New Japan Pro Wrestling (Shin Nihon Puroresu) is hours away from the onset of the 27th version of the G1 Climax. Many wrestling pundits and fans consider the G1 to be the most prestigious tournament in wrestling history. While King of the Ring (WWE), Champions Carnival (AJPW), and Global League Tournament (NOAH) have long histories – none quite have the mystic of the G1.
If you missed it, the G1 Climax Press Conference was full of pageantry, trash talking, and planted seeds for a possible G1 overseas (or perhaps a spin-off G1 Tournament).
While popular opinion has Tetsuya Naito winning his 2nd G1 (previously won in 2013), there are a number of upsets which could come out of this years’ competition. There is also the possibility of a surprise winner of the G1, could New Japan go another route than the ultra popular Naito. It would seem unlikely that Kenny Omega repeats as G1 victory, as he and Okada will have their 3rd match of 2017 on August 12 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. It’s highly likely Kazuchika Okada (2012 & 2014 G1 winner) will be the IWGP Heavyweight Champion going into Wrestle Kingdom and it’d be unlike New Japan to book four singles matches between event talent that close to one another.
The first upset we could see could come tomorrow at the opening night in Hokkaido. It’s not in the realm of possibility that Zack Sabre Jr could pick up a victory over IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi (2007 & 2015 G1 winner). This could set up Sabre as a contender for the Intercontinental Championship during the Road to Destruction tour in September.
While this wouldn’t qualify as an upset — nor much of a surprise for those who are long time fans of New Japan — yet, it would be a headline if NEVER Openweight Champion Minoru Suzuki were to defeat IWGP United States Champion Kenny Omega on night 2 (July 20th) at the famous Korakuen Hall (Tokyo). There’s no doubt that Suzuki will have a strong showing, and a victory of Omega could be his moment during this G1 Tournament.
This being Yuji Nagata‘s (2001 G1 winner) last G1 Tournament appearance, it’s likely that he will go out with a keynote victory. Which could come against Hirooki Goto (July 21st), Tanahashi (July 23rd), or Kota Ibushi (August 4th). It’s unlikely Nagata won’t win several matches during the G1 since he’s been kept strong even with his reduced schedule. Of note, Nagata is the only individual to win the G1 (2001), Champion Carnival (2011), and the Global League (2013).
Due to his work ethic, improvement in the ring, and recent popularity boost – it’s likely Juice Robinson has a strong showing and picks up several victories while coming close to earning several upsets. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Juice defeat Evil (July 22nd), Suzuki (July 25th), and Omega (August 5th) in Osaka. A victory over either Suzuki or Omega would put Juice in a position for another title shot down the road.
This year Juice has had strong efforts against Goto for the Never Openweight Championship and against Naito over the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Chances At A Surprise G1 Winner?
As mentioned earlier, smart money has Naito winning the G1 to take on Okada at Wrestle Kingdom for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. It’s likely that match as the headline could help New Japan draw over 26,000 at the Tokyo Dome. According to Dave Meltzer, Naito pushes the most merchandise for the company and Okada is one of the most over workers in wrestling right now. However, it’s not impossible that may take another path.
Ibushi remains a big draw in Japan, but recent promos from him and Omega seem to tease a Wrestle Kingdom match between the former “Golden Lovers” tag team partners. So, it would seem unlikely that he would win the G1, but he will definitely have a strong showing.
Omega remains an option with how much attention he brings from around the world – despite it being unlikely he and Okada have four singles matches in the span of a year – there’s no doubting that match on the marquee would bring attention.
Another possible surprise would be Okada winning. That would set up an interesting scenario for Wrestle Kingdom and would draw intrigue around what the main event of the show would be. Yet, this seems to be an unlikely scenario – especially with how important the show will be for New Japan.
No matter the route New Japan takes, the G1 will definitely contain several surprises, while producing a number of quality matches.