The most intensive pro wrestling tournament in the land is back next week, and I'm here to give you all my thoughts about it, whether or not you asked.....
Yes, it's that time of year once again, the G1 Climax tournament, New Japan Pro Wrestling's annual grand tradition, wherein 20 wrestlers.......wait what? It's twenty-EIGHT this year? Cool, so does this mean they're including some AEW guys to really spice things up? Okay, Lance Archer, who else? That's it?? Seriously? So it's just more filler than usual? And they're splitting it up over four blocks? The hell??
Yeah I'm not crazy about this new format. If guys like Moxley, Danielson, Page, Claudio, Kingston, etc. aren't being added to the mix, what's the point of expanding the field? You're literally just adding more guys who have no chance of winning and diluting the number of must-see matches. Seriously, look at this field.
Let's examine how many possible winners there are in each block.
Block A: Kazuchika Okada, or Jeff Cobb as a longshot. But it's Okada.
Block B: Jay White, or Sanada as a longshot. But White's the champion, he's winning the block.
Block C: This actually has numerous possible winners - Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Evil (Please no), or Zack Sabre Jr. So at least there will be some suspense in this block.
Block D: Will Ospreay or Shingo Takagi
Not much point in watching the bouts that don't involve the aforementioned folks, is there? Toru Yano vs. Jonah for example isn't going to impact anything. Sure, there are nothing matches like that every year, but with four blocks there's gonna be way more of that stuff than marquee matchups. I just don't get it. Is this like a test run for next year when they'll add some AEW fellas?
Anyway, rather than go through all 28 guys in this piece, I'll just talk about the potential winners I mentioned.
Coming off the loss of his sixth IWGP Championship, the Rainmaker will look to catapult himself back into the Tokyo Dome main event, and he seems a very likely candidate to win this whole thing. Which would also make him the fourth man to win back-to-back G1s.
Cobb could be the block MVP, as he's become one of the company's most reliable bruiser workhorses. I honestly don't seem him winning the block over Okada but he'll be a strong runner-up.
Man, this dude turned in the performance of a lifetime in that Dominion main event, huh? I wasn't too keen on Okada already losing the title but White earned the shit outta that belt - I give that match ****3/4. The smart money is on him retaining the title until at least WrestleKingdom, if not longer, and I certainly don't see him failing to win B Block.
He's made the G1 finals once before so there's a chance he makes the semis here, but like I said, with the champion as his chief competitor in this block I think it's a longshot at best.
The Ace is always a safe bet as a finalist candidate and as the deliverer of some tournament highlights. He's probably my second preference to win C Block.
Another perennial favorite in the G1, Naito is back from an ill-timed injury during the New Japan Cup and looking for redemption.
This guy used to be a lock for some of the best matches of the tournament and then he went Bullet Club and now his matches stink. I really hope he doesn't win the block.
Zack Sabre Jr.
This is the guy I'm rooting for in C. He's been absolutely crushing it on the reg and I'd love to see him get to the next level. A block win, a Finals appearance, or even a G1 win would do the trick nicely.
Another guy who's overdue to win this whole tournament, Ospreay is a force of nature. Now that he's main evented a WrestleKingdom show, he's fair game to take the trophy. White vs. Ospreay doesn't make much sense as a WK final, though, so something would have to change between now and then.
And still another first-time winner I'd get behind. Shingo is like NJPW's Jon Moxley - durable as shit, always delivers when it counts, and can be plugged into a top spot anytime he's needed. He's also main evented WK so a G1 win makes all the sense in the world.
Top 3 Matches - Block A
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb - Always a great showing anytime these two get together. The powerhouse vs. the complete wrestler.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Lance Archer - It's been a while since we saw this one. Archer is generally a scary midcard guy who can hurt you but isn't likely to beat you. But his G1 outings have always been fun to watch.
Jeff Cobb vs. Lance Archer - Power vs. Power. Should be a very entertaining hoss fight.
Top 3 Matches - Block B
Jay White vs. Tomohiro Ishii - Ishii may not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the block but at least he'll provide some much needed great action. These guys are no strangers to each other and they always deliver.
Jay White vs. Sanada - If anyone can get a career highlight match out of Sanada it's Jay. Should be a worthy main event-type match.
Sanada vs. Tomohiro Ishii - Another familiar G1 pairing, this is always good for some stiff Strong Style fun.
Top 3 Matches - Block C
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - Lotta familiar pairings in this block but Sabre's matches are always an offbeat joy as he twists his opponents into knots and gets unexpected tapouts or cradle pins. This one will be a standout.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tetsuya Naito - Again, no strangers here and I think Naito is due to get a win back over Zack.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kenta - Kenta is an excellent striker, Zack is a grappler with a weaker jaw than most. That dynamic should make for an interesting matchup.
Top 3 Matches - Block D
Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi - It all comes down to this match in Block D, and these two always knock it out of the park. This could be the match of the tournament.
Will Ospreay vs. Juice Robinson - I hope now that Juice is in Bullet Club he doesn't fall into the same annoying traps as Evil and Sho. Juice is too good in-ring to just be a sports-entertainment heel guy. If he has his working boots on, this should be fun. Also it's the current US Champ vs. the guy who never lost the US Title.
Shingo Takagi vs. Juice Robinson - Again, if Juice is here to work, this will be a great slugfest.
As I said, Blocks A and B are all but forgone conclusions. Okada's winning A, White's winning B. I gotta think Okada gets past White to advance to the finals.
Block C could go a number of different ways but I'm going with ZSJ to emerge as the winner, earning another stripe after his magnificent NJ Cup showing.
Block D is a coin flip; either Ospreay or Shingo is a good bet, but I'll take Shingo here, thus he earns a rematch with ZSJ in the semis.
From there I think Shingo gets a revenge win over Zack, earning his spot in the finals against Okada, in a WrestleKingdom 16 rematch. Now that WK is a two-night event every year it opens up the G1 winner's spot a bit. Shingo can win the G1 but someone else can still get a title shot on whatever Tokyo Dome night Shingo isn't in the main event. So I think Shingo wins here and faces White at WK Night 1, but Okada earns a Night 2 match some other way.
Well there it is, I don't see this G1 hitting the highs of a few years ago, but hopefully there's enough star power to make the four-block format work. The semis and finals should certainly deliver at any rate. It's nice to have the G1 during the summer months again.
Thanks for reading - subscribe to our mailing list, and follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Facebook and YouTube!