G1 Climax 27: The 27th Edition of Professional Wrestling’s Greatest Tournament
It’s summertime and for fans of New Japan Pro-Wrestling that can only mean one thing.. It’s almost time for the G1 Climax!
For fans who are not familiar with the New Japan Pro-Wrestling product, simply put, the G1 Climax is professional wrestling’s greatest tournament. New Japan Pro-Wrestling (or NJPW for short) was founded in 1972 and prior to 1991, New Japan held many different wrestling tournaments such as the World League, the MSG League, and the International Wrestling Grand Prix. These historic tournaments were won by legends like New Japan founder Antonio Inoki, Andre The Giant, and Hulk Hogan. The G1 is considered a continuation of these tournaments however said tournaments are not directly considered part of the G1 lineage. The first official G1 Climax, won by New Japan legend Masahiro Chono, took place in 1991.
The Grade One (or G1 for short) has been won by all-time greats like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Keiji Mutoh, Hirioshi Tenzan, and the aforementioned Masahiro Chono, to future legends like Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, and Tetsuya Naito. That being said, it’s easy to see that this tournament is sewn into the fabric of NJPW. To put this tournament’s legacy into perspective once more, there have only been eleven Wrestle Kingdom events. This year New Japan presents the 27th edition of it's historic G1 spectacle.
The G1 Climax is a round robin tournament mirroring the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. This format helps New Japan present its brand of pro wrestling as sport rather than purely entertainment. The tournament will take place throughout the entirety of August with the roster separated into two blocks. Each competitor will face every other member of their block with the winner of the most matches declared the winner of their block. The winner of each block will then move on to face each other in the final of the tournament with the winner awarded an opportunity to face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the main event of New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom event inside the Tokyo Dome on January 4th.
With the announcement of this year's roster NJPW has already created a plethora of anticipation surrounding the tournament. Yuji Nagata and Togi Makabe, both former G1 Climax winners and all-time greats, are entering this year. It will be Nagata's last G1. Other New Japan staples like the leader of the bread club Satoshi Kojima, the stone pit-bull Tomohiro Ishii, the underboss Bad Luck Fale, and the man known for playing spoiler in these tournaments Toru Yano will all be competing. Another former G1 winner and CHAOS member Hirooki Goto is also in the fray.
While these competitors will provide for some enticing matchups, the real show stealing ability comes from NJPW's current megastars - all of whom will be featured in this tournament. From the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion and leader of CHAOS Kazuchika Okada, to the IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, to former IC Champion and leader of the villainous Los Ingobernables de Japon Tetsuya Naito, to the leader of the Bullet Club and self-proclaimed "match of the year factory" Kenny Omega, this tournament should feature some premier matchups that fans may only get the chance to see once. Any one of those four competitors should be considered heavy favorites to win this year, especially considering all of them have ascended the throne in the G1 Climax before.
It has been speculated that Okada and Omega will do battle once again before the year comes to a close. Their rivalry, stemming from Wrestle Kingdom 11, has made headlines around the world of professional wrestling. However if they do compete before the year’s end, it’s more than likely that neither will win the G1. This speculation has lead many to assume that Okada and Omega, while pegged to have strong showings, won’t end up winning this year’s tournament. Some believe their third matchup may come in this tournament. I doubt Omega/Okada III takes place in the G1, however the tournament format certainly provides the opportunity. If current champion Okada is victorious it’s likely he would name his challenger for Wrestle Kingdom or lose a defense of the main event contract. If Omega wins he would be the first back to back winner of the G1 Climax since Hiroyoshi Tenzan and the first gaijin (competitor born outside of Japan) to accomplish this monumental feat.
Hiroshi Tanahashi recently defeated Tetsuya Naito in a rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 11 for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. It’s quite likely we see the two do battle once again in this tournament with Naito seeking revenge - though there is a bit of worry surrounding Tanahashi as he recovers from a torn bicep. He should be back to 100% in time for the G1 however.
Some of the names I find most intriguing are competitors whom most consider not as likely to win. Competing in his first G1 in three years Minoru Suzuki brings one of the coldest and most unique in-ring presences in professional wrestling today. In a tournament setting Suzuki should have the opportunity to face an array of challengers - both young and old - and assume somewhat of a "gatekeeper" role for those looking to advance. Tama Tonga and SANADA are two young guns New Japan fans have been waiting to break out. This tournament should provide them with the stage to do so. The same can be said for LIJ's EVIL - although his showing in this year's New Japan Cup was impressive enough. Gaijins like Michael Elgin, Juice Robinson, and Zack Sabre Jr. all look primed for standout performances.
That being said, and it's virtually unanimous, Kota Ibushi is the most enticing name on this year's roster. I have long considered Ibushi pound-for-pound one of the best wrestlers on the face of the earth. His participation in this tournament no longer under the Tiger Mask W guise means he's likely going to be giving his best effort and that alone makes him a dark horse. I think you'd be hard pressed to find one puroresu fan who doesn't want to see a Budokan rematch between Ibushi and his long time tag partner Kenny Omega - especially if New Japan were to put it on the grandest stage in Japanese pro wrestling inside the Tokyo Dome. If it were up to me we'd see a scenario play out where Ibushi bests Omega to win the tournament only to have Kenny capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and face Ibushi once again in January. It's my belief that Kota Ibushi should be a mainstay and a major attraction in NJPW.
But is that the likely scenario? With Tetsuya Naito at his prime and currently one of the hottest acts in New Japan many believe it's now or never for him. Last year his rivalry with Kazuchika Okada never got the proper build it deserved. A Naito/Okada Tokyo Dome main event is the one Japanese fans would consider the biggest attraction. While some American fans might be disappointed that the third Omega/Okada match doesn’t get the nod, I personally believe it’s the right call. This would still leave the door open for Omega/Ibushi or a number of other matchups as well. All things considered I think we will see Naito finally realize his potential over the next year and it begins with him winning the G1 Climax 27 his second career G1 victory.
August is about to be one interesting month and there is no better time to be a fan of New Japan Pro-Wrestling than right here and now. Enjoy it while it's here friends!