This is my favorite time of year!
Well, not really. It’s hot outside, there are way too many people on the road, I live in constant fear of the AC in my house or car breaking and I feel really self conscious about how I look in swimming trunks when my kid asks to go to the pool.
But, and there is always a but…
Summer means it’s time for New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament! If you’ve ever read my material before, you know that I am a huge fan of the G1. I think it’s arguably the best event in pro wrestling and needs to be talked about with the same respect that’s given to WrestleMania and WrestleKingdom. Originally, I was planning on writing about several events happening this summer (AEW Fight for the Fallen, SummerSlam, etc.) but since there were several G1 related announcements this weekend, I decided to use this opportunity to talk about the history, prestige and excitement that comes with the G1, as well as give a preview of this year’s tournament, the G1 Climax 29.
A BRIEF HISTORY
New Japan Pro Wrestling has held an annual tournament to determine either who will be become the Heavyweight Champion or who will be come the #1 contender for the championship since 1974. During that time, it had many different names, such as “World Cup” or “International Wrestling Grand Prix (Hence, the IWGP Championships). For reasons obvious to anyone that is a fan of pro wrestling and over the age of 21, the early tournaments were mostly dominated by NJPW founder and then-owner Antonio Inoki, although legends like Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were also tournament winners.
It was not until 1991, when Inoki’s dominance over New Japan had begun to wane, that the G1 Climax we know today was established. It was built to be a round robin tournament held in two groups, with the winner of the tournament getting a title shot at the current IWGP Heavyweight Championship. As an added bonus, in all but four years, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion has competed in the tournament, although only two men have walked into the tournament as champion and won the whole thing.
In 2012, New Japan introduced “the briefcase”. The winner of the G1 gets a briefcase containing a guaranteed contract to face the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the main event of WrestleKingdom in the Tokyo Dome. During the roughly four-and-a-half months between the end of the G1 and WrestleKingdom, the G1 winner must defend his briefcase in matches to retain his right to the main event match. If you’re a WWE fan, imagine King of the Ring combined with Money in the Bank. It’s kind of like that.
SO WHAT HAPPENS IN THE G1?
The G1 consists of 20 wrestlers broken into two groups of 10. The tournament works on a point system:
- Win a match: 2 points
- Draw by countout or time expiration: 1 point
- Lose a match (by pinfall, submission or DQ): 0 points
Each wrestler has to fight every other wrestler in his block over the course of four weeks, which comes out to 9 matches and a potential total of 18 points. At the end of the tournament, the wrestler from each group (or Block) with the most points will meet in the finale match. The winner gets the briefcase containing the Tokyo Dome contract and, as long as he still holds it by the end of the year, he is guaranteed to fight in the main event of WrestleKingdom for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
WHY IS IT SO SPECIAL?
Put simply: It’s a solid month of wrestling from some of the best wrestlers in the world. Every time I get asked about why I think Japanese wrestling is better than the WWE (or most American wrestling, for that matter), I usually say, “Watch the G1”. If you watch the G1 and you still think WWE wrestling is superior, I have no choice but to believe you don’t understand wrestling at all. In the months of July and August, you’re going to see amazing matches and deep storytelling. You’re going to see faction lines blurred. You’re going to see desperation, triumph, and tragedy. These aren’t week-to-week storylines with no continuity. These are stories that have taken literal years to play out! The matches mean something in the G1! Every single night matters. Do yourself a favor and give this a shot.
ALRIGHT, YOU’VE CONVINCED ME. WHERE DO I WATCH?
It’s available on NJPWWorld.com. It’s New Japan’s streaming service and it costs about $9.99 a month. You think paying $9.99 for the WWE Network and getting cheap pay-per-views is a deal? With NJPW, you’re getting 4 pay-per-views a week for a month for the same price. Seriously, there’s no reason not to try this out. If you hate it, you lost ten bucks. But you won’t hate it. And for all of the “I’m in America and I speak American!” friends out there, yes, the very first page has an “English” button so you can read everything. As far as I know, NJPWWorld is available on Amazon FireTV and Apple TV (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). If you don’t have either of those, you can watch it on your computer or stream it from your Chromecast.
For some people, this is still going to be a step too far, so there’s one more way to watch it. AXS TV, the U.S. home for NJPW, has announced that they will be airing every night of the G1 Climax with English commentary. Watch it live or set your DVR, but this is, by far, the easiest way to watch. It’s available on most cable providers (I’ve had Verizon FiOS and T-Vision over the past few years, and I’ve always had AXS). If you’re a cord cutter, AXS is available on DirecTV NOW and SlingTV.
All of the matches will be called in English by a rotating group of commentators and wrestlers, anchored by WWE and ROH alumni, the amazing Kevin Kelly. Seriously, I can’t say enough about how great his calls are. You’ll probably also hear the illustrious “Top Talent” Don Callis and Chris Charlton. If you’ve never heard of him, he’s a fan and historian turned NJPW employee. A fantastic success story. Imagine Sam Roberts, but with talent, self-respect, a unique opinion to offer and the ability to know when to shut up. That’s Chris Charlton.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS YEAR’S G1?
This year is shaping up to look very different from the past few years. There are some obvious names in there, but also some newcomers and at least one or two head-scratchers. I won’t go into too much detail, but here’s a brief preview of each wrestler.
Lance Archer: Bad guy. Former multiple-time tag team champion with Davey Boy Smith. Very tall. Enjoys spitting water on people and scaring children.
Evil: Multiple-time tag team champion. Love child of The Great Muta and The Undertaker. I mean that as a compliment. Enjoys brutality and that Halloween store that’s only open in October.
See what I mean?
Bad Luck Fale: Bullet Club OG. Huge. Tongan. Likes saying the F word.
Kota Ibushi: The Golden Star. So many muscles, he looks airbrushed. Takes a lot of risks in the ring. Recently had his lifetime ban from the Nippon Budokan arena lifted (he did a moonsault from the rafters after being told not to).
See what I mean??
KENTA: Spent the last decade as the dominant Junior Heavyweight in Pro Wrestling Noah and as Hideo Itami in NXT/WWE. After being gone for about half a year, he emerged in NJPW and demanded to be in the G1, looking better and healthier than ever. CM Punk stole his finishing move and WWE fans still won’t admit it.
Kazuchika Okada: Leader of CHAOS. The current Ace of NJPW. The Cena. The Hogan. THE MAN. Current IWGP Heavyweight Champion and 5-star match machine. The best parts of Ric Flair and Harley Race in Rick Rudes body.
SEE WHAT I MEAN??
Will Osprey: The first head-scratcher. Current IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion aka a Cruiserweight. I can’t think of a Jr. that’s been in the G1 tournament (which is heavyweight only) since Prince Devitt (Finn Balor). In any case, expect to see more recklessness and probably yet another finishing move invented. While I’m personally not a huge fan of Osprey, I get why people find him entertaining and I can guarantee he’ll have several enjoyable matches.
SANADA: Multiple-time tag tea, champion. The strong, silent type. Smooth in the ring and tough as nails. My underdog pick to win it all, or at least make the finals.
Hiroshi Tanahashi: The former Ace, though some would say he still is. He would definitely say he still is. The top guy in NJPW for the last 10-15 years, doing everything he can to hang on to his fading spotlight.
Jeff Cobb: From Ring of Honor. Olympic weightlifter and suplex machine. World traveler and former NEVER Openweight champion. Fits will with strong style, and enjoys throwing grown men long distances.
Hirooki Goto: Can be bland in the ring, but his skill is not to be overlooked. He’s the NJPW equivalent of 80’s WWF Randy Savage. Very good, but not considered to be the “top guy”. Still, puts on very enjoyable matches.
Tomohiro Ishii: One of the toughest wrestlers working today, let alone in NJPW. Strong as a pitbull and relentless. Gives and takes shots that make you want to turn away from the TV, but you won’t be able to. Has no neck. No one knows why.
SEE WHAT I…. Seriously, do I even need pics?
Jon Moxley: The former Dean Ambrose is free from WWE and going on a violence tour around the world. He bloodied up Juice Robinson and took his U.S. Championship, and now he’s going to try to make a dent in the G1 competition.
Tetsuya Naito: The leader of LIJ. Tranquilo. Laid back. Does what he wants, when he wants. He’s been an odds favorite to win every year for the past four years, and in three of those years, he made the finals or won. We know he’s destined to clash with Okada again. It’s only a matter of time.
Juice Robinson: Former IWGP U.S. Champion. He’s pissed about losing his title, he’s mad at the fans for not supporting him and doubting him, and his last G1 tournament was absolutely abysmal. I’m looking for Juice to be out for revenge.
Taichi: The Holy Emperor. Our golden-voiced lord. What else is there to say?
OK, this is the last one.
Shingo Takagi: Former Dragon Gate champion, currently in LIJ. Just made the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Has asked to take on heavyweights, which is good, because calling him a cruiserweight is a bit of a stretch.
Jay White: Current leader of Bullet Club. The future of NJPW bad guys. One of the few heels working in wrestling today that people really hate. He isn’t afraid to get real heat, which makes him absolutely amazing, besides the fact that he’s so versatile in the ring.
Toru Yano: The best comedy wrestler working today. I can’t even describe how goofy he is. You ever see something so bad it becomes good again? It’s that, but to the extreme. He cheats every chance he gets and sells DVDs on his way to the ring.
Ah… Okay, one more.
There are noticeably no “legends” aka Old Timers in this tournament. Usually, there are a few older entrants that are peppered through the tournament so that the Japanese fans can see their old favorites. Guys like Satoshi Kijima were left out, but the most obvious slight is Minoru Suzuki. He’s always in the G1 and even at 52, he’s a workhorse that is on most of NJPW’s tours. Suzuki not being in the G1 does not make a lot of sense. I’ll miss his theme music and the way he tries to murder people half his age.
You know how you have one grandpa that makes funny faces and gives you candy, and another one that yells about Vietnam and cleans his guns a lot? Yeah, that’s these two.
Tama Tonga has been a staple of the G1 recently, but revealed that he asked to be left out this year. He wants to focus on being a tag team wrestler, which is honestly commendable, because he has the talent to do both if he wanted to.
Yoshi Hashi is not in the G1, and I’m glad. He literally only exists to get pinned by heel wrestlers. He has the personality of loose leaf paper and the charisma of a Senate hearing. If he was a spice, he’d be flour. If he were a book, he’d be several books.
This is the face of someone that goes to a sushi place, orders California Rolls, then blogs about “ethnic food” for hours.
I know a lot of people thought that maybe, just maybe, some members of The Elite would show up. Chris Jericho was just at Dominion, so that could have been a possibility, but for those that know about the situation, I feel like the The Elite are busy with their own stuff in AEW and I imagine some wounds probably are still fresh. I’ll miss Kenny Omega in the G1, but there’s no telling if he could find his way back one day.
ANYTHING LEFT TO SAY?
Nope. I think I covered it all. If you read this far, I’m truly grateful to you. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the G1 Climax 29!