Kurt: Welcome everyone to the TJRWrestling 2020 New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Tournament Preview. As hopefully most of you noticed a couple weeks ago, we had a new contributor to TJR, Will Hargrave, review the Summer Struggle Stadium show for NJPW. As soon as I saw we had some New Japan content on the site, I instantly thought about doing a G1 Preview. I’ve been a fan of New Japan from afar for many years. I was given a copy of Wrestle Kingdom 9 in 2015, which was headlined by Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi, and Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi. When I saw Okada for the first time, I was instantly hooked on him. However, last year’s G1, which started in my hometown of Dallas, TX was the first G1 that I watched beginning to end. Getting to see Okada vs. Tanahashi in person for that show, it was something special. So since then, I’ve been following religiously on the New Japan World App. This is really exciting to bring you this preview and hopefully get some new fans interested in the product, much like I was not so long ago. For this preview, I asked Will to join me, and he graciously accepted. Will, any opening thoughts on New Japan’s product as a whole and what do you think about the G1 in particular?
Will: I’m very excited about this year’s G1. Like Kurt, the first event I watched was Wrestle Kingdom 9 and I was blown away by the two main events. From there, I fully delved in when I moved to Japan and watched Wrestle Kingdom 12 in person. I have since been to multiple events including Dominion 2018, which featured the classic Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada two out of three falls match. It feels like another step up for Japan during this pandemic, getting many of their foreign stars back is a huge deal. With crowds being allowed back, and the distinct possibility of full crowds back again, (Japan recently lowered their coronavirus restrictions and will allow crowds of 20,000) this is a great opportunity to delve into New Japan if you haven’t already. The G1 can feel a little overwhelming because of the sheer volume of matches, but try not to put too much pressure and just enjoy the shows.
What Is the G1?
For those that do not watch New Japan, or aren’t familiar with the G1 concept, it will start on Saturday, September 19th, and run through October 18th. The 18th show will have the finals between the A Block leader and B Block Leader, with the winner getting an IWGP Heavyweight Title Shot, presumably at Wrestle Kingdom in January 2021. Should the champion Tetsuya Naito win the G1 himself, then he gets to pick his own opponent. That’s an interesting twist on the G1, as the champion is in it every year, with some exceptions. So not only is he trying to win, but any loss he takes, even if he does win the G1, earns that challenger a title shot nonetheless. The Blocks are 10 wrestlers deep, and you face off against all nine other participants in your block. At some point, doesn’t necessarily need to be the final Block night, whoever has the most points in their block will be the one who goes on to the finals. Points are given out in each match, 2 for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss. The G1 has a who’s who of winners since it officially started in 1991, which Masahiro Chono won. In this year’s field, we have five former winners, Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, Hirooki Goto, & last year’s winner, Kota Ibushi.
A Block: Kota Ibushi – Jeff Cobb – Kazuchika Okada – Tomohiro Ishii – Will Ospreay – Shingo Takagi – Minoru Suzuki – Taichi – Jay White – Yujiro Takahashi
B Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi – Juice Robinson – Hirooki Goto – Toru Yano – YOSHI-HASHI – Tetsuya Naito – SANADA – EVIL – Zack Sabre Jr. – KENTA
Kurt: The importance of being able to get people into Japan, who weren’t already there during the pandemic, cannot be overstated. Since New Japan returned in July, they’ve been doing so with a very limited roster. They’ve done a great job to this point with what they’ve had, but not only does adding those wrestlers give us a stacked lineup, but it gives us fresh matches with wrestlers we haven’t seen in a New Japan ring in many, many months. Those include Ospreay, Juice, Cobb, KENTA, & White. With that being said, The A Block is an absolute Murderer’s Row. Yujiro is the only layup in the group; this is his first G1 in five years & is only in it because they had to elevate him to feud with Okada due to that limited roster I spoke of. He’s Bullet Club though, so with them by his side he’ll steal a couple of wins from guys that will need those points. Beyond that, whoever wins the A Block will have truly earned it. That will be nine GRUELING matches. That block has probably the four most physical wrestlers in the tournament, Cobb, Ishii, Shingo, & Suzuki. Two former winners in Okada and Ibushi. Jay White is a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Taichi is a current IWGP Tag Champion and I would say is the most improved wrestler in the last year for New Japan. That just leaves Ospreay unspoken for, but many would say he was the wrestler of the year in 2019 and being out of action this long, you know he’s chomping at the bit. So Will, it’s the A Block hands down for me, but what are your thoughts?
Will: B block has the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi, current double-heavyweight champion Tetsuya Naito and a lot of future stars like SANADA and EVIL. It will also feature many of the fun antics of Toru Yano who is truly a joy to watch and one of the funniest professional wrestlers. That being said, it’s The A Block. Any block with Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay and Kazuchika Okada – arguably the three greatest wrestlers in the world – is going to be hard to beat. But when you look down the list and see a returning Jay White, Shingo Takagi, Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii it just gets even more stacked. Like Kurt said, Yujiro Takahashi is the only real downswing and is just there to provide Bullet Club shenanigans. It is the most stacked block I’ve seen since really getting into New Japan, and there will be multiple matches that you should go out of your way to see. B Block shouldn’t be slept on though, the wrestlers there are still fantastic and there’s a lot of Los Ignorables drama to be had into this block.
Match To Look Forward To
Kurt: If there’s anything I learned from watching last year’s G1 beginning to end, it’s the fact that every single match matters. They have 30-minute time limits and they go hard every night. So to pick one match is incredibly difficult, but I’ll do my best to pick one from each block. For the A Block, I’m going with September 27th in Kobe, when Will Ospreay takes on Shingo Takagi. These two men battled in June of 2019 for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, in what I considered, along with many others, the match of the year. For those into Dave Meltzer, he called it “the best junior heavyweight match I’ve ever seen and one of the best matches in any division” while also giving it a 5.75 star rating. Both men ended up entering the G1 last year for the first time, which is unusual for Jr Heavyweight stars, but they had earned it and didn’t disappoint. They were in separate blocks however, so this will be a huge rematch from that June encounter.
For the B Block, you have to wait until the very last night, October 17th in Ryogoku. That will be the first time SANDA and EVIL go head to head against each other in singles action, since EVIL turned on LIJ and joined Bullet Club. There’s no way of predicting if this match will mean anything in regards to who wins the Block, but I do still think this is an important match for storyline purposes. EVIL and SANADA had a storied tag team in New Japan. Two-time IWGP Tag Champions, multiple time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag champions, & two-time World Tag League winners. They were a force together, but never could find footing in singles action. They’d win a big match here or there, but never break through fully. They were always better together. However, since EVIL betrayed LIJ, the story was against Naito since EVIL ending up winning the double titles from Naito after winning the New Japan Cup. I feel they’ve purposely stayed away from the natural feud between SANADA and EVIL, and perhaps this match will lead to that finally happening and take us to a grudge match at Wrestle Kingdom. Will, what matches do you have your eyes on?
Will: It’s difficult to pick a most anticipated match in A-Block with just the overwhelming amount of matches to look forward to. However, as far as I can tell Tomohiro Ishii has never faced Will Ospreay before in singles competition and this will be must-watch. They will collide in Hokkaido on September 23rd. Both of them are unbelievable talents and Ishii particularly brings his all to the G1. Ishii’s hard-hitting style in contrast to Ospreay’s acrobatics should mesh incredibly well and provide a great match. Even at their worst, they can have a spectacular match, but because of the occasion, I think they’ll both bring their A-game and have a match that will be some people’s favorite. If you watched last year’s event, think of Ishii’s matches with Jon Moxley and Takagi.
From B block I’m most looking forward to the October 1st show in Niigata where Naito vs. Sanada will take place. Similar to Kurt’s pick there’s a lot of storyline implications for this match. It’s always exciting when Naito faces one of his stablemates, but I think this tournament will allow Sanada to make the step-up to the next level. Also, with EVIL having already turned and become champion it has another wrinkle for Sanada, he’s not just facing off with Naito he’s also trying to outdo his former partner.
Darkhorse To Win
Kurt: Again, I’ll take one from each block. For the A Block, it’s much harder because I stated before, this is a Murderer’s Row. Anyone, besides Yujiro, is a legit contender and would not be a surprise to win it all. That being said, I’m going to pick Tomohiro Ishii. Ishii consistently has incredible matches, can work with anyone, but has never held the Intercontinental or Heavyweight title in New Japan. I’d like to see that change.
For the B Block, this is going to sound strange, but it’s Hiroshi Tanahashi. The story for months on Tanahashi has been that his knees are shot and he’s not what he used to be. The story with his tag team with Ibushi lately has been my favorite story in New Japan. Ibushi almost gave up on him, but thought better of it. I could see them paying off that story in a big way by having Ibushi and Tanahashi meet in the finals. With how he’s been presented of late, it would be considered a big upset for him to win the Block, but the fans would be completely behind it because he’s a God in Japan. Will, who do you have your eye on?
Will: For my A-block dark horse I’ll go with Will Ospreay. The need for a new top foreign face is there with the absence of Kenny Omega, and it provides a more intriguing match-up for Naito than the obvious winners who he’s faced before. Ospreay has also moved to Japan and signed full-time, not to mention he’s arguably the best professional wrestler in the world.
For my B block dark horse I’ll go with KENTA. The image that ended this year’s Wrestle Kingdom show was him holding both titles after attacking Naito, what excellent foreshadowing when he eventually wins the title next year. This could also further the storyline with The Bullet Club and he could meet his leader, Jay White, in the final. It could also play into the teased return of Katsuya Shibata, who he attacked when he turned heel. Shibata’s health is unknown but on-screen he has been in physical action, so maybe giving KENTA the rub to the final could build him up for a huge return match.
Winners of Blocks & G1 Winner
Kurt: I really want to go with that Ibushi & Tanahashi finish, but that could be a little far fetched with all the other stories going on in this tournament. My gut is telling me with as much as New Japan has invested in Bullet Club since their return from the pandemic, the story will be between Jay White and EVIL and who is truly the leader. Jay hasn’t been in Japan since EVIL turned, and he’s been very coy on social media about his thoughts on EVIL joining. I think White wins A Block, EVIL wins B Block, they meet in the finals and perhaps we have a Bullet Club blowup. Will, how do you ultimately see the G1 concluding?
Will: I’m also going with Jay White as the winner of the G1. I sort of talked myself into Ospreay winning the whole thing, but Jay White has been a long term project and him winning the title at the Tokyo Dome feels inevitable at some point. However, on the other side, I have Sanada going all the way to the finals. I think he’s well-equipped to put on a match expected of New Japan’s standards in the final of the G1. He could be considered a bit of a dark horse to some, as New Japan books him to lose quite a lot but I think he gets revenge on EVIL to book himself into the finals. In this hugely stacked tournament putting Jay White against Sanada in the finals would be a bold move, ahead of some of the more obvious choices but in the last couple of years New Japan has made a number of bold booking choices and I think this will continue. Or, Okada will win.
Thank you everyone for joining this preview and be sure to leave your predictions in the comments below. You can follow Kurt on Twitter @KTankTJR as well.