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    Friday, July 13, 2018

    The 28th G1 Climax Tournament: The Official Smark Henry Guide

    Come on, sing it with me: “It’s the most wonderful tiiiiime of the yeaaaaarr…”

    Okay fine, maybe the third most wonderful time? Regardless, it’s that time of the year again where some of the BITW (that’s best in the world for you) square off in one of the most grueling tournaments in the industry: it’s New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax!

    If you’re looking to get into the New Japan product and maybe puroresu in general, then this may be the perfect time for you. As usual, we at Smark Henry are here to give you the preview of the 28th iteration of the yearly tournament.

    For starters, here are the rules for the Grade One (G1) Climax:
    • It's a round-robin tournament with two blocks of 10 wrestlers each competing against the other wrestlers in their respective blocks for points
    • Wrestlers score 2 points for every win, 1 point for a draw, and no points when they lose
    • The top scorers in their respective blocks will go on to the finals on August 12, where the winner will earn the right to face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4, 2019.
    Aside from finally making it to the main event of the annual Tokyo Dome show, last year’s winner Tetsuya Naito further solidified his status as Shin Nihon’s modern-day shuyaku (top star) by being one of the elite few to win the tournament more than once.

    Without further ado, here’s what we should look forward to this year’s G1 Climax.

    Block A

    New Kids On the (A) Block

    “Knife Pervert” “Switchblade” Jay White and “Hangman” Adam Page will be making their G1 Climax debuts this year, eager to prove themselves to their “blockmates” and to the fans.

    Hangman has been turning heads with his athleticism, but he has found his spotlight since being part of the Bullet Club, and Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks’ web series Being the Elite. With high-profile matches against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Omega, and Kota Ibushi just this year, Page is looking to up the ante with more victories with heavier stakes under his belt.

    The “Switchblade” recently lost his IWGP US title to Juice Robinson at the G1 Special in San Francisco, and he sure is looking to redeem himself. What better way to further make a name than by having an explosive G1 debut? A few months back after joining Kazuchika Okada and his CHAOS buddies, White openly admitted that he’ll someday challenge the Rainmaker for the heavyweight title. Now that both men no longer have their respective hardwares, this looks like the perfect time for the newcomer to get one victory over the longest-reigning heavyweight champion on the first night of the tournament.

    G1 is EVIL?

    The IWGP Intercontinental Champion has always participated in the last few G1s in recent memory, but current champion Chris Jericho (yes, the six-time WWE world champion) is noticeably absent from the tournament. He won the title from Tetsuya Naito in last June’s Dominion event and left him in a bloody pulp.

    But the G1 won't pass without some sort of retaliation from Naito’s Los Ingobernables de Japon cohort, EVIL. It seems that the King of Darkness is standing in the way of the former Man of 1,004 Holds, so expect EVIL to gather all the momentum that he can as he looks to challenge Jericho for the title.

    The Redemption of Hiroshi Tanahashi

    Since defeating then-returning Young Lion Jay White at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Hiroshi Tanahashi has been in a losing streak when it comes to big matches. He lost the IWGP Intercontinental title to Minoru Suzuki at the New Beginning in Sapporo, was on the losing end in the New Japan Cup finals against Suzuki’s murder son Zack Sabre Jr., and he was once again overcome by Kazuchika Okada just last May in Wrestling Dontaku.

    Despite these huge losses, Tana is still the “Ace of the Universe” in the eyes of many fans, but the tokenism is not enough for him. He aims to reclaim his rightful throne on top of the NJPW food chain by raking in victories in his 17th year in the tournament.

    Oh, and speaking of Okada...

    Tanahashi vs. Okada: Fight Forever

    With nine (!!) matches between the two Aces in the past eight years, the legendary rivalry between Tanahashi and Okada is far from over as they are set to face each other on the last tournament day of block A. The Rainmaker is so far leading the series with five wins, his last one coming from their Wrestling Dontaku match where he defended the title and surpassed Tana’s record for most number of successful title defenses.

    As mentioned earlier, one shouldn’t discount Tanahashi just yet. He is looking to even the playing field, further leaving this chapter in their rivalry open for yet another saga. But with Okada entering this year’s G1 without the title, he also has nothing on his mind but the gold.

    Prediction: To be honest, the lack of champions in this block makes it a lot harder for me to tell who’s going to the finals. All of them are of equal footing, but personally, it’s a toss-up between Tanahashi and Okada. The obvious choice would be Okada, but if they’re going for a big-match-losing-streak for the Rainmaker, then Tanahashi will march to Nippon Budokan as the A block winner. I can see him winning over Okada on the last day to even the record and perhaps prolong their already epic feud.

    Block B

    The Golden✩Lovers Explode

    Alright, let’s get it out of the way: newly-crowned IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega (I still tear up a bit while typing that) will be facing his tag team partner, his best friend lover (I mean, they're not called Golden✩Buddies or something), and soulmate Kota Ibushi in the final tournament day for block, B and of course it has to happen at Nippon Budokan, of all places.

    What is with Nippon Budokan and the Golden✩Lovers, you ask? Six years ago, when both of them were still in DDT, Omega faced then-KO-D Champion Ibushi (who was also the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion at the time) for DDT's top prize in a glorious 45-minute masterclass in the same building. The match is considered to be the prototype of his six-star match against Okada and all other barn burners that the Best Bout Machine has churned out since.

    (I can go on and on and on about this match, but that's not what we're here for. See it for yourself and let's bawl over it some other time.)

    If one were to make a thesis on storytelling in wrestling, there should be an entire chapter devoted solely to the history between Omega and Ibushi; condensing it just won't do any justice. But in a nutshell, theirs is a relationship that is rooted on competition, feeding off from their love for one another. Although both are phenomenal wrestlers, books will prove that Ibushi has always been a few steps ahead of Omega (Kenny has still yet to win one over him in singles matches). And for the first time in a while, the Golden Star has some catching up to do now that Omega has New Japan's biggest prize in his possession.

    The Curious Case of Tetsuya Naito

    The past six months have been... quite interesting for the Ungovernable One. After being a two-time G1 Climax winner, Naito started his year with a bang when he finally (finally) got his main event spot at Wrestle Kingdom 12. He failed to capture the title, but his momentum and crowd support did not falter.

    After he lost the first round of New Japan Cup to eventual winner Zack Sabre Jr., he suddenly won back the IWGP Intercontinental title from Minoru Suzuki last April (just to spite him, yes). He then failed to defend the title at Dominion against Chris Jericho in a wild brawl that left him bloodied.

    Kenny Omega and Naito have been exchanging words as early as December last year in the lead-up to the Tokyo Dome show, and that carried over right after Kenny won the title at the Dominion event. Of course this will all translate to the ring as they face off on the second day of the tournament.

    While we're still talking about Omega and Naito...

    The Omega/Naito G1 Saga Continues

    While not as lengthy as the Tanahashi/Okada rivalry (yet), one could argue that Kenny's G1 rivalry with Tetsuya Naito is on its way to be as legendary as the two Aces. Omega and Naito first faced off at G1 26 in a five-star match that saw Kenny putting a stop to Naito's G1 run in the last block B tournament match. They faced off again in last year's finals, where Naito redeemed himself.

    While the past two G1s have seen the best saved for last (I mean, they still did), this year will be different as Omega and Naito do battle on the second night. Sure, this is a battle for two points, but Naito has a lot more to gain if he snatches another win from the champion, as it would give him a chance at Kenny's gold.

    Battle of the Brothers

    The G1 Climax tournament is also the time when stablemates are forced to battle each other in matches that we won't get anywhere else. On August 8, Naito will face his fellow ungovernable SANADA and will attempt to do what EVIL couldn't do last year: win two points from his LIJ brother.

    On the other side of intra-stable warfare, Tama Tonga looks to rub salt on Kenny Omega's wounds in their G1 face-off after the beatdown that he, his brother Tanga Loa, and their father King Haku brought to the rest of the Bullet Club during the G1 Special in San Francisco. Tama has always voiced out his opposition to Kenny's subgroup "The Elite," but in their match last year, Kenny won one over him and they quickly reconciled. This time though, Tama has fired the first bullet and there is no turning back.

    Ohh, Zack Sabre Jr.!

    All eyes are on the Best Technical Wrestler right now, as he is widely considered to be the dark horse in the entire tournament. ZSJ is entering his second G1 Climax white-hot from all the high-profile wins he has raked in over the past few months, having powered through Naito, Ibushi, SANADA, and Tanahashi to become the first Brit to win the New Japan Cup last March.

    He might have failed to capture the IWGP Heavyweight title from Okada back at Sakura Genesis, but he has avenged that loss in the Strong Style Evolved event in the U.K., pinning the former champion clean as a whistle.

    With how 2018 is going for ZSJ so far, he could also very well be the first Brit to win the G1 Climax.

    B block prediction: Man, how STACKED is B block this year? Aside from the given big names, three of the top four champions in New Japan are in this block as well, so the next couple of weeks are going to be a blast. Also a tough one to call, but I have Ibushi winning this block (and the entire tournament) after a time limit draw against Kenny to possibly set up another Golden Lover vs. Golden Lover match but on the biggest stage this time.

    How to watch the G1 Climax

    The entire tournament will run from July 13 to August 12—that's almost an entire month of broadcasts every day in the next couple of weeks. The shows aren't a slouch either: these usually last around two to three hours, making it almost impossible to catch up if you have an adult life.

    If you're one of the select few who have a lot of time in their hands, then G1 tournament shows are easy peasy to watch live, but if not, we suggest a few things:
    • If you're able to watch live, then you have no choice but to watch the entire thing. The first half of the show is just undercard multi-man tag matches to set up the next day's tournament matches, so you can also choose to tune in at a later time.
    • Watching on-demand is easier, since you can choose to skip the tag matches. NJPW World usually releases the entire show a few hours after its live airing.
    • However, cutting out the tag matches still leaves you a lot of wrestling to watch. Pick two, three, or more people per block (or the entire tournament) that you'd want to follow. If you're completely new to New Japan, we suggest that you follow the New Japan Four: Omega, Okada, Naito, and Tanahashi.
    • For the first time, all broadcasts will have an option for English commentary (YAY FOR NEW JAPAN EXPANSION!). We recommend watching the entire thing in English so that you can easily catch up on storylines.
    • If you're looking to make the most out of your NJPW World sub, backstage comments are uploaded the day after with English subtitles. These aren't really all that important, but they are a joy to watch to get a glimpse of who's who in NJPW.
    You can catch the G1 Climax at NJPW World for only ¥999 (that's around P470). If you have a few bucks to spare, we strongly recommend subscribing because it's truly more bang for your buck (nope, not the Young Bucks move) especially during this time of the year.

    So who do you think will win this year's G1? Will Tetsuya Naito win it twice in a row or are we going to see someone outside the New Japan Four stand victorious? Sound off in the comments below!

    Images from NJPW and Uproxx.com

    Ardelle Costuna works at a news organization somewhere along EDSA whenever she's not watching wrestling. As someone who just recently turned to Japanese wrestling (full-time ish), she is a sucker for no-sold German suplexes, kick-outs at one-count, and whatever the hell Tetsuya Naito is doing right now. Send her your (joshi) puroresu match recommendations and watch her swoon over Kenny Omega, and Jake Lee at @aandthejets.
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    Item Reviewed: The 28th G1 Climax Tournament: The Official Smark Henry Guide Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ardelle Costuna
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