After the 31st instalment of the G1 Climax kicked off in characteristically strong fashion, with a weekend of Osaka action, the tournament has started to shape up. With the opening matches of both the A and B Blocks behind us, now is the perfect time to search into the line-ups and pull out 5 potential winners.
With quite an exciting opening weekend which delivered a smattering of top level, must-see matches, the G1 was kicked off in a fantastic way.
The 20-man field didn’t set the world alight upon its announcement a few weeks ago, with it massively underwhelming the New Japan Pro Wrestling fanbase. My own thoughts were ones of frustration and disappointment towards a promotion which has trudged through the pandemic, misplacing each foot as it went. The senseless booking decisions, bloated match times and weakened roster have all added to the cauldron of disappointment which has engulfed NJPW, but G1 season often delivers the gusto they need.
The excitement for the tournament is certainly diluted this year, but as the hallmark of the Japanese wrestling calendar the G1 still holds the potential for an array of interesting winners.
1. Tetsuya Naito (A Block)
First, my personal pick to win the whole thing, Tetsuya Naito. The leader of the immensely popular Los Ingobernables de Japon faction, and two-time G1 Climax winner could be in line for another glorious campaign. With victorious tournaments in both 2013 and 2017, it’s been 4 years since we last saw Naito raise the precious trophy.
Tetsuya Naito winning would also make perfect booking sense, as it would set up an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship tie with L.I.J stablemate Shingo Takagi. With 3 nights scheduled for 2022’s Wrestle Kingdom 16, a “Double Gold Dash” style, mini-tournament over the World Championship could be on its way.
While Will Ospreay boasts his own IWGP World Heavyweight belt (after he only lost his title due to injury forced vacation), the prospect of him being in the Wrestle Kingdom mix is almost certain. Naito and Ospreay is one of a few matches NJPW has managed to protect over recent years, so a Naito G1 win would provide the promotion a much-needed fresh main event for their showpiece event.
2. KENTA (A Block)
A man can dream.
KENTA could well be the breath of fresh air that the New Japan main event scene needs. Him claiming overall victory in the G1 Climax would be a turn up for the books, and in a very good way. KENTA is one of the most capable, versatile and intelligent wrestlers in the world, so is a fantastic candidate for the winner of the G1 Climax.
KENTA and Shingo Takagi have only met once before in singles competition, that being in the Quarter Finals of the 2021 New Japan Cup (which Takagi was a finalist of). According to Cagematch, their only other meeting was a GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team title match on a 2008 Dragongate show, with BxB Hulk joining Takagi and now NJPW talent Taiji Ishimori teaming up with KENTA.
Therefore, this is a fresh match for NJPW to pursue as a World Championship face-off, so KENTA is automatically a potential (and exciting) option for G1 winner.
3. EVIL (B Block)
From the dream I turn to the nightmare. I mentioned earlier the haphazard booking NJPW has executed in the past 18 months, so unfortunately the possibility of EVIL claiming G1 victory is tangible.
While being denied a spot in last year’s final by a close loss to SANADA on the last block night, he could go one (or even two) steps further this time around. EVIL is the bad penny of New Japan’s heavyweight title scene, in that he keeps coming back.
However, it seems unlikely that EVIL will win this year’s G1 as he’s very recently challenged Shingo for the title (at Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome on September 5th). Also, the fan backlash, especially internationally, to the ‘King of Darkness’ winning NJPW’s most important tournament would be calamitous to a promotion already driving off some of its fans.
So, while I can’t imagine it coming to fruition, EVIL winning the G1 Climax this year is still a tangible possibility even if it’s the worst case scenario.
4. Shingo Takagi (A Block)
Perhaps my most outlandish choice is the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion himself, Shingo Takagi. In it’s 31 years, the reigning Heavyweight Champion has never won the G1 Climax tournament, but the ‘Dragon’ could make history this time around.
If the champion wins the G1 they get to select their opponent for Wrestle Kingdom, so this could be another way to get to a Will Ospreay vs Shingo Takagi, Title vs Title scenario. Shingo is the hottest act in the promotion currently, so it’s not out of the question that NJPW pull the surprise and have the champion win the entire tournament.
Last year Kota Ibushi became the first G1 winner to lose their winner’s right to challenge briefcase (doing so to Jay White in controversial fashion), so perhaps another piece of impactful G1 history will take place a year on. If New Japan wants to have the champion win a G1, this year would be the best opportunity to date.
5. Kazuchika Okada (B Block)
The final piece of 5 potential winners puzzle is none other than the ‘Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada. Off the coattails of a Match of the Year contender against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Okada is set for a classic G1 run. He looked his very best in a stunning victory over the ‘Ace’, so my hopes for a reinvigorated Okada to charge through the B Block are sky high.
The list of potential opponents for Okada if he is to reach the final is impressive, as undoubtedly the A Block is much more stacked than its alternative. Okada hasn’t won the G1 Climax since 2014 (which was his second win, following 2012), but he’s been almost a finalist in every subsequent year.
I would’ve been amiss if I hadn’t included Kazuchika Okada on this list for the sheer fact that he’s Kazuchika Okada, but with a 6 year stint without an appearance in the final this year could be time for the ‘Rainmaker’s third trophy win, booking himself a date for the Wrestle Kingdom main event.
The list of potential G1 winners isn’t limited to these 5, as the tournament could go down a real plethora of avenues. As always, the tournament promises excitement and superb matches, but who will be the eventual winner? We’ll have to wait and see.
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