2020 was always going to be a bit of a weird year for New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Summer Olympics were scheduled to come to Tokyo for the first time since 1964, which obviously presented a major complication for the G1 Climax tournament, held in the summer every year since its inception in 1991. Of the three options- hold it sooner, hold it at the same time, or hold it later- NJPW chose to move it to the fall for the first time ever. And in hindsight, boy was that an even more monumental decision than they could have known at the time.
By the time the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, the Olympics were delayed until summer 2021 but the G1 was left untouched, still scheduled for the fall. NJPW went on their own long hiatus, not holding a single show for about three-and-a-half months. They returned in June with a depleted roster due to an ongoing travel ban, with nearly all foreign talent unable to enter the country. Shows in front of no crowds and then small crowds not permitted to cheer or make noise other than clapping received uncharacteristically mixed reviews. A shocking title win for what in many people’s eyes was a career midcarder became a controversial flashpoint, dividing the fanbase. Like the world itself in general, NJPW seemed to be less stable and more tumultuous than ever before.
But as a rocky spring and summer came to a close, things finally started pointing up again for New Japan. Their final big show of the season, Summer Struggle in Jingu, received largely positive reviews, and ended with a well-liked wrestler overcoming the divisive champion to regain his titles as fireworks lit up the sky. It was a feel-good moment when pretty much everyone desperately needed one. And then came a major break for New Japan- the first even partial lifting of the travel ban into Japan came on September 1st, which just so happened to be right in time for them to bring some foreign talent back into the G1 Climax (given a required by law 14-day quarantine period for all new arrivals, NJPW had to get everyone into the country no later than 9/5 to be ready for the start of the tournament). As mentioned earlier, moving the tournament to the fall turned out to be a bit of a lifesaver, allowing the company to present a more complete lineup with four returning foreigners (and one returning Japanese wrestler who lives in the US, although he almost certainly could have gotten in either way).
Nothing in the year 2020 feels “normal”, and these shows won’t either thanks to the half-empty buildings and crowds that still aren’t allowed to cheer or make noise beyond clapping. But at the very least, we have a G1 Climax lineup that looks about as normal as normal gets nowadays, and that counts for something at the end of the day.
Before we really get started with this preview, a few important links!
NJPW G1 Climax 30 Preview: B Block & Full Schedule- https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2020/09/16/njpw-g1-climax-30-preview-b-block-full-schedule/
I wrote a little too much about this year’s G1 Climax so it had to be split up in two! Check out the B Block profiles and full tournament schedule here!
G1 Climax 30 Pick ‘Em: https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2020/09/14/voices-of-wrestlings-g1-climax-30-pickem-is-live/
As always, Voices of Wrestling is running its annual G1 Climax pick ’em contest! Enter now for your chance to win fabulous prizes!
Voices of Wrestling Flagship Patreon: http://patreon.com/voicesofwrestling
Joe Lanza brings his usual excellent daily coverage of the G1 Climax (along with the Champion Carnival and N-1 from AJPW & NOAH) to the Flagship Patreon, and Rich Kraetsch is doing a series spotlighting G1 finals of the past that I’ll be making a guest appearance on as well!
Wrestling Omakase Patreon: http://patreon.com/wrestlingomakase
If you haven’t heard my own podcast Wrestling Omakase now has its own Patreon as well, and like Joe I’ll be doing daily coverage of the G1 Climax (and the Champion Carnival & N-1 too!). Plus we have lots of other great exclusive audio content for you, including a special episode I hosted with VOW statistician Chris Samsa highlighting five awesome G1 Climax matches of the past, a pair of complete series covering every Okada-Tanahashi and Naito-Ishii match in detail (along with exploring the history of all four guys in New Japan), and a whole lot more, for only $5 per month!
G1 Climax 30 will run from September 19th through October 18th. Twenty wrestlers are split up into two blocks, the A and B block. Each wrestler must face everyone else in their block (for a total of 9 matches) in contests that feature a 30-minute time limit. Points are awarded based on the following results:
- Win a match: 2 points
- Time limit draw: 1 point
- Lose a match, double DQ, double countout: 0 points
The winner of each block is determined by whoever has the most points at the end of the round-robin. If two or more wrestlers are tied in points, the block winner is determined via a head-to-head tiebreaker. In other words, if Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI both finish on top of the B block with 14 points, the winner of the block would be whoever won their singles match against each other during the tournament. And if that scenario ends up happening, I hope the people are enjoying the ice skating down in Hell.
The tournament will feature 19 shows in total, with 18 shows split up between the A and B blocks as has been the format since 2015, and a final show pitting the A and B block champions against each other to determine the overall champion. For the first time ever there will be no undercard tags featuring the wrestlers from the other block; so rather than have B block wrestlers each face their next opponents in tags on A block nights and vice-versa, the wrestlers will just get the night off entirely instead. Each card will thus be much shorter than in previous years, just featuring the 5 block matches for the evening plus 1 other match (always a singles match with two Young Lions facing off).
The winner of the finals between the A and B block champions on October 18th at Sumo Hall will be crowned the G1 Climax 30 champion. In addition to the massive prestige and accomplishment that comes just for winning a G1 alone, traditionally (going back to 2012) the winner of the tournament also receives a contract for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom, which they then have to defend leading up to the show (against wrestlers they lost to during the G1). This year however we have two complications that have yet to be addressed:
1) The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Tetsuya Naito, also holds the IWGP Intercontinental Title as well. Will the contract be for a shot at just the Heavyweight Title, or will it be for a shot at both titles? It might be worth noting that the New Japan Cup, traditionally either for an automatic IWGP Heavyweight Title shot or a title shot against any singles champion of the winner’s choice, ended up being for a shot at both belts, so that could end up being the precedent here. On the other hand, Naito has been talking about wanting to defend the titles separately since he regained them from EVIL, so perhaps the New Japan office has been listening to him (for once!).
2) Even though everyone presumes Wrestle Kingdom 15 is happening as normal on January 4th, this has not actually been announced yet, presumably due to the COVID-19 pandemic and questions about what the allowed building capacity will be at the Tokyo Dome. We also do not yet know if it will be another two-night event like WK14 was.
Simply put, we don’t have much information at all on what the winner of the G1 will receive this year, and when they’ll get their title shot. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon!
After all the speculation that COVID-19 would leave us with a radically different field than last year, thanks to the Japan travel ban being partially lifted we actually have far less turnover than we saw in the previous tournament. G1 Climax 29 featured only 13 out of 20 wrestlers returning from 28, but this time around we have 17 out of the 20 participants coming back from 29 to 30. Our missing three are as follows:
Jon Moxley: Moxley made his G1 debut last year and went 5-4 in the tournament, but is not able to make it back. Despite still being the current IWGP US Heavyweight Champion, Mox was likely always going to be a tough one to get back in the G1 fold in 2020 even if there wasn’t a pandemic, since he’s also the reigning AEW World Champion and is featured weekly on Dynamite.
Lance Archer: Archer made waves last year when he returned to the G1 after a five-year absence. He didn’t exactly have a great performance in the tournament when it came to his win-loss record, only going 3-6, but his standout matches during the tournament helped create a buzz for him that made him an in demand property. AEW ended up signing him early in 2020, and Archer hasn’t been seen back in NJPW since. So this is another guy who was almost certainly not going to be back in the G1 regardless of the pandemic.
Bad Luck Fale: Fale is our only one of the three missing participants from last year who I think would have been in the G1 under more normal circumstances; his home country of New Zealand has been in a COVID lockdown throughout the month of September (it looks like it will be lifted on 9/21, two days after the G1 begins), which likely made him unable to travel to Japan for the tournament even after the travel ban was partially lifted there. This will thus be the first G1 that Fale has missed since he began competing in the tournament in 2014. He went only 4-5 last year and didn’t exactly receive rave reviews for his performances, so I can’t say he’s leaving the biggest hole in the tournament (well, besides the fact that he is quite physically large I guess).
Replacing these three are a trio of native Japanese wrestlers who are all returning to the G1 Climax after missing some period of time. Minoru Suzuki is easily the least surprising of the three; it was a shock to fans when he was held out of the tournament last year, which turned out to be a bit of an angle set-up for a bitter Suzuki to unexpectedly pin Okada in a tag team match on the final night, setting up a post-G1 IWGP Heavyweight Title shot. It’s thus no surprise he’s right back in the G1 this year, especially after winning the NEVER Openweight Title at Jingu. The other two are maybe a little more surprising due to their much lower ranked spots on the roster: YOSHI-HASHI makes his first G1 appearance since 2018 after also being held out last year, and Yujiro Takahashi is the biggest stunner of all, returning to his first G1 since 2015.
So with our missing wrestlers and replacements out of the way, let’s get into the real fun- breaking down all of the entrants in this year’s G1 Climax.
Here in Part 1 of our preview, we’ll do all of the A block entrants. We’ll come back in Part 2 with the B block, as well as the full night-by-night schedule.
I’ll go in alphabetical order. We’ll also give anywhere from 2-4 notable matches for each entrant, and then we’ll place everyone’s chances of winning the tournament into four tiers (Favorite, Dark Horse, Unlikely, and No Shot). Let’s get to it!
Powered by RedCircle
This is a stacked block full of wrestlers who have both strong kayfabe accomplishments and a long history of putting on excellent matches. Who will come out on top of this venerable all star lineup?
‘SWITCHBLADE’ JAY WHITE
Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past G1 Experience: 2018 (6-3), 2019 (6-3, Lost in Final)
We start out with our first of four foreign wrestlers who at one point looked unlikely to make this year’s G1 at all. Jay White was last seen in Japan on February 22nd, 2020, in an eight-man tag team match on Manabu Nakanishi’s retirement show. When he left the country he was the unquestioned leader of BULLET CLUB. Now? Who knows! While Jay was out of the country, EVIL made a shocking defection to BC and then did something that Jay had tried and failed to do at Wrestle Kingdom 14- he won the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles at the same time. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the rest of BC that remained in Japan certainly treated the King of Darkness like he was the King of BULLET as well, and Jay was frequently conspicuous in his silence on social media regarding their newest member’s major accomplishments, even as other BC members that were stranded overseas praised him. Jay notably refused to address any of this in a promo at the end of a recent episode of NJPW STRONG back in the states, but seemed to hint there was more than meets the eye here.
So that leaves us with a pretty big question- for the second time in three years, are there problems brewing in BULLET CLUB? And if there are, will they be a distraction to Jay and prevent him from following up on his excellent first two years in the G1 Climax? Or will the always conniving Switchblade see winning his first G1- after he got to the finals and lost to Kota Ibushi last year- as his ticket to reestablishing himself as the BULLET CLUB’s undisputed leader?
Notable Matches: You have to start out with the rematch of that aforementioned G1 Climax 29 final, as Jay and Kota Ibushi do battle once again on September 23rd in Sapporo, a matchup of two of the absolute block favorites. Speaking of block favorites, White has another big one in his very next match on September 27th in Kobe, when he faces his old rival Kazuchika Okada for the first time since losing the IWGP Heavyweight Title to him in the main event at Madison Square Garden in April 2019. On October 13th in Hamamatsu we get a rare battle of BC and Suzukigun leaders (well, if Jay still counts!) as he faces Minoru Suzuki in their first meeting since the 2018 G1. And finally, Jay’s final round-robin match on October 16th at Sumo Hall is against one of the few remaining heavyweights he’s yet to defeat in New Japan: Tomohiro Ishii, who has a 1-0 record against him, having won their only previous meeting in last year’s G1.
Chance of Winning: Favorite
Jay has to be considered one of the top tier favorites to win this year’s G1. He’s clearly seen as one of the new “big 5” (with Naito, Okada, Ibushi and Tanahashi) and is the only remaining one of them who has yet to win a G1 following Kota’s victory last year. He hasn’t faced the champion Naito since last year’s Wrestle Kingdom. And it would offer a very interesting contrast with 2020 New Japan Cup champion EVIL, continuing the slow burn storyline of “who’s the leader of the BULLET CLUB now, anyway?”. Underestimate Jay at your own peril.
Past G1 Experience: 2019 (4-5)
Jeff Cobb made his G1 Climax debut last year while still a member of the ROH roster, although he had been appearing on-and-off in NJPW dating back to his debut in the 2017 World Tag League. Cobb’s first G1 was a bit of a rough go for him- he only picked up 8 points, finishing with a losing record, and he received mixed reviews for his performances. This year, Cobb has been coy about his contractual status with any company, making his affiliation a little confusing to pin down. He’s appeared all over the place so far in 2020, including even a 2-week stint for AEW, but does not appear to be an ROH roster member anymore (despite still being listed as such on the NJPW English website). Cobb has said that he HAS signed a deal with a company but was waiting for said company to announce it. NJPW listed him under their logo rather than as ROH or freelance when they announced him as a G1 Climax 30 participant, so was that their way of quietly announcing that Cobb has indeed signed with them full time? Perhaps we’ll soon find out. Either way, I’m just gonna go with it and list him as Hontai. Meanwhile, the big man will be looking to improve upon his previous G1 performance, although in a block this stacked he may find even getting to four wins again pretty difficult.
Notable Matches: Cobb had a feud with Taichi last year that mostly involved the Holy Emperor calling him a pig in Japanese a lot as they split their matches 1-1 (Taichi winning the NEVER Openweight Title from him at Wrestling Dontaku but Cobb paying him back by beating him in the G1 a few months later), so they’ll get to have their rubber match on the very first night in Osaka, September 19th. Right back in Osaka the following month is the site of a rematch from one of Cobb’s most critically acclaimed battles in his first G1, as he’ll face Tomohiro Ishii in what’s sure to be a hard-hitting affair on October 10th.
Chance of Winning: Unlikely
I can’t quite put Cobb at the full-off No Shot because, as discussed on the VOW Flagship, if Gedo woke up one day and said “I want Jeff Cobb to win” people would be like “Uh, that’s really weird but….I guess?”, whereas there’s a few other wrestlers we’ll get to that if Gedo was like “I want them to win!” people would assume he’s just completely lost his mind. I wouldn’t rush to put your money down on Jeff Cobb to win the G1 Climax 30 unless you have an insatiable urge to lose a gambling bet, but stranger things have certainly happened, especially this year.
Past G1 Experience: 2012 (5-3, Won Tournament), 2013 (4-4-1), 2014 (8-2, Won Tournament), 2015 (7-2), 2016 (5-3-1), 2017 (6-2-1), 2018 (6-2-1), 2019 (7-2)
The Rainmaker is, like many of us, not exactly having a great 2020. It all started back at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and the mini-tournament to crown the first-ever dual IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion. Okada entered with that big gold Heavyweight Title and, unlike the other three participants, also brought with him a hefty dose of skepticism as to whether or not this tournament should even be happening at all. Okada was able to put that aside on the first night with just his own title on the line, defeating Kota Ibushi in the main event to retain. But when faced with his old foe Tetsuya Naito and that white belt he’s shown zero interest in during his entire career, he was defeated (his first Tokyo Dome main event loss in five years), losing his title. NJPW resumed after their pandemic break with the New Japan Cup, and Okada made it all the way to the finals of a tournament that would crown a challenger not just for the Heavyweight Title, but for the Intercontinental as well. Once again he was defeated in the finals of the tournament, this time by EVIL (thanks to a hefty dose of outside help from his new BULLET CLUB pals).
Okada then publicly declared that he had no interest in the dual titles anyway, telling Tokyo Sports that the current double champion setup was actually devaluing the Heavyweight belt, and decided to focus on his own new concept, the KOPW2020. Okada made it to the finals of THAT tournament, which was no surprise of course, but in the four-way match he was shockingly pinned by Toru Yano of all people following a low blow and a rollup. And if you’d like yet ANOTHER loss in a tournament final for him this year, he, Yano, and SHO lost in the finals of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Title Tournament too! So yes, that’s four tournaments, four finals, and four losses in 2020 for Kazuchika Okada. Okada hasn’t won the G1 since 2014, but this will also only be the second time since then that he isn’t the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion entering the tournament (the other being 2018). So now comes the big question for Okada- will the G1 Climax 30 be Okada’s redemption arc at the end of a truly brutal year, or will it just be one more disappointment to get dumped onto the pile?
Notable Matches: It starts right from the top for Okada, as he’ll face Kota Ibushi in a rematch of the Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night 1 main event on September 19th in Osaka. As mentioned already in his own entry, Okada has a big showdown with the man he once brought into CHAOS, Jay White, on September 27th in Kobe, and those two matches above could go a long way to deciding the entire block. One of the most hotly anticipated first-time-ever singles matches of the whole G1 pits Okada against LIJ’s heavy hitter Shingo Takagi back in Osaka on October 10th. And a fifth-ever singles match with his longtime friend and protege Will Ospreay awaits Okada on the final night of A block competition, October 16th, in Ryogoku. Will that be a match where one guy is trying to spoil the other, or could it even be the match that ends up deciding the A block?
Chance of Winning: Favorite
Of course, Okada has to be considered one of the absolute top tier favorites to win this tournament. Where you rank him with the other favorites is up to you, but there’s no question that everyone can picture Okada finally overcoming his 0-4 record in tournament finals in 2020 by hitting a Rainmaker on whoever wins the B block, standing tall once again, and heading to the Tokyo Dome for another showdown with Naito. But on the other hand…..maybe this just isn’t his year, in the same way that 2018 wasn’t Naito’s year. Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to see Okada lose a fifth straight tournament final? If he wins the A block, which I think is very likely, it’ll be really interesting to see which way they go there.
Past G1 Experience: 2013 (4-5), 2015 (4-5), 2017 (5-4), 2018 (6-3, Lost in Finals), 2019 (7-2, Won Tournament)
Last year Kota Ibushi won the G1 Climax, and immediately after did something pretty shocking- he embraced the idea of trying to win the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles at once, reversing himself after originally criticizing Tetsuya Naito’s goal earlier in the year (claiming it was disrespectful to the white belt). This set off a series of events that ultimately resulted in the Wrestle Kingdom 14 double title tournament. Unfortunately for Ibushi, despite the unique setup he ended up in a very familiar position for the G1 Champion- since the automatic WK title shot was instituted in 2012, only one G1 winner has gone on to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title at the Tokyo Dome (Hiroshi Tanahashi, the previous year), and Ibushi added to that record by losing to Kazuchika Okada in the main event of night 1 for the Heavyweight Title. Perhaps even worse for Kota, he had to watch Naito, his rival for many years and who he had criticized in the first place for his supposedly disrespectful attitude, be the first one to hold both titles when Naito went on to beat Okada the next night.
But if any of these events bothered the cheery Ibushi he didn’t outwardly show it, throwing himself into a new tag team with one of his “gods” Tanahashi, the Golden Aces. The team was immediately successful, winning the IWGP Tag Team Titles on their very first try, just before the pandemic shutdown. But when NJPW resumed, Ibushi and Tanahashi ran into the Dangerous Tekkers, and the team of Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. took the belts from them in their first defense at Dominion. Ibushi showed notable signs of frustration with Tanahashi’s declining level as the team struggled just to win multi-man tags against the Suzukigun team, but they finally came together and looked good heading into Jingu……just in time to lose to the Tekkers once again, failing to regain the belts. Now, Ibushi has put the tag team on hold, saying he has to focus on his singles career with the G1 coming up, but he’s promised that the Golden Aces aren’t dead yet. With Kota and Tanahashi in separate blocks, the only chance these two could meet in the G1 would be if they met in the finals, which happened of course two years ago. Are we destined for another Golden Ace showdown to determine the G1 Climax 30 champion?
Notable Matches: Of course that clash with Kazuchika Okada on the very first night, September 19th, looms large. Many fans were surprised that it wasn’t a final night match like it was last year, where Kota beat Okada to win the A block (before Okada of course paid him back at Wrestle Kingdom). And the G1 Climax 29 final rematch on September 23rd in Sapporo, with Kota meeting Jay White once again, is another big match. White also won their last meeting, when the two of them had that “losers match” on WK14 Night 2 after they both lost to Okada & Naito the previous night, so this is the rubber match for now at least. October 7th in Hiroshima features a standout main event that’s never happened before, as Ibushi clashes with Shingo Takagi. And even though it isn’t a first time ever match, it’s been so long it may as well be- Ibushi hasn’t faced Minoru Suzuki since the 2013 G1 (!), when Kota was not only still a junior heavyweight, but still a DDT wrestler (he wouldn’t sign his first dual NJPW/DDT contract until several months after the tournament). They’ll finally meet a second time on October 10th in Osaka.
Chance of Winning: Dark Horse
I can definitely see a lot of you disagreeing with me on this one and thinking Ibushi belongs in the Favorite category, but I just don’t see it. If Kota wins the G1 he would be the first person to win it back-to-back since Hiroyoshi Tenzan pulled it off in 2003 & 2004, which just feels like the kind of historic accomplishment they’re holding in their back pocket for the next Okada mega-push type of guy. Kota certainly doesn’t need it, as he’s already a beloved member of the roster (and at 38 he’s not exactly a young man at this point either, despite the fact that he still looks like he could get carded trying to buy booze). Hell, if Kota just makes the final and loses he would be the first person to EVER make the G1 finals three years in a row. I don’t see that happening either, so I think he’s gonna fall short here and head back to the tag team ranks with Tanahashi to get revenge on Taichi & Zack. He already pretty well said as much in his promos before the G1! But I suppose there’s always a chance that the tag stuff is just a red herring and Kota is going to make history, which is why he’s here in the Dark Horse category. You can’t completely rule him out, but I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.
NEVER Openweight Champion
Past G1 Experience: 2004 (4-3), 2005 (2-3-2), 2011 (5-3), 2012 (4-4), 2013 (5-4), 2014 (5-5), 2017 (4-4-1), 2018 (5-4)
Minoru Suzuki has missed G1s before when he simply wasn’t with the company- leaving to compete mostly in AJPW from 2005 to 2011 and in NOAH with the rest of his unit from 2014 to 2017- but last year was the first G1 that Suzuki was excluded from while being an NJPW regular. It was a shocking exclusion that if anything seemed to light a fire under Suzuki, as he’d go on to pin the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on the final night of the G1 in a tag team match, earning a post-G1 title shot despite not even competing in the tournament! He went on to feature in some incredibly memorable moments afterward- the whole damn Jushin Thunder Liger feud, coming out to confront US Champion Jon Moxley just after Moxley had retained his title at the Tokyo Dome (if you don’t remember it or haven’t seen it, I highly suggest watching it right now, as it’s possibly my favorite moment of the entire year), tearing the house down with Mox at New Beginning, fighting a pair of wars with fellow old man Yuji Nagata after the restart, and finally winning the NEVER Openweight Title from Shingo Takagi in another awesome match at Jingu. Yeah, he’s 52 years old. He’s also put together a low-key Wrestler of the Year case, and he’s a singles champion in New Japan for the first time since April 2018. Suzuki belongs back in the G1, and I’m glad to see him here. Let’s see how much he can add to what’s already been a stellar year.
Notable Matches: It’s been almost two years since Suzuki and Tomohiro Ishii had a memorable series of physical battles over RevPro’s British Heavyweight Title, and they’ll get right back to hitting each other very hard in the face on the very first night of the G1 in Osaka on September 19th. Suzuki and Taichi‘s relationship hasn’t always seemed smooth (once in a while he’ll point out that this isn’t Taichi-gun, and how exactly can a King and a Holy Emperor co-exist anyway?), and judging by how things went on the last Korakuen before the tournament Suzuki is looking forward to his chance to make Taichi bow to him on September 23rd in Sapporo. Suzuki has a long history with Kazuchika Okada, beating him in their very first meeting in February 2013 but going 0-5-2 since. He’ll get another shot to turn that record around on October 5th in Takamatsu. Finally, a first time ever singles match awaits Suzuki on October 7th in Hiroshima, and I for one am looking forward to seeing Suzuki slap Will Ospreay right in the face.
Chance of Winning: Unlikely
For as good of a 2020 as Suzuki is having, I can’t even see him even as a Dark Horse candidate to win the tournament. If you really squinted maybe you could put him through to the finals to lose to the B block champion, but it’s tough to predict even that when his final night matchup is against Shingo, which seems tailor-made for Shingo to get his win back and probably set up a rubber match for the NEVER Title in the near future.
Affiliation: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past G1 Experience: 2019 (4-5)
Shingo Takagi’s first G1 still came when he was technically a junior heavyweight (though he referred to himself as an openweight competitor pretty much from the start of his NJPW run), and he more than impressed enough with his performances despite the losing record to justify the full-time jump to heavyweight competition following the tournament. The Dragon took another big step forward in 2020 by winning his first singles title in New Japan, defeating Hirooki Goto to become NEVER Openweight Champion on February 1st. He was one of the most interesting NEVER champions we’ve had in years if only because he really lived up to the “openweight” nature of that title, taking on heavyweights (Tomohiro Ishii) and juniors (SHO, El Desperado) alike. But his reign was brought to a close at the hands of Minoru Suzuki at Jingu, leaving Shingo without a title once again. Shingo’s war with Suzuki still seemed to earn him some measure of respect from pro wrestling’s self-proclaimed King (he remarked that “there’s someone who knows how to fight in LIJ after all”, which is about as close to a compliment as you’re gonna get from Suzuki), but respect don’t pay the bills. Can Shingo take a big leap forward and at least make it to the finals in his second ever G1?
Notable Matches: Shingo has a lot of first-time-ever meetings here in the A block along with some really interesting rematches, so narrowing this down was pretty tough. We have to start on September 27th in Kobe, where Shingo returns to his old stomping grounds (Dragon Gate’s home base) to face Will Ospreay in the semi-main event. It’s a rematch of their critically acclaimed encounter in the 2019 BOSJ Finals, which interestingly enough was supposed to have happened in the first round of the New Japan Cup already before everything got thrown astray by the pandemic. October 7th in Hiroshima sees Shingo face off in the main event against Kota Ibushi for the first time ever, which is one of those “if you’re not excited for this one I’m not sure if you have a pulse” type of matches. And in the same vein, Shingo has another first time ever match against Kazuchika Okada on October 10th in Osaka, another main event as well. Will Shingo still be in the mix for the block at that point, or will he be looking to play spoiler against one of these two heavy hitters? Finally, October 16th in Ryogoku is Shingo’s big chance to try and get a win back against the man who took his NEVER title away, Minoru Suzuki, in the final night of the A block.
Chance of Winning: Dark Horse
Shingo definitely isn’t a Favorite this year, so to me it comes down to Dark Horse or Unlikely. I’m going with Dark Horse for one very simple reason: 2020 has been the Year of LIJ so far, with Naito winning the double titles on January 5th and then EVIL winning the New Japan Cup while still technically an LIJ member and leaving the unit to start our first ever LIJ vs. ex-LIJ feud. Someone from LIJ winning this tournament and heading to the Tokyo Dome to face Naito would certainly continue the theme of the year. I don’t think Shingo is the most likely winner from LIJ, but given this factor I do think you have to consider him as someone who’s got at least an outside shot.
IWGP Tag Team Champion
Past G1 Experience: 2019 (4-5)
Once little more than a junior heavyweight with a penchant for lip syncing and allegedly ruining a Super J-Cup, Taichi’s rise to one of NJPW’s top heels has truly been one of the most shocking developments of the last few years. It all started back in January 2018 when he was essentially coaxed by Tetsuya Naito into stepping up to heavyweight following their meeting at a TAKATaichiMania (a now-defunct series of self-produced events put on by Taichi and his former tag team partner TAKA Michinoku), as Naito pointed out that Taichi despite being a junior was actually larger than he was. Taichi answered this challenge that was really a taunt by assaulting Naito backstage, and the two have been joined at the hip pretty much ever since. As Taichi stepped up to heavyweight an odd thing happened- he started developing a major cult fanbase in Japan (suddenly the chants of “Taichi go home”, common since his junior days, were met with equal or often even louder chants of “Let’s go Taichi!”). And when the G1 Climax 28 lineup came out that year and the now-heavyweight Taichi wasn’t included, those fans were so mad that they actually wrote and apparently even called the New Japan offices to complain. Taichi of course pointed this out endlessly as he complained himself, and after what felt like a full year of campaigning, the Holy Emperor was finally added to the G1 lineup in 2019. He put up a 4-5 record in his first year, so nothing too great honestly, but some standout matches with the likes of Naito and Jay White gave Taichi-heads the world over something to hang their hats on.
Taichi then entered 2020 with a new focus in the tag team division, as he and his “Dangerous Tekkers” partner Zack Sabre Jr. captured the IWGP Tag Team Titles from the Golden Aces of Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi at Dominion, and defeated them again in a rematch at Jingu. In a pretty hilarious turnaround, Taichi then spent the lead up to this year’s G1 Climax claiming that he now didn’t want to be in the tournament again, as he was “too tired” and wanted to focus on his tag team accomplishments.. Yes, after complaining for basically a year straight that he wasn’t included in 2018, now he wanted to be taken out again. What a great heel this man is. Sadly for Taichi (?), he was put back in the tournament after all, so he’ll have to suck it up and find the strength to go on. If anyone can do it, our Holy Emperor can.
Notable Matches: You obviously have to start with the KING VS. EMPEROR SHOWDOWN against Minoru Suzuki on September 23rd in Sapporo. It’s actually not their first ever singles meeting, as they fought one time on another TAKATaichiMania show on December 30th, 2016, but it’s their first meeting in NJPW, and their first since Taichi graduated to heavyweight. Add in the fact that this is in Taichi’s home prefecture and it’s pretty easily his biggest match of the entire tournament. On October 5th in Takamatsu Taichi finds himself face-to-face with Tomohiro Ishii for the first time since their extremely memorable trilogy in 2019, which ended with Taichi shockingly beating the Stone Pitbull clean in last year’s G1. October 7th in Hiroshima is one that I have circled on my calendar, as Taichi faces Jay White in another rematch of an extremely memorable G1 29 encounter from last year. Watching Taichi actually get to play babyface against White was pretty amazing, and he’ll have a chance to even the score after White won last time around. Finally, Taichi’s tournament wraps up on October 16th in Ryogoku where he faces his rival throughout the year, Kota Ibushi. Kota and Taichi are 1-1 in singles matches; when Taichi beat Kota earlier this year in the second round of the New Japan Cup he was avenging a loss to Kota from eleven years ago, as Kota beat Taichi in the 2009 Best of the Super Juniors. I’m sure that June day in a place called Tochigi was on Taichi’s mind every day for eleven years straight until he finally avenged the loss. Now, could Taichi be in a position to play spoiler to Ibushi on the final night? Or will he still be alive to win the block himself?!
Chance of Winning: Unlikely
As much as I personally would love a Tetsuya Naito vs. Taichi Tokyo Dome main event, I don’t think it’s happening. Not much more to add there! If Gedo wants to book for me personally I would take Naito winning the tournament and naming Hiromu as his challenger first, but this would be a fine second choice too. Hit me up man.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champion
Past G1 Experience: 2013 (3-6), 2014 (5-5), 2015 (5-4), 2016 (4-5), 2017 (4-5), 2018 (5-4), 2019 (4-5)
Well, one thing you definitely can’t say about the Stone Pitbull in the G1 Climax is that he’s inconsistent. Other than going 3-6 in his debut (which is actually even worse than it looks since one of his three wins was an injury forfeit, but hey at least he beat Tanahashi that year!), Ishii has won either 4 or 5 matches in every year of the G1 since 2014. It’s been a little bit of a quiet year for him so far, although he does enter the G1 as a reigning champion thanks to his win alongside Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI in the recent NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title Tournament. But Ishii doesn’t really enter this year’s tournament with any big rivalry, nothing like 2019 of course when he spent a good portion of the year feuding with Taichi. Can you just pencil Ishii in for his normal four or five wins now? Or is this finally the year he breaks through big time…..or suffers a big collapse?
Notable Matches: A lot of people are probably looking forward to a first time ever meeting with Will Ospreay on September 23rd in Sapporo, so that would probably qualify. Meanwhile, it’s not a first time ever match, but Ishii has fought Kota Ibushi only a few times in his career (in 2014 over the NEVER Openweight Title at the ill-fated Back to the Yokohama Arena show, and twice in the G1 in 2017 & 2018), which definitely makes September 27th in Kobe stand out. October 10th in Osaka pits Ishii against his “boss” Kazuchika Okada for their fifth meeting, and Ishii has a poor 1-3 record at this point. But his only other win was in a G1 4 years ago, so can he get history to repeat itself this year? Finally, Ishii’s G1 wraps up with a meeting against Jay White on October 16th in Ryogoku. White and Ishii have just one meeting, which saw Ishii beat White during last year’s G1 Climax. Can Ishii go 2-for-2 in a match that surely White will need if he’s still alive on the final day, and spoil his chances of going to a second straight final?
Chance of Winning: Unlikely
It’s one of the great axioms of Western NJPW fandom: everyone always thinks Ishii is going to win way more than he actually is. He’s not winning the G1, and I’ll be surprised if he’s still alive on the last night. Keep his number closer to 8 or 10 points than 12+ on your VOW Pick’ems.
Past G1 Experience: 2019 (4-5)
First things first: I would feel like a fraud sitting here and typing up a profile about Will Ospreay that completely ignores everything else that’s gone on with him this year. Even if you don’t believe the “blackball” accusation, he at the very least chose to use his extremely large platform to denigrate someone who didn’t deserve it, and his apology was nowhere near sufficient (try again without talking about why you never liked her, for starters). Will is in this tournament so I’m going to cover him, but I wanted to at least put up this disclaimer of sorts. There’s nothing wrong with feeling awkward and uncomfortable about Will’s presence here, and don’t let anyone try and shame you for it if you do feel that way. On the other hand, writing in to NJPW directly is a more constructive use of your time than tweeting at random Japanese fans or wrestlers about him in a language they may or may not fully understand. Please don’t do that.
So Ospreay is entering his second G1 this year, as he formally graduated to heavyweight after he lost the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title to Hiromu Takahashi back at Wrestle Kingdom 14. His first G1 featured plenty of matches that wowed the critics but an expected lack of in-ring success (watching people predict the junior champion to go 7-3 or 8-2 and make the finals was very funny), although getting a big win over Hiroshi Tanahashi in his final match of the tournament definitely stood out more than his record. Now this time around Ospreay is entering the G1 as a heavyweight, he’s quietly dropped the ‘Aerial’ half of his nickname (he’s now just ‘The Assassin’), and he has a major match with his CHAOS leader and mentor Kazuchika Okada waiting for him on the last night of the tournament. Does this mean he’s now a contender to win his block, or maybe even the entire tournament? At the very least he should take a big step forward when it comes to his win-loss record, and he very well could be alive heading into the final night this time around.
Notable Matches: As mentioned during his entry, Ospreay will essentially walk into Shingo Takagi‘s old backyard on September 27th in Kobe for a rematch of their BOSJ Finals, which won Match of the Year on this very website. He’ll face Jay White for only the second time in his career on September 30th at Korakuen, and it’s a battle of the company’s two biggest gaijin stars (well, full time at least). They haven’t met since a champion vs. champion encounter at the 2019 Anniversary Show in March, but they’re actually 1-1 since Ospreay beat White on an ROH show in May 2017 when White was still on his excursion, making this yet another rubber match. A first time ever meeting with Minoru Suzuki on October 7th in Hiroshima stands out in a “what the heck are these two guys even gonna do together” type of way. And finally, that meeting with Kazuchika Okada on October 16th in Ryogoku looms large as a possible block-decider. If Will wants any chance at his first G1 final, he’ll almost certainly have to beat Okada for the first time in his career. That would be a hell of a big stage for him to do it, whether he’s trying to move on himself or just play spoiler on his buddy, so it wouldn’t shock me if it happens.
Chance of Winning: Dark Horse
Even putting everything else with Will aside, it still feels a little too soon to be discussing “G1 Climax winner” for him. He’ll have a good tournament, definitely finish with a winning record, and perhaps even be alive on the final day (if Okada is winning the block, it will almost certainly come down to Okada vs. Ospreay, winner moves on). I don’t rule him out entirely if only because Tetsuya Naito vs. Ospreay would be a first time ever match, and they’re clearly saving that for something (maybe it was supposed to have happened earlier this year if not for the pandemic, though), but I don’t see Tokyo Dome main event. He’s high profile enough to qualify as a Dark Horse I think, but there’s better Dark Horses if you’re looking for someone to place an actual wager on.
Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past G1 Experience: 2010 (2-5), 2011 (3-6), 2012 (3-5), 2013 (4-5), 2014 (4-6), 2015 (3-6)
Last and, I cannot stress this enough, most certainly least, it’s Yujiro Takahashi! Yujiro is making his return to the G1 Climax after four long years away, part of a little bit of a mini-revival in his previously floundering career. Folks, I’m not really editorializing here- this is how Yujiro Takahashi would describe his own career since being left out of the G1:
Couldn’t have said it better myself buddy. So anyway! He had a little feud with Kazuchika Okada that just kind of resulted in him getting his ass kicked by a Rainmaker who appeared to be giving about 5% effort (and that might be being generous). This all culminated in their epic KOPW2020 match, where remember each guy gets to pick their own stipulation: Yujiro asked for a lumberjack with belts match (because Gedo started carrying a belt around for no real reason), while Okada asked for Yujiro to please be given two partners so it could be something even resembling an even match. The fans sided with Okada and agreed that Yujiro needed a 3-on-1 advantage to have any hope of winning, and Okada of course won. So now Yujiro is in the G1 Climax. Yeah. As you may have noticed above, Yujiro never posted a single winning record in his 2010 to 2015 run as a competitor. I would not expect that to change this time around.
Notable Matches: Oh boy. Uh. Well. If you haven’t gotten enough of Yujiro vs. Kazuchika Okada yet, they meet for what feels like the five hundred and seventeenth time this year on September 23rd in Sapporo. On September 27th in Kobe Yujiro faces Taichi in a Special ‘Everyone Wishes Your Respective Seconds Were Here’ Match. They should just like offer us a split screen of Miho Abe and Pieter having a delightful day playing Pachinko and Pachislot together. If the ‘Tokyo Latina’ doesn’t play I’m sure Miho could teach her. It would be both entertaining and educational. Shit, where was I? Okay, in all seriousness, the only Yujiro match I’m actually kinda interested in is on October 10th in Osaka, where Yujiro takes on Jay White. The intra-BC matches can often be kind of funny, and this is a first time ever match. I don’t think anyone was exactly clamoring for it, but hey, you do what you can with a Yujiro right? That goes for us previewers too! Honestly, the biggest sin here is that they put Yujiro back in the G1 and then DIDN’T put him in the same block as his ex-Team No Limit partner Tetsuya Naito, who he almost always managed to have surprisingly great matches with. For shame.
Chance of Winning: No Shot
Folks, I know that 2020 has seen a lot of weird and mostly bad things happen. But there is probably a greater chance that you, as in the person reading all the way through the end of this very long single block preview, will win the 30th edition of the Grade One Climax than Yujiro Takahashi will, and I have no idea who you are. There’s a couple other people in B block who I’d also rank as No Shot, but I honestly thought about adding another category just for Yujiro. Like “No Shot (No Really, It’s Yujiro, Are You Serious)”. In conclusion, Yujiro Takahashi is not winning the G1. Thank you.
So that wraps up the A block! Originally this was going to be one big article but since I somehow wrote almost 8000 words (!) just on the intro and a single block, it needed to be split into two parts. Click here to continue with Part 2, covering the B block and the full tournament schedule!