If New Japan Pro Wrestling is indeed “The King of Sports,” then the annual G1 Climax is its version of the melee as held in the court of Louis VII. Since 1991, Japan’s humid summer months have played host to a tournament that past entrants have described as the most physically grueling undertaking in which one could willingly partake. A competition so unforgiving that their minds and bodies won’t recover until months after its conclusion—if ever.
So what drives them to do it? What could possibly be worth such pain and heartache? A shot at the most coveted and protected title in all of professional wrestling: The IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
July 17th marks the opening of the 27th installment of this much vaunted event, and since we at Otaku USA believe that everyone should be able to enjoy the G1 Climax, we’ve put together a little something to prepare you for the weeks ahead.
20 Men Enter, 1 Man Leaves (With a Briefcase)
Much has changed since those four fateful nights in August of 1991, when a scant eight men took part in the inaugural G1 Climax. Today the field has expanded to twenty brave souls — split into ten man “blocks” — competing over the course of four weeks. During this period each wrestler will engage in a series of nine singles matches, with the goal being to obtain the most points in their respective block. The winners of the two blocks (A and B) will then meet in the final.
The point system goes as such:
2 points for a win
1 point for a draw
0 points for a loss
A 30-minute time limit is enforced in each match, apart from the finals, where no such ceiling exists. In the event of a tie in either block, the winner is determined by their record in head-to-head tournament competition against their fellow tie-holder(s).
The victor in the battle between A vs B will receive a briefcase a la WWE’s Money in the Bank, which they’ll bring with them to the ring on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome during Wrestle Kingdom—the place where their championship dreams will either live or die. That is as long as they can successfully defend the briefcase at least once on the road to the Tokyo Dome event.
While it’s customary for the reigning IWGP Heavyweight titleholder to enter the G1, they rarely make it to the finals, let alone win. To date, only Keiji Mutoh and Kensuke Sasaki have pulled off this nigh impossible task. But in the unlikely event that the champ does emerge victorious, he earns the privilege of choosing his own dance partner for the Tokyo Dome gala.
Yes, things can get needlessly complicated, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If there’s one disappointing element to this year’s G1, it would be the lack talent from rival promotions. With Japanese fans being notoriously loyal to their chosen companies, the presence of outsiders can often provide tremendous heat—with the typically subdued crowds doing little to disguise their vitriol. Only former NJPW roster member turned freelancer Kota Ibushi fits the bill, and barely at that.
Also notably—and tragically—absent are fan favorites Katsuyori Shibata and Tomoaki Honma, who both sustained career-ending injuries earlier in the year.
All nitpicking aside, the brackets are stacked with former champs, top contenders, and previous G1 winners such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, and Michael Elgin. If you’re new to the sport, this is your chance to sample the best it has to offer, and if you’re a longtime fan, you have little room to complain.
Place Your Bets
The odds-on favorite to take the top A Block spot is the padrino of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito. Having lost his Intercontinental strap back in May, and finding himself on the wrong side of a massive upset in the U.S. IWGP tournament earlier this month, Naito will be looking to rebound like something fierce.
He may put on a DGAF attitude, but you don’t become an IWGP Heavyweight Champion, an Intercontinental Champion, and a G1 winner without being a serious competitor. Look for him to enter the finals against the man who blocked his path last year, the incomparable…
Kenny Omega, Bullet Club kingpin and my pick to capture B Block glory. Omega made history in 2016 by becoming the first foreigner to win the G1 Climax, and followed it up by putting on one for the ages in a losing effort against current champ Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome.
A rematch in Osaka saw the future legends go to a 60-minute time limit draw in, you guessed it, another instant classic. Omega will receive a third crack at Okada (though sans title on the line) in what is sure to be the key B Block matchup. Watch for Omega to blitz the shopworn Okada in a brief but brutal affair, and secure a meeting with Naito in the finals.
Makin’ It Rain
The Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada: When he’s not busy being the most beautiful man to ever live, he’s your reigning, defending IWGP Heavyweight Champion. In all seriousness, Okada’s had about as incredible a title run as any wrestler in recent history. You would have to go back some twenty odd years to the likes of Mitsuhara Misawa or Kenta Kobashi in All Japan to find one greater.
But it comes at a price, the wear and tear that’s par the course with a gauntlet of particularly punishing title defenses is sure to leave the champ vulnerable to the nineteen others looking to capture his throne. In fact, I’d say a G1 win would be a God-like feat… but what is “The Man Who Makes it Rain Money” if not a God?
How Do I G1?
Unlike winning the G1 Climax, watching it is easy thanks to New Japan’s streaming service njpwworld.com, where the opening night (July 17th) will be airing for free (yes FREE). After that you’ll have to pay a paltry $8.50 a month for what’s guaranteed to be almost night after night of Match of the Year quality contests.
And over here at Otaku USA, I’ll be providing continual coverage of the tournament, with results, reviews, and analysis of all ninety-one G1 matches—followed by me lying down in a coffin and being lowered into the dirt.
Will the “Golden Star” Kota Ibushi prove to be a dark horse? Will habitual rule-bender Minoru Suzuki wind up playing spoiler? Will G1 rookies Juice Robinson and Zack Sabre Jr. take their next steps toward superstardom? Will we see Kenny Omega once again make history? Can you actually die from watching too much Japanese pro-wrestling? Stay tuned!
The full schedule of events can be found at: https://www.njpw1972.com/schedule/