Everything is terrible and nothing makes any sense any more. I don’t have to explain it to you, you’re a living human. Welp, at least we still have New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax to look forward to, right?
With a field of 20 wrestlers divided into two blocks and set to compete in a month-long series of grueling round robin matches — DA RULES: every wrestler in a block faces one another, two points for a win, one for a time-limit draw, zero for a loss, whoever has the most points in their block wrestles against their counterpart in the other block to crown a winner — the 30th iteration of the greatest tournament in professional wrestling begins on September 19. That’s this Saturday if specific dates no longer have any meaning to you. Tomorrow if days of the week are out the window too.
In a normal year, the G1 would have already wrapped up, its winner receiving their guaranteed match for New Japan’s top prize, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, on its biggest stage, Wrestle Kingdom. For all intents and purposes, that guarantee would additionally be drawn up into a contract, signed, notarized, and locked in a fun briefcase that the G1 winner then carries around for several months to signify their win. Multiple Match of the Year candidates, new rivalries and championship contenders, some quality GIFs, a clearer picture of what to expect at Wrestle Kingdom; we would have it all. In a normal year.
New Japan Pandemic Wrestling
It was always the plan for the 30th G1 Climax to be shifted from its usual Leo season slot towards the Virgo-Libra cusp. Before COVID-19, that was due to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. Then COVID unleashed a wave of havoc on the world, thus far killing over 900,000, infecting millions more, laying bare the gross inequities inherent in our so-called modern society, and outright forcing the cancellation of the Olympics. Even with the big scheduling conflict gone though, it has not been a straightforward road for NJPW to get to this point.
Japan is not exactly killing it in terms of their COVID numbers. Available stats do indicate that the country is on a mostly downward trajectory after a small spike in cases in August. Yet, there are still hundreds of new cases daily, which sounds nice from the vantage point of living in the United States, but is not what renowned medical experts around the world would call “great.”
Contrary to WWE and AEW, NJPW completely shut down at the end of February. The company would subsequently put on zero events until mid-June, when it returned for a series of fan-less shows. Subsequent major events at Osaka-jō Hall and Meiji Jingu Stadium saw fans return under an attendance cap, a mandatory mask mandate, health guidelines, and instructions to not loudly cheer so as to curb the potential spread of COVID. To scream inside their hearts as one genius put it. All shows have also had a break about halfway through so people in all-white hazmat suits can come down to the ring and sanitize everything. This may very well be a completely performative act, but it’s strangely refreshing and quaint to see.
Fans will again be welcomed under similar rules as part of these G1 Climax shows, 19 events culminating in the tournament finals on October 18 in Tokyo. Even with all the regulations and safeguards in place though — and even with the title of this post portraying the start of the G1 as a good thing — these are still live events with fans, and a whole lot of sweaty men touching each other amidst a deadly, highly contagious, global pandemic. Any way you slice it, that the G1 is happening at all is inherently problematic. And yet, the desire to see some great wrestling casts that aside. When you’ve been living indoors for half the year, unable to see loved ones, witness to horror upon horror in the world, something’s gotta give.
Let’s Hear it for the Boys
Of course, no post on your blog — which runs on the free and littered-with-weird-ads version of WordPress — about the G1 Climax can be complete without a roundup of all the competitors. Truly, what is a wrestling tournament without the people who are in it? Champions, stars, white people, interesting haircuts — this field has it all! Let’s break it down by block, and — because I ultimately want people to walk away from this being lightly entertained instead of bummed the hell out — get our most problematic entrant out of the way first!
It’s impossible to responsibly talk about this G1 without addressing the Will Ospreay of it all. This has been covered pretty definitively in greater detail elsewhere (and I do strongly encourage you to click on those hyperlinks and get the full story) but in short, Ospreay used his considerable influence in the UK wrestling scene to have now-retired wrestler Pollyanna blacklisted and removed from bookings after she accused Ospreay’s friend of sexual assault.
While not as transparently vile as some of the other stories of rampant abuse that came to light as part of Speaking Out, Ospreay’s actions are the kind of thing that discourages or outright stops those who suffer sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from coming forward. (He also hasn’t really apologized.) It perpetuates a toxic culture that allows creeps to thrive and keeps women down.
Despite legitimate excitement to watch the G1 unfold this year, the idea of Ospreay doing very well and, let’s face it, having a decent shot at winning the whole thing are looming overhead like a suspiciously dark cloud. That he’s seemingly being slotted right back in where he left off — notching increasing achievements towards becoming one of the company’s top guys — with no repercussions or accountability is incredibly disappointing. Will Ospreay is a very talented in-ring performer and will likely be part of some great matches in this tournament, but scream inside your heart for him to go 0 for the field. Throw him in the trash!
Last year’s winner, Kota Ibushi is simultaneously the smartest and dumbest person on planet Earth. By taking every day — as he describes it — 25 hours at a time, Ibushi has become one of the greatest wrestlers active today. Grace, intensity — whatever you want out of a pro wrestler, Ibushi contains it. He’s also insane and is frankly liable to break his neck at any time during a match. The man has never met a move he couldn’t turn into landing on his neck. If he truly is going to be wrestling 100 years from now, you have to believe it’s going to be a head-on-a-robot-body scenario.
Man, there’s going to be so much egg on my face when a fully organic 145 year-old Ibushi does a standing shooting star press on my grave.
A big boy who can do standing moonsaults and other cool moves. The nickname NJPW has given him is “Mr. Athletic,” which is lame but also rules? Some of these will be shorter than others.
Okada is already one of the greatest of all-time. Five reigns with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship — including records for the longest reign in history and most successful title defenses — some of the best matches ever, and most importantly in terms of the subject of this post, two G1 Climax wins. Lately however, Okada has been using a very lame and bad-looking submission hold as his finishing move, instead of the much more impactful and devastating “Rainmaker” that he’s made his bones on. What’s the deal, man? Nobody wants to see you lightly cradle your opponent’s head and expect us to believe it’s painful. They want to see you take your opponent’s dainty wrist, spin them away from you like you’re at the school dance, and look them directly in the eyes before pulverizing the life out of them. Is that so unreasonable? Could you do something right in your career for once?
A fire hydrant of a man that can put on a banger with just about anyone. Your uncle who misses the days when NBA players actually cared about boxing out for rebounds would love Tomohiro Ishii. Call Barry up later today and get a conversation going, surely he’s been curious to know how things have been during the pandemic, and if you’re going to get around to depositing that birthday check any time soon even though you only got it on Tuesday, three weeks late, no less. What were we talking about?
Moves fast, hits hard, has a large build that leads me to believe he gives great hugs, what’s not to love about Shingo Takagi? If only it didn’t feel like there was a zero percent chance he could actually win this thing. While Shingo might not end doing that great in terms of points, he will still put on several hells of performances. Like Ishii, he seems to match up great with everyone.
A 50-plus-year-old with 30-plus years of experience who will literally murder you dead. He’s also the current NEVER Openweight Champion. Apologies to my friends that are skimming this out of courtesy, have never seen a minute of an NJPW match, and to whom the phrase “NEVER Openweight” means absolutely nothing. All that matters to know is Suzuki will kill your ass.
The appeal of Taichi can be boiled down to two key points: 1) He poorly lip syncs his entrance theme on the way to the ring while dressed for a royal masquerade ball, and 2) Breakaway pants that he inevitably tears off right as the match reaches a tipping point in intensity. One half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions with Zack Sabre Jr. Seems cool in real life.
Probably the top white guy — or, if you want to seem smart on Reddit, top gaijin — in the entire promotion. Definitely the top White guy. A cockroach in the ring that always finds a way to survive a match and come out on top. Very good at making you hate him. Really into knives.
There’s always a guy in every G1 block that is mostly there to pad out everyone else’s win numbers, and that’s likely going to be Yujiro’s role. Seems to have a propensity for biting his opponent’s hands, which is a very fun thing to be doing in the age of COVID.
Been thinking about it, and Hiroshi Tanahashi — beautiful man that he is — is without question the Bruce Springsteen of New Japan. Having accrued so many accolades and the adoration of millions, he could easily be a legacy act cashing in on his past while exerting the bare minimum effort. However, even with a body that is held together by little more than medical tape and the adoring energy of fans, Tanahashi remains a super compelling performer. No one is ever angry about Tanahashi continuing to wrestle, just like no one is ever angry about Bruce Springsteen putting out new music, because it always means more of one of the best live shows out there. (At least in the pre-pandemic world.) Unknown if Bruce Springsteen was ever stabbed twice by an ex-girlfriend before driving himself to the hospital on his scooter, but it’s definitely something he would do. That’s basically what “Jungleland” is about anyway.
Unless Juice Robinson is suddenly going to be vying for a spot in the tournament finals, the most intriguing thing about him in this G1 is how he’s going to be dressed. In the past, Juice has looked like a pirate, a guy who might as well have been in Jane’s Addiction, a detective who rolled around in paint like he was in a Mentos commercial or something but then got fired from the force because he was too busy being free-spirited and his negligence got someone killed, and a TV executive’s idea of a gay cop. As he makes a triumphant return to Japan for this G1, look for Juice to be dressed in a sequined sailor suit. Maybe it’s a little too close to the pirate attire, but I don’t know, I’ve got a feeling. Guy who comes down to sanitize the ring, but the hazmat suit is lime green is in play too.
Goto has never held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship despite challenging for the thing eight times. He is the Katherine Heigel in 27 Dresses of New Japan Pro Wrestling still searching for his James Marsden in 27 Dresses of New Japan Pro Wrestling. At least he’s got a great
personality entrance theme!
A lot has been said about a lot of wrestlers to this point, but there is only one Toru Yano. Jack of all trades, master of all. Marketing, culinary arts, tourism, YouTube, taping a dude to a guard rail to ensure he gets counted out and you win the match. His genius is unparalleled. (Worth noting that he is the currently KOPW 2020, which at this point basically means that he gets to carry around a trophy that’s less impressive than one you get for participating in Little League.) The man is chaos embodied in this tournament, and is sure to get his share of shocking wins that screw a would-be contender over. Apologies to, oh, let’s say KENTA.
Speaking of! KENTA already owns one briefcase — it’s red! — that signifies he has a guaranteed title shot against Jon Moxley for the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship at some point in the indeterminate future. Now imagine if he comes out and wins the whole G1 too. Is the landscape of professional wrestling fully prepared to handle a man who gets to carry two briefcases?
YOSHI-HASHI is a veteran professional wrestler. Yet, every time he comes to the ring to start a match, he will almost certainly have a look on his face of, “Okay, no turning back now, sure you’ve never wrestled before in your entire life but no one out there knows that, you’ve got this, I think, maybe.” Hopefully he has some fun during all this.
Your champ (IWGP Heavyweight) and also your champ (IWGP Intercontinental.) Dude’s got two championships. Unfortunately for Naito, if anyone in B Block defeats him during the round robin phase of this tournament, they technically earn the right to challenge for those championships. Ideally he’d only want to defend one of them at a time, but the way things have been going, he’d probably have to defend both at the same time. Imagine having two championships and thinking you’re hot shit, only to lose them both in one go? How embarrassing! It already happened once! Maybe start defending those things separately!
SANADA is but a simple man. Based on his Instagram, all he wants out of life is to drink coffee, wear nice clothes, and hang with dogs. Presumably wrestling, winning a G1, and gaining his first solo championship in New Japan is also high up there for him, but who’s to say. All I know if that SANADA wants to drape the IWGP Heavyweight and/or Intercontinental title over a very large Mastiff that he’s met, I will be there double-tap on that photo and make a heart appear.
Zack Sabre Jr.
A submission specialist with a hold for every occasion, and current half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions with Taichi. ZSJ is like if a string bean had thorns on it. Did very poorly in last year’s G1 because of Boris Johnson. As far as I know, there is no Zack Sabre Sr.
After fully leaning into being a dude named EVIL, the dude named EVIL supremely levelled up over the last couple of months. Stomping many pairs of testicles along the way, he won the New Japan Cup, turned on Naito, went from being fifth most important guy in Los Ingobernables de Japon to the most important in Bullet Club — for all the non-wrestling-engaged friends, those are factions in NJPW — freshened up his whole vibe, and enjoyed a brief but newsworthy run as double champion.
I don’t like making predictions because I hate being publicly wrong about things. Seeing as I have made a section here in this post titled “Predictions” however, give me Jay White over EVIL to win the 30th G1 Climax. That’s right. Heel versus heel. Bullet Club versus Bullet Club. Just a drawn out 30-plus minute affair full of stalling, tomfoolery, and referees being conveniently knocked to the ground. No matter who wins, a guy we are expected to hate is main eventing Wrestle Kingdom, the only true outcome that can be hoped to be produced in a year such as 2020.
In a post-EVIL is evil world, anything is possible in New Japan. A guy you could not have cared less about when the promotion returned in June now demands and deserves to be taken seriously. Toru Yano could win the G1 after giving Ibushi an atomic wedgie. It all sounds ridiculous in its own way, but screw it, why not? In this year of all years, why the hell not?
May the G1 continue to confound us and blow up any notions we may have for what the future holds. Stay safe, maybe give a free trial of New Japan World a shot so you can check out a month of great wrestling, wear a mask.