It’s the most wonderful time of the year for New Japan Pro Wrestling fans ! The G1 Climax is here, kicking off this Saturday all the way until October 18th !
20 wrestlers separated in two blocks, you are well aware of the format, so without further ado, let’s get right into both blocks, and dive into this preview !
- Kota Ibushi, 2018 finalist, 2019 winner, 5th entry
Let’s kick things off with the defending G1 Climax winner ! Ibushi, quite obviously, is one of the bigger fishes in this block. However, 2020 has been quite the down year for him, as the pattern for New Japan’s top stars goes after they reach their biggest high. The Golden Star will be prominent again points wise, but don’t expect Ibushi to make his third finals appearance in a row.
Key match-ups : Kazuchika Okada, Jay White, Will Ospreay, Shingo Takagi.
- Jeff Cobb, 2nd entry
Next up is somebody with quite a good amount to prove in Jeff Cobb. His G1 last year, while not bad, surely could have been better and this block gives him enough opportunities to show he truly belongs in New Japan’s top tournament. Also, he is a former NEVER Openweight champion, and the current champ Suzuki will cross Cobb’s path.
Key match-ups : Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, Shingo Takagi, Kazuchika Okada.
- Kazuchika Okada, 2012 & 2014 winner, 9th entry
Now we look at one of two favourites to win the A block in Okada. It’s obvious here too that the Rainmaker will rank really high points wise again this year, the question is if he will reach the finals for the first time since 2014. Let’s note that, whenever Okada made it to the finals, he won the tournament. Will that bit of information be indicative of how the tournament goes ?
Key match-ups : Jay White, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay, Shingo Takagi.
- Tomohiro Ishii, 8th entry
Next up is the man we often look at as the G1 Climax MVP in Ishii. Again this year, lots of opportunities for Ishii to give you bangers : Okada, Ibushi, White, Takagi, Suzuki, Ospreay, even Taichi. That is essentially all you can expect from Ishii in the G1 every year, because that’s his role and once again, Ishii should have an awesome run.
Key match-ups : Shingo Takagi, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Jeff Cobb.
- Will Ospreay, 2nd entry
First off : Let’s put all the controversial aspects aside here, as Will Ospreay isn’t a name inspiring positive thoughts these days. Regarding the G1 however, Ospreay has a real shot at making a big, big impact. Will he contend to make the finals ? I wouldn’t go this far, but you absolutely should expect him to pick up big wins, and likely one against the eventual block winner.
Key match-ups : Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Jay White, Shingo Takagi.
- Shingo Takagi, 2nd entry
Speaking of people who could make a great impact, here is L.I.J’s Rampaging Dragon ! Shingo, similarily to Ospreay, isn’t too far off, yet not close enough to contend for a G1 finals spot. You can bet he’ll make waves by picking up key wins though, and assert himself even more as one of the best Heavyweights currently in New Japan.
Key match-ups : Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay, Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii.
- Minoru Suzuki, NEVER Openweight Champion, 9th entry
Now we take a look at the first singles champion listed in this preview in Minoru Suzuki. Just like every champion, he should have a relatively strong tournament, but his presence is more about to see who will get wins over him for future title challenges.
Now, don’t be surprised if Suzuki makes a bit of a run, as he does have a point to prove after being left out of the field last year.
Key match-ups : Shingo Takagi, Taichi, Will Ospreay, Jay White.
- Taichi, IWGP Tag Team Champion, 2nd entry
Moving on to the other Suzuki-Gun member in the A block, who saw tension rise up between himself and his leader. Taichi may not do incredibly well in terms of points, but as it will be the case with other people in both blocks, the few wins he will get should matter to a certain extent. After all, this is the third year of Taichi’s Heavyweight rise. Do not sleep on the Holy Emperor.
Key match-ups : Minoru Suzuki, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Shingo Takagi.
- Jay White, 2018 finalist, 3rd entry
I was rambling about this block having two favourites to come out of it and make the finals : Here is the second one in Switchblade, or King Switch, Jay White. The 2019 finalist could not get back near the top of New Japan due to COVID earlier this year, as he was first scheduled to participate in the New Japan Cup. He will be in the G1 however, arguably as THE favourite to win the whole thing.
Key match-ups : Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay, Minoru Suzuki, Shingo Takagi.
- Yujiro Takahashi, 7th entry
Finally… Someone I don’t think anybody really expected to see in Yujiro Takahashi. The Tokyo Pimps’ last G1 appearance was in 2015, and now he is back with what should be a spoiling role, similar to Toru Yano’s role, but much less likeable and funny. With Yujiro this year, it’s « beware of upsets » time.
Key match-ups : Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay.
A block winner : Jay White
As said while giving a run-down of each participants, to me the block will be decided between Kazuchika Okada and Jay White. Both men have more than solid cases to reach the finals, and more or less likely win the tournament afterwards, and while Okada sounds like the safe choice, I will go with the other option. Let’s look at Jay White’s G1 Climax short history : 2018, he finished 3rd in his block with 12 points, in his first appearance. 2019, he makes it to the finals and falls short to Kota Ibushi in a thriller. What could possibly the next, and logical step for him, but reaching the finals again with an even bigger intent on winning ?
Also, and this is something I will dive into a bit more later in this preview : The B block offers a few REALLY interesting match-ups for Jay White in the finals in terms of stories to tell.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi, 2007, 2015, 2018 winner, 2010 & 2013 finalist, 19th entry
First up in the B block is the Ace himself, by far the most experienced man when it comes to this tournament in Tanahashi. Once more, expect Tanahashi to be in the running to reach the finals, though this year also does not look like it will be the year for him to potentially win his fourth G1.
Key match-ups : Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL, Zack Sabre Jr, KENTA.
- Juice Robinson, 4th entry
Let’s then look at someone else with quite a lot to prove here in Juice Robinson. Juice has had his struggles in past G1’s, returns from injury and is featured in a block which doesn’t leave much space for him to truly shine. However, there are some matches for him to win and regain some real momentum as a singles wrestler, and that may be Juice’s focus as the tourney goes on.
Key match-ups : Zack Sabre Jr, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, KENTA.
- Hirooki Goto, NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Champion, 2008 winner, 2016 finalist, 13th entry
Speaking of guys who may not have the space to do as huge of a performance points wise as they’d look, I present to you the master of social distancing regarding the IWGP Heavyweight title, Hirooki Goto. Sort of like Ishii, he’ll be the tough wall to climb over, straight up destroy or butt your head on, while giving out some really good performances.
Key match-ups : Tetsuya Naito, KENTA, EVIL.
- Toru Yano, King Of Pro Wrestling tournament winner, 16th entry
Next up is the man every potential favourite should be worried about ! Toru Yano, the usual G1 upsetter, will once again enter the field to bring light hearted, easy to work kind of matches, with the possibility for him to pick one or few decisive wins. The usual role for him, but a needed one for the man who is Gedo’s most useful tool in the Climax.
Key match-ups : EVIL, SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
- YOSHI-HASHI, NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Champion, 4th entry
Ending the part of this block full of guys wondering « what’s there for me ? » with YOSHI-HASHI, who recently won his first championship in New Japan. Will that title win carry him far in the tournament ? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if Yoshi pulls off one or two surprising wins. Like Suzuki, he wasn’t in the field last year, so he also has that added motivation to prove he belongs.
Key match-ups : Hirooki Goto, KENTA, EVIL, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Zack Sabre Jr.
- Tetsuya Naito, IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion, 2011 finalist, 2013 & 2017 winner, 11th entry
Next up is the man with all the targets on his back, Tetsuya Naito. Obviously a big fish in this block, he’s in a similar position as Suzuki in the A block, but amplified. Pretty much everyone will want a piece of Naito in hopes of a title shot for either one, or both of the championships he holds. There are a good amount of guys who could « ruin » Naito’s first G1 as IWGP Heavyweight champion.
Key match-ups : Hiroshi Tanahashi, EVIL, SANADA, KENTA, Zack Sabre Jr.
- SANADA, 5th entry
Sticking in L.I.J with someone you should consider as a potential favourite to come out of B block. SANADA came close to win his first singles tournament two months ago, and this second chance looks like a really good opportunity for him to leave a mark. Whether it is beating Naito and earn another shot at New Japan’s richest prize, make the finals or do both, expect SANADA to end up ranking high points wise.
Key match-ups : Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, Toru Yano.
- Zack Sabre Jr, IWGP Tag Team Champion, 4th entry
Next up is our third and last Suzuki-Gun member in this G1 field, the usually great tournament wrestler in ZSJ. Zack here is in a position where, once again, he might contend to make the finals but ultimately won’t. However, he is one of few who realistically get a win over Tetsuya Naito, which he did two years to cost him the G1 final. This time, the british submission specialist would earn himself his second IWGP Heavyweight title match. Sounds like a plan, aye mate ?
Key match-ups : Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Toru Yano, KENTA.
- KENTA, New Japan Cup USA winner, 2nd entry
As we are almost done with the B block participants, let’s now look at the man who will, eventually, challenge Jon Moxley for the IWGP US Heavyweight championship : KENTA. Also someone who should be in the running yet likely will not advance to the finals, but who also might have a target on his back. KENTA did win the New Japan Cup USA to earn his US title shot, represented by… A briefcase. Could anyone picking up a win over him earn the right to challenge for said briefcase ? That remains to be seen.
Key match-ups : Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson.
- EVIL, 5th entry
Last, but definitely not least in the B block, is the former IWGP double champion and other B block favourite EVIL. In a block where things look like people could get elevated to a certain degree, EVIL surely looks like someone who could heavily beneficiate from that, as his former partner SANADA.
Expect the King of Darkness to be in the running until the very last day.
Key match-ups : SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, Toru Yano, KENTA, Hirooki Goto.
B block winner : SANADA
As more than hinted two, I also had two favourites to come out of B block, which were the former tag team champions EVIL and SANADA. These two will meet up in what should be the deciding match to declare the block winner, and my expectation is to see SANADA come up win the victory. This would match their story pretty well, and tie into the recent New Japan Cup match where EVIL beat SANADA to reach the final. SANADA has been on the waiting line for more tangible singles accomplishments for a while now, and reaching the G1 Climax final sounds like a pretty good step in that direction. Lastly, but I will dive into this much more below, the potential match-up with Jay White (or even Okada if he were to win A block) would both be quite the interesting pieces of story to tell.
G1 Climax 30 final : Jay White vs SANADA, the delayed rematch
Now then, there we are. The match which I thought would be the New Japan Cup final back in March, when the tournament was originally scheduled. Back then, Jay White looked like the only man who could stop Kazuchika Okada from reaching the Cup finals, and SANADA was looking like a favourite to make it as well, on the other side of the bracket. After their New Beginning meeting, which Jay White won, a rematch where SANADA would, or at least could have avenged his loss seemed written on the wall. This was scrapped due to COVID-19, but now, we are in a situation where this rematch can absolutely happen, and to me, there is no reason why it shouldn’t.
Sure, their first match wasn’t exactly incredible, so was Jay White’s first match with Tanahashi for example, yet as they fought, the chemistry built. The situation is quite similar in that regard, but obviously, the story here is much different. Jay White, now returning to Japan after EVIL came in and became Bullet Club’s temporary top guy, looks to assert his dominance once more as the promotion’s true Bullet Club Ace. On the other hand, SANADA is looking for singles success and what better way to achieve that than by beating the man he couldn’t defeat earlier on this year ?
However, looking at the high stakes, and Naito having to deal with Bullet Club all year long, first with KENTA and then EVIL… The only one Naito has yet to face with the Heavyweight championship on the line indeed is the Switchblade. Therefore, it looks like it makes more sense for Jay White to be your tournament winner this year.
Lastly, there is one aspect you may not want to underestimate : Jay White losing the G1 contract following his tournament win. This has never happened since the G1 briefcase became a thing in New Japan, yet this year has showed us Gedo isn’t shy of going the unusual route. This may not sounds credible to you, but if the goal is to have a Naito vs Okada Tokyo Dome rematch, what better way to set it up than by having the latter win the contract off of Jay, the tournament winner ?
We all know it’s a matter of time before Jay White becomes IWGP Heavyweight champion again, and eventually main events Wrestle Kingdom. Yet, in the meantime, winning his first G1 Climax does sound like a consolation prize worth waiting one more year before we fully breathe with the Switchblade come Wrestle Kingdom season.