Nobody does tournaments like New Japan Pro Wrestling. We’ve just finished a superb Best of The Super Juniors, there’s World Tag League, Junior Tag League, The New Japan Cup and the lesser-spotted Super J Cup. However, today we focus on the crown jewel in NJPW’s tournament catalogue; the G1 Climax. If you are new to NJPW or are intrigued to find out more, today Jamie looks at what the forthcoming ‘Mount Everest of Pro Wrestling’ entails.
So, what does G1 Climax even mean? I actually have no idea. Okay, not a good start, but what it literally means is not as important as what it has come to symbolise. The G1 Climax is billed as the ‘Mount Everest of Pro Wrestling’. It is the tournament of tournaments within the world of wrestling.
So, what is the prize for the winner of such an undertaking? In literal terms, the prize for the G1 winner is a trophy and a briefcase containing a contract for a world championship match. Sound familiar? However, rather than being able to cash-in a title match at any time, a la WWE’s Money in The Bank, the G1 winner receives an IWGP Championship match in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, which is New Japan’s biggest show of the year. Considered to be New Japan’s version of Wrestlemania, Wrestle Kingdom takes place on January 4th every year (although next year it’s a two-day event including the 5th). I know what you’re thinking, how damn long does the G1 tournament last if Wrestle Kingdom is in January? The answer is actually around a month. This year it will run from July 6th to August 12th. New Japan operates what is called long-term booking, something alien to most WWE writers. We will likely know one half of next year’s Wrestle Kingdom main event some five months out from the show. So, while aesthetically the winner may appear to be like a Money in The Bank winner with their fancy briefcase, they are in fact more closely related to a Royal Rumble winner. WWE has been known to experiment with the MITB briefcase (Baron Corbin anyone?) but not so much with the Royal Rumble. Usually only the big guns win the Rumble and as such it is probably more prestigious to win that one match than hold most of WWE’s championships. Think of the G1 Climax as holding the same prestige level as the Royal Rumble and you won’t go far wrong.
We now know what the competitors will be fighting for, but how do they win? Brace yourself WWE fans, the G1 Climax is not a single elimination tournament. It does not follow the format of King of The Ring or The Mae Young Classic. Mind boggling, I know. The G1 follows a round-robin format with the wrestlers split into blocks. The twenty G1 entrants will be split into two blocks of ten wrestlers; the imaginatively titled Block A and Block B. Each wrestler will face the other competitors in their block in singles matches, thus every entrant will wrestle at least nine matches. A victory will earn two points while defeat earns zero. In the rare instance of a time limit draw (they have a 30 minute limit) each guy will be awarded one point. In the even more unlikely event of a double count out or double disqualification nobody gets any points. The guy with the most points wins the block and will face the winner of the other block in one final match (with no time limit) to determine the winner of the G1 Climax. I bet you’re now thinking ‘what if two or more wrestlers top their block with the same number of points?’ In that case the result of the match between those wrestlers comes into play as a tie breaker. New Japan even have it covered should that match have been a draw or there is a three or four-way tie by bringing victories over common opponents into play. Thankfully it rarely gets quite that complicated. Just think of the G1 as a league or regular season structure with the two league winners meeting in a final to decide the overall winner, sort of like the Superbowl I guess.
Hopefully that was clear enough, because just like WWE, New Japan like to add some shenanigans. We know that The G1 winner gets a shot at New Japan’s top title; the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, and not unlike some Royal Rumble winners, the G1 winner sometimes has to defend his title shot before reaching Wrestle Kingdom. So not even winning the tournament is a guarantee of a title match on the big show. It is possible (and is usually the case) that the eventual winner will have lost a match or two at some point earlier in the tournament. Typically, the G1 winner will have to defend his prized title shot against anybody who defeated him in a block match. For example, last year’s winner, Hiroshi Tanahashi, defended his briefcase against Kazuchika Okada and Jay White in the months after the G1. This was due to Tanahashi drawing with Okada and losing to White during the block matches. The tournament winners are almost always successful in these defences (as Tanahashi was) but if nothing else it is a logical way of booking some interesting matches in the months leading up to Wrestle Kingdom.
So far this is sounding like a very long-winded approach to achieving what WWE do with the Royal Rumble, or even a random match on Raw. In some ways that is correct, the G1 is essentially just a massive tournament designed to establish a number one contender for the top title. However, unlike the Rumble, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion (and other champions) also enter the G1. In the event that the champ were to win the tournament he would be allowed select his challenger for Wrestle Kingdom. Obviously the bouts featuring the champion are not title matches but should someone topple the IWGP Champion (or any other champion for that matter) they would be right in line for a title match. So, while the winner of the G1 gets a title shot at the big show, anyone who claims a victory over the reigning champ will also receive a title shot, albeit at a smaller show prior to Wrestle Kingdom. As an example of this, last year the reigning IWGP Champion, Kenny Omega, lost to Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi, both of whom received title shots thereafter.
While the main objective of the G1 Climax is pretty much the same as WWE’s Royal Rumble, the nature of the tournament format throws up all kinds of sub-plots that can be explored far more than in one battle royal match. We’ve talked about guys earning title shots by beating a champion but there’s also the matter of kayfabe (and real) injuries and fatigue. Ordinarily a top guy would not lose to a mid-carder, but in the G1 it can and will happen and it will be believable without really hurting the top guy’s reputation. There’s also the added fun of stable mates and tag team partners wrestling each other. Due to the number of tournaments New Japan host, this kind of thing happens way more than in WWE, but it’s always fun to see two members of Bullet Club, L-I-J, CHAOS or Suzuki Gun fight each other. Tell you what, on that note, I think it is time we met the runners and riders for this year’s absolutely stacked G1 Climax tournament –
Five time, and current, IWGP Champion. His fourth reign as champion was the longest in history and he has won the G1 Climax twice before. It is fair to say that he will be there or thereabouts when the winner is decided. Okada is the leader of the babyface CHAOS faction.
Zack Sabre Jr.
Submission expert who at time of writing is the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Champion. He’s a heel from the Suzuki Gun faction and is no stranger to victories over the tippy-top guys. His spot in the tournament may be under threat though. He will defend his Rev Pro title against YOSHI-HASHI shortly with the challenger not only wanting the belt but ZSJ’s spot in the G1 too.
Last year’s winner and all-round living legend. He holds the record for IWGP Title reigns with eight and has won the G1 three times. He’s basically New Japan’s John Cena, but is time catching up to the 42 year old? Will his knees, and other body parts, hold up under pressure from his younger opponents? Tana is not officially aligned to any faction but is a mega babyface and as such is on good terms with most other babyfaces, not so much the L-I-J guys though.
Think of Ibushi as what Rob Van Dam was for years. He’s the best guy never to have held the top title. He will surely be IWGP Champion at some point and I’m wondering that since he committed his long-term future to New Japan earlier this year, maybe the company finally go all the way with him? Like Tanahashi, Ibushi is a massive babyface not aligned to a particular faction.
EVIL is a tag team specialist and also a credible singles star, hence why he is in the field of twenty for the G1. He’s unlikely to win his block but should finish high up the rankings and could quite easily cause an upset or two. He’s a member of the enigmatic babyface faction Los Ingobernables de Japon (L-I-J).
EVIL’s tag team partner and fellow member of L-I-J. What’s true of EVIL can also be said about SANADA, only I am not totally discounting SANADA’s chances. There’s something about him that makes me think there is a slim chance he could win this thing. Then again, this block is absolutely stacked so maybe not. His match with EVIL will be a main event when it goes down.
Bad Luck Fale
OG member of Bullet Club and one of New Japan’s resident giants. He’s around 6’8” and well over 300 lbs so a credible heel for any babyface to test themselves against. He’s highly unlikely to win the block, largely because other Bullet Club members will probably interfere and cause a disqualification in his matches. He likely won’t care though, he just likes to hurt people.
Another large heel, this time from the Suzuki Gun faction. He’s an entertaining enough but very beatable big man. His match with Bad Luck Fale is probably one to watch, as will his bout with stable mate Zack Sabre Jr.
The G1 Climax is considered a heavyweight tournament but every so often a junior heavyweight comes in and mixes things up. Ospreay is actually the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion and recently won Best of The Super Juniors, which is the junior heavyweight version of the G1. Ospreay is very popular and New Japan are clearly very high on him. He could be a dark horse in the tournament. If you like Ricochet then you’ll love this member of CHAOS.
Finally, Hideo Itami has come back to Japan and become KENTA again. He has not actually wrestled for New Japan yet since leaving WWE. In fact, before going to WWE he was one of the top stars for Pro Wrestling NOAH, so his previous experience in New Japan is fairly limited. I’ll be very interested to see how he does.
Leader of L-I-J, former IWGP Champion and two-time G1 winner. Naito is as over as they come in New Japan as a babyface who marches to the beat of his own drum. He’ll be one of the favourites to win the tournament. Oh, he’s also the current Intercontinental Champion, so keep an eye on anyone who defeats him because they’ll be coming for that title.
Grizzled, hard-hitting, no nonsense veteran who will likely be in the mix right up to the end. I can’t see him winning the tournament, but he won’t be far away from winning his block. He’s a member of CHAOS and current NEVER Openweight Champion.
A colourful babyface who has started to show glimpses of a more serious side recently. He’s the very definition of a mid-carder. Look for him to go down swinging against the big guns. Maybe he’ll score an upset win, but he won’t be winning the block by any means.
Yano will have nine matches in this tournament and my guess is that at least eight of them will be comedy bouts. He is a cheeky babyface who bends the rules whenever he can. He is a member of CHAOS and believe it or not the semi-regular tag partner of Ishii. They are OG members of the faction and very much chalk and cheese.
Yet another member of CHAOS. Like Ishii, Goto is a hard-hitting badass. He’s the perennial nearly man. He has literally done everything in New Japan (including winning the G1) but has never held the IWGP Title.
Boo this man, he is New Japan’s top heel. White is the leader and top guy in Bullet Club these days. He held the IWGP Championship for a couple months earlier this year making him a made man in New Japan’s top teir and therefore one of the favourites for the G1.
Not a New Japan resident, but he does make frequent visits. Think of Cobb as being like Kevin Owens with the power of Cesaro. He doesn’t look like he’d be all that athletic, but he sure is and incredibly strong too. I can’t see him winning the block, but he’ll be a hell of hurdle for anyone to get past.
Another representative from the junior division. Shingo sees himself as an ‘openweight’, free to compete in both weight classes. Shingo mainly competes as a junior but he is clearly a heavyweight. He has only lost one match since debuting as the newest member of L-I-J last October, that was in the final of Best of The Super Juniors to Will Ospreay. His match with stable mate Tetsuya Naito will be very interesting.
He made it in! Taichi moved up to heavyweight last year but failed to get into the G1, when many thought he should have. Taichi is a member of Suzuki Gun and as such is a rat bastard heel. He has proper ‘X-Pac heat’ with some fans, but he certainly makes you cheer for his opponent.
AKA Dean Ambrose. He won the IWGP United States Title in his first match and squashed a young lion in his second match. He is essentially on loan from AEW so probably won’t win the tournament but I’m looking forward to seeing him wrestle more matches in a New Japan ring. Oh, he took that US Title from Juice Robinson so their match should be a heated affair when it goes down.
The G1 starts on July 6 in Dallas, Texas. It is the first time New Japan have taken the tournament outside of Japan. There will then be a week off while the wrestlers fly back to Japan and recover from jet-lag. The tournament then really picks up momentum on July 13. Between then and the final on August 12 there will be 18 shows. So, including the Dallas opener the G1 Climax tournament consists of 19, approximately three hour long shows. Because there will be a lot of wrestling to watch and catch-up on, my top tip for anyone interested in also living a normal life is to skip the first of half of the shows. The block matches alternate from night to night meaning that when the guys in Block A are in singles matches against each other, the first half of the show is loaded with the guys from Block B in tag matches against each other. Granted, you may see little sub-plots develop in these tag matches but it’s usually nothing Kevin Kelly can’t bring you up to speed with on commentary the next night. While I would heartily recommend trying to watch as many of the actual tournament matches as possible, if you are looking to prioritise then of course the shows closer to the end of the tournament are guaranteed to be filled with drama. The conclusion of Block A will come on August 10, Block B concludes on August 11 and the final will be on August 12.