Yesterday, I covered the first five competitors in the epic twenty man round robin tournament known as G1 Climax. This is the biggest tournament New Japan holds every year and some of their biggest stars take part. You will see a couple of those huge names in today's rundown.
Bad Luck Fale: The Bullet Club's "Underboss" is a one time Intercontinental champion and a former college rugby star in Japan. The Tongan wrestler made his debut in 2010, but didn't gain much traction in the promotion until he joined the Bullet Club in 2013. Many people consider his title victory over Shinsuke Nakamura last year a huge upset. While his reign was quite lackluster, he seems to only get better every year. He put in a commanding performance last year, but lost his block to Nakamura. This year he's free of Nakamura, but faces some stiff competition in his division, including a stablemate and former IWGP champion.
AJ Styles: The biggest American star in the G1, AJ Styles will have something to prove after losing his IWGP Heavyweight title to Kazuchika Okada. He came within inches of winning Block B last year, tying for first place numerically. But his loss to his perennial rival Okada in the tournament moved the other man to the finals and ultimately to win the tournament. Styles will not have to face Okada in his block this year. He could very well pull out the victory in Block A, but keep in mind no gaijin has ever won the G1 Climax tournament, and only two have made it to the finals of the 25 year old tournament (Rick Rude and Karl Anderson.) Wherever he lands at tournament's end, he should look awesome in battles with Naito, Yano, Makabe and the three remaining men on this list.
Katsuyori Shibata: Shibata is the kind of wrestler that American fans revile but Japanese fans often love. He's a straight up no-nonsense competitor. He started out in New Japan back in 1999 but took six years off for an MMA career. But he was no Brock Lesnar. Shibata had a 4-10-1 record before he made his return to New Japan in 2012.
Shibata is a great in-ring technician though, even though he's pretty much completely free of flash. He's trended towards the top of the pack in the last two G1 tournaments, and I expect that is as high as he will go this time around as well. You can expect a hell of a first match between Styles and Shibata though on July 20.
Hiroshi Tanahashi: Tanahashi is best described as the John Cena of Japan. He has won the IWGP Heavyweight title more times than anyone else and held it for more days than anyone else. Since his first win in 2006, he successfully defended the belt over 25 times, including a record 11 successful defenses during his year plus reign in 2011. In the last 5 years he is one of only three men to hold the belt, alongside Styles and Okada. So make no mistake that Tanahashi is a dominant force in New Japan.
That being said, G1 has not been his strong suit. In his ten years on top, he has only won a single G1, all the way back in 2007, though he has made it to the finals three more times. Since dropping the belt to Styles a few months back, he has been kept out of the title picture and I'm not sure that will change with this tournament, as my choice for Block A winner will be his opponent on that very first night.
Kota Ibushi: New Japan's resident heartthrob scored many of his career headlines as Junior Heavyweight champion, but Ibushi moved into regular work as a heavyweight a couple years back. An amazing high-flyer with an equally good mat game, Ibushi has had tons of high profile work in the last year even while having injury issues. And while he splits his time with the much smaller DDT promotion, he's clearly cemented as a New Japan star as well. American fans may have seen his work in Chikara as well, where he was the 2009 Rey De Voladores winner.
If he can stay healthy through the tournament, I expect Ibushi to get a major push in Block A. After a win in the single elimination New Japan Cup earlier this year and great-but-unsuccessful battles for the Intercontinental and Heavyweight belts, a finals push at the G1 makes sense for him. In the process, we will also get amazing matches against his night one opponent Tanahashi and his Heavyweight title opponent AJ Styles.
Alright folks, there you have the first half of the New Japan G1 Climax put down on paper for you. Remember you can watch all the events by signing up at NJPW World (now with a mostly English registration page!)