I’ve said it before. This isn’t a video games blog. It seems like that sometimes, because that’s what I usually talk about. But it’s not. It’s an Aether blog. And that means sometimes we have different subjects than the usual around here. Today’s going to be one of those days. Because today I want to talk about wrestling.
New Japan Pro Wrestling, specifically. Been something of a passion of mine for over a year now. And it’s a good time to be into it. A really good time. The company has been spending the past couple years putting out what many consider to be the best matches in the history of wrestling. They’ve been gathering some of the best talents in the industry, and the results have showing. Perhaps most tellingly, the Wrestling Observer Newsletters rating scale, which many fans look to as the gold standard of wrestling match reviewing, has only awarded more than five stars eight times in its long history. Seven of those times have been matches with New Japan Pro Wrestling within the past year and a half. Hell, they’ve become enough of a powerful presence in the pro wrestling world that even the WWE, who as a rule never acknowledge other wrestling companies, have made some pretty huge references to NJPW over the past several years.
Calling New Japan the best wrestling has ever been is going to draw some controversy, but it’s got a solid claim to that right now. What’s much less disputable is that NJPW is in the midst of a golden age of the form, delivering a level of quality that people are still going to be talking about for years. They are giving us some of the best wrestling you can see. And with them expanding their efforts to connect with worldwide audiences, a new president who has set a priority of delivering more English content, and with NJPW being on the eve of this year’s G1 Climax, probably their highest profile event of the year, I’ll repeat that. It’s a really good time to be into NJPW.
And you know, I’m a giving person. I like making the world a better place. So for those who were interested in getting into this year’s G1 Climax, I thought to put together a little primer. Just something to make jumping in a bit easier.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, you know wrestling. It’s been around a long, long time, and has taken up enough of a place in our culture that, yeah, you know what you’re in for. So let’s talk a little bit about what’s different about New Japan Pro Wrestling from what you might generally see.
One thing that’s been with NJPW since the start is their value on what they call Strong Style. Yes, WWE selling Shinsuke Nakamura as the King of Strong Style is a direct export from here. The company was founded by Antonio Inoki, a wrestler/martial artist who had a stupid fight with Muhammed Ali once that ended up serving as the dumbest possible origin to Mixed Martial Arts. But Inoki was never-the-less inspired by that, and worked that into the company he made, delivering a take on pro-wrestling very much inspired by MMA, boxing, and other combat sports. The company used to go too far with it, demanding their wrestlers also take part in legit MMA competition and seeing plenty of wrestlers make a habit of hitting each other too hard to get more impact out of their supposedly fake moves. They’ve walked back on it since, but it’s still a part of their DNA, and you’ll see a lot of their wrestlers with legit records in MMA, amateur wrestling, kickboxing, etc. behind them. They do strongly value a mix of styles, both drawing inspiration from outside sources and seeing variety in the types of wrestling styles on display.
One of the best parts of wrestling is the drama. It’s more than just a competition, because a competition that’s not really a competition is kind of lame. Wrestling is at it’s best when you’re feeling for the characters in the ring and getting invested in the momentum between them. In typical wrestling, this often takes the place of a sort of soap opera with muscles that will always sound dumb when you try to explain it to someone else but it can actually be pretty awesome to watch. NJPW is way, way more subtle with that. You don’t usually get people standing in the middle of the ring talking about how they’re going to fistinate everyone else. There’s no ladder matches for custody of people’s children, nobody getting into each other’s heads by having sex with manikins, no fake buyouts of the company by future presidents. For 95 percent of the show, it’s all matches. Most of the story happens in the ring, by the behavior of the people involved in their matches. The announcers will deliver some, some of the special content post match interviews will deliver some for those who choose to go with that too, but most of it just comes from watching and gaining insight into how they interact with each other. Some wrestlers are better at it than others, which leads to some differing quality on how this goes. The story also typically goes over a lot longer term, too. Some people, you’ll see rivalries playing out over years, only coming up a bit at a time when they have the odd match with each other. It’s pretty regular to see them set up a moment at one point that’s not going to have the emotional payoff you’d expect for months. When it works well, it works very well. Again, it does lead to some missteps along the way, but what booking doesn’t have its stupid missteps?
They also take a really different approach to match structure. NJPW values the health and longevity of their wrestlers, so the primary style of wrestling match is some variety of tag match. By my understanding, wrestlers are more driven to push the limits and go for those risky awesome moments in one-on-one matches, which leads to more injuries, so they try to save those singles matches for select times. Typically, you only get singles matches when somebody’s challenging for a title, when they’re going through one of NJPW’s tournaments, or in the odd grudge match. The top talent in the company often end up only having about 20 or so singles matches a year, a record way less than most anywhere else. You still see them in tag matches all the time, so you still get a chance to enjoy them for what they’ve got, but you don’t see them completely unleashed but for a few select times.
And frankly, that booking approach comes to define a lot of how things work in NJPW. Titles gain a lot of weight behind them, because the champion becomes the person you’re going to be seeing in singles matches for the next while. Perhaps because of this, the titles are more volatile than in many other promotions. Most champions are only able to hold onto them for a couple of defenses before someone else takes over. Factions are a lot more important to the company’s structure, as well. Most of the talent is divided into one of four different factions. Those factions give the individual wrestlers some identity, serve as a vehicle for both collaboration and conflicts with other groups, and provide the stable of member with whom you’ll see them team with in that multitude of tag matches they use so often.
The G1 Climax
When I say the G1 Climax is perhaps the highest profile event of NJPW’s year, that might lead you to expect things that don’t quite apply here. The G1 Climax is not NJPW’s equivalent of WrestleMania, the year-turning show in which they pull out all the stops and capitalize on all the momentum they’ve built up. No, that would be Wrestle Kingdom, which is almost always a great experience in it’s own right. Still, not the G1 Climax. In fact, no titles will be on the line during the G1 Climax, no grudges settled, nothing finished.
Rather, the G1 Climax is a tournament. 20 wrestlers separated into two blocks, going against each other in singles matches over the course of a month. There’s no eliminations from this tournament, it’s all point based; two points for a win, one for a draw, nothing for a loss. At the end the two wrestlers with the most points from each block face each other. The winner of that scores a contract that, assuming they can defend it until then, has them challenging for the top title of NJPW, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, in the main event of next year’s Wrestle Kingdom.
So what’s the big deal about the G1 Climax? Well, aside from the fact that it’s twenty shows over the course of a month of great wrestling, remember that NJPW is protective of their talent, only having them in singles matches on select occasions. And this is probably the biggest select occasion. This is actually where most of the wrestlers involved will be seeing the majority of the year’s singles competition, more matches in one month than they’ll have in the rest of the year combined. This isn’t the only singles tournament NJPW has, but this is the one that gathers the biggest quantity of their top talent, and as a result, has a really great quantity of high quality matches, all in a single place.
Moreover, this is one where they pack a lot of surprises, as well. You’ll see normally invincible champions falter. You’ll see wrestlers pick up surprise victories over people who would normally be way above them in the power rankings. You’ll see matches go in bizarre directions they wouldn’t try anywhere else in the year. Generally, whenever someone beats a reigning champion, they end up with a title shot against them later on, so you’ll see this open up a lot of doors to surprising future matches as well.
So yeah. It’s not just one great show. It’s a lot of great shows, many that bring things you won’t get the chance to see any other time this year. It’s an excellent jumping on point, or an exciting annual event if you’re already in there. There’s a lot to look forward to here.
Again, NJPW’s factions are very important to the way they structure their booking, and a lot of the overall story lines you’ll see. Let’s go over a bit of who they are.
A long time ago, Great Bash Heel was a faction in NJPW, basically filled with “tough and cool” bad guys. Then Shinsuke Nakamura led most of its members to rebel against the leader of that faction, and formed Chaos out of that. They were originally focused on bringing back the spirit of Strong Style to the promotion, but after Nakamura left for the WWE, they haven’t been too consistent of that, and many of their members don’t have styles that fit with the Strong Style ideology at all. Now, they seem to be mostly a collection of guys who are really into the competition, always seeking out stronger opponents and bigger challenges and stretching their own limits, but are still kind of dicks about it.
They have, however, been very dominant in the title picture in recent times. Kazuchika Okada just finished a run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship where he’s broken pretty much all the records, Hirooki Goto has seen the NEVER Openweight Championship keep coming back to him like a boomerang, Will Ospreay has become a natural fit for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, etc. If it’s a singles championship in NJPW, chances are Chaos has been all over its recent history.
Currently, they seem to be led by Gedo, that guy with the hobo beard you’ll see shouting English at Kazuchika Okada in all his matches. Gedo’s also NJPW’s head booker, but in both his real life and his storyline leadership roles, he mostly works behind the scenes. Currently, they hold the NEVER Openweight Championship and the United States Championship. I believe they’re the largest faction in NJPW, and they’ve got the most members in this year’s G1 Climax. They’re faces. At least, they’re nominally good guys. But they’re still kind of dicks about it.
Suzuki-gun are probably the clearest true villains of the NJPW sphere. Formed exclusively of sadists, assholes, and the type of people who will go into the crowd and scare little children until they cry, Suzuki-gun are bad, bad men. They’ll have the odd flashes of honor, sure, but most of the time, they will cheat to get what they want, beat their opponents in the most deliberately painful ways possible, and beat up innocent bystanders whenever they lose. And sometimes when they win, too.
In fact, Suzuki-gun is so aggressive, they haven’t limited it to just NJPW. The announcers will claim that they were exiled from the promotion in 2015 and 2016, but it seemed more of an invasion as they migrated over to Pro Wrestling NOAH to cause havoc there. They picked up some new members and returned to NJPW in 2017, and have since been inflicting their special joys on the talent there.
Suzuki-gun is led, appropriately enough, by Minoru Suzuki. I’m sure you can guess from the description above the type of personalities involved. They seem to specialize in combat outside the ring, and nearly every match will see them drawing their opponent out there where they dominate in all sorts of illegal ways while the refs make a lot of noise but don’t actually do anything. Currently, they hold the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
Los Ingobernables de Japon
NJPW partners with a lot of other wrestling companies around the world. They share talent, cross storylines, and sometimes something that happens in one company continues in another. Such is the case with Los Ingobernables de Japon. When Tetsuya Naito went on an excursion to Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in Mexico, he joined the Los Ingobernables faction there, and started an offshoot of it when he came back to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
LIJ is both NJPW’s smallest main faction and, in Japan at least, it’s most popular. Composed of five very strong, verging on cartoonish, personalities, Japan can’t get enough of these guys. They’ve been showing results in the ring, too. Over the past year, every single member of the stable has held championship gold, and they’ve won three of the five annual tournaments NJPW has held. It starts to feel like they’re more powered by popularity than anything else, which gets frustrating as it makes their storylines feel much less organic, but they have had plenty of stellar matches on the way there.
They have a variety of characterizations between them, probably more so than any other factions, but they’re all treated as lovable rogue types, people who will play dirty and break the rules but have their own charm in so doing. There’s also a strong sense of camaraderie between them, and they do back each other up very often. Their active members are entirely made up of Japanese wrestlers who’ve developed themselves in Mexico and picked up elements of their style. They’re led by Tetsuya Naito, one of the most loved stars in New Japan on both sides of the ocean. They currently hold the NJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Ah, yes. Bullet Club. At its best, it was one of the hottest things in wrestling. They were possibly more well-known than NJPW itself, and you continue to see their merch all over the place in wrestling. Yes, you’ll even see their shirts all around the crowd in WWE shows. In fact the WWE themselves have tapped into Bullet Club on two occasions, the first by treating AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows as if they were still members of the Bullet Club when they came over, the second with their current Balor Club gimmick. Again, the WWE never refers to other promotions. The fact that they’ve done so twice is a huge testament to just how much of an impact Bullet Club has had.
Bullet Club was formed by Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Karl Anderson, and Prince Devitt (currently wrestling in the WWE as Finn Balor). They originally started as a group of traditional western-style wrestling heels in a culture that was largely foreign to, and they made a huge impact just from that. Yet they’ve developed greatly from there, adding a lot of brotherhood into the mix, growing into a group of people who just seem to have a great time working with each other and with wrestling in general. And they just feel great. A lot of wrestling companies have attempted to mimic the success of the NWO from back in the day, usually failing to do so, but Bullet Club seem to have hit those same notes by accident. They’ve got the same profound feeling of being invasive elements, strong black and white visual motifs, and a strong general attitude. More than that, though, they just feel cool. The way they carry themselves, the attitude they bring to the ring, the fellowship among themselves, they’re just cool.
They’ve been troubled of late, though. They seem to be going through a bit of an identity crisis, and have lost a lot of what they once had. After first Devitt then AJ Styles left for the WWE, Bullet Club was left under the leadership of Kenny Omega, who seems to have a lot of good ideas and puts on some great matches, but his front-of-scenes character is a selfish jerk who was only in the Club for the money, and that’s cost Bullet Club a lot of the sense of brotherhood that was so central to it for so long as a natural way that interaction progressed. Moreover, with LIJ rising in popularity and taking the part of the charming villainous foreign-themed stable, there’s less room for Bullet Club in there. They seemed to be reinventing themselves a bit with the schism storyline they’ve had for the past while, but that seems to have been interrupted when Kenny Omega became the heavyweight champion, and some of the events that happened in the aftermath have taken back a lot of the resolutions we’ve seen so far to no real gain. So yeah. They’re floundering, but in the midst of changing. Time will tell how they come out of it. They have one high profile match in that storyline left before the G1 Climax, which could end it if they were of a mind to let it limp to a ruined conclusion. If the storyline survives that, expect it to get some small play in the G1 Climax. They currently hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, and the NEVER 6 Man Tag Team Championships.
The Main Body
This is basically everyone else. Most of the faces of the IWGP are under this, although there’s quite a few unaffiliated heels as well. There are a few small factions here, such as the remains of Great Bash Heel and Taguchi Japan, but none of them rise to the levels of the four main ones, and they’ll intermingle among each other freely. They’re more of a loose association, anyways.
That’s kind of the way things work here. In opposition to most storytelling, the bad guys are the ones with the real camaraderie while the good guys just can’t get it together. They’re often forced to work together, however, by virtue of the fact that all their opponents are, and they need to keep up. They don’t always get along so well, however. You do have some really strong talents among the main body. And given that they don’t have their faction providing identity and character for them, they’re free to develop in other ways. Some of NJPW’s most important and highest level wrestlers are faces among the main body.
Currently, the main body holds the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
This competition is more about the people than its factions, right? Let’s take a look at who will be competing in this year’s G1 Climax.
The Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi
Look at him. Just look at him. You would never think this man has one of the longest tenures in New Japan of any wrestler in this competition, nearing his twentieth year of wrestling. He is gorgeous. Timelessly gorgeous.
Tanahashi plays an important part in New Japan’s history, having been one of their prime wrestlers leading them out of one of the companies lowest performing periods and subsequent bankruptcy into a period of renewal that led them to the greatness they’re seeing today. He’s a very well-rounded person as well, both in and out of the ring. Straight wrestling, mat-work, high-flying, Tanahashi does a bit of everything really well. And if you get a chance to get some translated behind-the-scenes material from him, he seems a very wise and thoughtful person as well. He is rightfully one of the top stars in New Japan, and has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship many, many times, in a field where most only get to bear it a few times at most. Having been around so long, some of his wrestling methodology and character, such as the insistent musician theming from back when all wrestlers had side jobs apparently, are a little dated, but he actually makes them work. And he gives the best air guitar concerts you’ve ever seen.
A constant concern with Tanahashi is that he’s been wrestling for a good long while and picked up a whole host of injuries that he’s consistently worked through rather than allowing himself time off to recover. The dude is really invested in NJPW and works through his pain because he feels he can make them stronger, but this ends up physically taking it’s toll on him, and there’s always the question of how long he can last. Even through that, though, he’s still giving fantastic matches. I’d say some of the past couple years have been some of the best of his career, and he deserves his top spot on the card.
I’m really interested in how this year’s G1 Climax goes for Tanahashi. He lost his biggest match earlier this year in a way that seemed to shut him down pretty hard, way harder then usual, as if the bookers were sunsetting his career as a main event star. They could have been doing that, truly. But remember NJPW takes the long view to their storylines, and they often do shove someone down only to have them rise up even harder months later. Given the quality of matches Tanahashi has been putting on, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were doing so with him, and the G1 Climax would be a prime spot for him to rise again.
The Lonely Warrior, Minoru Suzuki
Minoru Suzuki is probably the biggest villain on the NJPW roster. The leader of Suzuki-gun, Minoru Suzuki’s emotions seem to run a scale from mad to pissed, only going outside of that when he’s in the midst of hurting someone. And then, his face lights up into an expression of perverse glee that’s more disturbing than anything else he could be doing.
Minoru Suzuki is probably the most MMA-influenced wrestler on the roster. Because he’s got the most extensive MMA career on the roster. He was one of the founders behind Pancrase, one of the first MMA organizations in the world, and he built a strong record as a catch wrestler there. That record’s not without controversy, but the fact remains, he’s got a long successful history in the field, and he brings that with him into his wrestling style. You won’t see him do a lot of traditional wrestling suplexes and throws, outside of his finishing maneuver, rather, he’s almost entirely strikes and holds.
Back in his MMA days, Minoru Suzuki was known for being cruel, xenophobic, and very aggressive. All reports say that he’s mellowed out considerably with age, to the point he’s actually a calm and accepting person now. But his character in wrestling is based on who he was then. And he must have been truly wicked.
The Unchained Gorilla, Togi Makabe
I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Togi Makabe. He’s fine. He’s a big power wrestler, a strong guy, who will growl out a lot of barely understandable english swear words in the midst of the match. Uses a lot of moves that visually look like they hit hard. Former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and has had a lot of success in tag. Former leader and one of two remaining members of Great Bash Heel.
He just doesn’t do it for me.
As I said, he’s fine. I don’t mind his matches, I don’t begrudge his successes, and depending on who he’s up against, I may actually enjoy him being on my screen. But in a sea of people who are awesome to watch and deliver such fantastic matches, he kind of fades away. I may not have seen him at his best, but he’s an unspectacular wrestler overall, to me.
Oh, and also, the reason they won’t play his entrance music in the broadcast? It’s Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and NJPW doesn’t have the rights.
The Head Hunter, Yoshi-Hashi
This guy is the bread and water of wrestling. He’s there. You can get sustenance out of him. He gives you the basic bare essentials. I had several meals composed of nothing but him in college. Maybe this analogy is getting away from me.
Yoshi-Hashi sure is there. He comes to the ring. He wrestles. And then he leaves. Damn if I can remember much of what he does in the middle. He’s had some singles matches over the past year. I can only clearly remember what happened in one of them, and that’s because he was up against Kota Ibushi, who’s a crazy man.
He’s a bit of a jobber, and outside of tag competition, expect him to lose often. In the G1 Climax, he’ll pick up some points here and there, maybe a surprise victory, but for the most part, expect him to be here for others to earn their points on.
He’s themed after Sun Wukong from Journey to the West. That’s the reason for the staff and goofy outfit he wears to the ring.
The Unbreakable Michael Elgin
So I just now learned that Michael Elgin is not the person’s real name. Which is bizarre to me. If you’re going to have a ring name, why pick something so generic.
I really like Michael Elgin. He wouldn’t be my top pick or anything, but he can definitely put on some good matches. The dude is strong. Very much so. And he likes to show that off in the ring. Lots of lifts, slams, suplexes, bombs, if they involve lifting the guy off the ground and throwing them back down very hard, Michael Elgin does it. He is surprisingly agile for a guy his size, however, and you’ll often see him doing moves normally reserved for the smaller crew. He doesn’t dance through the air or anything, but even if it’s not the most graceful thing in the world, there’s just something mystifying about seeing a man his size do a slow flip and bomb his body into someone else. Usually, he does have a drawback, in that all that power and leaping leaves him visibly gassed, and he’ll often hit a big move then back off for a while to recover, leading to a slow place when he’s in control. Of late, though, he’s visibly lost a lot of weight, and I’m interested in seeing if that difference in conditioning has an impact on his pace.
Last year in the G1, he ended up just barely outside the top scorers in terms of points, and he picked up solid victories over a lot of the highest profile performers in his block. Both blocks are pretty well stacked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s towards the front of the pack again this year.
The King of Darkness, Evil
Los Ingobernables de Japon
In his role as the King of Darkness, Evil is a very kind and benevolent ruler. He’s always so happy and friendly, too. It’s not uncommon to see Evil take breaks in the middle of his matches to go out into the crowd to hug kids and make them smile. Even in his matches, Evil is always so careful and gentle with his opponents, wanting to make sure that nobody gets hurt. A lot of people would say that they come out of their matches with Evil better off in life for it, and that he is such a kind and caring soul.
Yeah? Yeah? You bought it? Not a chance?
Well, Evil’s not as vicious and ruthless as you might expect from his super-Japanese-character name, but he’s not exactly roses either. He’s the big guy of Los Ingobernables de Japon, and tend to stick with simple moves that have a big impact. In fact, impact is a pretty good way to describe the guy. He just looks like he hits hard. He has a good energy to him, too, and his matches tend to move at a fast pace.
He’s had some high profile wins, most notably breaking an undefeated streak of Kazuchika Okada’s in last year’s G1 in a completely out-of-nowhere yet still believable match. He’s not really followed it up into solid singles gold over the past year, but he has been a constant figure in the team belts. He also seems to be the one most ready to pile in when one of his other team members runs into extra-curricular trouble, to bail them out.
The Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada
Let me be clear on one thing. Kazuchika Okada is marvelous. He makes magic in the ring.
Okada just recently came off of a massive reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion where he broke nearly all the records associated with that title. At nearly two years, his most recent reign shattered the record for longest in history, and he topped the record for for most combined days as champion, too. Not only that, but he made the new record for most successful title defenses, and he’s currently second behind Hiroshi Tanahashi for most times holding the title. He’s probably working on that one, too. All this in a world where, again, most people only hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once or twice, for a matter of months, and only last a couple of title defenses. He has broken the mold with his most recent title reign. I have spent most of the time I’ve been watching Kazuchika Okada rooting against him, hoping for the victory of the underdogs he’s been up against, and have been disappointed nearly every time. And he’s still one of my favorite guys in the ring. That should tell you something about the quality he brings.
It’s a little hard to tell what makes him so special. His in-ring strategy is the same every time, a long series of moves that attack the neck, setting up for his Rainmaker finisher. The real beauty about him is twofold. The first is just they way he works his moves. That Rainmaker is the perfect example. A move that’s deceptively simple, but just like Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch, it just works so much more because he has every single part of his body adding to it. He does all his moves like that, and even though you’ll be seeing the same basic strategy, it all looks glorious. The second is that the man is a genius at working with others. He seems to adapt himself more naturally than any other wrestler to what his opponent is doing and how they work, tailoring how he strings and handles his moves to them as well as his reactions to their offense. In so doing, not only does he look phenomenal, he makes his opponents look fantastic as well. His matches are great because of how good he is a cooperating with the wrestler he’s up against.
So yeah. That’s Okada. He might be the highest profile talent in NJPW, but he definitely deserves to be there. Expect him to do very well in the G1. I’m actually hoping he doesn’t win it, because although his feud with Kenny Omega has been legendary, we’ve come back to it four times over the past year and a half already, and I’m kind of burned out on it. Still, even if he doesn’t win, he will be just askance of it. Also, watch his faces as he’s getting hit. He makes the most entertaining pain face.
The Switchblade, Jay White
So I said earlier wrestling was at it’s best when you’re really buying into it. When you suspend your disbelief and get into the ebb and flow of those two men going against each other in the ring. Well, wrestling is at it’s worst when it’s trying to sell you something you’re just not buying. And for me, that’s Jay White.
Think of the lead self-insert character in a bad teenage fan-fiction and that’s pretty much Jay White. The announcers and his intros treat him like he’s this big tortured soul but that doesn’t really come out in anything that he does. He acts like some big chessmaster brainfighter, but that comes off more as someone who’s read the script ahead of time rather than coming through naturally. And everyone wants him around, but he’s standoffish and not a joiner. He turned down Bullet Club to go join Chaos but not really and they don’t really get anything from each other or really have anything in common aside from being dicks. He came back from excursion and was immediately placed into title pictures in spite of not really having the quality matches behind him to have justified that. Yeah. Not a fan of Jay White’s character. Maybe it’s the face. He has a ripped body, but that face of his speaks more itsy-bitsy baby and less tortured tough guy to me.
In ring, he has a small number of moves, but he does them well. Expect him to repeat his limited but sound moveset several times over the course of his matches. He’s been an interestingly inconsistent performer. Against NJPW’s top talent, he really doesn’t do well. Since he returned to NJPW, he’s had a big stinker of a match with Hiroshi Tanahashi, and a disappointing showing, although it did have a few nice surprises, with Kenny Omega. Against the more underrated talent, however, he’s put on some surprisingly solid matches. His feud with David Finlay ended up showing what the latter could really do when given the chance, and his match with Hangman Page really opened my eyes to what both could bring. He’s the current US Champion, so if he still has the title come the G1 Climax, expect him to do reasonably well, enough not to devalue the championship, but he’s not really ready for the big time yet. If he’s lost the championship to Juice Robinson by then, all bets are off.
The Underboss, Bad Luck Fale
One of the founders of the Bullet Club, Bad Luck Fale is the biggest man in the NJPW lineup. Dude just oozes attitude, and it’s something to watch him coming into the ring. He’s pretty entertaining on the mike as well, and I find it generally worth it to catch up on the back stage interviews just for him and/or Tama Tonga mouthing off. He’s an entrepreneur as well, and has started several businesses, many of which cycle back and feed into or off of what NJPW has going on. He’ll attempt to smack down the ring announcer whenever he steps in. He says this is because an announcer once got him confused with Tama Tonga and called him the wrong name, but he can’t tell which announcer is was so he just goes after them all. I say if he took off his sunglasses while indoors, he might be able to tell a bit easier.
He’s a big, big man. He’s not as much of a power wrestler as you’d expect, though. He doesn’t do the slams, suplexes, or typical throwing around you’ll see a lot of other big men do. It’s mostly a lot of using his weight, splashing his body on top of people, running through them, things like that. He was brought to Japan for rugby in the first place, so expect to see some influence from that shining through his style every once in a while. When he does go for one of those body moves, however, he has a lot to put behind it. He’s been reported doing a lot of training for this years G1, and from what he’s been posting about his workout regimens, it seems pretty extreme. If that pays off for him, expect to see some new things from him this year.
Fale serves the typical big man role in any wrestling promotion, that of a mountain for the other wrestlers to climb. As such, his power ranking is usually carefully maintained by the bookers, always trying to show him as being strong enough to beat most opponents so it seems that much more of an accomplishment when the top level talent manages to overcome him. He hasn’t recently been getting much attention in most of the title pictures, but he always does well when it comes to tournaments like these. Expect him to score well and beat one or two of the top card talents in the A block, although he probably won’t be making it to the final.
Hangman Page seems an odd inclusion to the G1 Climax to me. He has been getting a lot of attention lately, being in more high profile singles matches and being one of the members at the center of the current Bullet Club story line. And he’s got potential, too. He hasn’t blown me away or anything, but he has had some surprisingly nice matches, and has shown that he can at least hold his own working with the top of the card, even if he’s not quite ready for that level yet.
But he’s been strongly associated with Cody Rhodes for the past while, who is a bigger draw, has been giving better matches, is more of a factor in the storyline, and is more of a proven factor than Hangman Page, and who is noticeably absent from the G1 roster. It feels like a slight against Page, but he’s strongly associated with a wrestler who’s at a higher profile than he is, and he’s here but Cody is not. There’s a lot of reasons that could be, but the most obvious one is that they need someone to give up points in the G1, and Page is more suited for that in the current booking then Cody is. That’s not a very good position to be in.
Matchwise, Hangman Page is mostly a solid, foundational wrestler, using pretty standard western-style wrestling moves, although he does have a few surprises in there. He can leap and flip pretty well, and he’ll incorporate those in with the other throws and strikes he commonly uses. He’s a solid wrestler, and shows some signs that he could be great with some experience. For the above reason though, I don’t expect him to do very well in the G1.
A Block Matches to Watch Out For
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki: Storyline-wise, Suzuki broke Tanahashi earlier this year. Got him badly enough the ref had to stop the match, took the Intercontinental Title from him, and sent him out for recovery for quite some time. The two haven’t crossed since Tanahashi returned. Expect Tana to be coming for revenge and Suzuki to be looking to inflict more pain when they come back to each other. It was a great match last time, so something strong to kick off the A block.
Michael Elgin vs. Kazuchika Okada: When they met at last year’s G1 was one of the first times I started to really appreciate Elgin. They both looked great in that match, but Elgin really got the chance to shine, and it kicked of a tournament where he really took it to the top of the card talent.
Bad Luck Fale vs. Hangman Page: To be honest, I’m not that hopeful for this one, but c’mon. If you couldn’t tell from my description above, I’m really into the Bullet Club, but they’ve recently let the schism storyline they were building flounder. I don’t think Fale or Page are really strong in-ring storytellers, but if they’re continuing with it, this would be a chance to move it forward. Or the chance to bury it even more.
Evil vs. Kazuchika Okada: They had a really strong match in last year’s G1 that concluded with Evil getting a victory nobody saw coming. Their title match later was likewise good. I’m interested in seeing how they build off it this year.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale: Historically, Tanahashi has a really hard time with Fale. The last two times they’ve met in singles competition, Tanahashi has one in the exact same way, by knocking Fale off the apron and taking the count-out victory. If Fale’s wised up since, could get some interesting competition. Either way, Tanahashi actually seems to work pretty well with Fale’s slow pace, and they do work off each other nicely.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Kazuchika Okada: When Suzuki-gun returned to NJPW, the first person they targeted was Kazuchika Okada. Since then, they haven’t really crossed paths as much as you might expect them to. One of the highlights of last year’s G1 was their match against each other, which ended in a draw. Expect them to break it this year.
Jay White vs. Hangman Page: Like I said, last time they went up against each other, the match was surprisingly good, probably the strongest one I’ve seen either of them deliver. Could be they’ve got some good chemistry here.
Minoru Suzuki vs. Bad Luck Fale: Both men are going to need to switch up their usual styles to go against the other’s. We should be seeing something new from both here. I get the feeling this is either going to be a great or terrible match. No in between.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada: Their feud has been legendary. They have traded the titles between them more times than anybody else. They both have so much heat against each other, and work off of each other so well. I said before that Tanahashi had a huge loss, so big it seemed that it might be the close of his career as a main event star? That was against Okada. And their match was one of the best they’ve had. It hit it right on all cylinders. People were crying in the audience as it closed. If we are going to see the rise of Tanahashi again anytime soon, this is going to be the moment that solidifies it. If he loses, that’s going to solidify that his time is done. Unless that’s part of the booking to bring him back even greater even later.
The Flamboyant Juice Robinson
Formerly known as CJ Parker in the WWE, Juice is a star on the rise, and last year’s G1 Climax seemed to be a real turning point for him. He spent the first half of it being pretty pathetic, losing nearly every match he was on, then he had a surprise roll-up pin on Kenny Omega, and that seemed to be the catalyst he needed to wake up. He dominated the competition after that. It was too late to make it to the finals for him, but he did end up with a very respectable point total. Since then, he’s been more and more in the limelight, finding himself in more high-profile matches, and changing his appearance so he’s not wearing gummy bear underpants to the ring anymore. I particularly appreciate that part. He’s goofy and foulmouthed and positive and just seems to be having a good time all the time, and that’s made him one of the more popular starts on the roster in recent times.
Juice is a bit of an esoteric wrestler in the ring. He pulls from a lot of different areas, and does so with style. He doesn’t always pull off his moves with the kind of solid grounding to it you’d hope for, but most of his most common ones do look pretty good. I get the feeling that we’ve not really seen him at his best yet, that he’s still got some development to do, but when he does, he’s going to be pretty great. He’s got a habit of trying to play nice and honorable with everybody, even with the type of people who explicitly won’t with him, not getting ruthless until it’s too late to turn it around. He’s been in the title picture a lot this year, but hasn’t had any success at it yet.
Honestly, I’d say Juice could be a surprise pick in this year’s G1. I don’t think he’s really ready to headline the promotion yet, but they aren’t shy about putting him in the spotlight, and he has been rising to the occasion.
The Bad Boy, Tama Tonga
The other founding member of the Bullet Club still with NJPW, Tama Tonga is honestly one of my favorite wrestlers. I just like the guy. He’s not the best in the ring. He doesn’t execute his moves with the kind of crisp panache that most of the top talents will. But he’s got character for days, and he seems to enjoy his job more than anyone else in the company. That gets infectious. Then you start enjoying his job, too. I just find him crazy entertaining. He alternatively plays the fool and the malicious villain, and he does so with such commitment to being entertaining that he can make things work that other wrestlers would just fall flat on. Most of the time you have the chance to hear him talk, he’s doing the most entertaining promos among any of the English-speaking crew.
With the whole schism going on, Tama Tonga’s been treated as a sort of unofficial leader of the Bullet Club, being the one to bring in new talent, to hold the neutral parties to the civil war together, and to lead the settling of the conflict amongst most of the members. He’s found his biggest role in tag action, although given that Bullet Club now has three major teams in the heavyweight tag picture and both of the other two are higher profile than his, I’m starting to wonder where he’ll be placed. Not only that, he’s been consistently buried over the past year, in several cases by his own Bullet Club teammates. NJPW often buries wrestlers only to set up for them to rise up even harder later on, and I’m hoping that’s the case here, but I’m finding the chances of that to be a bit less for him than for the top card stars.
In last year’s G1, he picked up a solid amount of points, but the cards this year are stacked with more high-level talent than there was then. I’m hoping for a surprise victory here and there, but to be honest, I’m kind of expecting this year’s G1 to be a bit of a disappointing time for the Tama Tonga fans.
The Aramusha, Hirooki Goto
Probably the biggest powerhouse of Chaos, Hirooki Goto is a reliably good wrestler. He’s very steady. You put him in the ring, and you know you’re going to have a good match. You’ll even get a great match out of him now and again. But you don’t really see Hirooki Goto do bad matches, no matter who he’s up against. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about Goto as the great wrestler who just never seems to win the big one, but that hasn’t been true for a while. He’s one plenty of tournaments, titles, and high profile matches. Maybe not as many as the other high level talent in NJPW, but enough to show that he’s right up there with them in quality.
He throws people around. That’s his style. He will pick people up and drop them very hard on things. Usually it’s the mat. Sometime it’s a hard and painful part of his own body. He’s good with strikes, too, but it seems to be the throws that make up the most significant parts of his offense. He keeps the pace up pretty high, and his part of the matches he’s in usually have a very good energy to them. A lot of his moves strike at the neck, but the back is a common target for him as well.
He’s very classical samurai themed, both in dress and in character. He takes challenges seriously, feels his losses very deeply, and always strives to build on both himself and his abilities. He’s currently the NEVER Openweight Champion, and we’ve seen him go up against a wide array of challengers in that reign.
The Cold Skull, Sanada
Los Ingobernable de Japon
Before we get into anything else, look at that hair. Seriously, look at it. Take it in. Experience that hair. Internalize it. That’s an important part of the Sanada experience. That hair is always there. I have seen him get driven right on top of his head. And when he came up again, that hair was still standing up straight. We must respect the hair.
Two big, obvious things stand out about Sanada. Aside from his hair. His athleticism, and his completely impassive nature. The dude moves beautifully. Everything is smooth, seems to be under his control. Then he jumps. And he can nearly leap over people’s heads. That’s just the most obvious, but his lifting ability, when he sees fit to use it, has people off the ground with a real snap. The guy’s a great physical specimen, and that comes out in his wrestling ability. And yeah, he was trained by Keiji Mutou, who was renowned for never letting emotion show in the ring, and Sanada’s taken that up as well. Most of the time his expression never changes, giving the impression that he’s doing all this without even breathing hard. He very rarely talks, as well, even in the post match interview segments that bring words from all the other wrestlers.
Again, he’s mostly been a figure around the tag area, but he’s made significant strides in singles competition as well, putting together a decent point total in last years G1 and turning in an interesting match against Okada. He’s got the goods and an interesting character, and is in NJPW’s most popular faction in Japan. Take of that what you will.
The Stone Pitbull, Tomohiro Ishii
Take what I said about Hirooki Goto and repeat it with Tomohiro Ishii, only more so. Ishii is a very reliably good wrestler. You know the sort of match you’re going to see with Tomohiro Ishii, and it’s always good. I’m going to say he dips into great match territory less often than Goto, but he does not have bad matches often at all. Even against the really bizarre wrestlers who always put their opponents off their style, Ishii does not do bad matches.
He’s a stone wall. Personally as well as physically. Look at the guy. Watch him in action. He skips right over the typical model-build most wrestlers go for, and is instead muscled like a true powerlifter. He is solid. You know that bit where wrestlers run into each other, but at least one of them doesn’t budge an inch? I believe that more with Tomohiro Ishii than I do with any other wrestler. Likewise, he’s strong. He’s short, but he uses that for leverage to lift up men much larger than himself. He’s big into strikes as well. He’s kind of an unspectacular wrestler in style, doesn’t have much going on that’s going to make you move forward in your seats, but the simple moves he does all look very good when he does them, and he works with other wrestlers very well.
The Producer, Toru Yano
Take everything I said about Tomohiro Ishii, flip it to the reverse, and then you’ll get Toru Yano. They make a bizarre tag team.
Yano cheats to win. That’s his thing. He’s supposed to be like a great bandit from the Edo-period Japanese tales. The charming thief. So yeah. He’ll hit people with things they’re not supposed to be hit with, in places they’re not supposed to be hit, he’ll tie people up outside the ring, he’ll rip pads up, he’s steal title belts and walk away with them, all sorts of things. And universally, when he does win, it seems to come out of nowhere, a surprise move behind the referee’s back after trailing behind for most of the match.
You get reeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaally mixed results from Toru Yano. He’s basically a comedy wrestler, generally doing funny matches rather than serious competitions, and he requires an opponent who can work with that, to put on a type of match very different from the norm, and you don’t really get that with everyone. He’s only good under specific circumstances, and outside of those, his matches are just really bad. He has a very specific style, and any wrestler that can’t compliment that gets made much, much worse.
The Best Bout Machine, Kenny Omega
Ah, Kenny Omega. If you know anything about New Japan Pro Wrestling, you know about his feud with Kazuchika Okada, that quartet (so far) of matches, all of which have broken the top of the scale of wrestling rankings. A lot of people give him the bulk of the credit for that. As a result of that and other displays of excellence he’s had, he will top a lot of lists you’ll see out there of best wrestlers. A lot of people call him the best there is in the world.
And to be clear, he is a phenomenal wrestler. But he’s also a flawed one. And personally, I find a bit of backlash comes into play when faced with both the hype behind him and the flaws in his style. He’s a really varied wrestler, and somehow manages to pull of both the big strong power moves and the reality-defying flips and jumps yet still look incredibly good with both. But any move that requires him to bend backwards and some of his strikes look incredibly sloppy, but those are the ones that he uses most often and those are the ones that the announcers will wet themselves for and the dissonance between how crappy they look and how highly they try to present them just makes the whole thing seem even more dumb. He has some unusual structuring to his moves, but again, pulls them off very very well, and he ends up looking like a very powerful wrestler with a unique style. And he showcases a huge amount of character. But he’s addicted to showboating, and most of his showboating is so incredibly cringeworthy. Yeah, over-emoting might be necessary when primarily working with an audience of a different culture and different languages, but he seems to be taking his acting tips from Skeletor.
But where I do have to undoubtedly give him pure, unadulterated credit is his ability in in-ring storytelling. When he’s got something to work with and an opponent on top of their game, you will feel things move in the ring. He’ll build a sense of momentum there second to none, and you can track the rise and fall of his matches the same way you would chart the plot in your favorite books. This is really where he excels, where he makes the most of his matches, and what he does better than most everyone else. Between this ability and that of Okada’s to magnify what his opponents bring to the table, it’s no wonder that we’ve been watching a legend born with their feud.
So, Omega’s the leader of the Bullet Club. Sort of. And he’s also, recently, become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Character-wise, he’s been a selfish, self-serving prick all his time with the Bullet Club, only out for himself, what he can get out of it, and maybe his closest friends if they’re lucky. That serves his individual role in the promotion thus fine, but having a character like that in charge of the formerly camaraderie-heavy Bullet Club has led to them losing that part of their identity, and they haven’t gotten anything to replace it. They’re still crazy popular in the west, but his selfish leadership has made the Bullet Club weaker. The recent storyline the Bullet Club has been on has called him out on that, and started him seeing consequences of his self-serving nature, albeit largely at the hands of people just as self-serving, but again, that’s gotten a weird interruption in the build up to him becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He’s rejoined with his pre-Bullet Club best buddy, turned on some members of the Bullet Club in so doing, distanced himself from the Bullet Club, was a selfish prick to others, had to fight his best friends because he was a selfish prick, beat up his best friends, then turned into a good guy with little prompting and his friends came back to him for no real reason and the bridges he burned got kicked down the road just in time for him to become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and he’s still the leader of the Bullet Club even though he’s been distancing himself from it and he’s really focusing on this team he’s building with his non-Bullet Club friend and he was always a horrible leader to the Bullet Club anyways. It feels like they were two separate plots created by people who didn’t talk to each other, the Bullet Club Civil War and him becoming champion, that had to be reconciled at the same time and the former had to make way for the latter, damn whatever emotion resolution it had. It feels like they’re closing down the civil war aspect after his championship win, but I really hope they’re not, because there’s so much that’s still kind of hanging out there, and this would be the most Mary Sue ending possible with everything coming up Kenny Omega, most of which he did little to earn. His championship victory was pretty glorious, though.
Seigyo Funouna Charisma, Tetsuya Naito
Los Ingobernables de Japon
I predict that Tetsuya Naito’s story is going to be told approximately 1200 times over the course of the G1 Climax, but it’s an interesting one the first couple, so lets get into that.
Once upon a time, Tetsuya Naito was going to be NJPW’s next big thing. The top brass put a lot of faith in him, and had every confidence he had what it took to be the next face of the company. The fans weren’t interested in him, though. He won the G1 Climax in I think 2013 and was set to main event Wrestle Kingdom for the big title. The fans didn’t care. And they were vocal about their not caring. So vocal, that NJPW ended up putting the main event of Wrestle Kingdom up for vote. And fans overwhelmingly voted against him, sending Naito vs. Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the match that Naito had earned down the card in favor of Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the lesser IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
This seems to have been a blow to Naito. After losing the bout to the championship, he hung out in Mexico for a while, working in NJPW’s partner promotion, CMLL, where he joined the Los Ingobernables stable. There, he worked on his wrestling style, changed up his character, and came back to NJPW some time later a new man. If the fans didn’t care about him, he wasn’t going to care about them. Or wrestling. Or much at all. He was just going to to relax. Be tranquilo. He lays down in the middle of wrestling matches. He falls asleep while other people are talking about him. He trashes the title belts he holds that he doesn’t like. And now that he doesn’t care, the fans care a lot. From the Japanese perspective, he’s probably the most popular wrestler in New Japan, and the stable he brought over, Los Ingobernables de Japon, the hottest thing.
And he’s gotten good in the ring, too. I think he’s the most likely out of all of what I’d consider NJPW’s top talent to have a stinker match, but that’s just being the lowest of an All-Star team, and he is truly great in his own right. The biggest thing to note about him is that he injects such a strength of energy into his matches. It’s an odd thing, even when he’s just mocking his opponents, faking them out, laying down in the ring rather than attacking, not actually wrestling, it still feels fast paced. When he does attack, his moves often seem to come out of nowhere. He’s big on both strikes and jumping throws. He’s not a high flyer, but he does focus a lot more on speed and agility than pure power.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Tetsuya Naito; starting in early 2011 and lasting until Kenny Omega recently took over the title in June 2018, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship was dominated by three people, Hiroshi Tanahashi, AJ Styles, and Kazuchika Okada. Many tried, but no other wrestler was able to take the championship off of them, and they ended up just passing it among themselves for years. Except for one brief blip where Tetsuya Naito broke the mold, interrupted their dominance, and held the title himself.
The Golden Star, Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi and his hair is basically the wild ronin of wrestling. He wrestles for who he wants, when he wants, where he wants. He doesn’t stay loyal to any one company or really any style of wrestling, and you’ll see himself popping up in the oddest of places. Sometimes he exhibitions for WWE but decides not to stick around when offered a contract. Sometimes he does essentially backyard shows. Sometimes he stops wrestling entirely and spends his time making videos of himself backflipping off of stuff for the internet. Sometimes he crossdresses and goes on tv just for fun. But he’s great. He’s really entertaining. And it was rightfully a big moment when NJPW announced they were bringing him on board.
Kota Ibushi and his hair used to be a competitive kickboxer, and that’s going to show up a lot in his style. He’s really big on strikes, and his kicks look very solid. He’s also a big flyer, and will do a lot of really impressive flips crashing down on people. And, to cap it off, although he only does it once in a while, he’s got enough strength on him to do a lot of power moves, too. He’s a really exciting wrestler, and he can mix up styles quite a bit. He’s been known to pull out some crazy move to inject some excitement into a match that’s going south. He’s really a sight to see.
So, in Kenny Omega’s entry, that pre-Bullet Club friend he ended up turning on the Bullet Club for, that was Kota Ibushi and his hair. Before either worked for New Japan, they teamed up as the Golden Lovers, a very well regarded tag team. When it was announced that Ibushi was coming to NJPW, fans were excited for the prospect of a reunion or a feud between the two, but they never crossed paths. Until earlier this year. Ibushi and Cody Rhodes had a grudge at the beginning of the year, Kenny didn’t take too kindly towards that, and he turned against his own group to reunite the old tag team. And that was one of the two major events that led to the schism they’re in today. Now, Ibushi’s not officially part of the Bullet Club, but he’s still got the Golden Lovers going on with Kenny, and you’ll see him teaming mostly with Bullet Club members because of that partnership.
The Submission Master, Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack Sabre Jr. is pretty similar to Toru Yano in a lot of ways. They both have very unique distinctive styles that basically take over the matches they’re in and not every opponent is going to be able to adjust to it well. However, rather than Toru Yano’s comedy style, Zack Sabre Jr. is a lot more vicious and vindictive. He’s all about counters and submission holds.
The dude is like a python. He can wrap himself around opponents in ways and angles that don’t seem possible. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him even attempt a pin, it’s all about getting someone into some sort of painful hold and moving either for a tap out or a referee stoppage. He’s got a lot of different holds for any part of the body, so you’ll see him mixing it up quite a bit. He will grab one part of the body, hurt it, and while he’s working that reach out for other limbs and start working against those, too. Whenever one moves starting to get dry or the opponent’s getting close to the ropes, he’ll transition to another one. And if he has a limb free, he’ll work a knuckle or heel into an opponent’s muscle to add that much more in there.
In my experience, Zack Sabre Jr.’s matches are something of an acquired taste. His style tends to dominate the match, whatever his opponent does, and it’s so different from most everything else you’ve seen. It takes some getting used to, but it can be very good once you do. It does also require an opponent to be able to adjust to him to put on a good match. It’s all about pacing, and although Zack Sabre Jr. doesn’t just sit there in a hold like many other wrestlers, any hold heavy match is going very different way of pacing than most others. And the people who would give him a good match may not be the ones you would expect. He had a real stinker against Kazuchika Okada, and like I said, that guy is one of the best in the business at adjusting to other people. You don’t get a lot of middling matches with Zack Sabre Jr. When they’re good, they’re great, and when they’re bad, they’re awful. Zack Sabre Jr. was a bit of a dark horse in last year’s G1, but ended up with a very impressive point total, and has won one of NJPW’s other tournaments this year. He could be well poised to succeed at this year’s G1 Climax.
B Block Matches to Watch Out For
Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito: I don’t have any reason to think this will be particularly special, but I’m really interested in seeing how Juice’s attitude of having fun all the time and Naito’s attitude of relax, chill out, but be vindictive interact.
Tama Tonga vs. Kenny Omega: If there is going to be any of the Bullet Club schism storyline playing out over the G1, it’s going to come here. The Bullet Club’s nominal leader against its founder. They came to a head in last year’s G1, wherein in Tama (somewhat hypocritically, given that he only brought it up when it worked in his favor) took issue with Kenny for being a selfish prick who’s only in it for himself and not the Bullet Club as a whole, Kenny responded by being even more of a selfish prick only in it for himself, and they settled things once Tama was beaten. Now, there’s even more coming up behind that Bullet Club issue. Tama’s been very clear on staying neutral on the Bullet Club’s leadership conflict, but he’s always been about the club as a whole, whereas Kenny hasn’t, and has been distancing himself from the Club lately. I’m fearing this is going to end up disappointing, though, as they’re not going to show Tama as being on Kenny’s power level, and I fear the civil war plot truly isn’t going to go as deep as I’m hoping.
Toru Yano vs. Sanada: These two do work really well forever. Sanada’s got a lot of moves he uses that do work well with Toru Yano’s comedy wrestling, and they’ve been very entertaining whenever they’ve come across each other. Sanada’s always had the upper hand, however. Could change this year. Or it could not.
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.: At last year’s G1, this ended up being a very surprising match-up for Ibushi. He wrestled a very different style to his usual one, but did so really well, and we got to see something very different out of him. We didn’t get that when they fought again earlier this year, so no guarantee, but I’m holding out hope Ibushi will pull out something different in this match once again.
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii: These are two people that fit a very similar mold but in different ways. And they’re both part of the same faction. And they both use power styles, but very differently. I’m interested in seeing how they play off of each other.
Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito: They met in the finals of last year’s G1 and turned in a truly fantastic match. Two of NJPW’s top talents, I’m really hoping for a repeat of the quality of last year’s match.
Kota Ibushi vs. Sanada: Two people who are just really, really great in physical ability. I may be putting too much on it, but I would expect the two of them together to be able to do the types of things you wouldn’t see from any other match-up.
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito: I don’t really know what to say about this one. I don’t really have any analysis as to how they work together, or any history seeing them. This just feels like a good strong match-up to me, like they would be able to compliment each other.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii: Their match together in last year’s G1 was probably the best that tournament for either of them, and ended with Ishii being bent in half in a way that saw him taped up for quite some time afterwards. Later, in another wrestling promotion, Ishii beat Sabre for the Rev Pro Heavyweight Championship. They should both have some feelings to work out on the other, and they’ve got good match history together.
Tama Tonga vs. Sanada: They met in the G1 last year, and showed themselves to be incredibly similar in attitude and intent, but the boisterous Tama Tonga worked off of the stoic Sanada really well. I think they can get something good together.
Kenny Omega vs. Toru Yano: They had the most stupid fun match at last year’s G1, which started with Kenny being blinded and almost finishing off the unsuspecting ref and leading through to the both of them attempting to wrestle with their legs tied together. Shenanigans abounded. It was the best of funny wrestling.
Juice Robinson vs. Tama Tonga: They both project a lot of character in their wrestling, they both feel like they love their jobs, and last year, their personalities worked really well off of each other in their match. This one might not be the best from a technical wrestling standpoint, but I’m guessing it’s just going to feel great to watch.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Toru Yano: I don’t care to check when they’re matching up, but if it’s at the end, well after a month of watching Toru Yano goof around and ruin matches, it will be very satisfying to watch him just get pretend-hurt, and Zack Sabre Jr. is the best one for that. It’ll also be very satisfying to see super-villain ZSJ get cheated out of a match too. So whoever wins, I win.
Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi: The Golden Lovers, after going through so much to get back together, come to a head here. Both are fantastic wrestlers, and there’s definitely a lot of room for in ring storytelling here. Hell, the schism angle could well play over this, too.
So, yeah. That’s a lot of words about NJPW and the G1 Climax. I’m really excited for it. In case you couldn’t tell. If you’re interested, NJPW’s online streaming is available for subscription at NJPWworld.com. If you’re not wanting to put the money up for it, I’m betting they’ll have the first day of the G1 Climax available for free again this year. Or you can check out their Youtube channel, where they post up some of the best matches they’ve had from years past, perfectly available for all. The G1 climax will start this year on July 14th, and run through mid August.