The G1 Climax is the biggest tournament of the year in New Japan Pro Wrestling. It is by far the largest round robin tournament of the year, held over 19 events in a nearly month long stretch. It will anoint a new #1 contender in NJPW who will get his title chance at the massive January mega-event. And sometimes it can even make a huge new star.
While Block A was staffed with tons of great talent, Block B in my eyes is even bigger. So let's go in and look at the first half of the roster that will kick off the second day of action.
Satoshi Kojima: Kojima is a fascinating figure in New Japan history. He was a junior member of NWO Japan in his early years where he first formed his long running unit with Hiroyoshi Tenzan known as Tencozy. But Kojima would follow his mentor Keiji Mutoh to All Japan where he would score most of his success as a wrestler (with a short stop in North America for Major League Wrestling). He would become World Tag Champion three times as well as score the promotion's top prize, the Triple Crown Championship, twice. In 2005, he would win his first IWGP Heavyweight title in a battle with Tenzan that also had his Triple Crown title also on the line. He would continue to tag with Tenzan on occasion on cross-promotional events. In 2010, an arm injury sent him away for surgery, All Japan didn't resign him because of it and he returned to NJPW. Since then, TenCozy has become a fixture of tag matches. In the last year, Kojima has regularly competed against NWA visitors to the company and won both the NWA World and NWA World Tag Team titles in the process. He has dropped both titles, but despite twenty-five years as a wrestler behind him, Kojima still can go in the ring. The likelihood he will walk away G1 winner is slim, but he'll put on some great battles in the process.
Tomohiro Ishii: The "Stone Pitbull" has never really been a huge star in New Japan. Though he's wrestled for twenty years, the last ten with New Japan, he has never really came off the bottom half of the card. It wasn't until eight years into his NJPW career that he scored his first title in the promotion, the NEVER Openweight belt. He has since became a fixture of the midcard NEVER belt and this has allowed him to shine in physical contests that often break down into all out brawls. This will be the third G1 Climax for the CHAOS regular. He alternately excels or fails in New Japan seemingly at random, so it is anyone's guess how far he can make it in the tournament, but he seems a very unlikely victor.
Hirooki Goto: Goto is proof that years working int he New Japan system can raise your status to star levels. The current IWGP Intercontinental Champion has two big wins over Shinsuke Nakamura in his second run with the belt. The 2008 G1 Climax winner has never looked better in big matches than he has in 2015. While Goto is far from the biggest star in his division, he has been a frequent tournament winner in New Japan. While I suspect he will continue to rock cool coats as the face of the Intercontinental division for several more months, I don't foresee him scoring the big win here, but the tournament does promise another battle between him and Nakamura, which is a win in any promotion.
Yujiro Takahashi: If you asked me in 2009 who my favorite New Japan star was, Yujiro would have been my answer. Along with Naito, he made a big splash in TNA that year. But for me Yujiro was the better wrestler while Naito showed a bit more charisma. Upon their return to Japan and their move to the heavyweight division, Naito received a strong push over his former partner and Yujiro was left floundering a bit in the midcard ranks. However Takahashi received a larger push when he turned on his country-mates and became the first (and only) Japanese member of the Bullet Club. They helped him to a NEVER title reign, but even with the Club at his side, Takahashi still hasn't moved up the ranks. Yujiro could very well have something to prove in Block B with both the IWGP Intercontinental champion and the IWGP Heavyweight champion in his division. Yujiro doesn't seem like the likely winner of the G1 Climax, but anything is possible in the tournament. He will face a stiff competitor opening against Goto though.
Yuji Nagata: Entering his seventeenth G1, Yuji Nagata can best be described as a once great star way past his prime. Arguably the weakest link in Block B, the WCW veteran was once a solid mat based warrior, but injuries and age have slowed him greatly. The 2001 G1 winner and a former two time IWGP Heavyweight champion, Nagata has all the credentials needed to keep him in the tournament year after year, but he just doesn't have the abilities he once had. He's scored in the bottom half of his blocks in the last two years and don't expect that to change in 2015.
While we end the first half of our Block B coverage with one of the weakest competitors in the tournament, tomorrow will feature some of the strongest. You will get the current IWGP Heavyweight champion and perhaps the most over-in-America NJPW stars there is. Stay tuned.