It’s a little later this year, but it is finally time for the 30th edition of the G1 Climax in New Japan Pro Wrestling. With all the craziness that has been going on in the pro wrestling world, it feels nice (at least to me) for a bit of a return to normalcy with the running of this tournament. 20 (or really 18) of the best wrestlers that New Japan has to offer, and they are all fighting for one prize, a shot at the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 15 to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The winner this year will be penciled in to face the current champion Tetsuya Naito, who is also the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Now this year we have three different entrants. Bad Luck Fale, Lance Archer and Jon Moxley will not be taking part in the tournament as Moxley and Archer are busy in All Elite Wrestling and Fale is passing on the tournament this year for unknown reasons. This allows for three guys that missed the tournament last year to take part. Both Minoru Suzuki and YOSHI-HASHI return after a one year absence, and Fale’s stablemate Yujiro Takahashi returns for the first time since 2015. This year's blocks are also somewhat interesting. A Block sees the likes of Kazuchika Okada, last year's runner up Jay White and last years winner Kota Ibushi. You also have the NEVER Openweight Champion in Suzuki and a slew of other wrestlers from the Openweight division. B Block sees the double champion Naito and wrestlers like Hiroshi Tanahashi, SANADA, KENTA and EVIL. Add in the fact that two different countries (England and New Zealand) have a shot at getting their first tournament winner in the tournaments history (including the eras it was called the World League, MSG League, IWGP League and World Cup Tournament), it is going to be an interesting tournament. Well, I at least think that the last point is interesting. But enough dilly dallying, let's get on with the breaking down and predicting.
20) Toru Yano (15th Appearance, Average Points: 7.1, 0 Final Appearances and 0 Wins)
Another year of the G1 Climax and it’s the same old Toru Yano. The Sublime Master Thief has had some impressive wins this year, beating BUSHI and winning the King of Pro Wrestling Championship (not entirely sure what that is, I literally googled it and nothing popped up). But in an ever growing wrestling company where the actual wrestling is very important, Yano doesn’t really fit into the New Japan mold. Yano does have a history of overperforming in these tournaments, scoring 10 points twice and a lot of eight point showings. But the comedy gimmick, it feels like Yano’s days in future G1’s are numbered. Especially with young talent like David Finlay, El Desperado, Hiromu Takahashi and many others, it feels like we will see an end of an era of the upset master of this tournament.
19) Yujiro Takahashi (7th Appearance, Average Points: 6.3, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
For the first time since 2015, the Tokyo Pimp enters the G1 Climax. Now nobody has high expectations for Yujiro Takahashi in this tournament, and it makes sense. Takahashi hasn’t held a singles championship since 2014 and has been a fixture in the six man tag division and multimen tag matches with any combination of members from Bullet Club for years. He just had his first meaningful feud in years with Kazuchika Okada in the build up to King of Pro Wrestling, but I still don’t expect to see him get a lot of wins in this tournament. I do think he’ll steal a win over someone like Okada or maybe someone like Jeff Cobb, but I doubt that he will finish anywhere near the top of A Block.
18) Will Ospreary (2nd Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
I try to be professional when I write articles, but this is an entry that I am going to keep very short for obvious reasons. Will Ospreay had a good showing last year in the G1 Climax beating the likes of Bad Luck Fale, KENTA, SANADA and Hiroshi Tanahashi. But this year, in an A Block with the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii, Shingo Takagi, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi and Jay White, I would love for nothing more than for this tournament to be a gauntlet of Ospreay getting beat up by some of the toughest men in the business.
17) Jeff Cobb (2nd Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
Now Jeff Cobb was a tough one to figure out with him in the A Block. He is a hard hitter and matches up well with the likes of Ishii, Suzuki, Takagi and Taichi, but those are a lot of toss up matchups. Cobb is such a weird one to talk about as well, since he is such a good hybrid of power and speed. He makes a lot of matches tough to predict because of that. But also because he isn’t a regular in New Japan, that also makes it hard to predict his matches. He is the only non New Japan wrestler in the tournament but this is the second year in a row, so maybe he will become a fixture for not just the tournament but New Japan as a whole. I would love to see that happen and allow for Cobb to become a legitimate threat for all of the divisions in New Japan.
16) Juice Robinson (4th Appearance, Average Points: 7.3, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
It is the same song and dance for Juice Robinson this year. In the B Block, there are so many toss up matchups for him for my liking. Matches with guys like Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Zack Sabre Jr. and even KENTA are very hard to predict. Robinson has been dealing with injuries the past couple years which has been tough for him to get the momentum he has needed in New Japan. But he has been improving year after year he’s had since graduating from a young lion. But with the IWGP United States Championship scene very crowded, he could jump into the NEVER Openweight Championship scene or even IWGP Intercontinental Championship scene. It’s hard to figure out what Robinson’s direction is with New Japan. He’s popular and can pick up some big wins when needed, but with all the talent in New Japan it feels like Robinson needs something different and new to step up into the title picture.
15) Yoshi-Hashi (4th Appearance, Average Points: 5.3, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
After a year away from the G1 Climax, YOSHI-HASHI makes his return to the tournament. He has had a great year overall, dating back to last year just before the G1 Climax last year, when he beat Zack Sabre Jr. and tried to take his G1 spot from him. But his roll didn’t stop there. He had a great run with a lot of the CHAOS boys. He also finally got his first championship when he, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii won the NEVER Six Man Tag Team Championships. But YOSHI-HASHI got quite a tough draw. He has to go through the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, KENTA, EVIL and SANADA. But he does have four other toss up matchups. If he is able to win those toss up matches, then he will be able to have his best outing in all of his G1 Climax appearances by putting up at least eight points. I can see little YOSHI-HASHI pulling an upset on one of the big dogs of the B Block.
14) Tomohiro Ishii (8th Appearance, Average Points: 8.6, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
Every year I want to see Tomohiro Ishii have a great tournament, and every year he has amazing matches, but he has never gotten past the block round. He has scored eight points in three of the last four years, and a 10 point outing in 2018. But he has never gotten a favorable draw. 2018 saw him finish just behind the likes of Zack Sabre Jr., Tetsuya Naito, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi when he finished tied for his best points total for the tournament. Last year he had Jay White, Naito, Hirooki Goto and Jon Moxley. This year Ishii has the likes of Ibushi, White and Kazuchika Okada, which makes things a little more manageable for Ishii to have a great finish and have him in contention for the block win. However, the A Block is like an openweight gauntlet. You have Ishii, Shingo Takagi, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Will Ospreay and Jeff Cobb. That is a lot of toss up matches, and knowing Ishii’s history of getting big wins sometimes and other matches that are toss ups or sure fire wins end up as losses. He needs to turn those toss ups into wins if he hopes to be in contention for the block win.
13) Hirooki Goto (13th Appearance, Average Points: 9, 2 Final Appearances (2008 & 2016), 1 Win (2008)
Last year we saw a resurgence of Hirooki Goto in the G1. After a surprise appearance in the 2016 finals against Kenny Omega, Goto had a 10 point outing in 2017, but finished fourth in the block and his decline down the card started. The G1 in 2018 saw Goto only muster six points. He took some time to go train with Katsuyori Shibata at the LA Dojo before the 2019 tournament and he saw results, as he put up 10 points to finish second and beat the likes of Jon Moxley and Jay White in block action. Now this year's B Block is a huge toss up. Outside of Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, and KENTA, B Block has a lot of winnable matchups this year. Can Goto win some of these toss up matches to find himself in the hunt for another sneaky block win that he had in 2016.
12) Zack Sabre Jr (4th Appearance, Average Points: 10, 0 Final Appearances & 0 Wins)
Of all the wrestlers in this tournament, Zack Sabre Jr. has the weirdest positioning right now. He is one half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions with Taichi, but his outings in this tournament were solid where he scored 10 and 12 points respectively. Last year saw him score only eight points but he did lose to some of the bigger names in his block. However, the booking of Sabre has been weird. Look at the New Japan Cup in 2018, Sabre beat Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA and Hiroshi Tanahashi. This has people thinking that Sabre was on the move up the card. But Sabre hasn’t had much success in that aspect. He has beaten the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Hirooki Goto, but is he able to beat the top guys in his block? That is the question that Sabre has to answer this tournament.
11) Taichi (2nd Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
Speaking of IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, I’m very curious to see what Taichi can do in his sophomore outing in the G1 Climax. He is in a very interesting A Block where outside of its big three, it is a very open block. Taichi is someone that feels like he is looking to break into the next level. I know some people don’t really like him, but I think that we might see a different level out Taichi. He’s gone after the IWGP Intercontinental Championship before, and I only think that it’s a matter of time before he is back in that scene challenging for the title. He and everyone in the A Block outside of Yujiro Takahashi and Will Ospreay have a legit shot at making a run for the block win. With all his fellow openweight wrestlers, if Taichi is able to withstand some of the wars that he is going to go through, we could see Taichi fighting for the block win on the final day of A Block action.
10) Minoru Suzuki (9th Appearance, Average Points: 9.1, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
Last year’s tournament felt very weird with Minoru Suzuki not competing. But the king has returned to the tournament and is ready to take it to the field. He’s had a year to build up his anger and the A Block is going to become his playground. But like I’ve said with a few other entries, the A Block is an openweight gauntlet, and that includes the NEVER Openweight Champion. But Suzuki has an advantage in this block that almost all the other wrestlers don’t have in the block. He has beaten both Jay White and Kazuchika Okada. If he can beat one of those two and win a majority of his toss up matches, he will have a shot at joining Yuji Nagata as the only wrestlers to win the Global League (NOAH), the Champions Carnival (AJPW) and the G1 Climax in their careers.
When it comes to having a hard time where to rank a wrestler in these rankings, Hiroshi Tanahashi was the hardest. The man has the most finals appearances and tournament wins than anyone else on this list and sits behind Antonio Inoki (10) and Masahiro Chono (5) for most tournament wins all time. But his past year and a half have made me ask some questions about the Ace of New Japan. A year after putting up 15 points to win the B Block and the tournament, he only mustered up eight points. And after the tournament, he spent a lot of time in the tag team ranks. He flirted with a lot of the CHAOS guys and even won the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Kota Ibushi at one of the New Japan Road shows. But the pair lost the titles to Dangerous Tekkers at Dominion and failed to win the titles back at Summer Struggle. My question going into this year's G1 Climax for Tanahashi is where is his head at competition wise. He hasn’t had a singles match since June, and has only had three all year and has lost two. Can Tanahashi right the ship and find his groove in singles competition
8) Kazuchika Okada (9th Appearance, Average Points: 12.5, 2 Final Appearances (2012,2014), 2 Wins (2012,2014)
I have been enjoying the era of Kazuchika Okada not being at the top of New Japan. We get to see guys like KENTA and EVIL have shots at being the big dog and trying to dethrone someone other than the Rainmaker. Okada has spent 1,790 days as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, that is just over four years as champion! I think it’s time for some other people to be at the top of the company so much so that I have him finishing fourth in the A Block. Now a lot of this hinges on him losing two wrestlers in block action, one will be talked about in the next entry, but the other is Yujiro Takahashi. The two have been in a feud leading up to the G1, where Takahashi has been mostly on the losing end. But I can see Takahashi stealing one on night three of the tournament. And with matches against Kota Ibushi and Jay White on nights one and five to sandwich the Yujiro matchup, the upset has a legit chance of happening.
7) Shingo Takagi (2nd Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
This might come as a surprise, but I have Shingo Takagi getting 12 points in this G1. Last year, the tournament was his first outing against the heavyweights of New Japan and he walked away with wins over the likes of Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Taichi and Toru Yano. His win over Goto on the last night of block action eventually led to him earning a NEVER Openweight Championship match at New Beginnings where he would win the title. And he would beat the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, SHO and El Desperado before losing it to Minoru Suzuki at Summer Struggle. Now Takagi is in a very interesting position with his match draw. After a night one match up against Jay White, Takagi has until nights 11 and 13 to face Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada on respective nights. Will The Dragon be able to somehow down the Switchblade, the Golden Star and the Rainmaker. If he can score the upset over one of these three big name, that will give him a great chance at the block win
6) Kota Ibushi (6th Appearance, Average Points: 10.4, 2 Final Appearances (2018,2019), 1 Win (2019)
Last year's G1 Climax winner is looking to be the first back to back winner since Masahiro Chono in 1991-92. But the path for Kota Ibushi to be the first repeat winner in 28 years is filled with speed traps. His first nights of action see him taking on fellow block favorites Kazuchika Okada and Jay White. You also add in Ibushi’s unpredictability of his booking over the years with New Japan and you have a very difficult road for the Golden Star. His booking has given me concern since he has the likes of Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii and Shingo Takagi in his block. A lot of the time in matches that feel like sure fire wins for Ibushi, he comes up short. He has also been busy teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi as the Golden Aces and pursuing and winning the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, but losing them just prior to the start of this tournament. Ibushi has to right the ship, get back in his singles wrestler mindset and find ways to win these matchups if he hopes to become a two time winner. Plus part of me hopes that Ibushi struggles more than Tanahashi in this tournament and since we already saw some rifts between the two, that we could see a full blown heel run of dark Ibushi. That could be a thing of beauty.
5) KENTA (2nd Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
I was very surprised that KENTA only scored eight points in his G1 Climax debut last year. But oh what a difference a year makes. Now a full fledged member of Bullet Club, I am excited to see what he can do this year in a very open B Block. You have to think that KENTA will be the favorite over the likes of Juice Robinson, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI. That already puts him at eight points. That leaves four toss up matches and one match where he would be the underdog, against Tetsuya Naito on the final night of block action.If KENTA can go 2-3 in those matchups, he will have a shot at winning the B Block. But there is a story that I am going to be keeping my eye on during this tournament. It’s not the fact that KENTA already has a future shot at Jon Moxley and the IWGP United States Championship after he won the USA New Japan Cup, but how will having three big name wrestlers in Bullet Club work. We’ve seen the angle where a member gets power hungry a few times now, and I’m curious if we are heading down that same road again.
4) EVIL (5th Appearance, Average Points: 9.5, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Final Wins)
Nobody has shocked the wrestling world like EVIL did at Dominion this year. After winning New Japan Cup and turning his back on Los Ingobernables de Japon, EVIL aligned himself with Bullet Club and looked to take the IWGP Intercontinental and IWGP Heavyweight Championships from his old stable leader in Tetsuya Naito. He did just that and the entire wrestling world was in shock. He would drop the titles back to Naito at Summer Struggle, but I think that that was just the start for EVIL. He has had good G1 runs before, finishing third in the B Block in 2017 and scoring 10 points in the A Block in 2018. He has only a few hurdles this year in the B Block. There are the obvious ones of Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi, but there are two others that have piqued my interest. One is the aforementioned Bullet Club member in KENTA. Will the two play nice since they are stablemates, or are they going to try and beat the tar out of each other and go for the block win. The other is EVIL taking on not just his old stablemate, but his old tag team partner in SANADA. The two met last year and EVIL got the better of SANADA, but the two know each other so well and will have to dig deep into their bag of tricks to try and get a crucial two points.
3) Tetsuya Naito (11th Appearance, Average Points: 10.5, 3 Final Appearances (2011, 2013, 2017), 2 Wins (2013,2017)
He was my pick to win the G1 Climax last year, and while he came up short in that regard, he did end up winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 14, so I’ll take that as a win. This year has been a weird one for Tetsuya Naito to say the least. He did achieve his ultimate goal of being IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Champion simultaneously, but then the coronavirus shut New Japan down. Then it restarted and he lost the championships to EVIL after he turned on him, but would win them back just over a month later. Naito enters this tournament with the biggest target on his back, because anyone who beats him in this tournament earns a title shot before he defends the title at Wrestle Kingdom 15. But Naito needs to remember to be tranquilo and he will be just fine. He has the obstacles of Hiroshi Tanahashi, KENTA and EVIL to get through, but he doesn’t have the pressure of having to win the block this year since he is the double champ already. Naito can instead shift his focus on trying to tie Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Tanahashi for third all time in career G1 Climax wins.
2) Jay White (3rd Appearance, Average Points: 12, 1 Final Appearance: 2019, 0 Wins)
If you thought that Jay White was going to have a sophomore slump in his G1 Climax last year, sorry that you were disappointed. White was impressive in block action, coming back from an 0-3 start to rattle off six straight wins to win the B Block. And these just weren’t wins over wrestlers that were filling spots in the tournament, he beat the likes of Jon Moxley and Tetsuya Naito. This year’s block draw is a lot easier for White, if you want to call the openweight gauntlet that he has to run easy. The Switchblade faces Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada on nights three and five respectively, and then has a slew of guys that are going to beat the absolute tar out of him. He has Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Jeff Cobb and Tomohiro Ishii all waiting for him after, and that’s if he gets out of the beating that Shingo Takagi will give him on night one. But I think that White is going to be able to win a lot of those matches, and when all is said and done he’ll find himself sitting atop A Block and in his second straight finals. But, just like last year I have him at number two on this list. But I think that White losing in back to back finals would build a good narrative of him always choking in the biggest tournament in New Japan before the Kiwi can finally win his first G1.
1) SANADA (5th Appearance, Average Points: 8, 0 Final Appearances, 0 Wins)
Call this favoritism if you want, but I think I have some solid points here. Think back to after the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14. All of LIJ was draped in gold, Naito was IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Hiromu Takahashi was the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, BUSHI, EVIL and Shingo Takagi were the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions, and then there was SANADA. He lost to Zack Sabre Jr in a match for Sabre’s Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship and was the only member of the stable to not have a championship. That had to eat at SANADA, but it would also make him hungrier. He wants to win a singles championship more than anything, especially since he hasn’t won one since 2014 and the TNA X-Division Championship. But how can a guy who has never scored more than eight points in his G1 Climax history win his block and the whole tournament? Well, look at the B Block. He is the favorite against Juice Robinson, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI. That leaves matches against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, Sabre, KENTA and EVIL. He has to go 2-2 in some fashion to reach the final night of block action at 12 points, and he would have to beat EVIL to make it to the finals. If he gets there and Jay White is waiting for him, I think SANADA will be a lot fresher and ready for the biggest match in his entire career. Plus the story could be great if he wins and gets to headline Wrestle Kingdom 15. Can he beat the man that brought him to New Japan in Tetsuya Naito, or if EVIL is somehow able to take the titles back before Wrestle Kingdom 15, what limits will the former tag team partners go to walk out on top at the biggest show of the year. One thing is certain for me at least, and that is that the Cold Skull is walking out of the G1 Climax as the tournament winner.