The Cruel Summer Continues – New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 2019 G1 Climax Preview
by WH Park
For the first time ever New Japan Pro Wrestling will kick off their annual G1 Climax tournament outside of Japan in Dallas, Texas at the American Airlines Center on July 6, 2019. They will conclude the G1 with another 3 nights at Budokan Hall culminating on August 12.
This is NJPW’s 29th iteration of the biggest and most prestigious tournament in all of professional wrestling and holding the opening night in America is a clear indication of how serious they are about their current Western expansion. To further reinforce their commitment they have loaded up the tournament with arguably it’s best line-up in years.
Newly added to the G1 roster (and in some cases making their return) are Lance Archer, KENTA, Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, Jon Moxley, Taichi, and Shingo Takagi.
Let’s take a look at each wrestler and see what their chances are to get that G1 trophy and flag and the coveted IWGP Title shot briefcase that they can cash in to headline at Wrestle Kingdom 2020.
Lance Archer (42)
A solid member of New Japan’s roster and of Suzuki-gun since May 2011. Up until recently, he was primarily a tag team wrestler with Davey Boy Smith Jr in Killer Elite Squad. Rumored disagreements between New Japan and Smith have seen Archer thrust back into a singles role. He had an excellent showing against Will Ospreay during this year’s New Japan Cup and that arguably helped clinch a spot in the G1.
His last time in the G1 was in 2014 so he is as much of a breath of fresh air as any of the wrestlers entering for the first time
I see him acting in a spoiler role. He can get wins over anyone but easily take losses as well.
No chance of winning.
A product of both Animal Hamaguchi’s famous dojo and the New Japan Young Lion system, EVIL made his in-ring debut on May 13, 2011, under his real name of Takaaki Watanabe. After his excursion in North America, he returned to Japan under the guise of EVIL and joined with Tetsuya Naito and Bushi as one of the original members of Los Ingobernables de Japon.
He made his G1 debut in 2016 but it wasn’t until the following year that he would break out as a singles performer by having a run of excellent matches with SANADA, Kenny Omega, and Kazuchika Okada. It was the Okada match on August 5, 2017, in Osaka that showed that this guy had the potential to hang with the top players in the company.
2018 wasn’t as memorable a year for him in the G1 so this year might be where he feels he needs to prove himself. New Japan has also got to see that he needs to get some key wins in his block if they hope for him to get elevated in the eyes of the fans.
I see him doing well and reaching the 10-12 point range with an outside chance of reaching the A Block finals but he won’t win the G1 itself.
Bad Luck Fale (37)
I have no idea why Fale is even in this year’s G1 since Archer fills in the role of big man spoiler that many people say Fale was perfect for. He and his Bullet Club teammate, Tama Tonga (who thankfully is out this year) were having a contest to see who could have the worst match of the tour. I think he won that one.
Lazy and unmotivated in 2019, New Japan would have been better off giving his spot to Yoshi-Hashi because at least the matches and stories would have been better.
The only thing Fale is winning is best bathroom break of the tournament.
Kota Ibushi (37)
The Golden Star made waves when he announced that he was signed to New Japan in a long-term contract. Gone were the worries among fans that he would never get a chance of actually becoming the IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Had one of the best, if not THE best, run of last year’s tournament. He made it all the way to the finals in a match of the year candidate against the eventual winner, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Many people have him pegged to be the 2019 G1 winner I’m going to say he’s not even making it to the finals. He’ll point really high but I think there will be someone in A block who’s going to spoil it all for him.
2020’s best candidate to win but not 2019’s.
The former Hideo Itami in the WWE made a surprise appearance at Dominion in Osaka to announce his intentions to wrestle in the G1. Arguably the biggest wild card in the tournament.
Can he still go?
Will he be able to handle the grueling schedule of the G1?
KENTA has got to be the hungriest and most driven wrestler of those making their debuts this year.
I see the G1 being more of a test from New Japan for KENTA to prove his mettle in the world of puroresu after working in the WWE system for nearly 5 years.
He’ll get some key wins but he’s not winning.
Kazuchika Okada (31)
The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion in his 5th reign and entering his eighth G1.
Despite being the top guy in the company it’s unlikely he’s going to win the tournament because simply put his spot in the main event of either one of the next Wrestle Kingdom shows is already cemented. He will be defending the IWGP Title against whoever wins this year.
Zack Sabre Jr. (31)
The current RevPro British Heavyweight Champion. He’s entering his 3rd G1 this year. Has been one of the most consistent acts in New Japan this year but he seems to have leveled off with his position in the company. He’s taking a backseat to some other “projects” has for this year.
He’ll have a good showing but not winning.
SANADA makes his 4th appearance in the G1. 2019 sees him in a bit of a holding pattern as he maintains his tag team with EVIL and got a bit of a mini-push in the New Japan Cup and the subsequent title match against Okada at Dontaku in Fukuoka back in May.
Could this G1 be the spark that finally sets him on the path to main event status in New Japan? I think it is possible.
He’ll point high and get a nice run of wins but will fall a little short of winning his block. On a side note, I hope he tweaks that Skull End so there’s less light peeking thru.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (42)
Tanahashi surprised me and many other fans by making it all the way to the finals and having an epic encounter with Kota Ibushi to win the G1 last year. He was part of some of the most memorable recent programs in the company with teaming with Okada, building up his main event at Wrestle Kingdom 2019 with Kenny Omega and feuding with Switchblade Jay White.
Recently he hasn’t been looking that crisp in the ring but come G1 it’s entirely possible he’s going to go into full gear and remind us all why he’s still “The Ace”.
Still, at the risk of looking foolish again this year, I’m predicting that Tanahashi’s main purpose will be to give key wins to certain people in his block.
Will Ospreay (26)
The hottest act in New Japan right now thanks to outstanding showings in both the New Japan Cup and the Best of the Super Juniors. He also had incredible matches against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom, Jeff Cobb at Madison Square Garden, and Robbie Eagles at Southern Showdown in Melbourne, Australia.
He is the current IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion and that belt is the hottest it’s ever been thanks to careful booking this year so I don’t see Ospreay giving up many wins to the other people in this block. Plus I think there’s some smoke to his statement of one day headlining a Tokyo Dome show as the Jr champion so having an excellent run will only help make that dream a reality in 2020.
He’s my pick to go to be the A Block finalist.
Jeff Cobb (36)
Cobb is someone I thought should have been in last year’s G1 so the announcement of his participation this year was music to my ears. One of the best big men in modern wrestling he combines power, speed and agility like so few. Has shown that he fits in the New Japan system having held the NEVER Openweight Title and having memorable encounters with Hirooki Goto, Taichi and Will Ospreay. He’ll point in the mid-range but it’s likely this is his proper debut as a full-time New Japan roster member going full-time on tours. Or at least I hope it is.
Hirooki Goto (40)
Goto is heading into his 12th G1 and is always someone you have to think has a chance to go really far in the tournament. He won the whole thing in 2008 in a bloodbath with Togi Makabe and helped elevate Kenny Omega to main event status in their finals in 2016.
Always the bridesmaid never the bride seems to the adage one thinks of when looking at Goto in New Japan.
It’s hard to say how he’ll do in regards to points but he will definitely produce some cracking matches with pretty much everyone in B Block.
An unlikely candidate to win the block or the whole thing but who knows…
Tomohiro Ishii (43)
Everything I said about Goto’s chances of winning goes doubly for Ishii.
A perennial favorite among New Japan fans, he always delivers some of the best matches in any of the previous 6 G1s he’s been in.
Again like Goto, it’s not so much how many points he’s going to get but how many blow away matches he’s going to have.
His tournament-best is always 10 points so maybe as a reward he’ll finish with 12 points this year.
Jon Moxley (33)
The former Dean Ambrose has quickly made himself the most talked-about star in wrestling today. Not only did he leave the WWE in a high-profile fashion but he remained at the top of the news cycle with his surprise appearance at AEW’s Double or Nothing event and then with the revelation that he was Juice Robinson’s stalker in those fantastic video packages that he provided to New Japan.
He pleasantly surprised everyone with his first match after leaving WWE and shedding the Ambrose personality by having an absolute war with Juice Robinson. He was able to lift the IWGP U.S. Title in that match and then several days later had a fun squash match with Shota Umino at Dominion. Afterwards, he announced that he was entering the G1 and that Shota would be his partner on undercard tag matches during the tour.
I’m not sure how he’ll do overall in terms of points because of his status with AEW and his inability to work in America which is where you would think Moxley would be most beneficial. I do know that along with KENTA, he’ll have the most intriguing match-ups of the entire G1.
Juice Robinson (30)
Juice seemed to be pushed as the guy to get everyone else over for a year now. Winning only 3 of his matches in last year’s G1 and having a weird year since then. He lost high-profile matches to Cody and Chase Owens but got his wins back in less than stellar matches. He also recently lost the U.S. Title to Jon Moxley on June 5.
Maybe the 3rd year is the one that Juice goes back to being the guy with the rocket on his back like he was in 2017 or maybe not.
Won’t do worse than 6 points but I’m thinking he’ll get between 8 to 10 this year.
No chance of winning.
He’s really stepped up his game this past year since going heavyweight having good matches with Goto, Ishii, and Naito. His reward is finally getting into the G1.
I don’t really think he’ll do that much in the tournament as he’s slotted at a certain level and he’s better served as someone other people can get points on.
I really hope that the Taichi shenanigans are kept to a minimum during the tournament itself but I’m bracing myself for the worst.
Absolutely no chance of winning.
Shingo Takagi (36)
Since leaving Dragon Gate last fall and joining New Japan and LiJ at King of Pro Wrestling, Shingo has been one of the most exciting acts in the company. Remained undefeated in all his matches (never eating the pin or submitting in any tags) and ran roughshod over his block in the BOSJ. Lost his winning streak to Will Ospreay in the BOSJ finals but wasn’t hurt by it at all.
He bounced back with an impressive win over Satoshi Kojima at Dominion where he also declared his candidacy for the G1.
Takagi is obviously as important a project to Gedo as Ospreay and Ibushi are.
I think during the course of the round-robin he’s going emerge as a dark horse to win it as a power junior but 2019 isn’t his time to move to the next level.
The long-term has to be Shingo turning on Naito (and LiJ) and feuding with him over the IWGP Title at some point.
He’ll point high and be a contender but will ultimately fall short.
Jay White (26)
The former IWGP Heavyweight Champion didn’t have a good debut G1 last year in terms of match quality as he was “establishing his heel character”. He did get 12 points so from that perspective he did pretty well.
Hopefully, New Japan is more interested in establishing White’s in-ring ability this year.
He should do well and has a good chance of reaching the final 4 into the last 3 days at Budokan Hall.
Toru Yano (41)
It’s Toru Yano.
Bit of variety in the tournament.
We’ll be lucky to get 1 or 2 genuinely funny comedy matches during his actual tournament matches.
Tetsuya Naito (37)
About to enter his 10th G1.
He’s reached the finals in 2011 against Shinsuke Nakamura. He won in 2013 against Hiroshi Tanahashi and in 2017 against Kenny Omega.
Naito’s had a bit of a weird year with regards to winning, losing and winning the IWGP Intercontinental Title. He had a series of epic (and somewhat controversial) set of matches with Kota Ibushi this year. At the end of the day, Naito remains one of the most popular personalities in New Japan and one of their biggest merchandise movers.
Naito beating Okada at Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome is the simmering story for the last year and half that has to reach its boil and what better way to turn the heat up on that than for him to win the tournament. One also has to think that at the age of 37 the time to pull the trigger on him being the IWGP Champion for a lengthy reign has to be coming.
My pick to win the B Block and the entire G1.
Here’s a list of my most anticipated matches from each show –
Ibushi v KENTA
Okada v Tanahashi (1st time on American soil)
7/13 Ota, Tokyo
Robinson v Takagi
Ishii v Cobb
7/14 Ota, Tokyo
Ospreay v SANADA
Okada v Sabre Jr.
Ibushi v EVIL
Tanahashi v KENTA
Robinson v Goto
Cobb v Moxley
EVIL v SANADA
Tanahashi v Sabre Jr.
Ibushi v Ospreay
Robinson v Cobb
Goto v Naito
Ishii v Moxley
KENTA v EVIL
Ibushi v SANADA
Okada v Ospreay
Moxley v Takagi
Cobb v White
Ishii v Naito
EVIL v Sabre Jr.
Tanahashi v SANADA
Okada v KENTA
Robinson v Ishii
Takagi v White
Naito v Moxley
Ospreay v Sabre Jr.
KENTA v SANADA
Tanahashi v EVIL
Cobb v Takagi
Taichi v Jay White
Ishii v Goto
Ospreay v EVIL
Tanahashi v Ibushi
Okada v SANADA
Goto v Cobb
Moxley v White
Naito v Takagi
Ospreay v KENTA
Ibushi v Sabre Jr.
Okada v EVIL
Cobb v Naito
Goto v Moxley
Robinson v White
Ishii v Takagi
KENTA v Sabre Jr.
Tanahashi v Ospreay
Okada v Ibushi
Robinson v Moxley
Ishii v Taichi
Goto v Takagi
Naito v White
Thanks to Matt McEwen for his proofreading and editorial help