Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NJPW G1 Climax 26 Preview: A Block

Beginning Monday, July 18th, New Japan Pro Wrestling begins their massive annual G1 Climax tournament. The tournament has existed since 1974 but it became the "G1 Climax" in 1991. It is done in round-robin format and features twenty wrestlers, split into two ten person blocks. Each wrestler takes on the other nine in their block once and the men who finish with the most points in each block meet in the finals. Two years ago, the 24th G1 Climax was the greatest wrestling tournament I've ever seen. The winner gets a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom on January 4th, NJPW's WrestleMania. The tournament runs from 7/18 until 8/14.

Bad Luck Fale

For the third straight year, Bad Luck Fale enters the G1 Climax. Bullet Club member, former IWGP Intercontinental Champion and resident NJPW big man, Fale has done well so far, going 11-8 over two years. He finished third two years ago and fourth last year, while racking up two wins over Hiroshi Tanahashi. Fale is hard to predict. He gets booked very well in these tournaments, but he's been rather irrelevant for a few months as his last actual program was with Tanahashi in April. I'm not very interested in much from him as he's usually only good when taking on the very best and his block isn't exactly loaded. He'll most likely finish with a similar point total from the past two years.

Prediction: 10 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Marufuji (7/23), vs. Ishii (7/25), vs. Tanahashi (7/28)

Hirooki Goto

A year ago, it looked like New Japan was finally on the road to making Hirooki Goto a top star. Granted, he's had a lot of success in his career, including a G1 Climax victory in 2008, but he's kind of always been second tie. No IWGP Heavyweight Title wins despite two Intercontinental Title reigns and multiple New Japan Cup victories. Goto lost another shot at the big belt back in February and joined Chaos, led by the guy who beat him, Kazuchika Okada. Goto kind of feels like a big time afterthought now. He's third fiddle in Chaos, behind Okada and Ishii. Still, I suspect he does pretty well and maybe he can sort of re-establish himself as a viable contender in New Japan.

Prediction: 10 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Ishii (7/23), vs. SANADA (7/28), vs. Tanahashi (7/31)

Hiroshi Tanahashi

Two time G1 Climax winner, Hiroshi Tanahashi won the entire tournament last year, defeating Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals. Tanahashi lost his IWGP Heavyweight Title shot and Kazuchika Okada is now officially the "ace" of the company. Tanahashi said he wouldn't challenge for the title again but finds himself in the G1. He's dealt with a fair amount of injuries this year but is still a heavy favorite to make it to the finals. I can't see him winning the entire thing because the thought of another Tanahasi/Okada Tokyo Dome match sounds ridiculous. I sense he finds a way into the finals and takes a loss there, putting over someone from the B Block big time. Most likely, he works an IC Title match or something at WK next year.

Prediction: 14 points
Most exciting matches: vs. SANADA (7/18), vs. Ishii (8/3), vs. Marufuji (8/6)

Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Originally, G1 Climax legend Hiroyoshi Tenzan was left out of this year's tournament. He's a former three-time winner and has appeared in 19 straight tournaments. He was upset at being left out, so his tag partner, Satoshi Kojima, gave up his spot to him. Kojima has been a better performer than Tenzan lately, but this is cool to see. Tenzan struggled last year due to injury but can turn it on when he needs to. I'd rather he and Kojima be in than Fale for example. People are disrespecting the shit out of Tenzan's inclusion. Dude is a legend and this should be his last run through the G1 Climax. Tenzan might not win many matches, but you can expect the crowd to be completely invested in every single one of his matches.

Prediction: 6 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Ishii (7/18), vs. Okada (7/31), vs. SANADA (8/12; could be his final G1 match ever)

Kazuchika Okada

Unfortunately, Kazuchika Okada is the IWGP Heavyweight Champion again. That's my personal opinion and I know a lot of people disagree. I just don't get very excited to see Okada and don't believe he's as great as many do. With that out of the way, the guy is certainly good. He's now a four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and isn't even thirty yet. He won the G1 in 2012 and 2014 and was a heavy favorite to pull a San Francisco Giants and win in another even year here until Dominion last month. On that night, he won back the IWGP Heavyweight Title and the champion isn't going to win the tournament. This will be similar to last year, where he entered as champion and was in contention right up until the end.

Prediction: 14 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Goto (7/25), vs. Makabe (8/3), vs. Ishii (8/6)

Naomichi Marufuji

I first saw Naomichi Marufuji in Ring of Honor, having awesome matches with Nigel McGuinness, Bryan Danielson and many others. His inclusion in this year's G1 was a fantastic surprise. I know he's no longer at his peak but Marufuji can still go when he needs to. For the past few years, the IWGP Tag Team Champions have been in the tournament. This year, the Briscoes hold them and aren't in, so we get the GHC Tag Champions instead, which Marufuji is one half of. He's in the perfect block for his style. Guys like Okada and Tanahashi play right into his strengths and he should mesh well with a lot of guys here to produce some strong matches. He appeared in the 2012 G1, scoring eight points and I think he finishes with about the same total here.

Prediction: 8 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Ishii (7/28), vs. SANADA (8/3), vs. Goto (8/12)


Our first G1 Climax rookie. SANADA spent some years over in TNA but returned at Invasion Attack this year to help Tetsuya Naito win the IWGP Heavyweight Title and join Los Ingobernables de Japon. Since then SANADA has proved himself to be a strong addition. While he lost to Kazuchika Okada at Wrestling Dontaku, he's done very well in the LIDJ vs. Chaos multi-man tags and finds himself in a bit of a rivalry with YOSHI-HASHI that has been majorly entertaining. SANADA should hover around the middle of the pack of the tournament. He'll do enough to shine but not enough to really be a big time threat. I do expect him to pick up a win over one of the top guys (Tanahashi, Okada, Ishii, etc.) giving him a nice feather in his cap.

Prediction: 8 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Okada (7/23), vs. Makabe (7/28), vs. Ishii (8/8)

Tama Tonga

It's been a bit of a breakout year for Tama Tonga. He spent years in multi-man tags as part of the Bullet Club B-Team, but that has changed. To start the year, he won his fist title, the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Championship before capturing the IWGP Tag Team Titles with his brother, Tanga Roa. Their run with the titles was very lackluster and their matches were bland. Roa doesn't get a shot here but Tonga gets to make his G1 Climax debut. He should be involved in some interesting first time ever matches. I don't believe he'll rack up many points but he needs to use this tournament to start having breakout performances. A slew of good matches could go a long way for him.

Prediction: 6 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Tanahashi (7/25), vs. Okada (7/28), vs. SANADA (8/6)

Togi Makabe

Togi Makabe is in a bit of a strange place. He isn't as close to the end of his line as a Kojima, Nakanishi or Tenzan, but he's closer to the end than a lot of the guys in his block. Makabe has had tons of success in his career, including an IWGP Heavyweight Title reign and a G1 Climax win. Now, he's past things like that but is still booked relatively strongly. He should find himself in a similar situation to last year. A middle of the pack points total, mostly solid matches and a few bad ones (I'm looking at Fale/Togi). I have no interest in another Ishii/Makabe match (like Okada/Tana), though we're getting one. Though he doesn't enter as NEVER Openweight Champion like he did last year, he'll still end in the same place I think.

Prediction: 8 points
Most exciting matches: vs. Tanahashi (7/23), vs. Marufuji (7/31), vs. Goto (8/8)

Tomohiro Ishii

Our final G1 Climax A Block competitor is fan favorite Tomohiro Ishii. Over the past three G1 Climaxes, Ishii has put on fantastic match after fantastic match with a variety of opponents. Tomoaki Honma, Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, the list goes on and on. Expect more of the same here. Most of his matches should be top notch because Ishii always delivers. The G1 style and format suits him. He's won the NEVER Openweight and ROH TV Titles in the past year and finished with 10 points in each of the past two G1 tournaments. I suspect he gets to ten again this time around. While his best opponents (Shibata and Honma) are on the other side, Ishii should have at least one MOTY candidate this go around.

Prediction: 10 points
Most exciting matches: I mentioned them all in other people's most exciting matches. Ishii is that damn good.

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