You know how WWE has their “Road to WrestleMania” season, right? It’s more or less the wrestling version of any other sport’s postseason. But across the Pacific in the land of New Japan Pro Wrestling, the road leads to January’s flagship, Wrestle Kingdom. And the first on-ramp to that road is NJPW’s annual summer blockbuster tournament, the G1 Climax. With Wrestle Kingdom 10 now a distant blip on the horizon, let’s take a look at why you should be watching this year’s G1, which just recently kicked off.
It’s More Massive Than Ever
Anyone following NJPW will tell you that this year’s 25th anniversary edition of the G1 Climax is bigger than any previous iteration. Stretched out over 19 different shows, the tournament action began on July 20 in Sapporo and will weave its way across Japan, culminating in a final weekend in mid-August at Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Sumo Hall.
The Lineup Is Stacked
As they’ve done since the 1980s, the competitors are split into two blocks, with each block’s winner advancing to a final match for the top prize. Remember, the winner of the tournament gets a main-event title shot at Wrestle Kingdom. To keep the 20-man field fresh, NJPW has decided that only five tournament matches will take place at each show, rather than a full lineup of ten. This year’s notable entrants include:
- “The Phenomenal” A.J. Styles, leader of the Bullet Club (Block A)
- Kota Ibushi, back for redemption after missing last year’s tournament with an injury (Block A)
- IWGP Intercontinental Champion and 2008 G1 Climax winner Hirooki Goto (Block B)
- IWGP Heavyweight Champion and last year’s G1 winner Kazuchika Okada (Block B)
- Ring of Honor star Michael Elgin (Block B)
- Shinsuke Nakamura, who should really be your favorite by now (Block B)
The Wrestlers Are Not Messing Around
Check out these rigorous training videos from NJPW’s official YouTube page. And when I say “rigorous,” I mean “Yuji Nagata is doing the limbo and Tomoaki Honma is practicing his diving headbutt by bungee jumping.”
The G1 is serious business. As you probably noticed, one of the names in the lineup is a complete outsider. For years, Ring of Honor star Michael Elgin has been looking for the opportunity to compete in Japan, and he finally got his wish. He’ll have a lot to prove against a tough Block B, so I think he’ll finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. Tetsuya Naito could be looking to play spoiler in Block A with his new look and lucha rudo style. With so much on the line, everyone is a threat here. Well, maybe not Honma. But we love him anyway.
In the end, I’m predicting A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura to win their respective blocks. A.J. just lost his IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kazuchika Okada, so he and his Bullet Club henchmen would love nothing more than a guaranteed rematch at the Tokyo Dome. Nakamura, on the other hand, is no longer IWGP Intercontinental Champion and would love a shot at the top title. All in all, I’m saying Nakamura wins the 2015 G1 Climax and sets up some faction warfare with his CHAOS stablemate Okada. In any event, I’ll make sure to recap the finals show. If you’re interested in staying up to date, New Japan’s streaming service NJPW World is where you’ll want to be. The basics (including a signup guide) are here, so you’ve really got no excuse to get on board.