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    Saturday, July 6, 2019

    The 29th G1 Climax Tournament: The Official Smark Henry Guide

    Welcome aboard, ladies and gentlemen, to what may be the best pro wrestling tournament to ever exist: the Grade One (G1) Climax!

    Unless you're new to the pro wrestling fandom—in that case, welcome to the madness!—chances are, you've at least heard of the G1 Climax: the notoriously grueling tournament that everyone speaks of that seems to be the annual match of the year (MOTY) factory in the eastern side of the globe.

    The puroresu Christmas season that is the G1 Climax is a great time to get into the Shin Nihon hype train. If you are completely clueless about how this works, then worry no more because we at Smark Henry are here to guide you along the way! So buckle up because the next couple of weeks will surely be a wild ride.

    For starters, here are the rules for the tournament:
    • It's a round-robin tournament with two blocks of 10 wrestlers each competing against each other for points in matches with a 30-minute time limit. 
    • Wrestlers score two points for a win, one point for a time-limit draw, and no points for a loss.
    • The top scorers in their respective blocks will go on to the final match on August 12 to determine the G1 Climax winner and will get a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on Wrestle Kingdom 14 on January 4 or 5, 2020. If the champion wins the tournament, he'll defend the title against the opponent of his choosing.
    Last year, Hiroshi Tanahashi regained his spot atop New Japan's food chain when he won his third G1 Climax tournament. He'd later on become the first G1 Climax winner to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship since the Wrestle Kingdom stipulation was introduced in 2012, when he defeated Kenny Omega last Wrestle Kingdom 13 and become a record-breaking eight-time champion.

    Okay, that's enough jibber-jabbering. Let's get down to business!

    A Block

    (Not quite) New kids on the (A) block

    Two of the six new names in this year’s G1 lineup are KENTA and Will Ospreay, who both aim to make waves in their first year in the tournament.

    The wrestler formerly known as Hideo Itami is now back in Japan after an underwhelming five years with WWE. Instead of coming back to Pro Wrestling NOAH’s emerald green (now white) ring that he called home for 14 years, he switches it up by going to New Japan’s blue. As he said when he made his appearance at the Dominion 6.9 show with his former tag team partner Katsuyori Shibata, he wants to show the world what KENTA’s pro wrestling is all about.

    Will Ospreay, on the other hand, is just continuing what he started back in January when he won the NEVER Openweight title last Wrestle Kingdom 13. Now, he makes history as the first junior heavyweight to have made it to the New Japan Cup, Best of the Super Juniors, and the G1 in one year, all while being the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Will momentum be enough to take the Aerial Assassin to the promised land of headlining the Tokyo Dome?

    Kazuchika Okada: Golden Boy 

    This is the fifth time Okada is entering the G1 Climax tournament with the hardware, but history has never been kind to the champion in the Summer tournament, with the champ only winning twice since 1991. The Rainmaker isn't fazed, despite the fact. After all, breaking records is second nature to him when he became the youngest G1 Climax winner in 2012.

    He might very well rewrite history again as he looks to be the first champion since 2000 to win the tournament, and win both the G1 Climax and New Japan Cup in the same calendar year.

    Hiroshi Tanahashi and his rebuilding plan

    The Ace of the Universe is coming in hot as the defending G1 Climax winner and as someone who has successfully broken the "G1 curse" earlier in the year (before WK 13, no G1 Climax winner has successfully "cashed in" their IWGP championship opportunity). Outside of the tournament though, Tana has to quickly pick up the pieces after being broken down by an injury that sidelined him during the entire Best of the Super Juniors tour, and after losing to Jay White twice this year: first at New Beginning in Osaka for the heavyweight title, and then in his comeback match at the Best of the Super Junior Final.

    It's a tale as old as time for the Once in a Century talent, as he enters his 18th (!!!) consecutive G1 Climax tournament. Can Tana replicate his victory lap, or will his string of injuries take a toll on his performance this year?

    Twinkle, twinkle little (Golden) Star

    Kota Ibushi is now in his rightful place to shine on his own after Kenny Omega overshadowed him with Omega's IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign and dragged him into various shenanigans involving the Bullet Club last year. Now that he's signed with Shin Nihon to a lifetime, full-time contract (no Woj Bombs here), expect the Golden Star to go all out in his fifth tournament appearance.

    Despite a string of major title losses at the last two huge shows (to Will Ospreay last Wrestle Kingdom 13 and Tetsuya Naito last Dominion 6.9), it's actually Ibushi who is coming in as the biggest favorite. Will 2019 finally be the year that he formally becomes the chosen one to win it all?

    Matchups to look forward to

    With a lineup like that, every tournament match seems like a must-see, so I've already done the dirty work of choosing five that might very well be MOTY contenders by the end of the year.
    • Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (July 7, Manila time): This match doesn't need any primer, to be honest. I'm just going to put it out here that all their previous three meetings in the G1 have ended in time limit draws (2013, 2016, and 2018). Will the fourth time be the charm for one of them, or will the trend continue for both of New Japan's aces?
    • Kota Ibushi vs. KENTA (July 7, Manila time): Here's a fun little reminder: KENTA (as Itami) was supposed to be Ibushi's tag team partner in the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in NXT, but KENTA was sidelined by an injury, so he was replaced by TJP. Three years later, they now finally share the same ring, albeit as opponents, for the first time ever. It's funny how fate works sometimes.
    • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. KENTA (July 14): This is a battle for Katsuyori Shibata's heart. Kidding aside, this is one of A Block's most important matches because of two reasons: (1) After leaving New Japan in the early 2000s, Shibata formed a partnership with KENTA at Pro Wrestling NOAH, dubbing themselves as the "TakeOver." Their no-nonsense, hard-hitting styles perfectly meshed with each other and they eventually (ahem) took over NOAH's tag team scene. With KENTA and Shibata's almost similar styles, this might be the closest we can get to another Shibata vs. Tanahashi match; and (2) Tana and KENTA are both figureheads of puroresu from the early to mid-2000s, with both men carrying the flags of their respective companies. With that said, it's not everyday that we get to see two puro icons in the same ring, a.k.a. this is another match that we never thought could happen, but here we are, so don't you dare miss this.
    • Kazuchika Okada vs. KENTA (July 27): KENTA aims to replicate his (former?) Pro Wrestling NOAH chum Naomichi Marufuji's feat in 2016, when he defeated Okada in the first day of that year's G1. It led to a title opportunity that Marufuji failed to convert into gold, but he will always have the feather of beating the champion in his hat, something that isn't easy to do. Will KENTA make it to the elite list of wrestlers who have beaten the champ in the G1 Climax?
    • Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi (August 10): The Rainmaker and the Golden Star last shared the same ring back in 2017's Anniversary Show, with Ibushi as Tiger Mask W. If we don't count that, their last match dates back to 2014, also in that year's Anniversary Show, so it will be interesting to see how five years have changed two of the best in the world. Also for what it's worth, their main event placement in A Block's last day indicates that this is a very important match that might decide the block’s fate.

    Prediction: Two of my personal frontrunners in this block are Okada and Ibushi. Okada will always be New Japan's top dog, so he has a legitimate claim of breaking the champion's "G1 curse," and may very well become the third champion to win the tournament. That isn’t far off, because we’ve already seen The Rainmaker break a few records here and there.

    Ibushi on the other hand, has now broken off the shackles that's holding New Japan back from making him "their guy." With the Golden Star now fully committed to the company, there are definitely more reasons for them to let him sit at the table with Okada, Tanahashi, and Naito. I'm picking Ibushi as my A Block winner.

    B Block

    B Block is the beginner's block

    Also making their G1 debuts are Jeff Cobb, Taichi, Shingo Takagi, and Jon Moxley.

    We first saw Jeff Cobb inside a New Japan ring back in 2017's World Tag League. While he may have already turned a few heads back then, he's certainly impressing more people now in his singles run, winning the NEVER Openweight Championship and successfully defending the Ring of Honor's TV Championship at Madison Square Garden. He may be large and in charge, but don't let his size deceive you because the big lad can go (as in do-a-standing-shooting-star-press go). Aside from his title wins, he once held a nine-month undefeated run in ROH. Can Cobb maintain a similar record under the bright lights of the G1 Climax?

    Meanwhile, The "Holy Emperor" Taichi is, quite frankly, a little shit, but we should give credit where credit is due. He has grown leaps and bounds since moving up to the heavyweights last year. His exclusion from last year's G1 gave him a sizable chip on his shoulder that he used as motivation that eventually led to two NEVER Openweight Championship reigns, and a slot in this year's tournament. But the hustle never stops at being a part of the G1 Climax, as he has to further prove that his inclusion this year has been a long time coming and deservedly so.

    Since coming to New Japan, Shingo Takagi has beaten almost every junior heavyweight on the roster, as seen in his performance in the Best of the Super Juniors. His squeaky clean record in the juniors tournament is impressive, but the G1 Climax is an entirely different animal. "The Dragon" would have loved it though, if he entered his first G1 still with a perfect record, but his match against eventual BOSJ winner Ospreay proved to be just the tip of the iceberg of his dominant performance so far in Shin Nihon.

    Moving on to another tournament first-timer...

    Molten hot Mox

    The former Dean Ambrose left our jaws agape in everything he did since leaving "The Fed." His decisive win over Juice Robinson to capture the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight title made waves in the New Japan roster, and seems like a statement in itself: he is coming for everyone.

    The Death Rider is this year's wildcard. While we may have seen what he is capable of within the confines of WWE, it's still quite unclear what this iteration's Jon Moxley can do. We've heard of the deathmatches and brawls, but New Japan is a completely different jungle. His inclusion in a "worker" block such as this year's B Block will surely make things more interesting.

    The quest for #Naito2Belts

    Tetsuya Naito is coming in the tournament with gold around his waist: the IWGP Intercontinental Championship that he won from Kota Ibushi by murdering him in one heck of a match last Dominion 6.9. In the past though, Naito’s relationship with the IC title is abusive, to put it bluntly. He has always completely disregarded the championship and the title itself, until after Wrestle Kingdom 13, that is.

    Since realizing that the title might be attached to him despite his maltreatment, he has used it as a means to and end: to be the first double champion. In order to achieve that, he must first win the G1, which he has already done twice. Can the Ungovernable One add a third G1 Climax win under his belt this year?

    A White dark horse

    Just like before, The Switchblade may just strike at everyone when we least expect it.

    Jay White might just win it all in his second G1 Climax appearance. With wins over Tanahashi (twice!) and Okada in just a span of six months, White is riding on so much momentum going into the tournament. Just like everyone else, he has his sights set on the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but unlike everyone else, it's because he's already been a champion.

    Current IWGP Champion Okada defeated him for the title in his first defense at the Madison Square Garden show, and that loss surely sticks out and stings him endlessly. Expect this loss to drive White to different lengths just to reclaim what he thinks is rightfully his

    Matchups to look forward to

    • Jon Moxley vs. Shingo Takagi (July 24): Moxley and Shingo actually have some shared history with each other, as they were both part of the Kamikaze USA stable in Dragon Gate USA. While they may have crossed paths at some point, they have never actually shared the same ring ever, even in tag team matches. This will surely be one for the books.
    • Tetsuya Naito vs. Shingo Takagi (August 4): HOO BOY. It's the second of two "Los Ingobernables de Japon explodes?" matches, and quite frankly, the more intriguing one. Shingo may be the newest member of LIJ, but he has known Naito the longest, since their training days at the famed Hamaguchi Gym. With that much history between the two lads, more than two points will be put on the line here.
    • Jon Moxley vs. Jay White (August 4): It's the battle of knife perverts and edgy guys. Kidding aside, here are two of New Japan's top gaijins in the tournament with different styles. White is a dangerous competitor, who can strike anytime with his smooth reversals and transitions to other moves. Moxley is equally dangerous with his unorthodox style that's almost similar to brawling. With two contrasting styles like that, we'll surely be in for a treat.
    • Tomohiro Ishii vs. Shingo Takagi (August 8): HOSS FIGHT. HOSS FIGHT. HOSS FIGHT.
    • Tetsuya Naito vs. Jay White (August 11): If you've been keeping track, White has defeated three of the former New Japan Four: Kenny Omega, Tanahashi, and Okada. He hasn't faced the fourth guy yet—Naito—but he'll get to on the block's most important match in the last tournament day.

    Prediction: Long-time fans of New Japan may think that we have already figured things out, but they still have surprises up their sleeves, so I'm not totally counting out Jay White to win the entire thing. He is lowkey having a really good 2019, that a B Block (or heck even a G1 Climax) win is possible.

    BUT, as a huge Tetsuya Naito fan, of course I'm going for my guy as the block winner (and my heart's pick as the tournament winner). Sure, his last G1 win was still fairly recent, and if New Japan is looking into striking the iron while it's hot, Naito has been white hot since his 2017 win, maybe even way before. His second heavyweight title reign is so gosh darn overdue, and #Naito2Belts is best for business.

    How to watch the G1

    The entire tournament will run from the morning of July 7 (Manila time) to August 12—that's almost an entire month of broadcasts almost every day over the next few weeks. The shows aren't slouches either: these usually run around an hour and a half to two and a half hours, making it impossible to catch up if you have an adult life.

    If you are one of the (lucky) select few who have a lot of time on their hands, then G1 Climax tournament shows are easy to watch live, but if not, we suggest that you do the following:
    • If you are able to watch live, then you have no choice but to watch the entire thing. The first half of the show features multi-man tag matches to set up the tournament matches the next day, so you may also choose to tune in at a later time. 
    • If you are watching on-demand, you may also skip the tag matches entirely. New Japan World releases the entire show a few minutes after the live telecast, barring some unexpected technical difficulties. 
    • If that still leaves you with a lot of wrestling to watch, you may also choose a name or two in each block, and follow their matches in the entire tournament.
    • English and Japanese commentary are available for all of the broadcasts, but we (heavily) recommend watching in English so as to easily follow the storylines and history (if any) between the competitors.
    • If you're looking to make the most out of your New Japan World subscription, backstage comments with English subtitles are uploaded the next day. These aren't really necessary viewing, but they are a joy to watch to get a glimpse into everyone's characters.
    You can catch the first day of G1 Climax on the morning of July 7 on New Japan World for only ¥999 a month (around P490). If you have a few bucks to spare every month, we strongly recommend subscribing because you can also have access to a lot of past G1 Climax and puroresu classics, and a bunch of other fun stuff like documentaries and exclusive interviews.

    So who do you have as this year's G1 Climax winner? Who are you most looking forward to in the tournament? Sound off in the comments below!

    Photos from njpw1972.com and @takeru_LIJ_RM on Twitter

    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 29th G1 Climax Tournament: The Official Smark Henry Guide Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ardelle Costuna
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