The field is set. The schedule is coming. G1 Climax season is almost here and it can’t come a moment too soon.
This year’s G1 Climax will very literally be unlike any other. The continued shadow of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be cast heavily on NJPW’s annual tournament with barely filled arenas, manufactured crowd cheering and a gripping fear of infection taking the whole tournament down.
Obviously, at the top, taking place in the autumn as opposed to the summer is first and foremost. Of course, this isn’t 100% a result of COVID but rather the plan all along as the Summer Olympics were scheduled to take place in Tokyo forcing the event to the fall for the first time in its history.
So, hey, that was going to be weird regardless. One less thing we can blame on COVID! We’ll take it. Small victories here.
The schedule for this year’s tournament features 19 shows with the last three emanating from Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall). This falls right in line with last year’s schedule which also featured 19 shows, ending with three shows at Nippon Budokan as opposed to Sumo Hall.
This year and last both featured two blocks of ten for a total of 20 wrestlers. The biggest shock perhaps is the carryover in talent from last year to this year. With numerous wrestlers under strict travel restrictions and quarantines, it seemed next to impossible for NJPW to bring in some of their top gaijin talents. Had the Summer Olympic not thrown a wrench in their original scheduling of the tournament, the G1 Climax 30 field would look dramatically different.
As it stands, the carryover from last year is remarkable as of the 20 in last year’s field, only three didn’t make it to this year’s tournament: Bad Luck Fale, Jon Moxley & Lance Archer. In their place are Japanese natives Minoru Suzuki, YOSHI-HASHI and Yujiro Takahashi. Fale, Moxley and Archer all brought their positives and negatives (*cough* Fale) to the tournament but their replacements are more than suitable.
Roster members Will Ospreay, KENTA, Jay White and Juice Robinson all appeared to be on the outside looking in for this year’s G1 Climax. NJPW held onto hope that restrictions and rules were loosened to allow them back into the country. At the 11th hour, it came through and all three are currently under strict quarantine before they’ll rejoin the NJPW roster and participate in the G1 Climax.
Overall, the field looks like your standard, typical, any other year G1 Climax field. There are five former G1 Climax winners in this year’s field including Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi. Last year’s winner (Ibushi) will look to become the first wrestler since Hiroyoshi Tenzan to go back-to-back (2003 & 2004).
What about match quality and match length?
In terms of match quality, NJPW has suffered a bit of a malaise in its return during COVID. Fans no longer can make “mouth noises” and instead must either clap or used an app to express happiness and/or displeasure. This has led to an uncharacteristic run of mundane NJPW shows and matches. Typical stalwarts like Okada have failed o gain any momentum without the crowd behind them.
It’s imperative that G1 Climax matches deliver big if anything to reinstall confidence in the company and many of its top stars. Last year’s G1 Climax alone saw 34 matches receive an 8+ rating on Cagematch.net, nine matches with a 9+ rating on Cagematch.net and 51 matches rated ****+ from Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. In 2019, Meltzer rated 147 NJPW matches **** or better with 35% of those coming in the G1 Climax tournament alone.
We’re talking high-level shit here.
Since returning from their hiatus, only 17 matches have received ****+ from Meltzer and only 10 with 8+ ratings from Cagematch.net.
Can the G1 Climax turn things around for NJPW’s year? Let’s hope.
When trying to figure out match length/match structure, we can look to this year’s New Japan Cup as a comparison. Though ran with no fans, it’s a decent comparison for how NJPW changed things in the COVID era. And by change things, we mean… well, they were kind of the same! That’s good.
This year’s New Japan Cup had an average match time of 16:18 (special thanks to Chris Samsa for providing these averages, by the way). That’s right in line with the New Japan Cup 2019 which had an average match time of 16:40.
Despite the lack of fans, things stayed very consistent for NJPW. Could the same happen in the G1 Climax? Last year’s G1 Climax had an average match time of 15:09—the highest overall average since 2006. Given the relative lack of participant turnover and the precedent with the New Japan Cup, we can safely assume this year’s G1 Climax tournament matches hovering around the 15-16 minute mark.
Outside of one very bizarre outlier year (2018), New Japan Cup and G1 Climax match lengths have stayed consistent wit one another never deviated more than one or two minutes. Some years, the two tournaments came freakishly close including 2009— a six-second advantage for the New Japan Cup—as well as 2014 (31-second advantage to G1 Climax) and 2017 (39-second advantage to New Japan Cup).
All in all, only six G1 Climax tournaments since 2005 have had a higher average match length than that year’s New Japan Cup.
For those of us sweating a return of EVIL to the top of the NJPW roster, breathe easy. Since the New Japan Cup began in 2005, no wrestler has won both the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax in the same year. While Tanahashi, Goto, Nakamura, Okada, Naito and Ibushi have all won both tournaments in that timespan, nobody was able to do it in the same calendar year.
Overall, this year’s G1 Climax features a lot of familiarities we’ve come to expect from NJPW and their annual top tournament. With any hope, we’ll have a tournament worthy of barring the name G1 Climax and hopefully, if even for a few minutes, an escape from the stressful and daunting realities of our current lives.