressed like him on the way to the ring, before flying around and winning with his High Fly Flow (A great looking frog splash that he likes to do to opponents standing ringside during G1 season) then telling the crowd he loves them (literally) and delighting them with some air guitar (literally and spectacularly). Only to slap more hands on the way back up the ramp, stopping only to wipe some of his sweat on one of the many towels bearing his name being offered to him by his fans (This one has always struck me as a bit weird personally, but the fans he does it for always go nuts for it)

What's he been up to?
After a strong showing in the last G1 that ended with him finishing 2nd in his block, Tanahashi set about defending his Intercontinental championship. While he recorded 3 successful defenses including a win at Wrestle Kingdom, he would lose the title to Minoru Suzuki at The New Beginning in Sapporo. Tanahashi would recover quickly, making it to the finals of the New Japan cup held less than two months later. However, a loss to Zack Sabre Jr in the finals was followed up with a failed challenge of Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. With his recent struggles Tanahashi might feel that he has to win this G1 to have a chance to play a major role at Wrestle Kingdom.
I think we'll see a continuation of the story of the old ace coming up just short. To me that means he either loses in the final or he loses a 'win and in' final match of the A block against Okada. The other way I could see it going is the grind of the G-1 schedule finally starting to get to Tanahashi and leaving him mathematically eliminated by the time he faces Okada. Still Tanahashi hasn't finished with less than 10 points since they expanded the G1 from 16 men and I don't think he'll start this year

Recommended G1 Match:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata (G1 Climax 25 - Night 13). (Intros start at 2:35:05; Bell at 2:38:58)
At one point, Shibata and Tanahashi (along with former New Japan wrestler and current WWE superstar and ball puncher Shinsuke Nakamura) were known as 'The New Three Musketeers' of New Japan. All three were expected to lead New Japan into the future, but in 2005 Shibata left New Japan to become a freelancer. Upon his return to New Japan full time, Tanahashi would expressed disdain for Shibata's decision to leave in interviews. He accused him of abandoning the promotion during rough times, and only returning after Tanahashi had done the difficult work of rebuilding New Japan's fanbase and credibility. Shibata took this as poorly as one might expect and as a result their matches always seemed to have both man working with a little extra fire.

Tanahashi's High Fly Flow

"Runaway King Kong" Togi Makabe
Pictured here unable to handle how many options he has for sweets.

Who is he?
Togi Makabe loves two things, sweets and hitting people. Seriously, he once had a tv show about his love of desserts and you can still check out his food blog. A former G1 Climax winner and IWGP Heavyweight champion, Makabe is a brawler through and through. He walks out with a chain around his neck ready to pummel his opponents with stiff strikes and lariats to set up his Spider German Suplex off the second rope and finish them with the King Kong Knee Drop, a diving knee drop from the top rope typically delivered to the back of an opponent's head. The Japanese crowd loves his brutal style and wild persona. While Makabe will be one of this year's oldest competitors at 45 he can still draw an impressive reaction from the crowd, even if you can't hear it during his entrance (New Japan rarely pays for the music rights to broadcast Makabe's theme, Tomoyasu Hotei's - Immigrant Song (remix), instead typically muting the live audio and playing a dub theme or just leaving he silence)
What's he been up to?
Since his regular tag partner, Tomoaki Honma, was injured in March of last year, Makabe hasn't been up to much of anything outside of last year's G1. While Honma made a long awaited return on June 23rd, it is unlikely that will result in major action until the World Tag League. At age 45, one might question how many more G1s Makabe has in him after this one, but he is still quite popular and his brawling style means he can still put out a great match.
Makabe finished with 8 points in the last three G1s, but with his G1 career almost certainly winding down I wouldn't be surprised to see that fall this year. 6 points

Recommended G1 Watch:
Togi Makabe vs Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Climax 27 - Night Three)
At a combined age of 85 Makabe and Ishii put on another in their series of fantastic brawls last year.

Makabe's Spider German Suplex and King Kong Knee Drop

Michael Elgin “Big Mike”
Elgin get the same boring picture as last year. For reasons.

Who is he?
Michael Elgin was reportedly considering retirement from professional wrestling to make a late run at a professional baseball before he was given a spot in the 2015 G1. His performances in that G1 were good enough to get him signed to a full-time contract and he has remained a New Japan regular ever since. By mid-2016 he was popular enough among the fans that he replaced Tanahashi in New Japan's first ever ladder match after Tanahashi was forced to pull out to to injury. Much of his popularity among the crowd has followed from his friendship with fellow gym rat Tanahashi as well as the crowd's love of his power moves including his Elgin Bomb finisher, a spinning sitout powerbomb typrically preceded by a turnbuckle powerbomb.

What's he been up to?

You absolutely cannot do that
Oh come on do I have to?


What's he been up to?
To say Michael Elgin has had a controversial year since the last G1 would be an understatement. In October of 2017, a St. Louis based wrestling fan who goes by the name Moses Malone on twitter posted tweets & screenshots accusing a professional wrestler employed by Glory Pro, the promotion owned at the time by Michael Elgin, of sexual assault. By November, the story had spread more widely and the wrestler in question was fired. In December, she posted additional tweets stating that she contacted Elgin immediately after the incident happened in March and that he tried to manipulate her in order to defend him until the incident went wide in November and the wrestler was fired. As things developed, a lot of information regarding Elgin's poor handling of the incident was revealed along with other incidents that spotlighted some unflattering personal character traits. Ultimately this resulted in Elgin selling Glory Pro and deleting his twitter account (he has since returned to twitter on a new account) as well as him being dropped from a number of indie bookings. You can read what I found to be an impressively thorough documenting of the event from The Gorilla Position here and you can find Moses Malone's self-curated tweets on the matter here as well as the interview she gave to Pro Wrestling Ponderings here.

While he has often been present in-ring, Elgin has not been up to much in New Japan since last year's G1 except for a very brief reign as NEVER Openweight champion.

Recommended G1 Watch:
I hope that Elgin's pending court case against a victim of sexual assault has the same result as this match.

The Elgin Bomb Combo

“The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada
Okada with them longboys his mom made for him
Who is he?
In early 2010, sent a young rookie who they felt might be the future of their company to TNA. They management there would take care of him and teach him about the American style of wrestling and how to connect with a wider audience. His treatment at their hands was so bad, it is said to have been a major reason why New Japan severed their relationship with TNA. Perhaps the most egregious example of that treatment was the 'Okato' gimmick. A parody of the character Kato from The Green Hornet. Why was Okada being saddled with a gimmick from a 1930s radio drama? Because TNA was promoting Seth Rogan's remake due to come out that year. Okada's job was to wear a crappy costume and accompany Samoa Joe (get it? because Okada is Japanese and Joe is fat?). While he never had a chance to make an impression on the American fans, his time at TNA taught him the importance of developing a character for himself. He returned to Japan having invented 'The Rainmaker' persona, a hybrid of 'The Million Dollar Man' Ted DeBiase, 'The Nature Boy' Rick Flair, and 'The Legend Killer' Randy Orton. Okada returned at Wrestle Kingdom VI and made an immediate splash, winning the IWGP heavyweight title within three months. He has been a fixture of the main event ever since and at Wrestle Kingdom 10, he finally defeated his rival Hiroshi Tanahashi at WK10, to secure his spot as the ace of the company. He currently leads the popular CHAOS faction. His finisher is a short-arm lariat named the Rainmaker which he uses to murder people (and raise money for the cancer research charity he started). He is a four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and a two time G1 Climax winner. He has won the Best Bout Award from Tokyo Sports five out for the last six years. Also, he has the best dropkick in the business and once made an entrance with an animatronic dionosaur and a buster sword, so that's pretty sweet.
What's he been up to?
Just putting the finishing touches on arguably the greatest championship reign of all-time with arguably the greatest match of all-time. After setting a record of 12 successful defenses of the IWGP Heavyweight championship and holding the championship for just shy of two full years, New Japan's ace finally lost the title to Kenny Omega on June 9th.

Okada has not won his block since 2014, usually because he is often holding the IWGP Heavyweight championship during G1 season. I think without the title, this year he is due to make at least the finals. I think Okada will hit a lot of Rainmakers, win a lot of matches, and win his block before losing in the finals, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him take the whole thing. Betting on Okada appearing in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom has been the smart money lately. Recommended G1 Watch:
Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (G1 Climax 25 - Night 18)
The type of match I am talking about when I say the G1 gives New Japan a chance to have unexpected matches. Nakamura and Okada were both members of CHAOS and as a result rarely competed against each other. Here they wrestle on the final match of their block, winner advances to the finals.

The Rainmaker

"Switchblade" Jay White
Because he's from New Zealand I can imagine any "That's not a knife" jokes made would annoy him extra

Who is he?
Don't let his Gaijinness and leather clad Knife Pervert gimmick fool you, Jay White is no recent import. The New Zealand native already had a few years of experience under his belt when at the age of 22 and with the recommendation of fellow Kiwi Bad Luck Fale, White joined the New Japan Dojo (you can read more about the Dojo system here). He would wrestle as a young lion for years first in multi-man tags eventually establishing a one-sided singles rivalry with fellow young lion David Finlay, White beat Finlay everytime to Finlay's increasing frustration. White left for excursion after Dominion in 2016 and would spend his nearly 18 months abroad working around North America and the UK, especially with Ring of Honor. He returned in November of last year with months of promo videos teasing the coming of "Switchblade". He immediately attacked Hiroshi Tanahashi and challenged him to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. While he would lose that match, White recovered quickly by teasing joining the Bullet Club at New Years Dash before delivering his Blade Runner finisher to Kenny Omega and joining CHAOS instead. His presence has brought some tension to the usually very chummy CHAOS with Switchblade pushing for more competitiveness and edge from his new stablemates. He is one of two competitors making his G1 debut this year.

What's he been up to?
White would go on to defeat Omega for the United States Championship at The New Beginning in Sapporo, but lost it to Juice Robinson at the recent G1 special. The Knife Pervert nickname came about thanks to CHAOS teammate Chuck Taylors annual drunk live-tweet Wrestle Kingdom and delete it the morning after tradition. Jay White has since embraced it including releasing one of the least publicly wearable wrestling t-shirts of all-time (a very high bar to clear).

It can be difficult to predict just how well someone will fare in their G1 debut, but with Jay White having just lost his title I think he'll have win more than he loses. I wouldn't expect him to take the whole thing, but I'd put him at 10 points and watch for him to potentially beat Okada in their match.

Recommended Watches:
Since this is Jay White's first G1, I'll recommend two matches from Jay White's past instead.

At this point the White/Finlay rivalry dynamic had been well established and Finlay was clearly tired of losing. This time however Finlay had just finished wrestling in the Best of the Super Juniors where he was called up from the ranks of young lions as a last minute injury replacement. While Finlay lost nearly every match. He pulled out a rare victory for a young lion over an established main roster wrestler against Gedo on the penultimate night of the tournament. Could he ride that momentum into a win over his young lion rival?

Nearly two years later the two men, no longer young lions, would renew the rivalry over Jay White's newly captured title in perhaps their most intense in ring performance to date.

Switchblade with the reversal into the Blade Runner

"Head Hunter" Yoshi-Hashi
This is a picture of an actual T-shirt sold by Yoshi-Hashi 

Who is he?
Yoshi-Hashi is a long time member of CHAOS whose look is somewhat based on the Monkey King from the Chinese story Journey to the West. For a long time he existed in NJPW to take pins for Shinsuke Nakamura and Okada in multi-man CHAOS tags, but starting in 2016 he found a new fire and earned a spot in his first G1. He earned 6 points including two off a win over Kenny Omega but would stumble in next year's G1 earning only 4 points. However, the three most important things to know about Yoshi-Hashi are that 1: Shinsuke Nakamura gave him the nickname 'Tacos' because of his time in Mexico. He hates it, but it was Nakamura so it stuck. 2: His lariat is garbage, and 3: For some unexplainable reason he had the English words “loose explosion” printed across the back of his pants over his butt. This was in place for a number of years during all of which CHAOS has several English speaking members and apparently no one has explained why whatever he was going for with that required a second pass. I asked his fellow CHAOS member Baretta about this once at a meet & greet and he said that he thought they were going for something like 'loose cannon' like a Brian Pillman thing, but did they ever miss with that rephrasing. Also, his finisher is called Karma. It is a pumphandle half nelson driver and is pretty neat, but he also uses the butterfly lock as a secondary finisher. It is significantly less good. What's he been up to?
Yoshi-Hashi still takes some of pins just not all the pins. Since the last G1, he had a failed challenge for Kenny Omega's United States title in October of last year and he sure has been present since then. Prediction:
Yoshi-Hashi will score either 4 or 6 points. I'm hoping for six. He deserves it for keeping Taichi out of the G1. You stay healthy Tacos!

Recommended G1 Watch:
YOSHI-HASHI vs Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Climax 27 - Night 7)
Another CHAOS vs. CHAOS intrafaction G1 match. Ishii always seems to put a little extra into these.

Yoshi-Hashi's Karma

"The Underboss" Bad Luck Fale
While this may look like the same pic as last year's guide, I assure you I went back to the source and took a fresh screenshot.  That's my commitment to quality.

Who is he?

Bad Luck Fale is a a former rugby player from New Zealand who been the primary muscle of Bullet Club and official #2 on the org chart since the group’s founding, a time when Prince Devitt, now Finn Balor, was riding him around like Freak the Mighty. While leaders have come and gone Fale has remained and has stayed consistent in his role. Fale serves as Bullet Club's giant and has often proved formidable opposition for top talent like Tanahashi and Okada. While he certainly has his flaws (e.g. he lacks the agility of a Braun Strowman and often seems to gas in longer matches), the right wrestler can have a very good match with Fale and he is great in supporting roles. Also, while I personally find his Grenade finisher (chokeslam transitioned into a thumb thrust to the opponent's throat) a bit lame, his less commonly used Bad Luck Fall (a throwing cruxifix powebomb) looks fantastic and is super protected (In Fale's five years with New Japan no one has ever kicked out of it. This will be Fale's fifth G1 and he has never finished with less than 10 points.

What's he been up to?
It seems like he may have been trying to address some of his previous flaws. Recent social media pictures have shown Fale losing weight and looking relatively trim in time for this G1. Notably he was absent for the formation of the Firing Squad, but it would make sense for him to join with fellow original Bullet Club member as he has never seemed particularly close to Kenny Omega. Could this portend a big push for Fale?


Probably not. Expect about 10 points again from the Underboss, but don't be surprised to see him wrestling at a faster pace this year.

Recommended G1 Watch:

Bad Luck Fale vs AJ Styles (G1 Climax 25 - Night 15)  (Intros start at 1:59:54; Bell at 2:03:14).
While the CHAOS vs CHAOS matches are typically hard fought matches between friends/training partners. Bullet Club vs. Bullet Club matches have always had the potential to get much more complicated. Enjoy early sightings of Luke Gallows and (will never get to use this nickname in WWE) 'The Machine Gun' Karl Anderson as well as the Bullet Club OG Tama Tonga. The tall blonde kid is, that is Cody Hall, son of Scott Hall. At the time he was the Bullet Club young lion he no longer wrestlers for New Japan and is currently employed by Pro Wrestling NOAH. Also, be on the lookout for Jay White (and his mohawk) performing his Young Lion duties at ringside

Bad Luck Fale's Bad Luck Fall

Hangman Page
What an on brand pick up he was for the Bullet Club

Who is he?
This year's other G1 debutante. Adam Page joined the Bullet Club and became Hangman Page in May of 2016 when he turned on his fellow Ring of Honor wrestlers and hung Chris Sabin over the top rope with a hangman's noose. Shortly after, he debuted in New Japan where he has frequently impressed in multi-man tags and challenged for the IWGP Tag Team Championship with various bullet club teammates twice. For the last two years he has teamed with Yujiro Takahashi in the world tag league where they have done well, but not managed to advance to the final.

What's he been up to?
Well he was in the world tag league with Yujiro. After that he challenged for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship, but was defeated by Jay White. Notably, during the struggle for the leadership of the Bullet Club story Page was really the only Bullet Club member entirely on Cody's side.

Unlike Jay White, I think Hangman Page will struggle to find many wins in the G1. This is mostly due to how long it took me to find a clip of him actually using his finisher in New Japan so I could GIF it. Still I think he'll impress with his performances and make a name for himself beyond the dick joke. 6 points

Recommended Watch:
As this is Hangman Page's G1 debut, he does not have a G1 match to recommend, so in the tradition of intrafaction G1 matches here is one from the Bullet Club leadership struggle storyline.

Hangman Page's Rite of Passage

“King of Darkness” EVIL

Pictured here on the right looking particularly sane
Who is he?
When former New Japan young lion Takaaki Watanabe returned from his excursion in late 2015, it was clear he would be a very different presence than he was when he left. As one of the first recruits to Tetsuya Naito's LIJ stage, he was rechristened EVIL and given an elaborate entrance costume with robes, a scythe, and some finger lasers. Using his array of vicious strikes and a variety of suplexes as well as his finisher (also called EVIL because as the man regularly states 'Everything is EVIL), EVIL's put together an impressive G1 last year. He scored 12 points to finish third in his block and in the process broke Okada's winning streak of one-on-one matches.

What's he been up to?
Since his excellent G1 last year EVIL has cooled a bit. A hectic stretch around the end of the year saw Him and SANADA winning the World Tag League, before losing the NEVER 6-man titles (which they held with BUSHI, only to win the IWGP Heavyweight tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom. SANADA and Evil held those titles for about six months before losing them to the newly heavyweight Young Bucks. While he has yet to win a major singles title, EVIL has challenged for both the IWGP and ROH heavyweight championship in the past year.

Last year's G1 seemed to indicate that Evil would be more of a player moving forward, so I don't think Evil will lose more than he wins. Still his 12 points last year was surprising. I think he'll finish with 10 this year. That said, last year I predicted he would take a step back from his first G1 where he scored 8 points and that obviously didn't happen, so don't be shocked if he wins his block just to spite me.

Recommended G1 Watch:
Spoiler For the Ending of this Match:
I remembered this match because Kenny Omega knocks EVIL silly with a V-trigger right before they go to the finish, so Kenny spends a minute or so trying (and failing) to wake him up before finally hoisting him up like a sack of potatoes to deliver a surprisingly safe One Winged Angel.

Evil's Evil on someone who has done some Evil

Minoru Suzuki “The Man with the Worst Personality in the World”
Suzuki seen here in the rain about to slap the spirit out of Kazuchika Okada to celebrate 30 years of terrorizing the Japanese wrestling scene

Who is he?
Minoru Suzuki is a 50-year old man who I would cross the street to avoid. A student of legendary western catch wrestlers Billy Robinson and Karl Gotch as well as Japanese legend Yoshiaki Fujiwara of Fujiwara armbar fame, Suzuki appears to reveal in the pain he causes his opponents, toying with them as he smirks at the boos reigning from the crowd and utilizing the kinds of underhanded tactics you need to use to earn the nickname “The Man with the Worst Personality in the World”. Suzuki holds a life-time MMA record 30-19 and has won titles and accolades in the worlds of both professional wrestling and MMA, but had never captured a singles title in New Japan before he returned with his Suzuki-gun stable in 2017. Suzuki-gun's frequent interference in his and each others matches remain a point of consternation for the New Japan fans, but has lead to him capturing both the NEVER Openweight and Intercontinental championships in the short time since his return. In addition to all that, Suzuki has one of the best theme songs in wrestling, Kaze Ni Nare, which recently received a brand new mix to celebrate Suzuki's 30th in-ring year. Look for Suzuki to slap on an array of painful looking submissions and use a variety of underhanded tactics before hitting his Gotch-style Piledriver finisher.

What's he been up to?
Last year Suzuki finished the G1 with four wins, four loses, and one time limit draw. At Wrestle Kingdom, he lost both the NEVER Openweight Championship and his hair in a match with Hirooki Goto. He also found time for a brief run with the Intercontinental title. Most recently he put on a two-day open-air free admission wrestling festival to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of his debut as a pro wrestler. He picked Okada as his opponent because he is 30-years old and that means Suzuki has been wrestling for Okada's entire life. He is also the current holder of the RevPro Undisputed British Tag Team Championship with Zack Sabre Junior.

Despite his age Suzuki can still put on really excellent matches and Suzuki-gun interference is usually kept at lower levels for G1 season. Still, last year Suzuki split with wins and losses and with him having passed his 50th birthday it is difficult to predict him doing much better than the previous year. I still can't see him getting less than 8 points though and I think he will beat either Tanahashi or Okada, but not both.

Recommended G1 Watch:
This match, featuring the at the time IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles, was many people's match of the year for 2014.

Minoru Suzuki's Gotch Style Piledriver

Block A Summary/Prediction:
This block does seem set up for Okada at first and second glance. His major competition seems either too old (Tanahashi/Suzuki) or second tier (Fale/EVIL). Expect to see Okada make it to the finals


"The Flamboyant" Juice Robinson
Will the outfit get even more flamboyant for the G1? I sure hope so.

Who is he?
In 2015, NXT superstar CJ Parker, stuck in a position taking pins to introduce WWE's indie/internatonal signing of the week (a position now dutifully held by Chris Hero), decided to leave the WWE and try to make his own name. With little experience outside of his time in the WWE system, Juice Robinson was perhaps an unlikely target to be signed to New Japan. However, he made calls to some contacts he made in NJPW during the week of Wreslemania 30 and received a try-out and then a full-time offer from New Japan in October. He quickly impressed the veterans of New Japan with his humility and eagerness to learn. While most international signings with previous experience at a large company are brought to the main stage immediately, Juice offered to shave his head join the New Japan Dojo. While New Japan brass declined to have him lose his distinctive hair, Juice did spend some time as a young lion. He did not spend too long at the trainee level though and rapidly established himself as a solid member of the New Japan roster. His positive attitude and respect for the history and legacy of Japanese wrestling as a whole and New Japan in particular, at one point saying that he 'May only be a gaijin, but (he) wants to be a gaijin who wrestles like a Japanese pro wrestler”. At last year's G1 he fought with "Heart and Honor" and surpassed the expectations of many by scoring 8 points in his first outing while becoming known for his passionate post-match interviews. Juice loves to throw his weight around, so watch out for his Cannonball as well as his senton and his finisher, Pulp Friction aka the Unprettier aka the inverted double underhook facebuster.

What's he been up to?
For the last two years, I've voted for Juice Robinson for most improved wrestler in the RSPW awards. Given that he has just won his first singles title in New Japan by capturing the United States Championship, I'm just going to reproduce my comment from this year's vote to give you one last chance to get on the Juice Robinson bandwagon: Happy to be voting for Juice Robinson for Most Improved for the second year in a row. If my current projections based on his last two year's improvements hold, Juice should be world champion by 2021, the greatest wrestler to have ever lived by 2025, and by 2030 he'll have evolved himself into a being of pure babyface spirt, where even thinking about him will give you that feeling like the one I had watching the end of the Jeff Hardy vs. Undertaker ladder match live. You know, the part where Jim Ross is shouting for Jeff to "make himself famous". That's just statistics.

Juice put up 8 points in his first G1, and he has a belt now. Belts come with expectations. Expectations like winning more than you lose. 10 points, but 8 points again would not be surprising.

Recommended G1 Watch:
It's hard to look bad wrestling Okada these days, but even in that context Juice gives a fantastic performance as a man carrying an injury into what was already looking like the biggest challenge of his career. He really shows why his nickname/theme for the last G1 was heart and honor. Check out his interview hyping the Okada match (Juice starts around 6:45) and post-match interview (~16:45) as well for an example of why Kevin Owens recently called him the "best promo in wrestling"
Juice Robinson's Pulp Friction

"Fierce Warrior of CHAOS" Hirooki Goto
Pictured being reborn under a waterfall after missing out on the IWGP Heavyweight title yet again

Who is he?
New Japan's eternal bridesmaid and second-in-command of CHAOS, Hirooki Goto has had eight opportunities to fight for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and has come up short every time. Coming up short is so ingrained in his character that his current video package opens with a montage of him losing that ends with him accepting Okada's offer to join CHAOS in an effort to turn his fortunes around shortly before G1 26. That said his career has not been without success. He is the current NEVER Openweight champion, a two time Intercontinental Champion, a three time New Japan Cup winner, and a one time G1 Climax winner. He also has a fantastic looking offense with some truly great moves including his Ushigoroshi (fireman's carry neckbreaker) and his GTR finisher (a spinning headlock lariat into a neckbreaker). However as he approaches 40, time seems to be running low to capture the elusive top belt.

What's he been up to?
After having a very average 10 point G1 last year, Goto defeated Minoru Suzuki in a hair vs hair match for the the NEVER Openweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom. He has held it for almost the entire year, briefly losing it in a three way match in which he was not pinned before winning it back eight days later.

Goto will score 10 points and get at least one big win, but will lose to some people lower on the card to set up future defenses on the road to Wrestle Kindom. Looking at the schedule I'll guess his big win will be over Kota Ibushi.

Recommended G1 Watch:
Hirooki Goto vs Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Climax 25 - Night 14) (Intros start at 2:32:45; Bell at 2:36:04)
While this match would be CHAOS vs CHAOS today, Goto had not joined up at this point.

"The Stone Pitbull" Tomohiro Ishii
AKA The Armani Pitbull
Who is he?
Tomohiro Ishii raises a fascinating question. Can a man who so many would argue is one of the top 10 wrestlers in the world right now still be underrated? New Japan's unsung hero, Tomohiro Ishii, is a man with as much talent as he has little neck. The Stone Pitbull is a tough veteran who can have a great match with anyone. Seriously, whenever I have trouble deciding which G1 match to recommend for one of his competitors I think 'Did he have a G1 match with Ishii recently? That'll be at least great'. He can brawl, he can tell great stories, and he may be the best seller New Japan has. His finisher, a vertical drop brainbuster may not be spectacular, but just like him is subtly excellent. He has never won a major singles title, but is a four time Never Openweight Champion.

What's he been up to?
Quiet excellence as per usual. Ishii has not made much noise in New Japan this year, but did branch out with British promotion RevPro winning the Undisputed British heavyweight title in April before losing it to Minoru Suzuki at Strong Style Evolved UK on July 1st.

Will impress people with the quality and consistency of his matches while he elevates everyone he steps foot in the ring with. He will not get more than 8 points.

Recommended G1 Watch:
The physical contrast between these two men makes for a great clash of styles as Ishii shows that while not as flashy as Kota he has every bit of the talent Kota has.

Tomohiro Ishii's Vertical Drop Brainbuster

"The Sublime Master Thief" Toru Yano
Yano is always happiest when he's moving merch

Who is he?
Based on his in-ring style, one might be surprised to learn that Yano was actually a decorated Greco-Roman wrestler before joining up with new Japan. CHAOS's chief of shenanigans and head entrepreneur, Yano is more interested in hawking his T-shirts and Chaos DVDs then being the best in the ring. Yano's matches are typically shorter comedic affairs wherein Yano attempts to quickly steal a victory using his tricks. The most common ones being taking off the turnbuckle pad before hitting his opponent with it, whipping them into the now exposed turnbuckle, and hitting people with the chair he brings to the ring. Then he tries to finish the off with a low blow and some sort of cradle pin. Some people love Yano's matches for the comedy and change of pace they provide. Others hate them for basically the same reason. Also, Yano once had a feud with Rob Van Dam where he stole RVD's taunt but instead or RVD he says Yano-Tor-Oh. He continues it to this day.

What's he been up to?
Selling merch, getting his schtick in during multi-man tags, punching people in the dick. Same as it ever was.

Yano will score either 8 or 10 points including at least 2 victories over big names. Yano is the tournament's wild-card anyone can get caught by his antics and fall prey to a low-blow and roll-up and it basically doesn't count. I'll make my pledge from last year an annual thing. If Toru Yano wins his block I will buy a Yano shirt and eat it.

Recommended G1 Watch:
While other wrestlers likely appreciate their Yano match for the rest it offers from the G1 grind, Kenny Omega has said that he appreciates the opportunity to return to his comedy wrestling roots. Expect their match this year to echo last year's in some strange ways.

Yano is me deciding if I'm going to gif a Yano finish or come up with a new joke this year

"The Best Bout Machine" Kenny Omega
The IWGP title really is a great looking belt

Who is he?
From the cleaner of the Bullet Club to IWGP Heavyweight champion Kenny Omega has been with New Japan full-time for four years now and has already done it all Junior Heavyweight Champion, G1 Winner, Intercontinental champion, Inaugural champion of a New Belt in the US title, and recent winner of the promotion's top prize. Kenny Omega was inspired to wrestle in Japan by seeing videos of Kota Ibushi wrestling for a Japanese comedy wrestling promotion called Dynamic Dream Team. Wanting to work with Ibushi, he filmed a match of himself wrestling a match outside the normal confines of a wrestling ring (matches in strange locations are a bit of a DDT specialty). This match actually: The Beginning. The video worked and Omega was invited to Japan to fight Ibushi, who he would eventually team with as The Golden Lovers. It was with the Golden Lovers that Kenny got his first exposure to New Japan. Eventually earning invites to the 2013 and 2014 Best of the Super Junors and joining Bullet Club once he signed full time in late 2014. Originally signed as a junior, he became the current leader of the Bullet Club when he kicked AJ Styles out in spectacular fashion in January of 2016, signaling his rise to heavyweights and quickly capturing the Intercontinental championship. After losing the title to Michael Elgin in NJPW's first ladder match, Kenny proceeded to win the G1 in his first ever appearance. His rivalry with Kazuchika Okada already stands as one of the best of all time and his recent victory in a no time limit two out of three falls match saw him capture New Japan's top prize. With the belt in hand he will certainly be looking to impress again in the G1. His finisher the One-Winged Angel, a one-handed electric chair driver, is probably the hottest finisher on the planet and no one in New Japan has ever kicked out of it And yes, it is a reference to Sephiroth.

What's he been up to?
Recently ended Okada's record reign with the IWGP Heavyweight Title. In many ways, this G1 will be Omega's victory lap. Parading his title around the country and getting a chance to the steal the show every other night. Not to mention, recently reunited with Kota Ibushi as part of the Golden Elite. I would guess he's feeling pretty good right now, even with Toma Tonga offically opening up a new branch in the Bullet Club power struggle.

As hot as he's been, I doubt he will become the first Heavyweight champion to win the G1 in the modern era. Still as champion he won't be far from the top of his block. 12 points minimum and probably losing to Ibushi in the effective block final

Recommended G1 Watch:
Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada (G1 Climax 27 - Night 18)
With the 60 minute time limit draw of his second IWGP title challenge still on his mind, Omega would need to find a way to beat the then champ in under 30 minutes if he wanted to steal the top spot in the block on the final night.

Kenny Omega's One Winged Angel

"Golden Star" Kota Ibushi
Kota (left) in the middle of a perfectly normal wrestling match. I heard the other guy in this picture takes care of orphans in Mexico now.  You should see his cousin wrestle though.

Who is he?
For many years glorious weirdo Kota Ibushi refused offers from the world's top promotions to fulfill his desire to work a schedule of his choosing all over the world. The one organization he has remained committed to is Dramatic Dream Team, the comedy pro wrestling promotion, where he debuted 2004. DDT's emphasis on fun has allowed Kota the creative freedom to wrestle blow-up dolls, have matches in forests/rivers, and moonsault off absurd objects. He first entered New Japan in 2009 as part of the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament and was a frequent Champion in the Junior division until he was announced as a surprise participant in the 2013 G1 marking his transition to the heavyweights. Such was his talent that New Japan agreed to sign Ibushi to a one year deal that also left him free to sign a three year contract with DDT making him the first wrestler to officially have two home promotions. New Japan would extend his contract twice before Ibushi would resign from both DDT and NJPW while recovering from a cerical disc herniation in February of 2016 and announce that while he was cleared to return to the ring he felt he could not handle the burden of working two schedules. As a freelancer, he worked for a number of different Japanese and American companies including competing in the WWE's Cruiserweight Classic where he took a Burning Hammer in a WWE ring, returning to his beloved DDT for one of their anniversary shows, and taking on the guise of the star of New Japan's recent anime Tiger Mask W, so that the previously fictional wrestler could face other opponents from the Anime as well as Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, he has returned to New Japan under his real name after signing a full time contract and is now getting ready to enter into his 4th G1. Expect to see him hitting plenty of his Kenny Omega inspired Kamigoye knee this G1.  

What's he been up to?
His story reuniting him with his Golden Lover Kenny Omega was a centerpiece of Omega's rise to the top, but the contrast between their heavyweight title records may be weighing on Kota. Kota has yet to capture a heavyweight prize in New Japan, but he'll likely have to go through his partner to make this G1 his first.

Kota Ibushi is my pick to take it all this year. He has always been treated like a top competitor, but without any title wins to show for it two years in he seems well overdue. Plus I very much would like to see 'The Golden Lovers explode' as this year's Wrestle Kingdom Headliner. I'd at the very least expect to see him in the finals.

Recommended G1 Watch:
Kota Ibushi vs Shinsuke Nakamura (G1 Climax 23 - Night 4)
I bet people from five years ago would've been shocked to learn that Kota would still be doing G1s and it would be Nakamura in the WWE using a ball punching gimmick.

Kota Ibushi's Komigoye

"Bad Boy" Tama Tonga
He usually breaks out the facepaint for G1 matches. 

Who is he?
One of the original members of the Bullet Club and son of the legandary Haku, Tama Tonga is typically featured along side his brothers Tanga Loa (as the Guerrillas of Destiny) and the currently injuired Hikuleo. He is frequently described by the English announce team as the 'best defensive wrestler in New Japan' a reference to his slippery style of movement. After fellow Bullet Club original Karl Anderson left for the WWE, Tama Tonga adopted his Gun Stun (jumping cutter) finisher.

What's he been up to?
Up until very recently, not much. He had a brief run with one of the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag belts, but has mostly been seen in multi-man tags otherwise. However at the end of the G1 Special in San Fransico, Tama Tonga lead his brother Tanga Loa and father Haku in a beatdown of the rest of Bullet Club reminiscent of the Prince Devitt Era Bullet Club. With a promise to bring back the dangerous Bullet Club of the past Tama Tonga suddenly seems poised to break out this G1

Tama Tonga scored 8 points in each of his first two G1s, but I think he'll make the jump to at least 10 this year based on recent developments. Expect him to play a part in spoiling the chances of one or two major players, especially Kenny Omega.

Recommended G1 Watch:
Tama Tonga giving a very different interpretation of a G1 performance here.

Tama Tonga's Gun Stun

"El Ingobernable" Tetsuya Naito
Pictured here preparing to stick a Tokyo Sports journalist with the check

Who is he?
Leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, winner of the previous G1, and my favorite wrestler, Tetsuya Naito's first G1 win in 2013 was met with skepticism. Eventually his match with Okada for the Heavyweight Championship was put against Shinsuke Nakamura's Intercontinental title defense against Hiroshi Tanahashi in a fan vote to decide which would be the main event. The Naito/Okada match lost handily. The crowd just seemed to consider him a bland version of Tanahashi and the attempt to position him as his successor was viewed as a failure. In response to this, Naito would returned to Mexico (where he had done his excursion as a young wrestler) and reunite with La Sombra who he had previously teamed with in Two World Tag Leagues (like a G1 but for Tag Teams and resting before Wrestle Kingdom). He joined La Sombra's stable Los Ingobernables and when he returned to New Japan shortly before the 2015 G1 he had a new shaggier look the 'ungovernable' attitude he picked up in Mexico, and a new finisher Destino, a modified standing shiranui. At first his obvious disdain towards the multi-man tags he was being placed him earned him the irony of the fans. He would only lean into this during G1 25 slowly strolling to the ring in a full suit which he did not even begin to slowly remove until his opponent was prepared to wrestle. During matches he would waste time by rolling to the outside to the ring and frequently taunted his opponents. Using tactics like this and his relaxed, but defiant attitude Naito built up huge amounts of heat with the fans and used this heat to build up three wrestlers returning from excursion and one from injury into the hottest stable in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Naito's attitude, confidence, and charisma plus great out of the ring moments like pretending he does not speak Japanese and insisting that he be questioned in“Español” eventually brought him the fan adoration he lacked before his first G1 win and when he defeated Kenny Omega in the G1 Climax 27 finals the roar of approval from the crowd spoke to the complete transformation he had undergone. This short summary for this guide can't really do the journey justice and if you're interested in more detailed overview I wrote a piece about how Naito used the last three G1's to transform his character here.

What's he been up to?
After his G1 victory, he was unable to defeat Okada at Wrestle Kingdom and has since been occupied with a feud with Chris Jericho that most recently resulted in Jericho capturing the Intercontinental championship, a belt Naito doesn't really like very much anyway.

While Naito is certainly popular enough to win another G1, no wrestler has won two in a row since Tenzan in 2003 and 2004. While Naito vs Okada is a common pick for the final, this is a loaded block and I think it will be possible for Naito to do very well without necessarily winning it. I could also see him being the beneficiary of Omega or Ibushi playing spoiler for the other in the final match of their block for him to sneak into the final.

Recommended G1 Watch:
Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr (G1 Climax 27 - Night 13)
This match from the previous G1 will be the penultimate match of B block this year and one if not both of these two men will certainly be in the hunt for the top spot.

Tetsuya Naito's Destino

"Cold Skull" SANADA
Not Pictured: The shorts that complete his Cuban vacation look for the G1 press conference last year
Who is he? Member of LIJ, owner of a sweet mohawk and an even sweeter fashion sense. SANADA has considered by many to be New Japan's next big thing for a while, but might be held back by the fact that he is not a product of the New Japan system . SANADA is a protege of The Great Muta and trained with All Japan Pro Wresting and certainly has the athleticism and the looks (listen for the high pitched crowd squeal whenever he pops his shirt off) to be a main event star. SANADA made his surprise debut (SANADA had been working in the North American independent scene and was not previously associated with New Japan) in April of 2016 helping Naito to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He has been a member of LIJ ever since. He participated in the the last two G1s and has scored 8 points in each. Like his mentor he has a great moonsault. However, his finisher, the Skull End, is a dragon sleeper with body scissors.

What's he been up to?
He did have a shot at the heavyweight title as well as making the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup, but besides a brief run with the tag titles with fellow LIJ member EVIL, not much. However, it is worth noting that they have kept SANADA away from Naito's block in his last two G1s. They've been teasing some tension in the leadup to this one so it could be his chance to break out a bit.

While this could be a breakout year for SANADA I think its more likely that he will still be waiting his turn a bit longer. 8 points.

Recommended G1 Match:
SANADA vs Naomichi Marufuji (G1 Climax 26 - Night 11)
A good match from SANADA's debut here. His opponent here was the ace of another promotion NOAH there to compete as a special attraction in that G1

SANADA's Skull End

"The Technical Wizard" Zack Sabre Jr.
Seem here in his early days already bending people ways they obviously don't want to bend

Who is he?
Member of Suzuki-gun, four years running winner of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Best Technical Wrestler award and man with a penchant for odd move names. ZSJ was revealed to be part of Suzuki-gun during his New Japan debut when they interfered to help him defeat Katsuyori Shibata and regain the British Heavyweight title he had lost months earlier. ZSJ's inclusion is Suzuki-gun is apt as his style is a throwback to old school catch wrestling, utilizing a number of moves from the old British style developed at The Snake Pit in Wigan as well as some more modern influences from MMA. ZSJ impressed in his first G1 scoring 10 points to establish his reputation as a competitor immediately. While he finishes matches in a number of ways including a cool looking pin he calls the European Clutch, I always hope we get to see his modified double arm octopus hold finisher, Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness at least once in a G1. What's he been up to?
While ZSJ has a huge international reputation, this tour represents a chance for Sabre. Jr. to establish himself in front of the New Japan crowds and let them see his work over an extended period of time. He is almost certain to impress Prediction:
While ZSJ is excellent, he has a lot of commitments elsewhere and I would be surprised to see him at the top of his block. Expect at least 8 points and a lot of excellent matches.

Recommended G1 Match:
Zack Sabre Jr vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (G1 Climax 27 - Night 1)
ZSJ makes an immediate impact in his G1 debut. Establishing his style and tone for a crowd that was still pretty unsure about his at this point.

Zack Sabre Jr's European Clutch
Block B Summary/Prediction:
B Block is absolutely stacked this year. Every night, 4 out the 5 matches (yes, the other one is the Yano match) could be a show stealer. I like Ibushi to win it. I think he's committed to New Japan and now needs some results to show for it.
Final Prediction:
My heart wants Ibushi, but my head says Okada. Luckily, both agree that it is likely to be another fantastic G1 season.

If you're still reading, thank you so much for your interest. I do hope this guide helps you enjoy the G1 more. If you think it will, please share it with anyone who you think may be interested in watching the G1 this year and leave a comment wherever you found it. Your feedback will help improve future guides!

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