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    Monday, July 4, 2016

    The Smark Henry Guide to the 26th G1 Climax Tournament

    Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Smark Henry's primer to the greatest annual professional wrestling tournament in the entire world: New Japan Pro Wrestling's G1 Climax Tournament! If you are new to the concept of the G1 Climax or you have never heard of this tournament before reading this but have always heard about the hype, then this should help get you up to speed  with the entire tournament and why it is such a big deal. For those who are already familiar with the tournament (and for those who were tuned in to last year's Smark Henry G1 Climax coverage), then I guess there's only one thing to say: HYPE!

    What is the G1 Climax?

    To put it simply, the G1 Climax Tournament is an annual tournament hosted by New Japan Pro Wrestling, featuring the top heavyweights in the company (though there have been Junior Heavyweight special guests in the past).

    While New Japan had previously hosted a heavyweight tournament the mid-70's and 80's (with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant as notable participants of these tournaments), the concept of the G1 began in 1991, with its initial purpose being to elevate the new generation of stars in the company after Antonio Inoki was mostly moved to the backseat.

    These elevated guys are, as some would know by now, the Three Musketeers of New Japan: Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, and Shinya Hashimoto. Since then, it has become the crown jewel of New Japan's touring schedule in terms of monetary and critical success, having also launched the careers of major stars along the way. This tournament is also known to be the most grueling due to the number of 4 to 5-star matches that occur within the tour period.

    Simply put, it is the most important tournament in New Japan's calendar, and for that matter, the entire Japanese pro wrestling scene.

    Why the hype for the G1, then?

    To be honest, there are quite a number of reasons why the G1 is such a big deal to wrestling fans all over the world. There is definitely truth involved when declaring the G1 as the best pro wrestling tournament in the world with 25 years of history behind it. The proper term for this one, I suppose, is consistency when it comes to the mystique of the tournament.as compared to, say, the King of the Ring in WWE. Winning the King of the Ring does wonders for guys like Austin or Lesnar, but for every Austin or Lesnar, there's a Billy Gunn or a King Barrett in a sense that their booking made no sense for a man who won a tournament as prestigious as that. But when you win the G1 Climax, you know your career is off to bigger and brighter things, and history will tell us that. It's not filler, rather, it's a big deal, and wrestling fans can expect that from a company known as the "King of Sports."

    Another reason, as previously mentioned, is the sheer amount of quality matches that would entice fans all over the world. The G1 has become synonymous to an avenue for great matches and match of the year contenders that the idea of pitting wrestlers into dream match scenarios is more than enough reason to check it out. If you love the WWE's improved in-ring product, then believe that NJPW's in-ring product during the tournament will make you proud to be a wrestling fan. In relation to that, the G1 is a way to witness dream matches you would never think was possible to see. I mean, heck, Kenny Omega vs. Katsuyori Shibata? Damn.

    One of the things that make the G1 so satisfying is how this has become a significant means for payoffs in various storylines, an example being Honma's significant run in the tournament and finally getting a win, which led to his IWGP tag team championship victory at Wrestle Kingdom 10.

    There are many other reasons why fans love this tournament so much, but these are just some reasons that come to mind.

    Speaking of which, who will be competing in this year's tournament?

    There will be 20 overall competitors this year, which is quite a number in and of itself. But to make things easier to digest for the newer fans, like last year, we will cover each block in the next few weeks prior to the G1 Climax's opening day, and analyze each block's offerings, competitors, and overall narratives. Stay tuned!

    How does the tournament work?

    The tournament operates under a round robin format, where wrestlers are put in two separate blocks, A Block and B Block. The objective of the tournament is to get the most number of points during the tour by beating all the opponents in the same block you're in. Direct victories are worth two points while a tie will result with a point for each competitor. A loss will not be rewarded any points.

    Previously, the top two competitors from each block will be involved in the semi-finals, with the winners moving on to the finals, thereby determining who wins the tournament overall. However, in recent years, the top winner of each block would immediately move on to the finals instead, keeping things simpler. The winner of the finals will become the overall winner of the prestigious tournament.

    What does the winner get for winning the tournament?

    Well, the very fact that a wrestler won the entire thing is an honor in and of itself, joining an elite group of winners that have become legends over the years. When you have that much media exposure and so many people watching the tournament, especially in an age where the worldwide audience can easily access the shows, your stock will inevitably increase. And even if a wrestler does not win the tournament, it would still be an avenue for him to make lasting impression to everyone. The most recent example of this is Michael Elgin, who impressed everyone during his G1 Climax participation. This led to him getting signed by NJPW, won the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team  Championship, and is now currently the IWGP Intercontinental Champion. Oh, and he also had a Tokyo Dome match a few months after his G1 participation. Not bad for a first-year run.

    Normally, the G1 winner will be able to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at a future event within the year, like in NJPW Destruction. However, in 2012, when Kazuchika Okada won the tournament on his first try, he and Gedo decided that he would instead exercise his title match at Wrestle Kingdom in Tokyo Dome. former NJPW President Naoki Sugabayashi felt that it was unfair for Okada would simply cruise through a title match at the biggest event of their calendar while the champion defended his title regularly. Thus, he declared that the winner of the G1 can compete for the title at Wrestle Kingdom, provided he is also able to defend his right to compete in the same way a champion would. To this day, that tradition has continued to be the case for all winners.

    Interesting fact: Since the idea came about in 2012, no G1 winner has actually won the title at Wrestle Kingdom a few months later. Hopefully, the winner of the 26th G1 Climax will be able to break that curse.

    Who has competed and won in the tournament over the years?

    Naming all those who competed in the tournament is a tough order in its own right simply because of the rich history and reputation associated to it. But at least to give you an idea, competitors in the past G1 Climax Tournaments include legends like Toshiaki Kawada, Akebono, Bam Bam Bigelow, Vader, Tatsumi Fujinami, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Naomichi Marufuji, and Genichiro Tenryu, and even then that's quite a short list. 

    Outsiders have also been invited over the years from other promotions, the likes that include DDT's Kota Ibushi, Pro Wrestling NOAH's Jun Akiyama and Takashi Sugiura, ZERO-ONE's Shinjiro Otani, and CMLL's La Sombra (now Andrade "Cien" Almas in NXT).

    Junior Heavyweights have also been invited to participate in the tournament previously, which is a rarity in its own right and includes stars such as Prince Devitt, Milano Collection A.T., Jushin "Thunder" Liger, and Koji Kanemoto.

    Winners of the prestigious tournament include guys like Hiroshi Tanahashi,Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hirooki Goto, Masahiro Chono, Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Togi Makabe, Riki Choshu, and Tetsuya Naito.

    While we're at it, despite the number of foreigners invited to compete over the years, only two gaijins have ever reached the finals of the tournament since its inception: "Ravishing" Rick Rude and "The Machine Gun" Karl Anderson.

    Notably, no gaijin nor Junior Heavyweight has ever won this tournament before, a statistic that may very well change in this year's installment.

    How do I watch the G1 Climax shows?

    Much like last year, ALL the G1 shows will be shown via NJPW World, the subscription cost being at 999 yen a month (or approximately two grande signature coffees in Starbucks, to give you an idea). The tournament will take place from July 18, 2016 to August 14, 2016, practically almost a month-long tour, and more than enough reason to get excited for the coming weeks.

    Next week, we are going to look at A Block, and see what they have to offer. Until then, what do you think about this year's G1? Are you hyped up for this? Sound off in the comments!


    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.

    All images are taken from NJPW.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Guide to the 26th G1 Climax Tournament Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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