In just over a week, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual G1 Climax will commence. The tournament in years past has brought matches and stories that often are hailed as all-time greats. Amidst these greats, however, are matches that get lost in the shuffle. In this piece, I will identify eight matches that you need to pay attention to when they happen, as they have potential to be great.
For the focus of this piece, I attempted to pick matches not many were talking about, as to shine a light on the depth of this tournament, one that has potential to be the greatest G1 Climax ever.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the matches.
Hirooki Goto vs. Kenny Omega – July 19 (Korakuen Hall)
These two men will fight on the second night of block action in the legendary Korakuen Hall as the first of three Korakuen shows in a row. Goto and Omega most notably faced off twice in the fall of 2016, the year Omega won the G1 Climax, in outstanding matches that received ****¾ from Dave Meltzer.
The Goto match is key in the character development of Kenny Omega, as Goto was his final obstacle in his quest to win the G1 and main event Wrestle Kingdom against the legendary Kazuchika Okada. In 2016, it could be argued that Goto was higher on the pecking order than Omega. The same cannot be said today, as Omega is now IWGP Heavyweight Champion. It will be interesting to see how the role reversal will play into to match, but, judging on past encounters, anything short of a classic would be shocking.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hangman Page – July 20 (Korakuen Hall)
Without his title, Kazuchika Okada is a changed man. With new pants and a revised version of his theme song, Okada has taken on an edgier persona since losing his title. Without gold, who is Kazuchika Okada? This G1 will be key for Okada to truly rediscover who he is as a character and a wrestler. There are many paths New Japan could take with Okada now that he has been dethroned, and his early matches with opponents such as Jay White will go a long way in showing New Japan’s hand. As for this match on July 20 with Hangman Page, it would be a shock if Page were to pull out the upset. Despite that fact, there is no doubt that Page will come out with something to prove as he aims for a more prominent role in New Japan. It tells a lot that Page was included in this tournament when many others thought the spot would go to Taichi, but it goes to show that Page is highly looked-upon by the company. There’s no better spot to prove yourself than against Kazuchika Okada in Korakuen Hall, so expect this match to be the coming out party for Hangman Page.
Kota Ibushi vs. Toru Yano – July 21 (Korakuen Hall)
It may seem silly to be hailing a Toru Yano match as one that will go unheralded, but as a card-holding member of the Toru Yano fan club, his match here with Ibushi could be hilarious. Yano is at his best when his opponent is equally zany (see Kenny Omega last year), so going head-to-head with one of the biggest nutcases in wrestling is something to keep your eyes open for.
After all, Ibushi is very well versed in comedy wrestling due to his years street wrestling/wrestling sex dolls in DDT, making him the perfect man to be on the opposite side of a Toru Yano match.
Kenny Omega vs. SANADA – July 28 (Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium)
In addition to being the hunkiest wrestler in the company, SANADA has untapped potential that is just waiting to be taken advantage of. He’s a wrestler who has potential to be part of the next wave of New Japan stars, and judging by opportunities he’s been given, it is clear that New Japan sees that as well.
By being placed in the star-studded block with names such as Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito, it will be interesting to see how SANADA performs with some of the best in the world. However, the bout I feel most will end up talking about is with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. It wouldn’t be shocking to see SANADA leave Omega staring at the lights, as his slow escalation continues. Regardless of the result, it will go a long way in showing SANADA’s standing within the company and how much offense he can get in against the current top man.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi – July 28 (Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium)
This match screams to me as one that will be fantastic but lost in the shuffle, as G1 burn will most likely be fully set-in at this point. Despite this fact, this match should be epic enough to snap everyone out of it. After all, the competitors are a man with no neck and a man with absolutely no regard for his neck. Ishii always shines in the G1, and given the right opponent he always puts on a classic. These two faced last year as well in the G1, in a match that was absolutely mental, and given the two competitors, I’d expect no less from this year’s edition as well.
Jay White vs. Hangman Page – July 30 (Takamatsu City General Gymnasium #1)
Both newcomers to the G1 Climax get a chance to shine on July 30th in Takamatsu, and given how they won the crowd over in Long Beach just over three months ago, I have no doubt that they will have something to prove in their G1 bout. White and Page will be on a quest to have the best tournament possible to establish themselves as mainstays on the already deep New Japan roster.
Given how crazy their Strong Style Evolved match got, it will be interesting to see if White and Page try to top themselves in Japan. Given Page’s fondness for taking ridiculous bumps and White’s sadistic persona, this match should be a barnburner that puts the names of the two newcomers on the mind of every wrestling fan. One also must consider the fact that since Jay White has now lost the United States title, he could be open to challenging in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL – August 2 (Fukuoka Citizen Gymnasium)
In 2017, these two men traded wins in the spring in bouts that were looked highly upon as a pivotal moment in EVIL’s character arc. A year later, and EVIL continues to score big wins, including being one of the few men to pin Kazuchika Okada in a singles match, with that happening in last year’s G1. A win over Tanahashi this year, especially if Tanahashi ends up winning the G1, could set EVIL up for a future briefcase challenge, given him another chance to shine in the New Japan spotlight. The same can be said about EVIL’s match against Okada on August 5th, which just happens to fall on the one year anniversary of EVIL’s victory in the same exact arena he will be facing Okada in on August 5. The actual Tanahashi match will be good, no doubt, but this two match stretch will go a long way in showing where EVIL stands in Los Ingobernables de Japon and New Japan as a whole.
Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii – August 8 (Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium)
A side note before we jump into the final spotlighted match. A lot of these shows take place in Gymnasiums, with, aside from the Korakuen Hall shows, all of the matches spotlighted occur in gymnasiums. A fun fact I noticed after typing the word gymnasium for the tenth time. Besides that fact, the ultimate underdogs of New Japan face off. In an interview with Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, Juice puts over Kenny Omega and his opponent in this match, Ishii, as two of the best competitors he’s faced, saying Ishii in particular is a tough dude. Now that Juice Robinson is the United States champion, he should have some new-found confidence coming into this tournament. His match with Ishii late in the tournament could give both competitors an opportunity to slug it out and show just who is the best underdog in New Japan.
Regardless of whether or not the spotlighted matches turn out to be unheralded or not, it is amazing that matches such as Ishii/Ibushi are not being given too much spotlight in comparison to others. It goes to show the depth of the tournament that despite not having any flashy outsiders, the New Japan roster is as deep as ever, leading to what will certainly be a fascinating result. As for my prediction, I’ll take Tetsuya Naito over Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals. It feels like time for Naito to rise to the top again.