By: Jack Wannan
Through nine events and 90 matches in just 13 days, there’s been quite a lot to discuss regarding the NJPW G1 Climax this year. We’re slowly getting a feel for how battles for the top of each block will pan out, with some talents beginning to stick out from the pack.
And besides the big question of who will win it all, there has been loads to unpack about smaller storylines or singular matches from the tournament so far. The G1 is mainly about who will headline Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome in January, but there’s so much more besides that to discuss as well.
To help digest the developments of wrestling’s biggest tournament so far, we’ll be going through the top takeaway from each block along with the recommended matches that have come from those events.
A Block Embraces Rule Change
Certainly one of the more intriguing conversations that will come out of this year’s G1 will be about how the time limit for block matches has changed, and how the promotion has utilized it. This year, NJPW made it a rule that block matches can go a maximum of 20 minutes, instead of the 30-minute limit that was allowed in previous years.
This change has caused lots of matches thus far to be down to the wire. Earlier this week, a match that saw SANADA move to eight points in the A Block over Kaito Kiyomiya had a tense final few seconds as the clock wound down.
The limited time for matches has added some fun dramatics to many contests, which is something that likely everyone will agree upon. The point of contention for some might be how often this rule change has caused a few matches to end in a draw.
In the A Block, the trio of rising NJPW talents that were recently dubbed the “Reiwa Three Musketeers” have not been able to beat each other. The promotion is trying to build these three names up as close rivals and even possibly equals to each other so far. That’s why on the first night, Ren Narita and Shota Umino failed to find a winner through a 20-minute match — a performance that has certainly been one of the highlights of the tournament thus far. And then when Narita faced Yota Tsuji just three days later, they also went to a draw. Another draw also emerged from A Block action when NOAH’s Kaiyo Kiyomiya faced Umino last week.
While the added dramatics of the time limit has improved the quality of many matches, some might find the number of draws in the tournament thus far frustrating. Personally, I think both the increase in draws and the shortened time limit have been a fun plus to this year’s tournament. IWGP World Heavyweight Champion SANADA has avoided suffering any draws thus far, having won all five of his matches. With 10 points, more than anyone else in the tournament in any block, he’s the likely name to emerge as the winner from that quadrant of the tour.
Recommended Matches From The A Block:
- Shota Umino vs. Ren Narita (07.15)
- Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Yota Tsuji (07.15)
- Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Shota Umino (07.21)
- SANADA vs. Yota Tsuji (07.21)
- SANADA vs. Kaiyo Kiyomiya (07.25)
- Gabe Kidd vs. Kaito Kiyomiya (07.27)
Some Things About Will Ospreay Stay The Same
This year’s G1 tournament is the first time that Will Ospreay has been on a consistent schedule in Japan since an injury took him out of the New Japan Cup in March. Since then he has wrestled around a little, appearing on big shows here and there around the world. His sole Japan appearance between his injury and this tournament was a win over Lance Archer at Dominion last month.
Ospreay has made some tweaks since his last NJPW appearance. He has a new finisher called the “Leap of Faith,” a mesmerizing, flippy splash off the top. But some things about Ospreay will never change. Mainly, his consistency to put on a great match every single night.
The block format of the G1 means that you have to face the good and the not-so-great in your bracket. You can put on amazing matches against some of the best, but also go up against some who aren’t as consistent. Anyone who watches the G1 knows that practically every wrestler in the tournament so far has had at least one match that wasn’t so thrilling. For Ospreay? No such case.
Having faced Taichi, YOSHI-HASHI, KENTA, Great-O-Khan, and Kazuchika Okada so far, Ospreay has yet to put on a match that received a sour reception from the public. In fact, the most recent match against Okada might be his best performance of them all so far. He and Okada are currently tied for first in their block, with the winner between them being decided in just a few events’ time.
Recommended Matches From The B Block:
- YOSHI-HASHI vs. Will Ospreay (07.18)
- El Phantasmo vs. Kazuchika Okada (07.18)
- El Phantasmo vs. Great-O-Khan (07.21)
- Will Ospreay vs. KENTA (07.21)
- Taichi vs. Kazuchika Okada (07.21)
- Will Ospreay vs. Great-O-Khan (07.25)
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (07.27)
C Block: The Hard Hitters
If you are tuning into G1 events with the intention of seeing physical, hard-hitting, pure strong style matches, then the C Block is the one to keep up with.
To start, the bracket has Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii, two names who know how to consistently put on physical and hard-hitting matches. Despite only having three wins between them thus far, they are both highlights of their block simply due to match quality.
But some other names have stepped up as well. HENARE (formerly known as Aaron Henare) and Mikey Nicholls notably put together a very brutal opening match (one that I argued was possibly a little overboard), and have since continued to have some strong performances.
And a spotlight simply has to be put on AEW’s Eddie Kingston, who has given it his all in his four matches thus far and produced especially noteworthy performances against Takagi and Ishii.
While physicality is what makes the C Block so special right now, that’s not what is fueling the major storyline of that block. Tama Tonga, David Finlay, and EVIL are in a three-way race for first in the division, with Takagi and Kingston trailing by a win.
Recommended Matches From The C Block:
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. David Finlay (07.16)
- Eddie Kingston vs. Shingo Takagi (07.16)
- Shingo Takagi vs. HENARE (07.19)
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tama Tonga (07.19)
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Shingo Takagi (07.23)
- Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohrio Ishii (07.26)
- Tama Tonga vs. David Finlay (07.26)
Jeff Cobb Emerges As The Tournament’s Underdog
Among the numerous upset victories to come from the first pair of G1 events was Jeff Cobb overcoming Tetsuya Naito in a main event from Hokkaido. At first, it seemed like a fun little surprise outcome to keep fans on their feet. Then, a trend emerged. Cobb beat Alex Coughlin, then Hiroshi Tanahashi, then Zack Sabre Jr., who he was tied with heading into their block’s fourth night.
Now with eight points, Cobb stands alone.
D Block is certainly not the most stacked of all the lineups. It seems unlikely that any of the eight names from it will go all the way — but it is still surprising that Cobb is the top name to be discussed in that block so far. Cobb has been an active wrestler in NJPW for quite some time and has toured with them frequently in recent months, but quite frankly he’s been out of the spotlight. Apart from a pair of NJPW World TV Championship matches from recently, Cobb hasn’t been given any big pushes or opportunities. Despite being an amazing wrestler, he has at times just felt like he was present, but not being given much.
It’s way too early to see whether Cobb’s underdog story could carry into the knockout stage of the tournament. With names like Tanahashi and Naito trailing with four points and potentially ready for a late-tournament comeback campaign, or Sabre Jr. only one victory behind, he could certainly be unseated soon. But nonetheless, it’s still exciting to see him get his biggest spotlight in a while.
Recommended Matches From The D Block:
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (07.16)
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Jeff Cobb (07.16)
- Tetsuya Naito vs. Shane Haste (07.26)
- Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Jeff Cobb (07.26)