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The Smark Henry Guide to NJPW's G1 Climax (Block A)



New Japan Pro Wrestling officially kicks off this year’s G1 Climax tomorrow night, marking another exciting moment for the promotion. G1 Climax is a yearly tournament that takes place over several shows, with this year's edition happening across a record 19 shows. Wrestlers are divided into two blocks,  where they compete in a round-robin  tournament within their group. The winner of each group goes to the finals, where the two wrestlers compete for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the next Wrestle Kingdom show. The format of this tournament marks this not just as a test of skill, but of endurance. Over the past few years, this tournament has produced several outstanding matches, and it has become known as a hotbed of excellent wrestling. Think of it as NJPW’s equivalent of the Royal Rumble, only it takes place much, much earlier.

As a guide for those looking to get into NJPW, we’ve got a preview of this year’s tournament, including wrestler profiles and block predictions. Let’s get going with Block A!

*****



Signature Moves: Styles Clash, Calf Killer
Accomplishments: IWGP Heavyweight Champion (2)

We start off with a name you’re probably familiar with—AJ Styles. TNA’s former lynchpin has been with New Japan since early 2014, immediately making an impact when he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his first match. That speaks volumes of NJPW’s trust in this phenomenal gaijin, and he’s been on a tear since. He’s been constantly near or on top of most NJPW events, feuding with the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Here in Japan, his Styles Clash (or as others call it, Styles Crush) has taken on a fearsome reputation, having been responsible for a couple of serious injuries. With this move as the highlight of an amazing arsenal, Styles is one of Japanese wrestling's top dogs.

This will be Styles’ second G1 Climax, and if last year’s run was any indication, expect him to have another amazing tournament. Styles had stellar matches with the likes of Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, and Minoru Suzuki, ending up tied for first in his block with Okada (but not advancing due to his loss against Okada). With Styles having recently lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, expect him to go all-out in an effort to once again claim NJPW’s top prize.

*****


Signature Moves: Bad Luck Fall
Accomplishments: IWGP Intercontinental Champion

Coming in at 6’4” and 320 lbs., the Underboss is one of the biggest guys on Bullet Club’s roster. He’s your typical enforcer heel, usually competing in tag matches with his Bullet Club stablemates. That said, Fale has actually been given a number of high-profile feuds against the likes of Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura and Togi Makabe, indicating that they may see something in him beyond your typical muscle.

This is Fale’s second G1 Climax, coming off a decent 3rd-place finish in Block A last year (he would’ve actually won the group had he beat Nakamura on the final day). He’s certainly capable of competing, but don’t expect him to be winning the group. Look forward to his matches with Bullet Club brothers Doc Gallows and AJ Styles, as that’s not something you’ll see very often.

*****


Signature Moves: Gallows’ Pole, Magic Killer (with Karl Anderson)
Accomplishments: IWGP Tag Team Champion (3, current), World Tag League

Another name that should be familiar to those of you who watch American wrestling, Gallows is a man who has made the rounds. He’s gone from mentally challenged man to straight edge cult member to biker gang director before finding a place here as Karl Anderson’s partner in crime. Gallows is fresh off winning the IWGP Tag Team Championship for the third time after defeating ROH mainstay the Kingdom, in a “feud” that was really just an excuse to give Maria Kanellis camera time.

Still, he’s got some momentum going, and he’ll be looking to come out stronger this year after finishing near the bottom of his block at last year’s G1 Climax. Again, like Fale, don’t expect him to win the group, but he’ll at least provide something to watch. Doc Gallows vs. Bad Luck Fale should be an interesting hoss fight to watch.

*****


Signature Moves: High Fly Flow
Accomplishments: IWGP Heavyweight Champion (7), IWGP Intercontinental Champion (1), IWGP Tag Team Champion (2), G1 Climax, New Japan Cup (2)

A legend and an institution, Tanahashi is New Japan’s Ace, as demonstrated by an impressive list of accomplishments. He’s the closest Japanese wrestler you can compare to John Cena, as the company’s top dog who’s been around for quite some time. Tanahashi holds the record for the most number of IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns at 7, having held the title for a combined 1,358 days.

Tanahashi held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship earlier this year, but lost it to AJ Styles in February. Since then he’s been involved in a rather surprising feud with Toru Yano, whom he beat at the last PPV Dominion. As one of the best wrestlers in New Japan, expect Tanahashi to be near or at the top of this group throughout this tournament.

*****


Signature Moves: Anaconda Vice (original)
Accomplishments: IWGP Heavyweight Champion (4), IWGP Tag Team Champion (11), G1 Climax (3), G1 Tag League (3)

The stats speak for themselves — Tenzan is a legend in Japanese wrestling. He’s been in NJPW since 1995, making this year his second decade of wrestling. He’s won the G1 Climax 3 times, most recently in 2006. He’s also the current NWA World Heavyweight Champion, which doesn’t really mean much these days as it has lost most of its prestige. Seriously, he’s been feuding with Rob Conway for it the past couple of years. Rob. Fucking. Conway.

At the old (well, in wrestling terms) age of 44, Tenzan usually figures in those curtain-jerking 10-man tag team matches. He’s pretty much broken down now, only good for a couple of spots here and there. He can be entertaining for those couple of spots, but don’t expect 5-star displays of technical proficiency. He is, as Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon would put it, “too old for this shit”.

*****


Signature Moves: Penalty Kick, Octopus hold
Accomplishments: IWGP Tag Team Champion, World Tag League

Ah, Shibata. When he started his career some time near the new millenium, Shibata was considered to be one of NJPW’s next big things alongside Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi. However, Shibata left the promotion in 2005 to pursue MMA, which left a sour taste in the mouths of many as he left at a time when NJPW was struggling. He would eventually make his return in 2012, where he’s been since. Shibata won his first title this year winning the IWGP Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 9, along with childhood friend Hirooki Goto. They lost the titles at their first defense a month after, though, prompting some people to look at the win as nothing more than a thank-you gesture.

Shibata heads into G1 Climax fresh with a recent victory against MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba. His no-nonsense style (no flashy gimmicks, just marches straight down to the ring) may seem boring, but when he’s motivated he can truly put on a good show. He’ll likely be in the middle to upper part of this group, but not outright win it. Expect a great match between him and Tanahashi, as the latter legitimately hated Shibata due to him leaving the company in 2005.

*****


Signature Moves: Phoenix-plex, 450 splash
Accomplishments: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion (3), IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion, New Japan Cup (current), Best of the Super Juniors

Ibushi is considered to be one of the next big things in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Having started off in Dramatic Dream Team (DDT), Ibushi was known for his high flying prowess as well as his comedy matches. In recent years, however, he’s proven that he can go toe to toe with the best, having had a successful career in NJPW’s junior heavyweight division. He moved up to the heavyweights only last year, but has had a huge impact so far, picking up a 5-star match in a losing effort against Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 9. He also won the New Japan Cup earlier this year, eventually losing his title shot against AJ Styles. The sky seems to be the limit for Ibushi, and he’s well on his way to becoming one of the greats.

This is Ibushi’s first (technically) G1 Climax, as he was forced to sit out last year’s tournament due to a concussion. Unlike his counterparts, Ibushi hasn’t actually been that active in NJPW for the past couple of months, as his unique dual contract with NJPW & DDT means he has to go away from time to time. Still, with the heavyweight division being relatively new territory for him, expect big things from Ibushi. He’s a dark horse to take this tournament down, provided he can get past stars like Tanahashi and Styles.

*****


Signature Moves: Pluma Blanca, Stardust Press
Accomplishments: IWGP Tag Team Champion, IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion, NEVER Openweight Champion, G1 Climax

Naito, for many, has long been New Japan’s B+ player. He’s talented, sure, but you get the feeling that he’s not at the level of guys like Tanahashi, Nakamura and Okada. This is a guy who was set to main event Wrestle Kingdom (pretty much Japan’s WrestleMania) last year, only for the fans to vote a match between Nakamura and Tanahashi to go on last instead. That speaks volumes of how Naito is seen, and since then he’s been all over the card in terms of booking. Sometimes he’ll have a feud for one of the titles, at other times he’s opening the show with New Japan’s young boys.

Recently, however, Naito has come back to New Japan with a new attitude, and perhaps this may herald a rise for his stock. Naito now represents CMLL stable Los Ingobernables, known for being one of Mexico’s top rudo stables. He’s come back to Japan with his facial hair grown out, and seems to have left all the fucks he can give back in America. Hey, apathetic Naito is at least a change, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this will help him in his quest to become a 2-time G1 Climax winner. Or, you know, maybe he just doesn’t care.

*****


Signature Moves: King Kong Knee Drop, King Kong Lariat
Accomplishments: IWGP Heavyweight Champion, IWGP Tag Team Champion, NEVER Openweight Champion (2, current), G1 Climax

Whereas Tanahashi is Cena, Togi Makabe is pretty much Japan’s version of Bruiser Brody. His look, theme song, and wrestling style all pay homage to the late brawler. Makabe’s matches are not your usual display of technical proficiency, and usually consist of him clubbing foes with very stiff chops, lariats and punches until they’re down long enough for a King Kong Knee Drop. He won’t dazzle you with high flying skills or precise submission maneuvers, but he’s entertaining in his own way.

Makabe has been around for quite a while, even if his stats don’t really show it. He’s won this tournament before in 2004, so he at least has the experience, but in recent years he’s usually finished in the middle of his block. With guys like Styles and Tanahashi in the same block, chances that Makabe will win this year don’t seem too good. Hey, at least it’ll be interesting watching him trying to take someone’s head off.

*****


Signature Moves: several pin variations, cheating
Accomplishments: IWGP Tag Team Champion (2), millions in DVD sales

Toru Yano is the physical embodiment of that popular trollface meme around the net. Like Makabe, Yano has a usual formula of how his matches go, except most of it isn’t very legal. He’ll try to expose the turnbuckle, then pin you with a handful of tights (or hair, if you’re Tanahashi). Hell, Yano even chained someone once to the ring barrier outside, forcing his opponent to lose the match via countout. Most of his feuds involve him pissing someone else off with his antics, which usually result in several shows’ worth of Yano outwitting his rival with a variety of cheating and witty manuevers.

Yano has been around for several G1 Climax, but has never made it out of his block. Nothing indicates that he’ll make it out this year, but don’t let that stop you from watching him. He may pull off some genius trick to win again. Otherwise, it’s always entertaining to watch him sell DVDs to fans as he makes his way to the back after a match.

*****

Overall Prediction: Block A has a couple of standout wrestlers who are safe bets to win the block and proceed to the finals. Hiroshi Tanahashi and AJ Styles look to be the two top dogs here, and either man topping the group is a likely outcome. Otherwise, Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi seem to be dark horses for the group. Everyone else will figure in the chaos and pick up some wins, but they're unlikely to be topping the group when all is said and done.

Like we did with the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, we’ll also be providing periodic updates of G1 Climax to keep you updated with the latest match results and standings. Until then, look forward to the second part of our G1 Climax preview covering Block B, which should be up soon!

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