If you ask WWE fans about their favorite wrestling tournament, chances are they will choose the Cruiserweight Classic or a King of the Ring. Personally, I enjoyed the mix of talents in the CWC and have many fond memories of King of the Ring 2001. Despite that, I wouldn’t call either of them my favorite wrestling tournament.

Tournaments are sparse in the WWE Universe, but that’s not the case anywhere else. They are found in almost every part of the wrestling world. In the USA you have a wide variety, ranging from PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, to Chikara’s King of Trios and CZW’s Tournament of Death. In Europe there’s WxW’s 16 Karat Tournament in Germany and PROGRESS’s Strong Style 16 in the UK. Japanese wrestling take tournaments to the extreme: Most promotions have their own annual tournament and some have three or four every year. Of all the annual tournaments in wrestling, though, I would argue that one stands head and shoulders above the rest: New Japan’s G1 Climax.

What is the G1 Climax?

The Grade 1 Climax is an annual singles heavyweight tournament that New Japan has run since 1991. Previously they had run singles heavyweight tournaments under a variety of names. The G1 Climax has had a few different formats over the years but now the tournament is a round robin tournament split into two blocks of ten wrestlers. Wrestlers fight everyone in their block and the winners of the 2 blocks meet in the final. The winner of the tournament earns a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome.

Who is in the G1 Climax?

The tournament is usually a mix of the top of New Japan’s Heavyweight division, some lower level wrestlers and a couple of outsiders or other left field choices. This year’s competitors are:

A Block

Hiroshi Tanahashi: This will be the IWGP Intercontinental Champion’s 15th G1 Climax and he has won the tournament twice. Usually one of the most consistent performers, it will be interesting to see how he handles the tournament having only recently returned from an arm injury.

Togi Makabe: The “Unchained Gorilla” is one of the best brawlers in New Japan, throwing out clubbing blows and obscenities in equal measure. While he will get a few wins with the King Kong Knee Drop I doubt that he will add to the G1 Climax that he won in 2009.

Yuji Nagata: The 49 year old “Mr Anti Aging” has stated that this will be his last G1 Climax–his 18th appearance in the tournament. Although he won it in 2001, this year he wants go out on a high by proving that he can still beat anyone.

Kota Ibushi: Last year, Kota Ibushi was in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. This year he is back in the G1 Climax, where he will once again dazzle the fans with his amazing combination of skill, agility, and inventiveness. If he competes on all 19 G1 Climax shows then this will be a huge test for Ibushi: He only had 18 matches in all of 2016. If Ibushi makes it to the final then there is a chance that he Ibushi finally gets to face his former friend Kenny Omega, in what is one of the most anticipated matches in New Japan.

Hirooki Goto: Goto won his first G1 Climax in 2008 but he is still looking for that elusive second win. The “Wild Samurai” is usually very solid and I expect him to pick up a lot of wins with his GTR finisher.

Tomohiro Ishii: The “Stone Pitbull” has only participated in four G1 Climaxes but he always has an incredible run, producing some of the best matches of the tournament. The stocky bruiser’s 2013 G1 matches with Tanahashi and Shibata were fantastic and are well worth looking for.

YOSHI-HASHI: Two men returned to New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom in 2012: Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI. While Okada almost instantly became a main event phenomenon, YOSHI-HASHI struggled to make his mark. Eventually that struggle earned him the respect of the fans, who will be cheering on this scrappy underdog and as they hope that he gets a big upset win using his Karma finisher.

Bad Luck Fale: A founding member of Bullet Club, Fale is the biggest guy in the tournament. While the Tongan isn’t quick, his devastating Bad Luck Fall will see him pick up plenty of wins as he tries to win his first G1 Climax.

Zack Sabre Jr: Another competitor who was in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic last year. This year he debuts in the G1 Climax and we even get the CWC final that everyone wanted: Sabre vs. Ibushi. Sabre stands out from most of the other competitors with his slight build and his incredible technical prowess. It will be fascinating to see how well he does against New Japan’s best heavyweights using his submission skills.

Tetsuya Naito: The leader of Los Igobernables de Japon (LIJ) is now entering his eighth G1 Climax. After he won the tournament in 2013 many fans turned on him, feeling that he hadn’t earned the win. This is what drove Naito to turn on the fans and create LIJ. Now that he has lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Naito’s focus will be on winning his second G1 Climax to get his revenge on the fans who didn’t believe in him.

B Block

Satoshi Kojima: Although he has participated in 14 G1 Climaxes, Kojima’s first tournament was 21 years ago. He won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship after winning the G1 Climax in 2010, but Kojima has focussed in recent years on tag team wrestling. Last year he gave his spot in the tournament to his tag team partner, Hiroyoshi Tenzan. This year Kojima will get to show off his devastating Lariat.

Michael Elgin: Big Mike might be short by WWE standards but the Canadian has won over New Japan fans with his incredible feats of strength. This year he will look to use all his power to suplex and powerbomb his way into the G1 Climax final.

Juice Robinson: If you told me three years ago that NXT’s CJ Parker would be in the G1 Climax, I would have laughed at you. Now, not only is he here but he deserves to be here. Robinson requested his release from WWE and joined New Japan’s dojo. His improvement in front of our eyes has been inspiring as he improved his skills and won over the Japanese fans. It will be fascinating to see how far his heart and Pulp Friction finisher can take him.

Kazuchika Okada: The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion has struggled to beat his opponents in title matches this year. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the G1, as everyone will want to beat him since it would almost guarantee a title shot. If he does win then it will be Okada’s third G1 Climax win.

Toru Yano: A cocky trickster who doesn’t think twice about cheating, Yano is the wrestling equivalent of an internet troll. An expert at getting quick upset wins in the G1 Climax, he doesn’t care about putting on classic matches. All Yano cares about is causing chaos and stealing wins.

Kenny Omega: Last year was Kenny’s first G1 Climax and he won, becoming the first foreigner to win the tournament. This year he will be aiming to repeat that feat as he will want to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the biggest stage in New Japan: Wrestle Kingdom.

Tama Tonga: Tonga, whose father is WCW and WWE veteran Meng/Haku, is another founding member of Bullet Club. This is his second G1 Climax, and he will use his speed and ability to keep his opponents off balance in order to create the perfect opportunity to hit the Gun Stun.

Minoru Suzuki: This will be the leader of Suzuki-gun’s seventh G1 Climax, and his first one in three years. The 48 year old former mixed martial artist will want to win this year to both cement his return to New Japan and to finally win the tournament.

SANADA – The second member of LIJ to enter the G1 Climax, SANADA started his career in All Japan and spent a brief period of time in TNA as The Great Sanada before finding his home in New Japan. Like EVIL, he debuted in the G1 Climax last year. SANADA will be aiming to have a more successful tournament this year and with his athleticism and Skull End submission, few people will be able to stop him.

EVIL: The third member of LIJ in this year’s tournament, EVIL stands out with his grim reaper-inspired entrance gear and his purple and black doublet. EVIL is a tough bruiser who will rely on brute force and his EVIL STO to try and build upon his G1 Climax debut last year.

Where is the G1 Climax?

This year’s tournament will be spread across 19 shows. The odd numbered shows will contain five singles matches from Block A, the even shows will have 5 singles matches from Block B. The shows are spread across Japan, from Sapporo in the north to Kagoshima in the south. Seven of the shows are held in Tokyo, with the last three shows being held at Ryogoku Kokugikan, better known to western fans as Sumo Hall. In addition to hosting the tournament final, the last show will have both tag team titles on the line. The agile and powerful War Machine face the Bullet Club team of Cody and Hangman Page for the heavyweight tag title, while the Young Bucks defend the junior tag titles against the team of Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi.

When is the G1 Climax?

The first show starts on July 17th and the final is on August 13th. There are 19 shows in total–the hottest crowds are likely to be at the shows in Korakuen Hall (July 20th-22nd) and the EDION Arena in Osaka (August 5th). If you only see three shows though, I would suggest the three at Ryogoku Kokugikan (August 11th-13th). The show on August 11th sees Naito and Tanahashi main event while August 12th is main evented by the eye-watering Okada vs. Omega 3.

How can I watch the G1 Climax?

The best way to watch the tournament is on NJPW World, New Japan’s streaming service. It costs 999 yen (about $9) a month to subscribe and the website has English translations. The shows are available both live and on demand. As an added treat, New Japan has now announced that Night 1 will be available for free on New Japan World. Not only is it free wrestling, but the show is headlined by Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi, so it’s definitely worth checking in.