NJPW G1 Climax 33 Previews


Our desperate, incorrigible yearning for order gives immaculate birth to and propels, interpretation. It happens every year. We ask ourselves, immediately: what has Gedo, his coterie of bald junior tag team specialists, and the one they deported to NOAH constructed here? What’s their intent? What’s the structure of this G1 Climax? Surely, there is purpose behind these groupings? 

And, because the demiurge in wrestling is silent, we’re left to scramble for meaning.

The A Block? Easy: the champion, himself uneasily positioned, has to run the gauntlet of the company’s future. All the next-gen guys: Shota Umino, the multicolored medley of six different wrestlers; Ren Narita, the homunculus of one specific wrestler; Yota Tsuji, with his perpetual, unsavory grin; Kaito Kiyomiya, the promising youth that NOAH sacrificed for 2-3 modestly successful houses from Mutoh; and Gabe Kidd, the Brit who is ahead of every one of the New Japan kids, and whom no one recognizes, the company included. Everyone has to prove themselves in some way. The future is literally being molded before us with every result in A Block.

The C Block? Also simple. It’s the brawler’s block, the tough guy poule that is rumored every year. With four blocks this year, they were actually able to deliver it. Everyone hits hard. Even Tama Tonga, who I would define more as a finesse babyface, can lay it in. Despite the cornfed austerity projected by most wrestlers in this block, it’s the most flamboyantly dramatic. This block will be replete with grandiose displays of charismatic obstinance and theatrical no-selling.

The D Block? Easy: it’s the veterans block, a very familiar juxtaposition of guys. And familiar is the keyword. Chris Samsa and I dug into this a bit, because the D Block seemed eerily familiar. That wasn’t just a feeling; these guys are pretty much always in a block together. This will be Zack Sabre Jr’s seventh G1 Climax, and the sixth time he shares a block with Tetsuya Naito. Even the 2021 G1 Climax, where Naito had to withdraw after one match… that one match was against Zack. This will be the fourth straight G1 Climax where Hirooki Goto and Hiroshi Tanahashi share a block, and three out of four years, both share a block with Naito.

The B Block eludes easy interpretation. It’s essentially the Okada block, the place where Okada resides. That’s what every Okada block ends up being, but last year they gave us the Monster Block narrative, with Okada as St. George valiantly defending honor and humankind—they literally called Okada “The Hope of Humanity”—against such gruesome foes as Lance Archer, Bad Luck Fale, and JONAH (who courageously found time to wrestle in between breathless calls to Stamford).

B Block is simply a traditional G1 Climax block, a bit of nostalgia as the format and underlying dynamics have been substantially altered. It’s possible nothing will noticeably change, but that’s unlikely. 20-minute time limit matches instead of 30 will definitely affect this block, considering that Okada has averaged over 20 minutes per match in three of the last six G1 Climaxes.

A much more cataclysmic change is the two-advance-per-block adjustment. The G1 Climax has run under a one-advance system since 2010. As we’ll note below, the booking is fundamentally different between one-advance and two-advance formats, and looks fundamentally different. The final nights have a totally unique dynamic; in two-advance systems, the block final match is for second place as often as first place. Whereas in one-advance years, the block final match is almost always a winner-take-all contest for the block win.

This isn’t the first time Gedo & Co. have booked a two-advance G1 Climax, but the one time they did it was back in 2009. That was their first G1 Climax as bookers (that we know). Consider the monumental differences between 2009 New Japan and 2023 New Japan. It will be fascinating to see how modern New Japan booking tackles a very old New Japan concept. The B Block might be where this reveals itself the most.

G1 Climax 32 Participants Not Returning:

  • Lance Archer
  • Bad Luck Fale
  • Tom Lawlor
  • JONAH
  • Jay White
  • Juice Robinson
  • Yujiro Takahashi

Debuting or Returning Participants Absent from G1 Climax 32

  • Hikuleo (debuting)
  • Ren Narita (debuting)
  • Shota Umino (debuting)
  • Yota Tsuji (debuting)
  • Gabe Kidd (debuting)
  • Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH representative, debuting)
  • Eddie Kingston, AEW representative, debuting)
  • Mikey Nicholls (debuting)
  • Shane Haste (debuting)
  • Alex Coughlin (debuting)
  • Tanga Loa (returning, missed G1 Climax 32)

Preview Format

There are five elements to each participant’s preview this year:

  • Current Situation
  • Past Performance (unless debuting)
  • Booking Strength and Final Match Situation
  • Chances of Winning
  • What-to-Look-For Matches

An Explanation of Booking Strength

Every night in the G1 Climax has a set number of matches. This year’s G1 Climax has 8 matches per night through Night 12, then 4 matches for each single-block final night. If you take the match number for each participant and average them, it gives you their Average Card Placement. This is a good indicator of where that wrestler stands in the division hierarchy. The higher their CP average, the stronger their booking strength.

Booking strength usually correlates to tournament success. By looking at this number and a wrestler’s match-up on the final block night, one gets a richer idea of a wrestler’s chances in the tournament. 

G1 Climax 33 B Block

  • Kazuchika Okada
  • YOSHI-HASHI
  • KENTA
  • Taichi
  • Will Ospreay
  • Great-O-Khan
  • El Phantasmo
  • Tanga Loa

Kazuchika Okada

  • 12th entry, 12th consecutive year
  • Wins: 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022

Current Situation

He lost the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship to SANADA in April, but everything still revolves around Kazuchika Okada. Okada’s the straw stirring the drink in multiple promotions, riling up the NJPW and NOAH youth foundation, and main eventing co-promoted AEW events. He’s the most compelling wrestler alive at the moment, simply by being a demonstratively dismissive dickhead to the future of Japanese wrestling. 

Past Performance

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 10 points (5-1), won A Block and tournament
    • 2021 – 16 points (8-1), won B Block and tournament
    • 2020 – 12 points (6-3), 4th in A Block
    • 2019 – 14 points (7-2), 2nd in A Block
    • 2018 – 13 points (6-2-1), 2nd in A Block
    • 2017 – 13 points (6-2-1), 2nd in B Block
    • 2016 – 11 points (5-3-1), T-2nd in A Block
    • 2015 – 14 points (7-2), 2nd in B Block
    • 2014 – 16 points (8-2), won B Block and tournament
    • 2013 – 9 points (4-4-1), 6th in A Block
    • 2012 – 10 points (5-3), won B Block and tournament

It’s Kazuchika Okada. At this point, he’s second only to Masahiro Chono in G1 Climax wins (four to Chono’s five). Chono was a dominant G1 Climax force in his prime, but he also competed in a number of single elimination G1 Climaxes. By wins, win %, and the unfathomable amount of minutes he has logged over the last ten years, Kazuchika Okada is probably the greatest G1 Climax performer in the history of the tournament. He’s either won his block or been second place for nine out of his eleven G1 Climaxes. 

The time aspect is well known, but still outrageous. He has been ranked first in total ring time four out of the last six years. Of the top five total ring times in a G1 Climax, Okada holds four of those top five spots. In 2021, he averaged 23:38 per match, easily the highest of all time.  He was the first person to break the three-hour mark in total G1 Climax ring times, and has done so three total times (2017, 2019, and 2022; he went 2:59:19 in 2018). 

The only thing missing was finals appearances, and that was a simple byproduct of circumstances: champions never win their block, and no one has been champion during the G1 more than Okada (5 times). At one point  Okada was champion four out of five years (2015-2017, 2019). Every one of those years, his match slate came across more like nine title defenses than a normal G1 Climax.  Every year, he carries his block and the tournament itself. 

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation 

  • T-1 in booking strength
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 2nd (28)
    • 2021 – 1st (20)
    • 2020 – 6th (20)
    • 2019 – 1st (20)
    • 2018 – 1st (20)
    • 2017 – 1st (20)
    • 2016 – T-1st (20)
    • 2015 – 2nd (20)
    • 2014 – 1st (22)
    • 2013 – 2nd (20)
    • 2012 – 2nd (18)
  • Card Placement slate: 5-8-7-7-8-8
  • Final night opponent: Tanga Loa

In the eleven years that Kazuchika Okada has been in the G1 Climax, he’s been 1st or 2nd in booking strength in ten of those years. For the twelfth? He’s ranked 2nd. He has three main events and two semi-mains. When it comes to wrestlers shouldering heavy burdens in a G1 Climax, no one has shouldered more in the last decade than Okada.

That is amplified on the final night. Under Gedo’s booking reign, the final night of the G1 Climax has been transformed, from a seemingly random allotment of matches to a high-stakes battle of intricate complexity. Kazuchika Okada has been the fulcrum of this; since 2012, Okada has been in his block final match nine out of eleven years. His record? 4-3-2. He functions as a pedestal as often as he triumphs. 

Okada is the epitome of the classic G1 Climax booking style, and thus he highlights the changes seen this year more distinctly than anyone. 

Prior to this year, one could always use backwards design to gain a faint understanding of G1 Climax booking logic. One needed only to look at the block final nights and you could pinpoint one match that would determine a block. The plot was laid bare, in plain sight, every year. For instance, in 2019 you knew goddamn well that the A Block final night match-up of Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi was going to be a winner-take-all for the block win, before the tournament even officially began. That structured predictability was a strength of the G1 Climax.

That philosophy has certainly changed for 2023, and Okada is a clear indicator. Besides D Block’s match-up of Hiroshi Tanahashi va. Tetsuya Naito, there is a clear absence of marquee main events on the block final nights. The wrestlers have been thoroughly diffused by stature. No one represents this shift in booking armature more than Okada. His final night opponent is Tanga Loa. 

And no offense to Tanga Loa, but of the seven potential opponents for Okada on the final night, Loa is the lowest possible on a potential main event scale. Ospreay, KENTA, ELP, Taichi? No doubt. Great-O-Khan? Possibly! YOSHI-HASHI? For a mid-tournament night, potentially, but not the block final night. Tanga Loa? No chance.

And that’s a problem for Okada. There have been only two years in his career where he was not in his block’s final match: 2013 and 2020. In 2013, he lost to Satoshi Kojima outside the main event. In 2020, he lost to Will Ospreay in the match that saw Ospreay betray Okada and begin the United Empire. The point is, Okada is winless outside of the block final match.

Obviously, Okada is helped tremendously by the two-advance system. He doesn’t need a big time match-up, or a winner-take all scenario. He can simply move on as the B Block wild card. And so, Okada’s stifled positioning is less catastrophic. It certainly doesn’t portend a baleful future for Okada, like it might have in years past, since it’s totally illogical that Okada would lose such a low-prestige match on the final night, especially against a babyface like Loa. If anything, it practically confirms a final night win for Okada, which means that Okada would advance. But it does suggest that Okada will not be winning this block.

Chances to advance from block: 99%

Chances to win: 75%

What-to-Look-for Matches

Kazuchika Okada vs. Taichi: Night #5 (July 21)

If you go back to Kazuchika Okada’s send-off match on January 31, 2010 against Hiroshi Tanahashi, you’ll notice Okada’s second: a significant fluffier Taichi, fresh from a stint in CMLL. Okada and Taichi go way back. Taichi has referenced Okada’s family in backstage comments. This will be their third match-up in the G1 Climax; Okada won both contests (and, in fact, all four of their post-2008 matches). This one will be the semi-main event of Night 5; SANADA and Tsuji are going to have their work cut out for them following this. Taichi hits a different gear against his old buddies in the G1.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay: Night #9  (July 27)

Obviously, this is the biggest match on paper in the tournament, all ONE HUNDRED AND FUCKING TWELVE matches, a rematch of the G1 Climax 32 Final and possibly their most contextually fascinating match yet. Okada remains the obstacle that defines Ospreay’s New Japan tenure; one would imagine that happens here, main eventing New Japan’s Eden, Ota Gymnasium. But then… what is Ospreay’s future? That’s the big question, especially since Okada has taken up the mantle as the most future-antagonistic wrestler alive.

YOSHI-HASHI

  • 7th entry, 4th consecutive year

Current Situation

No one got more out of the pandemic than YOSHI-HASHI. Unburdened from the pressure of having to actually produce fan reactions at will, suddenly he figured out how to get fan reactions at will, and that has carried over to the post-pandemic world. He is currently one-half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champions (with Hirooki Goto), and he’s one of the best hot tags in the industry. 

Past Performance 

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 6 points (3-3), T-2nd in D Block (5-way tie)
    • 2021 – 6 points (3-6), T-6th in B Block
    • 2020 – 4 points (2-7), 10th in B Block
    • 2018 – 6 points (3-6), T-6th in A Block
    • 2017 – 4 points (2-7), 9th in A Block
    • 2016 – 6 points (3-6), T-8th in B Block

YOSHI-HASHI was a reliable first G1 match guy, delivering forgotten classics with Yuji Nagata, and occasionally could work his way to a semi-main event, but Bag o’ Socks era YSH-HSH wasn’t able to sustain that level of excitement over nine matches. He was such a brutally inauspicious void in 2018 that he was left out of the G1 entirely in 2019. He returned in 2020 only by necessity but, as noted, he showed a vigor, fervor, and adroitness previously thought impossible. His campaigns in 2021 and 2022 were excellent, though he never once threatened to win a block, or even contend on the final night.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation 

  • Things to use for this section:
    • T-25th in booking strength
    • Prior Years: 
      • 2022 – T-24th (28)
      • 2021 – 16th (20)
      • 2020 – 18th (20)
      • 2018 – T-16th (20)
      • 2017 – T-15th (20)
      • 2016 – 20th (20)
    • Card Placement slate: 1-6-1-7-2-2

Final night opponent: KENTA 

He’s ranked 25th out of 32, generally the same as he’s always been, even though this is his first year in the G1 Climax as an IWGP champion.

One of the reasons I track card placement is to see who outperforms their booking. My coverage of the BOSJ this year looked at those metrics. If you’re looking for a wrestler in the 2023 G1 Climax to exceed their booking strength with quality in-ring performance, YOSHI-HASHI is a prime candidate. Last year, he was 24th in card placement average and 10th in GRAPPL ranking, a +14 indicator. Only ELP was higher. 

His final night situation is uniquely peculiar. By facing KENTA on the final night, he is pretty much guaranteed to be out of the running. Both of them should end up in the middle of the block. And yet, this is actually one of the most fascinating and well-supported final night match-ups in any block. 

KENTA has been pestering YOSHI-HASHI for years, relentlessly calling YOSHI-HASHI ugly in backstage comments and pertinaciously trying to steal YSH-HSH’s beloved bo staff. He might be out of contention for the final, but YOSHI-HASHI is one of the few people to have a build-in storyline for their final match. 

Chances to advance from block: 10%

Chances to win: 0%

What-to-Look-for Matches

YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tanga Loa: Night #5 (July 21)

This is the match-up that gave us the immortal line, “YOU AIN’T GONNA BE NO TRICKY DICKY ON ME, BITCH!” during G.O.D.’s defense against Bishamon at Castle Attack Night 2 back in 2021. The depth of this block will be on display here.

YOSHI-HASHI vs. KENTA: Night #14 (August 6)

As I noted, KENTA has been fucking with YOSHI-HASHI for years. Like, almost from the moment KENTA turned heel. Literally; KENTA turned on YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii and was pummeling them with G.O.D.’s help until Katsuyori Shibata emerged from the back in one of the hottest angles in the last decade. And well… someone has to get revenge on KENTA for that night. And, sure, YOSHI-HASHI’s failed twice now to do that one-on-one against lil’ K, but it’ll be fun to see what preposterous nonsense KENTA will pull to thwart YSH-HSH again.

KENTA

  • 5th entry, 5th consecutive year

Current Situation

KENTA, once all ringwork and no talking, is now the best talker in wrestling. His backstage comments are magnificent, a totally unpredictable amalgamation of Toni Morrison’s brutally honest poetic phrasing and John Kennedy Toole’s steadfast commitment to a comedic sequence whilst maintaining the appearance of rambling dysfunction. All filtered through a Pythonesque acrimony for scene mates (the cameramen, for whom there is honest-to-god merch for now). And yet, when he’s sincere he’s even better than the best.

Of course, this is balanced by the matches. 2006 KENTA is not walking through the curtain. You know it, and KENTA knows it. Most KENTA matches devolve into some fuckery in which KENTA obsessively seeks a ref bump, a smash into the unprotected turnbuckle, a chair, whatever. Even so, they book KENTA much more strongly than people realize. He almost never takes falls in multi-man tags, and has held a championship of some kind for much of his New Japan run. Most recently, the STRONG Openweight Championship, which he just lost to Eddie Kingston on July 5th.

Oh, and he managed to put the Chicago Beef Sandwich guy’s robust PR team on alert, getting them to rush to Fightful or wherever the fuck and feed them some very believable insider info about KENTA turning down the Forbidden Door match he’s been angling for the last 4-5 years (three days after the same outlets reported that the other guy declined).

Past Performance

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 6 points (3-3), T-3rd in C Block
    • 2021 – 12 points (6-3), 3rd in A Block
    • 2020 – 10 points (5-4), 4th in B Block
    • 2019 – 8 points (4-5), T-3rd in A Block (7-way tie)

As noted above, KENTA has done better than you probably remember. In 2020, he spoiled Tetsuya Naito on the final night, ending 4th. In 2021, he was in the A Block final match, which was (like almost every block final match under Gedo) winner-take-all. In 2022, he spoiled Hiroshi Tanahashi. His worst block finish was 4th, in 2020. 

Of course, most of the time KENTA has focused on whatever backstage comment narrative he decided to weave during the month-long G1 Climax. In 2020, it was a month-long POV shoujo romance storyline, with climactic ending. In 2021, he trolled everyone on social media. In 2022, he plugged his book. Relentlessly. Also with a climactic conclusion. That is where KENTA’s true performance capabilities lie. What has he devised for Season 4 of G1 Climax KENTA?

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • T-12th in booking strength  (11-way tie)
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – T-5th (28)
    • 2021 – 7th (20)
    • 2020 – T-10th (20)
    • 2019 – T-8th (20)
  • Card Placement slate: 3-2-5-3-6-8
  • Final night opponent: YOSHI-HASHI

KENTA has been in the top half of every G1 Climax that he’s participated in, with at least 1-2 main events per year. The peak of this was 2022, which was a bizarre and abysmally scheduled tournament, leading to strange anomalies like KENTA being the 5th strongest booked wrestler out of 28. Previously, his highest placement was 7th out of 20. This year, he’s in an ELEVEN-way tie for 12th. He has one main event, but it’s a doozy: against Okada on Night 11, the final A/B block double night before the single-block final nights.

With a drop in card placement, KENTA was already trending to finish mid-block, and his final night match-up confirms this. KENTA is against YOSHI-HASHI. Of course, this is actually a consolation prize for KENTA, YOSHI-HASHI, and all of us uncapitalized peasants. As noted above, KENTA’s previous G1 Climaxes have always had a narrative, each having a grand finale. Imagine what KENTA will devise when the denouement this year is YOSHI-HASHI.

Chances to advance from block: 20%

Chances to win: 10%

What-to-Look-for Matches

KENTA vs. ELP: Night #9 (July 27)

ELP’s match with Juice Robinson last year began as some sort of reflexively meta-meta-meta commentary on the fundamentally formulaic lowbrow facade of pro wrestling, which of course devolved into an actually vicious match. That’s one possibility for this match. Another possibility is a traditionalist fiery babyface performance from ELP, as he unleashes hell upon one of the men that betrayed him in the name of David Finlay. Unfortunately, I wonder about the third possibility: the match starts with babyface revenger ELP, then KENTA slows things way down, and KENTA’s ref bump either works in his favor or ELP’s.

KENTA vs. Kazuchika Okada: Night #11  (August 1) 

This is the last double-block night for the A-B Block dyad, and KENTA-Okada are main eventing it. I’d love for this to be the usual Okada Penultimate surprise, with Okada stumbling before the home stretch, and then kicking it into overdrive to compensate. Because that would mean KENTA wins. But Okada is undefeated in singles matches in Takamatsu, and Okada is probably not winning the block, so this is most likely a robust win for Okada. But, for all the talk of KENTA’s washedness, expect him to light up Okada in this one.

Taichi

  • 5th entry, 5th consecutive year

Current Situation

Taichi’s 2022 ended with the dissolution of Suzuki-gun, and a great deal of uncertainty. Where would the Holy Emperor, upper mid-card and entering his mid-40’s, land upon settling? Things weren’t promising when he formed a new stable with the lower tier Suzuki-gun cast-aways—Taka, Kanemaru, DOUKI—and given the delightfully pallid name Just 4 Guys. 

And then they convinced Taichi’s old buddy SANADA to join, thus becoming Just 5 Guys. Then SANADA beat Kazuchika Okada to win the fucking world title. Then Taichi finally vanquished Shingo Takagi to reclaim the KOPW provisional title. 

Past Performance

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 4 points (2-4), T-4th in B Block
    • 2021 – 6 points (3-6), T-6th in B Block
    • 2020 – 8 points (4-5), T-5th in A Block
    • 2019 – 8 points (4-5), T-5th in B Block (6-way tie)

It took a while for Taichi to enter a G1 Climax, and the results have not been exemplary on paper. His best results were in 2019 and 2020, when he went 4-5 both years and tied for 5th out of 10 in his block. The results have dwindled since, to 3-6 in 2021 (tied for 6th) and 2-4 in 2022 (tied for 4th out of 7). 

His in-ring performances have been sensational, though. Taichi’s taken up the Ishii mantle of outperforming his booking, best exemplified when he had the match of the tournament last year against… Ishii. Taichi’s matches against Ishii, SANADA, and Okada over the past four years are replete with everything you’d want from a memorable G1 Climax match: vicious striking, strong spirit sequences, recalcitrant no-selling sequences, and blistering closing stretches. Taichi does this regardless of card position. 

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • T-12th in booking strength  (11-way tie)
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – T-12th (28)
    • 2021 – 15th (20)
    • 2020 – T-10th (20)
    • 2019 – 16th (20)
  • Card Placement slate: 7-4-7-3-2-4
  • Final night opponent: Great-O-Khan

Half of this block is caught in the logjam eleven-way tie for 12th in card placement average, and Taichi is one of them. Technically, it’s Taichi’s best ranking. He was 12th of 28 last year, and held 12th with more people. 

Of course, with such congestion, you have to look at the deeper numbers, especially main and semi-main events. Taichi has zero main events, but he has two semi-main events. Semi-main events have been a key indicator of G1 Climax success since 2015, as I’ve noted before… if you have the most of them. Taichi does not (Tama Tonga does, in fact). Taichi will not have G1 Climax success this year, but in this block, filled to the brim with Big Match Guys, Taichi will bolster his status as a sinews guy. He holds things together in the upper-middle, a robust support.

His final night match with Great-O-Khan assuredly will be used to set up a KOPW program for the fall. Expect that match to make a genuine run at stealing the show, but it won’t have any stakes otherwise. Taichi probably has zero chance to even advance, but we’ll give him marginal odds due to his connection to SANADA.

Chances to advance from block: 10%

Chances to win: 5%

What-to-Look-for Matches

Taichi vs. Ospreay: Night #1 (July 15) 

Taichi and Ospreay had one of the most incredibly forgotten matches back in February. What was so spectacular about it was the fluidity and believability. It was one of the most exquisitely timed matches I’ve ever seen. There was no wasted motion, and no dopey stumbling around and awkward waiting in a set position. They sold into each other’s moves, the filled that space. Both are known for coming out the gates hard in G1 Climaxes; the match of the tournament could be right here.

Taichi vs. YOSHI-HASHI: Night #9  (July 27)

YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi can’t help but publicly love each other, sneaking praise into their backstage comments. YOSHI-HASHI outright said that SANADA was better off with Taichi, way back in November 2022, six months before the Just 5 Guys turn. The earnest, fervent obstinance and bravado in this match should be off the charts. It’s 2nd match card placement is a straight-up diss. If it wasn’t for Ospreay v. Okada headlining, this one would be guaranteed to steal the show.

Will Ospreay

  • 4th entry, 2nd consecutive year
  • Finals: 2022

Current Situation

Due to injuries, Will Ospreay has only wrestled six matches for New Japan this year. Two of those matches are considered to be amongst the greatest matches in the history of professional wrestling. 

Ospreay was defeated by Kenny Omega in a savagely barbarous encounter at Wrestle Kingdom, losing the United States title as a result. He followed this with an exceptional match against Taichi in February, and a run in the New Japan Cup cut short by an injury from fellow United Empire stablemate Mark Davis. Ospreay returned to the company two months later to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi and Lance Archer to win the right to face Kenny Omega at Forbidden Door II, where he extracted merciless revenge and regained his title.

Past Performance 

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 8 points (4-2), won D Block and semi-final
    • 2020 – 12 points (6-3), 2nd in A Block
    • 2019 – 8 points (4-5), T-3rd in A Block (7-way tie)

Ospreay’s initial G1 Climax in 2019 was unsuccessful, but his block final night victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi was a critical turning point for himself and the company. It was very telling, and perceptible even at the time, that Will Ospreay finished his first G1 Climax with a 4-5 record, while Tanahashi also finished 4-5, with his first losing record in a G1 Climax since 2008. Tanahashi has not had a winning record in the G1 Climax since. Will, of course, has gone the other direction.

He took 2nd place in A Block the next year, defeating Okada on the final night, in the process forming the United Empire with the returning Great-O-Khan. Ospreay made it to the finals last year, losing to Okada in the #3 match of the year in the Voices of Wrestling media poll.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • T-7th in booking strength
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – T-18th (28)
    • 2020 – 9th (20)
    • 2019 – T-11th (20)
  • Card Placement slate: 7-6-5-1-8-6
  • Final night opponent: El Phantasmo

Ospreay’s booking strength history requires a bit of explanation. He was 11th in 2019 and 9th in 2020. Certainly, promising spots for a wrestler rising the card. Then he dropped to 18th of 28 last year. Again, we cannot stress enough how totally fucked the scheduling of the G1 Climax was last year. The small blocks and one-match-per-block nightly nonsense resulted in some baffling numbers, especially the D block wrestlers that were stuck in openers with languid-ass Yujiro Takahashi. 2022 should not count. 

Ospreay is back to 7th out of 32 this year, which more properly shows his main event status in the company, and the course-correction on the scheduling. Though Ospreay is surprisingly only in one main event and one semi-main event, which puts him on the lower end for each placement, he’s in the upper part of the card all tournament, save for one opening match against Great-O-Khan. That match, more than any other, suggests a new booking strategy of loading up opening matches, which we also saw in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors.

Ospreay’s final night opponent is a familiar one: ELP. ELP debuted at Best of the Super Juniors 2019, defeating Ospreay in the main event of Night 7, and then vanquished Ospreay again three months later in the 2019 Super J Cup. Ospreay has won their last three encounters, including their contest on Night 1 of last year’s G1 Climax. Considering the rest of the B Block final night match-ups, it is inconceivable that ELP-Ospreay would not be the block final main event.

The question of that match, and the entire tournament: how does Gedo and his Bald Junior Tag Team Specialist booking committee, ya know… book two-advance-per-block tournaments? 

Historically, Gedo’s tenure has been one-advance G1 Climaxes. Every single one since 2010 has run under this format. That would be 28 total blocks, and in 24 of those blocks, the block final match was winner-take-all. 85.7% of the time, the block winner came from the block final match. Gedo had a formula, he used it every single year, he changed things up in a block every 3-4 years to keep things fresh, and it fucking worked.

But that was under the one-advance system. Things drastically change under two-advance. There have been nine G1 Climaxes with the two-advance format, totaling 18 blocks. In TEN of those blocks, the block final match was for second place, with the block winner clinching their victory in the undercard. Imagine that, the big finale is for silver. Even the one year Gedo booked this format (2009), one of the block final matches was for second place. And since 2009, how many times has a block final match been contested between two wrestlers unable to win their block? That would be zero. But again: one-advance format. 

So, is Ospreay v. ELP going to be a winner-take all block final, with Okada taking second place? Or will it be for second place, with Okada having sealed the block win underneath against Tanga Loa? This match will provide real insight into how 2023 Gedo & Co. book G1 Climaxes in this format.

Chances to advance from block: 75%

Chances to win: 75%

What-to-Look-for Matches

Will Ospreay vs. Great-O-Khan: Night #7 (July 25)

A first-time match and one of the more baffling opening matches. The United Empire began at G1 Climax 29 when GOK returned and distracted Kazuchika Okada to Ospreay’s benefit. There’s a poetic squareness to the idea that, if this is Ospreay’s final G1 Climax, O-Khan takes the next biggest step of his career by getting a win over his stable leader. Unfortunately, this is no longer a battle between the Champion of the British and Champion of the Americans.

Will Ospreay vs. ELP: Night #14  (August 6)

Much like O-Khan, ELP’s entry into New Japan is directly connected to Will Ospreay. Their 2018 matches in Rev Pro set the path for Phantasmo to enter the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors, where he beat Ospreay. Ospreay’s won their last three encounters, but that big initial victory highlights just how sagaciously Ospreay uses his platform, his talent, and his status in the company. Ospreay almost certainly has to win this final night bout, which will probably be winner-take-all to advance. He can’t control that, but he can control the legacy of this match.

Great-O-Khan

  • 3rd entry, 3rd consecutive year

Current Situation

It’s been another thoroughly baffling year of Great-O-Khan booking. Last year, he won the IWGP Tag Team championship twice with Jeff Cobb, with a grand total of 36 days held and zero defenses. He’s wrestled seven singles matches for New Japan thus far this year. FIVE of them were against Young Lions. His other two matches: an ignominious defeat to Shingo Takagi in an MMA-rules match, and a second round exit to David Finlay in the New Japan Cup.

Two things, there. Number one, Great-O-Khan is a floating quantum concept, and Tomoyuki Oka is the Schrodinger Cat of Great-O-Khan wrestling promo continuity. Tomoyuki Oka never existed, and yet he exists as a hypothetical reality that provokes genuine real-life emotion from the Great-O-Khan, which in turn substantiates Tomoyuki Oka. For instance, GOK’s best promo, and the best non-KENTA promo of 2022, was his legitimately gut-wrenching eulogy to Katsuya Kitamura. For the Takagi match, he brought out the preposterous amount of medals and trophies Oka had won in his sports career. This man was a national champion wrestler, a standout in multiple other combat sports, and he’s currently 0-2 in wrestling matches that exploit this (he lost an amateur wrestling-themed KOPW match to Toru Yano). 

The second thing:  GOK lost in the second round of the New Japan Cup to Finlay… but he had a first round bye. So it was, in fact, and one-and-done for him. In every tournament GOK has participated in, including three New Japan Cups and Two G1 Climaxes, we’ve expected that tournament to be the significant junction in Khan’s career, the great authenticator which confirms the company’s grand vision for him. It hasn’t happened, but also keep in mind, it’s been less than three years.

On the plus side, O-Khan won the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship. As the King of the Britons, the Khanian Supremacy has produced a successful title defense, which also stands as Great-O-Khan’s last singles match of 2023… nearly four months ago.

LAST MINUTE EDIT: NEVER MIND, HE LOST THE TITLE TO MICHAEL OKU ON JULY 9TH, SIX FUCKING DAYS BEFORE NIGHT 1. I’d like to think that clears him up to make a run, but I will not succumb to O-Khan naivete again this year. This loss, and the shedding of the Rev Pro title,  simply frees him up to lose more this year.

Past Performance 

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 4 points (2-4), T-3rd in B Block (4-way tie)
    • 2021 – 8 points (4-5), 7th in A Block

As noted before, Khan has not done well thus far in his G1 Climaxes. In fact, he does not have a winning record yet: he went 4-5 in 2021 and 2-4 in 2022. But, once again, it’s only been two years. GRAPPL has not been kind to O-Khan, ranking him 14th of 20 in 2021 and 17th of 28 in 2022, but his in-ring performances have produced several memorable moments, including KENTA diving from the top rope while wearing Khan’s hat in 2021, and a sensational match against Jay White in 2022. If you’re looking for hope, the Jay White match is example #1. Considering the high level of talent in this block, O-Khan is set up for a very propitious year.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation 

  • T-27th in booking strength
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – T-18th(28)
    • 2021 – 9th (20)
  • Card Placement slate: 5-2-3-1-4-2
  • Final night opponent: Taichi

O-Khan’s booking strength has gone the wrong direction, and this year it’s stunningly low. In his first year (2021) he was a respectable 9th out of 20. This year, he is 27th out of 32 and he’ll spend most of the tournament in the first three matches of the card. His peak is 5th on Night 1 against Okada (Okada’s lowest placed match). He has one opening match, against Ospreay. That match, as noted in the Ospreay preview, is actually a sign of encouragement for O-Khan; if anything, it suggests that New Japan is putting much more stock into the openers. That said, in a block with some big time names, O-Khan’s low ranking is unfortunate, a pretty clear sign that it will be at least one more year before we get that O-Khan push for which we all yearn.

O-Khan’s final night opponent, Taichi, sends mixed messages for the future. On the encouraging side, it will be a tremendous match and a high note for O-Khan to conclude his tournament. And Taichi is KOPW champion, so a fruitful win should yield a title shot for GOK. The discouraging aspects begin there. As we documented above, O-Khan’s KOPW history is unpleasant, almost to the point where he is being mocked for having real sport credibility. 

Chances to advance from block: 5%

Chances to win: 0%

What-to-Look-for Matches

Great-O-Khan vs. KENTA: Night #3  (July 18)

The last time they faced each other in the G1 Climax, back in 2021, KENTA donned Great-O-Khan’s hat in yet another inspired, impromptu moment. Considering that neither guy has raised their position much in the two years since, so enjoy this match for what it will be: the legitimately funny match, with inspired choices and characterization.

Great-O-Khan vs. YOSHI-HASHI: Night #11 (August 1)

Incredibly, this is a first-time match.

El Phantasmo

  • 2nd entry, 2nd consecutive year

Current Situation

El Phantasmo jumped to the heavyweights one year ago by entering G1 Climax 32, and it was an impressive showing, including an all-time meta-wrestling match against Juice Robinson and a tremendous final-night effort spoiling Shingo Takagi.

Since then, it’s been a mixed bag. He had an entertaining feud with Takagi throughout the autumn of 2022, entirely centered around interpreting the phrase “who’s your daddy” literally. He challenged for the NEVER Openweight title at the start of 2023, and then David Finlay showed up. 

Finlay entered BULLET CLUB in March and immediately treated ELP… just like ELP treated Robbie Eagles when the Head Banga entered BULLET CLUB in 2019. Despite having himself as precedent, and a weeks of self-evidently antagonistic behavior from Finlay, Phantasmo was caught off-guard and expelled from the CLUB at Sakura Genesis. He unsuccessfully challenged Finlay for the NEVER Openweight title at Dominion.

Past Performance

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 6 points (3-3), T-2nd in D Block (5-way tie)

ELP’s inaugural run at G1 Climax 32 solidified him as New Japan’s  tournament wrestler of the year for 2022, after a brilliant Best of the Super Juniors campaign. In a year where most potential stories and analyses were stifled by scheduling malfeasance, a clear take-away from G1 Climax 32 was that ELP instantly looked like he belonged. By spoiling Shingo on the final night, ELP moved himself into a 5-way tie for 2nd place (and technically ELP is 2nd outright on tiebreakers within the group). He had excellent matches throughout.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • T-12th in booking strength (11-way tie)
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2022 – 28th (28)
  • Card Placement slate: 1-8-3-5-6-4
  • Final night opponent: Will Ospreay

ELP was a junior entering the heavyweight division last year, and thus they gave him a junior’s respect in the booking: dead last, 28th out of 28th. He was also one of the unfortunate competitors to have gargantuan gaps in his schedule, due to the wretched way the company constructed last year’s tournament. ELP went nearly two weeks between matches at one point. Abysmal. This year, he’s tied for 12th. An eleven-way tie, for sure, but it unquestionably represents an improvement from last year’s nadir. 

It’s also worth noting the block he’s in. There’s a lot of white-knuckled fretfulness surrounding ELP, considering they just now turned him babyface, and he’s about to turn 36. His booking strength here suggests a respectable finish, but not a block win, or even advance. That said, being placed in the Okada block is substantive, and that sentiment is definitely buttressed by the fact that ELP will main event Night 3 against the Rainmaker. If anything is circled on your G1 calendar, it should be that match; of all the future building Okada is molding this year, the immediate future is probably held the most in that match.

Oh, and ELP has Ospreay on the block final night. There’s that, too. It is one of the few final night match-ups, across all blocks, that feels like a legitimate block final match. And yes, the supermajority odds have to favor this match being a winner-take-all match and Ospreay prevailing to win the block. BUT… considering the brazen, defiantly future-glancing direction of 2023 New Japan booking, it’s not outlandish to consider ELP beating Ospreay to advance. For that, we give ELP a sincere chance. 

Chances to advance from block: 25%

Chances to win: 10%

What-to-Look-for Matches

El Phantasmo vs. Kazuchika Okada: Night #3 (July 18)

As obvious a choice as any other, this is ELP’s big moment. He’s main eventing a G1 Climax night with the greatest G1 Climax performer of all time. It’s right at the early stages of the tournament as well, the second A-B double block night. Better still, ELP will be in the most impactful match on the final night. These are prime conditions for the upset. That sets up Okada to chase down ELP all tournament, and then finally overtake him on the final night (probably for 2nd place). But who gives a fuck about Night 14, when Night 3 will set ELP? Expect ELP to give the performance of his life here, and  Okada to provide everything conducive for this to be a big moment.

El Phantasmo vs. Taichi: Night #11 (August 1) 

Another first time match, and one of the most intriguing style match-ups. They each have their own big match sequence style, but it’s hard to envision them juxtaposed. Taichi’s striking and ELP’s finesse seems like a propitious combination, even if it’s stuck in the mid-card 4th match position. If ELP is going to move up the card, Taichi is the gatekeeper type he needs to leapfrog.

Tanga Loa

  • 2nd entry, first since 2021

Current Situation

Tanga Loa, like YOSHI-HASHI, is one of those guys that rewarded you for watching during the clap crowds. He elevated his game significantly, throwing harder strikes and projecting a presence he had not displayed previously. He also started narrating his thoughts during matches, but besides that his improvement was tangible.

His 2021 campaign was, alongside his brother, a month-long face turn. Their sudden sincerity and deference for the G1 Climax, and Jado’s fervent support, was endearing. Clearly this was incongruent with Jay White’s BULLET CLUB, and they were evicted from the CLUB in February 2022. 

Unfortunately, Loa soon was injured, and has not wrestled since May 2022. G1 Climax 33 will be his return to the ring. 

Past Performance

  • Prior Years: 
    • 2021 – 6 points (3-6), 8th in A Block

Loa has only been in one G1 Climax, back in 2021. He went 3-6, but the real purpose of his tournament was to establish him as a genuine brawler, earnestly cheered on by Gedo and having moved on from cheating antics. His matches were good throughout, including admirable showings against Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi, and Zack Sabre. Jr. Considering that he had barely wrestled any singles matches in the six years prior, it was a commendable campaign.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation 

  • 24th in booking strength
  • Prior Years: 
    • 2021 – 14th (20)
  • Card Placement slate: 3-4-1-5-4-6
  • Final night opponent: Kazuchika Okada

For someone that has been on the shelf for so long, Tanga Loa’s booking strength ranking is pretty good. He’s 24th out of 32, which still puts him ahead of active wrestlers (and some champions) such as YOSHI-HASHI, Great-O-Khan, Aaron Henare, and Gabe Kidd. He’ll generally be in the first half of shows, but he does get an intriguing opening match against old rival YOSHI-HASHI on night 5, and a 6th match against Will Ospreay on Night 11.

His final night opponent is Kazuchika Okada, and… holy fuck, this is for real. I’m not sure this means anything, any wasn’t just a round-robin byproduct, a scheduling necessity, but it has to show some level of respect for Loa as a wrestler. It also provides a faint sparkle to Loa’s chances. Sure, he’s going to lose, but there’s a perfunctory, nominally minute chance that he could win. And if he won, he’d have to advance. Either way, it’s a great story of one of Haku’s good boys getting a big match in his return from injury. 

Chances to advance from block: 5%

Chances to win: 0%

What-to-Look-for Matches

Tanga Loa vs. KENTA: Night #1  (July 15)

Tanga’s first match back, and that’s literal. This will be Tanga Loa’s first official match in fourteen months. That provides a level of uncertainty to this match, but these are about as fecund as the conditions of his return could be. Loa and KENTA are comfortable with each other, with KENTA clearly bonding with G.O.D. during their BULLET CLUB days, and they had a perfectly adequate match back at G1 Climax 31.

Tanga Loa vs. Okada: Night #14 (August 6)

I tried to avoid final night match-ups, since those are inherently must-watch matches, but this one is a little more relevant for all the reasons described above. As noted, Okada has only been outside the block final match twice. Once was against Satoshi Kojima (2013), and the other against Will Ospreay (2020). You can now add Tanga Loa to that list. Expect Loa to treat this appropriately, and bring an intensity to this match; hopefully physically, and he saves the monologuing for backstage.

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