I originally posted this at Cageside Seats – another place where you will be able to read my reviews and posts.
In the world of professional wrestling, it is unquestionably true that in terms of size, WWE is king. However, outside the WWE, there is one giant that dominates much of the wrestling world and has stood the test of time as a promotion that produces quality wrestling. That company is arguably the second largest in the world – New Japan Pro Wrestling.
This summer, New Japan is presenting their annual G1 Climax tournament. The tournament is one of the largest wrestling tournaments in the world, and arguably the most prestigious. Over the years this tournament has been presented in single elimination form, but generally speaking, it is presented as a round robin tournament. The number of participants have changed over time too. However, one thing has remained the same: This is the biggest tournament of the year that New Japan holds. The winner of the tournament wins a briefcase containing a contract for an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom – New Japan’s WrestleMania held on January 4th in the Tokyo Dome. The stakes are high, and winning virtually guarantees the person a shot a the IWGP Heavyweight Championship; a title held by Antonio Inoki, The Great Muta, Vader, AJ Styles, and many more legendary wrestlers. However, it is possible for the winner of the tournament to lose his contract, as it is defended like a title leading into Wrestle Kingdom, though this has never happened as far as I know.
This year, the tournament with be held from July 18, 2016 until the finals on August 14, 2016 with 19 individual events held over the one month period. This year, there will be 20 participants who vie for the crown, and they are divided into two blocks (A & B) of 10 wrestlers who compete in a round robin tournament, with the winner of each block fighting in the finals on August 14. If you are looking to tune in, you can subscribe to New Japan World.
If you are interested in watching the G1 Climax, read on. In this article I am going to introduce to you the A Block of competitors, which will hopefully help you get to know who all the major players are going into the tournament. I am writing this for people who wish to discover New Japan Pro Wrestling for the first time, so that they will have some idea of who is who when they go to watch some of the best wrestling on the planet today.
Bad Luck Fale
The first entrant is New Japan’s resident big man. Bad Luck Fale is the enforcer of the Bullet Club and is known as The Underboss. The Tongan has been apart of the Bullet Club from the very beginning, acting as a bodyguard and enforcer to all the different leaders, from Prince Devitt (WWE’s Finn Balor), AJ Styles, and now Kenny Omega. This is Fale’s third appearance in the G1 Climax tournament. While never winning the tournament, Fale has proven to be a force to contend with. Last year, he had a major upset in beating Hiroshi Tanahashi. While it is unlikely that Fale will win this year, you can certainly count on him giving his opponents a tough time while picking up a few big wins in the process.
Hirooki Goto is one of the long serving members of the New Japan roster, and has participated in 8 previous G1 Climax tournaments. In 2008 Goto actually managed to win the tournament, but in recent years has fallen on hard times and has been unable to win the tournament since, including a terrible broken jaw that knocked him out of the G1 in 2013. While Goto is a multi-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, he has fallen short every time he has challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. After defeating Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Goto went on to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and again fell short. After the latest loss, Goto underwent an image change. Okada attempted to recruit Goto over a number of months to his stable, CHAOS, and in March 2016 Goto agreed, making the former rivals new allies. Only two questions remain for Goto: Will his change of attitude and new alliance with CHAOS help him succeed? If he succeeds, how will his new found friend, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada respond when Goto tries to win the championship again?
Tomohiro Ishii is a tank. An angry tank. A tank that will smash you with a well placed forearm. A tank that will chop you without mercy. A tank that will deliver a devastating brainbuster before smashing you some more. A tank… I may have taken this analogy too far. However, describing the Stone Pitbull as a tank seems entirely appropriate. Ishii will be making his fourth appearance in the G1 Climax and will represent the CHAOS stable. The four time NEVER Openweight champion and 1 time ROH Television champion will be looking to add “Winner of the 2016 G1 Climax” to his collection of titles. An intriguing story occurs if Ishii wins – He will likely face his CHAOS stablemate Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Don’t let Ishii’s height fool you, this beast has a chance of winning the whole thing this year, and don’t be surprised if you see him in the finals.
Makabe is a veteran of New Japan Pro Wrestling. This man has done it all. From winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once, to multiple reigns as one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions, which his most recent reign coming with Tomoaki Honma. Makabe also has a G1 victory to his name, which came to him in 2009. This year will mark Makabe’s 13th appearance in the tournament, and you can be sure that no one will be taking him lightly, even though he has slid down the card in recent years. Makabe is always ready for a fight, and expect a few surprise wins from Makabe in this one. While it’s unlikely he will make it to the finals this year, never count Makabe out.
Pro Wrestling NOAH star Naomichi Marufuji is making his return to New Japan Pro Wrestling this year to make his second appearance in the G1 Climax tournament. Marufuji is the first man to win all five titles in Pro Wrestling NOAH and is a 3 time GHC Heavyweight Champion. He is also known for having a great tag team and rivalry with KENTA (WWE’s Hideo Itami). Marufuji has a reputation for producing incredible matches and has performed all over the world for many promotions, including Ring of Honor. The matches Marufuji is going to have Okada and Tanahshi will likely be candidates for the best matches of the tournament. Marufuji will be one to watch in this one.
The 2016 G1 Climax marks the first time SANADA will participate in the tournament. SANADA is a relative new comer to New Japan Pro Wrestling, making his debut in April of this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s a new comer to wrestling. SANADA debuted in 2007 and has wrestled all over the world, including in TNA Wrestling where he was the X-Division Champion. SANADA’s entrance into NJPW was not one without huge consequences. When he debuted on April’s Invasion Attack he interfered in a match between champion Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito, costing Okada the match and helping crown the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japón, Naito, with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. SANADA is now a part of the Los Ingobernables de Japón, and you can be sure that when Okada and SANADA meet, Okada will be looking for revenge.
The second member of the Bullet Club to be competing within this tournament is Tama Tonga, the son of WWE and WCW legend Haku (AKA Ming). This marks Tama Tonga’s first appearance in the tournament and is a significant step up in competition for the former IWGP Tag Team Champion and former NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champion. Tonga is attempting to become a major player in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and with the Bullet Club behind him, who knows what help he might have in some key matches.
Simply said, Hiroyoshi Tenzan is an absolute legend. He is a 4 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, an 11 time IWGP Tag Team Champion, former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and a winner of 3 previous G1 Climax tournaments. Tenzan is the veteran force in this tournament, though there was a question about him appearing in it. When the participants were first announced, Tenzan was not on the list, which would result in him missing what he said would have been his last G1 Climax tournament. Satoshi Kojima, seeing the plight of his friend, gave up his spot to Tenzan. This year, Tenzan makes his 20th G1 Climax tournament appearance, and it might be his last. Expect Tenzan to try and make this one a memorable one as he attempts to win the G1 Climax one last time. Going in, this might be the most interesting story to follow, as it’s hard not to cheer for the aging legend trying to win just one more time.
“The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada is the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a title he has held 4 times. The leader of CHAOS has won the G1 Climax twice, once in 2012, and a second time in 2014. Last year, Okada came very close to making it to the finals, but failed when he faced his former CHAOS stablemate Shinsuke Nakamura (now in the WWE). The year started strong for Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10 as he was finally able to defeat his longtime nemesis, Hiroshi Tanahashi, while successfully defending his IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The year took a downturn when he lost the title to Tetsuya Naito (with help from SANADA). Okada managed to regain the title from Naito at NJPW Dominion earlier this year, and he is looking to keep his momentum going forward. If Okada wins the tournament, he gets to pick his own opponent at Wrestle Kingdom 11, which provides him with a great advantage. You can be sure that Okada, one of the best wrestlers in the world today, is definitely one of the favourites going into the G1 Climax this year.
If there is a standard bearer for true greatness in professional wrestling, look no further than Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi is a 7 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a 1 time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, a 2 time IWGP Tag Team Champion, a 5-Star Match machine, having 6 since 2012 (3 with Kazuchika Okada), and has gone on record saying that he wants to win the ROH World Heavyweight Championship someday. Tanahashi is New Japan’s Ace (meaning that he’s The Man in NJPW) and is known as the Once in a Century Athlete, and is arguably the best wrestler alive today. This tournament marks Tanahashi’s 15th appearance, as he aims to win his 3rd G1 Climax, winning his second in a row. Last year he went to the finals and defeated Shinsuke Nakamura in a 5-Star Classic, and went on to lose in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10 to Kazuchika Okada. Tanahashi has had a rough year so far, as he severely injured his shoulder earlier in the year and lost a match to Kenny Omega for the vacant IWGP Intercontinental Championship. He was recently sidelined after putting off surgery on his shoulder, but will be back in time for the tournament. Will this shoulder injury play into the tournament? Will it hurt his performance? Even with the injury, you can be sure that Tanahashi is one of the favourites to take it all, as you can never count him out. His matches with Marufuji and Okada in this tournament might be two of the best matches of the year.
So this wraps up my introduction to all the competitors in the A Block of the 2016 G1 Climax. In the next few days I will introduce the B Block. If you haven’t seen NJPW before and are curious, this is the time to watch. You will see some of the best matches of the year, and it will serve as a great introduction to all the major players in New Japan Pro Wrestling in terms of the heavyweight wrestlers.