Saturday marks the start of the home stretch of the 26th annual G1 Climax tournament when the competitors of the A Block take center stage in Fukuoka. All competitors have just three matches left to either stake their claim to a Tokyo Dome main event or at least generate some momentum for the fall.
Keeping up to date with the entirety of the G1 is undoubtedly difficult (though you are rewarded with the best compact series of wrestling you could ask for), but if there is a time to dive in, it might be now. Hell, even for those of keeping up to date or close to it, sometimes you lose sight of the trees for the forest.
With that in mind, here is how the A Block has shaken out so far:
Kazuchika Okada (5-1, 10 points)
- So Far: He lost to Naomichi Marufuji on the opening night, but has gone undefeated since. The reigning IWGP champion is one of the best of the world and has not taken any nights off in the tournament so far. The middle third of the tournament was some of his best work as he managed to put together very good matches with Tama Tonga, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Togi Makabe.
- Remaining Opponents: Tomohiro Ishii, Bad Luck Fale, Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Outlook: In order for the match with Tanahashi on the last night of the Block to be truly meaningful, Okada has to lose to either Ishii or Fale. I can see either of them pulling off the win and getting a title shot in the fall, but for freshness sake, let’s all hope it is Ishii that pins the champ. Other than that, Okada is on a march to the finals.
Naomichi Marufuji (4-2, 8 points)
- So Far: A contender for G1 MVP, Marufuji already has the head of Okada on his mantle, which likely means an upcoming title shot. He has been putting on great matches so far, with big wins over Makabe and SANADA, and in a loss to Ishii. Oh….and those chops. There are welts, blisters and open wounds on the chest of just about everyone he’s faced.
- Remaining Opponents: Tanahashi, Tonga, Hirooki Goto
- Outlook: I hold to my opinion that Marufuji will not be a factor by the time Okada and Tanahashi square off. That likely means that he is going to lose two of his remaining matches. Saturday’s matchup with Tanahashi has the potential to be the match of the tournament, but the outcome is almost a foregone conclusion as Tanahashi can scarcely afford a loss (unless Okada loses his next two, which seems unlikely, but sure would be interesting). He might also make a nice signature win for Tonga before finishing off with a win over Goto.
Togi Makabe (4-2, 8 points)
- So Far: Makabe got off to a hot start going 4-0, but has lost back to back against Okada and Marufuji. No shame there, for sure, but he looks to have hit the wall as far as his chances to win go. Makabe may not have the ability to be involved in the stereotypical classic match at this point, but his intensity and brawling has resulted in some fun matches. The crowd – particularly against Okada – being really behind him adds to his matches as well.
- Remaining Opponents: Fale, Goto, Ishii
- Outlook: Makabe mathematically has a chance to win if he goes 3-0 or 2-1 and gets some help, but that’s not happening. Matches with Goto and Ishii will be classic hard hitting brawls, and Fale has been on his game so that could be OK as well. Look for a 1-2 finish with a loss to Ishii on the last day to finish with 10 points. If he makes it to 12 before the main event on the last night, Tanahashi would be eliminated and I just cannot see that happening.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (3-3, 6 points)
- So Far: The Aging Ace has turned into the Ageless Ace overnight. A big upset loss to Tonga was the impetus for a 3-0 run with wins over Fale, Goto and Ishii. All three matches were good, but go out of your way to see the Ishii match, which is on the short list for Match of the Year, let alone match of the tournament.
- Remaining Opponents: Marufuji, Tenzan, Okada
- Outlook: It is hard to see Tanahashi going into his showdown with Okada with anything less than the Block on the line, which likely means he has to beat Marufuji and Tenzan. But, even if the outcomes are not really in doubt, there should also be no doubt that they are going to be good matches. Marufuji is on top of his game and putting on great matches, while Tenzan has found the temporary fountain of youth for his last run. Mix those two with possibly the best wrestler in the world right now and the results could be fantastic.
Hirooki Goto (3-3, 6 points)
- So Far: As is typical with Goto the character, it has been a mixed bag with losses equalling his wins. As is typical with Goto the wrestler, the matches have been very good and, when mixed with a top flight opponent, the results have been very, very good. But the shock of the tournament might have been Goto having a better match with Tonga than anyone else so far. A lot of people underrate Goto because of his position in the NJPW pecking order. Yes, a similar position in the West would be death to a career, but in Japan it does not seem that way, particularly if recent crowd reactions are any indication.
- Remaining Opponents: Tenzan, Makabe, Marufuji
- Outlook: With losses to both Okada and Tanahashi, Goto could run the table and still come up short. Of course, he is Goto, so going 0-3 also is not out of the question. Most likely he mixes wins and losses to finish 5-4 or 4-5.
Bad Luck Fale (3-3, 6 points)
- So Far: The Under Boss may not be a great technical wrestler, or move with anything resembling speed, or look remotely agile, but when the G1 comes around he sure knows how look like a mean beast. He is on a two match win streak having beaten SANADA and Tenzan.
- Remaining Opponents: Makabe, Okada, Tonga
- Outlook: The Makabe match will be what it will be, but Fale’s last two matches have some intrigue. He has good chemistry with Okada, so their match will likely be good no matter what, but if Okada comes in off a win over Ishii then look for Fale to pull off the upset. On the last night, he faces stable mate Tonga and you have to think they will be motivated to put on a good match.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2-4, 4 points)
- So Far: So, Tenzan is not winning the Block. Realistically, that was never happening. A tournament this intricate could not be booked around an aging wrestler with a high likelihood of injury. That being said, Tenzan has gone out every night to try and have a match better than he should be able to at this point. And for the most part, he has succeeded. In particular, his loss to Okada was a great match that made Tenzan look like a realistic threat to beat the ace.
- Remaining Opponents: Goto, Tanahashi, SANADA
- Outlook: Have to imagine he will finish the tournament with a win over SANADA, and a loss to Tanahashi is a near certainty, but what about Goto? Regardless of outcomes Tenzan is lined up to finish his last G1 with a great run of matches.
Tama Tonga (2-4, 4 points)
- So Far: Tonga’s bona fides were provided in his upset win over Tanahashi. That win has changed the way the crowds are reacting to him – whereas his tag title run was met with utter silence, the crowd now appears to be really into Tonga. Aside from the win over Tanahashi, losses to Goto and Okada were both fantastic matches.
- Remaining Opponents: SANADA, Marufuji, Fale
- Outlook: This tournament is not so much about wins for Tonga as it is about perception. The win over Tanahashi and showings against Goto and Okada have certainly changed his perception with the Japanese crowds, and matches with SANADA and Marufuji both have the potential to be very good. A final night showdown with good friend and fellow Bullet Club member Fale might look bad on paper, but also may be a good test to see where Tonga really is as a performer right now. It will also be interesting to see if he has saved a special pair of cheap spats to wear for the final night.
SANADA (2-4, 4 points)
- So Far: Not the greatest record, but great matches. While he is 1-2 over his last 3, just look at the (very different) matches: a win over Goto in a hard hitting, classic NJPW style match, followed by a loss to Fale where he showed flashes of what a future run after a turn might look like and, most recently, an outstanding match in a loss to Marufuji that has to have NJPW brass salivating at SANADA making an eventual run to the top of the promotion and challenging Okada for his acedom.
- Remaining Opponents: Tonga, Ishii, Tenzan
- Outlook: SANADA should come out of this tournament with a huge boost to his reputation. The match with Tonga has good potential given what Tonga has done when in with talented opponents, Ishii may well be the best in the world right now, and, most importantly, SANADA is being trusted to give Tenzan his G1 farewell.
Tomohiro Ishii (2-4, 4 points)
- So far: Ishii is likely the leader in the clubhouse for the unofficial G1 MVP, but he does not have many wins to show for it. What he does have is a fantastic set of matches, including likely match of the year contenders with Goto and Tanahashi. Mix those in with a great showing against Fale, a blistering (literally) match with Marufuji, the emotional opener with Tenzan, and the surprise upset loss to Tonga and you have an incredible run of matches.
- Remaining Opponents: Okada, SANADA, Makabe
- Outlook: Greatness? Is there any way the matches with Okada and SANADA end up anything short of amazing? And while we all got a bit sick of his matches with Makabe last year, they were actually all quite good. The most interesting thing will be to see if Ishii gets a win over stablemate Okada to set up Ishii’s second title challenge of 2016.