The 29th G1 is slinking into view and it is looking particularly sexy this year. I can’t imagine being a wrestling fan and not being excited about this tournament. It has everything, and if you’re wondering what that everything is, then wonder no more, for I am here to help. Starting with the A Block, I am going to run through every wrestler in the tournament, rambling my thoughts onto the page and providing a few key matches. Enjoy.
Previous record: Entered every year since 2012, winning in 2012 and 2014
Okada enters the 29th G1 as the champion which severely reduces his chances of winning it. However, that shouldn’t damage your interest in his matches. For one thing, he’s Kazuchika Okada, and you can guarantee he is going to produce a few classic. More importantly, though, people who pin the IWGP Champion in the G1 traditionally bank themselves a title shot for a later date. With New Japan hosting a few big shows between the G1 and the Tokyo Dome, look for Okada to set-up a couple of winnable matches. My prediction? I have Zack Sabre Jr beating him to set-up a rematch from last year’s show with Rev Pro in Manchester at Royal Quest.
Key matches: Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 6th), Zack Sabre Jr (July 14th) and Kota Ibushi (August 10th)
Zack Sabre Jr
Previous record: Entered 2017 and 2018.
Zack Sabre Jr is the A Block’s second world champion, although it’s fair to say the British Heavyweight Title doesn’t have quite the pull its IWGP counterpart does. Still, much like Okada, the tournament can be used to set-up a couple of future title defences for Zack, as New Japan seem to have slotted it into the role the ROH strap used to occupy. As for Zack himself, he’s a long shot to go to the Dome as New Japan see him as a big guy, but not the guy, so the best he can expect is to be a beaten finalist. He has, however, aided my enjoyment of the G1 in recent years. Sabre wrestles a different style from 99% of the New Japan roster and, therefore, forces his opponents to do something a bit different. Throw in his hilarious backstage promos, and you’re guaranteed an entertaining month from the technical master.
Key matches: Kazuchika Okada (July 14th), Will Ospreay (July 30th) and Kota Ibushi (August 7th)
Previous record: Entered every year since 2002 winning in 2007, 2015 and 2018
Last year’s winner comes in with a surprising lack of momentum. Part of that might be that since returning from injury, Tanahashi hasn’t looked great. The Ace is not a young man, and it’s a miracle his performances haven’t started to deteriorate before now. That process may have finally started. And yet, I don’t believe a word of it. On the opening night, he wrestles Kazuchika Okada and when the final bell rings we’ll all be laughing at how silly we were to doubt the living legend. The G1 is Tanahashi’s tournament, so no matter how beat-up he is, he drags his broken body through it and puts on at least a couple of classics. Having won it last year, I’d put his odds on winning this time around at practically non-existent, but even then, I’d never bet against Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Key matches: Kazuchika Okada (July 6th), Kota Ibushi (August 3rd) and Will Ospreay (August 10th)
Previous record: Entered 2013, 15, 17 and 18 reaching the final in 2018.
Unless you’ve somehow avoided the career of Kota Ibushi (and I am jealous if you have because you will have a lovely time catching-up), you should have no worries about whether he’ll deliver in the ring. The Golden Star is an enigma, but he’s also a wrestling god, and regularly sets the G1 alight with his incredible performances. There is another question, though. Is he going to win this thing? When he dropped the IC Title to Naito, I assumed that was going to be the case, but now New Japan has put him in the same block as Okada. If you’re looking to sell seats for two nights at the Tokyo Dome, why would you give your main event away a few months beforehand? That doesn’t make sense. Still, now that Ibushi has pledged himself to New Japan, he’s one of the favourites, and I won’t be surprised if he walks away with the whole thing.
Key matches: Will Ospreay (July 18th), Hiroshi Tanahashi (August 3rd) and Kazuchika Okada (August 10th)
Previous record: Entered 2016-18.
EVIL has an up and down history in the G1. Two years ago he was handed a career-changing victory when he became the first person to pin Okada in the midst of his legendary title reign. It felt like a coming out moment, but while EVIL has since been established as a semi-regular main eventer, it hasn’t had the effect you might have expected. Too often he is the guy who goes out to put on an alright mid-card match. While he rarely shits the bed, he only hits great a few times a year, and in a company built on work rate that’s a problem. There is no chance in hell he’s winning this thing, but a month of impressive performances will be its own success.
Key matches: SANADA (July 18th), Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 30th) and Kazuchika Okada (August 7th)
Previous Record: Entered 2016-19
Do you know all the stuff that I said about EVIL? Yea, you can repeat that for SANADA with the caveat that SANADA has arguably overtaken EVIL this year thanks to his impressive feud with Kazuchika Okada. If he’s to build on that momentum, this is the time to do it, and a show-stealing G1 could see him finally elevated to the position everyone has been predicting he’d get to for years. Again, he’s not going to win this thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the people to beat Okada, and if he puts on five great matches, he’ll come out the other side confirmed as a star.
Key Matches: EVIL (July 18th), Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 27th) and Kazuchika Okada (August 3rd)
Bad Luck Fale
Previous record: Entered 2014-18
Bad Luck Fale stinks. He was never an incredible wrestler, but with the right opponent, he could put on an intriguing match. In recent years, that has stopped being true. He’s been awful and clearly does not give a shit. Just don’t expect that to show in his final ranking. He’s New Japan’s resident monster, so he doesn’t take many falls. Fale’s size also means that people don’t lose anything in defeat to him, so he’s the perfect person to beat someone like Okada and step in for a routine title defence or even make it to the final and eat the pin for the eventual winner. If he is to have good matches, history suggests it will be against Okada and Tanahashi, but I won’t hold my breath while I wait for them.
Key matches: Kazuchika Okada (July 18th) Will Ospreay (July 27th) and Hiroshi Tanahashi (August 7th)
Previous record: Entered 2011-2014.
After a break from taking part in the G1, Lance Archer returns, and you’ve got to think his hard work in promoting Dallas has played a role in him getting that spot. The problem? Well, the bulk of my experience with Archer is as part of Killer Elite Squad, and I think KES suck. Big Lance is coming into this tournament in my bad books (I’m sure he’ll be up all night worrying about that), and I’m looking to be impressed. He’s not going to win it, and I wouldn’t even place him as someone who could lose in the final, but if he has two or three great matches, he’ll have done enough to convince me that I was wrong about him.
Key matches: Will Ospreay (July 6th), Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 20th) and Kota Ibushi (July 27th)
Previous record: First time.
Our third A Block champion, but Will Ospreay won’t be setting up any future title defences because Will Ospreay is the Junior Heavyweight champion, and no-one else in this block is a Junior. Will’s inclusion is the G1 is fascinating because NJPW see him as a future star who will eventually move to heavyweight. However, he hasn’t made that move yet, so how many matches is he going to win. Personally? I don’t think it’s going to be many. I’ve seen people talking about him pinning Okada, and I can’t see it. In my head, Gedo is going to book this as a learning experience. He’ll get a couple of wins, but finish with a negative record. You’ve then got the story of him learning from that, building on it, moving to heavyweight and returning next year to prove himself. That’s how I’d book it anyway.
Key matches: Kota Ibushi (July 18th), Kazuchika Okada (July 20th) and Zack Sabre Jr (July 30th)
Previous record: First Time
We’ve arguably saved the two most intriguing participants for last. If you aren’t aware of KENTA, then you might know him as his alter-ego Hideo Itami. He was a constantly injured, unmotivated and unfit bloke who weirdly made friends with The Iconics while not doing much in WWE. The question coming into the G1 is whether we’re going to get Hideo Itami or KENTA. Because, unlike Itami, KENTA is an arse kicker and one of the greatest wrestlers of the 21st century. Tanahashi, Okada and Ibushi vs KENTA is dream match territory, and even if he’s half the wrestler he was in NOAH, they could blow the roof of a few places. At some point, during that first show in Dallas, Kota Ibushi is going to slap KENTA in the face. At that moment, we’ll know whether we’re getting Hideo Itami or whether Kota Ibushi is going to need a hand finding his teeth.
Key matches: Kota Ibushi (July 6th), Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 14th) and Kazuchika Okada (July 27th)
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