The 29th edition of the showpiece that is NJPW’s G1 Climax is fast upon us. It is brought to us with much intrigue.
There’s two exciting blocks, Juniors wrestling in the Heavyweight division and a debuting Japanese icon by the name of KENTA.
As with every year, the winner of the tournament goes on to fight for the title at Wrestle Kingdom next January. Titles are not on the line during the competition, but if you are a titleholder and lose a match, the victor gains a title shot for after the tournament. This could have ramifications for Kazuchika Okada, Jon Moxley, Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii. Given that only one competitor can win the tournament, some losses will be sustained by the titleholders. Good news for them is they will still be the champions by the end of the G1. Bad news is that some of them will have a whole host of challengers to keep from the door.
Already there is a tonne of intrigue. Can Will Ospreay and Shingo back up their exploits from Best of the Super Juniors (BOSJ) or have they peaked too soon? How will KENTA adjust to NJPW? How many title shots will Okada have to honour after the tournament? These and many other questions will be answered throughout, so without further ado, let’s look at five matches that I consider to be prime viewing.
1. EVIL vs SANADA (A Block; Thursday, July 18)
Maybe this isn’t a headline grabbing match, but you know what? I love when a tag team has to take one another on. They know each other’s move-set tremendously so they’ll know the counters. They can conceivably predict what their opponent will do next through having been part of and watched so many of their matches. I love when these matches come around, although I hope they can treat it with friendly competitiveness. I don’t want to see this team break up, especially as the World Tag League is only round the corner, and these two usually feature.
2. KENTA vs Zack Sabre Jr. (A Block; Saturday, August 10)
I absolutely adore Zack as a wrestler, talker and all-round performer. He makes everything look easy and is superbly gifted when it comes to technical wrestling.
KENTA is still relatively new to the NJPW roster and it will be hugely interesting to see how he meshes with the main figures of the company. It will also be interesting to see where his talent gets him to initially within the hierarchy.
Personally, I think ZSJ can mesh well with anyone and is always featured towards the end of any tournament. However, I’m unsure whether he’ll get to win his block with him being a Gaijin (non-Japanese) wrestler. That notwithstanding, he will have a fantastic match with KENTA and I look forward to it greatly.
3. Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay (A Block; Saturday, July 20)
This match pits the current IWGP Heavyweight champion against this year’s winner of the BOSJ. Will’s talent is undeniable, and clearly Kazuchika is an amazing wrestler – you don’t get to be champion without being a bit good. Will has been making overtures to wrestle in the Heavyweight division and has the chance to do so here. If he can run the champion close, then he may get taken seriously as a Heavyweight. He might even win the match to grant him a title shot later on in the year. Who knows, maybe we could have a lad from Essex being the biggest champion in New Japan.
Whoever wins, this promises to be a great match with both competitors having received many a plaudit previously.
4. Tomohiro Ishii vs Jeff Cobb (B Block; Saturday, July 13)
Three words for you: Big. Lads. Wrestling.
Oh, you want more?
Well, there’s something beautiful about two battling behemoths battering one another.
Ishii is a stalwart in the NJPW roster, whereas Jeff is a relative newcomer, so I’m hugely invested in the young blood versus old hand story that will surely play out in this match.
5. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. (A Block; Wednesday, August 7)
This is a match that has happened before. It famously gave rise to Zack’s promo where he questioned the sensibility of wrestlers: “if I see him climb the balcony to do a moonsault, I’ll just move… and whatever’s left of him, I will put in a heel hook and tap him out”.
This match will pit flips against cold logic and technical wrestling. People often say that styles make fights and due to the competitors’ styles, this match-up is truly mouth-watering.
In short, I put this match in this list because basically it’s Zack Sabre Jr.; I had to find a second spot for him. The G1 will show his versatility and he’s won the J-Cup before, so why not dare to dream of the first Gaijin winner since Kenny Omega in 2016, and only the fifth ever in 29 editions.
You can find me on Twitter @PBWrites92. Thanks for reading.