Abstract

They’ve 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.

The G1 Climax, for seven years running has been propelled every year by two strong, robust identities (A Block/B Block). The initial revelation of four blocks felt exciting. Instead of two identities, this year’s G1 Climax would have four. The blocks themselves seem to scream the theme: A Block looked like the rumoured monster block, C Block the superstar block, etc. Notions of the day-to-day escalation of these blocks was tantalizing.

That’s not how they arranged it, though. Be reducing the wrestler pool but reducing the block size, and then spreading each block out in such a malignantly balanced way, where every block gets only one match per night, the G1 Climax has been effectively neutralized. There are six less matches, so it’s slightly easier to manage, we suppose, but the actual arrangement is total nonsense.

G1 Climax 2022 appears, as scheduled, to be comprised of 28 weak identities, one per wrestler, each one indecipherably connected, floating in some kind of cosmic vacuum. Each night is a miniscule step towards the apogee; it’s the same amount of time between Night 1 and Night 17, but it could feel glacial in the moment.

This will be, almost certainly, the most disconnected G1 Climax any of us has ever experienced. Until it all comes together in the final nights, it will be devoid of pace, momentum, and resonance.

And, if you’ve read Part I and Part II, we hope that thesis was clear. Even though it was a more stringent aspect to analyze, the results are fairly unambiguous. Of course, our conclusions could be totally inaccurate, and this ends up being a breezy, forthright G1 Climax. But we’re confident in our reasoning, our internal logic, and our data. The scheduling sucks. That’s all.

But there is another mammoth change besides the scheduling: the change from a one-match final to a four-man mini-tournament. Part III is devoted solely to this aspect, because that’s the biggest change of all, and the one that’s nearly impossible to assertively predict and resultant shifts in booking philosophy.

Part III is where we assess the effects this has on the booking, and attempt to decipher how this might influence their decision-making. In some cases, 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.

So that’s where we’ll end.

One Match v. Mini-Tournament

Despite all the immediate ramifications of the scheduling, covered in Part I and Part II, it’s the shift from a one-match G1 Final to a four-man mini-tournament that is the most fundamental change of all. It’s probably self-evident that the booking strategy changes at an elemental level, but it’s striking just how critical this one facet of the tournament is to the shape and intent of the tournament.

The G1 Climax works because it has a clearly defined conclusion. All great wrestlers works backwards. And all great wrestling is established upon a simple idea: put together a match people want to see, and have it deliver. Or not, who gives a fuck once the cash is in hand, this is all barely suppressed misanthropy. But the part about crafting a match people want to see is indispensable.

With a one-match final, the strongest booked wrestlers in a block are the ones to be in the final match of a block. Supplementary to this, the block final match is almost always winner-take-all by the time the match begins.

Again, this probably seems blatantly obvious, but it’s really wild seeing the numbers and historical facts lined up. Those two booking patterns are the evidence monolithically suggests, with over 12 years of data to support it.

It’s also the most salient evidence to show how everything stems from the one-match final:

  • If you have a one match final, you can’t play around. The winner of a block could be your Wrestle Kingdom World Championship challenger. Unless, of course, panic forces you to explore the miracle of democracy again.
  • Furthermore, it’s necessary that both block winners be strong, and perceived as the strongest and most fascinating wrestlers to come out of your block. You don’t want your actual G1 Climax winner to beat someone weak in the final. That’s doesn’t help build them up to Wrestle Kingdom, and…
  • You gotta draw with these damn matches. There’s three shows and thre buildings to fill, and the main events have to carry the burden and avoirdupois of the tournament. You’re not drawing with guys booked in the mid-card all tournament. Though to be fair, the evidence suggests one rarely draws big on Night 17 anyway, no matter the caliber of main event.
  • Always making the final winner-take-all is a little silly, if anyone even notices that trend, but ultimately, that’s the best choice. Why in the world would you want wrestlers with no chance of winning in the block final match? The point is to fabricate as much drama as possible.
  • If someone wins the block from outside the block final match, that inherently means that they lost the block because someone else lost. Not exactly a powerful way to win a block and carry the credibility of the block with you to the Final, unless it’s a heel on the losing end.

A lot of this is totally nullified by the four-man mini tournament. When half of your block winners are going to lose anyway, what is the incentive to assure they are the strongest out of the block?

One thing that remains the same is that only one person will win a block, and that does protect the value of a winner-take-all block final match. Thank GOD they didn’t change that, because the alternative is having multiple people emerge from a block. We saw that in Best of the Super Juniors the last two years. It was a nice way to orient things towards the strengths of what was available, considering they pretty much literally had only 10-12 wrestlers. But this is the G1 Climax.

Multiple people coming out a block was something they did in year’s past. They did it eight times, and it’s always a bad idea. It undermines the block final match. That match has resoundingly less impact when it’s not imbued with all the consequences of the block.

With the four-man mini-tournament, we are left with only speculation as to how this may or may not affect their choice of block winners. No amount of evidence, or pattern detection, or research can solve this. Our only option is to observe.

We are about to learn how New Japan books a tournament like this. After twelve years of the same thing, learning something new is exciting.

That said, twelve years of the same thing was a pretty good thing, too.

A Decade of Disney Endings (without Emilio Estevez)

The G1 Climax has been a citadel of predictable booking. This has been for the betterment of everyone. There is room for debate on whether a booking team should hold such staunch booking patterns for a long time. But the existence of the pattern, and just how strongly that pattern is held up by years of repeated execution, is undeniable.

Such as, were you aware that the bookers like the come-from-behind story in the G1 Climax? Or rather, were you aware of how much these guys absolutely fucking adore that story?

Between 2010 and 2021:

  • 13 out of 24 times the block final match was a winner-take all between the block leader and a trailing wrestler
    • 12 out of 13 times the wrestler trailing in the block final match defeated their opponent to win the block.
    • 1 out of 13 times, the wrestler trailing in the block final match drew with their opponent, the leading opponent thus maintaining their lead to win the block.

Yes, that is a 92% win percentage. If the block final match is winner-take-all, and one of the wrestlers is trailing the other, that trailing wrestler has never lost. They are 12-0-1.

To round this out:

  • 8 times out of 24 the winner-take-all block final match was between opponents that were tied
    • 7 times the winner of the match won the block; 1 time the wrestlers drew, and the block winner came from outside the block final match
  • 3 out of 24 times the block final match was between the block leader and an already eliminated opponent.
    • 2 times the block leader lost, and the block winner came from outside the block final match 1 time the block leader won, and won the block.

All told, those with leads going into a block final match, no matter whether their opponent has a chance to win the block or has already been eliminated, are 1-14-1.

They fucking love this method, even after 12 years.

Last year is a prime example of just how infatuated they are with it, and how they just cannot help themselves but use it to cultivate suspense for the final night. Instead of just having both Kazuchika Okada and Jeff Cobb run the table last year and face-off in the block final match as 16 point leviathans, they had Okada lose to Tama Tonga on Night 16 and come into that block final match trailing Cobb  16 to 14.

Certainly, part of that reason must have been to save the fabled 18 point performance for another day. But look at those numbers. Remember how exciting it felt in the moment when it looked like one of those two were going to win every match. They probably just couldn’t help but do another comeback story.

But then again, what choice do they have but to foment some nonsense dramatics? Everyone knows it’s coming down to the final night, before the tournament even begins.

A Fait Accompli, As Long As You Don’t Overthink Things and Ruin Everything

We all know that when those schedules come out in advance of the tournament, the natural response is to go straight to the block finals matches, pick out the clear main event, and then put all your stock into that match deciding the outcome and those two wrestlers as the only ones with a realistic chance to win the block.

And goddamn it, we’ve been right to do that all along.

And even more so, they’ve been 100% right to book it that way, even if it appears so anticlimactic in the moment.

We’ve discussed this in year’s past, and it even bled into our preview of the Best of the Super Juniors 2022 Final Night, but the basic concept is this:

  • Since 2010, there have been 12 G1 Climax Tournaments
    • Thus, there have been 24 G1 Climax Blocks
      • And from that, we get 48 wrestlers who have wrestled in a G1 Climax block final match
  • “Block Final Match” in this case is literal. It is the final match held in a G1 Climax block.
    • We use this terminology  because the 2010-2021 period covers both single and double block nights. In the single-bock night era of 2015-2021 it is a block final main event, while in the period from 2010-2014 only one block’s final match could be considered a “block final main event.” “Block final match” covers both.
  • The evidence shows that there is no difference between single and double block nights when it comes to a block final match. You’d think there would be, but there is almost literally no difference in the booking.

And with that, let’s look at how block final matches are booked from 2010-2021:

  • 21 of 24 block final matches were winner-take-all
  • 45 out of 48 wrestlers had a realistic chance to win the block when the match began
  • 20 of those wrestlers won the match to win the block, and 1 drew to win the block.

When we say “winner-take-all,” that is also literal. It means that when the match began, only the two wrestlers in that match had a chance to win the block. That doesn’t mean that it was winner-take-all when the night began (though this has been the case several times); it just means that almost everyone outside of the main event who had a chance to win the block lost.

Between 2010 and 2021:

  • 34 wrestlers came into the final night of their block with a chance to win their block, but were not in their block final match
    • 27 of those wrestlers outright lost in the undercard
    • 3 wrestlers drew in their match, and did not win the block
    • 1 wrestler won their match but did not win the block
    • 3 wrestlers won their match and ended up winning their block (Nakamura 2014B, Goto 2016A, Ibushi 2020A)

The question emerges: is this beneficial or not? Does it hurt the tournament when the results can be intuited by anyone with the time to scan the final night cards, and those intuitions are firmly supported by historical evidence?

No, it doesn’t. This is, without question, one of the strengths of the tournament.

It was plainly obvious, days and weeks before the tournament began, that Jeff Cobb and Kazuchika Okada’s match on Night 18 of G1 Climax 31 would be a winner-take-all for the block. Who gives a fuck?  Whether or not the winner-take-all outcome was obvious before the tournament began, those feelings evaporate with time. What is remembered are the matches.

The most glaring example of the was the 2018 B Block. Not a goddamn soul on Earth, with enough depravity to follow this nonsense, considered any result but an Ibushi v. Omega winner-take-all final? Why so? Because it would be fucking malfeasance if they booked it any other way, and everyone instinctively understood that.

When Omega jumped out to a 6-0 start, and Ibushi was stuck at 4-2, things were immersing.  Because the process is immersing, even if the denouement is obvious. There’s are countless ways to catalyze doubt within the month of the tournament, even when, every year, you begin and end with the same idea of the block final match being the apex of the block.

Omega lost his seventh match. You might remember it. It was a semi-main event against Tomohiro Ishii, the greatest G1 Climax performer of all time. The match ended up being #4 in Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year 2018 poll. Dave Meltzer gave it 5.5 stars, the tenth match to break his 5-star scale. Omega also lost his next match to Toru Yano, which was almost certainly the match of the year 2018 on Kenny Omega’s list.

Ibushi, of course, made a come from behind victory, splitting his next two matches before vanquishing Omega in a match at Nippon Budokan. Dave gave this match 5.5 stars as well and it sits at a 9.58 on Cagematch and 4.71 on GRAPPL… and even that might have been slightly below expectations.

Though, to be fair, the match was heralded at the time as much for the notion that Kota Ibushi was allowed back into the building after being supposedly banished from it years earlier, something many thought impossible.

The point here: you can try to avert this kind of predictability, but what would be the alternatives?

Alternative #1: Having someone win from the undercard, outside of the main event.

They’ve done this three times in the modern era.

  • In 2014 and Shinsuke Nakamura swooped in underneath a Tanahashi loss to take that year’s A Block.
  • In 2016 when Hirooki Goto snuck through on a Tanahashi v. Okada main event draw of that year’s A Block. Every year that passes, the amount of befuddlement future fans will feel when looking at that result rises exponentially.
  • In 2020 when Ishii utterly humiliated Jay White in the A Block final main event, allowing Kota Ibushi to valiantly proceed to his third straight G1 Climax Final.

First of all, A Block is fucking cursed. But beyond that, this is a perfectly valid strategy to trot out every 3-4 years. That’s enough to initiate doubt moving forward. Once you establish that even Sengoku Geek Hirooki Goto could win this way, it’s always a threat. While it’s fun, it needs to have meaning, because the person on the losing side of this looks like a total chump.

That’s why this strategy could be detrimental if not handled carefully. It’s already risky enough to have someone passively win a block. The only way it works is if the right combination of people are in place. Goto wasn’t really taken seriously, winning the block that way, but it was believable because it wasn’t clear at the time whether they were fully behind pushing Kenny Omega to that level. Goto was still credible enough to win a G1 Climax.

Tanahashi could bear it in 2016 because he was slated to beat AJ Styles for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that fall, on the path to making Kazuchika Okada cry in front of tens of thousands of people at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th. Kazuchika Okada could bear it because he’s Kaz-fucking-chan. He cried in front of tens of thousands of people at the Tokyo Dome and still retained his reliability.

White could bear it in 2020 because he was a heel. You can do this to a heel, because fuck ‘em. They’re heels. Heels deserve this, especially a Jay White caliber heel. Look at the fucking promo, and try and argue that anyone handles vulnerability as magnetically, as mesmerizing as White.

And it works particularly well when the babyface is as pure and sincere at Kota Ibushi, he that stridently stands before both sex dolls and Yakuza debtors for the sake of his vision of professional wrestling. Though, to be fair, that just accentuates how rare this kind of final should be, since Ibushi’s sincerity is singular. Just as White is captivating in that backstage comment above, continue watching for Ibushi’s idiosyncratically demure charm.

This strategy is delicate. Certainly not preferable to the status quo. Or, what once was the status quo.

Alternative #2; Someone locks up a block before the final night

This may be a straw man. We haven’t heard anyone suggest anything this stupid, but this is the level of overthought necessary to avoid the most simple method: build to the big match at the end that everyone knows is coming.

Oddly enough, though, this one actually has a possibility of happening this year. Looking at Night 17, these are the matches:

  • YOSHI-HASHI v. David Finlay: Good bless both these guys, they will probably work incredibly hard to make this match worth 13-15 minutes of your time. It will be a solid four-star match, if you’re willing to give it a chance, if you’re willing to accept the YSH-HSH into your hearts. Both will almost certainly be eliminated before this match even begins.
  • Taichi v. Great-O-Khan: I’d rather feel the pain of shingles and a cluster headache at the same time than the pain I feel imagining the irrelevance that this match will have on Night 17. Those hoping for a Great-O-Khan emergence in this G1 Climax are in for a very scabrous tournament unless you heed this stat: GOK is ranked 22nd in Card Placement Average, meaning he is 22nd in booking strength in the tournament. He has two semi-main events. That’s the apex of his G1 Climax. Taichi is not much better, ranked 19th in Card Placement Average, although he does manage a main event on Night 16 against champion Jay White. I sincerely love these two. They will both be eliminated by the time this match begins.
  • Tom Lawlor v. Jeff Cobb: This one is intriguing. Tom Lawlor is being given booking respect. He’s ranked 18th, not bad for a first timer in a proper New Japan ring, like, ever. Three semi-main events. He might not necessarily be eliminated by the time this match starts. That said, you’d have to expect Jeff Cobb would not only be leading, but possibly leading the entire block. This one is a good candidate for someone to be the “leader in the clubhouse,” with Cobb winning here to put pressure on Okada the following Night.
  • KENTA v. Hiroshi Tanahashi: Come on, now. It’s pretty much guaranteed that this match will not only have consequence, but assuredly the winner will be leading the block going into Night 18. This is essentially an eliminator. If Zack Sabre v. Naito is not the main event of Night 18, there’s a legitimate chance that the winner of KENTA v. Tanahashi wins the block from the sidelines. Probably Tanahashi, who incredibly has five main events out of his six matches.

Alternative #3: Mystery Vortex G1 Climax

Admittedly, this sounds like a lot of fucking fun. There would be anticipation ever night, with an added layer of prediction festivities. By process of elimination, one could make educated guess at what a given night’s card could be. Mystery Vortez is always guaranteed pre-show fun.

Seriously, imagine if next year they do their press conference in their little office, assembled press and all, and announce a fucking Mystery Vortex G1 Climax. Imagine Kidani giving one of those “Inspirational Presentations,” the ones where every picture looks like his top half and bottom half operate independently of each other when he turns, his pants always facing forward but his shirt twisting in rotation, and he explains to the assembled press the intricate conceptual underpinnings of a Mystery Vortex card?

The problem here is…  look at some of the cards on this tour. Look back at some of the ones in the past, during the dog days of the G1, when fan fatigue truly sets in around Nights 7 or 8.

Imagine you show up to a mystery vortex G1 Climax show, percolating with anticipation, and Makoto Abe announce this:

  • Minoru Suzuki v. Michael Elgin
  • EVIL v. Hangman Page
  • Bad Luck Fale v. Jay White
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Togi Makabe
  • Kazuchika Okada v. YOSHI-HASHI

Welcome to the abyss that was the 2018 A Block. Night 9, to be precise. And to be fair, that’s a perfectly fine card. But imagine if you were watching at home, or even worse in attendance live, and that was your mystery vortex line-up? You couldn’t even measure the deflation. I’ve welcomed the supremacy of the YSH-HSH into all of my chakra crowns, but this was 2018 YOSHI-HASHI. He did cool stuff to silence. He was, and remains, one of the most uncomfortable wrestlers to watch, solely due to the discrepancy between the fervent effort of his ringwork and the callous indifference of the crowds.

The big issue with the Mystery Vortez strategy is the danger of it. It’s a massive gamble to presume that he G1 Climax name alone would be able to sell 18 straight dates, condensed into one month in the living nightmare of the pervasive Japanese summer heat. If it fails, someone must be sacked. If this ever happens, someone is using the G1 Climax to force the company to fire them. That’s the only explanation.

Pit that option, once again, against the anodyne status quo: building towards a marquee match on the final night.

The Final Night: A Rare Chance to Learn Something By Watching This Immaculate Nonsense

This brings us back to the critical inquiry: will the switch to a four-man mini-tournament final affect the booking patterns established above?

That’s actually two separate questions.

Question #1: Are winner-take-all block final matches in jeopardy

Answer: Not really

The switch to four blocks doesn’t appear like it will have any effect the winner-take all aspect of the final night. When you look at the absolutely stacked line-up they’ve pieced together for Night 18, it’s pretty clear that they still believe in the value of placing all the equity of the tournament into that singularity, even if there are viable options to disrupt this trend from Night 17.

Also, while they changed the number of blocks, they didn’t change the endgame of the blocks: one person will win the block and advance to the final. We saw this kind of transformation in Best of the Super Juniors the last two years, where a single block provided two finalists. And even then, one of those years there was still a winner-take-all final match where one person would move on and one person wouldn’t (Hiromu Takahashi v. Robbie Eagles).

As long as one person alone wins a block, not much will be disrupted in the structure and tenor of the large-scale booking. Expect those Night 18 matches to decide every block, but keep one eye on Cobb, KENTA, and Tanahashi.

Question #2: The trend has been for block winners to be amongst the strongest booked in the block. Is that in jeopardy?

Answer: Probably. But not entirely!

Booking Strength

Every wrestler has six matches in G1 Climax 2022. If you add up the match position for all six and average them out, you get their Card Placement Average.

We’ve calculated this metric all the way back to 2010. Whether it was an all-block year or a single-block year, the card placement average held true. While there are some surprises, the top spots were occupied by exactly who you would expect to be there: Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, Nakamura, etc.

This year, the rankings aren’t alarmingly surprising, but there are definitely some bizarre outcomes. One thing that definitely emerges:

  • No matter how dispersed the scheduling appears, there’s a peculiar order that ends up being maintained, whether that was meticulously intended or not.
  • Particularly, unit hierarchy appears to be largely preserved. When we noted the lamentable ranking of Great-O-Khan, it was based on a conversation we had with Chris Samsa about this topic. While we were ready to throw a tantrum over our virile otaku jock sultan, Samsa reminded us of this fact:
  • The G1 Climax reinforces unit hierarchy.
  • That’s not to say some cannot exceed it. SANADA came right out of the midcard to leapfrog LIJ leader Tetsuya Naito to the G1 Climax 30 Final. That’s an outlier, but it happened. Thus, the feasibility of such a thing is established.
  • The issue here is how strongly they are booked throughout the tournament. SANADA may have made it to the Final, but he was nowhere near the top of the card placement rankings. He was 10th.

What follows is the Card Placement Average rankings for this year. Keep in mind, there are different amounts of G1 Climax matches each night (generally either 4 or 5, but not uniform throughout) but the same number of matches overall per night (9). Because of that, we took the raw number. If the 3rd G1 match was the 8th match on the card, it got an 8. If the 3rd G1 Climax match on the card was the 7th match, it got a 7.

The highest one could possibly attain is a perfect 9.0, meaning they main evented all 5 or 6 of their already scheduled matches. Here’s the list:

Some things are evident from a casual glance:

  • For one, D Block is fucked. The bottom three wrestlers are there, and 4 of the bottom 8. Clearly, ELP is getting the graduated Junior treatment that Shingo and Ospreay got three years ago.
  • On the other end, C Block has a hegemonically tight grasp on the main event scene. Converse to D Block, they have 4 of the top 8, and 3 of the top 4.
  • Speaking of that: what in the fuck?! Goto is #4? Did they actually plan on having him win the AEW strap?
  • JONAH stands out immediately. Obviously, there are some weird results from the blocks being stretched out over the tournament to a molecular level, but JONAH getting that high a ranking whereas Lance Archer is 19th is eye opening.
  • For what it’s worth, Archer was 20th out of 20 in that career-defining G1 Climax 29 performance he gave three years ago. 18 out of 28 is resoundingly lower than he should be, but it is a commendable improvement.
  • If this is a reflection of unit hierarchies, what does it say about Suzuki-gun that Sabre, their top singles star with Suzuki essentially G1 Climax retired, is tied for tenth overall.

Since 2010, G1 Climax block winners have almost always been near the top of the Card Placement rankings. If you ranked every wrestler based on their booking strength, and averaged the rankings of every G1 finalists in that yearspan together, the average would be 4.2. The average G1 Finalist is 4th strong in booking strength. And frankly, Karl Anderson fucks everything up (15th in card placement average for 2012). The median is an even 3.0. Since 2015, that average drops to 3.7, again with a median of 3.

When we say G1 Climax block final matches, and G1 Climax Finals, are marquee matches,  we mean marquee matches. These are battles of titans. So huge that the effects of having the matches promoted 6-8 weeks in advance are negated.

Question #2.5: How does the new format potentially change this reliance on booking strength? Do things open up to a wider range of potential block winners?

Answer: Probably? We have to see them do it first.

By having a four-man mini-tournament, they can effectively experiment with half of the blocks. Two of the block winners are not making it to the proper G1 Climax Final anyway, so it would be possible, if not logical, to use those slots on someone new or unexpected. This would elevate those guys slightly, and prevent a strong match-up from being burnt on a G1 Climax semi-final.

As noted above, there has been a bit of stasis regarding who is placed into these block finals. Since 2015, block final match participants have come almost exclusively from the top 5 or 6 of these rankings. Block final matches have generally been contests between the two strongest booked in their block.

The four-man mini-tournament aspect could allow them to veer away from this… but the truth is, they’ve already started to do so. A trend has emerged since the pandemic: block final match participants that have been lower in the Card Placement Average rankings.

Card Placement Rankings of Every Block Final Match Participant, 2015-2021

Winners in bold

2015

  • A Block Final: Hiroshi Tanahashi (1st in A Block, 1st overall) AJ Styles (2nd in A block, 4th overall)
  • B Block Final: Kazuchika Okada (1st in B Block, 2nd overall) v. Shinsuke Nakamura (2nd in B Block, 3rd overall)

 2016

  • A Block Final: Hiroshi Tanahashi (T-1st in A Block, T-1st overall) v. Kazuchika Okada (T-1st in A Block, T-1st overall)
  • B Block Final: Tetsuya Naito (T-1st in B Block, T-1st overall) v. Kenny Omega (T-3rd in B Block, T-5th overall)

2017

  • A Block Final: Hiroshi Tanahashi (T-1st in A Block, T-3rd overall) v. Tetsuya Naito (T-1st in A Block, T-3rd overall)
  • B Block Final: Kazuchika Okada (1st in B Block, 1st overall) v. Kenny Omega (2nd in B Block, 2nd overall)

2018

  • A Block Final: Kazuchika Okada (1st in A Block, 1st overall) v Hiroshi Tanahashi (2nd in A Block, 3rd overall)
  • B Block Final: Kenny Omega (1st in B Block, 2nd overall) v. Kota Ibushi (3rd in B Block, 5th overall)

2019

  • A Block Final: Kazuchika Okada (1st in A Block, 1st overall) v. Kota Ibushi (3rd in A Block, 6th overall)
  • B Block Final: Jay White (T-1st in B Block, T-2nd overall) Tetsuya Naito (T-1st in B Block, T-2nd overall)

2020

  • A Block Final: Jay White (2nd in A Block, T-3rd overall) v. Tomohiro Ishii (4th in A Block, 7th overall)
  • B Block Final: EVIL (2nd in B Block, 2nd overall) v. SANADA (T-4th in B Block, T-10th overall)

2021

  • A Block Final: Kota Ibushi (2nd in A Block, 3rd overall) v. KENTA (5th in A Block, 7th overall)
  • B Block Final: Kazuchika Okada (1st in B Block, 1st overall) Jeff Cobb 4th in B Block, 10th overall)

As you can see, things changed in 2020. SANADA was all the way down in 10th place, and yet he was not only in his block final match but he won the block outright. Jeff Cobb in 2021 was also 10th, though he came up short. SANADA remains an outlier for winning a block despite being booked like a mid-carder.

It’s ridiculously harder to parse this stuff now, with the four blocks. The card placement average, measuring a wrestler’s booking strength, is totally imbalanced this year. Three of the top five are from C Block (Naito, Tanahashi, Goto). We don’t see someone from D Block until 6th place (Ospreay). The only B Block representative in the top ten is Jay White.

And so, it is almost inevitable that we will see some pretty wacky conclusions here. This is what the card placement rankings look like for the final matches:

For the sake of readability, we are not noting ties in ranking

  • A Block
    • Kazuchika Okada (3rd) v. Lance Archer (19th)
    • JONAH (6th) v. Bad Luck Fale (10th)
  • B Block
    • Tomohiro Ishii (10th) v. SANADA (15th)
    • Jay White (4th) v. Tama Tonga (15th)
  • C Block
    • Hirooki Goto (4th) v. EVIL (10th)
    • Tetsuya Naito (1st) v. Zack Sabre Jr. (10th)
  • D Block
    • Will Ospreay (6th) v. Juice Robinson (15th)
    • Shingo Takagi (9th) v. El Phantasmo (27th)

The diffusion of matches, wrestlers, blocks in the scheduling is clearly evident here. Absolutely none of these matches fit the traditional booking strengths of a block final match as shown above in the 2015-2021 list. If you have felt like G1 Climax has been mired in stasis, here’s your relief.

While the chances are good that one match per block on Night 18 is going to be winner-take-all, there’s a much wider scope of booking strengths represented, a hint of egalitarianism to this largely imperial tournament. Whether or not that hint of egalitarianism gets snuffed out is impossible to answer based on the historical record.

Trying to predict anything here based on trends and numbers is entirely useless. And since numbers themselves are useless without some sort of guiding analytical hand, we’re stuck.

But then again, we can’t help ourselves either. And so, while fully admitting that the field is as wide open as it has been in at over a decade, we’re still willing to take all the data and trends cited above and try to make sense of it.

The best we can deduce: some traditions will be perpetuated, and there will be a brazen disregard for others. Hold any and all of this against us when all of this ends up being totally wrong. We’ve presented meticulous data in support of pathetically incorrect predictions for three years now.

Anyway, here is a relatively stream-of-consciousness, bullet-pointed excursion into the potential logic systems at play for each block’s final night:

A Block

  • Kazuchika Okada fulfills his role as Humanity’s Hope and defeats Lance Archer to win the block.
  • Jeff Cobb probably defeats Tom Lawlor to go into Night 18 leading the block.
  • Because Archer is so low on the card placement rankings, Cobb acting as the leader in absence could work.
  • Then again, Archer could be a signifier of how the four block, diffused scheduling system rebukes easy data analysis. Archer could be a guy whose lack of booking strength ends up being a red herring, a casualty of the diffusion. Quite simply, they couldn’t find many spots for Archer to fit into a high card spot, but he could accumulate a lot of points in the undercard.
  • If so, that would be a wonderful little prize for Lawlor to spoil Cobb on Night 17 and clear the way for Night 18 to decide the block.
  • Considering the pop for Archer, and the work he’s been putting in since establishing his Suzuki-gun status, it would be a nice reward for him to be placed in a winner-take-al block final match scenario. But this isn’t exactly a company that would change plans just because of a clap crowd pop for a still image surprise.
  • We don’t expect JONAH to factor in much, but his card placement is really eye opening. Consider just how far ahead he is of so many established guys, just leapfrogging contenders like Ospreay, KENTA, Shingo, EVIL, Sabre, Cobb, SANADA, etc.
  • JONAH is a bit of a indicator of how relevant Card Placement Average in league play actually matters. To our dismay, this G1 Climax might invalidate the entire concept. There is a clear discrepancy towards A Block, especially in the semi-main events. Is this merely happenstance, a byproduct of the combined efforts to include each block at least once on every show and space out guys as much as possible?
  • It’s challenging to consider the happenstance angle. Before, the guiding principle was simple: one block per night. Within that, each wrestler had nine opportunities. One main event or, conversely, one opener, could be balanced out by eight other matches. With only six matches, each match has significantly great effect.
  • But JONAH has two 7th matches, two semi-mains, and one main event. Again, absent of any insight (or legitimate sources, or any clue how to access legitimate sources, or any kind of charm/talent that would attract potential sources) we can only speculate, but these feel like deliberate choices. For whatever reason, they heavily favored C Block for the main events, and A Block for the upper undercard. JONAH doesn’t feel like a byproduct of this… the result feels like a byproduct of them being smitten with him.

B Block

  • Tama Tonga defeats Jay White to win the block
  • A champion hasn’t won a block since superdraw Kaz Fujita did so in 2005. Hiroshi Tanahashi was in an unbreakable tie with Makabe for G1 Climax 2008’s A Block, decided by… coin toss, of course, because having multiple people come from one block is fucking BALLS.
  • This is one of the real tests of where their belief system lies regarding the four block league, mini-tournament final. While it opens them up to elevating guys like Tama Tonga going through to a block win, it equally opens them up to pushing the champion through.
  • The whole point of the champion losing has been to deliberately establish something significant, especially once they shifted to single-block nights in 2015. Okada losing to Nakamura in 2015. Okada drawing with Tanahashi in 2016. Okada losing to Omega in 2017. Omega losing to Ibushi in 2018. Okada losing to Ibushi in 2019.
  • Then the pandemic hits and we see Naito lose to KENTA in the undercard of 2020’s B Block Final, which was in line with these previous results, even if it was in the undercard for some reason. Then we saw Shingo DRAW with YUJIRO in the undercard of 2021’s A Block. So who knows what they’re thinking. Obviously, that was not consequential, or even tasteful result for a champion.
  • Jay White is protected and it’s certainly plausible that he breaks the pattern. His consequential loss as champion could simply be shifted out of the league play and into the mini-tournament.
  • But then, what do you do with Tama Tonga? He’s emerged as an otherworldly babyface, just one of the most exhilarating and resonant characters in wrestling. How does he progress without a monumental win such as this? This is your chance to make the guy. Obviously Naito and Sabre is the logical main event of Night 18, but imagine the clamor in Budokan if Tama Tonga pulls this off in the main.
  • And, of course, you’d have to imagine it because it’s still fucking clap crowds, but relative to other clap crowds, it would be a special moment.
  • Of course, if we really are entering a new era of High Fives over Gettin tha Heat, you can satisfy all bases by having Bullet Club utterly degrade the whole system in a very nostalgic way and have Tama lose due to interference and antics.
  • Unfortunately, Taichi and Great-O-Khan will most likely not be any kind of consequential match (even though it should be for leadership of the block, of course)
  • Tomohiro Ishii v. SANADA certainly feels like a classic red herring match, one that you feel will hold profound timbre prior to Night 1, and then by the time Night 18 rolls around it has become a complete afterthought. Or, conversely, you are lulled into a sense of complacency and don’t notice the quiet accumulation of points by either guy, and then Night 18 rolls around and you are upended by the importance of the match.
  • Either way, this could possibly be Tomohiro Ishii’s final match. If he is not the greatest G1 Climax performer of all time, he is probably the greatest G1 Climax performer of the era when the G1 Climax attained mythical status. During the company’s renaissance, when the G1 Climax was front and center in not only the resurrection of the company but also the global expansion, Tomohiro Ishii outperformed the colossuses on the company for nine straight years.

C Block

  • Tetsuya Naito defeats Zack Sabre Jr to win the block.
  • Probably winner-take-all, seems the most likely candidate to main event Night 18. It’s the biggest match on paper scheduled for Night 18, even before you factor in the backstory: in storyline, Sabre ended Naito’s G1 Climax 2021 on Night 1, forcing Naito to resign for the rest of the tournament. While there are other worthwhile matches on this show, the revenge factor here for the company’s most popular wrestler should put it over the top.
  • If we presume that it is the main event of the night, it would have to be winner-take-all. We’ll note this below, but the tried-and-true formula works, even if they’ve done it an excessive amount of times over the last 12 years: winner-take-all block final matches are simply the most dramatically substantive way to end a block.
  • In this case, though, they might not be the only people capable of winning the block when their match begins. We’ll cite the numbers, the here’s the general scenario: if a wrestler has a tiebreaker over someone that is in the block final match, they lose on the final night. This clears the way for the block final match to truly be winner-take-all.
  • However, Hiroshi Tanahashi and KENTA face off on Night 17, the final match of the tournament for both men. It is inconceivable that wrestlers of this stature will be wrestling strictly for pride. Even though Tanahashi has been a non-factor for the past three G1 Climaxes, he is the wrestler with the most main events in the tournament. KENTA was a block finalist last year. Also, he’s fucking KENTA. He is, without question, the most entertaining wrestler alive.
  • The dilemma here: how do the points and tiebreakers work out?
  • There is a self-evident reason that people with tiebreakers over block finalists lose at a 100% rate before the block final match: if they won, a block finalist would be eliminated before the block final match. Unless they do a draw at some point, Tanahashi or KENTA taking the lead on the penultimate night would eliminate either Sabre or Naito. As anodyne and overdone as the scenario is, the winner-take-all block final match is infinitely preferable to a half-stakes block final match.
  • Reconciling this is tricky. KENTA or Tanahashi could tie for the lead on Night 17, but that effectively eliminates them because any result in the Naito v. Sabre match eliminates them. Let’s say Tanahashi and Sabre are tied at 8 and Naito is at 6. Tanahashi holds the tiebreaker on Sabre. A draw puts Sabre at 9, and a Sabre win puts him at 10. He wins the block in both circumstances. A Naito win puts him in a three-way tie at 8 with Tanahashi and Sabre, holding the tiebreaker over both to win the block.
  • That actually seems like a plausible scenario. Tanahashi gets to hold the lead for a couple of days, but as a lame duck leader. Naito and Sabre retains winner-take-all status, with Naito attaining a full momentous victory to win the block, and Sabre is given something to be sour about.
  • This also brings up a legitimate question of draws. We see them rarely. Since 2010, there have been 1132 G1 Climax matches. Six have been draws. Three of those draws have been Kazuchika Okada v. Hiroshi Tanahashi. So, roughly 0.5% of G1 Climax matches end in a draw.
  • But this is also the lowest wrestler-per-block ratio since 2010, which is the only year in our data set that had two draws, including a very interesting final night draw between Go Shiozaki and Shinsuke Nakamura. Because of that draw, they both moved into a tie for the lead at 9 points. The block final match was between Satoshi Kojima and Hirooki G1Climax-oto, who both stood at 8 points. Kojima won, moving him to 10 points to win the block. But, for roughly half an hour, a G1 Climax crisis was possible.
  • The conflicting element here is Hirooki Goto v. EVIL. Both are perplexing specters, providing imposing silhouettes that are largely vacuous and hallow.
  • EVIL has served as impotent disruptor for two years in a row now. In 2020, he ended up a block finalists against SANADA, a benefactor of the unforgivable choice to main event the B Block Final that year with SANADA v. EVIL over KENTA v. Naito. EVIL and Naito were tied at 12, with SANADA at 10 but holding the tiebreaker over Naito. As always, anyway one holding a tiebreaker over a block final match participant loses. Literally always. And so, Naito won, SANADA v. EVIL became winner-take-all, and SANADA thwarted EVIL on his push to choke at even higher levels.
  • This is EVIL. Since winning the title in Spring 2020 and losing it back to Naito in Summer 2020, he’s largely served as a paper tiger to agitate any Western fans corrupted enough to still watch this company. Our last glimpse of EVIL was on 5 July. He was stuffed into an oversized dog crate with a deflated Yujiro and oddly blithe Dick Togo.
  • In real sports, EVIL would be on the brink of retiring in disgrace. Contrarily, the internal logic of wrestling dictates that this might be the most propitious time for EVIL to swoop in and spoil everyone’s summer yet again. It might be the most advantageous outcome, or at least the one with the most gusto. Consider the disparity between the gargantuans of this block and mid-card sub-villain EVIL. The Bald Junior Tag Team Specialist Booking Consortium be high fiving in the back over the scorching heat generated if House of Torture fuck everything and secure C Block for this inveterate fool.
  • And then, of course, there’s Goto. Goto’s here, as well.

D Block

  • Juice Robinson defeats Will Ospreay to win the block.
  • This one is a bit more complicated than the other blocks, because the U.S. Title situation is so fucking obnoxiously illogical. Juice holds the physical title, because New Japan sent him home for appendicitis treatment and Juice still had possession of the title. That gave us the splendid visual of Will Ospreay winning the title by beating SANADA, and having absolutely no tangible representation of it.
  • This is the complicating element because holding the physical title belt means that Juice does not necessarily have to defeat Ospreay to gain a title shot. If this was Stamford, Juice could probably lose several times to Ospreay, and would, but still get a title shot because he holds the belt. And he’d assuredly win in that scenario too, because that’s the sort of dramatic irony the narrative connoisseur literati fanbase of the WWE expects.
  • That’s not really the New Japan way, though. One gets a title shot in four general ways:
    • Win a tournament
    • Beat the champion in one of the tournaments
    • Walk out during the champion’s show closing address before anyone else can
    • Out of nowhere, find yourself booked against the champion in an entire tour’s worth of multi-man tags
  • If Ospreay defeats Juice here, and Juice still gets a title shot, that says more about the Bald Juniors Non-OFFICIAL Booking team and their infatuation with dumb Western wrestling trope than any House of Torture escapade. Alright, maybe not the HOT stuff, but almost everything else, for sure.
  • The other complicating element: they actual try to sell tickets in this company. Under th scenarios we’ve predicted, Night 19 at the Budokan would be headlined by Kazuchika Okada v. Tama Tonga and Tetsuya Naito v. Juice Robinson. If they are finally serious about Tama and Juice, this is a good chance to ingratiate the two into a spot of this level.
  • This was shown with their elevation of El Desperado, who was placed in two Budokan main events, one against Hiromu in December 2020 and one against Kota Ibushi in March 2021. Desperado wasn’t necessarily at that level yet, but those main events normalized his placement there. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. In that case, people accepted the placement. The point is, you have to put people at the top to see if people accept them at the top. This could be that opportunity for two guys that have been around a long
  • That said, wouldn’t Tetsuya Naito v. Will Ospreay be one hell of a Budokan main event? The argument against this: why in the fuck are you going to waste your most protected big match on a G1 Climax semi-final? This match is so protected that you barely even see them squared off in multi-man tags. It’s so egregious that in a review we actually timed the amount of interaction the two had; it was less than 30 seconds of a 21:52 tag match. Not a multi-man tag, a straight-up two-on-two tag.
  • But then again, why did they “waste” Omega v. Ibushi on a Block Final? Or Okada v. Ibushi in a Block Final? If anything, they’ve shown the tendency to test the waters with match-ups in a G1 Climax. If Ospreay is going to be entrenched in a United States Title feud anyway, there’s little repercussions; by the time they face again, plenty of time will have passed. If Naito can hold up that long, of course.
  • Again, this is the beauty of the mini-tournament format: it foments profound disorientation. As we’ll talk about in the next section, the league portion of the G1 Climax ultimate serves one purpose: build equity for the block finals, which will then be passed along to the G1 Climax Final. No matter how predictable or conventional it all seems, if the denouement delivers than everything else will be assuaged by the passage of time. History will remember the culmination. The momentary dissatisfaction that we know the endgame before the tournament even begins, simply by looking at the final night line-ups, is ephemeral.
  • But the mini-tournament upends that a bit. The block final isn’t the second most important aspect of the tournament. It is now subordinate to the mini-tournament. The winner of a block doesn’t have to be a main eventer. But, paradoxically, the mini-tournament adds that extra night to draw; presumably, they’d like one marquee match-up.
  • Unfortunately, this is the clearest example of “wait and see.” There are two viable options, and we are going to learn a significant amount about the current booking philosophy through their choice here. That’s so goddamn interesting it’s worth enduring some pretty dire league Nights.
  • And here’s the thing: D Block’s other match might be even more intriguing. In that contest, El Phantasmo faces off against Shingo Takagi.
  • This just screams ELP finds himself in a similar situation to Ospreay in 2019: facing the former champion on the final night of a G1 Climax. In that G1 Climax, Tanahashi was already eliminated; everyone else besides Okada and Ibushi were eliminated before the final night, in fact. Tanahashi finished that year with an inconceivable 8 points A losing record for the Ace! But then, he’s followed that up with two more 4-5 performances. That’s just what Tanahashi is now, perhaps… except for him roaring back this year with five fucking main events out of six matches.
  • Shingo might not be in position to be demoted that badly, but he does hold the KOPW trophy, the 4-5 record of NJPW championships.
  • Also, how about that VTR, huh? There blocks are filled with monsters, or a battle of survivors, are filled to the brim with superstars, and D Block’s theme is… mission statements? Like its a battle of 7 human non-profits or something.

Conclusion

For G1 Climax 2022, there have been fundamental changes to the way the G1 Climax has run. It upends twelve years of tradition, patterns, trends, and philosophies.  It’s going to be a challenging tournament to engage with, though it might be an easier tournament to watch. The execution of the scheduling was dismal, strangling the momentum and pace of the tournament out of existence.

But Night 18 provides a significant amount of relief. Even if G1 Climax 2022 is going to feel very different than other G1 Climax’s of the past, Night 18 is the comforting reward for 17 nights of varying degrees of either delight or torpor. It feels resonant, replete with big name match-ups and built-in consequences.

The last memory is the most enduring, and in this case they got it right. Night 18 will be worth the wait, and probably redeem this entire tournament.

Make sure to pay attention on that final night, because a new lineage of booking patterns are going to be established. The scheduling might shift, but the four block/four-man mini tournament final structure is probably settled precedent for a while.