New Japan Pro Wrestling have started their annual G1 Climax tournament. The event, which dates back to 1991, sees 20 wrestlers split across 2 blocks in a league format. The wrestlers who get the most wins in each block face off on the last day to fight for a Heavyweight title match at Wrestle Kingdom.
With 19 shows in 30 days, the G1 is the most gruelling schedule in wrestling, both for the wrestlers and the fans. We decided to help out anyone who wanted to see what the G1 was all about by providing a weekly summary throughout the tournament. Here are 10 match recommendations and five thoughts from Week 1 of the 28th G1 Climax.
Golden Lovers start showing off
Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi finally getting back together was a key story in New Japan this year. So when they got placed in the same block, people were salivating for their first singles match since 2012. So far both wrestlers have been pulling out all the stops and it looks like they are trying to one up each other. I look forward to seeing how far this goes since they meet on the final day of B Block in Budokan Hall, where they fought each other in their last singles match.
Toru Yano is seriously serious
Before becoming New Japan’s biggest rule breaker, Toru Yano was an accomplished amateur wrestler at Nihon University (Nichidai). Nichidai recently had a cheating scandal involving the American football team being ordered to injure their opponent’s quarterback. Yano pledged that he was seriously serious about embodying that lost sense of fair play. The attempts to stop his bad habits and bring back his amateur skills have produced some great matches that keep you off balance, never knowing what side of Yano to expect.
The Firing Squad lay an ambush
Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Bad Luck Fale split from the Bullet Club to form the Firing Squad. Their strategy is simple: Use their numbers to cheat their way to victory. Purists may not love this constant interference but it’s proving pretty effective so far. At least it was, until referee Red Shoes Unno started to show some backbone.
After nine years the cracks are starting to show in Chaos, and Jay White is the one behind them. Constantly talking about becoming the new leader of Chaos, the Switchblade is getting in the ear of Chaos member Yoh. White has already faced Okada and made a big impression on the rest of Chaos. He is obsessed with winning at all costs. Seeds of dissent are being sewn and things will be very interesting on the final day.
The Rainmaker hits a dry patch
After losing the IWGP Heavyweight Title to Kenny Omega in June, Kazuchika Okada has been out of sorts. He has been on a losing streak and his lack of confidence is being shown physically in what appears to be a (very early) mid life crisis. Okada ditched his traditional gear for red hair, red pants, a remixed entrance theme and balloons. Yes, balloons. His matches even feel different, more full of doubt, frivolity and a lack of confidence. He finally managed to turn on the tap against Adam Page, in his most exciting match so far. Can Okada keep succeeding? Will he have to revert back to the old Okada in order to do it?
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki – Night 1 (Ota Ward, Tokyo 7/14)
This was a short but simple match between two crafty veterans as Suzuki tried to beat Tanahashi by targeting the leg. This strategy worked perfectly when Suzuki used it to beat Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title in February. Tanahashi had to use his experience to keep his hopes of victory alive.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Toru Yano – Night 2 (Ota Ward, Tokyo 7/15)
Yano started to put his promises of fair play into practice against his tag team partner. Yano didn’t always follow the rules, which actually made this even better. Seeing Yano standing toe to toe with notorious tough guy Ishii was great fun and this was such a fresh feeling match.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Kota Ibushi – Night 2 (Ota Ward, Tokyo 7/15)
Watching this match you could see the wrestlers thinking, learning and adapting as they went. Ibushi did a great job of mixing his style with Sabre’s. While I may prefer their match from this year’s J Cup, this was a great match with some really smart wrestling and a brilliant finish.
Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega – Night 2 (Ota Ward, Tokyo 7/15)
Omega and Naito have great chemistry. The match started with each guy mocking their opponent and it slowly grew until each guy was going all out against each other. Not only was this an action packed match but it was Naito’s best singles match in months and really got him in the mood for the G1.
Jay White vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Night 3 (Sapporo, Hokkaido 7/17)
This is my least favourite of the 10 matches on this list. Personally, White isn’t clicking for me in the G1 for some reason — possibly because his character and match style isn’t playing to his in ring strengths. This match was playing off of White’s Tokyo Dome debut match against Tanahashi. If you haven’t made up your mind about White, watch this and decide.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Toru Yano – Night 4 (Korakuen Hall, Tokyo 7/19)
New Japan’s technical wizard fought their resident trickster in one of the most unique and magical matches in New Japan this year. It had no head drops, no power moves, no lariats, no aerial manoeuvres. Instead we had two characters trying to out surprise and out trick each other in order to win. This was a great change of pace and a seriously entertaining match.
Juice Robinson vs Kota Ibushi – Night 4 (Korakuen Hall, Tokyo 7/19)
Juice has improved an awful lot since joining New Japan. If you ignore the profanity he is arguably the highlight of the post match interviews, an old school baby face putting over how tough a challenge he has to face. This match was great, both men working well together in a match that built to a crescendo. Just to show how good he is, Ibushi hit a dive here that required absolutely perfect precision, accuracy and balance and he nailed it.
Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii – Night 4 (Korakuen Hall, Tokyo 7/19)
Few people have better chemistry together in New Japan than Naito and Ishii. This was an interesting take on their matches as Ishii showed a clear superiority in terms of taking punishment and he dominated Naito early on. Naito had to use his wits, mind games and skills to claw his way back into the match. The match built brilliantly and I was cheering out loud for Ishii by the end.
Kenny Omega vs Hirooki Goto – Night 4 (Korakuen Hall, Tokyo 7/19)
On night 4 I preferred Naito vs Ishii but many others, including Dave Meltzer, preferred this match. Omega is not resting on his laurels after winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title, this is his second consecutive great match. Goto can either have exciting matches or uninteresting ones, but here he had great showing in an energetic, dramatic match. Admittedly this was a typical Omega match so if those aren’t your thing then you might want to avoid this one.
Kazuchika Okada vs Hangman Page – Night 5 (Korakuen Hall, Tokyo 7/20)
Page has grown a lot and you could see that he was confident here, sensing blood in the water after seeing that Okada was a shadow of who he was. Unfortunately Okada has started to learn his lessons and had a much better showing than his matches vs. White & Fale. I was really impressed with Page, as were the Tokyo crowd and Okada is showing a better balance between his new attitude and his old form.