Projecting the 2018 NJPW G1 Climax Tournament
July 13, 2018
By: Lou Pickney
The 28th installment of New Japan Pro Wrestling's G1 Climax Tournament begins in a matter of hours. It's the most prestigious tournament of its kind in the pro wrestling biz, a grueling two-block round-robin with nine singles matches for each competitor -- and ten for the finalists.
I had plans to write an in-depth preview for both blocks, but then the motherboard in my year-and-a-half old Acer computer decided to die on me just before I left for San Francisco and the G1 Special Cow Palace show. I have plenty to share about last weekend, mostly positive, but this is time-sensitive so it jumped the priority line once I finally secured a new CPU.
Luckily, there is an in-depth preview already written and posted on the Voices of Wrestling website. They also have a free pick 'em contest on VoW where you can enter to put your prognostication skills up against other fans of New Japan.
2018 G1 Preview: https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2018/07/10/njpw-g1-climax-28-all-in-one-preview-schedule/
2018 G1 Pick 'em: https://goo.gl/forms/mGPKB3OcxdSY75Wp2
My projections for the tournament, along with some comments, are listed below. Rey Mysterio Jr. will be working the G1 Final show on 8/12 at Budokan Hall against "Pro-Wrestler Sengoku Enbu", who presumably will be Ryusuke Taguchi in a costume, similar to his brief run as Masked Horse. Should be a good chance for Mysterio to show off his skills in a singles match, and it's a special attraction to help fill up the massive Budokan Hall for a third consecutive night.
The projected winner (or draw) I have for each match is listed next to it in parenthesis. After each night I have the updated standings as they would be in this scenario.
7/14 Tokyo - Ota City General Gymnasium
Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White (White)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki (Tanahashi)
Michael Elgin vs. EVIL (Elgin)
Bad Luck Fale vs. Hangman Page (Hangman)
Togi Makabe vs. YOSHI-HASHI (Y-H)
Opening night sets up White to bounce back from his U.S. Championship loss to Juice Robinson with a main event win over Okada. Tanahashi has an opportunity to avenge his loss to Minoru at The New Beginning in Sapporo from this past January. Fale vs. Hangman will be our first look at Bullet Club post-split.
1-0 (2): Elgin, Hangman, Tanahashi, White, Y-H
0-1 (0): EVIL, Fale, Minoru, Okada, Makabe
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White (Tanahashi)
Togi Makabe vs. Minoru Suzuki (Minoru)
Kazuchika Okada vs. Bad Luck Fale (Fale)
Michael Elgin vs. Hangman Page (Hangman)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. EVIL (EVIL)
Tanahashi gets his win back from White from Wrestle Kingdom 12. Minoru avoids an 0-2 start, while Okada opens his 2018 G1 with a shock 0-2 beginning.
2-0 (4): Hangman, Tanahashi
1-1 (2): Elgin, EVIL, Fale, Minoru, White, Y-H
0-2 (0): Makabe, Okada
7/20 Tokyo - Korakuen Hall
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hangman Page (Okada)
Togi Makabe vs. EVIL (EVIL)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale (Fale)
Michael Elgin vs. Jay White (White)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Minoru Suzuki (Minoru)
A winless Okada avoids an 0-3 start by beating an unbeaten Hangman in the main event.
2-1 (4): EVIL, Fale, Hangman, Minoru, Tanahashi, White
1-2 (2): Elgin, Okada, Y-H
0-3 (0): Makabe
7/22 Tokyo - Esforta Arena Hachioji
Togi Makabe vs. Kazuchika Okada (Okada)
EVIL vs. Bad Luck Fale (EVIL)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hangman Page (Tanahashi)
Jay White vs. Minoru Suzuki (Minoru)
Michael Elgin vs. YOSHI-HASHI (Elgin)
This isn't the greatest build for Makabe to main event a show, but even at age 45 the Unchained Gorilla can still go. But as they further transition Makabe to the NJPW Senior Circuit, he begins 0-4 while Okada climbs up to .500 after four matches.
3-1 (6): EVIL, Minoru, Tanahashi
2-2 (4): Elgin, Fale, Hangman, Okada, White
1-3 (2): Y-H
0-4 (0): Makabe
Kazuchika Okada vs. YOSHI-HASHI (Okada)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Togi Makabe (Makabe)
Michael Elgin vs. Minoru Suzuki (Elgin)
Jay White vs. Bad Luck Fale (Fale)
EVIL vs. Hangman Page (EVIL)
YOSHI-HASHI is a goofy-looking guy who appears to be in perpetual mild discomfort. He main events here but loses to his CHAOS stablemate in Okada. Y-H isn't a bad wrestler, he just lacks any sort of serious connection with the audience.
Makabe over Tanahashi qualifies as an upset, particularly with Makabe almost never beating Tanahashi in their many past singles matches.
4-1 (8): EVIL
3-2 (6): Elgin, Fale, Minoru, Okada, Tanahashi
2-3 (4): Hangman, White
1-4 (2): Makabe, Y-H
7/30 Takamatsu, Kagawa
Michael Elgin vs. Kazuchika Okada (Okada)
EVIL vs. Minoru Suzuki (Minoru)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. YOSHI-HASHI (Tanahashi)
Jay White vs. Hangman Page (White)
Togi Makabe vs. Bad Luck Fale (Fale)
No real upsets here, though a Hangman loss would mean four in a row for him.
4-2 (8): EVIL, Fale, Minoru, Okada, Tanahashi
3-3 (6): Elgin, White
2-4 (4): Hangman
1-5 (2): Makabe, Y-H
Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki (DRAW)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL (Tanahashi)
Michael Elgin vs. Bad Luck Fale (Elgin)
Togi Makabe vs. Hangman Page (Hangman)
Jay White vs. YOSHI-HASHI (Y-H)
Okada and Minoru going to a 30-minute time limit draw seems as likely as anything, particularly after their previous draws, both in the G1 and that unusual outdoor show in the rain from last month that is now up on New Japan World.
5-2 (10): Tanahashi
4-2-1 (9): Minoru, Okada
4-3 (8): Elgin, EVIL, Fale
3-4 (6): Hangman, White
2-5 (4): Y-H
1-6 (2): Makabe
Kazuchika Okada vs EVIL (Okada)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Michael Elgin (Elgin)
Togi Makabe vs Jay White (White)
Hangman Page vs Minoru Suzuki (Hangman)
YOSHI-HASHI vs Bad Luck Fale (Fale)
Elgin over Tanahashi would be something, and it's the G1 so you never know. Okada vs. EVIL should be great as long as Okada doesn't concuss him again. White is 20 years younger than Makabe, and if you know Gedo's booking, that outcome seems very likely.
5-2-1 (11): Okada
5-3 (10): Elgin, Fale, Tanahashi
4-3-1 (9): Minoru
4-4 (8): EVIL, Hangman, White
2-6 (4): Y-H
1-7 (2): Makabe
8/10 Tokyo - Budokan Hall
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (Okada)
Jay White vs. EVIL (EVIL)
Bad Luck Fale vs. Minoru Suzuki (Fale)
Togi Makabe vs. Michael Elgin (Makabe)
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Hangman Page (Y-H)
Okada has to win to advance; with a draw, Fale would win the block based on the head-to-head. This would also follow a Gedo booking trend of clumping up guys in the middle to minimize the damage taken. YOSHI-HASHI doing jobs is nothing new, and Makabe finishing at 2-7 might be his swan song in G1 competition.
If Gedo and NJPW weren't able to convince the older wrestlers to put over the younger guys, it would be problematic. Luckily, the system works out quite well, both for the present-day and, more importantly, the long-term.
BLOCK A FINAL STANDINGS
6-2-1 (13): Okada
6-3 (12): Fale
5-4 (10): Elgin, EVIL, Tanahashi
4-4-1 (9): Minoru
4-5 (8): Hangman, White
3-6 (6): Y-H
2-7 (4): Makabe
7/15 Tokyo - Ota City General Gymnasium
Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito (Naito)
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Ibushi)
Hirooki Goto vs. SANADA (Goto)
Juice Robinson vs. Tama Tonga (Juice)
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Toru Yano (Ishii)
It was interesting to hear Dave Meltzer speak on Wednesday night's Wrestling Observer Radio show about Tama Tonga and how Tama going 2-7 in this year's G1 wouldn't help things any relative to the big feud that was set up after the Tongan contingent of Bullet Club sported "Firing Squad" t-shirts and turned on the rest of the stable at the end of the Cow Palace show.
Funny enough, 2-7 is exactly what I projected for Tama. Him beating Juice on opening night of block competition would seem to undermine the momentum Juice gained from winning the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title from Jay White last Saturday night at the Cow Palace, but wins in the stacked Block B are not going to be easy to come by.
In short, the outcome of the Tama vs. Juice. match could be telling relative to the plans NJPW has for Tama in this tournament. Personally, I think Fale is going to be positioned as the big threat to challenge Kenny Omega in the fractured Bullet Club in-fighting over Tama, to the point where I am sticking with the Tama 2-7 projection.
As for the main event, Omega and Naito had 5 star and 5.75 star rated matches respectively in the past two G1 tournaments. No reason to anticipate anything but greatness from their third singles encounter in the G1. Also in this scenario, Ibushi gets his win back from Sabre in the 2018 New Japan Cup.
1-0 (2): Goto, Ibushi, Ishii, Juice, Naito
0-1 (0): Omega, Sabre, SANADA, Tama, Yano
7/19 Tokyo - Korakuen Hall
Hirooki Goto vs. Kenny Omega (Omega)
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito (Naito)
Juice Robinson vs. Kota Ibushi (Ibushi)
Toru Yano vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Sabre)
SANADA vs. Tama Tonga (SANADA)
Omega and Goto have had some great matches in the past. Drop them in 2008 and it's seen as a classic series of matches. But with Omega having had more memorable trilogies against both Okada and Ishii, his matches with Goto have been overlooked by some, even though they click together so well.
Ishii vs. Naito should also be really good. I wish NJPW would push Ishii stronger than they do, but he has good matches with pretty much everyone, and he did make the final of last July's IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Title tournament. There is also the issue of Ishii turning 43 later this year, though he has shown no signs of slowing down.
2-0 (4): Ibushi, Naito
1-1 (2): Goto, Ishii, Juice, Omega, Sabre, SANADA
0-2 (0): Tama, Yano
7/21 Tokyo - Korakuen Hall
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Ishii)
Kenny Omega vs. Tama Tonga (Tama)
Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito (Juice)
SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (SANADA)
Toru Yano vs. Kota Ibushi (Yano)
Ishii and Goto have had plenty of great matches through the years, and in the main event spot on a Korakuen show, there is no reason to expect anything different this time around. Tama vs. Omega in the semi-main spot screams Tama upset alert, though I suspect that is more to build up a six-man tag at Walter Pyramid than to set Tama up for an IWGP Heavyweight Title match. We'll see.
Juice over Naito would also serve as a surprise, and it will be interesting to see which of them the Korakuen fans cheer for louder.
2-1 (4): Ibushi, Ishii, Juice, Naito, SANADA
1-2 (2): Goto, Omega, Sabre, Tama, Yano
SANADA vs Kota Ibushi (Ibushi)
Juice Robinson vs Kenny Omega (Omega)
Tomohiro Ishii vs Zack Sabre Jr. (Sabre)
Tetsuya Naito vs Tama Tonga (Naito)
Hirooki Goto vs Toru Yano (Yano)
SANADA vs. Ibushi should be outstanding, two of New Japan's most gifted athletes with the opportunity to work in a main event spot. Juice vs. Omega and Ishii vs. Sabre should both be strong matches as well.
3-1 (6): Ibushi, Naito
2-2 (4): Ishii, Juice, Naito, Omega, Sabre, SANADA, Yano
1-3 (2): Goto, Tama
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi (Ibushi)
Kenny Omega vs. SANADA (Omega)
Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito (Goto)
Juice Robinson vs. Toru Yano (Juice)
Tama Tonga vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Sabre)
What a great show for Aichi, with Ishii vs. Ibushi on top a lock to be great, Omega vs. SANADA the battle of possible the two best athletes in the company (and perhaps all of pro wrestling), and a big Goto vs. Naito match second from the top.
4-1 (8): Ibushi
3-2 (6): Naito, Juice, Omega, Sabre
2-3 (4): Goto, Ishii, SANADA, Yano
1-4 (2): Tama
Hirooki Goto vs. Kota Ibushi (Ibushi)
Kenny Omega vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Omega)
Toru Yano vs. Tetsuya Naito (Naito)
Juice Robinson vs. SANADA (SANADA)
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tama Tonga (Ishii)
This would be three consecutive wins in G1 main events for Ibushi. Omega over Sabre is logical as they would seem likely to limit the IWGP Heavyweight Champion's losses.
5-1 (10): Ibushi
4-2 (8): Naito, Omega
3-3 (6): Ishii, Juice, Naito, Sabre, SANADA
2-4 (4): Goto, Yano
1-5 (2): Tama
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega (Omega)
Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi (Naito)
Juice Robinson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Sabre)
Hirooki Goto vs. Tama Tonga (Goto)
Toru Yano vs. SANADA (SANADA)
Ishii vs. Omega in the U.S. Heavyweight Title tournament in Long Beach last July is on the short list of my all-time favorite matches to have seen live. Others on that list include: Steve Austin & Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith on Memorial Day 1997 in Evansville, Indiana (one of the best matches in WWF Monday Night Raw history); Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet at EVOLVE 59 in Dallas in April 2016 over WM33 weekend; Dean Malenko vs. Ultimo Dragon at Starrcade '96 in Nashville; Golden Lovers vs. Young Bucks at Strong Style Evolved in March 2018.
There are others, but I think you get the idea. Ishii and Omega are going to tear it up in Osaka, albeit with the challenge of having to follow Naito vs. Ibushi, which should also be superb.
I wonder if Ibushi is going to break out the piledriver off the second rope again like he did in last year's G1 match with Naito?
5-2 (10): Ibushi, Naito, Omega
4-3 (8): Sabre, SANADA
3-4 (6): Goto, Ishii, Juice
2-5 (4): Yano
1-6 (2): Tama
8/8 Yokohama, Kanagawa
Tetsuya Naito vs. SANADA (DRAW)
Toru Yano vs. Kenny Omega (Omega)
Kota Ibushi vs. Tama Tonga (Ibushi)
Hirooki Goto vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Sabre)
Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Juice)
Gedo books time limit draws very sparingly, but I like the idea of the first Naito vs. SANADA match ending in a 30-minute half-Broadway.
6-2 (12): Ibushi, Omega
5-2-1 (11): Naito
5-3 (10): Sabre
4-3-1 (9): SANADA
4-4 (8): Juice
3-5 (6): Goto, Ishii
2-6 (4): Yano
1-7 (2): Tama
8/11 Tokyo - Budokan Hall
Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi (Ibushi)
Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (Naito)
Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto (Goto)
Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA (Ishii)
Toru Yano vs. Tama Tonga (Tama)
Naito beating Sabre in this scenario would create quite the dynamic for the main event, with Omega and Ibushi needing a win to advance. They can't settle for a draw or else Naito wins the block, thanks to his victories over both Omega and Ibushi earlier in the tournament. But an Ibushi win sets up an intriguing G1 Final against Okada, plus it protects Okada vs. Naito or Okada vs. Omega part five for another show.
It's a tricky thing with the G1 Final: the show will likely already be sold out, so you don't want to squander a match that could be a big draw on another show. But you need a matchup that will be seen as worthy/important, lest the fans feel shortchanged. This scenario threads the needle, as Okada vs. Ibushi is certainly worthy of the spot, and it saves Okada vs. Naito or Okada vs. Omega part five for another day.
BLOCK B FINAL STANDINGS
7-2 (14): Ibushi
6-2-1 (13): Naito
6-3 (12): Omega
5-4 (10): Sabre
4-4-1 (9): SANADA
4-5 (8): Goto, Ishii, Juice
2-7 (4): Tama, Yano
2018 G1 Final
8/12 Tokyo - Budokan Hall
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi (Okada wins via pinfall in 35:03)
Whatever the plan ends up being, we are in for some outstanding matches over the next few weeks in New Japan. Gedo's booking is logical but unpredictable, which is part of what makes it so effective.
See any mistakes, omissions, or needed corrections? Please let me know: @LouPickney