The G1 (Grade One) Climax is New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest tournament of the year. From July 17th to August 12th, 19 of the world's best wrestlers and Toru Yano will be divided into two blocks (creatively named A Block & B Block) 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 with consistently good wrestling). Where can I watch it?
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 under 9 USD. They even have an English sign-up page now. https://njpwworld.com/signup?lang=en. As a bonus your New Japan World subscription will grant you access to much of New Japan’s back catalog which will allow you to watch the recommended matches I have included for this year’s competitors. Okay, but why should I care?:
Because New Japan has some of the best wrestlers in the world. 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(see: Styles, Nakamura, Balor, Anderson) they don't typically just have their stars randomly wrestle 1 on 1 matches (e.g. Nakamura vs. Ziggler 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 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 (and this year four of them featured Bad Luck Fale). 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. Can you give some examples of this wrestling from previous G1’s?
Sure can. Lets use some guys the WWE has taken. Here is a match from AJ Styles which was many people's match of the year for 2014
Styles vs. Suzuki. And one of Shinsuke Nakamura's excellent G1 matches
Nakamura vs. Ibushi. And another from Karl Anderson
Anderson vs. Okada. Oh and as a bonus the opponent in all of those matches is included in the field for this year's G1. Speaking of which.
Wrestler Bios BLOCK A
Hiroshi Tanahashi “The Ace of the Universe”
Who is he?
The former undisputed “Ace” of New Japan and current Intercontinental Champion, Tanahashi's combination of energy, charisma, and in-ring ability have been credited with reviving interest in New Japan after some very bad years. As far as personality goes Tanahashi has been the bestest babyface there is for nearly every moment of his career. When I think of Tanahashi 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 will almost certainly do to the outside at least once this G1) then telling the crowd he loves them (literally) and delighting them with some air guitar (literally and spectacularly). He has spent many years at the top of the promotion and is a 7 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and 2 time G1 Winner. His long running feud with Kazuchika Okada is considered by some (author included) to be the best feud of all time. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, Okada defeated Tanahashi in the main event arguably signaling the end of Tanahashi's reign as ace of the promotion. In response Tanahashi seems to have resolved to try even harder adopting a new theme song that shouts “Go Ace” and showing a new mean streak in order to compete in matches against top level talent like Okada, Naito, and Omega. While he may no longer sit at the top, Tanahashi is beloved by the New Japan fans and is still capable of putting on tremendous matches and he often chooses the G1 as his time to do it. What's he been up to?
Last G1 was right after Tanahashi's loss to Okada at WK10 and he started in a slump with three straight losses before turning it around with 5 straight wins followed by a time limit draw with Okada that caused both of them to miss the final. Tanahashi Lost to Tetsuya Naito at WK11, but challenged him again and despite suffering a tendon rupture in his right bicep in May, defeated Naito for the IC Belt at Dominion on June 11th showing that even at age 40 and with an injury he is still one of the best performers in the world Prediction:
Tanahashi will be holding on to the IC title for a little bit. I don't think he'll win his block and certainly don't think he'll win the whole thing, but he'll probably finish 2nd or 3rd in his block and will have at least two post-match air guitar celebrations. Recommended G1 Match:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada How do you meaningfully continue to add to what is already the greatest rivalry in modern wrestling? These two keep finding a way.
Togi Makabe is a brawler through and through. A former one time G1 climax winner and IWGP Heavyweight champion, there is very little that is subtle about his style. Walking out with a chain wrapped around his neck to the sounds of Tomoyasu Hotei's remix of Immigrant Song (seek it out on Spotify; New Japan doesn't have the music rights to broadcast it internationally so it is either muted or covered with another song during broadcasts), Makabe tries 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. Despite (possibly because of?) his brutal style Makabe is generally loved by the crowds in Japan and is also enjoys some crossover popularity in mainstream Japanese culture mostly due to his love of sweets. Seriously, he has a food blog (https://ameblo.jp/sweetsmakabe/) and had a tv show about his love of desserts at one point. What's he been up to?
For a while he was regularly competing in the tag team scene with his partner, Tomoaki Honma. They won the world tag league (like a G1 for tag teams) in December. However, since Honma suffered a scary cervical spine injury off a rope hanging DDT at a New Japan house show(which he is currently recovering well from), Makabe has been left without much to do. New Japan recently celebrated his 20th anniversary show and at age 44 he likely only has a few more years of wrestling left, but he is popular with the crowd and is still capable of putting on great matches. Prediction:
He should get three or four wins. Maybe a fifth to finish above .500. He will do at least one Kokeshi (diving headbutt, a specialty/white whale of his injured partner Honma) the will give me some feelings. Recommended G1 Watch:
Togi Makabe vs. AJ Styles Feel free to play Togi Makabe's entrance music off Spotify over the silence dubbed into his entrance. It improves it. Although his entrance music would improve a lot of things.
Makabe’s Spider German Suplex followed by King Kong Knee Drop
Yuji Nagata “Blue Justice”
Who is he?
A long serving New Japan veteran Nagata has won basically everything there is to be won in his time there including a G1 climax. Last year though despite his best efforts he only managed six points. This year's oldest competitor at 49, Nagata still posseses a wide array of suplexes including his Backdrop Hold, a belly-to-back suplex with a bridging pin finish that got him a three count on Tetsuya Naito at the last G1 and some stiff slaps to put some respect into the younger generation. While he is no longer a main event level wrestler. He is still beloved by an older generation of fans. Expect a lot of cheering for him as he has announced that this will be his final G1. Also, at multiple points he will put someone in an arm bar and then make that face up there like he either pooped himself or busted a nut (both?). The crowd goes nuts for it. He sells it on a t-shirt. Just be mentally and emotionally prepared for that. What's he been up to? Nagata puts in a lot of work with the young lions (trainee wrestlers from the New Japan dojo who wrestle in plain black trunks and have a particular thing for crustaceans that drop the Rs in certain words like car and Nomar) these days and has mostly wrestled with them in multi-man tag matches at the open of a shows recently. Although he did pick up a win in round one of this years New Japan Cup. Prediction: If his final G1 is anything like Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s It'll be a rough last G1 for old Blue Justice. Expect him to pick up the feel good win in his last match though and one or (less likely) two more along the way. Recommended G1 Watch:
Yuji Nagata’s Backdrop Hold
Hirooki Goto “Fierce Warrior of CHAOS”
Who is he?
New Japan's eternal bridesmaid and a relatively new member of CHAOS, Hirooki Goto has had 8 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 the last G1. That said his career has not been without success. He is 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). What's he been up to?
After winning the NEVER Openweight Championship, Goto was involved with a feud with Minoru Suzuki's Suzuki-gun stable which saw him lose the belt to Suzuki at the end of April. Prediction:
Goto won his block last year. He was the beneficiary of the Okada/Tanahashi draw. I don't expect him to repeat, but wouldn't be shocked if he did. Will almost certainly win more than he loses. Recommended G1 Watch:
Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata I am going to cheat a bit here as this is at the G1 final, but I don't think it is actually a G1 match. However, Goto and Shibata were actually on the same high school wrestling team and that history plus their chemistry in the ring always made their matches extra special, so this match is worth bending the rules for.
Hirooki Goto’s GTR
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. If you are looking at any random New Japan show and wondering what to look at, 'watch the Ishii match' is a good guideline. 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?
Recently Ishii has been saving up his energy as part of a tag team with Toru Yano with a brief break to crush it in the New Japan Cup. No he didn't win, but if you're looking for the best match from any round of this year's New Japan Cup just remember the golden rule, 'Watch the Ishii match'. Anyway expect him to be well rested and ready to blow people away with his matches. Prediction:
Will have at least one, probably two or more, 4 ½ - 5 star matches and will elevate everyone he is in the ring with. He will not get more than 8 points. Recommended G1 Watch:
So I used MrLariato's Recommended Viewing List (https://t.co/KAl07xb9gi) to track down some of these matches and the second I was reminded this match existed I paused writing this to watch it immediately. I made the correct decision. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Naomichi Marufuji. For context, Naomichi Marufuji is/was the ace of a rival promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH and is considered a bit of of in invader in this G1.
Tomohiro Ishii’s Vertical Drop Brainbuster
Yoshi-Hashi "Head Hunter"
Who is he?
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 last year he found a new fire and earned a spot in his first G1. He earned six points including two off a win over Kenny Omega. 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 Nakamura so it stuck. 2: For some unexplainable reason he has the English words “loose explosion” printed across the back of his pants over his butt. This has been in place for years. CHAOS has several English speaking members and apparently no one has explained why whatever he was going for with that required a second pass. 3: His lariat is garbage. Also, his finisher is called Karma. It is a pumphandle half nelson driver and is pretty dope, but he also uses the butterfly lock as a secondary finisher. It is significantly less dope. What's he been up to?
Yoshi-Hashi still takes some of pins just not all the pins. He has done very little of note since his push in the last G1. Prediction:
Yoshi-Hashi will score around 4 points and will be generally inoffensive (with the exception of that lariat) with one match that pleasantly surprises you. Recommended G1 Watch:
Yoshi-Hashi’s better finisher, Karma
Bad Luck Fale “The Underboss”
Who is he?
Bad Luck Fale is a a former rugby player from New Zealand who been the muscle of Bullet Club and official #2 on the Org chart since the group’s foundation, 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. Billed at 6 foot 4 inches and 344 lbs 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 four years with New Japan no one has ever kicked out of it.) What's he been up to? You know. Doing underboss shit. This year, he reached the finals of the New Japan Cup, was part of Okada's least entertaining (but still pretty damn good) title defense, and he opened his own wrestling school in New Zealand. For all we know he could be playing ukulele and doing laundry right now. Prediction: Fale is like Yano he can beat anyone and can lose to anyone, but he always gets a fair amount of points to keep him looking threatening. 8 to 10 points and a win over a champion (not Okada) to set up a title defense later. Bad Luck Fale will not be in both the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax finals in the same calendar year. Recommended G1 Watch:
Bad Luck Fale’s Bad Luck Fall
Tetsuya Naito “El Ingobernable”
Who is he?
Leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, destroyer of belts, and my favorite wrestler, in the past few years Tetsuya Naito has transformed himself from a fairly bland babyface into one of the best acts in the world. For years Naito was known as the Stardust Genius and was portrayed as worse lucha-influenced Tanahashi. Initial attempts to push him as Tanahashi's successor were widely rejected. In fact after his G1 win in 2013 was poorly received, his match-up with Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title at Wrestle Kingdom 8 was demoted to semi-main event so that Tanahashi vs. Nakamura for the Intercontinental title could main event the show after fans voted for Tanahashi vs. Nakamura by a two to one margin in an online poll. A bit over a year later in May of 2015 Naito returned to Mexico (where he had done his excursion as a young wrestler) and reunited with La Sombra who he had previously teamed with in Two World Tag leagues and who was now a member of a stable in Mexico called Los Ingobernables. When Naito returned shortly before the 2015 G1 it was with a new shaggier look, the 'ungovernable' attitude he picked up in Mexico, and a new finisher. A modified standing shiranui he calls, Destino. He quickly began to earn the ire of the other wrestlers and the crowd with his obvious apathy towards the multi-man tags he was being placed in, but they had seen nothing yet. For every single match in 2015 G1 he sauntered to the ring in a full suit (no tie; ties are not ingobernable) which he did not even begin to slowly remove until his opponent was prepared to wrestle and that does not even begin to cover his time wasting and taunting during the match. 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. Ironically, in the ensuing two years Naito's attitude, confidence, and just plain cool as well as great out of the ring moments like pretending he does not speak Japanese and insisting that he be questioned in“Español” have brought much of the fan adoration (not to mention the IWGP Heavyweight title run) that his initial main event push failed to generate and it is not uncommon to hear fans alternate between raucous cheers and loud boos in a present day Naito match (and even a Naito entrance). What's he been up to?
Having been voted MVP (for all of Japanese wrestling) by Tokyo Sports for 2016, Naito started the year as Intercontinental Champion and by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 11 to (partially) avenge his humiliation at Wrestle Kingdom 8. He spent most of the rest of 2017 so far taking the belt-tossing antics he pioneered with the IWGP Heavyweight Title to the next level with the Intercontinental title. Complaining that New Japan had too many championships already and was planning on adding more with the United State title, Naito said that the IC belt was now worthless. He also claimed it had “Nakamura stink” on it. He eventually took to just smashing the belt on various parts of the ring and did real damage to the faceplate of it. After threatening to retire the belt if he retained at Dominion in June, he lost to Tanahashi in a rematch from of their Tokyo Dome match of six months earlier. Prediction:
I think this is Naito's year to win the G1. To be fair, I thought that last year too. This year though Naito vs Okada is the obvious main event at the Tokyo dome and it just makes too much sense to have the hottest wrestler in the company complete his Tokyo Dome redemption by winning the G1 and getting the main event that was taken from him four years prior. Also, I want this to happen so badly. Recommended G1 Watch:
Tetsuya Naito vs AJ Styles Two of the best wrestlers in the world give perhaps the best example of Naito's brilliant and crowd infuriating 2015 G1. Be sure to watch both entrances and the full prematch for some prime AJ Styles complaining/sarcastic applause. Also, appreciate how hard it was to get a Japanese crowd full on cheering for AJ Styles while he was leader of the Bullet Club.
Tetsuya Naito's Destino
Who is he?
The newest member of Suzuki-gun, three years running winner of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Best Technical Wrestler award and current Evolve, PWG, and British Heavyweight champion (the reason for another of his nicknames, “Zacky Three Belts”). 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's New Japan appearances have been limited so far and this will be his first major tour with the company. While he finishes matches in a number of ways including a cool looking pin he calls the European Clutch, I 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 this 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: As Sabre is a first time G1 participant, here is his debut instead Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Katsuyori Shibata (c) at New Japan's 45th anniversary show.
Zack Sabre Jr.’s European Clutch
Kota Ibushi “Golden Star"
Who is he?
Perhaps the most skilled wrestler in the world today, Kota Ibushi is also a glorious weirdo whose desire to work a schedule of his choosing all over the world is probably the only thing preventing him from being a permanent main eventer wherever he would choose settle. 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. Now he takes freelance dates where he insists on being billed as a representative of the “Ibushi Pro Wrestling Research Institute”. As a freelancer,he has 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. Now he returns to the New Japan under his real name for his third G1. Expect to see him both hitting and missing his spectacular Phoenix Splash finisher all throughout this tournament. What's he been up to?
Ibushi's name was greeted by a gigantic roar from the crowd upon his announcement. Despite his time as Tiger Mask W, he has not wrestled as 'Kota Ibushi” in a New Japan ring since October of 2015 and New Japan does not acknowledge the link. Omega and Ibushi have been obliquely hinting at their desire to face each other again in interviews for a few years now. Prediction: Ibushi will not win the G1 because he won't sign a contract with New Japan. He will probably lose more than he wins as he did in his previous two G1s. If we are really lucky, Ibushi and Omega will find a way begin a feud even though they are in separate blocks. Recommended G1 Match:
Kota Ibushi's Phoenix Splash
A Block Overview:The A Block is crazy stacked this year. Any combination of Tanahashi, Naito, ZSJ, and Ibushi should be a must watch match. Ishii is more then capable of putting on a match of they year candidate with any of those four as well. I pick Naito to advance
Satoshi Kojima “Cozy”
Who is he?
A veteren wrestler who spent a large portion of his prime working for All Japan Pro Wrestling. He was the first wrestler to simultaneously hold NJPW's IWGP Heavyweight Championship and All Japan Pro Wrestling's Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. His tag team with his dear friend and occasional rival Hiroyshi Tenzan, Tencozy, is one of the most successful of all time and Japan. Known for his Machine Gun Chops to an opponent in the corner, his devastating lariat (take notes Yoshi-Hashi) and his Cozy Cozy Cutter finisher. The 46 year old Kojima is still quite mobile and capable of putting on great matches. The only reason he was not included in last years G1 was that he gave up his spot, in an emotional in ring moment, to his friend Tenzan, who wanted one last G1 before officially retiring from it (Tenzan had participated in nearly every G1 since 1995 before that). Kojima could be seen and heard cheering hard for Tenzan through his final G1 and I'd expect to see Tenzan returning the favor this year. What's he been up to?
Kojima has spent most of his recent time as part of a Tencozy or going after the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship with various non-Tenzan partners. He has recently gained some attention for his English language tweets such as this one (https://twitter.com/cozy_lariat/status/837101322453180416?lang=en). Prediction:
He'll do better then Tenzan's four last year, but not too much better. Recommended G1 Watch:
Cutters are fine, but sometimes you just need to Lariatoooooooooooo a man to death
Juice Robinson “Heart and Honor”
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, decided to leave the WWE and try to make his own name. Juice Robinson was not considered a major prospect upon leaving NXT. 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 in the Dojo. He did not spend too long at the trainee level though and has rapidly established himself as a solid member of the New Japan roster. He has also endeared himself to the crowd with 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” . Watch out for his Cannonball which is every bit as good as Kevin Owens's and his finisher Pulp Friction aka the Unprettier aka the inverted double underhook facebuster. What's he been up to? For my money, Juice Robinson was 2016's most improved wrestler. He recently headlined his first New Japan show in an Intercontinental title match with Tetsuya Naito. Still, he seems to be considered to be at the lower end of New Japan's middlecard. He'll be looking to improve his status by getting a few big wins Prediction: Unfortunately I don't think he's going to find them. He will get to have some great matches and we will get to watch him grow as a wrestler in real time/ I would guess he'll get a win or two over a small names, but I expect him to win himself some more fans with his underdog pluck. Recommended G1 Watch: As this is Juice's first G1, here is the headline match with Naito Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Juice Robinson at Wrestling Toyonokuni 2017
Juice Robinson's Pulp Friction
Michael Elgin “Big Mike”
Who is he?
As a young boy growing up in Canada, Little Mike watched tapes of Japanese wrestling and dreamed of wrestling there. He worked the North American indie circuit for many years, but made no secret of his desire to wrestle in Japan. Rumor is that the man the Japanese announce team now calls the Canadian Grizzly was contemplating retirement from wrestling due to his lack of success getting work in Japan and was considering a late in life attempt to switch to professional baseball before he was given a spot in the 2015 G1. Two solid G1s and one full-time contract later Michael Elgin is now a highly valuable part of the New Japan roster and was well liked/established enough that when Hiroshi Tanahashi was forced to pull out of New Japan's first ever ladder match with Kenny Omega at the last minute due to injury, he was considered an acceptable replacement. Despite his status as a gaijin, Big Mike is well liked by the new Japan crowd in no small part due to his friendship with fellow gym rat Tanahashi. Plus people love his Elgin Bomb finisher, a a spinning sitout powerbomb typrically preceded by a turnbuckle powerbomb . Elgin is married to fellow pro wrestler MsChif and they have a son named Jax who Elgin is adorably proud of in interviews. What's he been up to?
Elgin was fairly hot in October of 2016 when a broken orbital bone forced him out due to injury. He returned too late to be given a proper match for WK11, but won the pre-show rumble despite entering first. However, other then a failed IC title challange against Tetsuya Naito in Februrary (whose dropkick broke his orbital bone) and a loss to Cody *cough* Rhodes *cough* to set up Cody's match with Okada at Long Beach. Big Mike has not been seen much in New Japan lately. Prediction:
Elgin could use a momentum boost. Expect to see him win more than he loses and pick up a win or two over a big name along the way. I don't see him winning the whole thing, but I could see him as a dark horse block winner Recommended G1 Watch: I'm cheating for Elgin and giving him two. Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin is Elgin's first match in NJPW and it is an amazing introduction. He uses his power to push the IWGP champ much further than anyone expected and signaled that he was to be taken seriously immediately. I'm also including Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii because Ishii is great and more Ishii matches are a good thing Elgin Vs Ishii intros start at 1:39:40.
The full Elgin Bomb combo
Kazuchika Okada “The Rainmaker”
Who is he?
Japanese wrestling companies often send their young wrestlers abroad on excursions to gain experience wrestling other styles and improve before they return to play a bigger part in the promotion. In early 2010, New Japan sent an extremely promising young rookie who they felt may be the future of their company, Kazuchika Okada, to the United States to work with TNA who they had a working agreement at the time. His treatment while there was so bad that it is said to have been a major reason why TNA severed the relationship shortly after his term ended. As an example of this treatment, for a time Okada was given the gimmick of Okato a parody of the character Kato from The Green Hornet (a remake of which starring Seth Rogan was about to be released at the time). His job was to wear a crappy costume and get beat up so that Samoa Joe who had The Green Hornet gimmick (because he's fat like Seth Rogan you see … oh TNA) could save him. However, his time at TNA taught him the importance of developing a character for himself (couldn't rely on those writers to do it for him) and he returned to Japan with 'The Rainmaker' persona a hybrid of 'The Million Dollar Man' Ted DeBiase, 'The Nature Boy Rick Flair', and 'The Legend Killer' Randy Orton.With his new persona Okada made an immediate splash, winning the IWGP heavyweight title within three months of his return. Since then he has been a fixture of the New Japan main event and having defeated his rival Hiroshi Tanahashi at WK10, has secured his spot as the ace of the company. He has the best dropkick in the business. His finisher is a short-arm lariat named the Rainmaker which he murderizes people with and he is the leader of the CHAOS faction. Additionally, He is a 4 time, and the current, IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a 2 time G1 Climax winner, and has won the Best Bout Award from Tokyo Sports 4 out of the last 5 years. Also, he once made an entrance with an animatronic dinosaur and a buster sword: Here. So he's got that going for him What's he been up to?
At 29 years old, current IWGP Heavyweight champion is having his best in-ring year ever. Some have argued he may be having the best year of any wrestler ever. Between his two matches with Kenny Omega and his defenses against Suzuki and Shibata you could make a reasonable case for Okada being a part of all three of the best matches of the year so far (I wouldn't, but a case could certainly be made). Prediction:
Okada will hit a lot of Rainmakers, win a lot of matches, and possibly even win his block. I don't think he will win the whole thing (no reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion has won the G1 in the Wrestle Kingdom era), but if anyone could break that streak it would be the promotions golden boy. Recommended G1 Watch:
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii Exactly the type of match I am talking about when I say the G1 gives New Japan a chance to have unexpected matches. Ishii and Okada are both members of CHAOS and are typically on the same side, which is almost a shame when you see how good they are against each other.
Everytime Okada wins a match with The Rainmaker, he donates 30,000 yen to the Rainmaker Fund, the charity he founded dedicated to cancer research.
Toru Yano “The Sublime Master Thief"
Who is he?
CHAOS's mischief maker and 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?
Yano is Yano now and always. He was a tag team champ with Ishii recently, but other then that has continued to do what he has always done, get his shtick in during multi-man tags to sell dvds and punch people in the dick. Prediction:
Yano will score around 8 points including at least 2 victories over big names. Its an easy way to put a loss on a bigger name. 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. If he wins his block I will buy a Yano shirt and eat it. Recommended G1 Watch:
AJ Styles vs. Toru Yano. Oh AJ, is there anything you can't make good?
AJ is me deciding if I’m going to find a Yano finish to gif
Kenny Omega “The Cleaner”
Last years G1 winner and the first Gaijin to ever win the G1. 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. 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 from the Junior Heavyweight division to the Heavyweights and quickly winning the Intercontinental championship. After losing the title to Michael Elgin in NJPW's first ladder match, Kenny proceeded to put on a slew of amazing matches on the way to winning the G1 in his first ever appearance. This year he has already been part of what some insist are two of the best matches of all time vs Okada and will assuredly 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 while Okada did manage to get his foot on the ropes after receiving on during their last match, 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?
At or near top of most people's list of best wrestlers on the planet. Makes a sweet YouTube series with the Young Bucks called Being the Elite. Closed out night 2 of the G1 Specials in the USA to become the first ever IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion. What more is there to write about Kenny at this point? Prediction: Good chance to win his block again. Unlikely to win the whole thing and repeat with back-to-back G1s as only two wrestlers have accomplished that before, but it would not shock me. Recommended G1 Watch: Cheating again here to recommend what was effectively the B Block semi-final, Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega and final Hirooki Goto vs Kenny Omega of last year's G1 which took place on back-to-back nights.
Kenny Omega’s One Winged Angel
Tama Tonga “Bad Boy”
Bullet Club member and adopted son of the legendary Haku, Tama Tonga is most often seen as part of the Guerrillas of Destiny tag team with his brother Tanga Roa. 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. He had a surprisingly strong showing in last year's G1, his first, capturing 8 points including two off of Tanahashi. After Karl Anderson left Bullet Club for WWE, Tama Tonga adopted his Gun Stun (jumping cutter) finisher. What's he been up to? With the exception of his G1 run Tama Tonga has wrestled almost exclusively as part of The Guerrillas of Destiny since their formation in March of 2016. The Guerrillas of Destiny are the current IWGP Tag Team Champions and have mostly been feuding with a team called War Machine in recent months. Prediction: This looks like a packed field so I wouldn't be surprised to see Tonga take a small step backwards this year. 6 Points Recommended G1 Watch:
Toma Tonga’s Gun Stun was given to him as a finisher by Karl Anderson (Starchild up there) as he left the company.
SANADA “Cold Skull”
Who is he? Member of LIJ and man with the sweetest mohawk in wrestling. SANADA is considered by many to be New Japan's next big thing. SANADA is a protege of The Great Muta 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 2016 G1 and had a strong showing with 8 points including a win over Tanahashi. 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? Well he is a member of the coolest stable in Japan. With rare exceptions though he has been confined to multi-man tags with other LIJ members. Along with fellow stablemates EVIL and Bushi, SANADA is one of the holders of the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship. Prediction: SANADA is considered a next big thing, but currently there seems to be more emphasis on the next. I would bet on him getting 8 points again or (maybe a few less) this year. Recommended G1 Watch:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs SANADA. A strong G1 debut from SANADA.
Sanada's Skull End
EVIL “King of Darkness”
Who is he?
Former New Japan young lion Takaaki Watanabe returned from excursion in October 2015 with a new look and a new name, EVIL, as one of the first recruits to Tetsuya Naito's nascent LIJ stable. EVIL has one of the most elaborate entrances in the company with a robe, scythe, and finger-lasers, but in the ring rely on a much simpler set of vicious looking strikes and suplexes as well as a particularly nasty senton. His finisher is an STO which is confusingly also named EVIL. While, he has spent most of his time in New Japan teaming with various other LIJ members he did hold the Never Openweight title for 10 days. Evil finished with 8 points in the 2016 G1, but did not win over any notable names. What's he been up to?
Well he is a member of the coolest stable in Japan. With rare exceptions though he has been confined to multi-man tags with other LIJ members. Along with fellow stablemates SANADA and Bushi, EVIL is one of the holders of the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship. Man ever have Déjà vu? Prediction:
I don't think Evil will win more than he loses. Wouldn't be surprised to see him take a bit of a step back this year. Recommended G1 Watch:
EVIL vs Tetsuya Naito. Another fantastic intra-stable match that we would only see during the G1
Minoru Suzuki “The Man with the Worst Personality in the World”
Who is he?
Minoru Suzuki is a very dangerous individual. 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”. The nearly 50 year old 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 he had never won a singles title in New Japan. It was in this pursuit that the returned to New Japan with his stable Suzuki-gun whose frequent interference in his and each others matches remain a point of consternation for the New Japan Fans. In addition, Suzuki has one of the best theme songs in wrestling, Kaze Ni Nare, which starts slow and builds to a soaring sing-along of the title. Crowds love singing Kaze Ni Nare so much, they have stopped booing Suzuki mid-post-match beat-down in order to sing it, only to resume booing immediately after. 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?
After his failed challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight championship, Suzuki and Suzuki-gun pivoted their attention to Hiroki Goto who was NEVER Openweight Champion until Suzuki pinned him in April to win his first New Japan singles title. Prediction:
Despite his age Suzuki can still put on really excellent matches and Suzuki-gun interference is usually kept at lower levels for G1 season. Expect at least 10 points for Suzuki and for him to slap someone so hard it makes you cringe at least a handful of times. If Omega doesn’t repeat winning the block, I think Suzuki is next most likely. Recommended G1 Watch:
Shunsuke Nakamura vs. Minoru Suzuki As a bonus, this match contains early days of Shinsuke Nakamura in the process of becoming the Nakamura we know and love today.
Suzuki’s Gotch Style Piledriver
B Block Overview: While B block may not have the depth of A block at the very highest level, it does promise the three most anticipated words in the mind of every New Japan fan recently, Okada/Omega III. Because I expect Naito to win A block and take the whole thing and given that Okada/Omega III is the final match for B block, I think they might use the blueprint for how Goto won his block last year to have someone more unexpected win B block. An appearance in the G1 final could really elevate someone like Elgin or SANADA.
I think the final will be Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega with Naito winning the G1. Last year's G1 was somehow better than the one before it despite the loss of Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles. This years G1 retains the most important players from last year's (with the unfortunate exception of Katsuyori Shibata) and has added back in Minoru Suzuki and Kota Ibushi. This year could easily be the best tournament in recent memory. Clear your schedules ladies and gentleman. The G1 is coming.