New Japan Pro Wrestling changed the format of the G1 Climax this year, from the established, sleek 20-man, two-block system to an oddly structured 28-man, four-block system.
That itself is not a cataclysmically awful decision, although it’s odd that they went with 28 wrestlers instead of 32, being G1 Climax 32 and all. No, the structural decision is not the reason this G1 Climax portends to be a defiantly dissonant G1 Climax. It’s the scheduling.
In theory, the new format alleviates the burden on the wrestlers and the burden on the fans. There are fewer matches to watch per night, and a smaller slate of matches for the wrestlers. Instead of nine matches in a month, they drop to a mere six.
But inherent in that is a poisonous corollary: with smaller blocks, that means fewer opportunities for tectonic match-ups. To avoid disconnect, the bookers and schedulers would have to carefully plan this out. The one thing you would want to avoid is diffusing the matches, blocks, and wrestlers to such a degree that the connective tissue and sinews of the tournament would snap.
We know that’s the one thing you would want to avoid because they ran headfirst into it.
Diffused over a month are 18 league play nights. That’s the same as usual. What’s unusual is that on each night, there is one, and at most two, matches per block. This results in some wild discrepancies, where some wrestlers go nearly two weeks between matches. The tangibility of the G1 Climax crumbles in our grasp if we can even catch it in this format.
In an academic sense, this is engrossing and intoxicating. Rarely does one experience such a seismic shift to something so firmly established in wrestling. G1 Climaxes have been pretty much the same format for 12 years now, and this fundamental of an adjustment is exhilarating in the abstract.
We don’t know for sure how this will fit into the product, the booking patterns, or the historical trends. Or will it change things completely, establishing new patterns and trends? We don’t know. That’s pretty cool! We only get one chance to see how changes of this magnitude affect such an entrenched philosophical system. Some things appear to be likely to change, and for other things it is unclear. We literally have to see how it plays out.
Of course, that doesn’t change the real day-to-day feeling of the tournament.
Instead of a G1 Climax with two strong, robust identities (A Block/B Block), the 2022 G1 Climax appears, on paper at least, to be comprised of 28 weak ones, one per wrestler, each one indecipherably connected, floating in some kind of cosmic vacuum.
This will almost certainly be the most disconnected G1 Climax any of us has ever experienced. It will be devoid of pace, momentum, and resonance until it all comes together in the final nights.
In this G1 Climax 32 preview, we evaluate the effects, complications, and developments resultant from this switch from a two-block, one-match final to a four-block, four-man mini-tournament final. In Part III, we assess the effects this has on the booking, and attempt to decipher how this might influence their decision-making. Sometimes, things seem drastically different from the past 12 years of trends and patterns. In some facets, the patterns and trends hold true. Because of that, it’s the easy part to analyze.
Part I is about the scheduling, and how that is noticeably different. Part II will be a night-by-night examination that is an extension of Part I.
Because it’s so labyrinthine, abstruse, and almost totally irrelevant to the fan that just wants to watch matches and only marginally follows the tournament in totality, it’s a considerably more recondite and tricky aspect to inspect.
So that’s where we’ll start.
A Stable Tournament for an Inherently Unstable Workforce, Fanbase, Etc.
Since 2010, for twelve straight years, you knew what you were getting with the G1 Climax.
- You knew you were getting two blocks.
- You knew you were getting a single-match final.
- You knew that the final night of the tournament, or the final night of each block, would be replete with marquee match-ups, invested with days and weeks worth of complexly woven equity.
- You knew that the final block match of a block would probably be winner-take-all.
- You knew that, despite the predictability of all these things, the convergence of them produced an immense amount of credibility, which would be inherited by each block winner, and then imbued into the overall G1 Final match
So yes, since 2010, there has been robust stability in the G1 Climax.
Or, perhaps, gradually deflating stability?
That’s how some feel about the inherently prosaic nature of this armature: everything expected, the desultory nature of the enterprise devitalizing the process. In some ways, it renders the path obsolete, or at least inconsequential. All that matters is the prologue and epilogue. And it happened every single year for over a decade. When the results are jejune, stability is bad.
We reject that contention. Honing in on structure can render the G1 Climax a lugubrious affair, but the ardent stability of the G1 Climax in the past decade was decidedly for the better. Business success, international recognition, critical laudation… it all aligns with a specific format of the G1 Climax.
Obviously, it wasn’t just the G1 Climax that played a part in this boon period. A confluence of things contributed to that exponential growth:
- A guy who looks like the stockiest of stock manga office boss characters taking his card game company wealth and purchasing the company
- Establishing their own streaming service early in the process
- Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Kazuchika Okada
- Tetsuya Naito
- An ambitious Canuck otaku that speaks fluent Japanese
- A significantly older, craftier Canuck that saw the younger Canuck and wanted a piece of the action, bringing big business with him
- An English-speaking public starved for superlative wrestling
- An English-speaking audience starved wrestling where the storylines don’t obfuscate the superlative wrestling
The G1 Climax is the bedrock upon which all this is established. There’s no Western equivalent to the G1 Climax. These sorts of round-robin tournaments are uniquely Japanese, and thus there’s a unique connection and spectacle to them. The idiosyncrasies of the product shine the brightest in the month of the G1 Climax.
The format of the G1 Climax has shifted numerous times in its 32 years. Some years, it’s been a round-robin tournament with two blocks and a four-person mini-tournament final. Some years it’s been a straight-up tableau, a single-elimination tournament.
Most years, it has been a round-robin tournament with two blocks and a single match final.
That is the format they presented in the very first G1 Climax back in 1991. It occurred again in 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2008. When they returned to it again in 2010, they finally remained steadfast; for the next 12 G1 Climax tournaments, they would not adjust this foundational format. It is the longest stretch with the same armature in G1 Climax history, easily.
That’s not to say the tournament has been static. It’s just that the changes and adjustments have not had much avoirdupois. The 2010 G1 Climax had 16 competitors, 8 per block. 2011 and 2013 saw the familiar 20-man, 10-per-block format, though in 2012, they retreated to 18 wrestlers, and in 2014 ballooned to 22.
In 2015, there was a shift back to 20 wrestlers, and two consequentially dramatic shifts concomitant to it: the shift to single-block nights, and the airing of every night on New Japan World. This change didn’t necessarily affect historical trends or booking patterns, but did affect the stats… and the way the tournament is fundamentally consumed and perceived.
For many, this is the only format they know. It works for several reasons:
- By focusing on a single block per night, the narratives, standings, and progressions of each block are significantly more accessible. There is no juggling; each block receives full attention on a night, which itself supports better retention of the sometimes complex matrix of intra-block relationships.
- Because each block is separated, there is more equity invested in the meeting of the two block winners.
- It is easier to keep up with the action, IN THEORY, because there are fewer matches per night to watch.
- The timeframe is extended, but not so much that it enervates and extinguishes the audience’s enjoyment of the event in totality. One month ended up being a propitious length to build suspense towards the one-match final, without reaching a breaking point where the fans would burn out and the suspense would dissipate.
- Wrestlers have fewer back-to-back nights, dispersing the workload. In 2014, the last year of the all-block nights schedule, wrestlers performed ten matches in 18 days. Since then, their workload has been nine matches over roughly 30 days.
- Match times increased dramatically. This may offset the benefits of spacing out matches, but for the viewer it has been a blessing. At least, to a certain point. Match times rose from around 10:30 minutes in 2014 to 12:40 in 2015. This increase became comically obscene during the pandemic, exceeding 17 minutes in 2021. Seventeen fucking minutes per match. Initially, though, this was a nice benefit.
This, of course, is all build-up to the punchline of 2022: they took a fucking axe to the old ways, savagely upending the stability they have established over a lucrative time period.
Perhaps 12 years of the same thing was an increasingly precarious situation. It’s hard to fault the company for autonomously deciding to experiment with form.
But fuck it, was this really necessary?
The Change No One Asked For, Implemented How No One Wanted
Like many aspects of New Japan they’ve tweaked in the last two years (character turns, unit shifts, running Korakuen into the goddamn ground, weighing a favorable American television slot to working with Impact and choosing to bolt), we’ll never be able to fully divorce these changes from their pandemic context. EVIL’s push, the plummeting of American discourse, disconcerting ticket sales (again, in America), AEW emerging and supposedly stealing New Japan’s thunder (even though there’s evidence to clearly suggest that New Japan was doing perfectly fine up until February 2020, well after AEW had debuted)… these things happened during the pandemic, and successes, failures, or plateaus are hard to discern.
But then again, it’s also relatively easy to ask: what the fuck was the point of upending the G1 Climax?
Breaking from the two block, ten-person-per-block, one match final format, the G1 organizers, both the Bald Junior Tag Team Specialist Bookers (appx. 3) and the Condescending Rotund Yakuza Affiliated OFFICIALS (appx. 1), looked to the past and plucked out the most obscure format: the 2000 G1 Climax.
The 2000 G1 Climax saw 20 wrestlers, organized into four blocks for the first and only time in the 32-year history of the tournament. The final was a four-man mini-tournament, not unusual but only done nine times in the 32 years of the G1 Climax.
They’re returned to that 2000 format, but many things have changed since 2000. And so, while the formats are the same the contexts are wildly different.
The 2000 G1 Climax had four blocks of five, for twenty total wrestlers. G1 Climax 32 has four blocks of seven, for twenty-eight total wrestlers. This may not seem like a lot, but these things tend to become more pronounced as you add to them. Case in point: the 2000 G1 Climax had 40 matches, ten per block. This G1 Climax will have 84, 21 per block. Just adding two more people per block doubled the match count.
That would necessitate more dates.
In 2000, the G1 Climax was a sparse six-show tour, lasting six days total, from August 6, 2000 to August 13, 2000. Every night, there were two matches per block, finishing league play in five shows, with a six-show dedicated to the mini-tournament final (and two tiebreaker matches).
This year, the G1 Climax is a twenty-show tour, spanning thirty-two days, July 16 to August 18. As before, this is not a ludicrous or detrimental amount of time. It is arduous, for sure, but it is just the right amount of rigor to feel challenging and the weight and consequence of time passed, but not so long that it consumes the audience and deflates the ending.
But that was with single-block nights, and only two blocks. This year’s G1 Climax combines all kinds of bad tastes together, and the way they decided to do all-block nights is one of them.
For the first eight nights of this tour, each block is represented by one match. Because of scheduling, this period lasts 14 days, and ends on 30 July, Oddly, this is the first night of a two-night stint at Dolphin’s Arena in Aichi. It’s pretty weird; one night there are four G1 matches on a show, and then the next night, in the very same arena, they switch to five.
We then see a period of eight nights with five G1 matches per night. This period runs 13 days, from 31 July to 13 August.
This is followed by a return to a four G1 match schedule for Night 16.
Then, in the next logical step, Night 17 goes from four matches to EIGHT. This one follows the procedure of the 2000 G1 Climax, with two matches per block. This is the final league play night of the tournament. As we’ll lay out later, this has always been the most consequential night of the tournament, whether the tournament has run single-block or all-block nights.
That may seem self-evident, but the numbers are absurd. Nothing shows New Japan traditionalist stability than final-night G1 Climax booking.
The Abstract Conclusion: Pain Awaits
The issue here: how do you possibly find any sort of connection with the progression of this tournament?
It’s not like this is some abstruse labyrinth. None of this is beyond anyone’s capacity; it’s fucking professional wrestling, not Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Keeping track of point totals, standings, and match slates is not going to dismantle anyone’s psyche.
But, seeing the degree to which they spread out the blocks and the wrestlers on paper, this is a complete detonation of the G1 Climax’s usual sense of immediacy. When presented in single block nights, or a series of all block nights compacted into a gravitational equilibrium of time, one feels the consequences of each match. There are immediate, tangibly comprehensible results:
- A winner and loser, something that will be referenced by both parties for years in backstage comments and build-ups
- Points for the winner
- New block standings, as we see wrestler shift up or down the leaderboard
That immediacy is critical for the G1 Climax to function.
All of those things will be present, just diffused beyond recognition. When there is only one block match per night, the disconnect between that match and other block matches is pervasive. And when wrestlers disappear for extended stretches, it’s hard to relate them to any sort of block identity.
In this case, block identities only emerge in abstract terms. Block identity is a fundamental aspect of G1 Climax enjoyment. Which block is better? How is it better? What tenor, tempo, styles, lengths, dynamics, and conflicts emerge in either block? How are they different? Which ones seem more successful? All questions that are fun to explore. It’s not even critical thinking, it’s just a natural fan response. It’s fucking fun. It’s probably gone.
The temporal gaps between block matches won’t preclude the audience from ascertaining this sort of block cohesion, but it certainly makes it more arduous. And, even if you can ascertain this stuff, what’s the effect? The progression is so incremental, at so glacial a pace, that even if you were able to make the associations there is no tangible reward.
To emphasize this, take a look at some of the wrestler day-to-day break gaps. This measures the time off between matches that some wrestlers have built into their schedule, and was put together by Chris Samsa. Oh, we’ve been talking a lot with Chris about the ramifications of this nonsense.
Try and connect the dots with these temporal obstacles:
- Match 1: July 16 – Night 1 – Kazuchika Okada
- Match 2: July 24 – Night 5 – Bad Luck Fale – 7-day gap
- Match 3: July 31 – Night 9 – Lance Archer – 6-day gap
- Match 4: August 5 – Night 11 – JONAH – 4-day gap
- Match 5: August 13 – Night 16 – Toru Yano – 7-day gap
- Match 6: August 14– Night 17 – Tom Lawlor – 0-day gap
- Match 1: July 16 – Night 1 – Jeff Cobb
- Match 2: July 23– Night 4 – Toru Yano – 6-day gap
- Match 3: July 31 – Night 9 – Bad Luck Fale – 7-day gap
- Match 4: August 5– Night 11 – JONAH – 6-day gap
- Match 5: August 13– Night 16 – Toru Yano – 2-day gap
- Match 6: August 14– Night 17 – Tom Lawlor – 5-day gap
- Match 1: July 16 – Night 1 – SANADA
- Match 2: July 23– Night 4 – Tomohiro Ishii – 6-day gap
- Match 3: July 31– Night 9 – Chase Owens – 7-day gap
- Match 4: August 6– Night 12 – Great-O-Khan – 5-day gap
- Match 5: August 13– Night 16 – Taichi – 6-day gap
- Match 6: August 16– Night 18 – Tama Tonga – 2-day gap
- Match 1: July 16 – Night 2 – Zack Sabre Jr
- Match 2: July 23– Night 6 – EVIL– 8-day gap
- Match 3: July 31– Night 10 – Hirooki Goto– 6-day gap
- Match 4: August 6– Night 14 – Tetsuya Naito – 6-day gap
- Match 5: August 13– Night 16 – Aaron Henare – 3-day gap
- Match 6: August 16 – Night 17 – Hiroshi Tanahashi – 0-day gap
- Match 1: July 16– Night 1 – Will Ospreay
- Match 2: July 23– Night 5 – Yujiro Takahashi– 7-day gap
- Match 3: July 31– Night 12 – YOSHI-HASHI– 12-day gap
- Match 4: August 6– Night 13 – Juice Robinson– 0-day gap
- Match 5: August 13– Night 15 – David Finlay – 2-day gap
- Match 6: August 16– Night 18 – Shingo Takagi– 5-day gap
Other quirks of the system:
- EVIL, Great-O-Khan, and Tom Lawlor all debut on Night 6!
- Eight wrestlers conclude the G1 Climax on Night 17. This includes Hiroshi Tanahashi, KENTA, and Jeff Cobb.
- That itself isn’t unusual at face value; every year since 2015, the A Block concludes on Night 17. This is unusual because these guys all finish on Night 17, but their block continues to Night 18.
- Chase Owens is done on Night 15
This wouldn’t be so detrimental if there were single-block nights. But this are so spread out that its hard to determine where the cohesion to a block will come, if at all.
And as far as momentum, that appears to be wholly scheduled out. The only aspect of momentum one might find is if one block was significantly favored in the booking above the others. And it just so happens that one block is favored above the others.
C Block is smiled upon in this year’s G1 Climax. Of the 17 main events that are on the books thus far, C Block has eight of them. 47% of the main events of G1 Climax 32 are held down by C Block, and there are very good chances that Tetsuya Naito v. Zack Sabre Jr. will main event Night 18. Looking at the match distributions makes this clear:
One interesting note from that grid: A Block dominates the semi-main events even more so than C Block dominates the main events. Nine semi-main events out of 17 are held by the A-block. At the very least, one can find card placement stability in those two blocks, which might assuage the disconnect and lack of block cohesion.
For those two blocks, of course. B and D block are totally fucked. Good luck finding any momentum or character to those blocks.
Good luck finding any momentum anywhere. This will look and feel like 28 disconnected, coinciding G1 Climaxes overlaid upon each other.
That’s the most likely effect of this diffusion of wrestlers and blocks, but how might this scheduling catastrophe affect the day-to-day consumption of the tournament? We already got a taste when the schedules came out. Not that New Japan evokes clamorous responses these days, but the response to the schedule itself was a healthy amount of dismay and deflation.
Some nights looked absolutely brutal. Is that truly the case? At least, is it egregiously worse than other years?
As we’ll note in part II of this preview, the night-to-night card quality of G1 Climax 2022 is not egregiously worse than any other years. But… those years had safety nets, and counterbalances inherent within the system in place. They don’t have those this year. It’s a thoroughly deconstructed G1 Climax, like some sort of post-modern Derrida nightmare.
But they did manage to maintain enough of the G1 Climax’s trademarks to make sure that the parts everyone remembers will be remembered fondly.
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