G1 Climax Mid-Point Recap & Analysis
Who's going to the Tokyo Dome?
We are roughly half-way through the G1 Climax, New Japan’s premier tournament and arguably the biggest annual tournament in all of wrestling! (There actually isn’t that much of an argument, but I’m a diplomatic guy, so we’ll say ‘arguably’ anyhow.) For the uninitiated, it is a round robin style tournament in which two blocks of ten square off, and the winners of both blocks go on to face one another in the final. Whoever wins the whole thing gets a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the annual January 4th Wrestle Kingdom event in the legendary Tokyo Dome!
That means going after New Japan’s top title at their WrestleMania equivalent. Suffice to say, that’s a big deal. And the G1 Climax has garnered quite the reputation for the incredible quality and quantity of high level matches it produces over a short span of time. This year is a particularly fascinating one, with many big names making their first-ever appearances in the grueling challenge.
Of those making their G1 debut are: super-athletic super-heavyweight Jeff Cobb, junior/heavy hybrid Shingo Takagi, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay, Japanese icon and former NXT/205 Live stalwart KENTA and of course, former WWE Champion and current IWGP United States Champion Jon Moxley. (Oh yeah, and also Taichi…) They join an already stacked field of regulars such as Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi among others.
I’ve been following this tournament for years and I’ve never seen a field like this.
To come out with a lineup such as this after losing so many big stars at the beginning of the year, with a huge chunk of their international star power heading off to form AEW, it’s honestly staggering. It’s a helluva response, one that reminds people just how big New Japan is these days. They’re indisputably #1 in Japan right now and #2 worldwide by most’s definitions. This tournament has been a great statement to that fact.
With that in mind, let’s look at the standings so far. I’ve been keeping track via my personal challonge page, making it pretty easy:
Little aside: winning a match gives you two points. Losing of course gets you nothing, but a draw will net both participants a single point. Generally draws only occur in New Japan through hitting a time limit, and this happens roughly once per G1 tournament.
So just from looking at this, you can see that Moxley and KENTA are doing exceptionally well in their first outing. They’re unbeaten so far alongside IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. While this would theoretically make them all favorites to win, that’s somewhat deceiving. People who do this well at the start of a G1 almost never make it to the final, and similarly big names who do poorly tend to make a stirring comeback in the latter half.
Still, to be among those given so many early wins is a nice show of confidence. That said, let’s get into some of the notables…
It’d be burying the lead to talk about anyone other than Jon Moxley first.
From basically the moment he left WWE, Moxley has been on fire in every conceivable way. He quickly proved in AEW his penchant for promos, big moments and going to the extreme. But he came to New Japan to prove something else entirely, not just to those watching but to himself. He needed to be able to hang with the best. A And he needed to be able to handle the most notoriously grueling tournament in wrestling.
He’s done an incredible job thus far. Not only is he 4-0 to start off the tourney, but he’s legitimately had some of the G1’s best matches this year. His last two bouts with Shingo and particularly Tomohiro Ishii have been exceptional. I’ll admit that I was curious about how he’d fit in with New Japan’s style. And I was a bit concerned that he was diving headfirst into the G1 so soon after starting for them. But he’s quickly proven that there’s no need to have that concern. He’s even shown a surprising aptitude at connecting with the Japanese audience as a character as well, they love his toned-down-Ambrose-esque antics.
It’d be a shock for many reasons if he won the G1.
It’s his first time, he’s just debuted, still testing the waters in Japan when the tournament was initially booked, ect. Plus, Gedo (New Japan’s head booker) tends to book two years in advance. Odds are good he knew who would be taking this long before Moxley’s contract with WWE expired.
That said, there’s no discounting just what a great run he’s had already. To say he’s made a great initial splash in New Japan would be a gross understatement. Assuming he continues working in Japan after AEW’s TV deal starts up, I greatly look forward to whatever Moxley does here going forward.
His next G1 bout is an important one, his biggest New Japan match yet to be certain. He’s in a main event against former Heavyweight Champion and current Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito. Naito is a phenomenon in Japan, a bit of a counterculture icon. He’s their highest merch seller most days, and easily the biggest name Moxley’s gone up against. Odds seem good his winning streak comes to an end, but it’d be a fantastic victory if he can keep it going…
KENTA is also a fine story of redemption.
When KENTA was announced for the G1, where he’d make his debut for New Japan no less, it caused quite a stir. When he was introduced by his old friend, Katsuyori Shibata, who tragically had to retire two years ago after nearly losing his life to a horrific injury, an added layer of emotion laced everything KENTA did in New Japan. After years of disappointment in WWE, where his style simply wasn’t a very good fit, it wasn’t exactly a hot take to assume that he would return to form in this G1 tournament.
But he has not let down those expectations one bit. Immediately we saw the return of his brutal kick-based offense, a true strong style striker. He made his initial statement in a big way, facing off with Kota Ibushi on Night 1 and beating him senseless, taking about 90% of the match enroute to defeating one of the big favorites to win the whole thing right then and there.
Himself and Okada are both 4-0 and they’re set up for a huge battle of the unbeatens on Night 9. Given how the G1 tends to work, I actually think it’s very likely KENTA up and pins the Heavyweight Champion right there. This would set up a future title shot in the coming months.
With all due respect, this is somewhat higher profile than feuding with Lucha House Party.
You also can’t talk about any G1 without showing some respect to Ishii.
Tomohiro Ishii is the very model of consistency. While he’s yet to win one of these grand tournaments and likely never will, he’s been the MVP of many. He’s a fascinating case study, being an underachieving undercarder for most of his career. But he suddenly peaked in 2013, with fantastic hard-hitting matches and a rise in popularity to match. He hasn’t lost a step ever since, despite being 43 now. He’s a pure embodiment of strong style, with most of his offense being devoted to brutal strikes and many of his matches being built around how much abuse he takes.
An interesting thing about Ishii is his selling.
To those seeing him from the first time, they may be tricked into thinking he doesn’t sell at all. But what he does is no sell specifically whenever his opponent is looking at him. The moment they go down and he’s out of their line of sight, he starts selling. Hunching over, favoring body parts, the works. It’s not a matter of refusing to sell for people. Ishii, as a character, just doesn’t want the guy across from him to see his pain. He can’t let them know that they’ve hurt him, and he especially can’t let them know that they’ve wounded a specific body part.
To this end, he’ll pretend he doesn’t hurt and just keep taking shot after shot until his body can’t hold anymore and he just collapses. It’s an ultimate show of the fighting spirit mentality and a lovely bit of psychology once you understand it. He’ll do this for any match, but he’s especially renowned for his G1 showings. He simply refuses to ever take a night off.
It’s made him an annual asset to this tournament. This year is no different. He made for a fantastic opponent to Jon Moxley, giving him his first truly great New Japan match.
That all said… who wins?
It’s early yet, with individual participants’ stories still developing. But I’m going with the man I’ve predicted from the very beginning… Kota Ibushi.
Ibushi is a fantastic wrestler, known as much for his brutal head drops (both given and taken) as he is his beautifully agile high flying. The only reason he didn’t go to AEW with his Golden Lover Kenny Omega is due to his dream of becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion. With the big loss of names, the time is right for New Japan to cement another top babyface. And it’d be awfully appropriate for him to effectively take Omega’s spot.
The groundswell has been building behind Ibushi for a long time and everything just seems to be coming together. There is one little roadblock though, in the fact that he faces Kazuchika Okada on his final night. Some would discount his winning on the basis that there’d be no point in him beating the champion and winning the G1. And since it’s the presumed main event of the final night, they’re not likely to have Okada beat him only for him to advance anyway.
But I’m undeterred. The way I see it, he could be in a situation in which he needs just one point to finish first in his block, and he gets it by narrowly forcing Okada to a draw. That’d be quite the story, from my perspective.