Welcome to our guide to the G1 Climax which starts on September 19. Here we set out why it is the greatest wrestling tournament today. We explain its history, format and introduce you to the competitors. So prepare to get educated in the best example of fighting spirit there is.
The G1 was established in 1991. Members of New Japan’s heavyweight division are segregated into two blocks – A and B. Those within each block compete in a round-robin format. Points are scored – two for a win, one for a draw, zero for a loss. The fighter with the most points in each block then face each other in the final. The prize? A chance at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, headlining Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome.
This cannot be overstated: there is no wrestling tournament like the G1. The action lasts for a whole month, touring cities across Japan. It is a gruelling quest for both wrestler and booker alike. The G1 is where a competitor faces, not only foe but friends, also as faction members beat each other bloody for two points. Old scores are settled and new feuds emerge, fuelling the kayfabe fire which will burn for months, maybe years, to come.
So who are the warriors laying heart and soul on the line?
Jay White – Faction: Bullet Club
A former IWGP Heavyweight title holder, the shadow cast by this 27-year-old New Zealander is a long one. Even in lockdown exile, White made his presence felt. His cheerleader, Gedo, has constantly reminded viewers to ‘breathe with the Switchblade’ since NJPW returned to our screens. Under Jay White’s leadership, Bullet Club has become a case of ‘join or suffer’. White too is as notorious for his deadly dialogue and dirty deeds as he is his wrestling. He is the best of heels and the one to watch in this year’s G1.
Kazuchika Okada – Faction: CHAOS
Okada is the eternal Boy-King of New Japan, a five-time IWGP champion with the longest title reign in history (720 days, no less). Okada brings pomp and pageantry to proceedings as any good king should. His trademark finisher – the Rainmaker – even has a camera angle all of its own; a dramatic pull-back to display the retribution about to rain down. Okada is a favourite in any year but 2020 might be an exception. Since Okada lost his belt to Tetsuya Naito, his sights have been set on the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team title. These are held by his CHAOS stablemates: Ishii, Goto and YOSHI-HASHI, all of whom compete in this year’s G1.
Kota Ibushi – Faction: none
The Golden Star is surely a favourite this year. Ibushi combines speed, force and finesse into a supreme winner of NJPW titles. He is a former New Japan Cup holder, IWGP Intercontinental champion and winner of the 2019 G1 Climax. Ibushi’s resilience to hard knocks, his flashes of menace and golden muscles push him to the top of the charisma charts. Beating Ibushi is a testament to how good a wrestler you are.
Shingo Takagi – Faction: Los Ingobernables de Japon
The latest member of Los Ingos is, arguably, its best wrestler. A veteran conqueror of Dragon’s Gate, Takagi takes the fight to the fight. He hits hard and doesn’t take fools gladly. Meaty finishers like Made In Japan, a devastating driver, stamp his ‘don’t f***ing mess with me’ code. Takagi is hot for the rumble, fresh from the loss of his NEVER Openweight title to Minoru Suzuki. Both these men are in A Block which is longhand for ‘punches a-plenty.’
Minoru Suzuki – Faction: Suzuki-gun
Suzuki, or MiSu, embodies the quote, ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’ Fifty-two years of age, Suzuki was trained by the founders of New Japan: Antonio Inoki and Karl Gotch. Suzuki does it differently to everyone else. You will watch him and think he may actually be killing the other man. Say to him, ‘wrestling isn’t real’ and you will not live to repeat his answer. But don’t take Suzuki as an anachronism. His cruelty, his need to fight and be fought reminds us all that no matter how far we progress, deep-down we are but primates baring our teeth.
Tomohiro Ishii – Faction: CHAOS
Ishii is another G1 veteran. The ‘Stone Pitbull’ joined, not as dojo trainee, but as a freelancer in 2006. Ishii’s destiny was thus marked as a mid-carder. However, someone must have failed to tell Ishii that. His dogged, determined fighting style, punctuated by abrupt trash talk gradually took him to main event status. He has held the NEVER title five times and is currently in possession of the NEVER 6-Man Tag belt. An outsider for the G1 title, Ishii will nevertheless be the man most likely to give us the best match of the tourney.
Taichi – Faction: Suzuki-gun
Taichi, the Holy Emperor, Dangerous T. A sneering, fop-haired figure with a physique teetering on the dad-bod, Taichi splits the fandom in two – those who hate him, those who adore him. His power is such that the Japanese audience, not known for Western-style chanting, shout ‘Let’s go Taichi!/ Taichi go home!’ in rowdy opposition. His gimmick centres on him ripping his trousers asunder at crucial in-ring moments. Lazy, ungrateful; Taichi is at heart an unloved child, the student laughed at by his mentor and trainer – Kawada. But Taichi on a good day is so good he will have you chanting, ‘Let’s go Taichi!’ in spite of yourself. Mark these words: Dangerous T is the dark horse of this or any G1.
Will Ospreay – Faction: CHAOS
Will Ospreay hails from Essex, England. His high-flying, Marvel movie moves scored his many victories, including the IWGP Junior belt and the Best of the Super Juniors trophy. Ospreay will seek to justify his position among the big boys as a newly-promoted heavyweight.
Jeff Cobb. Faction: None
Jeff Cobb is the third and final gaijin (foreigner) in A Block. Cobb is an ex-Olympic wrestler, a true heavyweight who will have your mouth open in awe at high-flying moves like his standing moonsault. Cobb has held a myriad of titles through promotions including the RoH World Television Championship. He is also a former NJPW NEVER title holder. Cobb’s record in the G1 is middling at best with more losses than wins, a record he seeks to overturn.
Yujiro Takahashi. Faction: Bullet Club.
Takahashi, ‘The Tokyo Pimp’, is a heel with something to prove. 2020 marks his first G1 entry for five years. Takahashi won’t be enthralling anyone with his technique or fighting spirit. Instead, he will make use of his walking cane or call upon his Bullet Club mates to interfere. His entry comes straight off a summer feud with Okada, something that will doubtless rumble on in A Block.